Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 1, 2008

He Is No Prophet

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

Read Less

A British Horror Movie

At a certain point it dawned on officials in West Yorkshire, England that something was amiss. That point: when children’s services authorities lost track of 205 (!) kids, of which they have since found 172. The missing 33 are girls who are feared to have been forced into Muslim marriages or made victims of “honor violence”—the often deadly assault on females practiced by Muslim fanatics who claim justification in Islamic scripture.

Ministers had local authorities launch a formal investigation. Which proved difficult. As the Times of London reports:

Campaigners say that a fear of being seen as racist, and misplaced cultural sensitivity, are preventing teachers from following up cases when youngsters are removed from classes.

Misplaced cultural sensitivity indeed.

When the Times reported this story on March 8th, they spoke to former policeman and “vulnerable persons officer responsible for Asian women in the Bradford district” (V.P.O.R.A.W.B., presumably) Philip Balmforth. The V.P.O.R.A.W.B. had this to say in reference to the cowardly proceedings:

If these girls are missing, who has been told? Who is doing anything about it? I want to know from every education authority, “How many children did you lose last year? And where are they?” At the moment, we just don’t know. It’s like knocking a nail into a piece of stone.

Words sensible enough to get him suspended, it turns out. Balmforth faces permanent dismissal for “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent. A man who has reportedly helped thousands of young girls will be sacked for saying 33 young girls need help. Melanie Phillips, in the Spectator, reports that Balmforth may not have stood a chance, as his suspension was likely due to pressure from the “‘biraderie’ — the Punjabi word for the extended family — which now ran Bradford city council.”

While West Yorkshire girls fall victim to Body Snatchers, local officials imitate Stepford Wives. And the one man determined to deliver his city from this horror movie mash-up is now out of work. Just another overcast day in England.

At a certain point it dawned on officials in West Yorkshire, England that something was amiss. That point: when children’s services authorities lost track of 205 (!) kids, of which they have since found 172. The missing 33 are girls who are feared to have been forced into Muslim marriages or made victims of “honor violence”—the often deadly assault on females practiced by Muslim fanatics who claim justification in Islamic scripture.

Ministers had local authorities launch a formal investigation. Which proved difficult. As the Times of London reports:

Campaigners say that a fear of being seen as racist, and misplaced cultural sensitivity, are preventing teachers from following up cases when youngsters are removed from classes.

Misplaced cultural sensitivity indeed.

When the Times reported this story on March 8th, they spoke to former policeman and “vulnerable persons officer responsible for Asian women in the Bradford district” (V.P.O.R.A.W.B., presumably) Philip Balmforth. The V.P.O.R.A.W.B. had this to say in reference to the cowardly proceedings:

If these girls are missing, who has been told? Who is doing anything about it? I want to know from every education authority, “How many children did you lose last year? And where are they?” At the moment, we just don’t know. It’s like knocking a nail into a piece of stone.

Words sensible enough to get him suspended, it turns out. Balmforth faces permanent dismissal for “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent. A man who has reportedly helped thousands of young girls will be sacked for saying 33 young girls need help. Melanie Phillips, in the Spectator, reports that Balmforth may not have stood a chance, as his suspension was likely due to pressure from the “‘biraderie’ — the Punjabi word for the extended family — which now ran Bradford city council.”

While West Yorkshire girls fall victim to Body Snatchers, local officials imitate Stepford Wives. And the one man determined to deliver his city from this horror movie mash-up is now out of work. Just another overcast day in England.

Read Less

April Fool’s?

I thought the dynamic duo of Teresa Heinz Kerry and Michelle Obama might have been an April Fool’s gag, but I was wrong. Even a liberal commentator gets the danger, noting that Michelle might want a political role model other than the gal who was such “a problematic figure for her husband’s campaign: rich, elite, mouthy, irreverent, and at times confrontational.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton demonstrates she has at least a bit of a sense of humor and yucks it up over her opponent’s bowling outing. (I think she understands that bowling beats windsurfing in most campaigns.)

I thought the dynamic duo of Teresa Heinz Kerry and Michelle Obama might have been an April Fool’s gag, but I was wrong. Even a liberal commentator gets the danger, noting that Michelle might want a political role model other than the gal who was such “a problematic figure for her husband’s campaign: rich, elite, mouthy, irreverent, and at times confrontational.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton demonstrates she has at least a bit of a sense of humor and yucks it up over her opponent’s bowling outing. (I think she understands that bowling beats windsurfing in most campaigns.)

Read Less

Azmi Bishara’s Legacy

Sometimes the rhetoric of Israel’s Arab leadership is so overblown as to make its entertainment value greater than its cost in outrage. Take, for example, today’s outburst by Talab el-Sana, a member of Knesset and leader of the United Arab List party. El-Sana declared as “worse than the Nuremberg Laws” a proposed bill that would bar politicians who visit enemy states from running for parliament. “We will continue to visit enemy states,” he continued, “and support peace at the same time.”

Okay, reality check. Under Israeli law, it is illegal for citizens to visit countries that are at war with Israel. Yet Arab members of Knesset have in the last few years routinely flouted this law, not just visiting Syria but using these visits to show support for Assad’s terror regime and denounce Israel. This new law was inspired by the case of former MK Azmi Bishara, who not only visited Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon war, but is suspected of having actually passed strategically sensitive information to Hizbullah at the time, in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. This act of high treason was too much for even parliamentary immunity to cover, and Bishara fled the country in advance of a possible indictment.

In an earlier post I pointed out how dramatically out of sync Israeli Arab politicans are with their own constituents, who tend to be much more sympathetic to the Jewish state. Maybe such a law is the first major step to getting the worst of them off the stage, so that a more honest set of representatives can emerge.

Sometimes the rhetoric of Israel’s Arab leadership is so overblown as to make its entertainment value greater than its cost in outrage. Take, for example, today’s outburst by Talab el-Sana, a member of Knesset and leader of the United Arab List party. El-Sana declared as “worse than the Nuremberg Laws” a proposed bill that would bar politicians who visit enemy states from running for parliament. “We will continue to visit enemy states,” he continued, “and support peace at the same time.”

Okay, reality check. Under Israeli law, it is illegal for citizens to visit countries that are at war with Israel. Yet Arab members of Knesset have in the last few years routinely flouted this law, not just visiting Syria but using these visits to show support for Assad’s terror regime and denounce Israel. This new law was inspired by the case of former MK Azmi Bishara, who not only visited Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon war, but is suspected of having actually passed strategically sensitive information to Hizbullah at the time, in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. This act of high treason was too much for even parliamentary immunity to cover, and Bishara fled the country in advance of a possible indictment.

In an earlier post I pointed out how dramatically out of sync Israeli Arab politicans are with their own constituents, who tend to be much more sympathetic to the Jewish state. Maybe such a law is the first major step to getting the worst of them off the stage, so that a more honest set of representatives can emerge.

Read Less

Sundown in Seoul?

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

Read Less

Slapping Putin’s Back

Reuters reports that when President Bush meets Vladimir Putin this Sunday, the United States and Russia will sign what an unidentified Kremlin source describes as “a joint document which will become a road map of our cooperation during a transitional period and for the medium term.” Yesterday, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the document, said this: “Of course we have to register all the achievements during the two terms of presidents Bush and Putin.”

It’s good that the two countries want to accentuate the positive, but the upcoming summit between the friendly leaders runs the risk of irrelevance. As Jim Hoagland wrote on Friday, Bush and Putin wish to end their relationship as presidents “in the soft glow of mutual legacy-burnishing . . . They will leave relations between the White House and the Kremlin mired in a rare soggy middle ground of extended ambivalence.”

I hope Hoagland’s wrong: there’s no lack of substantive issues to tackle. There are, for instance, NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, America’s planned missile defense system for Europe, Russia’s adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, the extension of START, recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the Kremlin’s support for the Iranian nuclear program, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and Moscow’s supply of advanced weaponry to China.

Bush, as we all know, leaves office soon. Back-slapping with the Russian autocrat in his seaside dacha seems like a particularly bad use of time, especially at this crucial moment.

Reuters reports that when President Bush meets Vladimir Putin this Sunday, the United States and Russia will sign what an unidentified Kremlin source describes as “a joint document which will become a road map of our cooperation during a transitional period and for the medium term.” Yesterday, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the document, said this: “Of course we have to register all the achievements during the two terms of presidents Bush and Putin.”

It’s good that the two countries want to accentuate the positive, but the upcoming summit between the friendly leaders runs the risk of irrelevance. As Jim Hoagland wrote on Friday, Bush and Putin wish to end their relationship as presidents “in the soft glow of mutual legacy-burnishing . . . They will leave relations between the White House and the Kremlin mired in a rare soggy middle ground of extended ambivalence.”

I hope Hoagland’s wrong: there’s no lack of substantive issues to tackle. There are, for instance, NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, America’s planned missile defense system for Europe, Russia’s adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, the extension of START, recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the Kremlin’s support for the Iranian nuclear program, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and Moscow’s supply of advanced weaponry to China.

Bush, as we all know, leaves office soon. Back-slapping with the Russian autocrat in his seaside dacha seems like a particularly bad use of time, especially at this crucial moment.

Read Less

Drawing Lines

I just came across these comments from former Congressman John Kasich: “So, Obama says he doesn’t want to vet his pastor. Why not? I mean, I vet my pastor all the time.” And: “Why not just denounce this guy and say this was crackpot stuff?” Well, doing this–assessing the content of your pastor’s character and rhetoric and then denouncing what is hateful and false–would pose two problems for Barack Obama.

First, he might lose support from some African Americans and some on the Left who sympathize with the general sentiments, if not the particulars, of Wright’s sermons. He would risk forfeiting whatever ever street cred he built up by associating with Wright’s church in the first place. Moreover, these Obama supporters would not be pleased and would likely see this as capitulating to his opponents.

But most importantly, this would mean Obama would himself have to draw a moral distinction, to take sides and say “no more.” Every indication we have suggests that he’s not comfortable doing this. He craves acceptance and adulation. (The recent Newsweek cover story on Obama implies he has been on a near-lifelong search for identity and belonging.) He sees his highest calling as being Reconciler in Chief. Indeed, one of the buzz phrases of his campaign is that he will “bring people together.” On “The View” he explained:

Part of what my role in my politics is to get people who don’t normally listen to each other to talk to each other, who [say] crazy things, who are offended by each other, for me to understand them and to maybe help them understand each other.

Hence, it’s not productive for him to dwell on calling out proponents of “crazy” things (a less judgmental way of saying “false” or “morally repugnant”) or to disassociate himself from such people. Likewise, there is no dictator he won’t speak to because his job is not to take sides. He is not interested, you see, in enforcing any criteria for who deserves the attention and status a Presidental visit would entail. His job is bridge-building.

In marriage counseling or labor mediation this attitude is all well and good: the goal there is not for either side to “win” but for both sides to survive and continue in a mutually beneficial relationship. But is the world of geopolitics like that? Sometimes. But there are moments when “understanding” is not the highest calling. We don’t really want to “understand” Raul Castro, for example, or boost his self-esteem so he might survive and flourish. Whether at home or abroad, most Americans really don’t want to tolerate, let alone encourage, those who propound vicious lies about whites, Israel, and America.

If someone can’t and won’t draw any line in the sand (even a relatively easy one), he’ll have a hard time defending America’s interests against those that don’t want to understand us, but destroy us. What he will be very good at is leading the country and the world into a morass of moral equivalence. And maybe that is why so many see great meaning in the Wright affair, and remain deeply troubled by it.

I just came across these comments from former Congressman John Kasich: “So, Obama says he doesn’t want to vet his pastor. Why not? I mean, I vet my pastor all the time.” And: “Why not just denounce this guy and say this was crackpot stuff?” Well, doing this–assessing the content of your pastor’s character and rhetoric and then denouncing what is hateful and false–would pose two problems for Barack Obama.

First, he might lose support from some African Americans and some on the Left who sympathize with the general sentiments, if not the particulars, of Wright’s sermons. He would risk forfeiting whatever ever street cred he built up by associating with Wright’s church in the first place. Moreover, these Obama supporters would not be pleased and would likely see this as capitulating to his opponents.

But most importantly, this would mean Obama would himself have to draw a moral distinction, to take sides and say “no more.” Every indication we have suggests that he’s not comfortable doing this. He craves acceptance and adulation. (The recent Newsweek cover story on Obama implies he has been on a near-lifelong search for identity and belonging.) He sees his highest calling as being Reconciler in Chief. Indeed, one of the buzz phrases of his campaign is that he will “bring people together.” On “The View” he explained:

Part of what my role in my politics is to get people who don’t normally listen to each other to talk to each other, who [say] crazy things, who are offended by each other, for me to understand them and to maybe help them understand each other.

Hence, it’s not productive for him to dwell on calling out proponents of “crazy” things (a less judgmental way of saying “false” or “morally repugnant”) or to disassociate himself from such people. Likewise, there is no dictator he won’t speak to because his job is not to take sides. He is not interested, you see, in enforcing any criteria for who deserves the attention and status a Presidental visit would entail. His job is bridge-building.

In marriage counseling or labor mediation this attitude is all well and good: the goal there is not for either side to “win” but for both sides to survive and continue in a mutually beneficial relationship. But is the world of geopolitics like that? Sometimes. But there are moments when “understanding” is not the highest calling. We don’t really want to “understand” Raul Castro, for example, or boost his self-esteem so he might survive and flourish. Whether at home or abroad, most Americans really don’t want to tolerate, let alone encourage, those who propound vicious lies about whites, Israel, and America.

If someone can’t and won’t draw any line in the sand (even a relatively easy one), he’ll have a hard time defending America’s interests against those that don’t want to understand us, but destroy us. What he will be very good at is leading the country and the world into a morass of moral equivalence. And maybe that is why so many see great meaning in the Wright affair, and remain deeply troubled by it.

Read Less

Pipes Sees Hope in Europe

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

Read Less

The (Financial) Hammer Comes Down

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

Read Less

I . . . Agree with Them

I don’t often find myself in agreement with Slate, but I agree with almost everything in this article by Phil Carter and Fred Kaplan on how to fix the U.S. armed forces. They propose, in essence, an overhaul shifting the focus away from conventional conflict and toward the kind of wars we are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan-and are likely to fight more of in the future.

As they note, this type of re-jiggering will be adamantly resisted by the services and their supporters in Washington. But that’s no reason not to do it. Strengthening the case for reform is this Washington Post article on $295 billion in cost overruns in the Pentagon’s biggest procurement programs.

I don’t often find myself in agreement with Slate, but I agree with almost everything in this article by Phil Carter and Fred Kaplan on how to fix the U.S. armed forces. They propose, in essence, an overhaul shifting the focus away from conventional conflict and toward the kind of wars we are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan-and are likely to fight more of in the future.

As they note, this type of re-jiggering will be adamantly resisted by the services and their supporters in Washington. But that’s no reason not to do it. Strengthening the case for reform is this Washington Post article on $295 billion in cost overruns in the Pentagon’s biggest procurement programs.

Read Less

A Tougher Crowd

I’ve observed that the mainstream media is getting a bit tougher on their favorite candidate. There are two further signs of that.

First, ABC’s Jake Tapper actually looked into Barack Obama’s claims of moral superiority and found them to be bunk. Well, one of them at least. Obama claims that he doesn’t take money from corporate bad guys like “oil companies.” No candidate is allowed to take corporate money directly. And Obama has actually taken more money than Hillary Clinton has from oil company employees. Second, the press has been downright fair in setting the record straight and taking Obama and the DNC to task for misconstruing John McCain’s “100 year” Iraq comment.

Perhaps this is a long overdue course correction. Or maybe all that time on the bus with the press is paying off for McCain. But for now, Obama is facing a more skeptical audience. We’ll see if it lasts.

I’ve observed that the mainstream media is getting a bit tougher on their favorite candidate. There are two further signs of that.

First, ABC’s Jake Tapper actually looked into Barack Obama’s claims of moral superiority and found them to be bunk. Well, one of them at least. Obama claims that he doesn’t take money from corporate bad guys like “oil companies.” No candidate is allowed to take corporate money directly. And Obama has actually taken more money than Hillary Clinton has from oil company employees. Second, the press has been downright fair in setting the record straight and taking Obama and the DNC to task for misconstruing John McCain’s “100 year” Iraq comment.

Perhaps this is a long overdue course correction. Or maybe all that time on the bus with the press is paying off for McCain. But for now, Obama is facing a more skeptical audience. We’ll see if it lasts.

Read Less

Your Tax Dollars at Work

On Friday, a federal judge set aside a $200 million judgment against the Palestinian Authority for its involvement in terrorism and ordered a new trial, with one stipulation:

[the judge] said that he would vacate the previous legal victory only if the Palestinian Authority put up a $192.7 million bond to ensure that it does not default again if it loses in court.

The case was brought by an American woman whose husband, Aharon Ellis, also an American citizen, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in 2002. Set aside for a moment the question of whether the actions of foreign entities such as the PA should be dealt with in U.S. courts, or as matters of U.S. foreign policy (I’m inclined toward the latter). Also put aside the Bush administration’s refusal to offer an opinion on the case — an opinion the presiding federal judge requested — due to fears “that lawsuits by victims of terrorism could harm the ‘financial and political viability’ of the Palestinian Authority.”

Forget all of that. And consider instead the fact that the United States has commenced the transfer of $150 million to the PA, and the Europeans have started sending their sizable portion of $473 million. This is exactly the kind of aid money that in years past the PA used to fund the terror groups whose attacks killed more than a thousand Israelis and over fifty Americans — including Aharon Ellis. According to an Israeli government report from June 2002 — a study based on captured PA documents — the PA was siphoning off some $5 to $10 million per month of foreign aid to fund the terror war on Israel.

This is one of the great unresolved travesties of the intifada — the horrible fact that the PA’s foreign benefactors to a great extent financially underwrote the terror war. Exactly how much aid money was used is not known. But it was a tremendous amount, and vital to the PA’s ability to prosecute its war, especially as the Palestinian economy was sent into a tailspin at the outset of the violence. As the PA stands on the precipice of once again being inundated with foreign aid, it’s worth wondering whether American and European taxpayers will again be put in the position of unwittingly funding terrorism. This time, ignorance of the way the PA does business cannot be an excuse.

On Friday, a federal judge set aside a $200 million judgment against the Palestinian Authority for its involvement in terrorism and ordered a new trial, with one stipulation:

[the judge] said that he would vacate the previous legal victory only if the Palestinian Authority put up a $192.7 million bond to ensure that it does not default again if it loses in court.

The case was brought by an American woman whose husband, Aharon Ellis, also an American citizen, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in 2002. Set aside for a moment the question of whether the actions of foreign entities such as the PA should be dealt with in U.S. courts, or as matters of U.S. foreign policy (I’m inclined toward the latter). Also put aside the Bush administration’s refusal to offer an opinion on the case — an opinion the presiding federal judge requested — due to fears “that lawsuits by victims of terrorism could harm the ‘financial and political viability’ of the Palestinian Authority.”

Forget all of that. And consider instead the fact that the United States has commenced the transfer of $150 million to the PA, and the Europeans have started sending their sizable portion of $473 million. This is exactly the kind of aid money that in years past the PA used to fund the terror groups whose attacks killed more than a thousand Israelis and over fifty Americans — including Aharon Ellis. According to an Israeli government report from June 2002 — a study based on captured PA documents — the PA was siphoning off some $5 to $10 million per month of foreign aid to fund the terror war on Israel.

This is one of the great unresolved travesties of the intifada — the horrible fact that the PA’s foreign benefactors to a great extent financially underwrote the terror war. Exactly how much aid money was used is not known. But it was a tremendous amount, and vital to the PA’s ability to prosecute its war, especially as the Palestinian economy was sent into a tailspin at the outset of the violence. As the PA stands on the precipice of once again being inundated with foreign aid, it’s worth wondering whether American and European taxpayers will again be put in the position of unwittingly funding terrorism. This time, ignorance of the way the PA does business cannot be an excuse.

Read Less

Soft Power and Secular Schools

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read Less

Free Speech, UN-Style

If George Orwell had never lived, we would lack a word to describe the UN’s serial logical inversions of the term “human rights.” Under the banner of human rights, entire office parks of the Canadian court system have been commandeered and charged with the task of silencing those who, in fact, defend such rights. Political correctness and radical Islam have conspired to brand anyone who dare speaks ill of jihadists as human rights violators.

So where better than the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s foremost Petri dish of PC and jihad, to make it official? The Canadian Press reports that last Friday afternoon the Council passed an amendment that calls for their “expert on freedom of expression to report on people who abuse their free speech rights to espouse racial and religious discrimination.”

Friday afternoons are the best times to get shady propositions okayed by bureaucrats in a rush to start their weekends. But in this case I think the amendment would have made it even if it was the first order of business on a Monday morning. Here’s the Canadian Press:

The 47-nation council is dominated by Arab and other Muslim countries.

Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan, who was speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied that the resolution would limit free speech.

This is the UN’s version of free speech: free from criticism of radical Islam.

If George Orwell had never lived, we would lack a word to describe the UN’s serial logical inversions of the term “human rights.” Under the banner of human rights, entire office parks of the Canadian court system have been commandeered and charged with the task of silencing those who, in fact, defend such rights. Political correctness and radical Islam have conspired to brand anyone who dare speaks ill of jihadists as human rights violators.

So where better than the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s foremost Petri dish of PC and jihad, to make it official? The Canadian Press reports that last Friday afternoon the Council passed an amendment that calls for their “expert on freedom of expression to report on people who abuse their free speech rights to espouse racial and religious discrimination.”

Friday afternoons are the best times to get shady propositions okayed by bureaucrats in a rush to start their weekends. But in this case I think the amendment would have made it even if it was the first order of business on a Monday morning. Here’s the Canadian Press:

The 47-nation council is dominated by Arab and other Muslim countries.

Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan, who was speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied that the resolution would limit free speech.

This is the UN’s version of free speech: free from criticism of radical Islam.

Read Less

Daniel Levy, Making Stuff up Again

Ah, Daniel Levy. He is the far left’s favorite analyst of the Israeli-Arab dispute, and he is possessed of some very strange ideas. Several months ago I wrote a long piece laying out a few of his mendacities for NRO.

I happened upon his big-think Middle East piece in the current Prospect, and couldn’t help but take a quick look. It’s more or less a long tour of foreign policy fantasy-land. But this item in particular jumped off the page:

Recalibrating policy toward Hamas has become central to progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to popular misperception, Hamas and al-Qaeda are adversaries, not allies. Hamas is about ending the occupation and reforming Palestinian society; al-Qaeda, about opposing the West per se and spreading chaos in the Muslim world and beyond. One is reformist, the other revolutionary; one nationalist, the other post-nationalist; one grievance-based, the other fundamentalist.

Amazing! The leaders of Hamas have, in Levy’s telling, been lying for decades about what they want. You thought Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh wish to destroy Israel, because that’s what they’ve promised to do over and over again? Well, you must be a simpleton. Or maybe you read the Hamas charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Is it possible that Levy doesn’t understand that when Hamas leaders talk about “the occupation,” they mean Tel Aviv, not the West Bank? No — he certainly knows this. Maybe he received a secret communiqué in which Hamas rescinded its most basic principles?

And Hamas as a nationalist movement? Also a figment Levy’s imagination. Here’s the Charter again:

As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.

“The state of Islam.” Note to Levy: this is different than the state of Palestine.

All of this reminded me of Michael Young’s most recent column in the Beirut Daily Star, which perfectly anticipated Levy’s essay. Young’s topic is the foolishness of western apologists for Islamist groups:

Why is the topic important? Because over the years academics, analysts, journalists, and others, particularly the Westerners among them, who write about militant Islamist groups, have tended to project their own liberal attitudes and desires onto such groups, misinterpreting their intentions and largely ignoring what these groups say about themselves. Inasmuch as most such observers cannot really fathom the totalitarian strain in the aims and language of armed Islamists, totalitarian in the sense of pursuing a total idea, total in its purity, they cannot accept that the total idea can also be apocalyptic. Where Nasrallah and the leaders of Hamas will repeat that Israel’s elimination is a quasi-religious duty, the sympathetic Westernized observer, for whom the concept of elimination is intolerable, will think much more benignly in terms of well-intentioned “bargaining.” Hamas and Hizbullah are pragmatic, they will argue, so that their statements and deeds are only leverage to achieve specific political ends that, once attained, will allow a return to harmonious equilibrium.

This argument, so tirelessly made, is tiresomely irrelevant.

Young concludes: “For outside observers to ignore or reinterpret their words in order to justify a personal weakness for these groups’ revolutionary seductions is both self-centered and analytically useless.”

I don’t know how self-centered Levy is. But analytically useless? Most definitely.

Ah, Daniel Levy. He is the far left’s favorite analyst of the Israeli-Arab dispute, and he is possessed of some very strange ideas. Several months ago I wrote a long piece laying out a few of his mendacities for NRO.

I happened upon his big-think Middle East piece in the current Prospect, and couldn’t help but take a quick look. It’s more or less a long tour of foreign policy fantasy-land. But this item in particular jumped off the page:

Recalibrating policy toward Hamas has become central to progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to popular misperception, Hamas and al-Qaeda are adversaries, not allies. Hamas is about ending the occupation and reforming Palestinian society; al-Qaeda, about opposing the West per se and spreading chaos in the Muslim world and beyond. One is reformist, the other revolutionary; one nationalist, the other post-nationalist; one grievance-based, the other fundamentalist.

Amazing! The leaders of Hamas have, in Levy’s telling, been lying for decades about what they want. You thought Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh wish to destroy Israel, because that’s what they’ve promised to do over and over again? Well, you must be a simpleton. Or maybe you read the Hamas charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Is it possible that Levy doesn’t understand that when Hamas leaders talk about “the occupation,” they mean Tel Aviv, not the West Bank? No — he certainly knows this. Maybe he received a secret communiqué in which Hamas rescinded its most basic principles?

And Hamas as a nationalist movement? Also a figment Levy’s imagination. Here’s the Charter again:

As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.

“The state of Islam.” Note to Levy: this is different than the state of Palestine.

All of this reminded me of Michael Young’s most recent column in the Beirut Daily Star, which perfectly anticipated Levy’s essay. Young’s topic is the foolishness of western apologists for Islamist groups:

Why is the topic important? Because over the years academics, analysts, journalists, and others, particularly the Westerners among them, who write about militant Islamist groups, have tended to project their own liberal attitudes and desires onto such groups, misinterpreting their intentions and largely ignoring what these groups say about themselves. Inasmuch as most such observers cannot really fathom the totalitarian strain in the aims and language of armed Islamists, totalitarian in the sense of pursuing a total idea, total in its purity, they cannot accept that the total idea can also be apocalyptic. Where Nasrallah and the leaders of Hamas will repeat that Israel’s elimination is a quasi-religious duty, the sympathetic Westernized observer, for whom the concept of elimination is intolerable, will think much more benignly in terms of well-intentioned “bargaining.” Hamas and Hizbullah are pragmatic, they will argue, so that their statements and deeds are only leverage to achieve specific political ends that, once attained, will allow a return to harmonious equilibrium.

This argument, so tirelessly made, is tiresomely irrelevant.

Young concludes: “For outside observers to ignore or reinterpret their words in order to justify a personal weakness for these groups’ revolutionary seductions is both self-centered and analytically useless.”

I don’t know how self-centered Levy is. But analytically useless? Most definitely.

Read Less

The Real Bush Intelligence Failure

On Sunday, CIA director Michael Hayden warned on Meet the Press that a reconstituting al Qaeda was preparing operatives in Afghanistan who would draw no attention while passing through U.S. airport checkpoints.

Exactly how vulnerable are we right now to a significant terrorist attack? No one can answer that question with any certainty. What we can say with assurance is that even as George W. Bush has overseen the single most far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) since the CIA was created in 1947, his single greatest failure as a president might well be that American intelligence remains mired in bureaucratic mediocrity.

That bureaucratic mediocrity has already exacted a high price. A major installment came due when the CIA and FBI missed the Sept. 11 plot. A second came a year later with the CIA’s “slam-dunk” assessment that Saddam Hussein was acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Congress radically reshuffled U.S. intelligence, creating a new intelligence “czar” — the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) — whose office, the ODNI, would assume many of the coordinating functions that had formerly been in the hands of the CIA.

This shift was intensely controversial. One of the most frequent criticisms was that grafting a new bureaucracy on top of an already dysfunctional system would only compound existing problems. Four years later, how is the ODNI faring?

I offer a partial answer to that question in The Real Bush Intelligence Failure in today’s Wall Street Journal.

On Sunday, CIA director Michael Hayden warned on Meet the Press that a reconstituting al Qaeda was preparing operatives in Afghanistan who would draw no attention while passing through U.S. airport checkpoints.

Exactly how vulnerable are we right now to a significant terrorist attack? No one can answer that question with any certainty. What we can say with assurance is that even as George W. Bush has overseen the single most far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) since the CIA was created in 1947, his single greatest failure as a president might well be that American intelligence remains mired in bureaucratic mediocrity.

That bureaucratic mediocrity has already exacted a high price. A major installment came due when the CIA and FBI missed the Sept. 11 plot. A second came a year later with the CIA’s “slam-dunk” assessment that Saddam Hussein was acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Congress radically reshuffled U.S. intelligence, creating a new intelligence “czar” — the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) — whose office, the ODNI, would assume many of the coordinating functions that had formerly been in the hands of the CIA.

This shift was intensely controversial. One of the most frequent criticisms was that grafting a new bureaucracy on top of an already dysfunctional system would only compound existing problems. Four years later, how is the ODNI faring?

I offer a partial answer to that question in The Real Bush Intelligence Failure in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Read Less

Not One Of The Guys

I’m not one who believes that every goof should evoke a metaphor or that every ill-phrased comment deserves an avalanche of criticism.

But sometimes a candidate asks for it. And the above-linked small, even isolated instances suggest that Barack Obama has a way to go with Reagan Democrats. It should surprise no-one that a man raised in Hawaii and overseas, schooled in elite universities, a man whose bread-and-butter constituency is the urban upper crust, does not exactly have the common touch.

Indeed, even his much lauded stump speech is getting an overhaul. It seems all that “change is us” or “we are the change” or whatever is lost on those lunch pail Democrats. One political guru remarks:

If you’re an unemployed steelworker, a former coal miner, you want to know about job training, who pays your health care. . . Obama’s speeches are uplifting but without much specificity, and that’s a tough sell for working people who don’t live in a world of ideas.

Actually it is also a tough sell for non-Leftists who do live in the world of ideas and can’t figure out what he means either, but that is not his main concern right now.

There is a reason why successful Democratic presidential candidates in the last 30 years have been from the South: they talk and act like ordinary Americans and have grown up in non-elite settings–places like the ones they need to support them in a presidential election. Why Democrats have a fixation with nominating Northern liberals I do not know, but it rarely works out. So maybe the media is comparing the wrong 2008 presidential contender to John Kerry.

I’m not one who believes that every goof should evoke a metaphor or that every ill-phrased comment deserves an avalanche of criticism.

But sometimes a candidate asks for it. And the above-linked small, even isolated instances suggest that Barack Obama has a way to go with Reagan Democrats. It should surprise no-one that a man raised in Hawaii and overseas, schooled in elite universities, a man whose bread-and-butter constituency is the urban upper crust, does not exactly have the common touch.

Indeed, even his much lauded stump speech is getting an overhaul. It seems all that “change is us” or “we are the change” or whatever is lost on those lunch pail Democrats. One political guru remarks:

If you’re an unemployed steelworker, a former coal miner, you want to know about job training, who pays your health care. . . Obama’s speeches are uplifting but without much specificity, and that’s a tough sell for working people who don’t live in a world of ideas.

Actually it is also a tough sell for non-Leftists who do live in the world of ideas and can’t figure out what he means either, but that is not his main concern right now.

There is a reason why successful Democratic presidential candidates in the last 30 years have been from the South: they talk and act like ordinary Americans and have grown up in non-elite settings–places like the ones they need to support them in a presidential election. Why Democrats have a fixation with nominating Northern liberals I do not know, but it rarely works out. So maybe the media is comparing the wrong 2008 presidential contender to John Kerry.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part II

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.