Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 29, 2008

Early Observations in Gaza

After three days of fighting in Gaza, we can draw a few key conclusions.

First, Israel is in a hurry. Given President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign promise to engage Iran and Syria, Israel correctly recognized that future large-scale operations against Hamas would likely face American resistance.  Unlike during its 2006 Lebanon war – when Israel requested (and received) an open-ended timetable from the Bush administration for “destroying” Hezbollah – Israel is pushing to conclude this conflict as soon as possible.  Ideally, Jerusalem would like to be deep in the diplomatic game – i.e., negotiating a new status quo for Gaza – by January 20th.

Second, Israel has learned from its greatest tactical mistake during the 2006 war, when it declined to mobilize its reserves and plan for a ground invasion until the very end.  In the current Gaza conflict, Israel called up 6,500 reservists by the second day of fighting, and has stationed them on the Gaza border.  At the moment, Israel has not launched a ground invasion – but the threat is credible; the pressure on Hamas has been tightened; and Israel has given itself decent options that can be mobilized immediately, as necessary.

Third, Hamas – much like Hezbollah in 2006 – entirely failed to anticipate the scope of Israel’s response to its recent behavior.  As David Hazony noted, Hamas put so little faith in Israel’s repeated threats that it held a graduation ceremony for its newest police force recruits – a perfect target for Israel, which killed at least 70 militants (about 25% of the total Palestinian battle deaths) in that strike alone.

All of these factors should point to a quick Israeli victory.  There is, however, one major complication: Israel has yet to declare the long-term goals of its Gaza operation – and, in turn, has not defined “victory.”

After three days of fighting in Gaza, we can draw a few key conclusions.

First, Israel is in a hurry. Given President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign promise to engage Iran and Syria, Israel correctly recognized that future large-scale operations against Hamas would likely face American resistance.  Unlike during its 2006 Lebanon war – when Israel requested (and received) an open-ended timetable from the Bush administration for “destroying” Hezbollah – Israel is pushing to conclude this conflict as soon as possible.  Ideally, Jerusalem would like to be deep in the diplomatic game – i.e., negotiating a new status quo for Gaza – by January 20th.

Second, Israel has learned from its greatest tactical mistake during the 2006 war, when it declined to mobilize its reserves and plan for a ground invasion until the very end.  In the current Gaza conflict, Israel called up 6,500 reservists by the second day of fighting, and has stationed them on the Gaza border.  At the moment, Israel has not launched a ground invasion – but the threat is credible; the pressure on Hamas has been tightened; and Israel has given itself decent options that can be mobilized immediately, as necessary.

Third, Hamas – much like Hezbollah in 2006 – entirely failed to anticipate the scope of Israel’s response to its recent behavior.  As David Hazony noted, Hamas put so little faith in Israel’s repeated threats that it held a graduation ceremony for its newest police force recruits – a perfect target for Israel, which killed at least 70 militants (about 25% of the total Palestinian battle deaths) in that strike alone.

All of these factors should point to a quick Israeli victory.  There is, however, one major complication: Israel has yet to declare the long-term goals of its Gaza operation – and, in turn, has not defined “victory.”

Read Less

Changing the Subject Isn’t Going To Cut It

Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing is shaping up to be the first partisan clash of 2009. This report explains:

The confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for attorney general, promises to be bruising, with Republicans determined to explore Holder’s role in controversial pardons under President Clinton, his views on gun rights, and his involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy returned to his homeland by Clinton’s Justice Department.

“You’re probably only going to have one truly horrendous confirmation; that’s always the case,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. “In this case, it is clearly the attorney general-designate, Eric Holder.”

Front and center will be the Marc Rich pardon. But, if this account is to be believed, Holder is not offering much of a defense, just a change of topic:

An Obama transition official, granted anonymity to address strategy, said that Holder, if challenged on whether in light of the Rich case he can be trusted to display political independence from the president, will cite two high-profile example of him breaking with party leaders.

The first, according to the transition official, was Holder’s prosecution, as US attorney for the District of Columbia, of former US representative Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat and House Ways and Means Committee chairman who served prison time for misusing taxpayer money. The second, the official said, was Holder’s support, while deputy attorney general, of broadening independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigations into Clinton’s activities.

The Ken Starr defense is an odd one, not merely because it is likely to inflame the Left (Oh, he was the one who fanned the flames of the Starr inquiry!), but because it also involves a credibility issue, detailed here.

Aside from that, the more central issue remains: did Holder commit a serious ethical breach in helping guide the Marc Rich pardon through and past the Justice Department? And, did he lie about the extent of his involvement when questioned by Congress in 2001? Whether that is a single “error” or lots of errors all tied up with his desire for promotion in the then anticipated Gore administration will be one of the issues to be explored at the hearing.

But it hardly seems an appropriate defense for an attorney general to say, in essence, “Okay, I folded like a cheap suitcase and lied to cover my tracks, but I stood on principle plenty of other times.” That doesn’t sound like a very persuasive argument, especially when one of the key issues is lying to Congress. That particular offense, we have heard from Democrats again and again, is an unforgivable sin. Certainly, it’s not the behavior one would expect of an attorney general.

I suspect the Holder team will need to go back to the drawing board. Eventually, he will need to explain, if not atone for, his conduct in the Rich pardon. No amount of misdirection will throw Arlen Specter and the other Republicans on the committee off the trail.

Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing is shaping up to be the first partisan clash of 2009. This report explains:

The confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for attorney general, promises to be bruising, with Republicans determined to explore Holder’s role in controversial pardons under President Clinton, his views on gun rights, and his involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy returned to his homeland by Clinton’s Justice Department.

“You’re probably only going to have one truly horrendous confirmation; that’s always the case,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. “In this case, it is clearly the attorney general-designate, Eric Holder.”

Front and center will be the Marc Rich pardon. But, if this account is to be believed, Holder is not offering much of a defense, just a change of topic:

An Obama transition official, granted anonymity to address strategy, said that Holder, if challenged on whether in light of the Rich case he can be trusted to display political independence from the president, will cite two high-profile example of him breaking with party leaders.

The first, according to the transition official, was Holder’s prosecution, as US attorney for the District of Columbia, of former US representative Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat and House Ways and Means Committee chairman who served prison time for misusing taxpayer money. The second, the official said, was Holder’s support, while deputy attorney general, of broadening independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigations into Clinton’s activities.

The Ken Starr defense is an odd one, not merely because it is likely to inflame the Left (Oh, he was the one who fanned the flames of the Starr inquiry!), but because it also involves a credibility issue, detailed here.

Aside from that, the more central issue remains: did Holder commit a serious ethical breach in helping guide the Marc Rich pardon through and past the Justice Department? And, did he lie about the extent of his involvement when questioned by Congress in 2001? Whether that is a single “error” or lots of errors all tied up with his desire for promotion in the then anticipated Gore administration will be one of the issues to be explored at the hearing.

But it hardly seems an appropriate defense for an attorney general to say, in essence, “Okay, I folded like a cheap suitcase and lied to cover my tracks, but I stood on principle plenty of other times.” That doesn’t sound like a very persuasive argument, especially when one of the key issues is lying to Congress. That particular offense, we have heard from Democrats again and again, is an unforgivable sin. Certainly, it’s not the behavior one would expect of an attorney general.

I suspect the Holder team will need to go back to the drawing board. Eventually, he will need to explain, if not atone for, his conduct in the Rich pardon. No amount of misdirection will throw Arlen Specter and the other Republicans on the committee off the trail.

Read Less

Changing the Equation

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the Knesset today on the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, and had this to say:

Israel has done everything possible to avoid the moment at which it would be forced to take action, but that moment finally came.  We will make the most of it, in order to change the equation.

Israel is waging a struggle, but this struggle is not Israel’s alone.  Israel is standing on the frontlines of the Western world’s war against terror, and we expect support for doing the right thing and fighting the war of the entire free world.

It is true:  the pictures broadcast on television all over the world are provoking harsh public opinion against Israel.  Unfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media, even though they know what is true and what is not, and how they would act in a similar situation.

From this podium, I call upon the world’s leaders, and particularly those from the Arab world – those who understand that the threat does not come from Israel but from the radical elements in the world, headed by Iran; those who know what Hamas really is; those who know that Hamas is a problem for the entire Palestinian people and not just Israel’s problem. . . . They know that the road to peace passes through the war on terror, extremism, hate and incitement, which means a war against Hamas and those like Hamas.

Although Israel has not yet made its ultimate strategic objective clear, it is hard to see, given those remarks, that an acceptable outcome would be simply a new ceasefire, or a Lebanon-type resolution where an international force protects Hamas while it rearms.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the Knesset today on the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, and had this to say:

Israel has done everything possible to avoid the moment at which it would be forced to take action, but that moment finally came.  We will make the most of it, in order to change the equation.

Israel is waging a struggle, but this struggle is not Israel’s alone.  Israel is standing on the frontlines of the Western world’s war against terror, and we expect support for doing the right thing and fighting the war of the entire free world.

It is true:  the pictures broadcast on television all over the world are provoking harsh public opinion against Israel.  Unfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media, even though they know what is true and what is not, and how they would act in a similar situation.

From this podium, I call upon the world’s leaders, and particularly those from the Arab world – those who understand that the threat does not come from Israel but from the radical elements in the world, headed by Iran; those who know what Hamas really is; those who know that Hamas is a problem for the entire Palestinian people and not just Israel’s problem. . . . They know that the road to peace passes through the war on terror, extremism, hate and incitement, which means a war against Hamas and those like Hamas.

Although Israel has not yet made its ultimate strategic objective clear, it is hard to see, given those remarks, that an acceptable outcome would be simply a new ceasefire, or a Lebanon-type resolution where an international force protects Hamas while it rearms.

Read Less

Barak Quotes Barack

President-elect Obama has been quiet, indeed mute, on the events in Gaza. Ehud Barak nevertheless invoked the President-elect’s campaign comments today:

Earlier Monday, in the face of catcalls from Arab lawmakers, Barak told a stormy Knesset session that the operation in Gaza will be “widened and deepened as necessary.”

“We have an all-out war against Hamas and its kind,” Barak said, using a term he has employed in the past to describe a long-term struggle against Israel’s Islamist enemies.

Barak also cited a comment made by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who visited Sderot during his election campaign earlier this year.

“Obama said that if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it,” Barack told the plenum.

The defense minister went on to say that Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza.

Well, let’s hope that the President-elect hasn’t changed his mind. Come to think of it, it’s a clever gambit by Barak to make it that much more difficult for Obama to do so. It is perhaps the first serious lesson for the President-elect in the true importance of words. They do indeed matter and should not be invoked or discarded lightly, and the audience for a President or a candidate is the international community, not merely  the domestic electorate.

President-elect Obama has been quiet, indeed mute, on the events in Gaza. Ehud Barak nevertheless invoked the President-elect’s campaign comments today:

Earlier Monday, in the face of catcalls from Arab lawmakers, Barak told a stormy Knesset session that the operation in Gaza will be “widened and deepened as necessary.”

“We have an all-out war against Hamas and its kind,” Barak said, using a term he has employed in the past to describe a long-term struggle against Israel’s Islamist enemies.

Barak also cited a comment made by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who visited Sderot during his election campaign earlier this year.

“Obama said that if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it,” Barack told the plenum.

The defense minister went on to say that Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza.

Well, let’s hope that the President-elect hasn’t changed his mind. Come to think of it, it’s a clever gambit by Barak to make it that much more difficult for Obama to do so. It is perhaps the first serious lesson for the President-elect in the true importance of words. They do indeed matter and should not be invoked or discarded lightly, and the audience for a President or a candidate is the international community, not merely  the domestic electorate.

Read Less

Re: Abbas’s Example

While I generally agree with most points raised by Jennifer, I do not think it is that bad that Barack Obama has taken a no-comment position on the Israel-Gaza war. He will gain nothing, and might lose plenty by taking a stand on such an uncertain situation. The warring parties will also gain very little – with one exception: Israel can claim that Obama’s silence might tempt Hamas to remain defiant and hold out for a better deal after January 20 (as I argued earlier, I don’t think this is a war about toppling Hamas, but rather about getting a better deal). However, I don’t think Hamas seriously expects Obama to support their cause.Of course, once inaugurated, Obama will not be able to remain silent and run away from tough choices. But since there will be plenty of time for that — why start now?

As U.S. News accurately reports:

Media reports are portraying the Israeli offensive in Gaza as a setback to President-elect Obama’s hopes to broker a lasting Middle East peace deal. At the same time, some reports suggest the flare-up increases the pressure on Obama to deal quickly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when his foreign policy agenda is already crowded.

One of the only assets Obama will have at his disposal is clean-slate-clean-brake status. But as Jennifer argues, “the dramatic departures which some envisioned (e.g. immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, a Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, closing of Guantanamo) aren’t remotely possible any time soon.” This status is more image than utility. And if that’s all Obama is working with for now, there’s not much for him to say.

While I generally agree with most points raised by Jennifer, I do not think it is that bad that Barack Obama has taken a no-comment position on the Israel-Gaza war. He will gain nothing, and might lose plenty by taking a stand on such an uncertain situation. The warring parties will also gain very little – with one exception: Israel can claim that Obama’s silence might tempt Hamas to remain defiant and hold out for a better deal after January 20 (as I argued earlier, I don’t think this is a war about toppling Hamas, but rather about getting a better deal). However, I don’t think Hamas seriously expects Obama to support their cause.Of course, once inaugurated, Obama will not be able to remain silent and run away from tough choices. But since there will be plenty of time for that — why start now?

As U.S. News accurately reports:

Media reports are portraying the Israeli offensive in Gaza as a setback to President-elect Obama’s hopes to broker a lasting Middle East peace deal. At the same time, some reports suggest the flare-up increases the pressure on Obama to deal quickly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when his foreign policy agenda is already crowded.

One of the only assets Obama will have at his disposal is clean-slate-clean-brake status. But as Jennifer argues, “the dramatic departures which some envisioned (e.g. immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, a Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, closing of Guantanamo) aren’t remotely possible any time soon.” This status is more image than utility. And if that’s all Obama is working with for now, there’s not much for him to say.

Read Less

Warren Points to the Battle Ahead

Rich Lowry sees the Rick Warren flap as the latest round of the culture wars, with President-elect Obama the unlikely focus of the Left’s venom and a victim of its desire to exclude and marginalize “traditionalists” from the public square. But the incident may say more about President-elect Obama than about the combatants in this fight.

Barney Frank was, I think, onto something about the President-elect when he declared, “I believe that he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” Frank didn’t mince words:

“But my one question is, I think he overestimates his ability to take people, particularly our colleagues on the right, and, sort of, charm them into being nice,” Frank said. “I know he talks about being post-partisan. But I’ve worked, frankly, with Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, the current Republican leadership. The current Republican leadership in the House repudiated George Bush. I don’t know why Mr. Obama thinks he’s going to have them better than George Bush.

“And so, to be honest, when he talks about being post-partisan, having seen these people and knowing what they would do in that situation, I suffer from post-partisan depression,” Frank said jokingly.

One might interpret Frank’s words as an effort to egg on the President-elect to take up the more contentious parts of the liberal agenda. But Frank, I would argue, laid bare the Obama dilemma. Obama won the presidency by holding two contradictory stances: a) I am the most “progressive” candidate ever to run for President and will enact items on the liberal agenda no one thought achievable,  and b) I am a unifier who will end the partisan divisions and create a new post-partisan majority. The first dominated his primary campaign while the second characterized both the general election and his transition period.

President-elect Obama may have been surprised by the backlash over Warren from the Left because he has been so successful until now in navigating from stances “a” to “b.” Sure, there was some fuss over his reversal on FISA, and Joe Biden wasn’t exactly the exemplar of progressive change, but allowances were made for the greater cause of electing a Democrat. Now the hated figure of George W. Bush is departing and the need to make excuses is lessening. Those who were certain they were getting Progressive Obama are likely to be more and more vocal when Unifer Obama (or Delaying and Deflecting Obama) appears on the scene. He may well have overestimated the degree to which his own base would migrate with him as he journeyed from partisan Democratic nominee to President.

Frank may be right that it won’t work — in large part because Frank and his ilk won’t stand for moderation. So, Frank may have been “projecting” as they say. Try as Obama might to charm and unify the country, his way will be impeded, not by the toothless Right, but by the angry and extreme Left, which isn’t in the mood for inclusion or compromise. Politicians on the Left aren’t much interested in bringing everyone together (that was simply a slogan to vilify Bush, who could be criticized as unduly partisan); they want to shift the political equation, redefine the culture and remake the economy.

President Obama will need to decide if that is really what his presidency will be about, or whether he is willing to take some heat from his own side in his quest for an effective presidency and a sustainable governing majority. As evidenced by the Warren invitation, it appears he’s opting for an effective presidency.

Rich Lowry sees the Rick Warren flap as the latest round of the culture wars, with President-elect Obama the unlikely focus of the Left’s venom and a victim of its desire to exclude and marginalize “traditionalists” from the public square. But the incident may say more about President-elect Obama than about the combatants in this fight.

Barney Frank was, I think, onto something about the President-elect when he declared, “I believe that he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” Frank didn’t mince words:

“But my one question is, I think he overestimates his ability to take people, particularly our colleagues on the right, and, sort of, charm them into being nice,” Frank said. “I know he talks about being post-partisan. But I’ve worked, frankly, with Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, the current Republican leadership. The current Republican leadership in the House repudiated George Bush. I don’t know why Mr. Obama thinks he’s going to have them better than George Bush.

“And so, to be honest, when he talks about being post-partisan, having seen these people and knowing what they would do in that situation, I suffer from post-partisan depression,” Frank said jokingly.

One might interpret Frank’s words as an effort to egg on the President-elect to take up the more contentious parts of the liberal agenda. But Frank, I would argue, laid bare the Obama dilemma. Obama won the presidency by holding two contradictory stances: a) I am the most “progressive” candidate ever to run for President and will enact items on the liberal agenda no one thought achievable,  and b) I am a unifier who will end the partisan divisions and create a new post-partisan majority. The first dominated his primary campaign while the second characterized both the general election and his transition period.

President-elect Obama may have been surprised by the backlash over Warren from the Left because he has been so successful until now in navigating from stances “a” to “b.” Sure, there was some fuss over his reversal on FISA, and Joe Biden wasn’t exactly the exemplar of progressive change, but allowances were made for the greater cause of electing a Democrat. Now the hated figure of George W. Bush is departing and the need to make excuses is lessening. Those who were certain they were getting Progressive Obama are likely to be more and more vocal when Unifer Obama (or Delaying and Deflecting Obama) appears on the scene. He may well have overestimated the degree to which his own base would migrate with him as he journeyed from partisan Democratic nominee to President.

Frank may be right that it won’t work — in large part because Frank and his ilk won’t stand for moderation. So, Frank may have been “projecting” as they say. Try as Obama might to charm and unify the country, his way will be impeded, not by the toothless Right, but by the angry and extreme Left, which isn’t in the mood for inclusion or compromise. Politicians on the Left aren’t much interested in bringing everyone together (that was simply a slogan to vilify Bush, who could be criticized as unduly partisan); they want to shift the political equation, redefine the culture and remake the economy.

President Obama will need to decide if that is really what his presidency will be about, or whether he is willing to take some heat from his own side in his quest for an effective presidency and a sustainable governing majority. As evidenced by the Warren invitation, it appears he’s opting for an effective presidency.

Read Less

Israel’s Necessary Mission

Israel’s overwhelming air assault against Hamas, which may be a prelude to a ground assault, is welcome news to those who support and deeply admire the Jewish state and who believe the way to defeat militant Islam is to confront it rather than to appease it.

Despite the fact that Hamas has provoked this response from Israel by directing rocket attacks against Israel, that Israel has shown almost super-human patience until now in not responding with force, and that Israel is now exercising her elementary right of self-defense, we have seen the ritual and stupid denunciation of Israel from the United Nations and parts of the Arab world, from France to Turkey to elsewhere. The Bush Administration, to its great credit, is focusing criticism where it belongs: on the aggression and malevolence of Hamas.

There are, I think, two things to take away from what is unfolding in Gaza right now that are contrary to conventional wisdom. The first, laid out in an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal by Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, is that the sine qua non of an authentic “peace process” is a decisive Israeli victory over Hamas. Israelis cannot be expected to pursue further steps for peace — and her efforts at achieving peace are by now almost too numerous to count — if Gaza remains a de facto enemy and terrorist state.

Events in Gaza also remind us that the popular Western emphasis on concessions leading to peace, is in many instances exactly the opposite of the truth.

The Israelis, after all, made a series of unprecedented concessions to Yasir Arafat in 2000; he responded by beginning a second intifada against Israel. In addition, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 emboldened Hizballah. And as Ze’ev Maghen points out in his lead essay in the January 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, in Iran, “Israel’s evacuation of its Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 has become a major symbol of the decrepitude of the Jewish state.”

Maghen points out that the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri said this in the wake of the disengagement process:

The Zionist regime retreats in the face of the slightest resistance. The willingness of the Zionists to leave behind their synagogues in Gaza demonstrates conclusively that they have no God, and therefore, of course, no religious connection to the Holy Land; they will now be easily ejected from all of occupied Palestine.

And soon after the Gaza pullout, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, proclaimed, “We, too, drove out the Israeli cowards.” (Nasrallah was referring to the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.)

This sentiment tracks with what Osama bin Laden said in 1998 about America:

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia … [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, they ran in defeat and America forgot about all the hoopla and media propaganda after leaving the Gulf War. After a few blows, they forgot about this title [leaders of a new world order] and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Jihadists interpret retreat and even withdrawal from territory not as an act of good faith but as a sign of weakness and irresolution; the result is that it redoubles their determination to strike, to kill innocent civilians, and to extend their savage way of life to new lands.

This is not to say that territorial concessions are in every instance unwise; when Israel returned the Sinai Desert to Egypt, it was a wise move by Menachem Begin. But for it to succeed, the agreement required Anwar Sadat, who had made his own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. There are no Sadats in the leadership of Hamas. It is an organization dedicated to eradicating Israel. That is why a show of force and will are critical. Israel must finish what it has started, for their sake and for a larger cause as well: the civilized world’s war against militant Islam. As the events of the last few days and months have reminded us, from Israel to India, that struggle ebbs and flows, but it is far from over.

Those who hope to prevail against jihadism should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, and all she represents.

Israel’s overwhelming air assault against Hamas, which may be a prelude to a ground assault, is welcome news to those who support and deeply admire the Jewish state and who believe the way to defeat militant Islam is to confront it rather than to appease it.

Despite the fact that Hamas has provoked this response from Israel by directing rocket attacks against Israel, that Israel has shown almost super-human patience until now in not responding with force, and that Israel is now exercising her elementary right of self-defense, we have seen the ritual and stupid denunciation of Israel from the United Nations and parts of the Arab world, from France to Turkey to elsewhere. The Bush Administration, to its great credit, is focusing criticism where it belongs: on the aggression and malevolence of Hamas.

There are, I think, two things to take away from what is unfolding in Gaza right now that are contrary to conventional wisdom. The first, laid out in an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal by Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, is that the sine qua non of an authentic “peace process” is a decisive Israeli victory over Hamas. Israelis cannot be expected to pursue further steps for peace — and her efforts at achieving peace are by now almost too numerous to count — if Gaza remains a de facto enemy and terrorist state.

Events in Gaza also remind us that the popular Western emphasis on concessions leading to peace, is in many instances exactly the opposite of the truth.

The Israelis, after all, made a series of unprecedented concessions to Yasir Arafat in 2000; he responded by beginning a second intifada against Israel. In addition, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 emboldened Hizballah. And as Ze’ev Maghen points out in his lead essay in the January 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, in Iran, “Israel’s evacuation of its Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 has become a major symbol of the decrepitude of the Jewish state.”

Maghen points out that the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri said this in the wake of the disengagement process:

The Zionist regime retreats in the face of the slightest resistance. The willingness of the Zionists to leave behind their synagogues in Gaza demonstrates conclusively that they have no God, and therefore, of course, no religious connection to the Holy Land; they will now be easily ejected from all of occupied Palestine.

And soon after the Gaza pullout, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, proclaimed, “We, too, drove out the Israeli cowards.” (Nasrallah was referring to the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.)

This sentiment tracks with what Osama bin Laden said in 1998 about America:

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia … [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, they ran in defeat and America forgot about all the hoopla and media propaganda after leaving the Gulf War. After a few blows, they forgot about this title [leaders of a new world order] and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Jihadists interpret retreat and even withdrawal from territory not as an act of good faith but as a sign of weakness and irresolution; the result is that it redoubles their determination to strike, to kill innocent civilians, and to extend their savage way of life to new lands.

This is not to say that territorial concessions are in every instance unwise; when Israel returned the Sinai Desert to Egypt, it was a wise move by Menachem Begin. But for it to succeed, the agreement required Anwar Sadat, who had made his own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. There are no Sadats in the leadership of Hamas. It is an organization dedicated to eradicating Israel. That is why a show of force and will are critical. Israel must finish what it has started, for their sake and for a larger cause as well: the civilized world’s war against militant Islam. As the events of the last few days and months have reminded us, from Israel to India, that struggle ebbs and flows, but it is far from over.

Those who hope to prevail against jihadism should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, and all she represents.

Read Less

Stalin Comes in Third

Russians, voting in a contest organized by state broadcaster Rossiya, chose Josef Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time.  The results were announced yesterday.  Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century hero who defeated the Swedes, came in first, and Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister during the rule of Nicholas II, took second.  Stalin nearly came in first-falling only 5,200 votes short out of 4.5 million ballots cast-and actually led at one point.   Russians voted on the internet and through text messaging.

Although results in these types of polls are typically unrepresentative of the population as a whole, the clear message for President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is that a large segment of the Russian populace values strong leaders.  That’s understandable for a nation that collapsed into pieces last decade after losing a multi-decade struggle to the West and its allies.

Nonetheless, the clear message for us is that we should start seeing Russia as it sees itself.  The Russians obviously hold values we find abhorrent.  That should, at a minimum, make us rethink the nature of our cooperation with them and their government.

We should remember we tried working with Stalin once.  Maybe Putin is no communist dictator, but he is reasserting hardline rule when he is not trying to destabilize the international community.  It’s time to take a fresh look at him and his Russia.

Russians, voting in a contest organized by state broadcaster Rossiya, chose Josef Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time.  The results were announced yesterday.  Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century hero who defeated the Swedes, came in first, and Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister during the rule of Nicholas II, took second.  Stalin nearly came in first-falling only 5,200 votes short out of 4.5 million ballots cast-and actually led at one point.   Russians voted on the internet and through text messaging.

Although results in these types of polls are typically unrepresentative of the population as a whole, the clear message for President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is that a large segment of the Russian populace values strong leaders.  That’s understandable for a nation that collapsed into pieces last decade after losing a multi-decade struggle to the West and its allies.

Nonetheless, the clear message for us is that we should start seeing Russia as it sees itself.  The Russians obviously hold values we find abhorrent.  That should, at a minimum, make us rethink the nature of our cooperation with them and their government.

We should remember we tried working with Stalin once.  Maybe Putin is no communist dictator, but he is reasserting hardline rule when he is not trying to destabilize the international community.  It’s time to take a fresh look at him and his Russia.

Read Less

War Is Hell . . . on Logic

The narrative being pushed now is that Israel is engaging in a brutal, illegal, war against the Palestinians, while other Arab populations are doing all they can to help the poor, oppressed Palestinians.

Which doesn’t quite explain why Israel is sending convoys of food, medical supplies, ambulances, and fuel into the Gaza Strip while Hamas is blocking injured and wounded Palestinians from fleeing Gaza, and Egypt shooting Palestinians who try to cross the border.

If it’s true that war is of politics by other means, and that politics makes for strange bedfellows, then I guess this does make a kind of twisted sense…

The narrative being pushed now is that Israel is engaging in a brutal, illegal, war against the Palestinians, while other Arab populations are doing all they can to help the poor, oppressed Palestinians.

Which doesn’t quite explain why Israel is sending convoys of food, medical supplies, ambulances, and fuel into the Gaza Strip while Hamas is blocking injured and wounded Palestinians from fleeing Gaza, and Egypt shooting Palestinians who try to cross the border.

If it’s true that war is of politics by other means, and that politics makes for strange bedfellows, then I guess this does make a kind of twisted sense…

Read Less

Hamas and Human Rights

Richard Landes notes a story that would be difficult to imagine happening anywhere else: Hamas is simultaneously condemning Israel for hospital shortages, yet preventing Egypt from delivering medical aid or evacuating the wounded. Landes has coined a word to describe the phenomenon:

I have written repeatedly here about demopaths, people who invoke human rights and other civic values in order to protect themselves, even as they aim at destroying the human rights of others. … Among the many practitioners of demopathy — a thriving industry in the early 21st century — are the Palestinians, who have made an identity out of being “human rights” victims, even as they try and destroy the human rights of Jews. Indeed, their commitment to accusing Israelis of violating their human rights has driven them to victimize themselves in order to attack Israel for their suffering.

Read the whole thing.

Richard Landes notes a story that would be difficult to imagine happening anywhere else: Hamas is simultaneously condemning Israel for hospital shortages, yet preventing Egypt from delivering medical aid or evacuating the wounded. Landes has coined a word to describe the phenomenon:

I have written repeatedly here about demopaths, people who invoke human rights and other civic values in order to protect themselves, even as they aim at destroying the human rights of others. … Among the many practitioners of demopathy — a thriving industry in the early 21st century — are the Palestinians, who have made an identity out of being “human rights” victims, even as they try and destroy the human rights of Jews. Indeed, their commitment to accusing Israelis of violating their human rights has driven them to victimize themselves in order to attack Israel for their suffering.

Read the whole thing.

Read Less

Top Ten “Top Ten Words” of 2008

 1.  Top 10 Words in the Presidential Election:  “The audacity of hope and change we can believe in.”  (Memo to future historians asking if this can really be the slogan that won an election:  yes, it can).

2.  Top 10 Words in the MSM Election Coverage:  “You know . . . I felt this thrill going up my leg.”

3.  Top 10 Words in the New York Times for an Unidentified Source:  “person speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak.”

4.  Top 10 Words in the New York Times for Al Qaeda in Iraq:  “homegrown Sunni extremist group American intelligence agencies say is foreign-led.”

5.  Top 10 Words in the MSM for Terrorist:  “gunman,” “militant,” “extremist,” “member of a military wing,” “agrarian reformer” (that last one may have been from a different list).

6.  Top 10 Words in the Daily State Department Press Conference:  “two states living side by side in peace and security.”

7.  Top 10 Words for Diplomatically Describing This Year’s Failed Peace Process:  “narrowing the gaps on borders and identifying and distilling differences” (Dennis Ross). (Code:  “narrowing the gaps” means Israeli concessions; “distilling differences” means Palestinian suggestions for further concessions).

8.  Top 10 Words for Unwavering Commitment:  “I can no more disown him than my white grandmother.”  (Eight Word Runner Up:  “Let me be clear . . . [Jerusalem] must remain undivided.”)

9.  Top 10 Words by Caroline Kennedy on Her Senate Ambition:  “In our family you always think about going into politics”.  (Thirty-Nine Word Runner Up:  “While I was thinking about it in my own head, and in my heart, talking to my children and my husband, ya know people started coming up to me and saying ‘Why don’t you be senator you’d be great’ . . .”).

10.  Top 10 Words in the Governor of Illinois household:  “f—–g golden,” “f—–g appreciation,” “f—–g nothing,” “f—–g Chicago Tribune editorial.”  (May technically only be seven words).

 1.  Top 10 Words in the Presidential Election:  “The audacity of hope and change we can believe in.”  (Memo to future historians asking if this can really be the slogan that won an election:  yes, it can).

2.  Top 10 Words in the MSM Election Coverage:  “You know . . . I felt this thrill going up my leg.”

3.  Top 10 Words in the New York Times for an Unidentified Source:  “person speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak.”

4.  Top 10 Words in the New York Times for Al Qaeda in Iraq:  “homegrown Sunni extremist group American intelligence agencies say is foreign-led.”

5.  Top 10 Words in the MSM for Terrorist:  “gunman,” “militant,” “extremist,” “member of a military wing,” “agrarian reformer” (that last one may have been from a different list).

6.  Top 10 Words in the Daily State Department Press Conference:  “two states living side by side in peace and security.”

7.  Top 10 Words for Diplomatically Describing This Year’s Failed Peace Process:  “narrowing the gaps on borders and identifying and distilling differences” (Dennis Ross). (Code:  “narrowing the gaps” means Israeli concessions; “distilling differences” means Palestinian suggestions for further concessions).

8.  Top 10 Words for Unwavering Commitment:  “I can no more disown him than my white grandmother.”  (Eight Word Runner Up:  “Let me be clear . . . [Jerusalem] must remain undivided.”)

9.  Top 10 Words by Caroline Kennedy on Her Senate Ambition:  “In our family you always think about going into politics”.  (Thirty-Nine Word Runner Up:  “While I was thinking about it in my own head, and in my heart, talking to my children and my husband, ya know people started coming up to me and saying ‘Why don’t you be senator you’d be great’ . . .”).

10.  Top 10 Words in the Governor of Illinois household:  “f—–g golden,” “f—–g appreciation,” “f—–g nothing,” “f—–g Chicago Tribune editorial.”  (May technically only be seven words).

Read Less

The Increasing Marginality of J Street

When the progressive “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street emerged last spring, I wrote an article showing how its pretensions to mainstream credibility, as well as its characterization of already existing Jewish organizations as uniformly “neoconservative,” “right-wing” and “Likudnik” etc., were demonstrably false.

A brief look at last year’s American Jewish Committee annual survey of American Jewish opinion found overwhelming opposition among American Jews to the extreme left-wing policies articulated by J Street. And the latest AJC poll shows that over the past year, J Street has become even more marginal among American Jews, and roughly represents the views of the anti-Zionist Israeli Avrum Burg, the aforementioned Daniel Levy, and a handful of Jewish writers at obscure left-wing publications like Tikkun, the American Prospect and The Nation: While 44% of American Jews describe themselves as either “extremely liberal,” “liberal” or “slightly” liberal (and only 24% describe themselves as some variant of “conservative”), a whopping 68% of American Jews believe that Israel “cannot achieve peace with an Hamas-led Palestinian government.” Yet J Street constantly counsels for negotiation and settlement with the terrorist organization.

As Noah mentioned earlier today, it really is in times like these that the hard Left’s true colors shine. For the political reality in Israel today is that the entire nation, from its Left to its Right, is united in support of the current IDF operation against Hamas. How could it not be, given the almost year-and-a-half of unrelenting rocket attacks  from Gaza into Israel? Rarely does such unity of opinion manifest, even in embattled Israel, a country frequently at war. A few days ago, David Hazony pointed out that even Me’eretz, “Israel’s far-left party, home to its most peace-advocating, dovish, universalist, end-the-occupation elites, its most consistent voice for military restraint” issued a call in support of the air-strikes.

What is J Street’s response? In a statement posted on the organization’s website, Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami condemned Israeli actions, saying “that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive,” asserted “that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” and recycled the old chestnut that Israeli self-defense will “deepen the cycle of violence in the region.”

So, during the first major Israeli military operation since the 2006 Hezbollah War, at a time when the vast majority of Israelis and American Jews support what Israel is doing, J Street steps out of the shadows as the voice of communal dissent, joined by the likes of the United Nations and the Guardian editorial board (even the Arab League tacitly supports what Israel is doing, seeing that Hamas is an Iranian front). J Street has the right to its extreme leftist, capitulationist opinions, but it does not have the right to claim, as Ben-Ami once did, that it represents the “broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews.” J Street doesn’t even represent the views of left-wing Israelis. (The only relevant group with which J Street’s views may jibe are Israeli Arabs, who aren’t even Zionist and thus don’t share J Street’s ostensible support for a Jewish State).

In an email sent out to its supporters earlier today, J Street’s online director Isaac Luria writes, “At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation.” With its latest salvo, J Street and its supporters suggest that they’re not constituents of that community.

When the progressive “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street emerged last spring, I wrote an article showing how its pretensions to mainstream credibility, as well as its characterization of already existing Jewish organizations as uniformly “neoconservative,” “right-wing” and “Likudnik” etc., were demonstrably false.

A brief look at last year’s American Jewish Committee annual survey of American Jewish opinion found overwhelming opposition among American Jews to the extreme left-wing policies articulated by J Street. And the latest AJC poll shows that over the past year, J Street has become even more marginal among American Jews, and roughly represents the views of the anti-Zionist Israeli Avrum Burg, the aforementioned Daniel Levy, and a handful of Jewish writers at obscure left-wing publications like Tikkun, the American Prospect and The Nation: While 44% of American Jews describe themselves as either “extremely liberal,” “liberal” or “slightly” liberal (and only 24% describe themselves as some variant of “conservative”), a whopping 68% of American Jews believe that Israel “cannot achieve peace with an Hamas-led Palestinian government.” Yet J Street constantly counsels for negotiation and settlement with the terrorist organization.

As Noah mentioned earlier today, it really is in times like these that the hard Left’s true colors shine. For the political reality in Israel today is that the entire nation, from its Left to its Right, is united in support of the current IDF operation against Hamas. How could it not be, given the almost year-and-a-half of unrelenting rocket attacks  from Gaza into Israel? Rarely does such unity of opinion manifest, even in embattled Israel, a country frequently at war. A few days ago, David Hazony pointed out that even Me’eretz, “Israel’s far-left party, home to its most peace-advocating, dovish, universalist, end-the-occupation elites, its most consistent voice for military restraint” issued a call in support of the air-strikes.

What is J Street’s response? In a statement posted on the organization’s website, Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami condemned Israeli actions, saying “that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive,” asserted “that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” and recycled the old chestnut that Israeli self-defense will “deepen the cycle of violence in the region.”

So, during the first major Israeli military operation since the 2006 Hezbollah War, at a time when the vast majority of Israelis and American Jews support what Israel is doing, J Street steps out of the shadows as the voice of communal dissent, joined by the likes of the United Nations and the Guardian editorial board (even the Arab League tacitly supports what Israel is doing, seeing that Hamas is an Iranian front). J Street has the right to its extreme leftist, capitulationist opinions, but it does not have the right to claim, as Ben-Ami once did, that it represents the “broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews.” J Street doesn’t even represent the views of left-wing Israelis. (The only relevant group with which J Street’s views may jibe are Israeli Arabs, who aren’t even Zionist and thus don’t share J Street’s ostensible support for a Jewish State).

In an email sent out to its supporters earlier today, J Street’s online director Isaac Luria writes, “At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation.” With its latest salvo, J Street and its supporters suggest that they’re not constituents of that community.

Read Less

Arab-Israeli Leaders Stoke the Flames

One of the most troublesome issues related to the war in Gaza, is the reemergence of tension between Arab-Israelis and the country they live in. Arab-Israelis – or Israeli-Palestinians – find themselves in an unenviable position, and their leadership, as usual, does everything in its power to fail them. Instead of looking to calm things down, instead of trying to delicately maneuver, Arab Israeli leaders are looking for ways to capitalize on the crisis – and maybe get some extra votes in the coming election. Yes, elections are still scheduled for Feb. 10th.

Thus, Israeli-Arabs took to the streets, not in great numbers but with some violent incidents severe enough to make Israeli-Jews concerned about a possible reenactment of the 2000 so-called “October Riots,” in which Arab citizens disrupted the country’s life by blocking roads, throwing stones, clashing with police forces and ripping apart the delicate fabric that is Israel’s society (Israeli-Arabs have a different version of these events – involving discrimination and police brutality – and that’s one of the problems).

The fact that Israeli-Arabs find it hard to fully identify with Israel’s war in Gaza is unfortunate, but not surprising. However, when an Arab Minister in the Israeli government has decided to boycott a meeting of that same government, by way of protesting the war – he gets himself in trouble. When Arab Knesset members constantly take to the airwaves complaining about Israel’s forceful actions and hardly take time to condemn Hamas’s aggressive tactics, charges of Arab-Israelis constituting a “fifth column” find purchase.

Who’s going to benefit from this resumed tension? Definitely not most Arab citizens who’d like to live their lives peacefully. Not Arab merchants and restaurant owners who have taken pains (and years) to make Jewish-Israelis comfortable buying from them after the 2000 clashes. Not Jewish-Israelis who support coexistence. And I don’t see any benefit for the Palestinians in Gaza – nor for those in the West Bank, who’d like to see Hamas’s rule collapse. In fact, the position taken by Arab-Israeli leaders today against the war is much more extreme than the one taken by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. So afraid to be seen as “collaborators” – so keen on getting a political boost by raising tensions – the Arab-Israeli leaders play the “holier than thou” card. A loosing card for all involved – except, maybe, politicians.

But will Arab politicians benefiting the most from these tensions? They might, or might not. The right-wing Israeli Beiteinu Party, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, can hardly believe its good fortune. In the polls preceding the war this party was already getting more votes than Labor and Shas, and on its way to becoming the third largest party in Israel’s political landscape. Assuming that a successful war can benefit Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his party, Labor – also the party most identified with the cause of taming Arab-Israeli nationalism – Lieberman is the only one thus far who has a chance of getting some extra votes when the war is over.

One of the most troublesome issues related to the war in Gaza, is the reemergence of tension between Arab-Israelis and the country they live in. Arab-Israelis – or Israeli-Palestinians – find themselves in an unenviable position, and their leadership, as usual, does everything in its power to fail them. Instead of looking to calm things down, instead of trying to delicately maneuver, Arab Israeli leaders are looking for ways to capitalize on the crisis – and maybe get some extra votes in the coming election. Yes, elections are still scheduled for Feb. 10th.

Thus, Israeli-Arabs took to the streets, not in great numbers but with some violent incidents severe enough to make Israeli-Jews concerned about a possible reenactment of the 2000 so-called “October Riots,” in which Arab citizens disrupted the country’s life by blocking roads, throwing stones, clashing with police forces and ripping apart the delicate fabric that is Israel’s society (Israeli-Arabs have a different version of these events – involving discrimination and police brutality – and that’s one of the problems).

The fact that Israeli-Arabs find it hard to fully identify with Israel’s war in Gaza is unfortunate, but not surprising. However, when an Arab Minister in the Israeli government has decided to boycott a meeting of that same government, by way of protesting the war – he gets himself in trouble. When Arab Knesset members constantly take to the airwaves complaining about Israel’s forceful actions and hardly take time to condemn Hamas’s aggressive tactics, charges of Arab-Israelis constituting a “fifth column” find purchase.

Who’s going to benefit from this resumed tension? Definitely not most Arab citizens who’d like to live their lives peacefully. Not Arab merchants and restaurant owners who have taken pains (and years) to make Jewish-Israelis comfortable buying from them after the 2000 clashes. Not Jewish-Israelis who support coexistence. And I don’t see any benefit for the Palestinians in Gaza – nor for those in the West Bank, who’d like to see Hamas’s rule collapse. In fact, the position taken by Arab-Israeli leaders today against the war is much more extreme than the one taken by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. So afraid to be seen as “collaborators” – so keen on getting a political boost by raising tensions – the Arab-Israeli leaders play the “holier than thou” card. A loosing card for all involved – except, maybe, politicians.

But will Arab politicians benefiting the most from these tensions? They might, or might not. The right-wing Israeli Beiteinu Party, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, can hardly believe its good fortune. In the polls preceding the war this party was already getting more votes than Labor and Shas, and on its way to becoming the third largest party in Israel’s political landscape. Assuming that a successful war can benefit Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his party, Labor – also the party most identified with the cause of taming Arab-Israeli nationalism – Lieberman is the only one thus far who has a chance of getting some extra votes when the war is over.

Read Less

Re: Caroline’s Charade

James, it seems that what everyone needs is an exit strategy. Governor Paterson can’t be seen elevating someone so obviously unserious and unqualified. Caroline needs a way of escaping from this reputation-crushing experience, which has in large measure eradicated her reputation as a self-effacing and well-behaved member of the Kennedy clan. And President-elect Obama needs to find a way to have his prominent supporter and surrogate avoid further harm.

So: what to do? Caroline obviously needs a different job, one which, oh so regrettably, would make it impossible for her to serve the great state of New York as its next senator. No, Secretary of State isn’t open, nor is any other cabinet post. There are always ambassadorships, but posts in prominent places (e.g. London, France) are too important for her and other locales are just too silly (the ones you have to look up on the map). Well, there’s always Assistant to the President for Education. (It’s a believable, albeit fictional, position). There is Special Assistant for Public Service. (Let her work on President-elect Obama’s volunteer corps, in the vein of  her uncle Sargent Shriver).

You get the idea. She’s not, as has become abundantly clear, ready for the U.S. Senate. But her yen for public service — if real — could be put to good use. And if she does a fine job, proves herself capable and learns to, “you know,” manage the press, then there might be a senate seat in her future. Just not her immediate future.

James, it seems that what everyone needs is an exit strategy. Governor Paterson can’t be seen elevating someone so obviously unserious and unqualified. Caroline needs a way of escaping from this reputation-crushing experience, which has in large measure eradicated her reputation as a self-effacing and well-behaved member of the Kennedy clan. And President-elect Obama needs to find a way to have his prominent supporter and surrogate avoid further harm.

So: what to do? Caroline obviously needs a different job, one which, oh so regrettably, would make it impossible for her to serve the great state of New York as its next senator. No, Secretary of State isn’t open, nor is any other cabinet post. There are always ambassadorships, but posts in prominent places (e.g. London, France) are too important for her and other locales are just too silly (the ones you have to look up on the map). Well, there’s always Assistant to the President for Education. (It’s a believable, albeit fictional, position). There is Special Assistant for Public Service. (Let her work on President-elect Obama’s volunteer corps, in the vein of  her uncle Sargent Shriver).

You get the idea. She’s not, as has become abundantly clear, ready for the U.S. Senate. But her yen for public service — if real — could be put to good use. And if she does a fine job, proves herself capable and learns to, “you know,” manage the press, then there might be a senate seat in her future. Just not her immediate future.

Read Less

Reassessing the Gaza Pullout

When Ariel Sharon undertook the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, I noted that he was taking a big risk–“the risk of creating a Hamastan where terrorism will flourish.” But, “on balance,” I concluded in the Los Angeles Times, it was the “the right decision.”

Part of my reasoning went as follows:  “Even if Palestinians want to attack Israel — and they do — they will be hard-pressed to do so. All of Gaza is fenced in and so is most of the West Bank, reducing opportunities for suicide bombers to penetrate Israel. If the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory. The Palestinians will no doubt stockpile heavy weapons in Gaza but, as is the case with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, they can be deterred from using them.”

I was, it seems, being overly optimistic. It’s true that Israel has managed to all but eliminate the threat of suicide bombers from Gaza. The rocket threat, however, has proved harder to eradicate. And contrary to my expectation, Israel’s right to respond to the threat of rockets raining down on its territory appears to be no better recognized today by the international community than in the days when Gaza was formally “occupied territory.” Indeed, the current use of force by Israel is meeting the same level of international condemnation as pretty much every such instance since 1973.

So was I – and were so many others – wrong to applaud the Gaza pullout in the first place? I admit the arguments against it are stronger today than they were three years ago. I still think, however, that it was untenable to continue to allow 8,500 Jewish settlers to live among 1.3 million Palestinians. But while the settlements had to go, on balance it appears to have been a mistake to eliminate the entire Israel Defense Force presence in Gaza. Without Israeli patrols on the ground, as there still are in the West Bank, it has proved impossible to keep the Gaza Strip from becoming the Hamastan I feared.

Now the likelihood is that Israeli troops will have to go in at least temporarily to Gaza in order to restore a modicum of security to southern Israel. The danger will rise again once the IDF pulls out, which suggests that the IDF will have to consider an extended presence or at least future raids into Gaza. That, I realize, is not a terribly palatable outcome for an Israeli public sick of being an “occupier,” but it is hard to see how the rocket attacks on Israel can be stopped otherwise.

When Ariel Sharon undertook the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, I noted that he was taking a big risk–“the risk of creating a Hamastan where terrorism will flourish.” But, “on balance,” I concluded in the Los Angeles Times, it was the “the right decision.”

Part of my reasoning went as follows:  “Even if Palestinians want to attack Israel — and they do — they will be hard-pressed to do so. All of Gaza is fenced in and so is most of the West Bank, reducing opportunities for suicide bombers to penetrate Israel. If the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory. The Palestinians will no doubt stockpile heavy weapons in Gaza but, as is the case with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, they can be deterred from using them.”

I was, it seems, being overly optimistic. It’s true that Israel has managed to all but eliminate the threat of suicide bombers from Gaza. The rocket threat, however, has proved harder to eradicate. And contrary to my expectation, Israel’s right to respond to the threat of rockets raining down on its territory appears to be no better recognized today by the international community than in the days when Gaza was formally “occupied territory.” Indeed, the current use of force by Israel is meeting the same level of international condemnation as pretty much every such instance since 1973.

So was I – and were so many others – wrong to applaud the Gaza pullout in the first place? I admit the arguments against it are stronger today than they were three years ago. I still think, however, that it was untenable to continue to allow 8,500 Jewish settlers to live among 1.3 million Palestinians. But while the settlements had to go, on balance it appears to have been a mistake to eliminate the entire Israel Defense Force presence in Gaza. Without Israeli patrols on the ground, as there still are in the West Bank, it has proved impossible to keep the Gaza Strip from becoming the Hamastan I feared.

Now the likelihood is that Israeli troops will have to go in at least temporarily to Gaza in order to restore a modicum of security to southern Israel. The danger will rise again once the IDF pulls out, which suggests that the IDF will have to consider an extended presence or at least future raids into Gaza. That, I realize, is not a terribly palatable outcome for an Israeli public sick of being an “occupier,” but it is hard to see how the rocket attacks on Israel can be stopped otherwise.

Read Less

Sderot Under Siege

Larissa Yaakobov stands before me sobbing. Her young daughter and nine-year-old son look on helpless. “I can’t do it anymore,” she says in broken Hebrew, “I can’t live here.” “Here” is Sderot, an Israeli border community adjacent to the Gaza Strip where Larissa has lived since she emigrated from Russia fifteen years ago. Larissa ‘s son does not say a word. He hasn’t said much, she tells me, since the two watched a Qassam rocket slam into a woman a few feet away killing her instantly.

Less than twenty four hours before Israel unleashed its air-force on the Gaza Strip, I sat with four families in Sderot who have been injured and traumatized by Hamas rocket fire. In the hours before Israel ‘s incursion, the mood was tense-even by Sderot standards. The streets were barren; everyone is bracing for new waves of rockets.

Sderot has no shortage of children’s playgrounds-twisty blue and yellow slides, swings and handle-bars. But children are no where to be seen. I do see plenty of bomb shelters.  Every bus-stop in Sderot has been turned into a lime-colored enforced shelter with a single shrapnel-proof window. I enter one of these rooms to see what it is like inside. A car screeches to a halt and the driver dashes out to join me in the shelter. He is panicked and out of breath. Seeing me enter the shelter, he mistakenly thought a rocket was headed our way. I apologize sheepishly for the confusion as he returns to his car and speeds away.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive by David Keyes click here.

Larissa Yaakobov stands before me sobbing. Her young daughter and nine-year-old son look on helpless. “I can’t do it anymore,” she says in broken Hebrew, “I can’t live here.” “Here” is Sderot, an Israeli border community adjacent to the Gaza Strip where Larissa has lived since she emigrated from Russia fifteen years ago. Larissa ‘s son does not say a word. He hasn’t said much, she tells me, since the two watched a Qassam rocket slam into a woman a few feet away killing her instantly.

Less than twenty four hours before Israel unleashed its air-force on the Gaza Strip, I sat with four families in Sderot who have been injured and traumatized by Hamas rocket fire. In the hours before Israel ‘s incursion, the mood was tense-even by Sderot standards. The streets were barren; everyone is bracing for new waves of rockets.

Sderot has no shortage of children’s playgrounds-twisty blue and yellow slides, swings and handle-bars. But children are no where to be seen. I do see plenty of bomb shelters.  Every bus-stop in Sderot has been turned into a lime-colored enforced shelter with a single shrapnel-proof window. I enter one of these rooms to see what it is like inside. A car screeches to a halt and the driver dashes out to join me in the shelter. He is panicked and out of breath. Seeing me enter the shelter, he mistakenly thought a rocket was headed our way. I apologize sheepishly for the confusion as he returns to his car and speeds away.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive by David Keyes click here.

Read Less

The Juicebox Mafia on Gaza

The Juicebox Mafia is working shifts on the Gaza crisis. Matthew Yglesias writes something dumb enough that it needs no elaboration:

But already the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets has increased (from a baseline of zero) since the retaliatory attack that was supposed to prevent such killings.

Spencer Ackerman, who becomes very Jewish when it comes time to condemn Israel:

Fellow lit’ry tribesman: do you believe for a moment that leveling Gaza will stop the rockets? Well, then you’ve lost your right to call the peaceniks naive.

As a matter of fact, it’s interesting to note that since the summer 2006 war, Hezbollah has been completely quiet on Israel’s border — even after their terrorist superhero, Imad Mughniyah, was assassinated, and Syria’s nuclear reactor was bombed, and Hezbollah’s liason to Damascus had an unfortunate run-in with a rifle bullet on his balcony one afternoon. Right now, Nasrallah futilely rants from Lebanon, while Hezbollah watches its ally in Gaza get pummeled. Deterrence is a real thing, and while it’s too early to judge the outcome of the current engagement, it’s also too early to declare that Hamas’ experience of being whipped and humiliated — the first time in the group’s history — will not establish some new behavioral guidelines.

Ezra Klein:

Hamas lacks the technology to aim its rockets. They’re taking potshots. In response, the Israeli government launched air strikes that have now killed more than 280 Palestinians…There is nothing proportionate in this response. No way to fit it into a larger strategy that leads towards eventual peace. No way to fool ourselves into believing that it will reduce bloodshed and stop terrorist attacks. It is simple vengeance. There’s a saying in the Jewish community: “Israel, right or wrong.” But sometimes Israel is simply wrong.

Ignore the fact that nobody in the history of the Jewish community has ever actually uttered the words, “Israel, right or wrong,” and ignore the disgraceful apologetic for Hamas’ rocket war (Klein should go to Sderot and tell the people living in bomb shelters to come out from hiding, because Hamas is only taking potshots).

No, what is interesting about the collective opinion of the Juicebox Mafia is the proposed rule of just war: Whoever kills more is the guilty party. This amounts to a total rejection of the distinction between aggression and self-defense and indeed the entire concept of deterrence. Taken to its logical conclusion, moral victory becomes impossible, because the moment one side has dispatched with a greater number of enemy than casualties have been suffered, justice has been forfeited. The only means of ethical conduct is pure immolation — which is indeed the prescription for Israel, which is expected to behave as the only true Christian nation on earth, responding to attacks by endlessly turning the other cheek.

There is something else about the Juicebox Mafia that is grating beyond its simple inanity: The only time its members write about Israel is when they can condemn it. The truth of the matter is that they have nothing invested in Israel other than their American liberalism and their Jewish surnames. Being a Jewish critic of Israel is ever so much more compelling and melodramatic than being just another leftist critic of Israel: Instead of trafficking in banalities, one can claim disillusionment, embarrassment, and betrayal. Pardon me if I call this out for what it is — moral preening and pure cynicism.

The Juicebox Mafia is working shifts on the Gaza crisis. Matthew Yglesias writes something dumb enough that it needs no elaboration:

But already the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets has increased (from a baseline of zero) since the retaliatory attack that was supposed to prevent such killings.

Spencer Ackerman, who becomes very Jewish when it comes time to condemn Israel:

Fellow lit’ry tribesman: do you believe for a moment that leveling Gaza will stop the rockets? Well, then you’ve lost your right to call the peaceniks naive.

As a matter of fact, it’s interesting to note that since the summer 2006 war, Hezbollah has been completely quiet on Israel’s border — even after their terrorist superhero, Imad Mughniyah, was assassinated, and Syria’s nuclear reactor was bombed, and Hezbollah’s liason to Damascus had an unfortunate run-in with a rifle bullet on his balcony one afternoon. Right now, Nasrallah futilely rants from Lebanon, while Hezbollah watches its ally in Gaza get pummeled. Deterrence is a real thing, and while it’s too early to judge the outcome of the current engagement, it’s also too early to declare that Hamas’ experience of being whipped and humiliated — the first time in the group’s history — will not establish some new behavioral guidelines.

Ezra Klein:

Hamas lacks the technology to aim its rockets. They’re taking potshots. In response, the Israeli government launched air strikes that have now killed more than 280 Palestinians…There is nothing proportionate in this response. No way to fit it into a larger strategy that leads towards eventual peace. No way to fool ourselves into believing that it will reduce bloodshed and stop terrorist attacks. It is simple vengeance. There’s a saying in the Jewish community: “Israel, right or wrong.” But sometimes Israel is simply wrong.

Ignore the fact that nobody in the history of the Jewish community has ever actually uttered the words, “Israel, right or wrong,” and ignore the disgraceful apologetic for Hamas’ rocket war (Klein should go to Sderot and tell the people living in bomb shelters to come out from hiding, because Hamas is only taking potshots).

No, what is interesting about the collective opinion of the Juicebox Mafia is the proposed rule of just war: Whoever kills more is the guilty party. This amounts to a total rejection of the distinction between aggression and self-defense and indeed the entire concept of deterrence. Taken to its logical conclusion, moral victory becomes impossible, because the moment one side has dispatched with a greater number of enemy than casualties have been suffered, justice has been forfeited. The only means of ethical conduct is pure immolation — which is indeed the prescription for Israel, which is expected to behave as the only true Christian nation on earth, responding to attacks by endlessly turning the other cheek.

There is something else about the Juicebox Mafia that is grating beyond its simple inanity: The only time its members write about Israel is when they can condemn it. The truth of the matter is that they have nothing invested in Israel other than their American liberalism and their Jewish surnames. Being a Jewish critic of Israel is ever so much more compelling and melodramatic than being just another leftist critic of Israel: Instead of trafficking in banalities, one can claim disillusionment, embarrassment, and betrayal. Pardon me if I call this out for what it is — moral preening and pure cynicism.

Read Less

Racism And the Palestinians

Yesterday, Noah Pollak pointed out how the current Israel-Hamas conflict is being discussed over at the Netroots blog known as FireDogLake. Against my better judgment, I meandered over there to see just what was being said. And as I read the comments lambasting Israel and (occasionally) defending Hamas (or, at least minimizing what they have done), a certain phrase came to mind:

The soft bigotry of lowered expectations.

There was on commenter at  FireDogLake who felt that instead of striking militarily, Israel should have “negotiated in good faith.”

Just how the would that happen?

Negotiations are how civilized people settle their disagreements. But for negotiations to succeed, there have to be two parties interested in settling their differences peacefully. And Hamas has — by word and deed — consistently asserted its utter disinterest in settling its differences with Israel peacefully.

The recent events are no aberration, but affirmation of that policy. They unilaterally declared a “truce” that was merely a diminution of attacks. Then, they declared an end to the truce and escalated the attacks.

Hamas has also repeatedly affirmed their commitment to their charter:

 Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

These are the words and deeds of Hamas. They offer no reasonable hope for negotiations or compromise.

So, is it fair to judge all Palestinians by the words and deeds of Hamas?  no. But Hamas is the legal representative government of the Gaza Strip, both de facto (by their lethal purging of Fatah from the Strip) and de jure (they won in fair elections, supervised by the international community). As a government ought to be liable to its people, so too a people must be liable for the actions of the government they choose. Hamas did not seize power, it was granted it by the populace.

As someone once wrote, “Freedom is the right to be responsible for your actions.” To deny people the responsibility of their actions is say that they aren’t capable of truly being free, that they need special considerations and compensations to fit in with “normal” people.

That is what the commenters at FireDogLake and other Hamas apologists are saying. They are saying that the Palestinians are somehow inferior, somehow less worthy of being treated as full human beings. They are little more than children, whose words and deeds you can’t take at face value, that they need to be indulged and protected from the same standards to which we hold others.

Hamas itself rejects this approach. They constantly reaffirm that they do, indeed, mean exactly what they say and do, and go to great lengths to prove it.

Taking a group like Hamas at their word, and reacting accordingly, is not racism. Insisting that “they don’t really mean what they are saying and doing,” however, is. And it is being practiced by those who, most often, denounce racism and racist behavior.

Yesterday, Noah Pollak pointed out how the current Israel-Hamas conflict is being discussed over at the Netroots blog known as FireDogLake. Against my better judgment, I meandered over there to see just what was being said. And as I read the comments lambasting Israel and (occasionally) defending Hamas (or, at least minimizing what they have done), a certain phrase came to mind:

The soft bigotry of lowered expectations.

There was on commenter at  FireDogLake who felt that instead of striking militarily, Israel should have “negotiated in good faith.”

Just how the would that happen?

Negotiations are how civilized people settle their disagreements. But for negotiations to succeed, there have to be two parties interested in settling their differences peacefully. And Hamas has — by word and deed — consistently asserted its utter disinterest in settling its differences with Israel peacefully.

The recent events are no aberration, but affirmation of that policy. They unilaterally declared a “truce” that was merely a diminution of attacks. Then, they declared an end to the truce and escalated the attacks.

Hamas has also repeatedly affirmed their commitment to their charter:

 Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

These are the words and deeds of Hamas. They offer no reasonable hope for negotiations or compromise.

So, is it fair to judge all Palestinians by the words and deeds of Hamas?  no. But Hamas is the legal representative government of the Gaza Strip, both de facto (by their lethal purging of Fatah from the Strip) and de jure (they won in fair elections, supervised by the international community). As a government ought to be liable to its people, so too a people must be liable for the actions of the government they choose. Hamas did not seize power, it was granted it by the populace.

As someone once wrote, “Freedom is the right to be responsible for your actions.” To deny people the responsibility of their actions is say that they aren’t capable of truly being free, that they need special considerations and compensations to fit in with “normal” people.

That is what the commenters at FireDogLake and other Hamas apologists are saying. They are saying that the Palestinians are somehow inferior, somehow less worthy of being treated as full human beings. They are little more than children, whose words and deeds you can’t take at face value, that they need to be indulged and protected from the same standards to which we hold others.

Hamas itself rejects this approach. They constantly reaffirm that they do, indeed, mean exactly what they say and do, and go to great lengths to prove it.

Taking a group like Hamas at their word, and reacting accordingly, is not racism. Insisting that “they don’t really mean what they are saying and doing,” however, is. And it is being practiced by those who, most often, denounce racism and racist behavior.

Read Less

The Age of Obama May Look Rather Familiar

With Israel’s retaliation in Gaza we once again undertake the effort to discern who it was we elected in November(dove? hawk? realist?) and what he intends to do that is so revolutionary, so transformational in American foreign policy. The New York Times is a bit puzzled:

Mr. Obama’s election has raised expectations, among allies and enemies alike, that new American policies are forthcoming, putting more pressure on him to signal more quickly what he intends to do. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Obama has not suggested he has any better ideas than President Bush had to resolve the existential conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.
.   .   .
For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

President-elect Obama remains silent, to an even greater degree than he did in the wake of the Mumbai massacre. Then he could manage to express shock and horror, and even condemn the terrorists’ ideology. But when it comes to Israel he’s playing his cards close to the vest. And it is really not hard to figure out why:

Early on as a candidate, Mr. Obama suggested that he did not necessarily oppose negotiations with groups like Hamas, though he spent much of the campaign retreating from that position under fire from critics.

By the time he arrived in Israel in July, he suggested he would not even consider talks without a fundamental shift in Hamas and its behavior, effectively moving his policy much closer to President Bush’s. “In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries,” he said then.

Mr. Obama received an intelligence briefing on Sunday and planned to talk late on Sunday to his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his choice as national security adviser, James L. Jones, according to a spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson.

One option would be for an Obama administration to respond much more harshly to Israel’s policies, from settlements to strikes like those this weekend, as many in the Arab world and beyond have long urged. On Sunday, though, Mr. Axelrod said the president-elect stood by the remarks he made in the summer and, when asked, noted the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama could try to pressure surrogates to lean on Hamas, including Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. He can try to build international pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks into Israel. He can try to nurture a peace between Israel and Mr. Abbas on the West Bank, hoping that somehow it spreads to Hamas. All have been tried, and all have failed to avoid new fighting.

As with so many aspects of the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda, it was far easier for candidate Obama, playing to the netroot crowd, to chastise Bush’s inability to solve the world’s problems and to vilify America’s conduct than it is for President-elect Obama to figure out what he might do differently.

In the case of the “Middle East peace process,” the Gaza counterattack underlines the obvious and central dilemma for even the most earnest diplomats: there isn’t a viable Palestinian peace partner for Israel to deal with. That’s not President Bush’s “fault” (goodness knows he expended enough energy simply to confirm that unpleasant fact). That’s the reality that President Bush faced and that President Obama will need to cope with as well.

Another reality: so long as Hamas is bent on Israel’s destruction, Israel will do what it deems necessary to defend itself, and most of the rest of the world will recoil in horror at the notion that Israel must kill those threatening its population. And if President Obama, like President Bush, is forced to veto UN resolutions seeking to condemn Israel for exercising its right of self-defense, will Obama also be “acting unilaterally” and “making enemies” around the world? International popularity is an elusive thing, it seems.

All of this may be troubling and deeply disappointing to those who were banking on the dawning of a new age in international relations. For some who were convinced that Obama was a unique figure able to bring us all together, it might seem unnerving to find out that it’s not so easy. Mumbai terrorists and Hamas seem unaware of the Age of Obama.

It remains to be seen once the protective cocoon of the transition period is lifted just how forceful President Obama will be in prosecuting the war on terror and in defending Israel’s right of self-defense. But he and his dreamy supporters may find that the Bush administration wasn’t the source of the world’s problems. And more importantly, the dramatic departures which some envisioned (e.g. immediate withdrawl of U.S. forces from Iraq, a Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, closing of Guantanamo) aren’t remotely possible any time soon.

With Israel’s retaliation in Gaza we once again undertake the effort to discern who it was we elected in November(dove? hawk? realist?) and what he intends to do that is so revolutionary, so transformational in American foreign policy. The New York Times is a bit puzzled:

Mr. Obama’s election has raised expectations, among allies and enemies alike, that new American policies are forthcoming, putting more pressure on him to signal more quickly what he intends to do. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Obama has not suggested he has any better ideas than President Bush had to resolve the existential conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.
.   .   .
For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

President-elect Obama remains silent, to an even greater degree than he did in the wake of the Mumbai massacre. Then he could manage to express shock and horror, and even condemn the terrorists’ ideology. But when it comes to Israel he’s playing his cards close to the vest. And it is really not hard to figure out why:

Early on as a candidate, Mr. Obama suggested that he did not necessarily oppose negotiations with groups like Hamas, though he spent much of the campaign retreating from that position under fire from critics.

By the time he arrived in Israel in July, he suggested he would not even consider talks without a fundamental shift in Hamas and its behavior, effectively moving his policy much closer to President Bush’s. “In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries,” he said then.

Mr. Obama received an intelligence briefing on Sunday and planned to talk late on Sunday to his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his choice as national security adviser, James L. Jones, according to a spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson.

One option would be for an Obama administration to respond much more harshly to Israel’s policies, from settlements to strikes like those this weekend, as many in the Arab world and beyond have long urged. On Sunday, though, Mr. Axelrod said the president-elect stood by the remarks he made in the summer and, when asked, noted the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama could try to pressure surrogates to lean on Hamas, including Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. He can try to build international pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks into Israel. He can try to nurture a peace between Israel and Mr. Abbas on the West Bank, hoping that somehow it spreads to Hamas. All have been tried, and all have failed to avoid new fighting.

As with so many aspects of the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda, it was far easier for candidate Obama, playing to the netroot crowd, to chastise Bush’s inability to solve the world’s problems and to vilify America’s conduct than it is for President-elect Obama to figure out what he might do differently.

In the case of the “Middle East peace process,” the Gaza counterattack underlines the obvious and central dilemma for even the most earnest diplomats: there isn’t a viable Palestinian peace partner for Israel to deal with. That’s not President Bush’s “fault” (goodness knows he expended enough energy simply to confirm that unpleasant fact). That’s the reality that President Bush faced and that President Obama will need to cope with as well.

Another reality: so long as Hamas is bent on Israel’s destruction, Israel will do what it deems necessary to defend itself, and most of the rest of the world will recoil in horror at the notion that Israel must kill those threatening its population. And if President Obama, like President Bush, is forced to veto UN resolutions seeking to condemn Israel for exercising its right of self-defense, will Obama also be “acting unilaterally” and “making enemies” around the world? International popularity is an elusive thing, it seems.

All of this may be troubling and deeply disappointing to those who were banking on the dawning of a new age in international relations. For some who were convinced that Obama was a unique figure able to bring us all together, it might seem unnerving to find out that it’s not so easy. Mumbai terrorists and Hamas seem unaware of the Age of Obama.

It remains to be seen once the protective cocoon of the transition period is lifted just how forceful President Obama will be in prosecuting the war on terror and in defending Israel’s right of self-defense. But he and his dreamy supporters may find that the Bush administration wasn’t the source of the world’s problems. And more importantly, the dramatic departures which some envisioned (e.g. immediate withdrawl of U.S. forces from Iraq, a Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, closing of Guantanamo) aren’t remotely possible any time soon.

Read Less

The Gaza War, Online Edition

So far, Hamas’s response to Israel’s pummeling aerial attack has been tepid. Not that over 30 rockets fired is trivial, but it’s a far cry from what was expected. YNet’s Alex Fishman offers the following explanation: Hamas is not firing back because it can’t, or at least not yet. Israel’s attack heavily targeted the lower rungs of its command structure and its communications network. The piece is worth a read.

Here’s a report about Israel’s use of brand new mini-bunker-buster bombs, just purchased from the U.S. This, combined with a massive intel effort lasting a year, has led to a major tactical advantage for Israel in the opening days.

And for a blow-by-blow account of the rapidly developing war, take a look at the Muqata blog.

So far, Hamas’s response to Israel’s pummeling aerial attack has been tepid. Not that over 30 rockets fired is trivial, but it’s a far cry from what was expected. YNet’s Alex Fishman offers the following explanation: Hamas is not firing back because it can’t, or at least not yet. Israel’s attack heavily targeted the lower rungs of its command structure and its communications network. The piece is worth a read.

Here’s a report about Israel’s use of brand new mini-bunker-buster bombs, just purchased from the U.S. This, combined with a massive intel effort lasting a year, has led to a major tactical advantage for Israel in the opening days.

And for a blow-by-blow account of the rapidly developing war, take a look at the Muqata blog.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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