Commentary Magazine


Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

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Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

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Iranian’s Death Exposes Iran’s Syria Strategy

Culturally Americans are very direct. We say what we mean, and we don’t often beat around the bush. When George W. Bush declared, in the wake of 9/11, “You’re either with us or against us,” he captured in a phrase something a like-minded European politician might have taken an hour to say.

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Culturally Americans are very direct. We say what we mean, and we don’t often beat around the bush. When George W. Bush declared, in the wake of 9/11, “You’re either with us or against us,” he captured in a phrase something a like-minded European politician might have taken an hour to say.

The same thing holds true with regard to foreign affairs. When the United States engages militarily, it is often quite direct. Bill Clinton did not send American troops into Somalia or Bosnia secretly, nor did he try to hide the fact that he had ordered a cruise missile strike on Sudan and Afghanistan in the wake of the East Africa embassy bombings. George W. Bush declared the war on terrorism, which combined not only the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but also deployments to the Philippines. Likewise, Barack Obama has announced the deployment of American forces to places as far afield as Uganda, Iraq, and Liberia.

Many other countries obfuscate when they send troops into harm’s way. Hence, Russia has consistently denied that its troops were fighting in Ukraine, even as Russian journalists uncovered graves in Pskov, home of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, of Russian special forces based there but whom the Ukrainian government had announced killed over the previous weeks in Ukraine.

Likewise, the Iranian government has long denied that its forces are actively fighting in Syria. When the Syrian opposition has captured Iranians inside Syria, Tehran has dismissed its culpability saying that the young, fit, military-age men were simply pilgrims. This, of course, is nonsense. Heading into the midst of war-torn Syria on religious pilgrimage is like going to Acapulco for the cross-country skiing.

It seems with the United States projecting weakness and with President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their team willfully blind, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has stopped hiding its direct involvement in the Syrian fighting, at least in Persian. Hence, this story in the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency today, which announces the death of one Hoseyn Tabesteh which it identifies as a member of the “10th of Moharrem” IRGC Unit. Qasem Malekdar, the head of the Martyrs Foundation of Semnan Province, told the news agency that Tabesteh would be buried today in Semnan’s Shahrud county with several parliamentarians and provincial officials in attendance.

It is absolutely necessary to counter ISIS, wherever it might be—in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon. At the same time, journalists and analysts are right to ask whether targeting ISIS inside Syria is simply going to empower Bashar al-Assad and his noxious regime. The answer, of course, is not necessarily: there are more than two forces fighting inside Syria. While I am dubious about the Free Syrian Army, its moderation, and its capabilities, the Syrian Kurds are a more capable force than their Iraqi counterparts and have a far better track record against both ISIS and the Syrian regime. The problem is, though, that the White House and Pentagon continue to see Syria as an isolated, contained problem. President Obama’s strategy assumes the United States will act, and that no one else will interfere in the sandbox.

But if this story from Iran’s conservative press is to be believed—and there is no reason why it should not—then the IRGC will do its darnedest to ensure that once U.S. strikes against ISIS begin in Syria, Iran will be in a position to seize maximum advantage for Assad. This is not a reason for inaction against ISIS; rather, it is long past time that the White House and the Pentagon make clear that the IRGC inside Syria cannot expect immunity from American action regardless of the ongoing talks over Iran’s nuclear program. Iranians may culturally be indirect, but America should not be. To ignore the reality of Iranian action and strategy will simply empower Iran to augment its strategic position on the back of U.S. force, again.

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It’s Not About What ISIS “Wants”

ISIS continues to behead its hostages. The latest victim of its brutality was British aid worker David Haines, whose execution video was released over the weekend. Pretty much the entire world has united in condemnation of these evil actions, which have raised so much outrage in the U.S. that most Americans now support military action in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. But, some analysts suggest that this is precisely what ISIS wants–that the beheadings are simply a plot to draw us into a guerrilla war we cannot win. Can this be? Is it possible that we are playing into their hands by taking action against them?

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ISIS continues to behead its hostages. The latest victim of its brutality was British aid worker David Haines, whose execution video was released over the weekend. Pretty much the entire world has united in condemnation of these evil actions, which have raised so much outrage in the U.S. that most Americans now support military action in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. But, some analysts suggest that this is precisely what ISIS wants–that the beheadings are simply a plot to draw us into a guerrilla war we cannot win. Can this be? Is it possible that we are playing into their hands by taking action against them?

A similar suggestion was made about 9/11–some suggested that al-Qaeda struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon to ensnare the U.S., like the Soviet Union before it, into a guerrilla war in Afghanistan. So too it was sometimes suggested that the Iraqi army folded during the conventional U.S. invasion in the spring of 2003 so that Saddam Hussein could pursue guerrilla warfare against our troops. There is not, however, much evidence, much less proof, that this was ever our enemies’ intentions; even if the upshot of their actions was indeed to draw us into military expeditions in the Muslim world, that was probably not their intent.

If al-Qaeda had been expecting a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it would have been better prepared. Instead its cadres, including Osama bin Laden, had to scatter willy-nilly. Many of them were caught or killed by U.S. forces; others went into hiding. The Taliban were also caught off guard and it took them years to launch an insurgency, which they could not have done without Pakistan’s help. There is not much evidence of premeditation here. In all likelihood bin Laden was expecting the kind of response al-Qaeda had seen earlier, when Bill Clinton had lobbed a few cruise missiles at them. Neither bin Laden nor his ally Mullah Omar was prepared for an American-enabled offensive by the Northern Alliance that drove al-Qaeda and its ilk out of power and into hiding.

What about Saddam? Although he had prepared some Saddam Fedayan irregular fighters, who shocked the U.S. invasion force with their fanatical and suicidal resistance, and although some of his henchmen became instrumental in launching an insurgency against the U.S., there is not much evidence that he expected to lose the war or that he was prepared to wage guerrilla warfare if he did so. Saddam, too, would have been better prepared for defeat if he had expected it–instead he went on the run and was pulled out of his spider hole by U.S. troops at the end of 2003. The bulk of the evidence points to the conclusion that the insurgency developed as a result of circumstances–such as the dissolution of the Iraqi security forces and the excessive de-Baathification campaign–that could not have been foreseen in advance.

I doubt that ISIS can foretell the consequences of its actions any better than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden could. In fact the group’s brutality has backfired before, by sparking the Anbar Awakening in 2006-2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, then the deputy head of al-Qaeda, now its head, even armed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, then the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor of ISIS), against excessive brutality such as videotaped beheadings of hostages and mass murder of Shiites. All of this, Zawahiri said, would turn public opinion against AQI. But Zarqawi was so fanatical he ignored this good advice. So too now Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is indulging his blood lust and trying to instill respect for his group the only way he knows how–by lopping off heads. He probably imagines that this will frighten and cow his enemies. Instead it is having the opposite effect, by galvanizing opposition.

But let’s say I’m wrong and the beheadings are actually a diabolical plot to draw the U.S. into the wars in Iraq and Syria. What should our response be then? Should we simply ignore ISIS’s brutality if it actually wants us to intervene? Hardly. Because ISIS would win a victory–in fact it is winning today–as long as the U.S. does little to resist its evil designs.

At the end of the day, whether ISIS wants us to intervene or not is irrelevant. As President Obama recognizes, we have to intervene whether we like it or not–but we must ensure that our intervention is so successful that even if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi actually wanted to draw us in, he will come to regret his decision.

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Of Talents and Truants: the Absurd D.C. Public Education Bureaucracy

Wow. If anyone out there still needs evidence (and as we all know, sadly, they do) of the extreme bureaucratic toxicity to children of the public school system, they need look no further than this pretty breathtaking Washington Post story from our nation’s capital.

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Wow. If anyone out there still needs evidence (and as we all know, sadly, they do) of the extreme bureaucratic toxicity to children of the public school system, they need look no further than this pretty breathtaking Washington Post story from our nation’s capital.

Avery Gagliano is 13, and a piano prodigy. She performs Mozart and Chopin across the globe; she is an international music ambassador for the Lang Lang Foundation; in March, she won the junior grand prize at the Chopin International Piano Competition.

Unfortunately for Avery, she is (or was) also a (straight A) student at Washington D.C.’s Alice Deal Middle School. And as far as the D.C. public school (DCPS) bureaucracy is concerned, traveling the world playing concerts and winning competitions–while maintaining a stellar academic record–is simply not any better a reason to miss more than ten days of school than, say, hanging out, smoking dope, and playing video games. So, when her admirable musical accomplishments took her over the ten-day limit, Avery officially became a truant–something for which her parents could be prosecuted.

Here’s how DCPS greeted Avery on her return from winning the Chopin competition: with a truant officer. And with this email to her parents from one Jemea Goso, “attendance specialist” with the “Office of Youth Engagement” (can’t you just hear Mr. Orwell chuckling?): “As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.”

Appeals to DCPS’s better nature failed. And since Avery’s parents can’t afford some $36,000/year in private school tuition (take note, scholarship offices at Sidwell Friends, Cathedral, and Georgetown Day), not to mention a court case, she is now being home-schooled.

As a former DCPS parent conversant with the sludge of mediocrity that passes for a DCPS education, I could go on and on about how Avery isn’t missing much (besides the company of her friends).

But suffice it to say, score one for the Office of Youth Engagement!

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The End of American Naval Supremacy?

One of the most depressing things when I first went to Iraqi Kurdistan in the year 2000 was that while so many Iraqis understood that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s wars and decisions had frozen them in time, few truly understood the exponential advance of the rest of the world. Fourteen years ago, for example, students at Sulaimani University were still learning BASIC in their computer classes and faculty trained in the East Bloc had little concept of email let alone the Internet.

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One of the most depressing things when I first went to Iraqi Kurdistan in the year 2000 was that while so many Iraqis understood that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s wars and decisions had frozen them in time, few truly understood the exponential advance of the rest of the world. Fourteen years ago, for example, students at Sulaimani University were still learning BASIC in their computer classes and faculty trained in the East Bloc had little concept of email let alone the Internet.

So it seems to be the case with the United States and our military planners now. Four days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke of how American forces would soon be at pre-World War II numbers. Sequestration will force a further retraction. Adm. James “Ace” Lyons, U.S. Navy (retired) has noted that he commanded more ships in the Pacific Ocean during the Carter administration than exist in the entire U.S. Navy today. Whereas Democrats and Republican administrations both once sought the capability to fight two major wars simultaneously, the Pentagon now would have trouble mustering forces for one such conflict. This, of course, would be an open invitation for rogues and adversaries to take action while the United States is down or distracted. Enemies don’t take a pause just because Congress does. China most certainly has not.

Since World War II, the Navy has provided the backbone of America’s military strength, enabling the projection of force across the globe. And the aircraft carrier is the pride of the Navy, a veritable floating city and an immense system melding people with technology. This is certainly the case with the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest carrier officially launched this past November, and the first of the new, post-Nimitz Class carrier. The Navy has invested more than $12 billion in the Ford and its new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. If carriers have a lifespan of 50 years (assuming the Pentagon can conduct regular maintenance and overhauls), then will the Ford last until 2064?

Not if China has its way. China’s economic health and internal stability might be exaggerated, but its military build-up is not. China doesn’t try to do everything the U.S. military can do, but it has instead concentrated on negating America’s strengths while pursuing its own, for example, with hypersonic aircraft. The Chinese make no secret of their work to develop anti-satellite weaponry, but it is their work to develop carrier-killer missiles that should really frighten Congress and American military planners. Imagine: a single hypersonic missile that can sink a ship carrying 5,000 Americans without any efficient defense. Like a car accident in slow motion, it appears that defense and naval analysts acknowledge the problem but yet the United States appears unable or unwilling to invest in what is necessary to counter the threat. Instead, as the Chinese continue to develop and deploy the missile, the Chuck Hagel defense simply seems to be stay beyond the range of the missile, effectively ceding Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and most of Southeast Asia to a Chinese sphere of influence.

It’s not just the carrier-killer missile which is a problem. This past June, the National Defense University released a report charting China’s continuing progress developing new, faster, and more precise cruise missiles. The authors note:

The potentially supersonic speed, small radar signature, and very low altitude flight profile of cruise missiles stress air defense systems and airborne surveillance and tracking radars, increasing the likelihood that they will successfully penetrate defenses.

Continuing to outline the report, The Diplomat explains:

Moreover, cruise missiles can be produced cheaply, allowing China to acquire large quantities of them. This is important because it could allow the PLA to exploit simple arithmetic in overcoming U.S. and allied missile defense systems. That is, the PLA could launch enough cruise missiles to simply overwhelm existing missile defense systems. Indeed, the report states Beijing believes that cruise missiles possess a 9:1 cost advantage over defenses against them. Thus, the PLA might exploit a quantity over quality approach, the exact opposite of the kind of force structure the U.S. military has outlined for its future. “Employed in salvos, perhaps in tandem with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles could saturate defenses with large numbers of missiles arriving at a specific target in a short time,” the report notes.

On September 10, China’s official television’s Xinwen Live News program discussed and described new work on China’s C802A and C602 anti-ship cruise missiles:

Senior Guan told us that the gross weight of this missile is only about one ton, but it can hit targets more than a hundred kilometers away and can quickly hit and sink or seriously damage 3,000-ton battleships. Does this small missile really have such great power?

[Guan Shiyi,missile expert from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation] This is because the warhead has a characteristic, which is called armor-piercing explosion. It will pierce through first and then explode inside the warship. Therefore, its kill effect is very good.

There is a serious problem when adversaries develop technologies to neutralize the next generation of America’s Navy even before that generation is fully deployed. The United States has not lost a carrier in battle since World War II. Ignoring problems or convincing ourselves that the unthinkable will not happen, or believing that diplomacy can neutralize the vulnerability, is policy malpractice. Not only does it waste tens of billions of dollars but it puts the lives of American servicemen at risk and the security of America’s allies.

Perhaps it’s time to ask Secretary Hagel what he sees the second-order effects of losing uncontested naval supremacy might be, whether he sees uncontested naval supremacy as a worthwhile goal, and, if so—nothing can be taken for granted in the age of Obama—how the United States will maintain its naval supremacy in the face of Chinese anti-ship cruise and carrier killer missile developments.

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John Kerry’s Stupid Condescension

There is a certain kind of personality that not only can’t admit an error, but becomes stupidly condescending when they are asked to explain their error. Barack Obama is one such person; Secretary of State John Kerry is another.

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There is a certain kind of personality that not only can’t admit an error, but becomes stupidly condescending when they are asked to explain their error. Barack Obama is one such person; Secretary of State John Kerry is another.

Let me explain what I mean. Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer asked Secretary Kerry to clarify whether or not the United States is at war with ISIS (also known as ISIL). The reason the clarification is necessary is because the Obama administration, in the course of a few days, has had high-ranking officials say we’re both at war and we’re not at war with ISIS. Kerry himself said on Thursday that our mission was not a war but a counter-terrorism operation. By yesterday, in his interview with Schieffer, Kerry said we were at war with ISIS. In other words, Kerry was saying we aren’t at war with ISIS before he was saying we are.

When asked about all this, Kerry didn’t admit he was wrong. Here’s what he said instead:

Well, Bob, I think there’s, frankly, a kind of tortured debate going on about terminology. What I’m focused on obviously is getting done what we need to get done to ISIL. But if people need to find a place to land in terms of what we did in Iraq: Originally, this is not a war. This is not combat troops on the ground. It’s not hundreds of thousands of people. It’s not that kind of mobilization. But in terms of al Qaeda, which we have used the word war with, yeah, we went — we’re at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. And in same context, if you want to use it, yes, we’re at war with ISIL in that sense. But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that. Frankly, let’s consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL. And that’s what I’m frankly much more focused on.

Memo to Secretary Kerry: the reason there’s a “tortured debate going on about terminology” is because the administration you work for is sending out not just different, but contradictory, messages about the nature of the conflict we have with ISIS. And while you may think it’s a “waste of time” to focus on whether we’re at war or not, it actually matters. The citizens of this nation deserve to know whether or not we’re at war; and one might expect a minimally competent administration to be saying the same thing rather than conflicting things. To dismiss these matters by saying he’ll answer the question “if people need to find a place to land” is quite patronizing, which raises this question: What exactly has Mr. Kerry ever achieved to make him believe he’s above the rest of us? He’s been wrong on virtually every major foreign-policy matter since the 1970s.

Beyond that, the semantics are important because they reveal the cast of mind of those in the administration. If the president and his top advisors are conflicted about whether even to call this a war, you can bet they don’t have the determination and strength of purpose to actually wage and win one. And oh-by-the-way: If Messrs. Obama and Kerry believe we can defeat ISIS without prosecuting a war–if they think a counterinsurgency operation is enough–they are living in a fantasy world.

The Obama administration increasingly resembles a clown act. If they were in charge of a circus, that would be one thing. But the fact that they are in charge of American foreign policy is quite another. The damage being inflicted on America’s national interests and the international world order by the ineptness of Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry, Susan Rice & Co. is beyond immense. It now qualifies as incalculable. Those are not grounds for being haughty and supercilious.

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Connecting the Dots Between Euro Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong stand against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe when she appeared at a Berlin rally against Jew hatred. Lamenting the attacks on Jews throughout Europe but especially in the country that had supposedly done the most to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, she vowed that her government would do everything in its power to fight against the revival of Jew hatred. But the question is not so much her undoubted commitment to this task but whether other European leaders and opinion leaders will draw the proper conclusions from the connection between the anti-Israel invective they have encouraged and the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

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Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong stand against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe when she appeared at a Berlin rally against Jew hatred. Lamenting the attacks on Jews throughout Europe but especially in the country that had supposedly done the most to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, she vowed that her government would do everything in its power to fight against the revival of Jew hatred. But the question is not so much her undoubted commitment to this task but whether other European leaders and opinion leaders will draw the proper conclusions from the connection between the anti-Israel invective they have encouraged and the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Speaking at the rally Merkel said the following:

It is a monstrous scandal that people in Germany today are being abused if they are somehow recognizable as Jews or if they stand up for the state of Israel. I will not accept that and we will not accept that. … It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism. … Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society.

Merkel deserves credit for putting herself and her government on the line on this issue at a time when this issue is becoming more of a concern. The atmosphere of hate that she references is the result of a combination of factors in which the influence of immigrants from the Arab and Islamic worlds has combined with traditional Jew hatred as well as the willingness of many European academic and political elites to countenance verbal assaults on Jews and Israel in a way that would have been inconceivable in the first decades after the Holocaust.

But the key phrase in her speech was not so much the much-needed statement that attacks on Jews are attacks on all Germans and German democracy. It was that the people who are being targeted aren’t just those whose clothing indicates Jewish faith but the targeting of anyone who would stand up for Israel.

Over the course of the last several years as anti-Semitism has moved from the margins of European society back to its mainstream, Israel has become the focus of anti-Semites. Seeking to veil their hate with the guise of legitimate political commentary, they have sought to draw a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, a difference that even many Jews continue to accept. But Merkel’s pointed remark including support for Israel in her recitation of those under threat should alert her listeners to the fact that the line between hatred of Israel and that for Jews in general has long since been erased.

The idea that anti-Zionism is legitimate in a way that anti-Semitism is not has long been more a matter of nuance and semantics than reality. Those who would deny to the Jews the same rights—to a state in their ancient homeland and its right of self-defense—that they deny to virtually no other people on the planet is, by definition, an act of bias and acts of bias against Jews are anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

While it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the policies of any government of Israel—Israelis do it every day—those who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and opposed to any means of self-defense on its part, as opposed to just wishing to change its borders or government, are not engaging in legitimate political argument. They are, whether they initially intend it or not, actively supporting those who wish to commit ethnic cleansing and/or genocide against the six million Jews of Israel, as Hamas has openly stated as its goal.

What we have witnessed this year is that anger over Israel’s refusal to allow itself to be attacked with impunity by Islamist terrorists is blurring any distinctions between socially unacceptable anti-Semitism and anger at Israel that has been deemed mere politics rather than hate speech. The violent rhetoric against Jews and Israel that has spilled over into the attacks on Jews Merkel referenced is no accident. Nor is it a surprise that those who would delegitimize Israeli Jews and demonize their actions would extend this to the Jews in their own midst, whether or not they are Zionists or religious. While theoretically one can oppose Israel without wishing to kill all Jews, it is no coincidence that those who espouse the former slip so easily into the rhetoric aiming at the latter.

In order for this scourge to be effectively halted, it will thus require more than admonitions for Europeans to mind their manners and to treat others as they would themselves like to be treated. What it will take is an understanding that so long as Israel is considered a fair target for extermination, it is impossible to pretend that every other Jew on the planet will not be considered fair game by Islamists or more traditional varieties of bigots.

Chancellor Merkel has made a start in this respect, but unless Europe’s leaders make it clear to their people that Jewish genocide is unacceptable wherever it might occur, the rising tide of Jew hatred will not abate.

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End of an Era: UN Peacekeepers Stop Pretending to Keep Peace

The United Nations has come up with a strange follow-up to Israel’s credible accusations that UN facilities allowed themselves to be used essentially as human shields for Hamas in Gaza: the UN is now, apparently, using Israeli soldiers as human shields up north. Somehow I don’t think that’s what Israeli authorities had in mind when they protested the UN’s one-sided wartime behavior.

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The United Nations has come up with a strange follow-up to Israel’s credible accusations that UN facilities allowed themselves to be used essentially as human shields for Hamas in Gaza: the UN is now, apparently, using Israeli soldiers as human shields up north. Somehow I don’t think that’s what Israeli authorities had in mind when they protested the UN’s one-sided wartime behavior.

What appears to have happened, and which has been confirmed by UN spokesmen, is that UN peacekeeping forces on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights are in retreat. They have, in fact, left Syria. The phrase “peacekeeping forces” should have made them aware of the fact that they would not be supervising a game of hacky sack. A peacekeeping force, theoretically, would arrive during a period of temporary peace to ensure it becomes a permanent peace. The UN forces see it differently.

An AP story today very gently and generously breaks the news, and in doing so buries the lede a bit:

The United Nations said Monday it has withdrawn its peacekeepers from many positions on the Golan Heights because of escalating fighting in the war between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters.

Which positions on the Golan Heights? Asked and answered:

The situation has deteriorated severely over the last few days and advances by armed groups posed “a direct threat to the safety and security of the U.N. peacekeepers” along the Syrian side of the border and in Camp Faouar where many troops are based, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He said all troops in those areas have been relocated to the Israeli side of the border.

The Syrian side of the border! That’s seems pretty significant. Indeed, it’s the end of an era, as AP notes:

The 1,200-strong U.N. force has patrolled a buffer zone between Syria and Israel since 1974, a year after the Arab-Israeli war. For nearly four decades, U.N. monitors helped enforce a stable truce between Israel and Syria, but the spillover from the Syrian war has led to the abduction of peacekeepers four times since March 2013, made troop contributors wary, and led several countries to withdraw their soldiers.

But all is not lost. It’s possible, says the UN–though they don’t know for sure–that someone affiliated with the UN is still in Syria, somewhere, keeping some kind of peace:

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told The Associated Press earlier that he doesn’t think every single post has been vacated.

Seems like an important detail. But never mind. The important thing is that the UN peacekeepers are safe, hiding behind Israelis.

I don’t want to make light of the danger of patrolling a war zone; UN troops have been abducted a few times and the conflict is not going anywhere. But at the same time, isn’t this what peacekeeping troops sign up for? And if not, what’s the point?

Additionally, what do they think they’ll accomplish on the Israeli side of the border? They will be utterly irrelevant. They obviously won’t command Israeli forces, and they clearly can’t be sent on any dangerous missions beyond their new base.

That’s not to say they won’t be doing anything constructive. Each time there is war on or near Israel’s border, UN forces put a thumb on the scales against Israel and in favor of the terrorists Israel is fighting. Whether it’s covering up terrorist abductions, revealing sensitive IDF troop movement information, or having their facilities used to hide weapons or facilitate attacks on Israel, the UN can be trusted to act as an adjunct of whoever is trying to destroy the Jewish state.

So having UN troops retreat from a war zone into the comforts of Israeli protection is helpful because it will at least prevent them from playing their usual, anti-Israel role in armed conflict. Looked at from that perspective, then, this retreat may be the best move UN forces have made in years.

More than anything, this is yet another reminder that the international community ought to be far more judicious in pressuring Israel to withdraw from territory and put their security in the hands of others. Peace plans tend to suggest that Israel pull back farther than Israeli military leaders are comfortable with, having their place taken by a coalition of international troops. It is clear–as it has been for a while–that this is rarely a feasible option.

The international community also likes the idea of considering the Golan Heights occupied Syrian territory. They should ask the UN peacekeeping forces if they’d like the land to which they’ve currently retreated to still be on the Syrian side of the border. They should ask that question, by the way, while there still is technically a country called Syria.

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Israeli Reality Check for Liberal Critics

Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

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Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

A new opinion poll from Israel’s Channel 10 provides sobering results for those who continue to hope that Israelis will listen to them and both push for a new prime minister and resolve to begin leaving the West Bank. While many, if not most Americans, actually believe the press when they call Netanyahu a “hard-liner,” the perception of his conduct at home is very different. Far from convincing Israel to start ceding more territory to the Palestinians, after their 50-day ordeal during the summer as thousands of rockets fell on their heads and a new threat of terror tunnels made them feel even less safe, more Israelis seem inclined to view Netanyahu as not tough enough.

Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings dropped once the fighting ended and many of his countrymen were disappointed with his failure to end the threat from Hamas-run Gaza once and for all. These latest numbers confirm that the big winner if elections were to be held today would be the prime minister’s most strident critic on the right. Even more discouraging for the “save it from itself” crowd is the fact that the right-wing parties as a whole are gaining strength while those on the left are dropping even lower in public esteem.

The Channel 10 poll shows that the public would give Netanyahu’s Likud Party 26 seats in a new Knesset. That’s less than the 31 it got when it ran on a joint ticket in 2013 with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party. But that right-wing rival would get 14, representing a gain of four for the two natural coalition partners. But the big winner would be Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party which has been highly critical of what it considers to be Netanyahu’s timid approach to Gaza and negotiations with the Palestinians. It would get 16 in a new election, an increase of four over their current total.

While these three men are more or less continually at each other’s throats, it must be understood that the combination of the three—which represent the core of any center-right government—would stand at 56, almost enough for them to govern on their own and reminiscent of the old days of Labor Party dominance when the left ruled the country for its first three decades. That would give Netanyahu the option of putting together a right-wing government with the religious parties that would, however fractious its character, dominate the Knesset.

At the same time, the biggest losers would be the parties that Israel’s critics are counting on to form the core of a new “pro-peace” Cabinet. The centrist Yesh Atid Party led by current Finance Minister Yair Lapid is the big loser in the poll, going down to only 8 seats from its current 19. That leaves any potential center-left coalition led by Labor, which went down to 13 from its current 15 seats, hopelessly short of any sort of majority. Even if you added in the seats that may be won by a new party focused on economics led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon to the total of all the left-wing, centrist, and Arab parties, it adds up to only 49. And that is an inconceivable coalition since in all likelihood Kahlon and his supporters would join any Cabinet led by Netanyahu.

What does this mean?

The first conclusion is that although anything can happen in the two or three years between now and the next election, barring some sort of spectacular and currently unforeseen collapse, Netanyahu will almost certainly lead the next Israeli government.

Second, Lapid’s party appears fated to follow that of every other centrist party in Israeli political history. Voters are always hungry for alternatives to the old left and right choices but even though circumstances occasionally thrust a centrist to the fore, they are inevitably, as Lapid has been, marginalized by the continued centrality of war and peace issues on which they cannot compete. Lapid also made the same mistake of all his predecessors (including his father) of joining a government and thus became both tarnished and diminished by the hard choices any Cabinet must make on economics or peace. These poll numbers also lessen Lapid’s leverage in the current budget dispute he’s been waging with Netanyahu.

Third, and most importantly, these numbers reflect the fact that, unlike most liberal Jews–or most Americans for that matter–Israelis have been paying attention to events in the region. They know the continued rule of Hamas over Gaza and the Islamists’ increased popularity among Palestinians at the expense of the supposedly more moderate Fatah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas renders any idea of withdrawing from the West Bank, as was done in Gaza, an impossibility. No sane Israeli leader would risk turning that far larger and more strategic territory into another Gaza.

This will, no doubt, heighten the frustrations of American left-wingers about Israel. But their anger tells us more about them and their refusal to think seriously about what Palestinians have done and believe than it does about what Israel should do. Israelis want peace as much if not more than American liberals. But they understand that dreams of peace are meaningless to Hamas and Palestinian rejectionists. Those who claim to be pro-Israel as well as pro-peace need to come to terms with the fact that the people who understand their country’s dilemmas far better than they could are still firmly rejecting their advice.

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Teaching U.S. Officials About Radical Islam

When American forces first began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticisms abounded about the lack of troops’ cultural awareness when they entered the Middle East or South Asia. Some of the criticism was unfortunately true, although by the second or third years of fighting, American troops had a better sense of the region and religion than many of those lobbing cheap criticisms.

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When American forces first began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticisms abounded about the lack of troops’ cultural awareness when they entered the Middle East or South Asia. Some of the criticism was unfortunately true, although by the second or third years of fighting, American troops had a better sense of the region and religion than many of those lobbing cheap criticisms.

But while deploying troops must sit through countless hours of cultural awareness training to learn about the region in which they will soon live and fight, many with whom I have talked over the years voice a common criticism about the programs: They are subject to basic, politically correct descriptions of Islam that seem detached from the reality of their missions. U.S. troops who have fought in Iraq and still fight in Afghanistan are fighting not peaceful Muslims who abide by the most benevolent Koranic interpretations, but rather radical jihadis who seek to disfigure and murder in the name of religion.

The same is too often true with Department of Justice training. After having been criticized by Islamist advocacy groups for focusing too much on radicalism, the Justice Department has largely sanitized its training. It avoids controversy by allowing groups like the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)–which embrace or apologize for some of the worst groups–to help set the bounds of permissible interpretation. Letting CAIR determine what can and cannot be taught about Islamist terrorism is like letting the Taliban have final say on the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency manuals. To have ISNA have sway on how Muslim military chaplains are credentialed suggests a lack of seriousness about combating radicalism.

While no religion has a monopoly on terrorism, cultural equivalence also rings hollow: There is a far greater problem right now with Islamist terrorists operating across the globe and who use theological exegesis to motivate and justify their actions than with groups which root themselves in Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. To teach counter-terror analysts only about the “Five pillars of Islam,” commonalities between the Koran and the Old and New Testaments, and explain only the most sanitized interpretations of the Koran is simply policy malpractice made worse when questions regarding radicalism go unanswered.

Basic theology is not hard to understand. But if U.S. military officers and Department of Justice officials are truly going to understand the environments in which they serve and the adversary against whom they seek to protect the United States and all Americans, then it becomes essential that U.S. officials are able to understand and explain not only what the five pillars of Islam are, when the Prophet Muhammad was born, or what the 21st century definitions of Greater and Lesser Jihad are, but rather be able to discuss:

  • The passages of the Koran which extremists use to justify suicide bombing and precise theological arguments moderate clergy might use to refute those (beyond simply saying Islam forbids suicide).
  • The evolution of Islamic interpretation of the Koranic passages which promote beheading of prisoners.
  • They should also learn that, contrary to common rhetoric, the Koran is not always the same, either historically or in translation and interpretation.
  • All religions evolve. Few Christians would advocate publicly burning at the stake women who might publicly recite the Bible. After all, this is no longer the 14th century. Likewise, while it is important to understand contemporary interpretations of jihad, it is likewise important to recognize that the concept of jihad has evolved over time. That said, when militant groups seek to build a society based on their notion of how Islamic states might have acted 1,350 years ago, it behooves analysts to understand what theological interpretations predominated then.
  • The theology that Osama Bin Laden embraced and expounded, and that advanced by Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abubakr al-Baghdadi. If these men preach something un-Islamic, then an official with understanding should be able to explain why–not simply ignore their theology.

Teaching about radicalism is not Islamophobic nor should those who wish to protect or even advocate for Islam agitate against it. After all, the chief victims of radical Islamism are the moderates.

President Obama may have sought to project seriousness when he outlined a strategy to combat ISIS on September 10. But until the U.S. government—whether the Defense Department focused abroad or the Justice Department at home—refines its curriculum to address rather than avoid tough questions of theological interpretations, any officer or official participating in the fight will not only be entering it blind but, more damningly, will be entering it blind based on the political desire of their leadership. It’s time to equip those manning our front lines with real cultural awareness, not the religious equivalent of My Little Pony.

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Does Ken Burns Blame TR for Iraq?

PBS is broadcasting the premiere of Ken Burns’ latest blockbuster documentary—The Roosevelts: An Intimate History—this week so it is to be expected that the film will rekindle a host of controversies about his subjects. That is especially true of Theodore Roosevelt, on whom most of the first episode that aired last night focused. But while in recent years the 26th president has taken more flack from right-wingers like Glenn Beck for his role in the birth of the progressive movement, Burns gave significant airtime to those who are angry about TR’s attitude toward war and American power. In doing so, they told us more about the politics of the 21st century than the last decade of the 19th.

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PBS is broadcasting the premiere of Ken Burns’ latest blockbuster documentary—The Roosevelts: An Intimate History—this week so it is to be expected that the film will rekindle a host of controversies about his subjects. That is especially true of Theodore Roosevelt, on whom most of the first episode that aired last night focused. But while in recent years the 26th president has taken more flack from right-wingers like Glenn Beck for his role in the birth of the progressive movement, Burns gave significant airtime to those who are angry about TR’s attitude toward war and American power. In doing so, they told us more about the politics of the 21st century than the last decade of the 19th.

The Roosevelts rightly notes that the key moment that facilitated Teddy’s rise to national prominence resulted from the U.S. decision to fight Spain in 1898 and his subsequent heroism during the American invasion of Cuba. But the loudest voice in the film’s account of TR’s remarkable story in this chapter of history is Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers, a book I reviewed in COMMENTARY in March 2010 alongside another liberal critique of the first President Roosevelt by James Bradley. Thomas’s thesis was that the Spanish-American War was the precedent that served to entice Americans to wage other seemingly small wars over the course of the next century but especially the conflict in Iraq. In his reading of Roosevelt’s behavior, TR committed the original sins not only of imperialism and military adventurism but also embodying a lust for blood and war that should be regarded as evidence of madness, not courage. Burns allows Thomas to brand TR as “a dangerous figure” whose “glorification of war can’t be a good thing in the long run.”

In this opinion, Thomas is echoed by conservative writer George Will, another Iraq war critic, whose lack of enthusiasm for Roosevelt is also a product of his disgust for his willingness to expand the power of the executive at the expense of the Constitution. Will says the fact that TR “liked war” and thought “might makes right” gives an “unpleasant dimension” to his legacy and should cause us to view him with “dry eyes.”

Are they right both about the consequences of the drive to war with Spain, and should TR’s attitude toward war cause him to be viewed negatively?

Roosevelt’s rhetoric about manifest destiny smacked of the popular social Darwinism that was so popular in this time and is therefore tough to take in our own more politically correct time. It is also true that cynicism about the role the sensational “yellow” press of the time had in fueling sympathy for the Cuban independence movement as well as the likelihood that the U.S.S. Maine was not destroyed by Spanish sabotage when it blew up in Havana harbor—the incident that helped set off the war—has made the U.S. decision to declare war look more like aggression than support for U.S. positions against tyranny and for self-determination.

But viewing both TR and his war through the prism of 21st century American political obsessions (which have themselves recently undergone a transformation as horror about the decision to invade Iraq has lately been replaced by a realization that the U.S. must intervene again to defeat the ISIS terrorist movement) is an anachronism that does more to confuse viewers of Burns’ film than enlighten them.

In this formulation the drive for war is explained as the need for an otherwise effete patrician to vindicate his father’s failures. The same is true on a broader scale as Thomas depicts the push for America to take its place on the world stage as a function of the blood lust of a group of swells that were as mad as Roosevelt. But both of these points ignore more basic truths about TR and the choices America faced in those crucial years.

It is, admittedly, tough to explain why a 39-year-old man with a highly responsible government position (under secretary of the navy), bad eyesight, asthma, a sick wife, and six children would choose to gamble his life by heading to the front lines. For Thomas, the only explanation is that TR was made with “bloodlust” and a “war lover,” terms that he also applies to his son Ted, Jr. (who, at the age of 57, would lead American forces ashore onto Utah Beach during D-Day in 1944) in his book. Thomas is incapable of recounting the stirring exploits of either man without irony, something that says more about him than his subjects.

But while few of us could imagine ourselves doing as they did, would our country really be better without their example? If Teddy Roosevelt has always been admired by both conservatives and liberals as one of our country’s greatest presidents it is in no small measure because so many of us—regardless of our politics or our views about imperialism and the progressives—instinctively like his spirit of adventure, his belief in service and sacrifice for our nation, as well as his personal valor. Roosevelt went to war for the same reason he took on other political and personal quests: Because he believed that life was a constant struggle between right and wrong and thought neutrality or non-involvement in these battles was not an option.

It may be hard to get too enthused about the cause of Cuban independence today (do Thomas, Burns, or anyone else really think acquiescing to Spain’s brutal and repressive rule of the island was an attractive option for the United States?), but Roosevelt’s vision of America as a global power for which that war was the lynchpin is entirely defensible.

Even more to the point, do the critics of the first President Roosevelt really want to contemplate what the history of the 20th century would have been like if he had not helped drag his countrymen onto the global stage? Would those who urge us to view him with “dry eyes” or with horror for his embrace of military glory (an attribute that he shared with Winston Churchill) think the world would have been a safer or freer place had the West been left to face fascism and Japanese imperialism and then Communism without the global American power he helped forge?

Ken Burns’s films are always beautifully made, entertaining, and often enlightening excursions into history. But in the first episode of his Roosevelts, he clearly erred in allowing Iraq war critics to taint our view of his embrace of heroism and American power. As influential as his documentaries have become, I expect that his critiques, as well as those of people like Beck, will never succeed in diminishing enthusiasm for a man who embodied the idea of personal courage for his own generation and those that followed.

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Bill and Hillary’s Awkward Iowa Adventure

Hillary Clinton is running for president. And running, as fast as she can, away from Iowa.

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Hillary Clinton is running for president. And running, as fast as she can, away from Iowa.

The former secretary of state was in Iowa over the weekend for outgoing Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry. It’s one of the many Iowa non-campaign campaign events that have made the state’s role in presidential politics both essential and insufferable. And though her husband was on his best behavior, the event still raised the persistent question of whether Bill is helping or hurting his wife’s presidential ambitions.

It’s not a new question, of course: Newsweek asked it in 2007, the last time Hillary was running for president with Bill at her side. But it usually centers on his tendency toward bad behavior and his caddish history with women, at a time when the Democratic Party is running most of its campaigns on its own fabricated war on women. (Monica Lewinsky’s recent return to the news was facilitated by liberals, not mischievous conservatives.)

Yet the Iowa steak fry showed a different side of this possible hindrance: when Bill is doing precisely what the campaign needs of him–generally being the Democrats’ ambassador to anyone who doesn’t live on a coast–he so completely outshines Hillary as to make abundantly clear Hillary’s great weaknesses as a candidate. For one, Bill Clinton likes people. As Michael Barone wrote recently, contrasting the former president with the current one: “If you were in a room with Bill Clinton, he would discover the one issue out of 100 on which you agreed; he would probe you with questions, comments, suggestions; and he would tell you that you enabled him to understand it far better than he ever had before.”

Contrast that with how the Economist describes Hillary’s photo-op at the fry:

Mrs Clinton was the guest star at the 37th and final “Harkin Steak Fry”, a combined outdoor picnic, political fundraiser and gathering of the clans for Iowa progressives, hosted by the state’s outgoing Democratic senator, Tom Harkin. While a crowd of several thousand Democrats waited on a sloping, grassy field below, Mrs Clinton, her husband and Senator Harkin staged a mini-grilling of steaks for the press at a single barbecue grill in a fenced-off enclosure, framed by a handsome tree and a picnic table filled with some patient Iowans. Mrs Clinton gamely posed, pretending to grill a steak that had been pre-cooked for her. After briefly ducking into a small building, she emerged to exchange some careful banter with reporters.

The Duchess of Chappaqua can only pretend to grill a steak, just as she can only pretend to know what a grill is. She was nice enough to go sans tiara to mingle with the press while pretending to mingle with the commoners, but she might have done better not to act as though visiting a remote Amazonian tribe whose language she couldn’t hope to understand.

And where was Bill during all this? Practically crowd surfing:

Ex-President Bill Clinton could hardly be dragged from the press, cheerfully ignoring aides who kept calling “OK, guys, thank you” to reporters, as if we were holding their boss captive, and “Got to go eat a veggie burger” (a reference to Mr Clinton’s heart-conscious vegan diet). He had thoughts to offer on the mid-term elections (Democrats are in better shape than people think) and his red gingham shirt, a gift from his wife (“I worried I looked like a tablecloth in a diner,” he confided).

There is no question Hillary has benefited from her husband’s success, so there is a limit to the debate over whether Bill’s a help or a hindrance. Additionally, the type of weaknesses often matter in politics more than anything. Hillary has an obvious aversion to the commoners. She is not a people person, and does not appear to like the voters whose support she needs. She does not like the press, though they would step in front of a train for her. And the Democratic Party she seeks to lead is, more than ever, disgusted by freethinking individualism and nonconformist behavior. So every interaction with the voters is, for Hillary, a mine field.

And it doesn’t help, either, that the Democrats’ identity politics necessitate a total lack of humor. Their comedians become court jesters at the thought of another Clinton presidency; Stephen Colbert, in his move to late-night television, will go from impersonating Bill O’Reilly to impersonating Giacomo.

It is into this stuffy, grievance-filled atmosphere that Hillary will send Bill, the last liberal not named Brian Schweitzer who can smile without being prodded by an aide to do so. The message from Hillary’s campaign is simple: You probably don’t like me, and I don’t like you; but my husband’s a funny guy, and he’s the free toaster you get by signing up for Hillary.

Is it a winning slogan? Don’t be so eager to write it off. For one thing, this sort of campaign phoniness is usually a hindrance in the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, especially during a primary contest. But if Hillary’s campaign continues into 2016, there won’t be a primary contest. Iowa voters won’t choose Martin O’Malley over Hillary because she doesn’t grill her own steaks. It’s doubtful heartland voters would choose O’Malley over a root canal, in fact.

Does it hold Hillary back in the general election? Like every version of this question, the answer depends on who her opponent is. But a more interesting question is whether it helps or hurts Hillary to have Bill on the campaign trail with her. Voters may like talking to Bill, but at a certain point they’re going to notice that like actors need stunt doubles, their would-be president needs a schmooze double.

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Islamist Atrocities and the End of Outrage

When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

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When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

There were the beginnings of a similar moment when terrorists from Boko Haram, a radical Nigerian group, abducted hundreds of school girls, most of whom remain missing. Even al-Qaeda criticized Boko Haram’s action as destructive to the overall cause which al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists embrace.

Alas, it seems that the public—and Islamists—are becoming accustomed to such brutality and are no longer willing to condemn it on such a broad scale. Cases in point are the capture and enslavement of Yezidi girls and the systematic execution of journalists and aid workers by proponents of ISIS. Now certainly, these have been subject to the usual rote condemnations by governments and by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) that have taken Saudi and Qatari money and often associate with more radical Islamist movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, when push comes to shove, many Islamists and the groups and countries which support them are not putting their money where their mouth is. Arab countries—the same countries whose citizens often donated to ISIS and associated charities—have been reluctant to help. Turkey’s excuse—that it is afraid for hostages held in Mosul—does not pass the smell test given that Turkey has not hesitated to wage war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even when that group has held Turks hostage. That President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refuses to label ISIS as terrorists simply reinforces the issue.

It’s all well and good to dismiss ISIS actions as “un-Islamic” as CAIR has done or, for that matter, as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have done. But the truth is that to millions of Muslims, they are very Islamic. To deny the religious component of “Jihad John” or ISIS’s actions is to deny that there is an exegesis within Islamic thought that not only allows but blesses such actions. It is to deny that there is a battle of interpretation which must be won. Nor is it logical to embrace a politically correct and scrubbed 21st century definition of jihad when ISIS reaches back to interpretations of a millennium and more ago when jihad was understood by Islamic theologians to mean an often offensive holy war.

The fact that the visceral outrage which confronted the Beslan murders has now been replaced by pro-forma but ultimately meaningless condemnations of Islamic terror by Muslim majority states and Islamic advocacy organizations suggests that far from rising up with righteous outrage against the actions of the latest Islamist group, the broader Islamic world has become inured to such actions conducted in its name and unwilling to recoil and shame its proponents and supporters in the same way.

Indeed, the thousands of foreign terrorists which now flock to Syria and Iraq did not radicalize in the last two months, nor did they embrace the most radical interpretations of Islam simply because they disliked former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Rather, they were instructed in hundreds of mosques scattered across Europe, North Africa, South Asia, and Turkey. They were taught the Koran and its meaning by thousands of teachers and imams funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. These mosques were protected from criticism by so-called Islamic civil-rights and advocacy groups who conflated any criticism of radical Islamist ideology with Islamophobia. If only the same organizations instead began to name and publicly shame the extremists who preach in American, European, or Middle Eastern mosques.

Press releases won’t cut it, nor diplomatic handshakes and symbolic press conferences. The problem lies deeper, and ultimately boils down to the tolerance for extremism in so many European, American, and Middle Eastern mosques upon which ISIS recruiters rely.

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Independence–Or Tribalism?

Sometimes secession from a despotic or failing state can be a matter of life or death. So it was for the former states of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s or the Kurds in Iraq and Syria today. So, too, for Georgia and Ukraine, among other former Soviet republics fighting to remain independent of Vladimir Putin’s new Russian empire. But for western Europeans today–living in a peaceful post-history paradise where the biggest issue most people confront is where to spend their month-long vacation–there are no such existential issues at stake. Yet secession has become a contemporary fad, more a matter of sentiment, ideology, and vanity than life or death.

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Sometimes secession from a despotic or failing state can be a matter of life or death. So it was for the former states of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s or the Kurds in Iraq and Syria today. So, too, for Georgia and Ukraine, among other former Soviet republics fighting to remain independent of Vladimir Putin’s new Russian empire. But for western Europeans today–living in a peaceful post-history paradise where the biggest issue most people confront is where to spend their month-long vacation–there are no such existential issues at stake. Yet secession has become a contemporary fad, more a matter of sentiment, ideology, and vanity than life or death.

For the outsider it can be hard to figure out why many in Catalonia want to leave Spain, why many in Flanders want to leave Belgium, why many in northern Italy want to leave the rest of Italy, why many (OK, perhaps only some) in Bavaria want to leave Germany, and why many in Scotland want to leave the United Kingdom–something that they may accomplish in a referendum this Thursday.

Granted, there are differences of culture and history and language that separate each of these regions from the rest of their countries–but these may well be less than the differences that separate New Mexico from Minnesota. If Americans can live together in one big country, aside from that minor trouble from 1861 to 1865, why can’t Europeans? Especially now that national boundaries mean less than ever in the context of the European Union, it is hard to see the pressing need for all of these regions to break off into separate countries.

Yet if the Scots vote for independence this week, it will give a powerful impetus to these other wannabe states. Where will it end? Europe could be undoing the work of 19th century statebuilders such as Bismarck and Mazzini, or farther back the various kings of England and France who subjugated once-independent lands from Wales to Brittany. We could be seeing a return to a continent of hundreds of tiny duchies, kingdoms, and states loosely united under today’s version of the Holy Roman Empire–the European Union.

This may satisfy the esoteric whims of tribalists whose identity is wrapped up in Catalonian or Scottish ethnic identity but it is hard to see why it is good for the continent as a whole–or for the world. Already the EU is an unwieldy conglomeration that cannot exercise power on the world stage commensurate with its gross GDP, which is roughly the same as that of the U.S., or its total population, which is even greater than ours. How much worse would the problem become if the EU has not 28 member states, as today, but 40 or 50–if, in short, it starts to resemble a European version of the United Nations. This may seem far-fetched, but it’s hard to know where the trend toward tribalism will end.

The most immediate issue, of course, is the fate of Scotland. It would not be a disaster for anyone involved for Scotland to become a separate country. Scotland would be a prosperous liberal democracy just like the United Kingdom. The UK (current population 64 million) would remain a great power even with the loss of 5.3 million Scots. Britons and everywhere else would still be free to visit the Highlands and drink as much single-malt as they can afford. But there would be inevitable transition costs that could run into the billions of pounds. Britain, in particular, faces the loss of its only port for its nuclear-armed submarines.

One could see the costs of separation as worth bearing if the Scots were oppressed by the English. But they’re not. The Scots actually have not only their own parliament to handle most internal affairs but also a substantial contingent of MPs who sit in Westminster where they can vote on matters affecting all of the United Kingdom. This is hardly “taxation without representation.” It’s more like welfare subsidies with over-representation.

There is, in fact, no compelling reason for the Scots to go their own way, any more than there is for Flemings, Catalonians, northern Italians, Bavarians, or others. All of the activists who devote energy to these causes would be better advised to create Internet startups that will deal with the real problem of Europe–which is slow economic growth and anemic job creation. All of these sectarians need to grow up and realize that they need to be able to get along with people who are marginally different from them–and in the context of global politics the differences between Scots and English today truly are marginal.

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The Truth About Israel and Christians

After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

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After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

In a follow-up post published here, our Seth Mandel did a great job assessing some of the day after commentary and in particular the hypocrisy of some anti-Israel pundits who have suddenly discovered that, at least on this issue, they no longer think it is wrong for people to making decisions about politicians on the basis of their stands on the Middle East. Yet I think there is still something more to be said about the way some people who ought to know better are rationalizing the indefensible behavior of the In Defense of Christians (IDC) group and criticizing Cruz for his principled behavior.

One of these that deserves some scrutiny is the New York Times’s Ross Douthat who joins in the pile-on against Cruz in his most recent column but attempts to do so without echoing the invective or the clear anti-Israel bias of those who write for, say, the American Conservative. Douthat acknowledges that the unsavory ties of some of its supporters are a problem for IDC. But he was critical of Cruz’s insistence on lecturing the group that instead of attacking Israel, they should recognize that the Jewish state is the best, and perhaps the only, friend they have in the Middle East.

For Douthat, this obvious statement of truth—in a region where Christians are universally treated as Dhimmi by Muslim regimes, Israel remains the only place where freedom of religion is guaranteed for adherents of all faiths—was a bridge too far for Cruz. More to the point, he thinks supporters of Israel are showing bad manners if not flawed strategy, by insisting that the cause of religious tolerance in the Middle East must include the Jews and their embattled state rather than merely treating the plight of Christians in isolation from the broader conflicts of the region.

Douthat writes in criticism of Cruz and his supporters:

Israel is a rich, well-defended, nuclear-armed nation-state; its supporters, and especially its American Christian supporters, can afford to allow a population that’s none of the above to organize to save itself from outright extinction without also demanding applause for Israeli policy as the price of sympathy and support.

There are two flawed assumptions to be unpacked in this sentence.

The first is that Israel is so strong and its position so unassailable that its friends can afford to be complacent about the mainstreaming of allies of terrorist groups—which is exactly what it seems that Cruz’s critics are asking.

The second is that the Islamist campaign to extinguish Christians and all other minority faiths in the Middle East can be resisted without the effort to do the same to Israel also being defeated.

It is, to put it mildly, a bit rich for a writer for the New York Times, which has through both slanted news coverage and biased editorial and op-ed pages, done its best to undermine Israel’s position, to demand that friends of the Jewish state stand down in its defense. That Douthat, who is otherwise the most thoughtful columnist in the paper, has rarely, if ever, voiced any dissent from the paper’s prevailing orthodoxy on Israel may be a function of his interests and that of the other putative conservative in the employ of the Times opinion section, neither of whom are, as a rule, all that interested in foreign policy (a stark contrast to the not so distant past when non-liberal writers at the Times such as William Safire and A.M. Rosenthal mounted repeated and spirited defenses of Israel to balance the attacks against it from fellow columnists, editorial writers, and reporters at the Grey Lady). But it is disappointing nonetheless.

But leaving aside Douthat’s chutzpah, that he should be treating Israel’s position as unassailable at this time shows that his knowledge of the Middle East really falls fall short of his normal sure footing on domestic and social issues. While I’m sure Christians in Iraq and Syria would gladly trade places with them, Israelis spent 50 days this summer dashing in and out of bomb shelters as Hamas terrorists launched rockets aimed to kill and maim civilians. Their army had to invade Gaza in order to demolish a vast network of cross-border tunnels aimed at facilitating acts of mass terror. They watched in horror as the streets of Europe were flooded with demonstrators denouncing Israelis for defending themselves against Islamist butchers in terms that recalled the worst excesses of the Nazi propaganda machine. And they also witnessed an American administration—ostensibly Israel’s sole superpower ally—doing its best to undermine Israel’s position, cutting off arms resupply and leaving the strategic alliance at its lowest point in more than 20 years.

Is this really a moment for Israel’s American supporters to put aside their scruples about making common cause with a group that is compromised by allies of those seeking to destroy Israel and to murder its population?

Just as important, the notion that the fight to save Christians can be separated from that of Israel is a pernicious myth that should be debunked. Douthat believes exposing the existence of Jew haters in the ranks of those purporting to represent Middle East Christians is a mistake because it shows no appreciation for the plight of Christians who face genocide. But by allying themselves with those who wish to perpetrate genocide on the other significant religious minority in the region, as some have repeatedly done in the last century of conflict, they have flung away their best hope for a strategic partner who could help them resist the Islamist tide. Religious persecution cannot be stopped against one minority while hatred against another is legitimized. As Seth wrote, Israel is already doing more to assist Christians than Douthat or the anti-Zionists at the American Conservative who claim to be their friends.

Today Christians are being slaughtered or forced to flee from Iraq and Syria to the point where soon once great communities may be extinguished. But while we rightly protest against this and lament such destruction, it is apt to also recall that a generation ago, some Christians and their foreign friends either assisted or stood by mutely while the same thing was happening to the once great Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world. American Christians of every denomination, including evangelicals and Catholics, are among the most faithful friends of Israel today. But the refusal of Middle East Christians to befriend the Zionist movement, even as it offered them the only possible counterforce in the region to a hostile Muslim majority, was a historic error. That this error is being repeated today is a tragedy for both sides.

Let me repeat, as I wrote on Thursday and many times before that, that Americans have a duty to rise up and demand that Western governments pay attention to the plight of Middle East Christians and to, if necessary, intervene on their behalf. But the notion that this struggle can be conducted in isolation from the defense of Israel against the same forces seeking to wipe out Christians is madness. That those who claim to care about these Christians believe that politicians like Ted Cruz should check their support for Israel at the door when discussing the Middle East is an indication of just how little some of them understand the region as well as their cluelessness about the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe.

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How the Left Pushed Scotland Toward Independence

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

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At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

David Cameron insists that he is a staunch defender of the union. Yet, as many have pointed out, losing Scotland wouldn’t be all bad for someone of Cameron’s outlook. For one thing, no Scotland could well mean no more Labor governments for the foreseeable future. All of the close elections won by Labor would have gone to the Conservatives had the Scottish vote been discounted. Then there’s the fact that, when it comes to public services, Scotland takes out far more from the national budget than it contributes. Lastly, while Scotland is more pro-European than England, should Scotland leave, it is hard to imagine the remnants of the United Kingdom having the appetite for going it alone and leaving the EU as well, something which Cameron also opposes.

In many ways Scottish independence looks almost insane. Geographically, culturally, and politically Scotland is a big part of Britain. But in reality there are less than five and a half million people living there—the UK has far more Londoners than Scots. An independent Scotland would have to renegotiate countless international treaties, including membership of the European Union. Brussels has made clear that this would require Scotland to adopt the euro. Naturally, the Scots want no such thing. But the problem is Westminster is insisting that the continuation of fiscal union wouldn’t be an option. Economists and big business alike have warned Scotland that independence would be economically disastrous. Many corporations are threatening to move south of border. But even assuming the economy didn’t take a hit, Scotland faces a massive deficit regarding what it spends on public services and what it could realistically raise in tax revenues. Scottish nationalists claim they will plug the gap with profits from North Sea oil and gas, but it’s a fantasy to think that Scotland is going to survive as some kind of Gulf state on the North Atlantic.

Really, Scots have never had it so good. Since the end of the 1990s Scotland has been self-governing with its own parliament and government. This means that not only is England subsidizing Scottish public services, but Scots get twice as much political representation. Indeed, ever since devolution to Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster still vote on all British matters, but they have also been able to vote on laws only effecting England and Wales. Nor should they forget that Britain’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish.

Yet devolution actually appears to have exacerbated, and not calmed, the Scottish thirst for increasing autonomy. And to understand that thirst you have to go back to Tony Blair’s first government, when New Labor was in ascendancy. Because devolution, for both Scotland and Wales, was very much a policy of New Labor at its most radical. For many involved in that revolution, breaking the UK down into its component parts, paralleled with rapid integration into the EU, was supposed to achieve nothing less than the eradication of Britain as we’ve always known it. Of course, the kind of flag waving, Balkansesque micro-nationalism being encouraged in Scotland and Wales hardly looks in keeping with the progressive post-nationalism of the EU. Yet, in a sense, Scottish and Welsh nationalism was just another aspect of the identity politics championed as part of New Labor’s heady multiculturalism.

By the late 1990s, what you really didn’t want to be was British. Britain was Empire, militarism, backwardness, and bigotry. The first years of New Labor saw a wave of outlawing of traditional British customs. Fox hunting, children’s Punch and Judy puppet shows, and–in certain cities–even Christian imagery in Christmas decorations all went. On the other hand, there was nothing more coveted than having an “alternative” identity. Just as immigrant communities were encouraged to explore their heritage, so in Scotland and Wales, alongside the glistening new Parliament buildings, a cottage industry developed of books and television programs celebrating Scottish and Welsh history. Equally, there was a renewed emphasis on reviving Gaelic languages, particularly in schools.

No doubt there is a human need for identity and belonging. A sense of being part of something ancient enough to be beyond the merely mortal. The left in Britain has systematically eroded British identity and so it is hardly surprising that people have sought alternatives. British Muslims have become more Islamic, just as Scots have become more Scottish. Reacting with alarm, conservative writers and politicians have declared the antidote is for Britons to regain belief in the greatness of their country. The problem is they advocate this as if it is simply something that other people should believe, and more to the point, a generation has been raised to regard such attitudes as parochial and primitive.

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In Praise of the Star-Spangled Banner

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem that eventually became our national anthem. But though the bicentennial will be marked by ceremonies at Fort McHenry with all the pomp the occasion deserves as well as spirited renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at baseball and football games around the country, it is also the excuse for another round of bashing from critics who dislike the song and want it replaced with something more vanilla or easier to sing. But though there are some ironies about its origins and there is little doubt that it can be a challenge for performers, the calls for trashing the anthem are as ill conceived as the war that spawned it.

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This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem that eventually became our national anthem. But though the bicentennial will be marked by ceremonies at Fort McHenry with all the pomp the occasion deserves as well as spirited renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at baseball and football games around the country, it is also the excuse for another round of bashing from critics who dislike the song and want it replaced with something more vanilla or easier to sing. But though there are some ironies about its origins and there is little doubt that it can be a challenge for performers, the calls for trashing the anthem are as ill conceived as the war that spawned it.

The latest attack on the “Star-Spangled Banner” comes from historian Ted Widmer who writes today in Politico Magazine to suggest that it be replaced with the more anodyne “America the Beautiful.” Widmer, better known as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House and is reportedly the ghost for Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir, also supplies a great many historical arguments against both the anthem and its author. But like all such attacks on the song, they underestimate the symbolism of the circumstances of its origin as well as the power of its words.

As every schoolchild used to know (in today’s era of left-wing influenced pedagogy in which American history is rarely taught in a straight-forward manner it is difficult to know what most kids are taught, let alone actually learn), the anthem was written by Key, an attorney who was on board a ship in the invading British fleet where he witnessed its bombardment of Fort McHenry. Fresh off their raid on Washington D.C., where they burned the Capitol and the White House, the Brits were hoping to take Baltimore and its strategic harbor. But unlike the disastrous defense of Washington which ended in rout and the U.S. government being forced to flee, the defenders of Baltimore were made of sterner stuff. The British failed to shell the Americans into submission and when Key saw the enormous (36’ x 42’) American flag that flew over McHenry still waving in defiance of the forces of perfidious Albion (and still on display at the Smithsonian Institution), it moved him to verse.

Though it had a slow start and a lot of competition from other songs associated with American national identity, by the end of the 19th century it had become universally popular before finally Congress declared it to be the anthem in 1931 in what is, as Widmer aptly notes, probably the most lasting legacy of the administration of Herbert Hoover.

The arguments against the “Banner” fall into three categories: historical, poetic, and musical.

As Widmer writes, it is no small irony that the American anthem, which was written in reaction to an incident in a war between the U.S. and Britain, is actually sung to the tune of a drinking song composed in London in the 1770s. To some, the English origin of the melody as well as its vulgar origins makes it inappropriate for the status of America’s song.

It can also be argued that any melody associated with the War of 1812 is a poor choice since that war should never have been fought (the British naval abuses that were the casus belli for the U.S. declaration of war were actually abolished by the time the war started and the hopes of American war hawks for an easy conquest of Canada were mistaken and did the young country little credit) and led to more American disasters than almost any that followed.

Even worse, as far as Widmer is concerned, is that Key, like many of the nation’s Founding Fathers, was a slave owner (a fact that allows him to argue that one of the anthem’s lyrics refers to escaped slaves supporting the British rather than a more traditional interpretation which views any followers of monarchy as “slaves”) and the brother-in-law of Roger Taney, the future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who wrote the disgraceful decision in the Dred Scott case.

Some also find Key’s poetry offensive. Michael Kinsley dismissed it as bombast and others prefer, as does Widmer, the lyrics of songs that simply celebrate America’s beauty rather than one that speaks of military valor.

Others complain, with some reason, about the difficulty of singing the song, whose broad range of notes and melody has defeated many of those who are asked to perform it.

But these complaints pale before the power of a song that is now, as Widmer admits, so deeply engrained in the American national consciousness that replacing it is inconceivable.

While the military narrative turns off leftists and cynics who spurn its language of heroism, the fact that the “Banner” is not merely about America’s glories but, instead, a moment when the very survival of our republic was in danger, adds to, rather than detracts from, its importance. It doesn’t matter that the War of 1812 was an absurd conflict. Outside of the battle in Baltimore Harbor and the conduct of the U.S. Navy on the high seas and the Great Lakes (the one land victory of the war at New Orleans was actually fought weeks after a peace treaty was signed in Europe), the war was something that Americans needed to forget.

Key’s lyrics recall American courage at a moment when it was in short supply. That fact is worth memorializing for every subsequent generation. But more than that, the song’s unique power stems from the fact that it ends, not in cheers for our landscape or good intentions but in a question. For 200 years, Key has challenged Americans to ask themselves if they are still living in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” These are no unworthy questions and there is no other anthem in the world that is so pointed about the aspirations of its people. This is very much to the song’s credit.

Say what you will of the America in which he lived or the details of Key’s life and that of his relatives. Dismiss its musical origins and groan about how hard it is for some people to sing. But Americans should be proud to have an anthem that is, at its core, a test of their fidelity to the principles on which their nation was founded and their willingness to sacrifice to preserve it. If our liberty is to be preserved in the generations that follow, it will be because of our ability to answer both of Key’s queries in the affirmative. Let us hope they do and that the immortal strains of the “Star-Spangled Banner” will accompany the melody of American freedom for countless centuries to come.

And for those who need a reminder of how beautiful the anthem can be when sung properly, here’s a reminder from last year’s Super Bowl as the brilliant Renee Fleming gives us all a singing lesson.

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Beheading Shows Just How Bad U.S. Intelligence Has Become

The beheading of British aid worker David Haines is tragic and demonstrates once again just how evil ISIS and its fellow travelers are. No moral or cultural equivalence diminishes that evil. Part of the goal of any military action should be to kill—not capture and try—any Islamist participating in such acts.

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The beheading of British aid worker David Haines is tragic and demonstrates once again just how evil ISIS and its fellow travelers are. No moral or cultural equivalence diminishes that evil. Part of the goal of any military action should be to kill—not capture and try—any Islamist participating in such acts.

Still, as the United States prepares military action, if President Obama is to be believed, the beheading of Haines reinforces just how bad American intelligence has become in Iraq and Syria after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The terrorist murdering Haines refers to British pledges to support the Kurdish peshmerga against ISIS as well as bombing of the Haditha dam a week ago. This suggests that Haines was not killed at the time of previous ISIS videos, but rather in the last couple days.

This suggests that neither the United States nor United Kingdom has much of an idea about where its citizens are being held hostage. Given the importance to ISIS of its propaganda campaign, this means in turn that the United States and United Kingdom likely have little to no idea about where high-value ISIS targets are. (Turkey may have some idea. When I was in Syria earlier this year, almost everyone—opposition and regime—used Turkish cell phone signals which mysteriously penetrated deep into Syria. That those are not monitored beggars belief; that Turkey would not share its intelligence with Western democracies does not.)

In effect, while air power can strike at some ISIS hardware or permanent encampments, the United States is fighting blind.

Time may resolve this. Intelligence insight increases with greater and contiguous presence. The longer the United States remains committed, the better our intelligence penetration should be.

Let us hope that future presidents learn a lesson: The United States based its withdrawal from Iraq and its coming retreat from Afghanistan on two pillars: That armies we trained could control ground and that the United States could provide “over-the-horizon” security from naval aircraft or from bases outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Both assumptions were false: The training of the Iraq army, Afghan army, and Kurdish peshmerga were a multi-billion dollar fiasco, and the United States has been able to do very little from over-the-horizon, largely because we blinded ourselves with our withdrawal.

By withdrawing completely, however, and severing so much of the military-to-military and intelligence relationships, the United States blinded ourselves to events just as surely as we had shoved a hot poker into our eyes. Our human intelligence slowed to a drip, and then dried up completely. Once hard-won capabilities are forfeited, they cannot be restored with a wave of a magic wand or presidential rhetoric.

Perhaps had we not packed up and gone home but left the residual force which the Iraqis expected, we would not have been so blind as to ISIS’s rise and the whereabouts of its assets and our captured citizens.

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World Yawns as Hamas Admits War Crimes

Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

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Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

According to the AP, contrary to the claims of its defenders, Hamas operatives have admitted firing rockets from civilian areas in Gaza. But they say they did so at a distance from actual buildings. As the AP report noted, videos from surveillance conducted by the Israeli Air Force has produced evidence of rockets flying from residential neighborhoods, hospitals, cemeteries, mosque courtyards and other civilian areas. But Hamas officials quoted by the news service now say that when they did fire from such places, the rocket launchers were always at a “safe distance” from such structures or that the nearby buildings were deliberately kept vacant.

Given the evidence of civilian casualties from Israeli fire directed at such launchings, this is a transparent lie. More to the point, if human rights groups and the international press accept this excuse they will not only be validating an almost certainly false story but also moving the goalposts to accommodate the terrorists propaganda needs.

Let’s remember that the international press that flooded into Gaza during the war did a conspicuously poor job of covering Hamas activities in Gaza. No pictures were shot of Hamas fighters or of the thousands of missile launches during the 50 days of conflict. Instead they either knuckled under to Hamas intimidation or were actively complicit in publicizing the narrative the Islamists preferred that focused solely on Palestinian suffering instead of Hamas terror.

Hamas figures quoted by the AP contend that it was impossible for them to fire missiles without being in the vicinity of civilians because the strip is so congested. There are two answers to this argument.

One is to point out that, despite the contentions about Gaza being the most congested place on earth, that there are, plenty of vacant areas in the strip. Parts of Gaza are crowded but it is not one continuous urban jungle. If Hamas really wanted to avoid Israeli fire being brought down on areas where civilians lived they could have used such places. But, firing from beaches or open fields doesn’t provide the cover that hospitals, mosques or school courtyards give the terrorists.

More to the point, if the only places they shoot missiles that are deliberately aimed to cause the maximum civilian casualties for the Israelis are an urban area, and then a group that was not a pack of bloodthirsty terrorists would have held its fire. Hamas did not.

These admissions prove again, as if much more proof was needed, that what Hamas did during this war was a double war crime. They were intent on slaughtering as many Jews as possible with their rockets and tunnels and also hopeful of causing Palestinian deaths as well to increase international sympathy for their cause.

Giving Hamas a pass because they fired near civilians but not on top of them is to grade them on a curve whose purpose is to justify their war on Israel. While individual Israeli strikes might have been made in error as always happens in the fog of war, Palestinian casualties were completely the responsibility of the group that launched this war for no good reason, kept it going when cease fires would have ended it before more were killed and did everything in their power to maximize the pain to their own people.

We can expect human rights groups, the United Nations to pay little attention to these admissions as they continue to seek to bash Israel for having the temerity to defend itself. But if anyone wants the truth, Hamas has just laid it out for the world to see. Too bad, much of the press and those participating in anti-Israel demonstrations where anti-Semitism is rampant, aren’t interested in it.

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Obama’s Coalition of the Unwilling

After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

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After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

Under Obama’s formulation, the fight against ISIS would not involve U.S. ground troops but would rather than be a joint effort in which the U.S. would facilitate a broad alliance of nations, to eliminate a threat to the security of the region as well as to the United States. But the joint communiqué issued by the U.S. and ten Arab nations whose representatives met with Kerry today in Jidda, Saudi Arabia produced nothing resembling the alliance Obama envisaged. While George W. Bush characterized the nations that he led to war in Iraq as a “coalition of the willing,” the one that Obama will lead against ISIS is very a “coalition of the unwilling.”

The Jidda meeting made clear that while Obama would like the Arab and Muslim worlds to take an active, if not leading role in the struggle against ISIS, they have no such intentions. Though the countries in attendance at the meeting said they would “do their share,” they clearly have a rather limited definition of that expression. None said what they would do to aid the cause and it has yet to be seen whether any of them would join the U.S. in deploying air power against ISIS. Even worse, Turkey, a key neighboring country, wouldn’t even sign the communiqué because it feared to anger ISIS, lest Turkish hostages in their hands be harmed. But, as Michael Rubin wrote here earlier, the Turks may be more worried about any arms coming in to help those fighting ISIS will eventually wind up in the hands of Syrian Kurds who are aligned with the PKK group that fights for Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The Turks are, however, just one problem. A bigger obstacle to the construction of the kind of fighting alliance that Obama spoke of is the fact that most of these nations simply do not trust the president. Egypt is clearly one such nation. The Egyptians military government has had some bad experiences with the Obama administration and is convinced that if the president had his way, the Muslim Brotherhood would still be ruling in Cairo. Others, including some Iraqi Sunnis who remain in harm’s way if ISIS isn’t stopped, simply don’t identify with the battle against the terror group in the way that Obama envisaged.

This is in part the fruit of Obama’s lead from behind strategy in the last six years. But it is also evidence that the president’s faith in multilateralism and belief that wars can be won on the cheap is a tragic mistake.

The problem here is more than Obama’s unrealistic notions of how wars can be successfully fought or one more instance of Kerry’s inept diplomacy. The most disturbing news out of the conflict isn’t just the reluctance of Arab nations to take the ISIS threat as seriously as Americans do even though the terrorist army poses a direct threat to the future of those governments. It is that ISIS is clearly perceived by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as winning. As long as the terrorists are perceived as “the strong horse,” to use the title of Lee Smith’s valuable book about the Middle East, they are going to be able to attract recruits and more cash. The brutal murders of two American journalists horrified Westerners but were also perceived by some Muslims, both in the region and in the countries now being asked to fight ISIS, as ideal recruiting videos. Mere statements of support from Arab governments or even some Muslim clerics won’t alter that view of what ISIS considers a war, even if Kerry doesn’t.

While some writers like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times, think the president’s “reluctant warrior” approach is useful, the Muslim world seems to have a different opinion. If Obama is going to do something to reverse these perceptions, it is going to take more than the halfway measures he spoke of on Wednesday or a coalition in which America is not prepared to do more than bomb from afar.

The basic problem remains a terrorist threat that Obama considers serious enough to justify a major effort by the United States but which he expects to be defeat by troops from other nations that may not be quite so eager to engage the enemy. Until the administration figures out a strategy that will make it clear that it is America that remains the strong horse in the region — something that Obama specifically seems uninterested in doing — expecting a good outcome from any of this for the United States may be wishful thinking.

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