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Erielle Davidson

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As the Iranian regime restores internet connectivity to vast swaths of the country following a government-imposed shutdown, new images are emerging from the week-long blackout that shed light on the severity of the tensions between the Iranian people and their repressive regime.

Naturally, the media has characterized the protests as stemming from economic distress resulting from sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. These narrative-building, myopic portrayals (more here and here) minimize the long-term concerns of the Iranian people, likely for the sake of salvaging the supposed crown jewel of Obama’s foreign policy legacy—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or more simply, the “Iran Deal.”

Less than two weeks ago, protests were sparked nationwide in dozens of cities and towns after the Iranian regime hiked gasoline prices by up to 200 percent, sending the already teetering economy into tumult. Although the government heavily subsidizes gasoline, the price jump still came as a shock to the Iranian economy, which is already buckling under high inflation and unemployment.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani alleged that the increased funds from the sale of gasoline would be used to fund welfare programs, whose costs have allegedly ballooned due to U.S. sanctions crippling the economy. But, unlike Western media outlets, the Iranian people remain wary of the regime’s attempts to assuage their economic frustrations, many treating the protests as an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the government as a whole, whose unpopularity continues to grow.

“One year into the U.S. unilateral sanctions campaign against Iran – which have been more effective than the past decade of multilateral sanctions – Iranians are pouring out onto the streets and pointing a finger at their own leaders, not Washington, for their shortcomings,” asserts Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

According to Amnesty International, at least 143 protesters have been killed in confrontations with the regime’s security forces, while reports from U.S.-based nonprofit Center for Human Rights in Iran allege that almost 3,000 others have been arrested. Due the internet blackout intentionally orchestrated by the Iranian regime to isolate dissidents and prevent the spread of information about the protests, the violent nature of the clashes between protesters and regime security forces is only coming to light now.

As Amnesty reports, “Verified videos show security forces deliberately shooting unarmed protesters from a short distance. In some cases, protesters were shot while they were running away.” Other videos reveal images of security forces shooting at protesters from rooftops. Across the country, tens of gasoline pumps, police stations, and banks have been razed to the ground.

The recent protests, which Western media will likely go through great lengths to pin on the Trump administration’s decision to renew sanctions on Iran, have torpedoed parts of the country into chaos. But this interpretation is inaccurate and short-sighted. “To say the protests are therefore Washington’s ‘fault’ is not only far off the mark, it lets the regime off the hook for its budget decisions forced upon its leadership because of their preference for a revolutionary foreign policy,” argues Taleblu.

Hearkening back to the inception of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have perennially sought to establish hegemony over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, using the large Shi’ite populations in each region as an “in.”

As Hanin Ghaddar wrote in The Tower back in 2016, “From the very beginning, Iran’s goal has been the establishment of a Shi’ite Arab territory that physically links Iran to southern Lebanon via Iraq and Syria.” But fulfilling this behemoth mission has translated into the Iranian regime allocating funds to, among other things, the development of missile technologies and a burgeoning nuclear program, as well as resulted in the funneling of billions of dollars to various regimes (like Bashar al-Assad’s in Syria) and to terrorist proxies (such as Hezbollah and Hamas).

With Iran’s budget, transparency is a pipe dream, but some have attempted to crunch the numbers. It’s rumored that Assad received roughly $15 billion in aid from the Iranian regime in 2015. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, the terrorist group effectively seeking to run Lebanon, allegedly receives $700 million from Iranian coffers each year.

“Washington’s non-kinetic (peaceful) pressure policy is robbing the regime of revenues, forcing it to choose between ‘guns and butter.’” Taleblu evokes the classic economic model used to explain production choices in a given country when parsing down the regime’s economic preferences. “As [Iran] chooses guns, it risks increasing domestic ire from its own population for its choices.” Indeed, the protests represent the ultimate manifestation of that ire.

But there is hope for the Iranian people seeking to end the repressive tactics of the current regime, and U.S. policy moving forward may be able to play a not-insignificant role in that effort. However, media outlets are likely to be less-than-thrilled to cover what amounts to full-throated rejection of Obama-era appeasement tactics.

“Washington desperately needs an Iran protest policy playbook,” Taleblu asserts. “It cannot afford to miss opportunities to stand with those whose aspirations are in concert both with American values and strategy in the Middle East.”

Taleblu outlines what he regards as a possible plan of action for the Trump administration in the coming months as protests unfold. “Washington must make sure that Iranians can both communicate freely and can access the internet when its being filtered or blacked out altogether.” In the latest rounds of protests, the regime’s ability to shut down the country’s internet amounted to an effective strategy of containment, siphoning off protesters from forming potential allies in the global community.

In addition to an effective sanction campaign for identifying and shaming those who violate Iranian human rights, Taleblu also argues that the situation would benefit from the U.S. offering “rhetorical support, quickly and decisively, for when Iranians take to the streets to use every single crisis – social, political, economic – to express their dissatisfaction with the regime.”

Taleblu’s strategies represent a powerful means of supporting freedom-seeking people without immediately resorting to military tactics to do so. They also indicate that the Trump administration has the power to strike an effective deal with a group of individuals, even if informal in some capacities. Unlike the Obama administration, let’s hope it’s with the right ones.

Author: Erielle Davidson

Source: The Federalist: In Iran, Trump Admin Has A Chance To Get Right What Obama Got Wrong

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s new motto, “Leave no vacancy behind,” has stacked the federal judiciary with young Trump-appointed judges.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Barbara Lagoa to the Eleventh Circuit by a vote of 80-15 on Wednesday, replacing Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton-appointee who had sat on the court for over two decades. Lagoa is the 48th circuit court judge appointed by President Trump over the course of his presidency, making 28 percent of all circuit court judges now Trump appointees.

The Eleventh Circuit exercises jurisdiction over federal cases arising in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. A graduate of Florida International University and then Columbia Law School, Lagoa served for a dozen years on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals, until Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court in January.

As the daughter of Cuban immigrants who eventually settled in Florida after fleeing Castro’s regime in the ’60s, Lagoa has openly discussed the manner in which her family experiences have influenced her judicial philosophy, particularly following her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court:

I am particularly mindful of the fact that under our constitutional system, it is for the legislature and not for the courts to make the law. It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people’s representatives. And it is the role of judges to interpret our Constitution and statutes as they are written.

In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food or hunger, liberty or prison, life or death. In our great country and our great state, we are governed by the rule of law—the consistent and equal application of the law to all litigants regardless of a judge’s personal preferences. Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws, not of men.

Lagoa’s confirmation is significant in a variety of ways. She is the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Eleventh Circuit and the first Hispanic to be nominated by President Trump for a Court of Appeals vacancy. Her confirmation also comes just one day after the Senate’s vote to confirm 40-year-old Robert Luck to the Eleventh Circuit, as well.

The combined confirmations of Luck and Lagoa mark the third circuit that the Trump administration has tilted in favor of Republican appointees. For mere hours prior to Lagoa’s confirmation, the Eleventh Circuit’s twelve seats experienced an even split between Democrat and Republican appointees. Now, there are seven seats filled by GOP-appointed judges, five of them by Trump-appointees alone.

“Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond told the Tampa Bay Times.

Tobias also pointed out how the GOP-controlled legislatures in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, when combined with the new makeup of the Eleventh Circuit, make the ground ripe for possible test cases of interest in conservative jurisprudence circles—cases impacting cultural wedge issues, such as abortion and capital punishment.

Lagoa’s confirmation is a reminder of the Trump Administration’s tremendous impact on the federal judiciary, reverberations of which will likely continue for decades after his presidency, particularly given the younger age of most Trump appointees and the lifetime tenure that accompanies a judicial appointment. Trump has appointed and confirmed double the number of circuit court judges that Obama appointed and confirmed at the same point in his presidency.

In a speech last Thursday evening at the Federalist Society’s annual Scalia Dinner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed his new motto, “Leave no vacancy behind.” A quick examination of the federal judiciary system reveals he has largely adhered to it. Indeed, as protesters crafted their signs for an anti-Kavanaugh protest outside the Scalia Dinner venue, the Second Circuit monumentally “flipped” in favor of Republican appointees—a reversal marked by the confirmation of Judge Steve Menashi on November 14 and Judge William Nardini on November 7.

Almost 30 percent of all circuit court judges in the United States are now Trump appointees, and as of the first week of November, nearly one in five, or 17%, of district court judges are Trump appointees. The average age of Trump-appointed circuit court judges is 49.1, based on late October numbers shared with PBS News by McConnell’s office and adjusted for the addition of Nardini, Menashi, Luck, and Lagoa. Trump appointees are on average a decade younger than Obama-appointed circuit court judges, a discrepancy whose significance cannot be overstated.

The Left’s current obsession with the federal judiciary is hyper-focused on the Supreme Court, as evidenced by routine calls from 2020 Democratic nominees to impeach Justice Kavanaugh nearly a year after his confirmation hearings. But it’s likely that this anxiety is misplaced—though the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court is asked to review over 7,000 cases per year but often hears under 100 of those cases (less than 1.5%). This significant gap indicates that the twelve circuit courts and 94 district courts almost always offer the “final word” on cases filed in federal court.

For many voters in 2016, particularly Trump voters who were less-than-thrilled with the President’s demeanor, federal judicial selection was, and continues to be, an issue of the utmost importance. Indeed, according to a 2016 Washington Post poll, a majority of Trump voters cited his ability to nominate justices to the Supreme Court as the “most important factor” in their decision to vote for Trump.

In an era where the Left perpetually advocates for staggering changes to society, and with the aim of using the judiciary to enforce it, the notion of a judiciary confined to the text before it (and to its original public meaning, as understood at the time of the Founding) is something wholly critical to a healthy democratic republic. As the Federalist Society routinely emphasizes, “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.” Appointing and confirming such judges is the first step to ensuring that very type of jurisprudence remains a staple of the federal judiciary.

Author: Erielle Davidson

Source: The Federalist: Almost 30 Percent Of All U.S. Circuit Judges Are Now Trump Appointees

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