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Turkey's Erdogan is all over East Jerusalem

By Jonathan Ferziger and Fadwa Hodali
Turkey's Erdogan is all over East Jerusalem
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, on July 9, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Arif Akdogan.

From the golden Dome of the Rock mosque to the ragtag stalls of the Old City's market, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is all over east Jerusalem.

Muslim worshipers raise his picture at Friday prayers, restaurants display the Turkish flag on their walls, and tens of thousands of his citizens have been sent to the Israeli-controlled holy city on pilgrimages to prevent its "Judaization." Inside the cobble-stoned market, Arab merchants on Khan al-Zeit street point to once-crumbling masonry patched up by the Erdogan government, and praise Turkey for its handouts to the poor.

Perceived as one of the few Muslim leaders still championing the Palestinian cause, Erdogan's focus on Jerusalem is part of a broader ambition to establish Turkey as the world's foremost proponent of political Islam and resurrect its past influence in a troubled region. His growing footprint is unsettling the three governments with a direct stake in this contested city: Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. It also presents a challenge to Saudi Arabia, whose oil wealth and status as the birthplace of Islam have long established it as a patron of east Jerusalem.

Sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews, Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis claim it as the undivided capital of a Jewish state but Palestinians want the mostly-Arab eastern side, home to the holiest sites, as the capital of their future state. Most countries do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, but with peace talks stalled and Palestinians divided, rival governments have sought to assert their influence.

"The Saudis have Mecca and Erdogan wants Jerusalem," says Pinhas Inbari, an Israeli analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs research center. "Israel has a critical security interest in making sure that Turkey doesn't try to exercise authority over Al Aqsa and upset the status quo."

A vehement critic of Israel, Erdogan is seeking to do just that. When Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, over Palestinian objections, it was Erdogan who led the charge on their behalf, calling the Trump administration a ''partner in bloodshed." The Arab response was more measured. Many Arab leaders value Trump's uncompromising policy on their regional rival Iran and it was four months before they held an Arab League summit reinforcing high-level commitment to Palestinian claims.

Erdogan has gone as far as restoring the Islamic crescent to the Dome of the Rock's glittering cap, which dominates Jerusalem's skyline from the hilltop compound revered by Muslims as the Al Aqsa mosque complex and by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of their biblical temple.

"Protect Mecca and Medina. Protect these holy lands as your honor. Protect Jerusalem," Erdogan said in a speech last month.

Erdogan "is a strong man who loves Palestine," said Salahadin Nasradin, owner of a cut-rate electronics store in the market. "We pray that he will lead all Islamic countries one day."

The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas doesn't share the enthusiasm for Erdogan felt in the Old City alleys, where shopowners in a cacophony of Arabic and Hebrew hawk jewelry, religious relics and T-shirts, and the aromas of cumin and turmeric mix with the smoke from sizzling chunks of lamb.

While the Palestinian Authority welcomes Ankara's investment in the Old City, Turkey also supports Abbas's bitter rival, the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and its parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. That makes Palestinian officials reluctant to speak on the record.

"Since Erdogan took office he's been working to restore Turkey's role as a strategic player in the region and as a rival to Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia," said Jehad Harb, an analyst at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. "The Palestinian Authority wants the financial support that Turkey is offering, but is very cautious in its dealings" because of Turkey's ties to Hamas, Harb said.

Israel, whose once-warm relations with Ankara have soured under Erdogan, is watching Turkey's growing Jerusalem foothold with suspicion, and may restrict its activities if it's seen to be stepping up support for radical Islamist groups, said Michael Oren, Israel's deputy minister for public diplomacy.

"We're monitoring it," Oren said.

Turkey's foreign aid agency said in its 2015 annual report -- the last with details on Jerusalem investments -- that it has undertaken more than 500 projects valued at nearly $30 million in the Palestinian territories, 81 in east Jerusalem.

Erdogan's presence there has fueled concern in Jordan that he may challenge its historic guardianship over the eighth-century Al Aqsa complex. After Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, it allowed the Jordanian religious administration known as the Waqf to continue managing the compound, with Israeli forces maintaining security control.

"We will not accept any competition," said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswanii, director of the Al-Aqsa mosque, from his office near the shrine, where a giant portrait of Jordan's King Abdullah overlooks the building's stone staircase.

Turkey's activities could also pose a challenge to Saudi Arabia, which has poured more than $6 billion into Palestinian programs since 2000 -- including $285 million earmarked for Jerusalem -- according to a statement in May by Abdullah Al Rabeeah, an adviser to the Royal Court and supervisor-general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

The Saudi king, officially the "custodian" of Islam's holiest mosques in Mecca and Medina, also pledged $150 million to the Palestinians in April, with a focus on maintaining Jerusalem's Islamic heritage.

Just as Khan al-Zeit street has been adopted by Turkey, Saudi Arabia has spruced up shops along Al-Wad Street, the artery that leads from Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray. Until a few months ago, a building on the street bore a stone plaque describing the work Saudi Arabia financed there, said Ziad Ghnem, 60, who owns the adjacent toy store.

"They took it down because people would line up outside hoping to get some money," Ghnem said, chuckling amid piles of knockoff Barbie dolls, beach balls and toy guns.

Israel's acceptance of Turkish and Saudi activities has seesawed in line with diplomatic developments, said Alon Liel, a former Israeli envoy to Turkey. Erdogan was given a relatively free hand after the countries mended their rupture over a deadly 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Turkish ship challenging the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The detente fell apart in December.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia's involvement in Jerusalem is being encouraged as secret business ties and communications through the Trump administration and other intermediaries blossom, Liel said. While Trump's Middle East peace team has consulted closely with the Saudis, Erdogan has been among the president's harshest critics.

"The Saudis are friends now," Liel said. "They probably have our blessing."

- - -

Bloomberg's Selcan Hacaoglu and Vivian Nereim contributed.

US approach to Yemen is challenged as country splinters and government vanishes

By Kareem Fahim
US approach to Yemen is challenged as country splinters and government vanishes
A local military unit, the Hadramawt Elite forces, is one of several militias that has sprung up in southern Yemen during the war. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Kareem Fahim

MUKALLA, Yemen - When Yemeni soldiers freed this whitewashed port city from the grip of Al-Qaeda in 2016, it was hailed as a signal moment in the government's effort to reunite a nation splintered by civil war.

But nearly two years after Al-Qaeda's retreat, Yemen's government is still absent. The local governor, Faraj al-Bahsani, relies on local revenues rather than state contributions for his budget. He courts international investors to fix the region's crumbling infrastructure. His main security partner is a foreign government, the United Arab Emirates, that pays salaries to a portion of the most powerful local military force.

If Mukalla has become a model of resilience during Yemen's four-year civil war, the city is also a warning about how the country is being pulled apart. Some regions are battlefields, lost to violence. The rule of law has been eclipsed in other places by the authority of militias, gangs and assassins. Most of the country - from cities like Mukalla to rural hamlets - is ill-equipped to fend for itself.

The fragmentation of Yemen has highlighted the challenges facing the policy of the United States, which has strongly supported the internationally recognized central government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as he tries to reunify the country.

But Hadi, who has spent most of the conflict exiled in Saudi Arabia after his government was ousted by a rebel group known as the Houthis, is widely seen - including by American officials - as too weak and unpopular to accomplish that task. His forces have been unable to dislodge the rebels or even decisively assert his authority in the areas his government nominally controls.

The United States has been concerned that Yemen's disarray will empower Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula, one of the extremist group's most dangerous franchises.

"Yemen, as a state, has all but ceased to exist," a United Nations expert panel wrote earlier this year. "Instead of a single State there are warring statelets, and no one side has either the political support or the military strength to reunite the country or achieve victory on the battlefield."

U.S. officials say they are pushing the combatants toward a negotiated end to the war, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called "a national security priority." But the U.S. is far from a neutral party; it is also providing military assistance to an Arab military coalition fighting the rebels on Hadi's behalf.

The coalition's two leading members, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have also hedged their bets, forming alliances with local political figures and sponsoring proxy forces.

Efforts at peace talks have repeatedly failed over the last three years. And as the fighting continues, a sense of national cohesion is evaporating.

The old Yemen "will never come back," said Badr Baslmah, a former Yemeni transport minister who lives in Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt, Yemen's largest province. The central state was being replaced by regional autonomy, and the most pressing question now is: "How do you settle [upon] the new Yemen," he said.

When Bahsani, the governor, talks about the solution to the civil war, his focus is not on Yemen's unity but rather a settlement that "assures the rights of regions," as he put it in an interview with reporters earlier this month.

Yemenis have long debated whether some kind of division would be a boon to a country long seen as too highly centralized - a federal system, perhaps, or a split between the north and south, which had long been separate countries until they merged in 1990. But the divisions unfolding now are not negotiated or planned, like the peaceful split of the former Czechoslovakia, for example.

Rather, Yemen recalls Libya in the years after its dictator was toppled in 2011: fractured, increasingly violent and a source of alarm beyond its borders.

The push by Bahsani and his allies to stabilize Mukalla came after Al-Qaeda's occupation of the city for more than a year, beginning in the spring of 2015. The militants had easily routed Yemeni troops in the city and wrung Mukalla for profit, looting the central bank and siphoning money from the port. They retreated after Yemeni forces trained and led by the UAE stormed the city in April 2016.

But the region never really returned to the national fold, emerging instead as a cross between an independent republic and a protectorate of the UAE, which has built several military bases in the province.

Bahsani, who holds the rank of major general, helped lead the military unit, known as the Hadrami Elite forces, that retook Mukalla. He still commands that force, which is responsible for counterterrorism in the region.

Residents have praised the elite forces for maintaining a level of security unusual for Yemen, even in the best of times. Among their accomplishments, they have made Mukalla a weapons-free zone, requiring visitors to the city to leave their firearms at checkpoints before entering.

Human rights groups, however, have accused the force of torturing suspects during anti-terror operations. Local officials deny the allegations.

One segment of the force receives salaries from the UAE and another from the Yemeni government, raising questions about the soldiers' loyalties. The payments have also led to concerns about friction within the ranks, since the soldiers paid by the government receive far less than their colleagues.

A local official said that the part of the force loyal to the UAE has frequently carried out military activities without coordinating with the national government, causing confusion and raising issues of accountability. "There is no clear policy," the official said. Across southern Yemen, similar security units supported by the Saudi-led coalition have sprung up, including some who have openly fought against Hadi's forces.

The question of who controls the regions has become more urgent as the hardships caused by the war have rippled across the country, leaving Yemenis, from frustrated business owners to working class factory workers, unsure where to turn for help.

Mukalla has fared better than other places. It is far from Yemen's bloodiest battlefields, has access to the port and sits in a region rich with oil.

But the governor's push to go it alone has not succeeded in making Mukalla self-reliant. The revenues he had been able to collect, from taxes and customs at the port, "cannot cover the basic needs," he said. "We have very difficult circumstances."

Nor has he been able to insulate the city from the wider economic crisis buffeting Yemen. For several days this month, the city was shut down by demonstrators angered at the plunging value of the national currency, which has fueled inflation.

In the hospital after one protest, Anwar Ali, 40, sat with a bandage wrapped around his head, after a soldier hit him with a rifle butt, he said. Desperation had brought him and hundreds of other people to the streets. "Prices are very high, and our salaries are very low," he said. The value of his salary working in a local tuna canning factory had been halved in a matter of matter of weeks. Local officials said they were powerless to do anything about it, he added.

For business owners, the central government's absence has set off a frustrating scramble to navigate the confusion of Yemen's overlapping authorities.

One businessman in Mukalla, an importer of foodstuffs, said that he was required to seek permission from the Saudi-led coalition in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in order to receive shipments at the Mukalla port. The system was well established and seemed to work smoothly, he said. So he was surprised when he was recently told that additional clearance was required from "Riyan airport" - a reference to the military base operated by the UAE. Officials in Mukalla denied that additional permissions were required.

The businessmen said he went to the governor's office and received a promise that officials would negotiate with the people at the airport.

"Nothing happened," the businessmen said.


Video Embed Code

Video: Khalil Bamatraf describes the day in 2015 that her city of Mukalla, Yemen, was taken by al-Qaeda fighters and looks back on the day of "breathing" in 2016 when it was liberated.(Kareem Fahim,Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)

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In 1960, about half a million teens took a test. Now it could predict whether they get Alzheimer's.

By Tara Bahrampour
In 1960, about half a million teens took a test. Now it could predict whether they get Alzheimer's.
Joan Levin (holding her 1960 high school yearbook) was part of a large aptitude study in 1960 called Project Talent. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

In 1960, Joan Levin, 15, took a test that turned out to be the largest survey of American teenagers ever conducted. It took two and a half days to administer, and included 440,000 students from 1,353 public, private and parochial high schools around the country - including Parkville Senior High School in Parkville, Maryland, where she was a student.

"We knew at the time that they were going to follow up for a long time," Levin said - but she thought that meant about 20 years.

Fifty-eight years later, the answers she and her peers gave are still being used by researchers - most recently in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease. A study released this month found that subjects who did well on test questions as teenagers had a lower incidence of Alzheimer's and related dementias in their 60s and 70s than those who scored poorly.

Known as Project Talent, the test was funded by the U.S. government, which had been concerned, given the Soviet Union's recent successful Sputnik launch, that Americans were falling behind in the space race.

Students answered questions about academics and general knowledge as well as their home life, health, aspirations, and personality traits, and the test was intended to identify students with aptitude for science and engineering. Test-takers included Janis Joplin, then a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas, and Jim Morrison, then a junior at George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

In recent years, researchers have used Project Talent data for follow-up studies, including one published Sept. 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Conducted by researchers at the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, the organization that originally administered the test, it compared results for over 85,000 test-takers with their 2012-2013 Medicare claims and expenditures data and found warning signs for dementia may be discernable as early as adolescence.

The study looked at how students scored on 17 areas of cognitive ability such as language, abstract reasoning, math, clerical skills, and visual and spatial prowess, and found that people with lower scores as teenagers were more prone to getting Alzheimer's and related dementias in their 60s and early 70s.

Specifically, those with lower mechanical reasoning and memory for words as teens had a higher likelihood of developing dementia in later life: Men in the lower-scoring half were 17 percent more likely, while women with lower scores were 16 percent more likely. Worse performance on other components of the test also showed increased likelihood of later-life dementia.

An estimated 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and in the absence of scientific breakthroughs to curb the disease, the Alzheimer's Association projects that number could reach 14 million by 2050, with the cost of care topping $1 trillion per year.

The 1960 test could have the potential to be like the groundbreaking Framingham study, a decades-long study of men in Massachusetts that led to reductions in heart disease in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, said Susan Lapham, director of Project Talent and a co-author of the JAMA study.

"If Project Talent can be for dementia what the Framingham study was for heart disease, it will make a difference in public health," she said. "It indicates that we should be designing interventions for kids in high school and maybe even earlier to maybe keep their brains active from a young age."

This might include testing children, identifying those with lower scores, and "getting them into a program to make sure they're not missing out and maybe putting themselves at risk," she said.

For years, little was done with the Project Talent data because the participants couldn't be found. A proposal in the 1980s to try to find them failed because, in that pre-Internet age, the task seemed too daunting.

In 2009, as the students' 50th high school reunions were coming up, researchers decided to use the reunions as an occasion to reach out to many of them (about a quarter have died). They were then able to use the test data to study things like the effects of diabetes and personality type on later life health.

But when contacted, the outcome participants were most interested in was dementia, said Lapham. "They wanted that to be studied more than any other topic," she said. "They said, 'The thing I fear most is dementia.'"

While students were supposed to have received their results soon after taking the test, some students said they didn't remember getting them.

Receiving her results recently was interesting in hindsight, said Levin, a retired human resources director who is now 73 and living in Cockeysville, Maryland. Most of her scores were over 75 percent, with very high marks in vocabulary, abstract reasoning, and verbal memory, and lower marks in table reading and clerical tasks.

Low scores don't mean a person will necessarily get dementia; the correlation is merely associated with a higher risk. But even if her scores had been lower, Levin said she would want to know. "I'm kind of a planner and I look ahead," she said. "I'd want my daughter and her family to maybe have an idea of what to expect."

Karen Altpeter, 75, of Prescott, Wisconsin, also said she would also probably want to know about her risk, since both her mother and grandmother had Alzheimer's. She liked the idea that the answers she had given as a teen could help science.

"If there's any opportunity I can have to make a difference just by taking a test and answering some questions, I'll do it," she said. "I want the opportunity to make things better for people."

Earlier studies had suggested a relationship between cognitive abilities in youth and dementia in later life, including one that followed 800 nuns earlier in the 20th century and found that the complexity of sentences they used in writing personal essays at 21 correlated with their dementia risk in old age.

But that study included only women, and no minorities. Project Talent's subjects reflected the nation's demographic mix in 1960.

Today, however, the country is more diverse. The number of minorities 65 and over is projected to grow faster than the general population, and by 2060, there will be around 3.2 million Hispanics and 2.2 million African Americans with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, according to a CDC study published this week. African-Americans and Hispanics both have higher prevalence of Alzheimer's and related diseases than non-Hispanic whites.

A follow-up study currently underway of a smaller sample of the Project Talent pool - 22,500 people - will be weighted to reflect today's population mix and will dig more deeply into age-related brain and cognitive changes over time.

It will examine the long-term impact of school quality and school segregation on brain health, and the impact of adolescent socioeconomic disadvantage on cognitive and psychosocial resilience, with a special focus on the experiences of participants of color.

That study includes an on-paper survey of demographics, family and marriage history, residential history, educational attainment, and health status; an online survey of health, mental health and quality of life; and a detailed cognitive assessment by phone of things such as memory for words and counting backwards.

Researchers will also evaluate school quality to determine whether there are racial or ethnic differences in the benefits of attending higher quality schools, and explore more deeply why some people develop dementia and some do not.

The follow-up, slated to be completed next year, is funded by the National Institutes on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by AIR in conjunction with researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Southern California.

Cliff Jacobs, 75, of Arlington, Virginia, who took the Project Talent test as a high school junior in Tenafly, New Jersey, doesn't remember hearing about any results. Then, a few months ago, researchers conducting the follow-up study contacted him and tested his cognitive abilities and asked about his life history.

"They delved into my issues growing up - did my parents smoke, and was I exposed to any secondhand smoke? Yeah, my parents both smoked, and I didn't even think it was something to consider," he said.

A retired geoscientist for the National Science Foundation, Jacobs said he would be interestd in learning if he is at risk for dementia. "The statistical correlation is not one that will necessarily apply to you, but they can give you some probabilities," he said. "I guess basic human nature would be, 'Yeah, you'd probably want to know.'"

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Is the Korea denuclearization process for real?

By david ignatius
Is the Korea denuclearization process for real?


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 9th graf, replacing first two sentences. 10th graf, new last sentence. 2ND WRITETHRU: 5th graf, last sentence: "toward denuclearization." sted "toward nuclearization."


WASHINGTON -- After the big bang of the Singapore summit in June, with its showy but vague North Korean commitment to denuclearization, many analysts doubted that the deal had any real substance. But we're beginning to see the first signs of what a serious accord would look like.

This week's North-South summit meeting in Pyongyang produced accord on some basic essentials of a real denuclearization process. North Korea agreed to accept internal inspectors to monitor destruction of one of its test sites, a first step toward the broader inspection process that will be essential for any verifiable pact.

North Korea also agreed in principle to dismantle its main nuclear-weapons facility at Yongbyon, though the details are fuzzy and its offer is conditioned on reciprocal U.S. "corresponding measures." Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week floated a timetable (without objection from North Korea) for completion of denuclearization by 2021. That is aspirational, to put it generously, but it at least provides a baseline for the U.S. to protest if Pyongyang delays.

The Trump administration seems willing to offer some version of the desired "corresponding measures" as a confidence-building step that would facilitate the Yongbyon shutdown. North Korea wants a formal declaration of the end of the state of war, but it's unclear what precise formula the U.S. will propose.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues his mutual flattery with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump keeps cheerleading for a deal, tweeting Tuesday that emerging signs of detente between the Koreas are "very exciting." And Kim said this week that he wants a second meeting with Trump to ratify the moves toward denuclearization.

This week's summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also advanced Kim's fundamental goal of economic modernization. That's the significance of the proposed bid for a joint North-South Olympics in 2032. Managing such a global event would be impossible without massive upgrading of the North's infrastructure over the next decade.

Steve Biegun, the State Department's special envoy, will be traveling soon to Pyongyang with Pompeo. One thing Biegun brings to the table is his experience as a Ford Motor Co. executive, which will help him explain, in business terms, what it would mean for North Korea to join the global economy.

What's not to like about this week's Korean diplomacy? First, there are still far more questions than answers. Framing this agreement is a bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You find the straight edges that define the parameter, then start inserting the hard-to-fit pieces in the center. The most difficult pieces are usually saved for last, and negotiators could be left with a big empty space in the middle of this deal.

A second concern is that the diplomacy is driven by the two Koreas and their reunification ambitions. The spirit of reunification was prominent during the summit, but it is problematic for regional neighbors and for the countries themselves. Will South Korea really bankroll modernization of a country that is anti-democratic, xenophobic and has a history of belligerence?

U.S. military officials, and their counterparts in Japan, will want to look very carefully at details of the inter-Korean military agreement announced this week. According to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, it may include "pulling out some border guard posts and setting up air, maritime and ground buffer zones." The U.S. military command in Seoul said Thursday it would "thoroughly review" the pact, which indicates no one had cleared it with them beforehand.

A final problem for this deal is that it's too linked to Trump, a polarizing and politically fragile president. North Korean commentators continue to anchor their denuclearization offer to Trump. A commentary last weekend in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper stressed that "President Trump ... repeatedly expresses his thanks" for recent progress.

The Rodong Sinmun piece also included this backhanded statement of North Korea's expectation that Trump will offer the key concession Pyongyang wants: "We have not heard him saying that he will not do a declaration of the end of the war." And the commentary offers this obtuse reassurance: "Doing what we say we will do and seeing what we have started through to the end is our mettle and temperament."

"I worry that in terms of the U.S. political calendar, we are already over the cliff, and that Korea policy is going to be a victim," cautions Robert Carlin, a former CIA analyst who has traveled to North Korea more than two dozen times.

Is the Korea denuclearization process for real? Many hardline U.S. military and national-security officials remain skeptical. The outer boundaries of the agreement are becoming clearer. But the middle is a big blur.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Why should we believe Kavanaugh?

By catherine rampell
Why should we believe Kavanaugh?



(For Rampell clients only)


Why does it matter whether a then-17-year-old Brett M. Kavanaugh drunkenly tried to rape a 15 year old, at a house party, 36 years ago?

That question is implicit in all of the Republican defenses of the Supreme Court nominee.

The accusation amounts to "a little hiccup," says Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; a "drive-by shooting," says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C.; and, generally speaking, a cheap "smear," according to many other Kavanaugh enthusiasts.

The accusation is a distraction, such comments suggest, designed to draw attention away from Kavanaugh's brilliant mind and impeccable legal credentials. It's not just unreliable; it's also irrelevant.

Because it is apparently not obvious to everyone, let's examine why, in fact, it (BEG ITAL)does(END ITAL) matter whether Kavanaugh assaulted someone as an inebriated adolescent, why it (BEG ITAL)does(END ITAL) matter whether his denials are credible now -- and why we should absolutely want an independent, nonpartisan investigation, perhaps led by the FBI, to ferret out the truth as fully as possible.

Some have argued that the accusation matters because confirming Kavanaugh without resolving it would sully the reputation of the Supreme Court. Or it matters because it serves to deepen the impression that the Republican Party sees victims of sexual violence as disposable.

But in my view, the accusation matters most because of what it implies about Kavanaugh's general qualities not as a role model, or as a representative of his party, but what he might do as a judge.

Teenagers, particularly drunken teenagers, sometimes commit awful, cruel, even criminal acts -- acts that can wound victims for decades. When possible, they should be held appropriately accountable. However, what provides more insight into a person's moral rectitude is, arguably, not what he did as a minor but how he handles such sins once he has developed into a mature adult. Specifically, whether he takes responsibility and expresses contrition.

And if Kavanaugh is continuing -- today, as a 53-year-old man -- to deny a crime he in fact did commit as a drunken teenager, that casts doubt not only upon his character as a teen but also on his trustworthiness in other high-stakes matters today.

At present, there are reasons to doubt his credibility on this particular matter. Among them, somewhat ironically, is the improbable extensiveness of his denial, at least as relayed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Kavanaugh's public statement thus far has been brief: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." But Hatch has added another layer of comprehensiveness to Kavanaugh's denial, saying through a spokesman that Kavanaugh personally told the senator he was "not at a party like the one [accuser Christine Blasey Ford] describes."

Assuming Hatch is faithfully repeating this conversation, the assertion that Kavanaugh wasn't at a party like the one described is at best fishy. After all, Ford's own recollection of the alleged incident is hazy and offers few details beyond the fact that it was a house with no parents present, where just a few teens were drinking and Kavanaugh's close friend was present, probably in 1982. Sometimes Kavanaugh's defenders cite this lack of detail to cast doubt on her credibility, but his denial, given the lack of detail, would seem at least somewhat discrediting of him.

More significantly, his evasiveness in other exchanges with senators -- about, for example, receiving stolen information while working in the George W. Bush White House -- have likewise called his candor into question.

The big possible lie we should worry about, in any case -- and the one that seems more plausible in light of these other statements -- would be his promise to be "a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," who follows the Constitution faithfully and respects precedent.

If Kavanaugh lied to senators about not remembering parties or stolen memos or anything else, why would we believe he (BEG ITAL)isn't(END ITAL) lying about his commitment to impartiality and precedent? Why would we believe him when he told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that he believes Roe v. Wade is "settled law"?

In a sense, the crux of the matter is not Kavanaugh's character, or at least, not (BEG ITAL)only(END ITAL) Kavanaugh's character. It's what Kavanaugh's character might tell us about how candidly he has characterized his jurisprudence.

Senate Republicans have set an artificial deadline of Monday for Ford to testify. They have also refused to order an FBI investigation in the meantime, or even to subpoena a witness Ford named. Perhaps one reason is that they don't want to find out what evidence might turn up. And what dots the public might connect as a result.

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Life is not fair -- and neither is the Kavanaugh confirmation process

By ruben navarrette jr.
Life is not fair -- and neither is the Kavanaugh confirmation process


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally is an advance for Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018.)

(For Navarrette clients only)


SAN DIEGO -- Let's be fair. The last thing the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process has been about over the past week is fairness.

The process has been dark, dirty and dysfunctional. Worst of all, it has also been profoundly unfair -- and to more than one person.

A lot of folks have talked about the idea of fairness since Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct in an incident that allegedly occurred more than three decades ago when the Supreme Court nominee and the alleged victim were both in their teens.

Attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who brought the accusation, had said that their client would address the Senate Judiciary Committee out of a sense of civic duty.

That narrative barely survived one news cycle. The story then became that Ford would not testify until the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an inquiry.

But an inquiry into what? Certainly not what may or may not have happened in the 1980s. That's ridiculous, especially since no federal crime was involved. Surely what some Democrats are hoping for is that Kavanaugh speaks to investigators and to the Senate committee -- and that the statements don't match.

So instead of investigating a crime, the real objective would be to manufacture one.

When Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa -- who had invited Ford to address the panel -- refused to go along with the call for an FBI investigation and set a deadline for the accuser to confirm her testimony, her lawyers said rushing the process was unfair.

"The committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation," said attorney Lisa Banks.

If Ford doesn't testify, and simply leaves her disturbing accusation out there with no accountability -- like, oh, say an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times -- this would be unfair to the nominee. So says a moderate Republican senator whose vote could be crucial.

"I think it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her not to come forward and testify," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in a radio interview.

And, if Ford stands up the Senate, it won't be fair to those Republicans who stuck their necks out and asked that she be invited to testify. Besides Collins, this group includes Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Of course, it's also not fair to Ford that -- after she made clear in the letter she wrote to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California lodging the accusation against Kavanaugh that she did not want to be identified -- her name was leaked to the media.

None of this is fair to Kavanaugh -- not to mention his wife, daughters and parents. What should have been a beautiful moment for that family has been marred by what seems to be a partisan attempt at character assassination by Democrats.

As for Ford, it's fair to remind her of the stakes. If she doesn't testify, her entire story will never come out. She'll essentially go back to being "anonymous."

Once again, the American people are stuck in the middle.

Of course, there are always going to be the partisans who have the miraculous ability to know exactly what happened more than 30 years ago, without hearing testimony from anyone. They've already made up their minds.

But many of us -- perhaps most of us -- don't know whom to believe. We want to be fair to both the accuser and the accused.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is picking up on that with the groups he surveys.

"The American people believe in fairness," Luntz told Fox News' host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday. "And they believe that everyone deserves their day in court."

But, Luntz added, many wonder just how far we are willing to go back into people's lives to discern what kind of human beings they are today. He found a lot of support for the idea that judging someone for something that may have happened long ago is not fair.

Given that Americans just celebrated Constitution Day and the 231st birthday of our nation's founding document, you had better believe that none of this is fair to the Framers. When they entrusted the Senate with the power to advise and consent, this could not have been what they had in mind.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

How much evidence do we need to destroy someone?

By marc a. thiessen
How much evidence do we need to destroy someone?


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Christine Blasey Ford has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of attempted rape while they were both in high school - a charge he unequivocally denies. She can't remember the date the alleged attack took place. She isn't even certain about the year (although she reportedly thinks it may have been the summer around the end of her sophomore year when she was 15). She can't remember whose house she was in. She can't remember how she got there. She says she didn't tell anyone about it at the time, not even her closest friends - so there are no contemporaneous witnesses to back her claims.

No other women have come forward to say that the young Kavanaugh assaulted them. There is no pattern of bad behavior. Quite the contrary, by all accounts other than Ford's, he treats women with respect in his personal and professional life. (Full disclosure: I worked with Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush White House.) The gathering included just Ford and four others, according to her confidential letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. One man named by Ford as a witness has come forward and not only denied knowledge of the assault but also denied knowledge of the gathering in question. Another, who said he was the "PJ" mentioned in the letter, Patrick J. Smyth, has also denied being at a gathering like the one Ford described.

Ford deserves to be treated with dignity, not maligned or attacked. But let's not forget that Kavanaugh is human too. This ordeal affects not only him but also his family, including his two young daughters, who are hearing awful things said about the father they love. He cannot prove a negative. So far, there are accusations but no corroborating evidence. And accusations without evidence cannot be the standard by which a man's reputation and career are ruined.

Both Kavanaugh and Ford have been ill-served by Senate Democrats in this process. Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, knew about Ford's accusation for about six weeks and did nothing. She never asked Kavanaugh about the allegations in private or in public. She did not use the confidential, bipartisan process that the Judiciary Committee uses every day to assess the credibility of allegations against hundreds of judicial nominees -- which would have given Ford the chance to talk to the committee's professional investigators in a confidential setting. Bizarrely, to this day Feinstein has not shared a copy of Ford's unredacted letter with Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. But Democrats appear not to have been too scrupulous when it came to protecting her confidentiality.

Ford has also been ill-served by her lawyers, who initially stated that Ford "will agree to participate in any proceedings that she's asked to participate in." Then, when Grassley canceled the vote on Kavanaugh's nomination and scheduled a hearing where she could testify in public or private, her lawyers started echoing Senate Democrats' new message that a full FBI investigation was needed before she would speak to the committee -- undermining the perception of Ford's independence. (At this writing, she has reversed course yet again, with her lawyer now saying she might be willing to testify next week).

It's not the FBI's job to investigate. There is no federal crime alleged. As Grassley explained in a letter, "We have no power to commandeer an executive branch agency into conducting our due diligence." Senate Democrats know this. They have turned down Grassley's offer to participate in interviews of Kavanaugh, Ford and other alleged witnesses. They are using Ford to demand an FBI investigation in the hope they can use it to delay Kavanaugh's confirmation until after Election Day -- when Democrats hope to take back the Senate and block him from joining the Supreme Court.

The #MeToo movement is a force for good in society. It has removed sexual predators from the workplace in politics, media, entertainment, religion and elsewhere. It has encouraged women and men who have been abused to speak up -- and others to support their allegations. But allegations alone are not enough. There must be evidence. With the evidence available right now, there is no chance Kavanaugh would be convicted in a court of law. Indeed, no reasonable prosecutor would agree to bring a case. But in the court of public opinion, the standards of evidence seem to be much lower. This much is certain: The standard of evidence to ruin a man's reputation cannot be zero.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

The Senate has become a factory of suspicion and contempt

By michael gerson
The Senate has become a factory of suspicion and contempt


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- (BEG ITAL)This(END ITAL) is the cost when institutions have lost public trust.

The United States Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, protected by extended terms from contracting the political fevers of the day. This role assumes a certain level of competence, collegiality and goodwill among its members.

None of which has been displayed by the lead Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein. She knew about Christine Blasey Ford's charges against Brett Kavanaugh for nearly two months before they started leaking to the press. This method of revelation -- following the end of the Kavanaugh hearings -- blindsided Feinstein's colleagues, denied the nominee a proper chance to confront the accusation, and launched an important public issue under a partisan cloud.

So Feinstein is guilty of governing malpractice and has encouraged suspicion and contempt, especially among conservatives, for the institution she represents.

How about the Judiciary Committee more broadly? This is the place where serious-minded investigations of judicial qualifications (and disqualifications) are supposed to take place. The committee has subpoena power and a staff of investigators for a reason. It should be the forum where matters such as the charges against Kavanaugh are considered. And Chairman Chuck Grassley's offer to hear committee testimony by Ford, in public or private, was not unreasonable.

But Democrats view the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee as highly politicized -- and for an understandable reason. The most recent Supreme Court nominee chosen by a Democrat, Merrick Garland, was defeated and mistreated by delaying his vote beyond President Obama's term in office. There was no credible explanation for doing this -- except that the ideological stakes were high and Republicans had the ability to impose their will. It was a raw and effective exercise of power, but it had the cost of leaving a bad partisan taste in senatorial mouths.

Over the last few years Republicans have demonstrated an undeniable ruthlessness in the Supreme Court nomination process, encouraging progressive suspicion and contempt.

So how about the FBI? It, at least, should be a respected, trusted arbiter in American life. Why not take the job of investigation away from elected representatives and give it to career professionals?

But who could have possibly predicted the bureau's reputational roller coaster over the last few years? First, a clownish intervention in the last days of a presidential election that might have helped elect Donald Trump. Then revelations about politicized agents within the FBI who hated Trump. Then almost daily attacks on the bureau by the president of the United States, who calls his trashing of the FBI's credibility "one of my crowning achievements."

The Democratic call for FBI involvement was badly mishandled. By withdrawing Ford's initial agreement to testify before the Judiciary Committee and insisting on a preliminary investigation by the FBI, Ford's lawyers made their strategy seem like a time-wasting partisan maneuver. And we already know how Senate Democrats would overwhelmingly respond to an eventual FBI report. If the FBI finds strong evidence implicating Kavanaugh in a crime, Democrats will oppose him. If there is a muddled mix of accusations and memories, Democrats will oppose him. If Kavanaugh is completely vindicated, Democrats will oppose him.

Americans can be forgiven for thinking that everything involved in Supreme Court nominations -- all the institutions, traditions, principles, procedures, solemn oaths and columned buildings -- are merely a cover, a disguise for the will to power. Where there is no authority, all that remains is a contest of power.

Out of all this, two things strike me as clear.

First, as it stands, the facts are in Kavanaugh's favor. The charge against him is vague, uncorroborated and completely inconsistent with virtually all other accounts of Kavanaugh's character.

Second, an accusation of attempted rape can't be allowed to hang in the air without a more serious investigation. In matters of such cruelty and lasting damage, there is no exemption for youth and inexperience. I would no more want a Supreme Court justice who had attempted rape than I would want a president who committed sexual assault. That is not too high a standard.

I am on record saying that Republicans should go the extra mile to examine the Ford accusation. But not an extra marathon. Of all our institutions, the FBI retains some shred of moral standing. It should be instructed by the president to conduct an investigation, in a limited amount of time, with a narrow remit: to see if there are any other witnesses or contemporaneous evidence that would make Ford's claim seem likely. If not, Kavanaugh should be quickly confirmed.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

We must give Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves

By eugene robinson
We must give Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- "It never happened" and "it wasn't him" are legitimate, if inconsistent, arguments for defenders of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to make. "We have to stick to our deadline" and "there's no need to involve the FBI" are nothing but partisan Republican talking points. And excuses like "he was only 17" and "boys will be boys" are simply vile.

Obviously, I don't know whether Christine Blasey Ford's claim that Kavanaugh tried to rape her is true. In a court of law, he would be entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the allegation would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In a confirmation proceeding for a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land, however, different standards apply.

Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas Ginsburg for the Supreme Court in 1987, but Ginsburg withdrew after it was revealed that, years earlier, he had smoked marijuana. Youthful pot use likely would not be disqualifying today. A youthful sexual assault of the kind that Ford alleges surely would be.

Hypothetically, should a serious offense committed at age 17 be held against someone for the rest of his life? It happens all the time. Seventeen-year-olds are often tried, convicted, sentenced and jailed as adults in many states, including Maryland, where Ford claims the assault took place. These youthful offenders' lives are permanently shadowed, if not ruined, for things they did when they were too young to vote.

As advocates for victims' rights point out, juveniles sometimes do heinous things. Republican senators who routinely preach about law and order must look at the allegation not just from Kavanaugh's point of view but from Ford's as well.

There is no reason to doubt that something happened at a prep-school house party in the 1980s that still shadows her life. We know that she spoke of the incident in a couples' therapy session with her husband in 2012. We know that she reported it to a Washington Post tip line in July, before President Trump chose Kavanaugh as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Whatever this is, it is not any kind of last-minute hit job.

And for the record, this is not the last minute. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, are obviously -- and brazenly -- setting artificial deadlines in an attempt to rush Kavanaugh's confirmation through before the November election.

Not even two full months have passed since Kennedy left the court. By contrast, these same GOP senators kept the late Antonin Scalia's seat open for well over a year, refusing even to grant President Obama's nominee a hearing.

By now, we should know not to expect fairness from this Republican leadership, which richly deserves to be voted out of power. But we must at least demand basic decency -- which, in this case, means giving Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves.

It is not enough to listen to he-said, she-said testimony for a few hours and then call it a day. The FBI should be asked to reopen its background investigation of Kavanaugh and look into Ford's claim. Such an effort would not take long at all -- and would be in Kavanaugh's best interests if he is innocent.

Some of the GOP senators who insist on speeding ahead with Kavanaugh's confirmation had a very different view in 1991 when Anita Hill accused then-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among others, said that reopening the FBI's background investigation of Thomas was the right thing to do. It took all of three days for the bureau to complete the Hill-Thomas review.

Kavanaugh should welcome the scrutiny. What Ford alleges is not some minor indiscretion. She accuses him of a violent assault -- the kind of attack that gets people sent to prison. If he is to serve until retirement as one of the ultimate arbiters of justice in the United States, he should want as much testimony and information on the record as possible to assure Americans that he did not commit this alleged crime.

As for Ford, who wants the FBI to investigate, everyone should remember that she never asked to be in this position. She made her allegation anonymously, and came forward only when it was clear that someone had leaked her name. In the past week she has received death threats, and she fears for her family's safety.

Ford has been accused by some Republicans of being a political pawn. But ask yourself: Why would anyone choose to submit to such a life-upending experience without full conviction of the truth?

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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