Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 28, 2008

Caroline’s Charade

Buried in Sunday’s New York Times front-pager on Caroline Kennedy, the presumptive (and presumptuous) junior senator from New York lets it be known that it would have been better if she had the chance to run for a senate seat.

At one point, she said that it might have been preferable to seek the seat in an election, noting that “it would give me a chance to explain exactly what I’m doing, why I would want to do this, and, you know, to get people to know me better and to understand exactly what my plans would be, how hard I would work.”

Most striking about this remark is how it contradicts her recent assertion that if Governor Patterson does not select her, she won’t run for the seat in 2010. Kennedy made it quite clear that she had no interest in actually standing before her potential subjects –er– constituents, only in having the seat given to her (elections are such plebian exercises, hardly befitting a Kennedy). Yet she backtracks in the Times interview, saying that, in an ideal world, an election would be held to fill the vacancy and she’d run in it so as to convince the citizens of New York why she should be their Senator. If Kennedy wants to be Senator so badly and thinks she’s “the best for the job,” why not run in two years regardless of what happens vis a vis Hillary’s replacement?

And while it’s nice to hear Kennedy finally endorse the foundational principal of electoral democracy, there is nothing now preventing, nor is there anything that has ever prevented, her from “explain[ing] exactly what [she's] doing, why [she] would want to do this, and, you know, to get people to know [her] better and to understand exactly what [her] plans would be, how hard [she] would work.” No one has forced her to be so demure these past few weeks, and in the Times interview, an “extensive sit-down discussion” no less, she barely gets into details about policies. Caroline, who has always distinguished herself in a family full of ne’er do wells, should do what she can to preserve that reputation, do the honorable thing, and end this charade.

Buried in Sunday’s New York Times front-pager on Caroline Kennedy, the presumptive (and presumptuous) junior senator from New York lets it be known that it would have been better if she had the chance to run for a senate seat.

At one point, she said that it might have been preferable to seek the seat in an election, noting that “it would give me a chance to explain exactly what I’m doing, why I would want to do this, and, you know, to get people to know me better and to understand exactly what my plans would be, how hard I would work.”

Most striking about this remark is how it contradicts her recent assertion that if Governor Patterson does not select her, she won’t run for the seat in 2010. Kennedy made it quite clear that she had no interest in actually standing before her potential subjects –er– constituents, only in having the seat given to her (elections are such plebian exercises, hardly befitting a Kennedy). Yet she backtracks in the Times interview, saying that, in an ideal world, an election would be held to fill the vacancy and she’d run in it so as to convince the citizens of New York why she should be their Senator. If Kennedy wants to be Senator so badly and thinks she’s “the best for the job,” why not run in two years regardless of what happens vis a vis Hillary’s replacement?

And while it’s nice to hear Kennedy finally endorse the foundational principal of electoral democracy, there is nothing now preventing, nor is there anything that has ever prevented, her from “explain[ing] exactly what [she's] doing, why [she] would want to do this, and, you know, to get people to know [her] better and to understand exactly what [her] plans would be, how hard [she] would work.” No one has forced her to be so demure these past few weeks, and in the Times interview, an “extensive sit-down discussion” no less, she barely gets into details about policies. Caroline, who has always distinguished herself in a family full of ne’er do wells, should do what she can to preserve that reputation, do the honorable thing, and end this charade.

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Re: Re: Could It Get Any Worse?

Michael Steele’s camp provided me with this comment on Chip Saltsman’s racial CD:

Our Party is facing a stiff head wind right now. The leadership necessary to face these turbulent times requires that we appreciate how our actions and our words are often times used to define who we are as Republicans. I know Chip, I know his character; and while his attempt at humor was clearly misplaced, it does not make him indifferent to the important work of building the coalitions necessary to make our party stronger. And yet, we must be mindful that self-inflicted wounds not only distract us from regaining our strength as a Party, but further diminish our credibility with an increasingly diverse community of voters. As RNC Chairman, I want us to be a lot smarter about such things and more appreciative that our actions always speak louder than our words.

Translation: Saltsman is not a racist but he’s too dumb to be RNC chairman.

In using an excessively careful tone, Steele perhaps wants to prevent a “rally ’round the embattled Republican caught up in a media feeding frenzy” phenomenon.  One wonders, however, whether Republicans aren’t a bit more sophisticated these days and would have been perfectly fine with a  less nuanced comment. Nevertheless, this incident has been a useful indicator as to how the RNC candidates would react to a a PR incident.

Michael Steele’s camp provided me with this comment on Chip Saltsman’s racial CD:

Our Party is facing a stiff head wind right now. The leadership necessary to face these turbulent times requires that we appreciate how our actions and our words are often times used to define who we are as Republicans. I know Chip, I know his character; and while his attempt at humor was clearly misplaced, it does not make him indifferent to the important work of building the coalitions necessary to make our party stronger. And yet, we must be mindful that self-inflicted wounds not only distract us from regaining our strength as a Party, but further diminish our credibility with an increasingly diverse community of voters. As RNC Chairman, I want us to be a lot smarter about such things and more appreciative that our actions always speak louder than our words.

Translation: Saltsman is not a racist but he’s too dumb to be RNC chairman.

In using an excessively careful tone, Steele perhaps wants to prevent a “rally ’round the embattled Republican caught up in a media feeding frenzy” phenomenon.  One wonders, however, whether Republicans aren’t a bit more sophisticated these days and would have been perfectly fine with a  less nuanced comment. Nevertheless, this incident has been a useful indicator as to how the RNC candidates would react to a a PR incident.

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The Other N-Word

Well, it’s probably safe to write off Chip Saltsman’s chances to be the next Republican National Committee chair. As Jennifer has mentinoed, he sent out a CD that included the musical satire “Barack The Magic Negro.”

The story behind that particular song is actually interesting.

It all started with a column by the Los Angeles Times noted liberal commentator David Ehrenstein. In that piece, Ehrenstein tied Obama’s rise to the American  folk conception of the “magic Negro.” This figure has become a hallmark of films and literature, the mysterious, often mystical black person who shows up to both save the white protagonist and assuage “white guilt.”

As insightful and profound and useful as Ehrenstein’s piece may (or may not) have been, it caused far, far more harm than good. Suddenly, thanks to his piece, everyone felt empowered to refer to Obama as “the magic Negro.” This led to the song “Barack The Magic Negro,” a parody of “Puff The Magic Dragon” that featured a fictional Al Sharpton complaining that Obama was not “black enough.” The song took off, especially among Obama detractors like Rush Limbaugh, and Saltzman was so taken with it that he included it on a CD he sent out to potential backers of his bid.

As noted, Ehrenstein’s original piece could have been a valuable starting point to discuss race relations in the U.S. and Obama’s ability to embody all sorts of ideals and ideas without having to actually say or do anything. Obama himself recognized this; in an interview with the New York Times, he said “I am like a Rorschach test. Even if people find me disappointing ultimately, they might gain something.”

But the most lasting consequence of Ehrenstein’s piece was that it allowed sophomoric dolts to label Obama a Negro, and prettify the racist aspect of  their derision.

So now it looks like Saltsman’s managed to shoot himself in the foot — and good riddance. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Obama without dragging race into the equation. Further, the point Ehrenstein was making was not so much critical of Obama but of those who voted for him, and (it might have escaped the notice of some) the election was held two months ago. (Spoiler warning: Obama won.)

Ehrenstein’s article might have broken some fresh ground in the discussion of Obama and Americans’ expectations, but it’s ruined. The moment is gone. Time to let it go.

Well, it’s probably safe to write off Chip Saltsman’s chances to be the next Republican National Committee chair. As Jennifer has mentinoed, he sent out a CD that included the musical satire “Barack The Magic Negro.”

The story behind that particular song is actually interesting.

It all started with a column by the Los Angeles Times noted liberal commentator David Ehrenstein. In that piece, Ehrenstein tied Obama’s rise to the American  folk conception of the “magic Negro.” This figure has become a hallmark of films and literature, the mysterious, often mystical black person who shows up to both save the white protagonist and assuage “white guilt.”

As insightful and profound and useful as Ehrenstein’s piece may (or may not) have been, it caused far, far more harm than good. Suddenly, thanks to his piece, everyone felt empowered to refer to Obama as “the magic Negro.” This led to the song “Barack The Magic Negro,” a parody of “Puff The Magic Dragon” that featured a fictional Al Sharpton complaining that Obama was not “black enough.” The song took off, especially among Obama detractors like Rush Limbaugh, and Saltzman was so taken with it that he included it on a CD he sent out to potential backers of his bid.

As noted, Ehrenstein’s original piece could have been a valuable starting point to discuss race relations in the U.S. and Obama’s ability to embody all sorts of ideals and ideas without having to actually say or do anything. Obama himself recognized this; in an interview with the New York Times, he said “I am like a Rorschach test. Even if people find me disappointing ultimately, they might gain something.”

But the most lasting consequence of Ehrenstein’s piece was that it allowed sophomoric dolts to label Obama a Negro, and prettify the racist aspect of  their derision.

So now it looks like Saltsman’s managed to shoot himself in the foot — and good riddance. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Obama without dragging race into the equation. Further, the point Ehrenstein was making was not so much critical of Obama but of those who voted for him, and (it might have escaped the notice of some) the election was held two months ago. (Spoiler warning: Obama won.)

Ehrenstein’s article might have broken some fresh ground in the discussion of Obama and Americans’ expectations, but it’s ruined. The moment is gone. Time to let it go.

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Abbas’s Example

President-elect Barack Obama has been silent on the Israelis’ action against Hamas. He is being briefed, we are told, but has resorted to the “one President at a time” mantra to avoid taking a public position. It is unclear whether he is inclined to resort to his “everyone take a breather” rhetoric which characterized his reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia or, alternatively, to  echo the language of his campaign in which he declared, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” Instead of choosing, he’s decided to do what has worked so well in the campaign: remain mute while events take form. Perhaps we’ll hear from him in a day or so.

Ironically, this has him lagging behind Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. We have this report:

Hamas could have prevented the “massacre” in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday in Cairo. “We spoke to them and told them ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,’” Abbas said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.” Abbas called on Hamas to renew the cease-fire with Israel to avoid further bloodshed in Gaza. Aboul Gheit also attacked Hamas, saying the group had prevented people wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention. “We are waiting for the wounded Palestinians to reach Egypt. They aren’t being allowed to go through,” he said. Asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, the foreign minister replied: “Ask the party that controls Gaza.”

The clarity and candor is refreshing. Let’s hope we hear more of it.

President-elect Barack Obama has been silent on the Israelis’ action against Hamas. He is being briefed, we are told, but has resorted to the “one President at a time” mantra to avoid taking a public position. It is unclear whether he is inclined to resort to his “everyone take a breather” rhetoric which characterized his reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia or, alternatively, to  echo the language of his campaign in which he declared, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” Instead of choosing, he’s decided to do what has worked so well in the campaign: remain mute while events take form. Perhaps we’ll hear from him in a day or so.

Ironically, this has him lagging behind Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. We have this report:

Hamas could have prevented the “massacre” in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday in Cairo. “We spoke to them and told them ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,’” Abbas said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.” Abbas called on Hamas to renew the cease-fire with Israel to avoid further bloodshed in Gaza. Aboul Gheit also attacked Hamas, saying the group had prevented people wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention. “We are waiting for the wounded Palestinians to reach Egypt. They aren’t being allowed to go through,” he said. Asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, the foreign minister replied: “Ask the party that controls Gaza.”

The clarity and candor is refreshing. Let’s hope we hear more of it.

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Samuel P. Huntington, R.I.P.

Civilizations may clash, but they will have to do so without Samuel Huntington.  He died Wednesday at the age of 81.

The proponent of the clash-of-civilizations thesis-first propounded in a Foreign Affairs article and then a book-adopted a decidedly gloomy view of the trend of history.  “In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic,” he wrote in his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.   “They are cultural.”  In Huntington’s world, “flags count and so do other symbols of cultural identity, including crosses, crescents, and even head coverings.”  As civilizations clashed, the Harvard professor believed American dominance of global affairs would end early this century.

Huntington’s views were often compared to those of Francis Fukuyama, who saw geopolitics in an entirely different light.  History ended, he argued in his landmark 1992 book, titled, aptly, The End of History and the Last Man.  Events continued to occur, Fukuyama noted in a later essay, but by the last days of the Cold War “the evolution of human societies through different forms of government had culminated in modern liberal democracy and market-oriented capitalism.”  There was no place else for humanity to go-we had finally reached the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.”  In short, Fukuyama not merely interpreted history-he abolished it.

If Fukuyama’s triumphalism fit the mood of the last decade, Huntington’s dour views seemed to do so this one.  September 11 restarted history for us because, in that moment, paradigms appeared to change.  The post-Cold War period ended.  A new one began.   We saw in the plane hijackings that day an attack by Islam on the West and a confirmation of Huntington’s views about civilizations going to war with each other.

We have witnessed the best moment in history, as Fukuyama has suggested.  We have since seen civilizations clash, as Huntington described.  During this year, we witnessed the pace of events accelerate.  The world appears more uncertain and turbulent now, and there is a feeling in the air that eras will change once again.  One wonders what happens next.

Civilizations may clash, but they will have to do so without Samuel Huntington.  He died Wednesday at the age of 81.

The proponent of the clash-of-civilizations thesis-first propounded in a Foreign Affairs article and then a book-adopted a decidedly gloomy view of the trend of history.  “In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic,” he wrote in his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.   “They are cultural.”  In Huntington’s world, “flags count and so do other symbols of cultural identity, including crosses, crescents, and even head coverings.”  As civilizations clashed, the Harvard professor believed American dominance of global affairs would end early this century.

Huntington’s views were often compared to those of Francis Fukuyama, who saw geopolitics in an entirely different light.  History ended, he argued in his landmark 1992 book, titled, aptly, The End of History and the Last Man.  Events continued to occur, Fukuyama noted in a later essay, but by the last days of the Cold War “the evolution of human societies through different forms of government had culminated in modern liberal democracy and market-oriented capitalism.”  There was no place else for humanity to go-we had finally reached the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.”  In short, Fukuyama not merely interpreted history-he abolished it.

If Fukuyama’s triumphalism fit the mood of the last decade, Huntington’s dour views seemed to do so this one.  September 11 restarted history for us because, in that moment, paradigms appeared to change.  The post-Cold War period ended.  A new one began.   We saw in the plane hijackings that day an attack by Islam on the West and a confirmation of Huntington’s views about civilizations going to war with each other.

We have witnessed the best moment in history, as Fukuyama has suggested.  We have since seen civilizations clash, as Huntington described.  During this year, we witnessed the pace of events accelerate.  The world appears more uncertain and turbulent now, and there is a feeling in the air that eras will change once again.  One wonders what happens next.

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Let’s Try the “Just Like Me” Angle

This pearl of wisdom on Caroline Kennedy is offered with no hint of humor or sarcasm:

Amid all the recent buzz about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat, there has been a great deal of talk about her connections, her power, her wealth. But the way I see it, if you strip away the glamour, the name and the money, then Caroline is . . . me. And many of my friends. Maybe even you. If, that is, you happen to be a midlife woman raising kids and returning — or thinking of returning, or hoping one day to return — to the full-time workforce.

Well, I suppose if you and your friends are multimillionaires without any prior job experience who are seeking jobs for which you are not remotely qualified, then Caroline seems just like you. But, of course,  she is not like so many middle-aged women re-entering the workforce. Those women generally apply for jobs for which they are reasonably qualified and work their way up to more powerful posts as they establish their credentials. They usually don’t have Uncle Teddy call the head of the company to apply pressure.

Indeed the author of this fable concedes:

Even though the job Kennedy is trying to nab is a far cry from the account executive or publicist positions that my friends might go after, the phenomenon at work is the same. The reaction seems to be: If she hasn’t followed a straight-and-narrow, logical path, we simply can’t imagine her in the role under discussion.

But  even that’s not really what’s going on here. It is not as if Caroline was, say, a Congresswoman who took a decade off to raise her family and now wants to get back into the family business of politics. She has never held a political job (has she ever held a paying job?), nor does she offer any unique skills or life experience in lieu of that direct experience. (No, sitting on the board of the ballet doesn’t count.) She’s not even willing to run for office if she isn’t given it on a silver platter.

So let’s no lose sleep over her being denied a “fair shake.” If not for her name no one would be considering her at all. A fair shake is what the “real” politicians (and voters) of New York deserve; this means an effort by Governor Paterson to find a capable person worthy of the office. And trying to guilt Paterson into giving it to someone who plainly isn’t capable because of some misplaced feminist identification isn’t, I suspect, an effective way to get her that job she’s been dreaming about for eons . . . well, at least for the last few months.

This pearl of wisdom on Caroline Kennedy is offered with no hint of humor or sarcasm:

Amid all the recent buzz about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat, there has been a great deal of talk about her connections, her power, her wealth. But the way I see it, if you strip away the glamour, the name and the money, then Caroline is . . . me. And many of my friends. Maybe even you. If, that is, you happen to be a midlife woman raising kids and returning — or thinking of returning, or hoping one day to return — to the full-time workforce.

Well, I suppose if you and your friends are multimillionaires without any prior job experience who are seeking jobs for which you are not remotely qualified, then Caroline seems just like you. But, of course,  she is not like so many middle-aged women re-entering the workforce. Those women generally apply for jobs for which they are reasonably qualified and work their way up to more powerful posts as they establish their credentials. They usually don’t have Uncle Teddy call the head of the company to apply pressure.

Indeed the author of this fable concedes:

Even though the job Kennedy is trying to nab is a far cry from the account executive or publicist positions that my friends might go after, the phenomenon at work is the same. The reaction seems to be: If she hasn’t followed a straight-and-narrow, logical path, we simply can’t imagine her in the role under discussion.

But  even that’s not really what’s going on here. It is not as if Caroline was, say, a Congresswoman who took a decade off to raise her family and now wants to get back into the family business of politics. She has never held a political job (has she ever held a paying job?), nor does she offer any unique skills or life experience in lieu of that direct experience. (No, sitting on the board of the ballet doesn’t count.) She’s not even willing to run for office if she isn’t given it on a silver platter.

So let’s no lose sleep over her being denied a “fair shake.” If not for her name no one would be considering her at all. A fair shake is what the “real” politicians (and voters) of New York deserve; this means an effort by Governor Paterson to find a capable person worthy of the office. And trying to guilt Paterson into giving it to someone who plainly isn’t capable because of some misplaced feminist identification isn’t, I suspect, an effective way to get her that job she’s been dreaming about for eons . . . well, at least for the last few months.

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Daniel Levy on Gaza

It’s always interesting in times like these to read the hard Left’s interpretation of things. Here is Daniel Levy:

Why did today’s events occur? The list of causes is a long one and of course depends who you are asking. Here are five of the most salient factors as I see them:

(1) Never forget the basics – the core issue is still an unresolved conflict about ending an occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state – everything has to start from here to be serious (this is true also for Hamas who continue to heavily hint that they will accept the 1967 borders).

Daniel Levy is essentially a New Historian in blogger form: where the original New Historians published thoroughly “revised,” often completely warped, accounts of past events, Levy publishes such narratives about current events.

The problem with his statement is that 1) Hamas is not interested in ending the “occupation,” meaning settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation in Gaza was ended, and its termination only encouraged Hamas’ delusion that it is on the winning side of history. Levy certainly understands enough about these matters to know that when Hamas talks about occupation, it means the state of Israel. 2) Hamas is not a Palestinian nationalist group — it has always condemned and assailed the two-state solution, Palestinian statehood, and negotiations that have as their premise Israel’s right to exist. 3) Where have all these “heavy hints” from Hamas about the 1967 borders come from? I recall one extremely vague muttering from Khaled Mashaal a while back that only a very desperate person would interpret as an endorsement of the 1967 borders. Then again, Levy thinks that the famous “Three No’s” at Khartoum in 1967 were an opening ploy for negotiations, so he appears to be easily seduced.

It’s always interesting in times like these to read the hard Left’s interpretation of things. Here is Daniel Levy:

Why did today’s events occur? The list of causes is a long one and of course depends who you are asking. Here are five of the most salient factors as I see them:

(1) Never forget the basics – the core issue is still an unresolved conflict about ending an occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state – everything has to start from here to be serious (this is true also for Hamas who continue to heavily hint that they will accept the 1967 borders).

Daniel Levy is essentially a New Historian in blogger form: where the original New Historians published thoroughly “revised,” often completely warped, accounts of past events, Levy publishes such narratives about current events.

The problem with his statement is that 1) Hamas is not interested in ending the “occupation,” meaning settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation in Gaza was ended, and its termination only encouraged Hamas’ delusion that it is on the winning side of history. Levy certainly understands enough about these matters to know that when Hamas talks about occupation, it means the state of Israel. 2) Hamas is not a Palestinian nationalist group — it has always condemned and assailed the two-state solution, Palestinian statehood, and negotiations that have as their premise Israel’s right to exist. 3) Where have all these “heavy hints” from Hamas about the 1967 borders come from? I recall one extremely vague muttering from Khaled Mashaal a while back that only a very desperate person would interpret as an endorsement of the 1967 borders. Then again, Levy thinks that the famous “Three No’s” at Khartoum in 1967 were an opening ploy for negotiations, so he appears to be easily seduced.

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The Netroots on Gaza

The apparently popular lefty blog FireDogLake, I’m afraid to say, is objectively pro-Hamas. And so are the commenters.

The apparently popular lefty blog FireDogLake, I’m afraid to say, is objectively pro-Hamas. And so are the commenters.

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The Most Surprising Surprise

How is it possible that Israel got the element of surprise in its attack on Hamas? For weeks we have been hearing about an impending attack. Every move the government made looked like it was tailored to prepare the terrorists for the assault. Government decisions were announced broadly, leaked transparently. Hamas’s leadership even went underground in anticipation of the operation. And yet, something bizarre happened over the weekend. Hamas became convinced they had a few more days.

When Israel attacked, Hamas was caught completely off guard. Just as an illustration, one of the targets was a police academy, where Hamas was holding a graduation ceremony for its newest recruits. According to reports, over 70 Hamas gunmen were killed in that raid alone.

Israel achieved the most surprising of surprises through a number of feints, which took advantage of the government’s own reputation for dawdling. (I admit, I was taken in as well .) On Wednesday, the government’s meeting, which purportedly discussed the global jihad, in fact discussed the operation and approved it unanimously. On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared he would open the border crossings for humanitarian aid — despite the fact that Hamas missiles were raining down on Israeli population centers in the South. It was also leaked that the government would be holding a decisive cabinet meeting today to decide whether and when to attack. But on Friday night, Prime Minister Olmert met with Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, informed them that Hamas had been convinced that no attack was coming, and had exposed themselves. The order was given.

The other surprising element is the scale of the operation. After a devastating set of aerial blows, Israeli tanks are now gathering at the border, and Barak is talking about calling up reserves. It is way too early to tell, but it is starting to look less like payback or deterrence, and more like the beginnings of a prolongued operation aimed at toppling the Hamas regime. If this is really the aim, then don’t look for anything more than the necessary, pro-forma condemnations coming from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Little would make them happier than putting Hamas in its place.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the Israeli election, something that could conceivably be delayed if a full-scale war breaks out. Probably nothing would do more to restore both Kadima’s hopes and Labor’s hopes — and maybe even those of Olmert himself — than a full-scale war that Israelis across the spectrum see as both justified and well-conducted.

I have been wrong before (as my friend likes to point out), but many things seem to point to something much bigger than a punitive air raid.

How is it possible that Israel got the element of surprise in its attack on Hamas? For weeks we have been hearing about an impending attack. Every move the government made looked like it was tailored to prepare the terrorists for the assault. Government decisions were announced broadly, leaked transparently. Hamas’s leadership even went underground in anticipation of the operation. And yet, something bizarre happened over the weekend. Hamas became convinced they had a few more days.

When Israel attacked, Hamas was caught completely off guard. Just as an illustration, one of the targets was a police academy, where Hamas was holding a graduation ceremony for its newest recruits. According to reports, over 70 Hamas gunmen were killed in that raid alone.

Israel achieved the most surprising of surprises through a number of feints, which took advantage of the government’s own reputation for dawdling. (I admit, I was taken in as well .) On Wednesday, the government’s meeting, which purportedly discussed the global jihad, in fact discussed the operation and approved it unanimously. On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared he would open the border crossings for humanitarian aid — despite the fact that Hamas missiles were raining down on Israeli population centers in the South. It was also leaked that the government would be holding a decisive cabinet meeting today to decide whether and when to attack. But on Friday night, Prime Minister Olmert met with Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, informed them that Hamas had been convinced that no attack was coming, and had exposed themselves. The order was given.

The other surprising element is the scale of the operation. After a devastating set of aerial blows, Israeli tanks are now gathering at the border, and Barak is talking about calling up reserves. It is way too early to tell, but it is starting to look less like payback or deterrence, and more like the beginnings of a prolongued operation aimed at toppling the Hamas regime. If this is really the aim, then don’t look for anything more than the necessary, pro-forma condemnations coming from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Little would make them happier than putting Hamas in its place.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the Israeli election, something that could conceivably be delayed if a full-scale war breaks out. Probably nothing would do more to restore both Kadima’s hopes and Labor’s hopes — and maybe even those of Olmert himself — than a full-scale war that Israelis across the spectrum see as both justified and well-conducted.

I have been wrong before (as my friend likes to point out), but many things seem to point to something much bigger than a punitive air raid.

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The Proportionality Trap

As predicted, Hamas and members of the Arab world are condemning Israel’s current attacks on Gaza as “disproportionate,” meaning “excessive.” And they do have a purely mathematical point — during the recent bombardments of Israel from the Gaza Strip, casualties have been light. At last count, one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from in rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.

There is a more fundamental problem here: the notion that Israel’s response (or, indeed, the response of any nation in a similar situation) should be “proportionate” to the provocation. And that is a horrific fallacy.

The notion that one should only respond to an attack with roughly the same force used by the aggressor is based on some fatally flawed presumptions.

The first is that the aggressor can be expected to respond in a rational manner.  In this case, the presumption is that Hamas is actually interested in a peaceful solution and mutually beneficial situation. That is provably false. One need only look at Hamas’s charter and the group’s words and deeds to see that it is unabashedly dedicated to the absolute destruction of Israel.

The second fallacy is more subtle. The point of a “proportional” response is that it is intended to end the current hostilities and return to the status quo. And in this case, it implies that the status quo prior to the provocations was acceptable.

Hamas speaks of a “truce,” but  their definition of a “truce” is one that no one else would recognize as valid. It consisted of a steady, constant bombardment of Israel by rocket and mortar shells. When they declared the truce to be at an end, they escalated the attacks, which in turn prompted Israel’s air strikes. Had Israel restrained itself to a “proportional” attack, then it would have been saying that the prior status quo — the rocket and mortar attacks reduced to one or two a day — was acceptable.

No, by striking as hard as they did Israel is sending a different message. And it’s, in an odd way, more respectful of Hamas than a “proportionate” response would have been. Israel is saying, in effect, “you are the legitimate government of the Gaza Strip, and we are holding you to the same standard as we would the government of any other  nation. And when a nation declares war on us and commits acts of war against us, we respond by waging war on them.”

Hamas now finds itself having to argue before the world that it didn’t really mean all the things it said and did, that it doesn’t want to be treated that way, and that Israel needs to be restrained from further attacks.

And, sadly, there are enough nations in the world who will side with them.

As predicted, Hamas and members of the Arab world are condemning Israel’s current attacks on Gaza as “disproportionate,” meaning “excessive.” And they do have a purely mathematical point — during the recent bombardments of Israel from the Gaza Strip, casualties have been light. At last count, one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from in rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.

There is a more fundamental problem here: the notion that Israel’s response (or, indeed, the response of any nation in a similar situation) should be “proportionate” to the provocation. And that is a horrific fallacy.

The notion that one should only respond to an attack with roughly the same force used by the aggressor is based on some fatally flawed presumptions.

The first is that the aggressor can be expected to respond in a rational manner.  In this case, the presumption is that Hamas is actually interested in a peaceful solution and mutually beneficial situation. That is provably false. One need only look at Hamas’s charter and the group’s words and deeds to see that it is unabashedly dedicated to the absolute destruction of Israel.

The second fallacy is more subtle. The point of a “proportional” response is that it is intended to end the current hostilities and return to the status quo. And in this case, it implies that the status quo prior to the provocations was acceptable.

Hamas speaks of a “truce,” but  their definition of a “truce” is one that no one else would recognize as valid. It consisted of a steady, constant bombardment of Israel by rocket and mortar shells. When they declared the truce to be at an end, they escalated the attacks, which in turn prompted Israel’s air strikes. Had Israel restrained itself to a “proportional” attack, then it would have been saying that the prior status quo — the rocket and mortar attacks reduced to one or two a day — was acceptable.

No, by striking as hard as they did Israel is sending a different message. And it’s, in an odd way, more respectful of Hamas than a “proportionate” response would have been. Israel is saying, in effect, “you are the legitimate government of the Gaza Strip, and we are holding you to the same standard as we would the government of any other  nation. And when a nation declares war on us and commits acts of war against us, we respond by waging war on them.”

Hamas now finds itself having to argue before the world that it didn’t really mean all the things it said and did, that it doesn’t want to be treated that way, and that Israel needs to be restrained from further attacks.

And, sadly, there are enough nations in the world who will side with them.

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Re: Could It Get Any Worse?

Well, Chip Saltsman’s racial faux pas didn’t go unnoticed. His rivals weighed in on his racial CD “humor.” Two of them recognized the flashing red siren and voiced strong disapproval. Ken Blackwell instead chose the “blame the liberal media” gambit. (Because it worked so spectacularly well in the presidential election? )

Conservative bloggers are not amused. Erick Erickson remarked:

The rest of the nation must rightly wonder who the hell these Southern white guys are running for RNC Chairman and what their problem is. Let’s face it, the song is really innocuous, but it’ll take forever to explain why. If perception is reality, and it is in cases like this, Saltsman has suffered a very significant self-inflicted wound.

And Newt Gingrich didn’t mince words: “This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it.”

What to make of all this? The RNC race now seems more like a slow motion crash. Bystanders watch anxiously to see if the drivers can avert disaster at the last moment with a quick maneuver. (Watch out for the guy with the CD! Look out — that’s the guy with the whites-only club membership!) You can almost hear the sound of tire squealing and breaking glass.

Now it may be that the heightened coverage of the race has alerted the participants to the dangers ahead. Perhaps the 168 voting members of the RNC will have the good sense to avert a multi-vehicle pile up. Republicans will be bracing themselves for the worst and hoping there is at least one competent figure in this contest who will present a decent image of the Republican party.

Well, Chip Saltsman’s racial faux pas didn’t go unnoticed. His rivals weighed in on his racial CD “humor.” Two of them recognized the flashing red siren and voiced strong disapproval. Ken Blackwell instead chose the “blame the liberal media” gambit. (Because it worked so spectacularly well in the presidential election? )

Conservative bloggers are not amused. Erick Erickson remarked:

The rest of the nation must rightly wonder who the hell these Southern white guys are running for RNC Chairman and what their problem is. Let’s face it, the song is really innocuous, but it’ll take forever to explain why. If perception is reality, and it is in cases like this, Saltsman has suffered a very significant self-inflicted wound.

And Newt Gingrich didn’t mince words: “This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it.”

What to make of all this? The RNC race now seems more like a slow motion crash. Bystanders watch anxiously to see if the drivers can avert disaster at the last moment with a quick maneuver. (Watch out for the guy with the CD! Look out — that’s the guy with the whites-only club membership!) You can almost hear the sound of tire squealing and breaking glass.

Now it may be that the heightened coverage of the race has alerted the participants to the dangers ahead. Perhaps the 168 voting members of the RNC will have the good sense to avert a multi-vehicle pile up. Republicans will be bracing themselves for the worst and hoping there is at least one competent figure in this contest who will present a decent image of the Republican party.

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A Right, Indeed a Duty

You cannot say it more succinctly, or put it more clearly, than Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did in a statement released last night.  Here is the text, in its entirety:

Israel has a right, indeed a duty, to defend itself in response to the hundreds of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza over the past week.  No government in the world would sit by and allow its citizens to be subjected to this kind of indiscriminate bombardment.  The loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, and the blame for that tragedy lies with Hamas.

The statement issued by Condoleezza Rice held Hamas responsible for the renewal of violence, but simply urged that the ceasefire “be restored immediately.”  No other government in the world would be satisfied with simply another ceasefire.

You cannot say it more succinctly, or put it more clearly, than Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did in a statement released last night.  Here is the text, in its entirety:

Israel has a right, indeed a duty, to defend itself in response to the hundreds of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza over the past week.  No government in the world would sit by and allow its citizens to be subjected to this kind of indiscriminate bombardment.  The loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, and the blame for that tragedy lies with Hamas.

The statement issued by Condoleezza Rice held Hamas responsible for the renewal of violence, but simply urged that the ceasefire “be restored immediately.”  No other government in the world would be satisfied with simply another ceasefire.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Noemie Emery raises some serious points about the less-than-serious Caroline Kennedy: “Would Jack, who threatened pre-emptive war over missiles in Cuba, have really opposed a war with Iraq after Saddam defied U.N. resolutions? Would Bobby, who made his chops busting corrupt labor unions, have supported the end of the secret ballot in union elections? What would Jack and Bobby have said to the feminist social agenda, up to and including late-term abortion? And what would Bobby have said of gay marriage? If Caroline wants to run as a legatee, she should explain which Kennedy legacy she supports, and why she supports it (including the tax cuts put in by her father.) She could start by reading her father’s inaugural and seeing if there are any parts she believes in. Would she ‘bear any burden and pay any price’ to ensure the survival of liberty? If she wouldn’t, she should tell us why.” But that would require reflection, self-awareness and political sophistication — none of which Caroline has in abundance.

DNC member and Hillary Clinton supporter Robert Zimmerman: “Queen Elizabeth is more accessible to her subjects than Caroline Kennedy has been in terms of talking about the issues.” Yowser.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama remains mum on Israel’s response to Hamas. It is precisely this sort of event which will test whether he is capable of taking stances which disappoint or anger other countries. Defending Israel’s right of self-defense isn’t going to make him popular with the rest of the world — something which has seemed awfully important to him.

Marty Peretz argues in favor of disproportionality by Israel.

A ludicrous headline: “Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama’s Peace Chances.” Because we all know that we were on the cusp of a breakthrough in the “peace process”?

How much is a trillion dollar stimulus package? “To put it in perspective, that sum would exceed, in inflation-adjusted dollars, government spending on the New Deal, the savings-and-loan crisis and the Marshall Plan combined.” But we’re going to get swimming pools, dog parks and tennis courts!

Is this what happened? ” John McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody ‘who is completely, brutally honest.’ Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawnmower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody ‘who has competed in a beauty contest.’ This will lead to trouble down the road.” (No, it’s Dave Barry who can make a perfectly awful year seem very, very fun.)

Sadly, Barry isn’t making this up (well, not much of it): “The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three automakers return to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package and a set of floor mats. ‘We’re actually losing money on this deal!’ they assure Congress. Finally, they reach a multibillion-dollar deal under which the car companies will continue to provide jobs, medical care and pension benefits, but will cease producing actual cars. The restructured operation will be overseen by the federal government, using its legendary skill at keeping things on budget.”

Is Barack Obama “aloof” or just conserving his political capital? I tend to think it’s the latter, but we’ll find out just how much he cares about his fellow Democrats when he starts choosing his legislative priorities and decides where and when to campaign for them in 2010. Right now he seems to specialize in helping them by passivity (e.g. not objecting to the Illinois Democrats’ refusal to vote for a special election). Perhaps that is the Obama way: when in doubt do nothing. (Hey, it go him elected!)

Noemie Emery raises some serious points about the less-than-serious Caroline Kennedy: “Would Jack, who threatened pre-emptive war over missiles in Cuba, have really opposed a war with Iraq after Saddam defied U.N. resolutions? Would Bobby, who made his chops busting corrupt labor unions, have supported the end of the secret ballot in union elections? What would Jack and Bobby have said to the feminist social agenda, up to and including late-term abortion? And what would Bobby have said of gay marriage? If Caroline wants to run as a legatee, she should explain which Kennedy legacy she supports, and why she supports it (including the tax cuts put in by her father.) She could start by reading her father’s inaugural and seeing if there are any parts she believes in. Would she ‘bear any burden and pay any price’ to ensure the survival of liberty? If she wouldn’t, she should tell us why.” But that would require reflection, self-awareness and political sophistication — none of which Caroline has in abundance.

DNC member and Hillary Clinton supporter Robert Zimmerman: “Queen Elizabeth is more accessible to her subjects than Caroline Kennedy has been in terms of talking about the issues.” Yowser.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama remains mum on Israel’s response to Hamas. It is precisely this sort of event which will test whether he is capable of taking stances which disappoint or anger other countries. Defending Israel’s right of self-defense isn’t going to make him popular with the rest of the world — something which has seemed awfully important to him.

Marty Peretz argues in favor of disproportionality by Israel.

A ludicrous headline: “Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama’s Peace Chances.” Because we all know that we were on the cusp of a breakthrough in the “peace process”?

How much is a trillion dollar stimulus package? “To put it in perspective, that sum would exceed, in inflation-adjusted dollars, government spending on the New Deal, the savings-and-loan crisis and the Marshall Plan combined.” But we’re going to get swimming pools, dog parks and tennis courts!

Is this what happened? ” John McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody ‘who is completely, brutally honest.’ Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawnmower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody ‘who has competed in a beauty contest.’ This will lead to trouble down the road.” (No, it’s Dave Barry who can make a perfectly awful year seem very, very fun.)

Sadly, Barry isn’t making this up (well, not much of it): “The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three automakers return to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package and a set of floor mats. ‘We’re actually losing money on this deal!’ they assure Congress. Finally, they reach a multibillion-dollar deal under which the car companies will continue to provide jobs, medical care and pension benefits, but will cease producing actual cars. The restructured operation will be overseen by the federal government, using its legendary skill at keeping things on budget.”

Is Barack Obama “aloof” or just conserving his political capital? I tend to think it’s the latter, but we’ll find out just how much he cares about his fellow Democrats when he starts choosing his legislative priorities and decides where and when to campaign for them in 2010. Right now he seems to specialize in helping them by passivity (e.g. not objecting to the Illinois Democrats’ refusal to vote for a special election). Perhaps that is the Obama way: when in doubt do nothing. (Hey, it go him elected!)

Read Less




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