Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 19, 2008

Don’t Forget, McCain Pleads

John McCain amidst the turmoil of Barack Obama’s public financing reversal is trying to make sure voters don’t forget Obama favors habeas corpus rights for Osama bin Laden. Today he put out a statement castigating his opponent for not coming clean on whether he favors executing bin Laden and what type of proceeding he would favor. He reminds everyone that Obama is confused on what exactly took place at the Nuremberg trials. He also had Fred Thompson on a media call today emphasizing the Supreme Court’s actions in greatly expanding rights for detainees, in contravention of all prior precedent.

I suspect if McCain is going to make any headway here he will have to make a major communications push, with speeches and ads, to explain why Obama’s position reveals him as unfit on national security. The media is already turning to other issues and is not inclined to spend the time to explain to the American people what parade of horribles will occur now that we have terror suspects flocking to federal courts. Can McCain do this successfully? He will have to do it himself, even Thompson conceded, because he will get little assistance from the mainstream media.

John McCain amidst the turmoil of Barack Obama’s public financing reversal is trying to make sure voters don’t forget Obama favors habeas corpus rights for Osama bin Laden. Today he put out a statement castigating his opponent for not coming clean on whether he favors executing bin Laden and what type of proceeding he would favor. He reminds everyone that Obama is confused on what exactly took place at the Nuremberg trials. He also had Fred Thompson on a media call today emphasizing the Supreme Court’s actions in greatly expanding rights for detainees, in contravention of all prior precedent.

I suspect if McCain is going to make any headway here he will have to make a major communications push, with speeches and ads, to explain why Obama’s position reveals him as unfit on national security. The media is already turning to other issues and is not inclined to spend the time to explain to the American people what parade of horribles will occur now that we have terror suspects flocking to federal courts. Can McCain do this successfully? He will have to do it himself, even Thompson conceded, because he will get little assistance from the mainstream media.

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Yglesianomics

The Dean of the Credulosphere was trying to write about economics today, to hilarious effect:

And if we made gasoline more expensive through, say, higher gas taxes or a carbon tax then not only would we secure the public health, congestion, and environmental benefits of expensive gas but the government would have a good source of revenue with which to mitigate some of the consumer pain.

So . . . higher gas taxes are the solution to the consumer’s problem of high gas prices. Got that?

But there is a serious point to be made here, which is that it’s very interesting to observe the contradictions among liberals between their desire for progressive taxation and their advocacy for higher gasoline taxes. Demand for gasoline, in economics jargon, is inelastic, meaning that a change in price is not rapidly followed by a change in demand. In other words, the working mother who has to commute 10 miles to work each day cannot in short order switch to a job closer to home or buy a Prius, and so she is forced simply to pay the higher prices and reduce spending in other parts of her budget.

Normally, this is exactly the kind of scenario that would register significant rumblings on liberals’ economic seismographs, which are finely tuned to detect injustice: gas taxes are a classic example of regressive taxation, in which the tax burden falls disproportionately on the poor. New gas taxes wouldn’t have the slightest effect on the behavior of rich guys living high-consumption lifestyles, but would eat up a significantly higher portion of a poorer person’s budget. Yglesias and his tax-loving co-religionists can either be champions of the working classes, or they can lead a campaign to tax America’s carbon footprint into submission. But they can’t credibly do both.

The Dean of the Credulosphere was trying to write about economics today, to hilarious effect:

And if we made gasoline more expensive through, say, higher gas taxes or a carbon tax then not only would we secure the public health, congestion, and environmental benefits of expensive gas but the government would have a good source of revenue with which to mitigate some of the consumer pain.

So . . . higher gas taxes are the solution to the consumer’s problem of high gas prices. Got that?

But there is a serious point to be made here, which is that it’s very interesting to observe the contradictions among liberals between their desire for progressive taxation and their advocacy for higher gasoline taxes. Demand for gasoline, in economics jargon, is inelastic, meaning that a change in price is not rapidly followed by a change in demand. In other words, the working mother who has to commute 10 miles to work each day cannot in short order switch to a job closer to home or buy a Prius, and so she is forced simply to pay the higher prices and reduce spending in other parts of her budget.

Normally, this is exactly the kind of scenario that would register significant rumblings on liberals’ economic seismographs, which are finely tuned to detect injustice: gas taxes are a classic example of regressive taxation, in which the tax burden falls disproportionately on the poor. New gas taxes wouldn’t have the slightest effect on the behavior of rich guys living high-consumption lifestyles, but would eat up a significantly higher portion of a poorer person’s budget. Yglesias and his tax-loving co-religionists can either be champions of the working classes, or they can lead a campaign to tax America’s carbon footprint into submission. But they can’t credibly do both.

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Who Wants Him?

A distraught young blonde woman is sitting on a couch holding a fair-haired fidgeting baby. The woman looks into the camera and speaks:

Hi, John McCain, this is Alex and he’s my first. So far his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog. That and making my heart pound every time I look at him. And so, John McCain when you say you would stay in Iraq for a hundred years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were — you can’t have him.

This tasteless new MoveOn.org ad is a useful document. First, it demonstrates how out-of-touch the far Left is, not just with current events, but with the laws and contracts by which our nation functions. The “mother” is evidently unaware that the U.S. has, at this time, a volunteer army. While Barack Obama may demand she drive a small car, go hungry, and put the baby to bed in a chilly room, John McCain could no sooner force “Alex” into Iraq than she could stop “Alex” from joining up if he himself decided to do so. But if you’re part of the MoveOn.org crowd, the idea of fighting for your country is so disdainful that you could only imagine serving as the result of coercion.

Second, it serves as further evidence that despite the claims about dirty, no-holds-barred right wing campaign tricks, it’s the liberals who hit below the belt time after time. Promoting the idea that John McCain can’t wait to get into the White House, start swiping babies, and feeding them into a hundred-year-war represents the basest appeal to hysterical and dangerous fears. And to think it’s the Republicans who are repeatedly accused of peddling panic.

Last, the dialogue of the “mother’s” speech constitutes an act of moral abjection. Do liberals not imagine that in Baghdad and Basra right now there are non-blonde mothers sitting on couches dandling darker babies and that these mother’s deepest fear is that their country will be abandoned by Americans at the very point that there seems to be some hope for their babies’ future?

A distraught young blonde woman is sitting on a couch holding a fair-haired fidgeting baby. The woman looks into the camera and speaks:

Hi, John McCain, this is Alex and he’s my first. So far his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog. That and making my heart pound every time I look at him. And so, John McCain when you say you would stay in Iraq for a hundred years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were — you can’t have him.

This tasteless new MoveOn.org ad is a useful document. First, it demonstrates how out-of-touch the far Left is, not just with current events, but with the laws and contracts by which our nation functions. The “mother” is evidently unaware that the U.S. has, at this time, a volunteer army. While Barack Obama may demand she drive a small car, go hungry, and put the baby to bed in a chilly room, John McCain could no sooner force “Alex” into Iraq than she could stop “Alex” from joining up if he himself decided to do so. But if you’re part of the MoveOn.org crowd, the idea of fighting for your country is so disdainful that you could only imagine serving as the result of coercion.

Second, it serves as further evidence that despite the claims about dirty, no-holds-barred right wing campaign tricks, it’s the liberals who hit below the belt time after time. Promoting the idea that John McCain can’t wait to get into the White House, start swiping babies, and feeding them into a hundred-year-war represents the basest appeal to hysterical and dangerous fears. And to think it’s the Republicans who are repeatedly accused of peddling panic.

Last, the dialogue of the “mother’s” speech constitutes an act of moral abjection. Do liberals not imagine that in Baghdad and Basra right now there are non-blonde mothers sitting on couches dandling darker babies and that these mother’s deepest fear is that their country will be abandoned by Americans at the very point that there seems to be some hope for their babies’ future?

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Olympic Repression

“Right now, the evidence is that the Olympics are causing the human rights climate to deteriorate, not improve,” said Minky Worden, media director of Human Rights Watch, in a Reuters interview released today.

She is, unfortunately, correct. China’s Communist Party is not only cracking down on dissidents and other Chinese, it is trying to seal the country, almost airtight. In the months before the Games, which begin on August 8, Beijing cadres are arbitrarily canceling scheduled events, like international academic conferences, in order to control the flow of outlanders into the country. That’s in addition to denying visas, expelling foreigners, and once again prohibiting non-Chinese from traveling freely inside the modern Chinese state. Police and soldiers are even preventing people from talking about the Games in China’s magnificent capital city.

The Chinese central government is now implementing social-control measures borrowed from the Maoist days of the People’s Republic, and the country’s political system is in many ways more repressive than it was in the late 1980s. “Like leaders in South Korea a generation ago, the Chinese authorities believe they can control the Olympic process, and they are confident that they can deflect any internal or external pressures for reform that the Olympics creates,” writes Worden in her recently released book, China’s Great Leap.

The Chinese leaders are right, of course. After all, they know that no foreign leader will stand up to them, especially President Bush. Dubya seems to have lost his voice when it comes to Beijing’s repression. The best he can manage are empty-headed statements that engagement will make China freer, but that is demonstrably not the case when it comes to the Olympics. Worden correctly notes that in the long run the Games “may well produce permanent pressures for reform,” but none of that pressure is coming from the American leader who tells us that freedom is “God’s gift to humanity.”

“Right now, the evidence is that the Olympics are causing the human rights climate to deteriorate, not improve,” said Minky Worden, media director of Human Rights Watch, in a Reuters interview released today.

She is, unfortunately, correct. China’s Communist Party is not only cracking down on dissidents and other Chinese, it is trying to seal the country, almost airtight. In the months before the Games, which begin on August 8, Beijing cadres are arbitrarily canceling scheduled events, like international academic conferences, in order to control the flow of outlanders into the country. That’s in addition to denying visas, expelling foreigners, and once again prohibiting non-Chinese from traveling freely inside the modern Chinese state. Police and soldiers are even preventing people from talking about the Games in China’s magnificent capital city.

The Chinese central government is now implementing social-control measures borrowed from the Maoist days of the People’s Republic, and the country’s political system is in many ways more repressive than it was in the late 1980s. “Like leaders in South Korea a generation ago, the Chinese authorities believe they can control the Olympic process, and they are confident that they can deflect any internal or external pressures for reform that the Olympics creates,” writes Worden in her recently released book, China’s Great Leap.

The Chinese leaders are right, of course. After all, they know that no foreign leader will stand up to them, especially President Bush. Dubya seems to have lost his voice when it comes to Beijing’s repression. The best he can manage are empty-headed statements that engagement will make China freer, but that is demonstrably not the case when it comes to the Olympics. Worden correctly notes that in the long run the Games “may well produce permanent pressures for reform,” but none of that pressure is coming from the American leader who tells us that freedom is “God’s gift to humanity.”

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I’m Sure They’re Petrified

At the New Republic, Scott Horton relishes warning Bush administration officials that European countries are going to start trying them for war crimes.

And indeed, in what may be a sign of things to come, 26 American civil servants are being tried in absentia by an Italian court in Milan for their involvement in the rendition of a radical Muslim cleric to Egypt.

There’s hypocrisy and then there’s pure black comedy. Italy’s crusade against Americans involved in rendition can be accurately labeled as the latter. The Italian government recently expelled al-Qaeda member Sami Ben Khemais Essid and sent him on a one-way trip to his native Tunisia, where–according to Human Rights Watch–there is an “established record of torture.” Despite multiple rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (to whose measures Italy is fully bound), Interior Minister Roberto Maroni delivered Ben Khemais into a criminal justice system characterized by brutal beatings and anal rape.

That’s merely to comment on Europe’s active hypocrisy in this regard. There’s also Europe’s longstanding habit of ignoring and tacitly supporting war criminals and human rights violators of the non-American sort. When Yasser Arafat needed a cozy place to die, he didn’t submit himself to the dismal medical facilities that suffered as a result of his own kleptocracy but flew to a Paris hospice, where he was celebrated as a hero. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was hosted in France in 2001. And let’s not forget that other late French tourist, Saddam Hussein. Italy is suddenly keen to try Americans in absentia, but over the years Europe has cordially hosted enough monsters to have proceeded with trials in situ until the development of a reified EU. Well, maybe not that long.

At the New Republic, Scott Horton relishes warning Bush administration officials that European countries are going to start trying them for war crimes.

And indeed, in what may be a sign of things to come, 26 American civil servants are being tried in absentia by an Italian court in Milan for their involvement in the rendition of a radical Muslim cleric to Egypt.

There’s hypocrisy and then there’s pure black comedy. Italy’s crusade against Americans involved in rendition can be accurately labeled as the latter. The Italian government recently expelled al-Qaeda member Sami Ben Khemais Essid and sent him on a one-way trip to his native Tunisia, where–according to Human Rights Watch–there is an “established record of torture.” Despite multiple rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (to whose measures Italy is fully bound), Interior Minister Roberto Maroni delivered Ben Khemais into a criminal justice system characterized by brutal beatings and anal rape.

That’s merely to comment on Europe’s active hypocrisy in this regard. There’s also Europe’s longstanding habit of ignoring and tacitly supporting war criminals and human rights violators of the non-American sort. When Yasser Arafat needed a cozy place to die, he didn’t submit himself to the dismal medical facilities that suffered as a result of his own kleptocracy but flew to a Paris hospice, where he was celebrated as a hero. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was hosted in France in 2001. And let’s not forget that other late French tourist, Saddam Hussein. Italy is suddenly keen to try Americans in absentia, but over the years Europe has cordially hosted enough monsters to have proceeded with trials in situ until the development of a reified EU. Well, maybe not that long.

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Undoing Settled Judgments

A lot of settled judgments about the Iraq war and its radiating effects are in the process of being undone. The first has to do with Iraq itself. In 2006 and 2007, the argument was that Iraq was irredeemably lost. Ethnic divisions were said to be too great, the social disrepair too widespread, the Iraqi government too inept, the Iraqi Security Forces too ill-trained, and the U.S. strategy too flawed. The war was a blunder of historic proportions, it was said, and it was time to leave. The only debate was whether we could minimize the damage of our loss.

Then came the surge, announced in January 2007, and the enormous (if still fragile) progress in the areas of security, politics, and the economy. As Jennifer pointed out in her posting on CONTENTIONS yesterday, Tom Friedman — who in many ways embodies conventional wisdom among the foreign policy establishment — summarized in his column yesterday the gains that have been made and argued that a decent outcome in Iraq is within reach.

So much for settled judgment Number One.

It was then said that the Iraq war was the greatest recruiting mechanism al Qaeda could have hoped for. But then came the Anbar Awakening and a series of military campaigns that have left al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) broken and on the run, deeply unpopular, and as close to defeat as they have been. AQI remains a lethal threat and can rebound; there may still be lots of ebbs and flows as this war unfolds. But there is no question that today al Qaeda has paid a huge price by making Iraq the central battlefield in the war against jihadism. It may have been a strategic mistake of enormous consequence.

We have also seen the Islamic world — both the clerical/intellectual architects of jihadism and ordinary Muslims — dramatically turn against al Qaeda, bin Laden, and suicide bombings.

So much for settled judgment Number Two.

A third intensely-held view among critics of the war is that the real victor in the Iraq war was Iran. Its influence has dramatically increased, it was said, and it now has an unprecedented capacity to impose its will on the Arab world. But today, in a noteworthy op-ed in the Washington Post, the Middle East scholar Vali Nasr writes that Iran, while still having considerable influence in Iraq, is on its heels. According to Nasr

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled badly in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain — Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq’s oil exports; Sadr City and the threat posted to Baghdad security. Visiting Basra this month, I saw city walls covered with pro-Maliki graffiti. Commerce is returning to the city center. Trouble spots remain in both places . . . but the Mahdi Army’s unchallenged hold has ended . . . It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels.

A third settled judgment, then, may be in the process of being undone.

It wasn’t that these arguments were without any merit at the time they were made. After all, for a time things were bleak in Iraq. What stands out, though, is that the commentators, foreign policy analysts, and politicians took particular moments in time and made definitive declarations based on them, to the point that many were already declaring what the Bush Legacy would be when it came to the war against jihadism. But what looked obvious to them two years ago–Bush’s Iraq war was a failure of historic dimensions, with catastrophic, far-reaching effects–looks very different today.

We shouldn’t commit the same error as the President’s critics, which is to render a final judgment on events yet to unfold. But we can say that enormous and encouraging progress has been made and, if it continues, the Iraq war may be seen years from now as a turning point in America’s successful prosecution of the war against jihadism. And if that’s the case, then Bush’s legacy will look a whole lot better than it does to many people right now. That would be a very bad thing for Bush-haters, and a very good thing for America and the cause of liberty.

A lot of settled judgments about the Iraq war and its radiating effects are in the process of being undone. The first has to do with Iraq itself. In 2006 and 2007, the argument was that Iraq was irredeemably lost. Ethnic divisions were said to be too great, the social disrepair too widespread, the Iraqi government too inept, the Iraqi Security Forces too ill-trained, and the U.S. strategy too flawed. The war was a blunder of historic proportions, it was said, and it was time to leave. The only debate was whether we could minimize the damage of our loss.

Then came the surge, announced in January 2007, and the enormous (if still fragile) progress in the areas of security, politics, and the economy. As Jennifer pointed out in her posting on CONTENTIONS yesterday, Tom Friedman — who in many ways embodies conventional wisdom among the foreign policy establishment — summarized in his column yesterday the gains that have been made and argued that a decent outcome in Iraq is within reach.

So much for settled judgment Number One.

It was then said that the Iraq war was the greatest recruiting mechanism al Qaeda could have hoped for. But then came the Anbar Awakening and a series of military campaigns that have left al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) broken and on the run, deeply unpopular, and as close to defeat as they have been. AQI remains a lethal threat and can rebound; there may still be lots of ebbs and flows as this war unfolds. But there is no question that today al Qaeda has paid a huge price by making Iraq the central battlefield in the war against jihadism. It may have been a strategic mistake of enormous consequence.

We have also seen the Islamic world — both the clerical/intellectual architects of jihadism and ordinary Muslims — dramatically turn against al Qaeda, bin Laden, and suicide bombings.

So much for settled judgment Number Two.

A third intensely-held view among critics of the war is that the real victor in the Iraq war was Iran. Its influence has dramatically increased, it was said, and it now has an unprecedented capacity to impose its will on the Arab world. But today, in a noteworthy op-ed in the Washington Post, the Middle East scholar Vali Nasr writes that Iran, while still having considerable influence in Iraq, is on its heels. According to Nasr

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled badly in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain — Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq’s oil exports; Sadr City and the threat posted to Baghdad security. Visiting Basra this month, I saw city walls covered with pro-Maliki graffiti. Commerce is returning to the city center. Trouble spots remain in both places . . . but the Mahdi Army’s unchallenged hold has ended . . . It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels.

A third settled judgment, then, may be in the process of being undone.

It wasn’t that these arguments were without any merit at the time they were made. After all, for a time things were bleak in Iraq. What stands out, though, is that the commentators, foreign policy analysts, and politicians took particular moments in time and made definitive declarations based on them, to the point that many were already declaring what the Bush Legacy would be when it came to the war against jihadism. But what looked obvious to them two years ago–Bush’s Iraq war was a failure of historic dimensions, with catastrophic, far-reaching effects–looks very different today.

We shouldn’t commit the same error as the President’s critics, which is to render a final judgment on events yet to unfold. But we can say that enormous and encouraging progress has been made and, if it continues, the Iraq war may be seen years from now as a turning point in America’s successful prosecution of the war against jihadism. And if that’s the case, then Bush’s legacy will look a whole lot better than it does to many people right now. That would be a very bad thing for Bush-haters, and a very good thing for America and the cause of liberty.

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Our Glorious Experiment Is Ended

With Barack Obama’s announcement today that he will not take public financing for his presidential bid — because “the system is broken,” as he said risibly, since what he meant was  that he can raise lots more money than the $84 million he would receive from the government — Obama has done this nation a service. He has exposed the madness behind the notion of restricting the amount of money spent on political campaigns. If there is anything in our democracy that should not be subject to monetary restriction, it is political campaigning. Limits on fundraising are almost exactly equivalent to limits on free speech, since the money used in campaigns is used for the purpose of getting a candidate elected, one of the most basic acts of free speech there is.

And if you think the amount of money being spent on political campaigns this year (it will come in around $1.5 billion nationwide) is obscene, consider this: Last year, inside the 50 states, companies spent something like $5 billion marketing the sale of bottled water.

With Barack Obama’s announcement today that he will not take public financing for his presidential bid — because “the system is broken,” as he said risibly, since what he meant was  that he can raise lots more money than the $84 million he would receive from the government — Obama has done this nation a service. He has exposed the madness behind the notion of restricting the amount of money spent on political campaigns. If there is anything in our democracy that should not be subject to monetary restriction, it is political campaigning. Limits on fundraising are almost exactly equivalent to limits on free speech, since the money used in campaigns is used for the purpose of getting a candidate elected, one of the most basic acts of free speech there is.

And if you think the amount of money being spent on political campaigns this year (it will come in around $1.5 billion nationwide) is obscene, consider this: Last year, inside the 50 states, companies spent something like $5 billion marketing the sale of bottled water.

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I Saw the Headline . . .

. . . of this story linked over at Drudge — “Ahmadinejad: Iran Won The Nuke Standoff” — and thought to myself, “Well, at long last we’re hearing something sane from the Iranian president.”

. . . of this story linked over at Drudge — “Ahmadinejad: Iran Won The Nuke Standoff” — and thought to myself, “Well, at long last we’re hearing something sane from the Iranian president.”

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Hopeless

Now Barack Obama says he’s not telling us how he would handle Osama bin Laden if he were captured. But he thinks making him a “martyr” is a bad idea. What’s more, he says: “You know I’ve used this analogy before but one of the hallmarks, one of the high water points, I think, of U.S. foreign policy, was the Nuremburg Trials.” The Nuremberg trials, of course, were conducted in a military tribunal devoid of habeas corpus rights for the Nazis and entirely outside of the ordinary American judicial system. Exactly what, just days ago, Obama opposed vocally.

What to say? Obama’s remarks over the last couple of days are utterly inconsistent and intellectually baffling. He should level with the American people and tell them exactly what system he favors and how that meshes with his celebration of the Supreme Court’s expansion of rights for terror suspects. And even that is politically risky. As Jake Tapper puts it:

McCain is accurate when he says that the signal from the Obama camp right now is that it would extend Habeas Corpus rights to Osama bin Laden . . . Is this conversation really one that the Obama campaign thinks helps their political chances? Regardless of the merits of the jurisprudence argument, Osama bin Laden’s rights are not a good political topic. Maybe in Foggy Bottom conference rooms or at cocktail parties at Sally and Ben’s these things can be discussed and hashed in true Socratic style.

It seems this is a dilemma entirely of Obama’s own making, one that reflects how deeply he may have misread the public’s concern for security and intolerance for engaging in legal shenanigans when it comes to terrorism.

Now Barack Obama says he’s not telling us how he would handle Osama bin Laden if he were captured. But he thinks making him a “martyr” is a bad idea. What’s more, he says: “You know I’ve used this analogy before but one of the hallmarks, one of the high water points, I think, of U.S. foreign policy, was the Nuremburg Trials.” The Nuremberg trials, of course, were conducted in a military tribunal devoid of habeas corpus rights for the Nazis and entirely outside of the ordinary American judicial system. Exactly what, just days ago, Obama opposed vocally.

What to say? Obama’s remarks over the last couple of days are utterly inconsistent and intellectually baffling. He should level with the American people and tell them exactly what system he favors and how that meshes with his celebration of the Supreme Court’s expansion of rights for terror suspects. And even that is politically risky. As Jake Tapper puts it:

McCain is accurate when he says that the signal from the Obama camp right now is that it would extend Habeas Corpus rights to Osama bin Laden . . . Is this conversation really one that the Obama campaign thinks helps their political chances? Regardless of the merits of the jurisprudence argument, Osama bin Laden’s rights are not a good political topic. Maybe in Foggy Bottom conference rooms or at cocktail parties at Sally and Ben’s these things can be discussed and hashed in true Socratic style.

It seems this is a dilemma entirely of Obama’s own making, one that reflects how deeply he may have misread the public’s concern for security and intolerance for engaging in legal shenanigans when it comes to terrorism.

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Pot, Meet Kettle

Yesterday, the European Parliament voted by an overwhelming 369-to-197 to allow member states to hold undocumented migrants in detention centers for up to 18 months and to ban them from EU territory for 5 years. Amendments to soften this directive–including measures that would have required judicial approval of detentions within 72 hours and the provision of free legal counsel should migrants require need it–were rejected. Also rejected was an attempt to reduce the maximum period of detention to six months.

The passage of this measure could not have come at a more opportune time to expose Europe’s hypocrisy. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that enemy combatants captured on foreign soil have habeus corpus rights. The decision was predictably applauded by Europe’s chattering class, to whom, we are endlessly lectured, Guantanamo represents a “stain” on our national reputation. (Many of these soon-to-be-imprisoned migrants, it should be noted, are asylum seekers.)

Amnesty International has complained about the EU’s new statute, calling it “deeply disappointing” and “severely flawed.” No word on whether Europe’s 224 migrant detention centers are now the “gulags of our times.”

Yesterday, the European Parliament voted by an overwhelming 369-to-197 to allow member states to hold undocumented migrants in detention centers for up to 18 months and to ban them from EU territory for 5 years. Amendments to soften this directive–including measures that would have required judicial approval of detentions within 72 hours and the provision of free legal counsel should migrants require need it–were rejected. Also rejected was an attempt to reduce the maximum period of detention to six months.

The passage of this measure could not have come at a more opportune time to expose Europe’s hypocrisy. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that enemy combatants captured on foreign soil have habeus corpus rights. The decision was predictably applauded by Europe’s chattering class, to whom, we are endlessly lectured, Guantanamo represents a “stain” on our national reputation. (Many of these soon-to-be-imprisoned migrants, it should be noted, are asylum seekers.)

Amnesty International has complained about the EU’s new statute, calling it “deeply disappointing” and “severely flawed.” No word on whether Europe’s 224 migrant detention centers are now the “gulags of our times.”

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Syria’s Nukes

Apparently the IAEA was not being forthright when it said there it had no evidence that Syria was building a nuclear reactor at Al Kibar. As recently as Tuesday, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei declared that “we have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that would allow it to carry out a large nuclear program. We do not see Syria having nuclear fuel.” But according to Le Monde’s website cited in Ynet, the IAEA has been sitting on quite a bit of evidence. This comes amid reports that Syria and Turkey are thinking about setting up a joint energy company, which might include nuclear energy.

As Syria continues to climb the ladder of legitimacy, we still wonder, with Terje Roed-Larsen: What exactly are Israel and the West getting in return?

Apparently the IAEA was not being forthright when it said there it had no evidence that Syria was building a nuclear reactor at Al Kibar. As recently as Tuesday, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei declared that “we have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that would allow it to carry out a large nuclear program. We do not see Syria having nuclear fuel.” But according to Le Monde’s website cited in Ynet, the IAEA has been sitting on quite a bit of evidence. This comes amid reports that Syria and Turkey are thinking about setting up a joint energy company, which might include nuclear energy.

As Syria continues to climb the ladder of legitimacy, we still wonder, with Terje Roed-Larsen: What exactly are Israel and the West getting in return?

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The Short Term

John, it is true that McCain made his life infinitely more difficult on energy policy, but it seems the Democrats are making it easier. After all, their immediate solutions are not solutions but simply efforts to tax and punish the oil producers. Those steps, as even the anemic McCain communications team can explain, do nothing to expand production or lower costs in the short run. Indeed, Barack Obama’s greatest political difficulty is that he keeps decrying short-term fixes without offering any hope of any short- or medium-term solution. Yes, it’s fine to spend $15 billion over ten years in new technologies. But the likelihood of anything productive coming from those efforts is unclear.

And frankly Obama isn’t coming up with any viable long-term solutions, like nuclear power, either. (He says he likes it in principle, but in practice–not so much. That’s why McCain is smart to champion a specific nuclear power plan.)So politicians can decry “gimmicks” all they want, and the gas tax holiday ranks up there as one of the cheesiest. But at some point you have to give the people some prospect of relief. You have to give them the audacity to hope. Right?

John, it is true that McCain made his life infinitely more difficult on energy policy, but it seems the Democrats are making it easier. After all, their immediate solutions are not solutions but simply efforts to tax and punish the oil producers. Those steps, as even the anemic McCain communications team can explain, do nothing to expand production or lower costs in the short run. Indeed, Barack Obama’s greatest political difficulty is that he keeps decrying short-term fixes without offering any hope of any short- or medium-term solution. Yes, it’s fine to spend $15 billion over ten years in new technologies. But the likelihood of anything productive coming from those efforts is unclear.

And frankly Obama isn’t coming up with any viable long-term solutions, like nuclear power, either. (He says he likes it in principle, but in practice–not so much. That’s why McCain is smart to champion a specific nuclear power plan.)So politicians can decry “gimmicks” all they want, and the gas tax holiday ranks up there as one of the cheesiest. But at some point you have to give the people some prospect of relief. You have to give them the audacity to hope. Right?

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Time for the Stick, Maybe?

In case anyone missed it: Le Monde reports that there’s a “Secret North Korean nuclear branch in Syria.” The French newspaper claims to have seen evidence (which the International Atomic Energy Agency holds from sources other than American ones) that the Al Kibar site Israel Air Force fighters bombed on September 6, 2007, was indeed what everyone thinks it was by now–a secret North Korean-built nuclear facility. Le Monde writes that

According to our sources, the IAEA holds data, coming from several non-American sources, which confirm this analysis. Some of this information is [made of] satellite photographs supplied by various countries. Other information is derived from investigations made by the IAEA in the past about nuclear activities of North Korea. Other information comes from IAEA research on the clandestine procurement networks for the acquisition of nuclear equipment across the world.

Not that this is new, but the story requires a number of policies to be rethought, or at least questioned a little more thoroughly.

1. Israel is engaged in talks with Syria. Why? Apart from everything else Damascus has been doing, Syria has not come clean yet on the extent, scope and progress of its nuclear activities.

2. Syria’s president, Bashar el Assad is attending the Mediterranean Union summit in Paris next month. Why is her invited?Assad did not give up his weapons’ program willingly in exchange for rewards for good behavior, but was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

3. North Korea has not only breached every single possible treaty, agreement, and commitment under the sun with its own nuclear program. It now turns out it has been an assiduous proliferator. Why is the U.S. still doling out incentives to North Korea from its apparently endless carrot supply?

Not every proliferator can be halted by force. In international relations, this view might not always turn out to be practical, possible, or productive. But this is a far cry from saying that, bad behavior should be rewarded. Yet rewards are precisely what Syria and North Korea are receiving from Israel and the U.S.

In case anyone missed it: Le Monde reports that there’s a “Secret North Korean nuclear branch in Syria.” The French newspaper claims to have seen evidence (which the International Atomic Energy Agency holds from sources other than American ones) that the Al Kibar site Israel Air Force fighters bombed on September 6, 2007, was indeed what everyone thinks it was by now–a secret North Korean-built nuclear facility. Le Monde writes that

According to our sources, the IAEA holds data, coming from several non-American sources, which confirm this analysis. Some of this information is [made of] satellite photographs supplied by various countries. Other information is derived from investigations made by the IAEA in the past about nuclear activities of North Korea. Other information comes from IAEA research on the clandestine procurement networks for the acquisition of nuclear equipment across the world.

Not that this is new, but the story requires a number of policies to be rethought, or at least questioned a little more thoroughly.

1. Israel is engaged in talks with Syria. Why? Apart from everything else Damascus has been doing, Syria has not come clean yet on the extent, scope and progress of its nuclear activities.

2. Syria’s president, Bashar el Assad is attending the Mediterranean Union summit in Paris next month. Why is her invited?Assad did not give up his weapons’ program willingly in exchange for rewards for good behavior, but was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

3. North Korea has not only breached every single possible treaty, agreement, and commitment under the sun with its own nuclear program. It now turns out it has been an assiduous proliferator. Why is the U.S. still doling out incentives to North Korea from its apparently endless carrot supply?

Not every proliferator can be halted by force. In international relations, this view might not always turn out to be practical, possible, or productive. But this is a far cry from saying that, bad behavior should be rewarded. Yet rewards are precisely what Syria and North Korea are receiving from Israel and the U.S.

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Re: Never Mind

The biggest never-mind yet: that pledge about public financing. It is fine to say “little people” are funding his campaign, but so are Tony Rezko bundlers. It would, of course, be ridiculous for Barack Obama to give up his fundraising advantage. On the other, doing something not in his own self-interest would allow Obama to demonstrate his bona fides as the architect of New Politics. Will John McCain make some hay? Only if he is able to demonstrate a larger theme of “phony Agent of Change” can he make any headway on this. After all, campaign finance reform — despite McCain’s best efforts — was never an issue to seize the popular imagination.

The biggest never-mind yet: that pledge about public financing. It is fine to say “little people” are funding his campaign, but so are Tony Rezko bundlers. It would, of course, be ridiculous for Barack Obama to give up his fundraising advantage. On the other, doing something not in his own self-interest would allow Obama to demonstrate his bona fides as the architect of New Politics. Will John McCain make some hay? Only if he is able to demonstrate a larger theme of “phony Agent of Change” can he make any headway on this. After all, campaign finance reform — despite McCain’s best efforts — was never an issue to seize the popular imagination.

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Terms of Endearment

The Israel-Gaza ceasefire took effect early this morning, and at the moment calm is prevailing. The deal is roughly as follows:

Step 1: All violence between Israel and Gaza stops, including rocket and mortar fire and border-breach attacks. Importantly, this includes all the militias which operate in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad and the Army of Islam, whose support for the cease-fire Egypt apparently negotiated. If calm prevails for three days, Israel will begin easing restrictions at the Karni and Sufa crossings so that large quantities of fuel, food, construction materials, etc., can be sent into Gaza.

Step 2: Hamas ends its weapons smuggling under the border with Egypt, stops building rockets and explosive devices, and stops sending members of its group to Iran for training. This will be both the most difficult part of the truce to monitor, and the condition Hamas will be most likely to violate (if the calm can’t be used as a re-supply period, what good is it to Hamas?). In order to verify that Hamas is not re-arming, Egypt has pledged to patrol its border with Gaza vigorously in order to suppress smuggling, and has been supplied with tunnel detection equipment and training by the United States to do so. The problem here is that Egypt has always claimed it is trying to prevent such smuggling, has rarely shown any competence in doing so, and now will have a strong incentive to claim that it is discharging its obligations, regardless of the reality.

Step 3: Assuming that both the attacks and smuggling have stopped, the cease-fire will enter the Gilad Shalit phase. According to Amos Gilad, the defense ministry official who has been most intimately involved in negotiating the truce, the opening of the Rafah Crossing — Gaza’s main crossing point to Egypt — will be contingent on the safe return of Shalit. Gilad added that:

We need a total ceasefire — all included. If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement. There is no room for interpretation, and no mediating body is needed. We will not accept the firing of even one Qassam. Egypt, on its side, is committed to preventing the smuggling activity from Gaza. It’s simple; Egypt has a border with Gaza, through which weapons and terrorists are smuggled. Smuggling is a serious violation of the terms. Any such infraction will lead to a change in Israel’s stance from the way in which it was presented to the Egyptians.

So what might happen in the coming days? On the basis of the history of cease-fires with Hamas — click here to refresh your memory — there is little hope for the calm to last, and Israeli officials seem far more insistent than in years past that any act of terrorism emanating from Gaza will represent a violation of the agreement, and thus its termination.

Or will it? The Israeli government is in disarray, and the desire for a respite from Gaza is strong. There is a risk, in other words, that continued weapons smuggling would be ignored, so long as it is discreet; minor attacks would be dismissed as the work of rogue factions; and, salved by the appearance of success, the government would acquiesce to a new status quo that would allow Hamas to get what it wishes out of the cease-fire: an easing of the blockade, a demonstration to Gazans that resistance works, and a chance to re-arm. This morning, Bibi Netanyahu condemned the entire concept behind the cease-fire: “If Hamas has grown weaker, why allow it to become strong again?” Good question.

And a final thought: if ever there was concrete evidence needed that the peace process is over, this cease-fire is it. It is a result of negotiations between Israel and Hamas that have been hosted by Cairo, while Fatah, Abbas, and the Bush administration watched from the sidelines. The United States and its preferred interlocutors have had no role to play. If the cease-fire holds, Hamas’s status as the government of Gaza will be dramatically enhanced, as such status will have acquired the de facto approval of its neighbors. Hamas will have demonstrated an ability to successfully negotiate with foreign powers, control the many clans and factions which operate in its territory, and, should the Rafah crossing open, will possess operating borders with two countries. It will be hard to carry on among Palestinians with the argument that violence and resistance are political dead ends. And the fracturing of the Palestinian body politic, its surrender to geographic and cultural reality, will be all but complete.

The Israel-Gaza ceasefire took effect early this morning, and at the moment calm is prevailing. The deal is roughly as follows:

Step 1: All violence between Israel and Gaza stops, including rocket and mortar fire and border-breach attacks. Importantly, this includes all the militias which operate in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad and the Army of Islam, whose support for the cease-fire Egypt apparently negotiated. If calm prevails for three days, Israel will begin easing restrictions at the Karni and Sufa crossings so that large quantities of fuel, food, construction materials, etc., can be sent into Gaza.

Step 2: Hamas ends its weapons smuggling under the border with Egypt, stops building rockets and explosive devices, and stops sending members of its group to Iran for training. This will be both the most difficult part of the truce to monitor, and the condition Hamas will be most likely to violate (if the calm can’t be used as a re-supply period, what good is it to Hamas?). In order to verify that Hamas is not re-arming, Egypt has pledged to patrol its border with Gaza vigorously in order to suppress smuggling, and has been supplied with tunnel detection equipment and training by the United States to do so. The problem here is that Egypt has always claimed it is trying to prevent such smuggling, has rarely shown any competence in doing so, and now will have a strong incentive to claim that it is discharging its obligations, regardless of the reality.

Step 3: Assuming that both the attacks and smuggling have stopped, the cease-fire will enter the Gilad Shalit phase. According to Amos Gilad, the defense ministry official who has been most intimately involved in negotiating the truce, the opening of the Rafah Crossing — Gaza’s main crossing point to Egypt — will be contingent on the safe return of Shalit. Gilad added that:

We need a total ceasefire — all included. If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement. There is no room for interpretation, and no mediating body is needed. We will not accept the firing of even one Qassam. Egypt, on its side, is committed to preventing the smuggling activity from Gaza. It’s simple; Egypt has a border with Gaza, through which weapons and terrorists are smuggled. Smuggling is a serious violation of the terms. Any such infraction will lead to a change in Israel’s stance from the way in which it was presented to the Egyptians.

So what might happen in the coming days? On the basis of the history of cease-fires with Hamas — click here to refresh your memory — there is little hope for the calm to last, and Israeli officials seem far more insistent than in years past that any act of terrorism emanating from Gaza will represent a violation of the agreement, and thus its termination.

Or will it? The Israeli government is in disarray, and the desire for a respite from Gaza is strong. There is a risk, in other words, that continued weapons smuggling would be ignored, so long as it is discreet; minor attacks would be dismissed as the work of rogue factions; and, salved by the appearance of success, the government would acquiesce to a new status quo that would allow Hamas to get what it wishes out of the cease-fire: an easing of the blockade, a demonstration to Gazans that resistance works, and a chance to re-arm. This morning, Bibi Netanyahu condemned the entire concept behind the cease-fire: “If Hamas has grown weaker, why allow it to become strong again?” Good question.

And a final thought: if ever there was concrete evidence needed that the peace process is over, this cease-fire is it. It is a result of negotiations between Israel and Hamas that have been hosted by Cairo, while Fatah, Abbas, and the Bush administration watched from the sidelines. The United States and its preferred interlocutors have had no role to play. If the cease-fire holds, Hamas’s status as the government of Gaza will be dramatically enhanced, as such status will have acquired the de facto approval of its neighbors. Hamas will have demonstrated an ability to successfully negotiate with foreign powers, control the many clans and factions which operate in its territory, and, should the Rafah crossing open, will possess operating borders with two countries. It will be hard to carry on among Palestinians with the argument that violence and resistance are political dead ends. And the fracturing of the Palestinian body politic, its surrender to geographic and cultural reality, will be all but complete.

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More on Venezuela and Terror

Today the Jerusalem Post (via AP) reports that the U.S. has frozen the assets of a Venezuelan diplomat stationed in Lebanon, Ghazi Nasr al Din, who has apparently been fundraising for Hezbollah:

The U.S. government alleges that Nasr al Din used his position as a diplomat and president of a Caracas-based Shi’ a Islamic Center to give financial assistance to Hizbullah . . . Nasr al Din is suspected of counseling Hizbullah donors on fundraising efforts and providing donors with specific bank account information where “donors deposits would go directly to Hizbullah,” the department said. He also allegedly arranged the travel of Hizbullah members to Iran.

In addition to Nasr al Din, the Treasury has frozen the assets of another Venezuelan, Fawzi Kana’an, and two travel agencies based there.

Today the Jerusalem Post (via AP) reports that the U.S. has frozen the assets of a Venezuelan diplomat stationed in Lebanon, Ghazi Nasr al Din, who has apparently been fundraising for Hezbollah:

The U.S. government alleges that Nasr al Din used his position as a diplomat and president of a Caracas-based Shi’ a Islamic Center to give financial assistance to Hizbullah . . . Nasr al Din is suspected of counseling Hizbullah donors on fundraising efforts and providing donors with specific bank account information where “donors deposits would go directly to Hizbullah,” the department said. He also allegedly arranged the travel of Hizbullah members to Iran.

In addition to Nasr al Din, the Treasury has frozen the assets of another Venezuelan, Fawzi Kana’an, and two travel agencies based there.

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Where’s the Outrage?

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

Give Senator Christopher Dodd credit for nerve. On Tuesday, the very day he finally admitted knowing that Countrywide Financial regarded him as a “special” customer, the Connecticut Democrat also announced that he was bringing to the Senate floor a housing bailout sure to help lenders like Countrywide.

Dodd is not alone, of course. Also on the Countrywide “special friends” list are is Senator Conrad and other luminaries, including Donna Shalala, whose presidential honors stumped conservatives recently.

This has all the making of a real scandal. Big shots including those with regulatory oversight over Countrywide got goodies from the company at the center of a major financial crisis. You’d think the media would have this on Page One, that Henry Waxman would be salivating at the prospect of grilling witnesses (he certainly loved tearing into Angelo Mozilo before this latest scandal broke), and the Agent of Change would be decrying the Old Politics of Washington insiders. But zip. Zilch. Why?

You have to understand that the key ingredient in a full-blown media Washington scandal is missing: there is no prominent Republican involved. So Barack Obama is mute, as are his media cheerleaders.

That doesn’t mean John McCain should be. And his inattention to this seems odd. (Yes, he’s busy and there are even bigger problems, as John points out.) But this is tailor-made for him. He after all has an his eagle eye for impropriety. It certainly would give him an edge over Obama, who shrinks from this issue (after the James Johnson fiasco) like a vampire cringes from sunlight.

It isn’t everyday that a real scandal comes to Washington. McCain would be well advised to make the most of it.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

Give Senator Christopher Dodd credit for nerve. On Tuesday, the very day he finally admitted knowing that Countrywide Financial regarded him as a “special” customer, the Connecticut Democrat also announced that he was bringing to the Senate floor a housing bailout sure to help lenders like Countrywide.

Dodd is not alone, of course. Also on the Countrywide “special friends” list are is Senator Conrad and other luminaries, including Donna Shalala, whose presidential honors stumped conservatives recently.

This has all the making of a real scandal. Big shots including those with regulatory oversight over Countrywide got goodies from the company at the center of a major financial crisis. You’d think the media would have this on Page One, that Henry Waxman would be salivating at the prospect of grilling witnesses (he certainly loved tearing into Angelo Mozilo before this latest scandal broke), and the Agent of Change would be decrying the Old Politics of Washington insiders. But zip. Zilch. Why?

You have to understand that the key ingredient in a full-blown media Washington scandal is missing: there is no prominent Republican involved. So Barack Obama is mute, as are his media cheerleaders.

That doesn’t mean John McCain should be. And his inattention to this seems odd. (Yes, he’s busy and there are even bigger problems, as John points out.) But this is tailor-made for him. He after all has an his eagle eye for impropriety. It certainly would give him an edge over Obama, who shrinks from this issue (after the James Johnson fiasco) like a vampire cringes from sunlight.

It isn’t everyday that a real scandal comes to Washington. McCain would be well advised to make the most of it.

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Peres & the Arab League

This story — “The audience cheered Moussa, but Peres fought back, reclaiming the stage. He grabbed the microphone and embarked on his own rhetoric” — is great fun. But it would have been even cooler if it had turned into something like this.

This story — “The audience cheered Moussa, but Peres fought back, reclaiming the stage. He grabbed the microphone and embarked on his own rhetoric” — is great fun. But it would have been even cooler if it had turned into something like this.

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Don’t Miss the Zohan

If you’ve seen the trailer for Adam Sandler’s new movie You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, it may be tempting to write it off as yet another low-brow comedy aimed at fifteen-year-old boys and best avoided by everyone else. But wait. After Hollywood’s recent spate of dour axe-grinding films about Iraq, a fun movie featuring an Israeli counter-terrorist as the protagonist is a refreshing change, even if it is no more serious or realistic than a cartoon.

Sandler plays Zohan, an elite Israel Defense Forces commando who feels no pain, can do push ups with no hands, and can catch bullets fired at him in his nostrils. He’s a superhero, basically, and his oddly likable Palestinian nemesis (“the Phantom,” played by John Turturro) is an equally indestructible comic book arch-villain who also feels no pain and can defy gravity. Zohan’s trouble is that he’s tired of chasing bad guys, even though he’s very good at it. He would rather live in the United States and work in a hair salon. So he fakes his own death and smuggles himself to New York to get away from it all and live the American dream. There’d be no movie, though, if it were that easy. Zohan is spotted by a Palestinian taxi driver, and buffoonish Arab terrorist wannabes plot to take down the Zohan at his place of employment.

The film’s lead actor and co-author is a Republican, but of the Rudy Giuliani-supporting “South Park Republican” variety. Andrew Sullivan coined the phrase after South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker outed themselves as irreverent anti-leftists a few years ago. Matt Stone is a registered Republican, and Trey Parker famously said “I hate conservatives, but I really f***ing hate liberals.”

This, then, is no Mel Gibson movie. Gibson’s politics, in fact, are swiped at in this movie. No cultural conservative could possibly have written You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Sandler’s character becomes the most sought-after hairdresser in New York City because he joyfully includes sexual favors for senior citizens as part of his salon service package. At no point in the film is there even the slightest suggestion that there’s anything wrong with promiscuous sex or brazen prostitution.

There’s a seriousness, though, beneath the surface of what is otherwise a ridiculous and crude cartoon with live actors. Israelis are portrayed as the good guys, which is not exactly what might be expected from Hollywood these days. Jokes are made at their expense, but the humor is not politically charged. Zohan brushes his teeth with hummus, for instance. His dad stirs it in his coffee.

American mall rats who buy theater tickets just for the laughs get a brief lesson on the Six Day War in 1967 and on Israel’s rules of engagement designed to shield innocent civilians from collateral damage. Zohan may be a raunchy comic book type of character, but he accurately represents most Israeli soldiers I’ve met in at least one way – he would much rather hang out with beautiful women on the beaches of Tel Aviv than fight Arabs. He’s easy to get along with as long as you are not trying to kill him. And if you are trying to kill him – watch out. The United States is correctly portrayed as a place where tension still exists between Israeli and Palestinian immigrants, but where that tension is also significantly muted and where some members of each community have pitched the old world hatreds over the side.

The second half of the movie gets even more silly and less believable when it begins to push a can’t-we-all-just-get-along message. Zohan’s boss, love interest, and the film’s heroine is Palestinian. The message is arguably appropriate, though, for a slap-stick American comedy. No one should expect a gritty, realistic treatment of tragic Middle East politics from a film like You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The message, while a bit unrealistic, does manage to prevent a pro-Israel movie from becoming an anti-Arab movie, which is at it should be.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is not anti-Arab, nor is it really right-wing. It is far too juvenile and bawdy for that. But it’s refreshingly not leftist either. Those who love to hate Israel will hate Sandler’s new movie as much as Hezbollah and Hamas undoubtedly will.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Adam Sandler’s new movie You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, it may be tempting to write it off as yet another low-brow comedy aimed at fifteen-year-old boys and best avoided by everyone else. But wait. After Hollywood’s recent spate of dour axe-grinding films about Iraq, a fun movie featuring an Israeli counter-terrorist as the protagonist is a refreshing change, even if it is no more serious or realistic than a cartoon.

Sandler plays Zohan, an elite Israel Defense Forces commando who feels no pain, can do push ups with no hands, and can catch bullets fired at him in his nostrils. He’s a superhero, basically, and his oddly likable Palestinian nemesis (“the Phantom,” played by John Turturro) is an equally indestructible comic book arch-villain who also feels no pain and can defy gravity. Zohan’s trouble is that he’s tired of chasing bad guys, even though he’s very good at it. He would rather live in the United States and work in a hair salon. So he fakes his own death and smuggles himself to New York to get away from it all and live the American dream. There’d be no movie, though, if it were that easy. Zohan is spotted by a Palestinian taxi driver, and buffoonish Arab terrorist wannabes plot to take down the Zohan at his place of employment.

The film’s lead actor and co-author is a Republican, but of the Rudy Giuliani-supporting “South Park Republican” variety. Andrew Sullivan coined the phrase after South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker outed themselves as irreverent anti-leftists a few years ago. Matt Stone is a registered Republican, and Trey Parker famously said “I hate conservatives, but I really f***ing hate liberals.”

This, then, is no Mel Gibson movie. Gibson’s politics, in fact, are swiped at in this movie. No cultural conservative could possibly have written You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Sandler’s character becomes the most sought-after hairdresser in New York City because he joyfully includes sexual favors for senior citizens as part of his salon service package. At no point in the film is there even the slightest suggestion that there’s anything wrong with promiscuous sex or brazen prostitution.

There’s a seriousness, though, beneath the surface of what is otherwise a ridiculous and crude cartoon with live actors. Israelis are portrayed as the good guys, which is not exactly what might be expected from Hollywood these days. Jokes are made at their expense, but the humor is not politically charged. Zohan brushes his teeth with hummus, for instance. His dad stirs it in his coffee.

American mall rats who buy theater tickets just for the laughs get a brief lesson on the Six Day War in 1967 and on Israel’s rules of engagement designed to shield innocent civilians from collateral damage. Zohan may be a raunchy comic book type of character, but he accurately represents most Israeli soldiers I’ve met in at least one way – he would much rather hang out with beautiful women on the beaches of Tel Aviv than fight Arabs. He’s easy to get along with as long as you are not trying to kill him. And if you are trying to kill him – watch out. The United States is correctly portrayed as a place where tension still exists between Israeli and Palestinian immigrants, but where that tension is also significantly muted and where some members of each community have pitched the old world hatreds over the side.

The second half of the movie gets even more silly and less believable when it begins to push a can’t-we-all-just-get-along message. Zohan’s boss, love interest, and the film’s heroine is Palestinian. The message is arguably appropriate, though, for a slap-stick American comedy. No one should expect a gritty, realistic treatment of tragic Middle East politics from a film like You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The message, while a bit unrealistic, does manage to prevent a pro-Israel movie from becoming an anti-Arab movie, which is at it should be.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is not anti-Arab, nor is it really right-wing. It is far too juvenile and bawdy for that. But it’s refreshingly not leftist either. Those who love to hate Israel will hate Sandler’s new movie as much as Hezbollah and Hamas undoubtedly will.

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Never Mind

All that NAFTA bashing? Barack Obama didn’t mean it. Austan Goolsbee can get in line to get his apology behind Samantha Power, who told us “never mind” on Obama’s plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. So could we get a definitive list of what Obama didn’t really mean? Undivided Jerusalem is a “never mind.” And opposition to Kyl-Lieberman is, too. Are there others? And where does Hillary Clinton go to cash in on her “I told you so’s”? It really was all “just words.”

All that NAFTA bashing? Barack Obama didn’t mean it. Austan Goolsbee can get in line to get his apology behind Samantha Power, who told us “never mind” on Obama’s plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. So could we get a definitive list of what Obama didn’t really mean? Undivided Jerusalem is a “never mind.” And opposition to Kyl-Lieberman is, too. Are there others? And where does Hillary Clinton go to cash in on her “I told you so’s”? It really was all “just words.”

Read Less




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