Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 24, 2008

Re: James Glanz

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

Read Less

Our Fault Again

Poor Reverend Wright. In an interview with Bill Moyers to run tomorrow–I wonder if he asked whether white people really created AIDS ?–Wright says he’s been maligned. The New York Times reveals this snippet of accusation:

It’s to paint me as something — ‘Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country . . . for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,’” he said. “That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

Hmm. Weren’t these his own words? Has he moved on, seen the error of his ways? In a word, no:

He did not apologize or back away from his remarks in the interview, instead saying that people wanted to paint him as “some sort of fanatic.”

Somehow “those people” (Americans? Republicans? Karl Rove, with an assist from Hillary Clinton?) made him out to be “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and “filled with hate speech.”

But then he lets on that just maybe Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was, you know, a contrived political response: “So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”

All this makes me wonder why Obama thinks this man is “brilliant:” He seems like a garden-variety demagogue. But Andrew Sullivan needs to amend his out-to-sink Obama conspiracy theory: I think Wright is in on the plot.

Poor Reverend Wright. In an interview with Bill Moyers to run tomorrow–I wonder if he asked whether white people really created AIDS ?–Wright says he’s been maligned. The New York Times reveals this snippet of accusation:

It’s to paint me as something — ‘Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country . . . for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,’” he said. “That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

Hmm. Weren’t these his own words? Has he moved on, seen the error of his ways? In a word, no:

He did not apologize or back away from his remarks in the interview, instead saying that people wanted to paint him as “some sort of fanatic.”

Somehow “those people” (Americans? Republicans? Karl Rove, with an assist from Hillary Clinton?) made him out to be “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and “filled with hate speech.”

But then he lets on that just maybe Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was, you know, a contrived political response: “So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”

All this makes me wonder why Obama thinks this man is “brilliant:” He seems like a garden-variety demagogue. But Andrew Sullivan needs to amend his out-to-sink Obama conspiracy theory: I think Wright is in on the plot.

Read Less

The Carter Fallout

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

Read Less

Another Obama Aide Blames Israel First

Over at Connecting the Dots, Commentary’s senior editor Gabe Schoenfeld offers a telling account of how Barack Obama’s senior aide on nuclear proliferation initially denounced reports about North Korea’s efforts to help Syria build a reactor as “nonsense” whose purpose was partly to scuttle Israeli negotiations with Syria. Today that evidence was shown to Congress, and is, it is said, incontrovertible.

Over at Connecting the Dots, Commentary’s senior editor Gabe Schoenfeld offers a telling account of how Barack Obama’s senior aide on nuclear proliferation initially denounced reports about North Korea’s efforts to help Syria build a reactor as “nonsense” whose purpose was partly to scuttle Israeli negotiations with Syria. Today that evidence was shown to Congress, and is, it is said, incontrovertible.

Read Less

Obama’s Radioactive Potato

Was North Korea helping Syria build a plutonium-producing reactor? The emerging consensus in the intelligence world is that it was. Indeed, the evidence, now including videotapes taken inside the facility before it was obliterated by Israeli jets last September 6, appears almost unequivocal.

It is therefore fascinating — and disturbing — to recall the alacrity with which Joseph Cirincione, Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear, the author of a book called the Bomb Scare, was so quick back in September to dismiss the report as “nonsense.”

To Cirincione, writing on the blog of Foreign Policy Magazine, the stories surrounding surrounding the Israeli strike, namely that North Korea was building a Yongbyong-type plutonium reactor not far from the Euphrates River, was nothing more than a lie. It was a reprise, wrote Cirincione, of the way in which administration officials “misled the press” in the run-up to the second Gulf war.

Who was behind this nefarious manipulation? It seems, wrote Circincione, “to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.” What exactly was that political agenda? “[I]t appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement.” There was also a dose of Zionist mischief thrown in: “Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.”

Along with Israel and the American hardliners, another villain in Cirincione’s take is the American press, which treats “selective leaks” from the administration “as if they were absolute truth.” Indeed, the lazy reporters pushing the story appear not “to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program.”

All told, the “misleading story” of North Korean nuclear proliferation “will now enter the lexicon of the far Right” and “attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.”

In writing all these things, Cirincione sounds remarkably similar to Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumors,” Bashar Ja’afari said yesterday.

Cirincione’s instant dismissal of the Syrian-North Korean nuclear axis raises a number of interesting questions.

One of them is: has Cirincione changed his mind in light of the latest intelligence?

A second: is he going to be the official called by Obama at 3AM when an intelligence cable comes in reporting that North Korea has shipped nuclear materials somewhere else?

A third: why are so many of Obama’s advisors so prone to blame, in whole or in part, the machinations of Israel for the problems of the world? See here and here and here.

A fourth: Is Joseph Cirincione going to go the way of Samatha Power and get dropped from the campaign like a radioactive potato.

Was North Korea helping Syria build a plutonium-producing reactor? The emerging consensus in the intelligence world is that it was. Indeed, the evidence, now including videotapes taken inside the facility before it was obliterated by Israeli jets last September 6, appears almost unequivocal.

It is therefore fascinating — and disturbing — to recall the alacrity with which Joseph Cirincione, Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear, the author of a book called the Bomb Scare, was so quick back in September to dismiss the report as “nonsense.”

To Cirincione, writing on the blog of Foreign Policy Magazine, the stories surrounding surrounding the Israeli strike, namely that North Korea was building a Yongbyong-type plutonium reactor not far from the Euphrates River, was nothing more than a lie. It was a reprise, wrote Cirincione, of the way in which administration officials “misled the press” in the run-up to the second Gulf war.

Who was behind this nefarious manipulation? It seems, wrote Circincione, “to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.” What exactly was that political agenda? “[I]t appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement.” There was also a dose of Zionist mischief thrown in: “Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.”

Along with Israel and the American hardliners, another villain in Cirincione’s take is the American press, which treats “selective leaks” from the administration “as if they were absolute truth.” Indeed, the lazy reporters pushing the story appear not “to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program.”

All told, the “misleading story” of North Korean nuclear proliferation “will now enter the lexicon of the far Right” and “attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.”

In writing all these things, Cirincione sounds remarkably similar to Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumors,” Bashar Ja’afari said yesterday.

Cirincione’s instant dismissal of the Syrian-North Korean nuclear axis raises a number of interesting questions.

One of them is: has Cirincione changed his mind in light of the latest intelligence?

A second: is he going to be the official called by Obama at 3AM when an intelligence cable comes in reporting that North Korea has shipped nuclear materials somewhere else?

A third: why are so many of Obama’s advisors so prone to blame, in whole or in part, the machinations of Israel for the problems of the world? See here and here and here.

A fourth: Is Joseph Cirincione going to go the way of Samatha Power and get dropped from the campaign like a radioactive potato.

Read Less

So It Does Matter?

Remember the flood of anger that poured forth from the Left over the temerity ABC’s moderators displayed in asking Barack Obama irrelevant, petty, and distracting questions? Well, now a few are letting on that this is the stuff that really matters. Joe Klein writes that

most people make their choice on the basis of “low-information signaling” — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin.

He goes on:

In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

I imagine the apology letters to ABC’s moderators are in the mail. Klein is not alone: more pundits are stepping forward to acknowledge sheepishly that all this “noise,” all this distraction, is precisely what has decided many elections. There is an air of “Obama is just too good for us” about this. But we already knew that–from the man’s own lips, via Snobgate.

Remember the flood of anger that poured forth from the Left over the temerity ABC’s moderators displayed in asking Barack Obama irrelevant, petty, and distracting questions? Well, now a few are letting on that this is the stuff that really matters. Joe Klein writes that

most people make their choice on the basis of “low-information signaling” — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin.

He goes on:

In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

I imagine the apology letters to ABC’s moderators are in the mail. Klein is not alone: more pundits are stepping forward to acknowledge sheepishly that all this “noise,” all this distraction, is precisely what has decided many elections. There is an air of “Obama is just too good for us” about this. But we already knew that–from the man’s own lips, via Snobgate.

Read Less

Yes, That Operation Against Sadr’s Militia Was Just a Disaster, Wasn’t It?

James Glanz of the New York Times, the chief peddler of the claim that the Iraqi government’s attack on the militia controlled by goon cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a horrifying failures that called the entire surge into question, today files this dispatch from Baghdad:

 Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move….[S]uch a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk.

To sum up, then. The Shiite government proved itself willing and able to take on the most powerful Shiite militia. As a result, it has brought the Sunni bloc back into the government, which is a major step on the road to national reconciliation. And this was made possible by the passage of an amnesty law that is a key step in the benchmarks established to gauge Iraq’s political progress.

James Glanz, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

James Glanz of the New York Times, the chief peddler of the claim that the Iraqi government’s attack on the militia controlled by goon cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a horrifying failures that called the entire surge into question, today files this dispatch from Baghdad:

 Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move….[S]uch a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk.

To sum up, then. The Shiite government proved itself willing and able to take on the most powerful Shiite militia. As a result, it has brought the Sunni bloc back into the government, which is a major step on the road to national reconciliation. And this was made possible by the passage of an amnesty law that is a key step in the benchmarks established to gauge Iraq’s political progress.

James Glanz, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

Read Less

The Gap Widens . . .

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

Read Less

North Korea, Syria, and Iran

Today, U.S. intelligence officials will give closed-door briefings to members of Congress about North Korea’s role in building a reactor in Syria. (Israel, it’s been confirmed, destroyed that nuclear facility with their air-strikes last September.)

Why are the briefings taking place now? This morning the New York Times‘s David Sanger speculated that Vice President Cheney is trying to scuttle the six-party disarmament talks by highlighting Pyongyang’s proliferant behavior. Others have floated more intriguing theories. For example, Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, thinks the Bush administration is releasing the information at this time to rescue its tentative deal with the North Koreans by letting them off the hook. “If it turns out we have them dead to rights–that we have enough information on our own–then we can eliminate this as a point of contention,” he says. “Maybe we don’t need to negotiate transparency with North Korea because we already know enough.”

Wolfstal is onto something–this is definitely how the State Department thinks. There is, of course, no reason to humiliate the Koreans publicly by forcing them to confess to something we already know. Yet there are two fundamental flaws with this line of reasoning. First, it is important that the North Koreans make a complete declaration of their proliferation activities to show that they have made the critical decision to stop spreading dangerous technologies. Second, we do not know whether Syria is the only party to which they have transferred such expertise. Specifically, it’s critical that we learn about the extent of Pyongyang’s relationship with Tehran.

There are reports that Iranians traveled to North Korea to witness its October 2006 nuclear test, that the North Koreans sold processed uranium to Iran, and that they have been coaching their Iranian counterparts on how to dodge inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The links between the two nuclear programs appear to go back to the late 1990′s.

North Korea’s proliferant activities may not be limited to just Syria and Iran. They are so extensive that there is concern that Kim Jong Il is trying to replicate the old A.Q. Khan nuclear black market. In any event, Pyongyang’s promise to make a declaration of its nuclear activities is a perfect opportunity for us to find out their real extent.

Today, U.S. intelligence officials will give closed-door briefings to members of Congress about North Korea’s role in building a reactor in Syria. (Israel, it’s been confirmed, destroyed that nuclear facility with their air-strikes last September.)

Why are the briefings taking place now? This morning the New York Times‘s David Sanger speculated that Vice President Cheney is trying to scuttle the six-party disarmament talks by highlighting Pyongyang’s proliferant behavior. Others have floated more intriguing theories. For example, Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, thinks the Bush administration is releasing the information at this time to rescue its tentative deal with the North Koreans by letting them off the hook. “If it turns out we have them dead to rights–that we have enough information on our own–then we can eliminate this as a point of contention,” he says. “Maybe we don’t need to negotiate transparency with North Korea because we already know enough.”

Wolfstal is onto something–this is definitely how the State Department thinks. There is, of course, no reason to humiliate the Koreans publicly by forcing them to confess to something we already know. Yet there are two fundamental flaws with this line of reasoning. First, it is important that the North Koreans make a complete declaration of their proliferation activities to show that they have made the critical decision to stop spreading dangerous technologies. Second, we do not know whether Syria is the only party to which they have transferred such expertise. Specifically, it’s critical that we learn about the extent of Pyongyang’s relationship with Tehran.

There are reports that Iranians traveled to North Korea to witness its October 2006 nuclear test, that the North Koreans sold processed uranium to Iran, and that they have been coaching their Iranian counterparts on how to dodge inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The links between the two nuclear programs appear to go back to the late 1990′s.

North Korea’s proliferant activities may not be limited to just Syria and Iran. They are so extensive that there is concern that Kim Jong Il is trying to replicate the old A.Q. Khan nuclear black market. In any event, Pyongyang’s promise to make a declaration of its nuclear activities is a perfect opportunity for us to find out their real extent.

Read Less

Isn’t Big Labor A Special Interest Group?

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

Read Less

Quite Possibly the Dumbest Study Ever

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is itself neither a project nor excellent nor journalism, has just released a study examining the difference in the Wall Street Journal‘s front page between the way it was before Rupert Murdoch bought it and now, four months after he assumed control. After deep deliberation and careful analysis, they find it is different. There are more stories, they are less focused on business and more focused on general news, and they are often shorter. Every single person, among the two million people who buy the Wall Street Journal every day, could have told you that.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is itself neither a project nor excellent nor journalism, has just released a study examining the difference in the Wall Street Journal‘s front page between the way it was before Rupert Murdoch bought it and now, four months after he assumed control. After deep deliberation and careful analysis, they find it is different. There are more stories, they are less focused on business and more focused on general news, and they are often shorter. Every single person, among the two million people who buy the Wall Street Journal every day, could have told you that.

Read Less

The Hillary-Rove Axis

Maybe it’s time for Andrew Sullivan to take one of his mental health breaks. Within the span of one hour today he wrote 4 posts about the nefarious Hillary Clinton-Karl Rove alliance.

Hillary and Rove are, it’s true, both calculating, no-holds-barred political animals, and–as our crack intern Jacob has pointed out–they do both want to see Barack Obama lose. So, Sullivan’s assertion that the two are somehow in cahoots is, at least, conceptually viable. The problem is, he points to nothing resembling evidence whatsoever: Terry McAuliffe’s correctly pointing out that Fox News was first in calling Pennsylvania for Hillary; Rove correctly pointing out that if votes from Michigan and Florida are counted, then Hillary has the popular vote lead; and a North Carolina GOP ad slamming Obama.

If Sullivan wants to check up on what Karl Rove is saying about Hillary, he might read this piece from today’s Wall Street Journal, in which Rove writes:

Mrs. Clinton started as a deeply flawed candidate: the palpable and unpleasant sense of entitlement, the absence of a clear and optimistic message, the grating personality impatient to be done with the little people and overly eager for a return to power, real power, the phoniness and the exaggerations. These problems have not diminished over the long months of the contest. They have grown. She started out with the highest negatives of any major candidate in an open race for the presidency and things have only gotten worse.

Then again, maybe this is just another uncanny display of Rove’s bottomless talent for deception and misdirection.

Maybe it’s time for Andrew Sullivan to take one of his mental health breaks. Within the span of one hour today he wrote 4 posts about the nefarious Hillary Clinton-Karl Rove alliance.

Hillary and Rove are, it’s true, both calculating, no-holds-barred political animals, and–as our crack intern Jacob has pointed out–they do both want to see Barack Obama lose. So, Sullivan’s assertion that the two are somehow in cahoots is, at least, conceptually viable. The problem is, he points to nothing resembling evidence whatsoever: Terry McAuliffe’s correctly pointing out that Fox News was first in calling Pennsylvania for Hillary; Rove correctly pointing out that if votes from Michigan and Florida are counted, then Hillary has the popular vote lead; and a North Carolina GOP ad slamming Obama.

If Sullivan wants to check up on what Karl Rove is saying about Hillary, he might read this piece from today’s Wall Street Journal, in which Rove writes:

Mrs. Clinton started as a deeply flawed candidate: the palpable and unpleasant sense of entitlement, the absence of a clear and optimistic message, the grating personality impatient to be done with the little people and overly eager for a return to power, real power, the phoniness and the exaggerations. These problems have not diminished over the long months of the contest. They have grown. She started out with the highest negatives of any major candidate in an open race for the presidency and things have only gotten worse.

Then again, maybe this is just another uncanny display of Rove’s bottomless talent for deception and misdirection.

Read Less

Happy Conservatives and Miserable Liberals

In this interview, Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, offers some telling data about the relative happiness of liberals and conservatives:

In 2004, people who said they were conservative or very conservative were nearly twice as likely to say they were very happy as people who called themselves liberal or very liberal (44 percent versus 25 percent). Conservatives were only half as likely to say they were not too happy (9 versus 18 percent). Political conservatives were also far less likely than liberals to express maladjustment to their adult lives. For example, adults on the political right were only half as likely as those on the left to say, “at times, I think I am no good at all.” They were also less likely to say they were dissatisfied with themselves, that they were inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures. Further, a 2007 survey found that 58 percent of Republicans rated their mental health as “excellent,” versus 43 percent of political independents and just 38 percent of Democrats.

Ronald Reagan was considered the “happy warrior” for a reason. Because he was happy about America, he was able to fight on her behalf. The fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals on this point is that conservatives have given themselves permission to value what’s worthwhile in themselves, their cultures, and their beliefs, while liberals suffer from a default dissatisfaction with themselves and their way of life.

In liberal policy, we see this psychodrama writ large. The Left is perpetually dissatisfied with their country and its actions: liberals savor talk of America’s “blunders” and “disasters.” It’s no wonder Barack Obama’s downer speeches about alienation and frustration strike a chord among Democrats. In pop-psychology speak, he’s “validating” their feelings. Yes, we’re too violent; yes, we’re too greedy; yes, we’re too egocentric. Barack Obama’s call for unqualified summits with leaders hostile to the U.S. resembles, in this context, nothing so much as some radical global group therapy session.

Last month, when filmmaker and playwright David Mamet renounced modern liberalism, he wrote “This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.” It is also Barack Obama’s guiding political principle.

In this interview, Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, offers some telling data about the relative happiness of liberals and conservatives:

In 2004, people who said they were conservative or very conservative were nearly twice as likely to say they were very happy as people who called themselves liberal or very liberal (44 percent versus 25 percent). Conservatives were only half as likely to say they were not too happy (9 versus 18 percent). Political conservatives were also far less likely than liberals to express maladjustment to their adult lives. For example, adults on the political right were only half as likely as those on the left to say, “at times, I think I am no good at all.” They were also less likely to say they were dissatisfied with themselves, that they were inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures. Further, a 2007 survey found that 58 percent of Republicans rated their mental health as “excellent,” versus 43 percent of political independents and just 38 percent of Democrats.

Ronald Reagan was considered the “happy warrior” for a reason. Because he was happy about America, he was able to fight on her behalf. The fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals on this point is that conservatives have given themselves permission to value what’s worthwhile in themselves, their cultures, and their beliefs, while liberals suffer from a default dissatisfaction with themselves and their way of life.

In liberal policy, we see this psychodrama writ large. The Left is perpetually dissatisfied with their country and its actions: liberals savor talk of America’s “blunders” and “disasters.” It’s no wonder Barack Obama’s downer speeches about alienation and frustration strike a chord among Democrats. In pop-psychology speak, he’s “validating” their feelings. Yes, we’re too violent; yes, we’re too greedy; yes, we’re too egocentric. Barack Obama’s call for unqualified summits with leaders hostile to the U.S. resembles, in this context, nothing so much as some radical global group therapy session.

Last month, when filmmaker and playwright David Mamet renounced modern liberalism, he wrote “This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.” It is also Barack Obama’s guiding political principle.

Read Less

North Carolina: End of The Road?

While much of the media is buzzing about Indiana, which remains a highly competitive state, North Carolina looms large. It holds 115 delegates. Barack Obama is the prohibitive favorite, and a win there is just what he needs to stop the bleeding and calm the superdelegates. It’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton could win there. But she might make it close.

For starters, the electorate is about 40% African American. If Obama gets 90% of that vote (which is what he got in Pennsylvania) Clinton would need roughly 75% of the white vote. Not impossible–she got 63% in Pennsylvania–but no easy feat.

More critically for Clinton, North Carolina is not the Rust Belt. This is where the jobs went over the last 20 years. With big universities and lots of white-collar professionals, Obama will almost certainly do far better than he did in places like Bob Casey’s Lackawanna County in northeast Pennsylvania where he got trounced 74%-25%.

What about rural whites? Clinton’s hopes lie with those voters, but many of them in North Carolina have become Republican over the last generation. And though they could re-register to vote in the Democratic primary, there is a contested GOP gubernatorial primary to keep them busy.

So Clinton’s chances don’t look good. That might, in this counterintutive election season, be a blessing in disguise. A closer-than-expected finish might be what she needs to raise brewing doubts about Obama to a boil. Just as a narrow win in Pennsylvania for Clinton would have been her death knell, a squeaker for Obama in North Carolina will spell trouble. How likely is it? Not very. But, then again,  most gurus didn’t think she’d win Pennsylvania by ten points.

While much of the media is buzzing about Indiana, which remains a highly competitive state, North Carolina looms large. It holds 115 delegates. Barack Obama is the prohibitive favorite, and a win there is just what he needs to stop the bleeding and calm the superdelegates. It’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton could win there. But she might make it close.

For starters, the electorate is about 40% African American. If Obama gets 90% of that vote (which is what he got in Pennsylvania) Clinton would need roughly 75% of the white vote. Not impossible–she got 63% in Pennsylvania–but no easy feat.

More critically for Clinton, North Carolina is not the Rust Belt. This is where the jobs went over the last 20 years. With big universities and lots of white-collar professionals, Obama will almost certainly do far better than he did in places like Bob Casey’s Lackawanna County in northeast Pennsylvania where he got trounced 74%-25%.

What about rural whites? Clinton’s hopes lie with those voters, but many of them in North Carolina have become Republican over the last generation. And though they could re-register to vote in the Democratic primary, there is a contested GOP gubernatorial primary to keep them busy.

So Clinton’s chances don’t look good. That might, in this counterintutive election season, be a blessing in disguise. A closer-than-expected finish might be what she needs to raise brewing doubts about Obama to a boil. Just as a narrow win in Pennsylvania for Clinton would have been her death knell, a squeaker for Obama in North Carolina will spell trouble. How likely is it? Not very. But, then again,  most gurus didn’t think she’d win Pennsylvania by ten points.

Read Less

Abe Rosenthal Is Spinning in His Grave

The lead story on the New York Times homepage today: “As Economy Slows, So Do Laser Eye Surgeries.”

The lead story on the New York Times homepage today: “As Economy Slows, So Do Laser Eye Surgeries.”

Read Less

Oh No! It’s Civil War! Except It Isn’t.

Watch the pundits bite their nails and fear for the future: Oh, how awful this continuing battle in the Democratic party is! What a nightmare! Hillary is taking the low road! Obama is Adlai Stevenson redux! Fault lines are being exposed that could lead to an earthquake which might swallow up Democratic ambitions this year!

Nonsense.  There has never been a primary process with this kind of involvement. More than 30 million votes have been cast so far for Obama and Clinton combined. Every one of those voters is a committed Democrat, by virtue of his participation in the primary. Once there is a nominee and the dust settles, that nominee will have a base of primary voters larger and more passionate than anyone has ever seen. One thing surely unites them, and that is a desire to see a Democrat in the White House and an end to Republican rule.

The campaigns are echoing this hysteria, and for a reason. Obama needs superdelegates to believe his fresh and dandy new voters and the party’s African-American base will be so enraged if Hillary actually becomes the nominee that they will firebomb the Denver convention and subvert the party’s chances for victory because hope will have been murdered in its cradle. Hillary needs superdelegates to believe that Obama’s victory is going to make ethnic whites flee to McCain’s side.

 Obama and Hillary are going to have an equal amount of difficulty, for different reasons, appealing to independents (McCain will have problems too, because he’s running on the Republican line), but my guess is neither of them has to worry very much about fellow Democrats.

Watch the pundits bite their nails and fear for the future: Oh, how awful this continuing battle in the Democratic party is! What a nightmare! Hillary is taking the low road! Obama is Adlai Stevenson redux! Fault lines are being exposed that could lead to an earthquake which might swallow up Democratic ambitions this year!

Nonsense.  There has never been a primary process with this kind of involvement. More than 30 million votes have been cast so far for Obama and Clinton combined. Every one of those voters is a committed Democrat, by virtue of his participation in the primary. Once there is a nominee and the dust settles, that nominee will have a base of primary voters larger and more passionate than anyone has ever seen. One thing surely unites them, and that is a desire to see a Democrat in the White House and an end to Republican rule.

The campaigns are echoing this hysteria, and for a reason. Obama needs superdelegates to believe his fresh and dandy new voters and the party’s African-American base will be so enraged if Hillary actually becomes the nominee that they will firebomb the Denver convention and subvert the party’s chances for victory because hope will have been murdered in its cradle. Hillary needs superdelegates to believe that Obama’s victory is going to make ethnic whites flee to McCain’s side.

 Obama and Hillary are going to have an equal amount of difficulty, for different reasons, appealing to independents (McCain will have problems too, because he’s running on the Republican line), but my guess is neither of them has to worry very much about fellow Democrats.

Read Less

We Don’t Need White People

Campaign head David Axelrod commented that Barack Obama can, in essence write, off white working-class voters because “[t]he white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back even to the Clinton years.” It’s rather stunning that Obama seems disinclined to worry about his poor showing with these voters.

Aside from the absurd double standard that allows a Democrat to brush off an entire segment of the population with no media backlash (a thought experiment: imagine if Rick Davis, John McCain’s chieftan, had said, “We don’t need any Hispanics; they’ve been voting Democratic for a while now.”) Axelrod’s claim is wrong–or at least sexist. White women–even when working-class–in particular have stuck by Democrats.

Obama lost among the voters Axelrod dismissed by more than 30 points in Pennsylvania. The reality is that the candidate’s base, built largely on African Americans and college kids, may well fall apart over the course of his national campaign. And telling dependable Democratic voters you don’t care about them isn’t going to help matters.

Campaign head David Axelrod commented that Barack Obama can, in essence write, off white working-class voters because “[t]he white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back even to the Clinton years.” It’s rather stunning that Obama seems disinclined to worry about his poor showing with these voters.

Aside from the absurd double standard that allows a Democrat to brush off an entire segment of the population with no media backlash (a thought experiment: imagine if Rick Davis, John McCain’s chieftan, had said, “We don’t need any Hispanics; they’ve been voting Democratic for a while now.”) Axelrod’s claim is wrong–or at least sexist. White women–even when working-class–in particular have stuck by Democrats.

Obama lost among the voters Axelrod dismissed by more than 30 points in Pennsylvania. The reality is that the candidate’s base, built largely on African Americans and college kids, may well fall apart over the course of his national campaign. And telling dependable Democratic voters you don’t care about them isn’t going to help matters.

Read Less

Watch Out, A. B. Yehoshua

This one is likely to tick off American Jews. A few months ago, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm when he told members of the American Jewish Committee that “[Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets . . . you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory.” As a result, he claimed Jewish life in Israel is far more complete than in America. (Yehoshua issued a semi-apology, in which he did not retract his remarks, but merely insisted that they were no different from what he’s said in the past.)

Now Uri Orbach, the influential Israeli journalist and TV personality, has written a column singing the praises of Israeli secular Jewish life, as opposed to the expressions of non-Orthodox Judaism found in the United States:

Israeli seculars enjoy a Jewish existence that is more intense than that enjoyed by any non-Orthodox American Jew. In America, if you do not observe the mitzvahs and are not connected to your community, your religion has not expression in your daily life. If someone would remind you, there is a chance that you would mark Passover or Hanukah (it takes place around Christmas time.)

If you are a non-religious Jew in America, the probability that your children will marry gentiles is huge, and the likelihood that this won’t bother you too much is also quite high. Based on various estimates, the Jewish people lose about 50,000 Jews annually in the US alone. Even within Reform communities the struggle is no longer against intermarriage, but rather, focuses on guaranteeing minimal Jewish education for the children even if their parents intermarried.

In Israel, on the other hand, it is easy to spot the scope of secular Zionism’s achievement. The Zionism that established the Jewish State managed to create a reasonable Jewish environment for seculars. Israelis enjoy a Jewish atmosphere thanks to Hebrew and political mechanisms: The Hebrew language and culture, Shabbats and holidays, life in the land of the Bible, the Jewish environment and the army.

Only in Israel do seculars have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays a little bit, to eat kosher a little, to wed, and divorce, be born and die as Jews, and all that without observing the mitzvahs. Only in Israel nobody will tell you: What, you’re Jewish? I would have never thought that… (unless you are a construction worker.)

Zionism’s great achievement is therefore the guarantee of a Jewish existence for secular Jews.

I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. . .

This one is likely to tick off American Jews. A few months ago, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm when he told members of the American Jewish Committee that “[Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets . . . you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory.” As a result, he claimed Jewish life in Israel is far more complete than in America. (Yehoshua issued a semi-apology, in which he did not retract his remarks, but merely insisted that they were no different from what he’s said in the past.)

Now Uri Orbach, the influential Israeli journalist and TV personality, has written a column singing the praises of Israeli secular Jewish life, as opposed to the expressions of non-Orthodox Judaism found in the United States:

Israeli seculars enjoy a Jewish existence that is more intense than that enjoyed by any non-Orthodox American Jew. In America, if you do not observe the mitzvahs and are not connected to your community, your religion has not expression in your daily life. If someone would remind you, there is a chance that you would mark Passover or Hanukah (it takes place around Christmas time.)

If you are a non-religious Jew in America, the probability that your children will marry gentiles is huge, and the likelihood that this won’t bother you too much is also quite high. Based on various estimates, the Jewish people lose about 50,000 Jews annually in the US alone. Even within Reform communities the struggle is no longer against intermarriage, but rather, focuses on guaranteeing minimal Jewish education for the children even if their parents intermarried.

In Israel, on the other hand, it is easy to spot the scope of secular Zionism’s achievement. The Zionism that established the Jewish State managed to create a reasonable Jewish environment for seculars. Israelis enjoy a Jewish atmosphere thanks to Hebrew and political mechanisms: The Hebrew language and culture, Shabbats and holidays, life in the land of the Bible, the Jewish environment and the army.

Only in Israel do seculars have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays a little bit, to eat kosher a little, to wed, and divorce, be born and die as Jews, and all that without observing the mitzvahs. Only in Israel nobody will tell you: What, you’re Jewish? I would have never thought that… (unless you are a construction worker.)

Zionism’s great achievement is therefore the guarantee of a Jewish existence for secular Jews.

I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. . .

Read Less

Perfectly Fine

The Obamaphiles have moved from denial (perhaps it was only an 8.5% margin in Pennsylvania?) to rationalization. Now they tell themselves “It going to be fine, fine, perfectly fine.” So what if Barack Obama lost another race? So what if he can’t put together a winning coalition? So what if Hillary Clinton has $10M to fuel her race now? Nothing has changed. Got it? Gail Collins sounds as if she is breathing into a paper bag to ward off a panic attack when she announces:

Although Obama has seemed way off his game lately, the odds are still really, really good that he’ll get the nomination. The superdelegates are just waiting for him to win something so they can rally. And once the fighting is over, there’s no question that Hillary would rally her supporters behind him.

Chances aren’t just “really good” Obama will still win, they’re “really, really good.” And there’s “no question” (none? not a tiny, itsy-bitsy, little one?) that Hillary will bring her supporters over. Her compliments to John McCain about his commander-in-chief credentials were just to throw us off the scent, see. She really means only the best for Obama and wants a full eight years in the wilderness for her. . . uh . . . for an Obama presidency, that is. (And pay no attention to those exit polls!)

We have not heard Democratic rationalization this devoid of fact since the last Iraq war hearing. The reality is: Clinton is going nowhere, Obama lost by 30 or 40 points in rural areas and by double digits in key demographic groups, and those superdelegates will sooner or later have to throw one of the contenders out of the race. It is more likely they will toss Clinton overboard. But a sizable Obama loss in Indiana in two weeks would make it that much harder.

The Obamaphiles have moved from denial (perhaps it was only an 8.5% margin in Pennsylvania?) to rationalization. Now they tell themselves “It going to be fine, fine, perfectly fine.” So what if Barack Obama lost another race? So what if he can’t put together a winning coalition? So what if Hillary Clinton has $10M to fuel her race now? Nothing has changed. Got it? Gail Collins sounds as if she is breathing into a paper bag to ward off a panic attack when she announces:

Although Obama has seemed way off his game lately, the odds are still really, really good that he’ll get the nomination. The superdelegates are just waiting for him to win something so they can rally. And once the fighting is over, there’s no question that Hillary would rally her supporters behind him.

Chances aren’t just “really good” Obama will still win, they’re “really, really good.” And there’s “no question” (none? not a tiny, itsy-bitsy, little one?) that Hillary will bring her supporters over. Her compliments to John McCain about his commander-in-chief credentials were just to throw us off the scent, see. She really means only the best for Obama and wants a full eight years in the wilderness for her. . . uh . . . for an Obama presidency, that is. (And pay no attention to those exit polls!)

We have not heard Democratic rationalization this devoid of fact since the last Iraq war hearing. The reality is: Clinton is going nowhere, Obama lost by 30 or 40 points in rural areas and by double digits in key demographic groups, and those superdelegates will sooner or later have to throw one of the contenders out of the race. It is more likely they will toss Clinton overboard. But a sizable Obama loss in Indiana in two weeks would make it that much harder.

Read Less

Gaza and the Green Zone

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

Read Less