TIME Hillary Clinton

The Clinton Blind Spot

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University on April 29, 2015 in New York City.
Kevin Hagen—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University on April 29, 2015 in New York City.

The former President's fundraising—for his family and foundation—could cripple his wife’s campaign

“You’re singing my song!” Hillary Clinton told students and educators at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, near the end of her first official event of the 2016 presidential campaign. High school students had been talking about how they were getting a leg up, taking college-level courses at the school and getting both high school and college credits for their work. One young woman said she was going to a four-year college next year and would be able to finish in two because of the credits she’d already accrued—thus cutting her college loans in half. A young man headed to Annapolis was getting a head start on the information–tech and engineering courses he’d have to take at the U.S. Naval Academy. Others, less skilled, were starting a vocational path while still in high school, taking courses in auto mechanics and welding that would make them skilled and officially credentialed craftspeople, with plenty of jobs waiting for them. “This is a new vision, a new paradigm!” the candidate exclaimed, referring to the melding of high school and community college. “This is the kind of thing that can get people excited about our educational system again.”

It was perfect Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t faking it. There was no cynicism in the moment. I’ve been watching her hold similar conversations on several continents for nearly 30 years. She’s a wonk; she gets off on programs that work. And it seemed to me that this was a perfect way to launch her campaign, doing something she loved to do—something profoundly unphony—-promoting a program that could really help middle-class Americans. Who could possibly object?

Almost everyone, it turned out. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal called it “the most inept, phony, shallow, slickily-slick and meaningless launch of a presidential candidacy I have ever seen.” Others were less charming. No one—at least that I saw—talked about the policies she was promoting in Iowa. It was all about the cynicism of the launch, of Hillary Clinton pretending to be one of the people. “You’ve got to be cynical about the Clintons,” said a young journalist I admire.

I was ready to push back against that. I’ve always thought that cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre. The Clinton I saw in Iowa was real. Sadly, though, we’ve been reminded in recent weeks that there is another, equally real Clinton. There are several, in fact. There is the Clinton who is cautious to the point of paranoia, who surrounds herself with sketchy sycophants and launches scorched-earth campaigns against anyone who would doubt her. There is the Clinton who adores her husband but—according to the book Game Change—believes she “cannot control” him. It was assumed at the time that she was talking about sex and keeping his occasionally impolitic opinions to himself. As it has played out, the real control issue was about money.

The charges leveled against the Clintons by Peter Schweizer in his book Clinton Cash, and confirmed by a raft of mainstream publications in recent weeks, cannot be dismissed as a right-wing hack attack. They are serious, though probably not criminal. The Clintons are too clever for smoking guns. The bottom line is that the Clinton Global Initiative was used not only to do great works around the world but also to enrich the Clintons. No doubt, there was a lot of self-delusion going on. Let’s take the case of Haiti, reported by Fox News. Bill Clinton was co-chair of a board to give out reconstruction contracts after the 2010 earthquake in that country. Some of the contracts went to Clinton Global Initiative donors, most of which were reputable and competent. A cell-phone contract went to an Irish businessman who had been a CGI donor; he asked Bill Clinton to make four speeches. The Clinton Foundation says several of the speeches were unpaid but acknowledges that contributions were made. No doubt, the lad was chuffed to be in the presence of Bill Clinton; no doubt, he made his contributions to the CGI in recognition of its excellent work. It is entirely possible that both men thought they were doing the Lord’s work. But their relationship also contained a friendly whiff of pay-for-play.

One of the most damning charges, if it turns out to be true—and I’ve not seen it disputed—is that since he left the presidency, Bill Clinton gave 13 speeches for $500,000 or more. He gave 11 of them while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. He was, and is, her closest adviser. You would have to assume a high-mindedness that surpasses all understanding to argue that these speeches, and the generosity of their funders, had not even a subliminal impact on the mind of the Secretary. Perhaps the most egregious, confirmed by the New York Times, was sponsored by Russian oligarchs—Schweizer claims some of them had KGB ties—for $500,000 as Clinton Global Initiative donors were selling their uranium-mining company, including U.S. assets, to the Russians. I believe that the Obama Administration’s “reset” with Russia was more than a shell game to enrich the Clintons, but you have to ask: What on earth was Bill Clinton thinking when he took the $500,000 from the friends of Vladimir Putin? What was he thinking when he accepted the “honorary” chancellorship and untold amounts of money from Laureate International Universities, whose affiliate was receiving ever increasing millions of dollars in aid from the State Department while Hillary Clinton was Secretary?

There is more than the appearance of impropriety here. There is the appearance of plutocracy. There is the reality of platinum–level membership in the society of the rich and self-righteous, whose predatory business practices can be forgiven because they “give back” gazillions—call them the egregiously charitable. Bill Clinton has always been a creature of appetites, but he never lived high until he left the presidency. He’s curbed some of the old excesses—-no more McDonald’s; he’s a sleek vegan now—but replaced them with new ones. It is difficult for a poor boy to say no when all these nice, smart, high-minded people are throwing money your way. It’s hard to say no to a private plane. It’s hard to say no when a “friend” invites you to his vacation home, all expenses paid, to rest and relax after all that tough work saving the world. It is very easy to lose touch with real life, with proportion, if you don’t have an acute sense of propriety and boundaries.

In recent days, I’ve spoken with a bunch of Democrats about the Clinton mess. Inevitably, their first reaction is political. The Clintons were “sloppy” but probably didn’t do anything illegal. It’s “good” that this came out early, they argue; it’ll be forgotten by the time the election rolls around. She’s still a lock for the Democratic nomination and probably the presidency, it is said. And how much worse is this than the parade of Republicans crawling to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of the loathsome Sheldon Adelson, in return for $100 million in campaign -contributions—or the Koch brothers’ auditions? Isn’t this what American politics is all about now?

There is a moral distinction, however, between campaign-related moneygrubbing and the appearance of influence peddling. And in practical political terms, while the Clinton Foundation crisis may not prove damaging during the primary campaign, it may come back to haunt Hillary in the general election—just as Bain Capital did Mitt Romney in 2012. True enough, my Democratic interlocutors say, but there’s a lot of real enthusiasm out there for Hillary. She’s historic. She’s smart and moderate and experienced. She’s probably better prepared for the presidency than any of her rivals. Then I ask them: Let’s leave the politics aside; how do you feel about the way the Clintons ran their foundation? “Nauseated,” said one. “Atrocious,” said another. “It’s no surprise,” said a third.

And I suppose that you do have to assume the worst about the Clintons—“to be cynical” about them, as the young reporter told me. How sad. Their behavior nudges up against the precise reason Americans, in both parties, have grown sick of politicians. It’s near impossible for Hillary Clinton to go around saying, with a straight face, much less a sense of outrage, that the “deck is stacked against” everyday Americans when Bill’s partying with the deck stackers. Even if the appearances of impropriety were for good causes, shouldn’t the arrant naiveté of it all disqualify her from the presidency?

Well, maybe not when you look at the Republicans in the race, the anger and myopia that have come to brand their party. Wouldn’t Hillary be better than someone who’d blithely court more wars that can’t be won and shouldn’t be fought? Or someone who would “abolish” the Internal Revenue Service or allow “creation science” to be taught in the schools? That is the tragedy of this situation. Bill and Hillary Clinton have made policy mistakes, but for the most part they have been creative, judicious and sane in office. They are fine public servants. But now—because of their sloppiness and carelessness and tendency to lawyer the truth—the very best-case scenario for Hillary Clinton is that she might be elected President as the lesser of two evils.

This appears in the May 11, 2015 issue of TIME.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story, published in error online, incorrectly described the financial dealings between Bill Clinton and an Irish businessman who has been a Clinton Global Initiative donor.
TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Begins Campaign Her Way in Iowa

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during a roundtable discussion with students and educators at the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional Center in Monticello, Iowa, on Apr. 14, 2015.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during a roundtable discussion with students and educators at the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional Center in Monticello, Iowa, on Apr. 14, 2015.

MONTICELLO, Iowa — People ask: What is Hillary Clinton really like? No one knows all the private intricacies, and only a fool would speculate in a blog post. But I have watched her work for nearly 30 years and one thing I can say with confidence: the Hillary Clinton who began her presidential campaign in Iowa on Tuesday and listened carefully to a handful of people talk about the wonders of the local community college system is a familiar, uncynical and entirely credible character. I’ve seen her do the same on countless occasions in the past, in venues from Pakistan to Arkansas. People ask: What does Hillary believe? She believes in programs, both governmental and non-, that actually work. That is a very large part of who she really is.

“You’re singing my song!” she celebrated, toward the end of the hour-long meeting. High school students had been talking about how they were getting a leg up, taking college-level courses at the Jones County branch of Kirkwood Community College. They were getting both high school and college credits for their work. One young woman said she was going to a four-year college next year and would be able to complete it in two because of the credits she’d already accrued—thus cutting her college loans in half. A young man headed to Annapolis was getting a head start on the information tech and engineering courses he’d have to take at the U.S. Naval Academy. Others, less skilled, were starting an vocational path while still in high-school, taking courses in auto mechanics and welding that would make them skilled, and officially credentialed craftspeople, with plenty of jobs waiting for them. “This is a new vision, a new paradigm!” The candidate exclaimed, referring to the melding of high school and community college. “This is the kind of thing that can get people excited about our educational system again.”

But what about Benghazi? the folks at Fox might ask. She had nothing to say about that. (Perhaps because, as Congressional committees keep finding, there is nothing to say about that.) And what about this small-ball strategy in Iowa–why was she doing it? Why no big speeches, crowds, rallies? There will, of course, be tons of speculation. And what about those pesky emails? Well, those may be the product of another part of her personality — a less attractive, more secretive part — and the tragic desire to keep a “zone of privacy” may haunt her down the road.

But not today. Today was Hillary Clinton’s fantasy of how a presidential campaign ought to be. It was about something government did that was actually okay–community colleges–and a new wrinkle to make them even better. She paid obeisance to the traditions of the spectacle, mostly for the pressies following her. She was asked: why was she running? Her response was not scintillating. She had four goals: to create the economy of the future, to support families and communities (which was sort of what she was doing at Kirkwood C.C.), to squeeze all that money out of the political system, even if it took a constitutional amendment to do so and finally, to protect the country from foreign threats. You can’t get much more vague than that. There were those, mostly on the left, who wanted her to be more specific, especially about the economy and the financial sector’s depredations. She will have to say more in time.

Today, though, was about contrasts. There was none of the usual political rhetoric, which, when pressed, she delivers in unconvincing fashion. She did not give a full-blown speech as the Republicans Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have done in recent days. But that was probably a good thing, because: who believes in rhetoric anymore? She made no promises. Her announcement video, notable for its inclusion of every last Democratic identity group, was refreshing for its upbeat tone–a real contrast to the bummer Republicans who’ve spent the last eight years saying that the country was in crisis, falling apart (much as the Democrats used to do, before Bill Clinton came along). And she used an interesting word: you. Her new slogan is: It’s Your Time.

It used to be said that the most powerful word in American politics was we. Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The Constitution begins, “We The People…” But we has gotten to be treacherous in these cynical times — people don’t want to be included in the same category as the politicians. What do you mean we, red-tie man? So, in the primacy of the service economy, it’s the time of You, which is a lot better than “I” or “my,” the overuse of which has been a subtle problem for Barack Obama.

It is the simplest of messages: I’m going to focus on you, listen to you, propose things that make sense to you, eat at Chipotle’s as you do. Clinton’s words and her motivations will be torn, twisted, analyzed and ripped to shreds — sometimes with good reason — but if she can continue to focus on the you, on the programs that make sense without promising the moon, she has a chance not only to be formidable this year, but admirable as well.

Read next: Hillary Clinton’s Father’s Tombstone Knocked Over in Pennsylvania

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TIME

Bye-Bye Great Satan

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

A deal with the U.S. undermines Iranian hardliners, and gives reformers hope

There comes a moment at an Iranian Passover seder when people gleefully start beating one another with leeks to celebrate the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt. Go figure. I was expecting a particularly brutal whupping from my friends Roya Hakakian and Dr. Ramin Ahmadi on the night after the Iran nuclear-deal framework agreement was announced. They know I favor the deal; I figured they would oppose it. Both are refugees from the Islamic Republic. Ramin, in particular, has been cited in the Iranian press as a subversive agent, paid by the CIA to conduct secret antiregime training sessions for young Iranians in Dubai and elsewhere.

The charges are laughable: Ramin is an Iranian leprechaun, if such a thing is possible–born a Muslim but converted to Judaism when he married Roya. He’s on the Yale University medical faculty, a poet and writer. He does favor regime change, but through peaceful means–and he has trained more than 200 young Iranians in nonviolence workshops. His students have gone home to lead the Tehran street protests in recent years. So I asked with some trepidation, “What do you think of the deal?”

It’s fantastic!” Ramin said, with a slightly naughty smile. “It’s very positive.” Really? “Yes,” he said. “It totally undermines the regime’s credibility.” For years, the hard-liners who actually run the show–the Supreme Leader and his Revolutionary Guards Corps generals–have presented America as the Great Satan. It was the prime rationale for repression: order and discipline were necessary to meet the U.S. threat. This was an argument that seemed to hold little water with the majority of Iranians, who favor reform; in my experience, and according to some polls, Iranians are the most pro-American Muslims in the region. Western news and culture–fed by satellite dishes, which are ubiquitous–are dominant in the society. “The question is,” Ramin went on, “how can America remain the Great Satan if you’re making deals with them?” That’s why people were dancing in the streets of Tehran. “It was the prospect of a better economy, for sure, but it was also the hope that this was the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic.”

Ramin’s argument was bolstered by an obscure but significant point raised by Mehdi Khalaji, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is the son of an Iranian ayatullah who has been imprisoned by the regime. Khalaji, writing with Patrick Clawson, notes that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used the word tavafogh rather than a more legal formulation to describe the nuclear deal. “Tavafogh by itself resonates in Iranians’ ears as something more than a legal agreement,” they write. “The word is also used to describe conciliation between two people who have been at odds. In addition, it has the connotation of peace, as contrasted with strife.”

That is why the elected Iranian government–Rouhani and his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif–will face opposition from the more extreme factions of the regime, like General Mohammad Reza Naqdi of the Basij religious militia, who suddenly popped up after the deal, calling the Americans “liars,” and also said “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” The Basij is a domestic street gang known for unprovoked attacks on students and journalists; Naqdi is the Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Iran, and he gave immediate ballast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refrain that the Iranians can’t be trusted. Given the surprising strength of the deal–especially the reduced number of centrifuges allowed to enrich uranium for peaceful use–Netanyahu needed all the help he could get. He was forced to resort to the spurious argument that the framework would launch a nuclear-arms race in the region. Actually, that’s what will happen if a deal isn’t reached–and this deal could still, easily, collapse over the not-so-small print.

The weird ideological confluence between Likudnik neoconservatives and the Iranian hard-liners in opposition to the deal is instructive. It is reflexive, uninformed, pessimistic. By contrast, Ramin Ahmadi’s view seems improbably fresh and fiendishly delightful. Over dessert, after the leek beating had subsided, he laid out the uncertain new landscape that the Iranian left suddenly had in common with the desperately-seeking-Satan hard-liners. The left–which has tolerated the regime because it hates American imperialism–was now liberated to hate both the regime and the Americans, which was perverse good news: they might join the moderate opposition in the streets. The hard-liners were split, awaiting definitive word from the Supreme Leader. “The people dancing in the streets believe their lives will immediately improve. But the sanctions won’t go away overnight–and even then, it will take time for the economy to recover,” Ramin concluded. “Nothing crushes a dictator more effectively than rising expectations.”

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

Read next: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted, Iran’s Supreme Leader Says

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This appears in the April 20, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iran

Nuclear Deal or No Deal

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Why the U.S. cannot walk away from negotiating with Iran

As March dwindled down toward an unmet deadline, I found myself growing nostalgic for the early days of the Iran nuclear negotiations. The going was tough, of course, but an interim deal was produced–and a wonderful deal it was. Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium. It agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It stopped construction on its heavy-water nuclear reactor. It acknowledged, tacitly, that the lion’s share of economic sanctions would remain in place until a final agreement was done. That was 16 months ago, and much to the surprise of skeptics, Iran has abided by the deal. And almost as surprising, the global coalition–including the Russians and Chinese–has held together and stuck to its guns, much to the credit of the oft-maligned Obama negotiating team. “It is ironic,” an Arab diplomat told me. “The interim deal is better than the deal you’re negotiating.”

Well, of course it is. There is no way Iran would permanently agree to stop its program in return for limited sanctions relief. It has the right, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to process low-grade uranium for peaceful purposes. And so we have had this messy haggle over how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate going forward, where they will spin and how quickly we will lift the sanctions.

There have been nonnuclear issues on both sides. The proud Iranians have to concede without seeming to concede. The Americans and the rest of the world, but mostly the Americans, have to acknowledge that after 36 years, the Iranian theocrats–caricatured by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and assorted Republicans as half-crazed religious fanatics–can act responsibly.

The atmosphere surrounding the negotiations has also been complicated by a significant upheaval in the region during the past 16 months. The unnatural straight-line national borders drawn 99 years ago by the British and French are disappearing in the sand. The true regional fault line, between Sunni and Shi’ite, is emerging. A full-blown sectarian war looms. The U.S. would be crazy to take sides in this struggle, but events–the rise of ISIS, a barbaric Sunni army–have conspired to nudge us toward the Shi’ite side of the equation. A nuclear deal with Iran suddenly has import it didn’t have before. “It would give Iran international credibility,” says Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. diplomat who has negotiated with Iran in the past, “to go along with the increased influence it has in Iraq and Yemen.” Burns believes we should make the deal if we can, “but the Administration has to focus on rebuilding our relations with the Sunni powers like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” (On March 31, Obama lifted the arms embargo against Egypt, which is fighting ISIS-related forces in Sinai and Libya.)

On April Fools’ Day, no less an international expert than Howard Dean opined that the Obama Administration should walk away from the talks and let the sanctions continue to bite Iran until it begs for mercy. A week earlier, the incredible–that is, not credible–former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton modestly proposed that we should just bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities and be done with it. The frustration with the negotiating process was understandable. By persisting at the table, the U.S. seemed more slouchy than strong–especially as the Iranians appeared to walk back parts of the agreement and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged a chant of “Death to America” from a handpicked crowd with a simple “Indeed.”

It would be nice to think that melodrama–walking away from the table, bombing Iran–would have some sort of conclusive effect. But Dean’s plan assumed that the international sanctions would remain in effect if we walked away–a very unlikely proposition, as the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers made it clear that they were satisfied with the outline of the deal the Americans and Iranians were still squabbling over.

Bolton’s bomb throwing assumed that Iran would react as Iraq and Syria did when Israel bombed their nuclear reactors–that is, not at all. But Iran is completely different from the almost-states of Syria and Iraq. It is a real place. It has natural borders on all but one side. It has a 4,000-year history and a distinct culture. It is Persian, not Arab. It has a sophisticated, well-educated populace, which may not like the authoritarian government but is proud and patriotic and very sensitive to disdain from Western imperial powers. Indeed, if we were to bomb its nuclear facilities, the Iranians would quickly rebuild them and rush toward the creation of a nuclear deterrent.

One way or another, that is a reality we have to deal with, even if it involves ongoing negotiation–a prospect that shouldn’t be so painful as long as the lovely interim agreement remains intact.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the April 13, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Disgrace in Victory

Israel's Prime Minister won a tragic election by vilifying Arabs and defacing Israel’s history 

A few years ago, I drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank, to the city of Bethlehem, to have dinner with TIME’s Palestinian stringer, the late Jamil Hamad. He was a gentle and sophisticated man, soft-spoken, and levelheaded when it came to politics. After dinner, I drove back to Jerusalem and had to pass through the bleak, forbidding security wall. An Israeli soldier asked for my papers; I gave her my passport. “You’re American!” she said, not very officially. “I love America. Where are you from?” New York, I said. “Wow,” she said, with a big smile. And then she turned serious. “What were you doing in there,” she asked, nodding toward the Palestinian side, “with those animals?”

And that, of course, is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “won” the Israeli election. That is how he won the election even though there was a strong economic case against him, and people were tired of his ways, and about 200 former Israeli military and intelligence leaders publicly opposed his dangerously bellicose foreign policy. He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews. They have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others. But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well.

This has been true from the start. Read Ari Shavit’s brilliant conundrum of a book, My Promised Land, and you will get chapter and verse about the massacres perpetrated by Jews in 1948 to secure their homeland. It may be argued that the massacres were necessary, that Israel could not have been created without them, but they were massacres nonetheless. Women and children were murdered. It was the sort of behavior that is only possible when an enemy has been dehumanized. That history haunted Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the days before the election, when he scared Jews into voting for him because, he said, the Arabs were coming to polls in buses, in droves, fueled by foreign money.

It should be noted that those Arabs represent about 20% of the population of Israel. About 160,000 of them are Christian, and some of them are descendants of the first followers of Jesus. Almost all of them speak Hebrew. Every last one is a citizen—and it has been part of Israel’s democratic conceit that they are equal citizens. The public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry put the lie to that.

Another conceit has been that the Israeli populace favors a two-state solution. That may still be true, but the surge of voters to the Likud party in the days after Netanyahu denied Palestinian statehood sends the message that a critical mass of Israeli Jews supports the idea of Greater Israel, including Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. This puts Israeli democracy in peril. The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. That state can only be Jewish, in the long run, if West Bank Arabs are denied the right to vote.

There will be many—in the Muslim world, in Europe—who will say that the results are no surprise, that Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state. It has certainly acted that way at times, but usually with excellent provocation. It is an appalling irony that the Israeli vote brought joy to American neoconservatives and European anti-Semites alike.

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable. About a decade ago, I was at a welcoming ceremony for new immigrants—­thousands of them, Russians and Iranians and Ethiopians. And I thought, if Ethiopians and Russians could join that way, why not, eventually, Semites and Semites, Jews and Arabs?

That was the dream—that somehow Jews and Arabs could make it work, could eventually, together, create vibrant societies that would transcend bigotry and exist side by side. The dream was that the unifying force of common humanity and ethnicity would, for once, trump religious exceptionalism. It was always a long shot. It seems impossible now. For the sake of his own future, Benjamin Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing.

Read next: What Netanyahu’s Victory in Israel Means for the World

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TIME politics

The Art of the Deal

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Benjamin Netanyahu offers stark warnings (and perhaps an assist) on a pact with Iran

Is there anybody here from Texas?” the Prime Minister of Israel asked the 16,000 assembled for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. Of course there were. Whoops and cheers erupted. It is one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s conceits that he knows how to do American politics, how to both present himself in a user-friendly way to the American public and play the back alleys of power in Washington. He has had some success with this, but not always. His attempt to intervene in the 2012 presidential campaign on Mitt Romney’s behalf was disastrous. His strong speech on March 3 to members of Congress, assailing the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, may be better received, both in America and, more to the point, in Israel, where he faces a difficult re-election campaign. “People are tired of Bibi. I’m tired of Bibi,” said an Israeli attending the AIPAC meeting. “But I have two sons in the military, and I have confidence that Netanyahu will make decisions that will keep them as safe as possible. I don’t feel the same about any of the opposition leaders.” Certainly no other potential Israeli leader could have made so powerful an appeal to Congress.

And despite the cheesy political context of the moment, there are aspects of Netanyahu’s speech that should be cheered even by those of us who believe that President Obama is pursuing the right course in seeking a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu’s bluster and bombing threats have been invaluable to the negotiating process. He’s been a great scary-tough cop to President Obama’s sorta-tough constable. And Obama has needed all the help he can get. “The Persians believe that the time to get really tough is just before a deal is cut,” an Israeli intelligence expert who favors the deal told me in December. “So tell me why your President is sending nice personal letters to the Supreme Leader at exactly the wrong time?”

On the very day that Netanyahu spoke, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “rejected” the 10-year restrictions on Iran’s nuclear-energy program that he’d spent the past few months negotiating. If the haggle were taking place in the bazaar in Tehran, this would be the time for the U.S. to “call their bluff,” as Netanyahu said, and perhaps even counter with a 15-year deal. There would be danger in hanging tough; the Iranians could easily walk away, even though this is a deal they desperately need. The Iranian people, not just the Ayatullah’s regime, are extremely sensitive to perceived humiliation by the West; a certain, often justified, paranoia is part of the Persian DNA. “They think they invented bargaining,” a South Asian diplomat told me. “They push it too far.”

So Netanyahu’s speech was, at least, a useful reminder about the art of the deal in the Middle East. It was also a useful reminder that Iran’s extremist Shi’ite leaders are no picnic, though nowhere near the threat to American security that Sunni radicals like ISIS are. It is easy, in the midst of the current near embrace, to overstate the case for Iran. It is the most middle-class, best-educated country in the region, aside from Israel and Turkey, with the best-educated and most professional women; it also has a cheerily pro-American populace. But it is, along with Cuba, the greatest mismatch between a people and a government of any country in the world. The regime’s support for Hizballah, the Houthis in Yemen and other Shi’ite militant organizations is indefensible. A nuclear deal with Iran might grease the way for the diminution, through democracy, of the Supreme Leader’s regime–or it might further empower the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls at least 20% of the economy and would be enriched by the lifting of sanctions.

But here is what Netanyahu cannot argue: that his position represents a step forward. Indeed, it is in fact the exact opposite. Right now, under the interim agreement negotiated by the U.N. and U.S., Iran has stopped–in fact, it has reversed–the enrichment of highly enriched (20%) uranium. It has allowed extensive inspections of all its facilities. It has agreed to stop plans for a plutonium reactor. There is a good chance, if the deal is made, that it will continue in this mode, in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Netanyahu’s rhetoric that a deal would “pave” the way toward an Iranian bomb is a ridiculous overstatement; his “plan” would guarantee an Iranian rush to arms.

Revolutions grow old. It is difficult to sustain fanaticism. The Iranian people are tired of their global isolation. It may be that their semi-democratically elected leaders, as opposed to the theocratic military regime, are ready to rejoin the world. There is nothing to lose by testing that proposition–if the Iranians stop playing around and make the deal.

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This appears in the March 16, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Jeb Bush’s Sense and Sensibility

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

The candidate’s grown-up tone is a breath of fresh air amid so many strident conservative voices

In a week during which Rudolph Giuliani went crusader-ballistic questioning President Obama’s patriotism–indeed, questioning his upbringing–Jeb Bush gave a speech about foreign affairs, the third serious policy speech he’s given this winter. Giuliani got all the headlines, of course. That’s how you do it now: say something heinous and the world will beat a path to your door. And Bush’s speech wasn’t exactly a barn burner. His delivery was rushed and unconvincing, though he was more at ease during the question period. He was criticized for a lack of specificity. But Bush offered something far more important than specificity. He offered a sense of his political style and temperament, which in itself presents a grownup and civil alternative to the Giuliani-style pestilence that has plagued the Republic for the past 25 years.

It has been the same in each of Bush’s three big speeches. He is a political conservative with a moderate disposition. And after giving his speeches a close read, I find Bush’s disposition far more important than his position on any given issue. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air. I disagree with his hard line toward Cuba and the Iran nuclear negotiations, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about reforming Obamacare. His arguments so far merit consideration, even when one disagrees with them.

There is none of John McCain’s chesty bellicosity. Bush makes no false, egregious claims, on issues foreign or domestic. He resists the partisan hyperbole that has coarsened our politics. He even, at one point in his foreign policy speech, praised Obama for the position he has taken on–get a map!–the Baltic states. He proposes a return to the bipartisan foreign policy that was operational when this nation was at its strongest. And he criticizes Obama for the right things: his sloppy rhetoric, his lack of strategy. You don’t say “Assad must go” and then let him stay. You don’t announce a “pivot” toward Asia–what are you pivoting away from? You don’t put human rights above national security, as Obama has done in his arm’s-length relationship with Egypt, which is actually fighting ISIS on the ground and in the air.

Bush’s economic vision is traditionally Republican. He believes the economy is more likely to grow with lower taxes than with government stimulus. He doesn’t bash the rich, but he doesn’t offer supply-side voodoo, either. The American “promise is not broken when someone is wealthy,” he told the Detroit Economic Club. “It is broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination.” He is worried about middle-class economic stagnation, about the inability of the working poor to rise–his PAC is called Right to Rise. His solution is providing more opportunity rather than income redistribution. We’ll see, over time, what he means by that. And he favors reforming the public sector, especially the education and regulatory systems, as a way to create new economic energy. “It’s time to challenge every aspect of how government works,” he told a national meeting of auto dealers in San Francisco.

This would be a good argument to have in 2016. It is a fundamental challenge to what the Democrats have allowed themselves to become: the party of government workers rather than a defender of the working-, middle-class majority. Bush has already drawn fire for his record as an education reformer, with his support for charter schools and educational standards. But his argument goes beyond that to a more fundamental critique of government. He has praised the work of Philip K. Howard, whose book, The Rule of Nobody, is a road map for de-lawyering and rethinking the regulatory system.

Again, the way Bush talks about governmental sclerosis is the important thing. It’s no surprise he’s in favor of the Keystone pipeline and hydraulic fracking–he’s invested in fracking–but listen to this: “Washington shouldn’t try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business,” he told the auto dealers. “It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment.” There is no call to blow up the Environmental Protection Agency or ignore science. But there is awareness of a radical truth: that there is no creative destruction in government. The civil service laws written in the 19th century, the regulations written before the information age, are ancient, slow-motion processes that have corroded the government’s ability to operate effectively.

Bush’s fate will tell us a lot about the Republican Party. He does not seem to be an angry man, and the need to screech has been the great Republican vulnerability in recent presidential campaigns. His candidacy takes crazy off the table–no nutso talk about vaccinations or evolution or the President’s patriotism. Even if you disagree with him, his civility demands respect.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the March 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Clay Hunt’s Legacy for Veterans

President Barack Obama is about to sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act today. I never met Clay, but I’ve spent part of the past three years living with his memory, talking to his parents and friends, for a book about the Post-9/11 generation that will be published in October.

Clay was integral to some of the best veterans organizations out there. He was one of the first members of Team Rubicon, the disaster relief organization co-founded by his best friend, Jake Wood. His work for Team Rubicon was subsidized by a six-month fellowship from The Mission Continues, a brilliant organization that encourages veterans to heal themselves through public service. He was also a spokesman for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

It was IAVA and, especially, its great leader Paul Reickhoff, who led the charge to get this necessary bill funded. It is cause for celebration, I suppose. I wish Clay were here to celebrate…but he does leave a legacy beyond this bill, a spiritual legacy that includes a mission for all of us. He left it in writing. His mom, Susan Selke, passed it along to me–and I’m sure if Clay were here today, this is what he would say:

If I had one thing to say to my fellow veterans, it would be this: Continue to serve, even though we have taken off our uniforms. No matter how great or small your service is, it is desired and needed by the world we live in today. Volunteer to mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn for them. Spend a day at a soup kitchen helping feed the homeless, many of whom are veterans themselves. Work on a trail maintenance project. Start a service organization. It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that you are continuing to put others before yourself, just like you did when you were in the military. Actions like that are the only sure ways to bring about the positive social change that our country and our world need so badly these days.

–Clay Hunt

 

TIME politics

With Friends Like These

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

It’s time for an honest conversation about Saudi Arabia and the roots of Islamist terror

“We … see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge–or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon,” President Barack Obama recently told the National Prayer Breakfast. “We have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.” A pretty strong statement, one would think. But it went largely unnoticed because of what the President said next: that Christians should be humble, because terrible acts–the Crusades, the Inquisition–had been committed in the name of Christ. Undoubtedly true too. My family was chased from Spain by the Christians in 1492, after Jews had lived there for centuries peacefully–if not totally free–under Muslim rule.

Assorted historical ignorami rose to challenge the President on the Crusades, including, sadly, former governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who accused the President of not believing “in America and the values we share.” But I’m not going to waste a column shooting ducks in a barrel. I’m more interested in another question. Why is the President willing to say all that stuff about ISIS terrorists and not call them what they actually are: Islamic radicals?

At first glance, this might seem a classic case of political correctness–which can be defined as avoiding hard truths in order to salve soft sensibilities. It’s certainly true that it is unfair to indict a global faith followed by more than 1.6 billion people, the overwhelming majority of whom consider ISIS an insane distortion of the Prophet’s teachings. “ISIS is a political movement,” says Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies and a former Obama Administration official. “It is an anticolonial movement, an attempt to separate whites from browns … Why should we be coronating ISIS and giving it the credibility it craves by calling it an ‘Islamic’ movement?”

But ISIS is, most definitely, a twisted extrapolation of a religious-political trend that gained traction in the region about a hundred years ago, after the egregious European gobbling, slicing and dicing of the Middle East. When you look at all the straight-line borders in that part of the world, you can be sure the locals didn’t draw them. Anger over the European usurpation is one thing Shi’ites and Sunnis have in common. The Iranian revolution of 1979, which imposed a brand-new form of political Shi’ism on a freewheeling country, was a reaction to the Western-imposed government of the Shah. On the Sunni side, the radical Salafist movement began in the late 19th century, also as a reaction to Western imperialism and ideas. It has become a powerful strand of thought in the Arab world.

“We have a serious internal debate in one of the world’s three great monotheisms,” says Michael Hayden, the former CIA director. “It has to be faced head on.” It is fine to call the ISIS adherents thugs and gangsters, but they are also Muslims. “Of course this is an Islamic issue,” Hayden continues. “It’s not about all Muslims or even the vast majority,” but reactionary Islamic radicalism–militant Salafism–is the source of the ongoing violence.

And the wellspring of Salafism is Saudi Arabia’s extreme, expansionist Wahhabi Islamic sect. Part of the reason Obama can’t utter the words Islamic radicals is that we have not been able to have an honest conversation about our Arabian ally. The Saudi royal family is a source of stability in the region, and under the late King Abdullah, it was a mild force for reform, especially in education. But the Saudi elites have funded not just al-Qaeda but also radical madrasahs throughout the Islamic world. They do it cleverly, privately, through “charitable” institutions. The impact has been enormous. In the 1990s, I asked Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan how her country had changed in the previous 25 years. “I used to be able to go out on the street wearing jeans” and without a headscarf, she said. I asked her why she couldn’t do that now. “The Saudis,” she replied, immediately–a reference to the Saudi-funded madrasahs that were rapidly replacing the ineffective public schools in her country. The Taliban came out of those madrasahs, just as a great many of the ISIS criminals do now.

This is not just an Obama problem. Both presidents Bush were way too close to the royal family. There is a secret section of a report by congressional intelligence committees that may relate to the Saudi role in the attacks. That section should be made public now, as an ongoing suit by the families of 9/11 victims has demanded. If we are going to continue to donate American lives to the fight–and sadly, we must, to protect our country from terrorist attacks–we need to be clear about exactly who the enemy is.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Accept Brian Williams’s Apology

The judgments about whether the NBC anchor should be fired, from pundits who never saw the inside of a chinook helicopter, are self-righteous and gagging

In 1978, Rolling Stone magazine gave me my first overseas assignment–in Lebanon, covering the first Israeli military incursion. I got press credentials from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut, then jumped into a taxi with three other journalists and headed for the front. It was a wild drive that culminated at the Litani River, where we were stopped at a PLO checkpoint and asked for our credentials.

Two teenagers guarded the checkpoint and they were a sight to behold: They were wearing platform shoes, love beads, U.S. college t-shirts–one was Texas Tech; I don’t recall the other–and brandishing Kalashnikovs. One brandished his Kalashnikov right on through the open window and into my chest and started screaming something. “He wants your credentials,” the taxi driver said.

Ohh-kay.

I fished out the credentials, handed them to the kid, who read them intently, then showed them to his friend, nudging him in the ribs. “You mean like,” he said to me and the two of them began to sing, “My papa was a rollin’ stone…”

Great story. And that’s how I remember it. But is it true? Yes, I’d swear it…but maybe not on my life. Did the kid jam that Kalashnikov in my chest or did he just point it at me? Did the two kids begin to sing? I’d love to think so.

I do remember being scared witless. And it may–or may not–be that I’ve exaggerated those aspects of the story as an ego gratifying thing or, maybe, to convey the terror and relief I felt at the time. Or maybe not. It may just be true.

All of which is to say: I understand Brian Williams’ predicament. Our memories are not very reliable, especially in life-and-death situations. Part of it is, yes, our need to aggrandize the risks we take; part of it is our minds’ reaction to fear. Part of it is that journalism involves story-telling and sometimes the story gets carried away with itself. Mistakes are made. My story may be minor compared to the one Brian Williams told–but that one story should not imperil his distinguished career. His apology was not elegant, but it should be accepted.

In the end, I find the phenomenon of the schadenfreude circus that has erupted–yet again–to be overwrought and unnecessarily brutal. And the sudden reports, from unnamed NBC staffers, that nobody ever liked Williams anyway, to be too convenient to be credible. And the judgments about whether Williams should be fired, from pundits who never saw the inside of a chinook helicopter, self-righteous and gagging.

The next time Williams finds himself in a war or storm zone, I’ll be watching with appreciation, with the absolute conviction that, after this sad moment, his reporting will be impeccable.

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