Hillary Seems Tired, Not Hungry Perhaps we’ve just seen the beginning of the end of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Maybe we’re not stuck in Scandal Land.

For a while I’ve assumed Hillary Clinton would run for her party’s nomination and be a formidable candidate in the general election. After Tuesday’s news conference I’m not so sure.

Did she seem to you a happy, hungry warrior? She couldn’t make eye contact with her questioners, and when she did she couldn’t sustain it. She looked at the ceiling and down at notes, trying, it seemed, to stick to or remember scripted arguments. She was shaky. She couldn’t fake good cheer and confidence. It is seven years since she ran for office. You could see it.

Her claims—she stayed off the State Department email system for “convenience,” she thought “it would be easier to carry just one device,” her server “contains personal communications from my husband and me”—were so transparent, so quickly disprovable. Minutes later journalists were posting earlier statements in which she said she carries two devices, and The Wall Street Journal’s report saying Bill has sent only two emails in his life.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

This wasn’t high-class spin. These were not respectable dodges. They didn’t make you grudgingly tip your hat at a gift for duplicity. I could almost feel an army of oppo people of both parties saying, “You can do better than that, Hillary!”

This wasn’t the work of a national, high-grade political response team, it was the thrown-together mess of someone who knew she was guilty of self-serving actions, who didn’t herself believe what she was saying, who didn’t think the press would swallow it, and who didn’t appear to care.

She didn’t look hungry for the battle, she looked tired of the battle.

Everyone knows what the scandal is. She didn’t want a paper trail of her decisions and actions as secretary of state. She didn’t want to be questioned about them, ever. So she didn’t join the government’s paper-trail system, in this case the State Department’s official email system, which retains and archives records. She built her own private system and got to keep complete control of everything she’d done or written. She no doubt assumed no one outside would ask and no one inside would insist—she’s Hillary, don’t mess with her.

She knew the story might blow but maybe it wouldn’t, worth the chance considering the payoff: secrecy. If what she did became public she’d deal with it then. When this week she was forced to, she stonewalled: “The server will remain private.”

Is it outrageous? Of course. Those are U.S. government documents she concealed and destroyed. The press is not covering for her and hard questions are being asked because everyone knows what the story is. It speaks of who she is and how she will govern. Everyone knows it.

She knows it too.

At the news conference she seemed like a 20th-century figure in a 21st-century world. Her critics complain it’s the 1990s returning but it isn’t, it’s only the dark side of the 90s without the era’s peace and prosperity.

Mrs. Clinton is said to be preparing to announce her candidacy for the presidency in three to four weeks. But did that look like the news conference of a candidate about to announce? It lacked any air of confidence or certitude. For a year the press has been writing about the burgeoning Clinton Shadow Campaign. Where’s the real one?

Defenses of Mrs. Clinton were ad hoc, improvised, flat-footed. It all looks disorderly, as if no one’s in charge, no one has drawn clear lines of responsibility or authority. We hear about loyalists, intimates, allies, pals, hangers-on, Friends of Hill. People buzz around her like bees on random paths to the queen.

In 2008 Barack Obama had impressive, disciplined people around him—David Axelrod,Robert Gibbs,David Plouffe. I remember thinking at the time that they were something unusual in politics: normal. Hillary has people like David Brock, a right-wing hit man who became a left-wing hit man. Who’s he supposed to do outreach to, the other weirdos?

Is this thing really happening? Is the much-vaunted campaign coming together?

After the news conference I thought what I never expected to think: Maybe she doesn’t really want this. Maybe that’s what this incompetence is meant to be signaling.

Here I will speculate, but imagine being Hillary Clinton right now:

Her mother, the rock of her life, died in 2011. In the past years she’s had health issues. She’s tired, having worked at the highest levels of American life the past 25 years. She’s in the middle of a scandal and, being Hillary, knows that others might pop along the way.

Add this: Maybe she thought her ideological hunger, which was real, would sustain her throughout her life, and it hasn’t.

Maybe what happened to her, in part, is the homes of her Manhattan mega-donors. She’s been in the grand townhouses and Park Avenue apartments since 1992. She’d go in and be met and she saw what they had. Beauty. Ease. Fine art of a particular, modern sort, the kind that is ugly, that reminds its owners that just because they’re rich doesn’t mean they don’t understand that life is hard, painful, incoherent. It is protective, cautionary, abstract and costs $20 million a picture.

But what lives they have! Grace and comfort and they don’t have to worry about the press, they don’t have to feel on the run, they don’t have to press the flesh with nobodies.

She’d like those things! But she went into “public service” and had to live on some bum-squat-Egypt Southern governor’s salary.

She wanted what they have. They’re her friends, no more talented than she. But they went to Wall Street and are oozing in dough. She stayed in the lane she was in. And she figures she missed out on the prosperity her husband presided over.

She has her causes—women’s rights, income inequality. But she can advance them in other ways.

Maybe she isn’t really hungry enough for the presidency anymore. And maybe she doesn’t have illusions anymore. She’s funded by Wall Street. Her opponent will be funded by Wall Street.

Maybe she’s of two minds about what she wants. But it’s not really hunger that’s propelling her now, its Newton’s law of inertia: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Maybe she thinks about another line of work, a surprising fourth act. She likes to be served, be admired, be taken care of by staff. But you can get those things without being president. If you are wealthy, and she is now—and maybe that was the purpose of all those six-figure speeches—you can get those things easily.

Maybe she doesn’t, really, want to run. Maybe she’s not sure she can. Or maybe she’ll go for it: It’s what she’s been going toward all her life.

Maybe Democrats who saw that news conference will sense an opening and jump in. There’s the myth of the empty bench, but it won’t be empty if she leaves it. That’s another law of physics: Nature abhors a vacuum.

We all talk so much about the presidency and who’s got the best chance. Maybe it’s not Hillary. Maybe that’s over and no one knows, even her.

Push Poll

This is fascinating, via the Drudge Report. Look at the kind of questions being asked. It’s pretty clear what some political professionals see, or hope to see, as the potential weak points of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Who might be behind this polling? What use is being made of the data gathered?

Every year political mischief seems to become less and less secret, and voters seem to become more and more sophisticated, at least with regard to the black arts of politics, push-polling and media buys and such. Polling questions wind up going straight to the Internet and then straight to news sites. On seeing this, a political professional and veteran of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign said: “The most interesting thing is how sophisticated Iowa voters have become about polling. Captured all the questions and criticized the methodology, which is very impressive. They take their job as first in the nation very seriously.”

Stuck in Scandal Land As long as she is in public life, Hillary will protect and serve herself.

Doesn’t the latest Hillary Clinton scandal make you want to throw up your hands and say: Do we really have to do this again? Do we have to go back there? People assume she is our next president. We are defining political deviancy down.

The scandal this week is that we have belatedly found out, more than two years after she left the office of secretary of state, that throughout Mrs. Clinton’s four-year tenure she did not conduct official business through the State Department email system. She had her own private email addresses and her own private Internet domain, on her own private server at one of her own private homes, in Chappaqua, N.Y. Which means she had, and has, complete control of the emails. If a journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking to see emails of the secretary of state, the State Department had nothing to show. If Congress asked to see them, State could say there was nothing to see. (Two months ago, on the request of State, Mrs. Clinton turned over a reported 55,000 pages of her emails. She and her private aides apparently got to pick which ones.)

Is it too much to imagine that Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal the record of her communications as America’s top diplomat because she might have been doing a great deal of interesting work in those emails, not only with respect to immediate and unfolding international events but with respect to those who would like to make a positive impression on the American secretary of state by making contributions to the Clinton Foundation, which not only funds many noble causes but is the seat of operations of Clinton Inc. and its numerous offices, operatives, hangers-on and campaign-in-waiting?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

What a low and embarrassing question. It is prompted by last week’s scandal—that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign contributions during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. It is uncomfortable to ask such questions, but that’s the thing with the Clintons, they always make you go there.

The mainstream press is all over the story now that it has blown. It’s odd that it took so long. Everyone at State, the White House, and the rest of the government who received an email from the secretary of state would have seen where it was coming from—a nongovernmental address. You’d think someone would have noticed.

With the exception of the moment Wednesday when a hardy reporter from TMZ actually went to an airport and shouted a query at Mrs. Clinton—it was just like the old days of journalism, with a stakeout and shouted queries—Mrs. Clinton hasn’t been subjected to any questions from the press. She’ll slide, she’ll glide, she’ll skate. (With TMZ she just walked on, smiling.)

Why would she ignore regulations to opt out of the State email system? We probably see the answer in a video clip posted this week on Buzzfeed. Mrs. Clinton, chatting with a supporter at a fundraiser for her 2000 Senate campaign, said: “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I . . . ever want to do email?”

But when you’re secretary of state you have to. So she did it her way, with complete control. It will make it harder, if not impossible, for investigators.

The press is painting all this as a story about how Mrs. Clinton, in her love for secrecy and control, has given ammunition to her enemies. But that’s not the story. The story is that this is what she does, and always has. The rules apply to others, not her. She’s special, entitled, exempt from the rules—the rules under which, as the Federalist reports, the State Department in 2012 forced the resignation of a U.S. ambassador, “in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system.”

Why doesn’t the legacy press swarm her on this? Because she is political royalty. They are used to seeing her as a regal, queenly figure. They’ve been habituated to understand that Mrs. Clinton is not to be harried, not to be subjected to gotcha questions or impertinent grilling. She is a Democrat, a star, not some grubby Republican governor from nowhere. And they don’t want to be muscled by her spokesmen. The wildly belligerent Philippe Reines sends reporters insulting, demeaning emails if they get out of line. He did it again this week. It is effective in two ways. One is that it diverts attention from his boss, makes Mr. Reines the story, and in the process makes her look comparatively sane. The other is that reporters don’t want a hissing match with someone who implies he will damage them. They can’t afford to be frozen out. She’s probably the next president: Their careers depend on access.

But how will such smash-mouth tactics play the next four, five years?

Back to the questions at the top of the column.

Sixteen years ago, when she was first running for the Senate, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” I waded through it all—cattle futures, Travelgate, the lost Rose law firm records, women slimed as bimbos, foreign campaign cash, the stealth and secrecy that marked the creation of the health-care plan, Monica, the vast right-wing conspiracy. As I researched I remembered why, four years into the Clinton administration, the New York Times columnist William Safire called Hillary “a congenital liar . . . compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”

Do we have to go through all that again?

In 1992 the Clintons were new and golden. Now, so many years later, their reputation for rule breaking and corruption is so deep, so assumed, that it really has become old news. And old news isn’t news.

An aspect of the story goes beyond criticism of Mrs. Clinton and gets to criticism of us. A generation or two ago, a person so encrusted in a reputation for scandal would not be considered a possible presidential contender. She would be ineligible. Now she is inevitable.

What happened? Why is her party so in her thrall?

She’s famous? The run itself makes you famous. America didn’t know who Jack Kennedy was in 1959; in 1961 he was king of the world. The same for Obama in ’08.

Money? Sure she’s the superblitz shock-and-awe queen of fundraising, but pretty much any Democrat in a 50/50 country would be able to raise what needs to be raised.

She’s a woman? There are other women in the Democratic Party.

She’s inevitable? She was inevitable in 2008. Then, suddenly, she was evitable.

Her talent is for survival. This on its own terms is admirable and takes grit. But others have grit. As for leadership, she has a sharp tactical sense but no vision, no overall strategic sense of where we are and where we must go.

What is freezing the Democrats is her mystique. But mystique can be broken. A nobody called Obama broke hers in 2008.

Do we really have to return to Scandal Land? It’s what she brings wherever she goes. And it’s not going to stop.

Walker, Reagan and Patco

On Friday at the winter meeting of the Club for Growth, in Palm Beach, Fla., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a possible contender for the GOP presidential nomination, was pressed for specifics of his foreign-policy views. Walker referred to policy professionals with whom he’d recently met, and then suggested that what is most important in foreign policy is not experience but leadership. The “most consequential foreign-policy decision” of his lifetime, he said, was President Reagan’s handling of the air traffic controller’s strike. “It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world.” The message: “We wouldn’t be messed with.”

That caused a lot of raised eyebrows. I here attempt to return them to a more relaxed state. In the 1990s, when I was researching and interviewing for my biography of Reagan, “When Character Was King,” I became more deeply aware of the facts and meaning of Reagan and the flight controllers, and I discovered an element of the story that I think had not previously come fully to light:

It was the spring of 1981. Reagan was still a new president, and recovering from John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate him in late March. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis met with Reagan at Camp David to give him bad news. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, wanted to go on strike. The union’s 17,000 workers manned radar centers and air traffic control towers across the country. These were tough, high-stakes, highly demanding federal jobs. The union’s contact was up, they had been working under increasingly difficult conditions, and they wanted a big pay increase.

Lewis told me Reagan was sympathetic: The increased pressures of the job justified a pay increase, and he offered an 11% jump—this within a context of his budget cutting. But Patco demanded a 100% increase. This would cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million. Reagan rejected it outright. He told Lewis to tell the union that he would not accept an illegal strike, nor would he negotiate a contract while a strike was on. He instructed Lewis to tell the head of the union, Robert Poli, something else: As a former union president he was the best friend they’ve ever had in the White House.

Reagan’s tough line was not completely comfortable for him, personally or politically. He’d had little union support in the 1980 election, but Patco was one of the few that had backed him. Not many union leaders had been friendly to him, but Patco’s had. And he was a union man. he didn’t want to be seen as a Republican union buster.

Still, Reagan believed no president could or should tolerate an illegal strike by federal employees, especially those providing a vital government service. Not only was there a law against such strikes, each member of Patco had signed a sworn affidavit agreeing not to strike.

Talks resumed, fell apart, and by the summer 70% of the air controllers walked out.

They had thought Reagan was bluffing. He wouldn’t fire them, they thought, because it would endanger the economy and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of passengers—and for another reason, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The walkout became a crisis.

Reagan did what he said he would do: He refused to accept the strike and refused to resume negotiations. He called reporters to the Rose Garden and read from a handwritten statement he’d composed the night before. If the strikers did not return to work within 48 hours, they would be fired—and not rehired. The 48 hours was meant as a cooling-off period. In the meantime, Reagan made clear, nonstriking controllers and supervisory personnel would keep the skies open

What Reagan did not speak about was an aspect of the story that had big foreign-policy implications.

Air traffic controllers in effect controlled the skies, and American AWACS planes were patrolling those skies every day. Drew Lewis: “The issue was not only that it was an illegal strike. . . . It was also that a strike had real national-security implications—the AWACS couldn’t have gone up.” It is likely that even though the public and the press didn’t fully know of this aspect of the strike’s effects, the heads of the union did. That’s why they thought Reagan would back down. “This hasn’t come up,” said Lewis, “but the Soviets and others in the world understood the implications of the strike.”

The administration quickly put together a flight control system composed of FAA and Defense Department personnel, and private controllers, to keep commercial traffic—and US military aircraft—in the air.

It was an international story. The French government pressed the administration to make a deal. Britain backed Reagan. Canada’s flight controllers shut down the airport in Gander, Newfoundland, in solidarity with Patco. Lewis, with the president’s backing, told them that if they didn’t reopen within two hours the U.S. would never land there again. They reopened.

The administration could have arrested the strike leaders but didn’t. Congressional Democrats could have used the strike for partisan advantage and didn’t, or didn’t much.

Sen. Edward Kennedy and Lane Kirkland of the AFL CIO played helpful and constructive roles. Persuaded the administration had a case—a 100% increase was asking too much, a strike against the public safety was illegal—both kept a lot of Democrats on the Hill and in the labor movement from coming out strong against the administration.

Lewis said there were unhelpful moments from a few of the president’s longtime supporters. Some were wealthy men who owned their own jets and didn’t want to be inconvenienced. One called Lewis and told him he was going to get him fired. Lewis called the Oval Office. “I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re going out to California soon and Justin Dart and all these guys have private planes and they’re all raising Cain with me.’ I said, ‘I hope you don’t cut my legs out from under me.’”

Reagan, said Lewis, responded: “I‘ve never cut the legs out from anybody in my life. You let me worry about my friends, you worry about the strike.”

When the two-day cool-off period ended, 70% of the air controllers were still out. They all lost their jobs. “We fired 11,400 traffic controllers,” said Lewis. “That’s a lot of families. . . . And the union had supported us, and it was a good union. It was very sad. We were both upset about the firing. [Reagan] was almost in tears that he was going to hurt those families.”

So why was, and is, the story of Reagan and the flight controllers an important one?

What was at issue was crucial and high-stakes. What Reagan did worked: The administration promised to keep the skies open and did. The Patco decision set the pattern for wage negotiations over the next eight years, not only for the federal government but for local and state governments. The U.S. Postal Service’s half million workers were readying to go on strike shortly after Patco walked out. They didn’t. Mayors soon observed that a new climate seemed to have taken hold in their municipal negotiations.

Foreign governments, from friends and allies to adversaries and competitors, saw that the new president could make tough decisions, pay the price, and win the battle. The Soviets watched like everybody else. They observed how the new president handled a national-security challenge. They saw that his rhetorical toughness would be echoed in tough actions. They hadn’t known that until this point. They knew it now.

This is why Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz said that the Patco decision was the most important foreign-policy decision Reagan ever made.

Everyone knew at the time that it was a domestic crisis. It wasn’t until years later that they came to appreciate that it was foreign-affairs victory.

So was Scott Walker right about the importance of Reagan and Patco?

Yes.

But two caveats. One is that Ronald Reagan himself would never suggest, on the way to the presidency, that all you need to understand foreign policy is a good gut and leadership abilities. You need knowledge, sophistication, grasp. He’d been studying foreign affairs all his adult life. He walked into the Oval Office with a policy: We win, the Soviets lose. A talent for leadership doesn’t tell you where to go, it helps you get there. Wisdom tells you where to go.

Second, in January Walker said that documents released by the Soviet Union proved the Soviets treated the U.S. differently after the strike. I have never heard of such documents. No one I spoke to for the book referred to them. The Washington Post has quoted former Reagan ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, saying “There is no evidence of that whatsoever.” I suspect that is correct.

If Walker got it wrong, he should say so. Though I’m not sure it matters in any deep way. Of course the Soviets saw and understood what had happened with Reagan and the union. Of course they would factor it in. They had eyes. They didn’t have to write it down.

Sorry, Jeb, the Race Is Wide Open Democrats may be ready for Hillary, but nothing is inevitable for the GOP.

Thoughts on the 2016 primaries:

No one expects anything from the Democrats. They will back, accept or acquiesce in a coronation. This will not be called passive but disciplined. But when you think about it—one of our two major parties, in a time of considerable national peril, will settle its presidential nomination without vigorous debate—it is weird and disturbing.

Republicans are the action, and will draw all the lightning. A read on where the base—huge, broad and varied, including but not limited to attendees of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference—is:

Republican CandidatesRepublicans this year are not looking for Reagan. They’re looking for Churchill. They’re looking for the guy who knows the war is already here, not the guy who knows the war can be averted if we defeat the guys who would wage it. What is “the war”? Everything from scarily sluggish economic growth to long-term liabilities and deficits; from the melting away of the post-World-War-II order to the Mideast to domestic terrorism. Every four years there is frustration and argument; this year there is urgency.

What the Republican Party needs in a presidential candidate is not a centrist who can make the sale to conservatives in the primaries; it is a conservative who can win over centrists in the general election. That means the Republican nominee should be a man or woman who can redefine conservative thinking for current circumstances and produce policies that centrists and independents will find worthy of consideration.

Jeb Bush is said by some and treated by many as the front-runner, the one to beat. I don’t see it. In fact I think he’s making a poor impression.

It’s a commonplace to say nobody’s watching this early. But some people are, especially activists in the base and the mainstream media, which is picking up impressions that will harden into widespread clichés. What are they seeing?

Mr. Bush is spending much of his time in The Rooms—offices and conference rooms—with millionaires and billionaires. Money in politics is very important, and Mr. Bush makes a great impression on the denizens of The Rooms. He speaks their language. They like his experience, the fluency with which he speaks of domestic policy. Here his family name helps him; they know he is politically vetted, a successful former governor, is respectful of the imperatives of business, and is bottom-line sane.

It is going so well that Patrick O’Connor of the Journal reported this week the Bush team is asking fundraisers who want to join the campaign’s top tier to collect $500,000 by the end of March. But veteran bundlers expect it will cost more “to reach the inner circle . . . because deep-pocketed donors have been so eager to write big checks.”

All this reflects a deliberate allocating of the candidate’s time. The Bush campaign will vacuum up money now and be interesting and compelling later. They’re trying to force rivals out of the race by picking up their potential donors and leaving nothing but crumbs.

Mr. Bush’s operation is also, according to the New York Times, muscling party strategists and policy specialists to advise only him and no one else. Again a message is sent: Be with us now or we’ll remember later. It sounds tough and Clintonian. Actually it looks less like a sales pitch than a hostile takeover.

There’s something tentative and joyless in Mr. Bush’s public presentations. He isn’t mixing it up with voters or wading into the crowd. So far he is not good at the podium. His recent foreign-policy speech was both bland and jangly, and its one memorable statement—“I am my own man”—was the kind of thing a candidate shouldn’t have to say.

What is most missing so far is a fierce sense of engagement, a passionate desire to lead America out of the morass, a fiery—or Churchillian—certainty that he is the man for the moment. In its place we see a softer, wanner I’m smart, accomplished, know policy, and it’s my turn.

I am not sure Mr. Bush likes the base. If he doesn’t, it would explain some of his discomfort. I am wondering if he sees the base as a challenge, not a home, something he has to manage, not something he is of. He was perhaps referring to this in December when he said you have “to lose the primary to win the general.” Actually you have to win it, but to really succeed you have to show you share the base’s heart, that you understand its beginning points and align with it on essentials. When you disagree with it you address those issues among friends, and with confidence. You can’t cover up differences in a passive-aggressive way—at their feet when you really want to be at their throat.

A certain resistance to the idea of Mr. Bush is bubbling up among some journalists and intellectuals. In an arresting piece in the Atlantic, David Frum asked if he is the Republican Obama —essentially bicultural, interested in transforming a nation he finds lacking. “Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being ‘between two worlds,’ ” Mr. Obama in his books and Mr. Bush in his speeches. “Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.”

Jim Geraghty of National Review writes of “considerable evidence that there’s a lot of Jeb-skepticism out there among conservatives.” Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard says Mr. Bush may be “cornering the market” on professional Republicans but asks: “What is the case for a Bush restoration, beyond the fact that it would make the professional GOP comfortable once again? Why should average Republican primary voters—the insurance salesmen and truck drivers, not pollsters and policy advisers—choose Jeb over Scott Walker, Chris Christie , Ted Cruz, or the dozen other potential nominees?”

These are respected voices read by many conservatives.

Finally, this week’s polls—yes, it’s early—offer Mr. Bush little comfort. A Quinnipiac poll in Iowa has him coming in fifth, behind Mr. Walker, Rand Paul , Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee . Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post noted the really bad news for Mr. Bush is that he was well known among respondents “and not all that well liked”—41% favorable to 40% unfavorable. A national survey from Public Policy Polling shows Mr. Walker in the lead at 25%, with Mr. Carson at 18%, and Mr. Bush in third place with 17%.

The road is long. Maybe Jeb Bush will succeed. But no one should bow to his inevitability. He doesn’t have a better chance with Republican voters than some other possible candidates, and may have less.

An Administration Adrift on Denial Why won’t the president think clearly about the nature of the Islamic State?

Great essays tell big truths. A deeply reported piece in next month’s Atlantic magazine does precisely that, and in a way devastating to the Obama administration’s thinking on ISIS.

“What ISIS Really Wants,” by contributing editor Graeme Wood, is going to change the debate. (It ought to become a book.)

Mr. Wood describes a dynamic, savage and so far successful organization whose members mean business. Their mettle should not be doubted. ISIS controls an area larger than the United Kingdom and intends to restore, and expand, the caliphate. Mr. Wood interviewed Anjem Choudary of the banned London-based Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, who characterized ISIS’ laws of war as policies of mercy, not brutality. “He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies,” Mr. Wood writes, “because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.”

IsisISIS has allure: Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are believed to have joined. The organization is clear in its objectives: “We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change . . . that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world. . . . The Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.”

The scale of the savagery is difficult to comprehend and not precisely known. Regional social media posts “suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.” Most, not all, of the victims are Muslims.

The West, Mr. Wood argues, has been misled “by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. . . . The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers,” drawn largely from the disaffected. “But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.” Its actions reflect “a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bring about the apocalypse.”

Mr. Wood acknowledges that ISIS reflects only one, minority strain within Islam. “Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”

He quotes Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on ISIS’ theology. The group’s fighters, Mr. Haykel says, “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition,” and denials of its religious nature spring from embarrassment, political correctness and an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

The Islamic State is different from al Qaeda and almost all other jihadist movements, according to Mr. Wood, “in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character.” Its spokesman has vowed: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” They believe we are in the End of Days. They speak of how “the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria.” The battle will be Rome’s Waterloo. After that, a countdown to the apocalypse.

Who exactly is “Rome”? That’s unclear. Maybe Turkey, maybe any infidel army. Maybe America.

What should the West do to meet the challenge? Here Mr. Wood’s tone turns more tentative. We should help the Islamic State “self-immolate.”

Those urging America to commit tens of thousand of troops “should not be dismissed too quickly.” ISIS is, after all, an avowedly genocidal and expansionist organization, and its mystique can be damaged if it loses its grip on the territory it holds. Al Qaeda, from which ISIS is estranged and which it has eclipsed, can operate as an underground network. ISIS cannot, “because territorial authority is a requirement.”

But ISIS wants to draw America into the fight. A U.S. invasion and occupation, Mr. Wood argues, would be a propaganda victory for them, because they’ve long said the U.S. has always intended to embark on a modern-day crusade against Islam. And if a U.S. ground invasion launched and failed, it would be a disaster.

The best of bad options, Mr. Wood believes, is to “slowly bleed” ISIS through air strikes and proxy warfare. The Kurds and the Shiites cannot vanquish them, but they can “keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand.” That would make it look less like “the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammed. ” As time passed ISIS could “stagnate” and begin to sink. Word of its cruelties would spread; it could become another failed state.

But that death, as Mr. Wood notes, “is unlikely to be quick,” and any number of things could go wrong, including a dangerous rapprochement with al Qaeda.

Mr. Wood’s piece is bracing because it is fearless—he is apparently not afraid of being called a bigot or an Islamophobe. It is important because it gives people, especially political leaders, information they need to understand a phenomenon that may urgently shape U.S. foreign policy for the next 10 years.

In sorry contrast, of course, are the Obama administration’s willful delusions and dodges. They reached their height this week when State Department spokesman Marie Harf talked on MSNBC of the “root causes” that drive jihadists, such as “lack of opportunity for jobs.” She later went on CNN to explain: “Where there’s a lack of governance, you’ve had young men attracted to this terrorist cause where there aren’t other opportunities. . . . So how do you get at that root causes?” She admitted her view “might be too nuanced of an argument for some.”

Yes, it might.

It isn’t about getting a job. They have a job: waging jihad.

The president famously cannot even name the ISIS threat forthrightly, and that is a criticism not of semantics but of his thinking. ISIS isn’t the only terrorist group, he says, Christians have committed their own sins over history, what about the Crusades, don’t get on your high horse. It’s all so evasive. Each speech comes across as an attempt to make up for the previous speech’s mistakes in tone and substance. At the “violent extremism” summit this week he emphasized Islamic “legitimate grievances” and lectured America on the need for tolerance toward American Muslims.

Of extremists he said: “They say they are religious leaders—they are not religious leaders, they are terrorists.” But ISIS and its followers believe they are religious leaders, prophets who use terrorism to achieve aims they find in religious texts.

On the closing day of the summit the president said, “When people are oppressed and human rights are denied . . . when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.” Yes, sure. But isn’t ISIS oppressing people, denying their human rights and silencing dissent?

“When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only available answer.” Yes, sure. But the young men and women ISIS recruits from Western nations already live in peaceful democracies.

It’s not enough. They want something else. It is, ironically, disrespectful not to name what they are, and what they are about.

An Honest Reporter, and His Antithesis Bob Simon was everything a journalist should be. Brian Williams could have profited from the example.

Bob Simon in Baghdad in 1991

Bob Simon in Baghdad in 1991

I was at dinner at the home of a friend, a journalist, when the phone rang. I heard her say, “Oh no, no,” and saw her face: Something terrible had happened, not to her personally but in the world. She got off and told us that Bob Simon, the CBS News correspondent, had died. I knew she was about to add, “in the Mideast,” or “shot down,” but she said “a car crash,” on New York’s West Side Highway. My first thought was: What an injustice. Bob Simon, who covered Vietnam, the Troubles in Ireland, the Gulf Wars, who was taken prisoner by Saddam Hussein —Bob should have left in the thick of it, in a war, dodging bullets. Nothing banal should have taken that soul away.

He was a bona fide and veteran foreign correspondent. I knew him at CBS, where I am now a contributor, a young man but already a person of stature, known for daring and judgment. He was different from the clichés of his job: He didn’t have movie-star looks or a polished baritone. But he had guts, flair, the mind of a reporter and a clear, clean writing style that, on inspection, was more than clear and clean.

All CBS, the next day, was in mourning. “Oh my God, this place just dissolved,” said his “60 Minutes” colleague Lesley Stahl. “Everybody here loved Bob Simon.” She had just come from a meeting of the show’s staff. “Everyone spoke, from the control room to reporters to editors to assistants, and everybody said basically the same thing, which is what he really wanted to be was a regular guy. . . . He didn’t want to be a big TV star, he didn’t want the trappings.” He wanted to walk the streets unrecognized.

“He was no-bull about people and things,” said John Reade, a former CBS News producer who worked with Simon for three decades. “His attitude toward news was ‘Get a load of this!’” It wasn’t indignation or “Are you kidding me?” It was, as Mr. Reade put it, “Get a load of this, it’s beautiful!”

He wasn’t dramatic or self-valorizing. “He didn’t take unnecessary chances, he took necessary ones,” said Mr. Reade. He protected his crew. “Television is a collaborative business. A finished piece, if it’s well-shot, well-cut, well-written, well-narrated, is a gem the whole crew can enjoy. They were proud to work with him.”

Both praised his writing. Ms. Stahl: “He was maybe the best writer for television news alive. He could get more feeling and thinking in a piece than anybody else. There was almost a moral quality to his work. A lot of his stories dealt with injustice, and there was a simplicity to his writing, a poetic succinctness.”

And he had range. “He covered a lot of war, a lot of violence—wherever there was any kind of explosion, there he went. But he also loved music and has a body of work about opera, orchestras, young musicians.”

Once a former president of CBS News suggested he get voice lessons, and everyone at “60 Minutes” groaned: “This is Bob—you can’t take Bob away from Bob,” Ms. Stahl remembered the thinking. “His writing and his voice were the same thing.”

Bob Simon was 73. He was the real thing.

*   *   *

And now the counterpoint. Some thoughts on Brian Williams.

I watched like everyone else the past 10 days, at first thinking one bad embarrassment does not sink a career, and then seeing the embarrassments pile up. An acquaintance, a journalist, quoted an old Japanese saying to the effect that people forget everything after 2½ months. I think we forget the specifics, the ins and outs of a scandal, but we retain the essential word that captures it, and the word here is lies. That isn’t a word that can be attached to the public face of a major news organization.

I think NBC essentially ended Mr. Williams’s career as anchor of the evening news, and did what they had to do.

He could not continue as a reporter of the news, or an interviewer who elicits news, because he could no longer report or grill when the story is lies. And in modern America the story is always lies. The 2016 presidential campaign has already begun. There will be famous gaffes, fibs, embarrassments, embellishments. How can an anchor or reporter ask questions when his own tendency to invent and embellish is well-established and a subject of national mirth?

Why did he invent tales of Bob Simon-like derring-do? He was already at the top and he was brave in the sense that everyone who goes to where the explosions are is showing physical courage. He was impressive without embellishments.

He probably doesn’t know himself. Watching the story unfold I thought of a line from the 1974 film “The Gambler”: “They’re all looking to lose.” Everyone who gambles isn’t only looking for the high, the score, the win but also for the other thing they need, the loss, the brush with death, the adrenal jolt of being ruined.

Mr. Williams’s fictions look very much like a form of gambling. They say he was warned, and he didn’t stop. He must have known each time he was telling an untruth that he was heightening the risk he’d be caught. He came up in the age of videotape and reigned in the age of the Internet. Someone was going to find something, and year by year they didn’t. He added to his stories the way a gambler on a streak increases his bets. “The rocket hit a helicopter” became ‘the rocket hit my helicopter,’ the crime in New Orleans became the gangs that overran his hotel.

Lessons? Anchors shouldn’t be allowed to become anchor-monsters. When management knows its anchor tells tall tales, it has to have the means to stop him. Things that are too big to fail, fail.

No one is safe anymore. Status is no longer a buffer. We know this in the abstract, but it’s still startling in the particular. Technology makes scandal faster and more completely devastating.

They can hurt you with tape but kill you with laughter. Many people, uncoordinated and unaffiliated, can bring down a target by doing a full frisk of past statements on the Internet, that incredible tool. But as powerful a weapon is anarchic wit. If you went to #BrianWilliamsMisremembers on Twitter , you laughed at the picture of him standing with Lincoln on the battlefield, or reporting live, apparently as St. Joseph, on the birth of Christ. American wit is in very good form, and it can be lethal. It wasn’t only investigative work that shaped the outcome of the Brian Williams story, it was the number of people laughing.

America is hungry for authenticity and honesty and fiercely resents its absence from places where it should be.

A longtime reader of this column, age 84, emailed recently to say the heartbreak of his life the past few years has been witnessing the daily corruption of all information—the rigging of numbers and claiming of facts, the scientific papers that manipulate data to advance a political agenda, the misleading government statistics. We’re drowning in lies, he said.

That is not an exaggeration.

Recrimination Is Not a Plan Islamic State has Washington paralyzed. Here’s a way forward.

Everything’s frozen. When you ask, “What is the appropriate U.S. response to ISIS?” half the people in Washington answer: “ George W. Bush broke Iraq and ISIS was born in the rubble. There would be no ISIS if it weren’t for him.” The other half answer: “When Barack Obama withdrew from Iraq, ISIS was born in the vacuum. There would be no ISIS without him.”

These are charges, not answers, and they are getting us nowhere. Bitterness and begging the question are keeping us from focusing on what is. We’re frozen in what was.

King Abdullah II of Jordan

King Abdullah II, the Supreme Commander of Jordan Armed Forces (L), meeting with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mashal Mohammad Al Zabin (R) in Amman, Jordan, on February 5, 2015.

There’s plenty to learn and conclude from the past. Great books have been and will be written about the mistakes, poor thinking and dishonesty that accompanied the 2003 invasion and the 2011 withdrawal. But at a certain point you have to unhitch yourself from your predispositions and resentments and face what is happening now.

The White House is paralyzed, the president among the coldest of the frozen. He erects straw men, focuses on what he will not do, refuses to “play Whac A Mole,” waxes on about reading a book about the pains of the deployed. He’s showing how sensitive, layered and alive to moral complexity he is instead of, you know, leading. At the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, he airily and from a great height explained to the audience that ISIS exists within a historical context that includes the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow. “People committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Oh West, you big hypocrite. This is just the moment to dilate on Christendom’s sins, isn’t it? While Christians are being driven from the Mideast? He always says these things as if he’s the enlightened one facing the facts of the buried past instead of the cornered one defeated by complexity, hard calls and ambivalence.

He is lost. His policy is listlessness punctuated by occasional booms.

The public is agitated by the latest killing, of the Jordanian pilot burned alive. That murder may have changed some calculations. Jordan’s King Abdullah is said to have quoted Clint Eastwood during his recent Washington trip: “He mentioned ‘Unforgiven,’ ” a congressman said, without specifying which scene. Well, good.

Which returns us to the question of a plan, a way forward.

We know ISIS is increasingly hated by the civilized world, and by many nations in the Mideast. Each day that brings new word of their atrocities, not only to prisoners but to local, subjugated populations, adds to the anti-ISIS coalition. But we also know they will not be defeated or decisively set back from the air. They have to be removed from the areas they hold. They need to be fought with boots on the ground.

Whose boots?

Some wisdom on that from two veteran players in U.S. foreign policy, former Secretary of State James Baker and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass.

On “Face the Nation” Sunday, Mr. Baker said ground troops are necessary but must come from Arab and Muslim allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. “My idea would be to go to the Turks, 60-year allies of the United States, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They have a good army. It’s an army that will fight. . . . They want to destroy ISIS. We want to destroy ISIS. There’s a convergence of interests here. Why don’t we get together and we say, look, we will supply the air, the logistics and the intelligence, you put the boots on the ground and go in there and do the job?”

I spoke to Mr. Baker at CBS before his appearance. He said the world is “coalescing,” and this is the time to move, with diplomacy and leadership.

So, a multinational Arab and Muslim military force to fight ISIS on the ground. Is this the right way to go?

Very much so, said Mr. Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations. ISIS, he told me this week, is “a network, a movement and an organization.” It poses a geopolitical, economic, and humanitarian threat to the world. It threatens Sunni regimes in the region—if it wins over their populations, “it turns every country into a potential failed state.”

ISIS “can disrupt oil-producing areas like Saudi Arabia. . . . It is inevitable that they will one day challenge the House of Saud” through terrorism or by attempting to rouse the population against it. “If you’re the Islamic State, you have to control the country that controls the two holiest sites in Islam,” Mecca and Medina, Mr. Haass added. America doesn’t worry about the threat to the oil supply because we are close to energy self-sufficiency, but “we are economically linked to the world, and much of the world is linked to Mideastern oil.”

Most famously, “any area controlled by ISIS is a humanitarian nightmare to Muslims not devout enough, to Shia, to Christians.”

There is the threat to American and Western security of returnees. “ISIS has the potential to produce graduates who come home, and to radicalize those who’ve never set foot in Syria. There is the returnee danger and the self-radicalization danger, as we saw recently in France.”

Right now what is important, Mr. Haass says, “is to break their momentum. The region and the world see them as gaining ground both literally and figuratively. This draws support from those around them. It’s important to break that, to allow those who are wavering to see that ISIS is not inevitable. If they are seen as inevitable it is self-fulfilling.”

What to do? Mr. Haass echoes Mr. Baker. “Attacking ISIS from the air is necessary but not sufficient. You need ground forces to seize areas ISIS holds. You need a ground partner.”

That partner should be “a multinational Arab-led expeditionary force—a force on the ground to take territory. It needs to be Arab and it needs to be Sunni, because you need to fight fire with fire.” It is crucial, he says, that Sunni Arab leaders demonstrate it is legitimate to stand up to ISIS.

Haass includes in a hypothetical force Jordan, the Saudis, the UAE, and “others—Egypt too. Even Turkey. . . . That’s what you need, politically as much as militarily. Unless that happens we don’t have a viable strategy.”

He agrees the U.S. should help with intelligence, training and special forces as well as air power. Also needed: “a digital strategy that stresses that ISIS’ behavior contravenes tenets of Islam and means misery for those they dominate.”

So—move to kill the Islamic State’s mystique. Give them a fight, make them the weak horse, and do everything to bring together the Sunni Arab world to do it.

Is this possible? Can it be done? Mr. Haass said it is “a long shot” but “not inconceivable.” Moreover, “it’s the conversation we should be having. We should make answering this question the priority.”

The U.S. would have to lead, push, press, promise and cajole. It would have to use diplomatic and financial muscle. But it would be doing so with allies increasingly alive to the threat ISIS constitutes not only to the world, but to them.

And it is a plan. Who has a better one?

America’s Strategy Deficit A haphazard foreign policy makes a complicated world more dangerous.

Something is going on here.

On Tuesday retired Gen. James Mattis, former head of U.S. Central Command (2010-13) told the Senate Armed Services Committee of his unhappiness at the current conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He said the U.S. is not “adapting to changed circumstances” in the Mideast and must “come out now from our reactive crouch.” Washington needs a “refreshed national strategy”; the White House needs to stop being consumed by specific, daily occurrences that leave it “reacting” to events as if they were isolated and unconnected. He suggested deep bumbling: “Notifying the enemy in advance of our withdrawal dates” and declaring “certain capabilities” off the table is no way to operate.

Sitting beside him was Gen. Jack Keane, also a respected retired four-star, and a former Army vice chief of staff, who said al Qaeda has “grown fourfold in the last five years” and is “beginning to dominate multiple countries.” He called radical Islam “the major security challenge of our generation” and said we are failing to meet it.

 Madeleine Albright and George Shultz listening to Henry Kissinger

Madeleine Albright and George Shultz look on as their fellow former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, testifies in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Jan. 29.

The same day the generals testified, Kimberly Dozier of the Daily Beast reported that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had told a Washington conference: “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists.” The audience of military and intelligence professionals applauded. Officials, he continued, are “paralyzed” by the complexity of the problems connected to militant Islam, and so do little, reasoning that “passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

These statements come on the heels of the criticisms from President Obama’s own former secretaries of defense. Robert Gates, in “Duty,” published in January 2014, wrote of a White House-centric foreign policy developed by aides and staffers who are too green or too merely political. One day in a meeting the thought occurred that Mr. Obama “doesn’t trust” the military, “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” That’s pretty damning. Leon Panetta , in his 2014 memoir, “Worthy Fights,” said Mr. Obama “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

No one thinks this administration is the A Team when it comes to foreign affairs, but this is unprecedented push-back from top military and intelligence players. They are fed up, they’re less afraid, they’re retired, and they’re speaking out. We are going to be seeing more of this kind of criticism, not less.

On Thursday came the testimony of three former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger (1973-77), George Shultz (1982-89) and Madeleine Albrigh t (1997-2001). Senators asked them to think aloud about what America’s national-security strategy should be, what approaches are appropriate to the moment. It was good to hear serious, not-green, not-merely-political people give a sense of the big picture. Their comments formed a kind of bookend to the generals’ criticisms.

They seemed to be in agreement on these points:

We are living through a moment of monumental world change.

Old orders are collapsing while any new stability has yet to emerge.

When you’re in uncharted waters your boat must be strong.

If America attempts to disengage from this dangerous world it will only make all the turmoil worse.

Mr. Kissinger observed that in the Mideast, multiple upheavals are unfolding simultaneously—within states, between states, between ethnic and religious groups. Conflicts often merge and produce such a phenomenon as the Islamic State, which in the name of the caliphate is creating a power base to undo all existing patterns.

Mr. Shultz said we are seeing an attack on the state system and the rise of a “different view of how the world should work.” What’s concerning is “the scope of it.”

Mr. Kissinger: “We haven’t faced such diverse crises since the end of the Second World War.” The U.S. is in “a paradoxical situation” in that “by any standard of national capacity . . . we can shape international relations,” but the complexity of the present moment is daunting. The Cold War was more dangerous, but the world we face now is more complicated.

How to proceed in creating a helpful and constructive U.S. posture?

Mr. Shultz said his attitude when secretary of state was, “If you want me in on the landing, include me in the takeoff.” Communication and consensus building between the administration and Congress is key. He added: “The government seems to have forgotten about the idea of ‘execution.’ ” It’s not enough that you say something, you have to do it, make all the pieces work.

When you make a decision, he went on, “stick with it.” Be careful with words. Never make a threat or draw a line you can’t or won’t make good on.

In negotiations, don’t waste time wondering what the other side will accept, keep your eye on what you can and work from there.

Keep the U.S. military strong, peerless, pertinent to current challenges.

Proceed to negotiations with your agenda clear and your strength unquestionable.

Mr. Kissinger: “In our national experience . . . we have trouble doing a national strategy” because we have been secure behind two big oceans. We see ourselves as a people who respond to immediate, specific challenges and then go home. But foreign policy today is not a series of discrete events, it is a question of continuous strategy in the world.

America plays the role of “stabilizer.” But it must agree on its vision before it can move forward on making it reality. There are questions that we must as a nation answer:

As we look at the world, what is it we seek to prevent? What do we seek to achieve? What can we prevent or achieve only if supported by an alliance? What values do we seek to advance? “This will require public debate.”

All agreed the cost-cutting burdens and demands on defense spending forced by the sequester must be stopped. National defense “should have a strategy-driven budget, not a budget-driven strategy,” said Mr. Kissinger.

He added that in the five wars since World War II, the U.S. began with “great enthusiasm” and had “great national difficulty” in ending them. In the last two, “withdrawal became the principal definition of strategy.” We must avoid that in the future. “We have to know the objective at the start and develop a strategy to achieve it.”

Does the U.S. military have enough to do what we must do?

“It’s not adequate to deal with all the challenges I see,” said Mr. Kissinger, “or the commitments into which we may be moving.”

Sequestration is “legislative insanity,” said Mr. Shultz. “You have to get rid of it.”

Both made a point of warning against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which Mr. Shultz called “those awful things.” The Hiroshima bomb, he said, was a plaything compared with the killing power of modern nuclear weapons. A nuclear device detonated in Washington would “wipe out” the area. Previous progress on and attention to nuclear proliferation has, he said, been “derailed.”

So we need a strategy, and maybe more than one. We need to know what we’re doing and why. After this week with the retired generals and the former secretaries, the message is: Awake. See the world’s facts as they are. Make a plan.

Bibi, Sitter

Whatever your views on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party, and the upcoming Israeli elections, put them aside for a moment and appreciate this as sheer political art. It is one of the best political ads I have ever seen—funny, warm, surprising and clever. It seems aimed at what I’d think is one of Netanyahu’s prime problems as a political figure, which is his heavy grimness, his air of aggression and constant warning. Here he is playful, jolly, a father figure. In a quick-moving 1:15, the spot takes acutely aimed yet gentle slaps at his opponents; it suggests everyone knows and so it doesn’t have to be explained that Isaac Herzog is weak and confused and Tzipi Livni unreliable and frenetic. The spot has a sort of French feel, with the comic music and the antic husband. Whoever conceived, wrote and directed it knew something most people, at least over here, do not, or at least I didn’t: Netanyahu is a really good actor.

An interesting artistic question, on first viewing, was why they chose not to include children in an ad about babysitting. The answer turns out to be Israeli election law, which does not allow the use of children under 15 in political ads. Netanyahu’s campaign was recently stopped from airing a commercial in which his opponents were portrayed as rowdy schoolchildren. In the babysitter ad, Netanyahu is watching a clip of himself on a screen, and chuckling. The clip apparently comes from the banned ad.