Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 7, 2009

It Isn’t That Hard To Figure Out

A friend sends this insightful bit of analysis on Gaza by one  Ian O’Doherty. First, he goes after the moral equivalence claptrap which has absorbed the Left and much of the western media:

It’s a common feeling amongst residents of southern Israeli towns who have been the silent victims of a long campaign of violence, intimidation and murder carried out by Hamas. And now, finally, that the Israelis have said that enough is enough, they are somehow meant to be the aggressors?

There are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, but one of the main problems in this debate lies in the cowardly tendency of the Western media to apply equivalence to both sides.

Thus, Hamas is seen to be as legitimate a government as the Israelis, and its rocket attacks across the border from Gaza are seen as being part of a yet another, intractable, interminable Middle Eastern dispute.

There’s just one problem with that approach — it’s completely wrong.

Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamic organisation intent on the eradication of the state of Israel and all its citizens; a violent fascist regime that allows honour killings and the execution of homosexuals to continue in its sphere of influence. Bankrolled by Iran, it manages to make even Hezbollah look like a moderate organisation.

But Hamas is clever.

As a friend of mine from Sderot pointed out, one of its favourite tactics is to launch Qassams from Palestinian schoolyards — while the schools are still in session.

Hamas does this, you see, knowing that the IDF can’t immediately strike back (they can vector a rocket launch site within 90 seconds) because the last thing the Israelis need is footage of a devastated Palestinian school with dead kids.

And then he addresses the Left’s failure to perceive which side in the conflict is its political and moral ally:

But there’s a bigger picture here, something which Israelis have been trying to broadcast to the world, but which, thanks to their spectacular inability to accurately and sympathetically portray their point of view, has not been properly transmitted. It’s this — Israel is the front line of the war between democracy and Islamic fascism.

Would you rather live in a society with a free press, equal rights for women — and anyone who knows an Israeli woman will know that they’re not easily suppressed, anyway — equal rights for gay people and a proud and stubborn belief in the right of the individual to lead their life in the way that they see fit or would you rather exist in a society where women who dare to speak their mind are executed, where gay people are not just shunned but murdered and where having a dissenting thought marks you out for death?

The civilian deaths in Gaza are to be mourned, and anyone who says otherwise is reprehensible. But in a sick and twisted irony, they are mourned more by Israelis than by Hamas, who know that every dead Palestinian kid is worth another piece of propaganda.

Here in the West, where we share the same values as Israel, we need to start standing shoulder with this tiny oasis of democracy in a vast desert of savagery.

To do otherwise is moral cowardice of the most repugnant kind.

The temptation is great to avert your gaze or plead intellectual exhaustion when there seems to be suffering and death on every cable news station, day after day. But this latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like every other one that proceeded it, demands some intellectual clarity. Who is the aggressor? What does the right of self-defense entail? How do you live with an unrepentant foe on your doorstep?

There are plenty of facts — historical and current — to aid in the inquiries. What is in short supply is some honesty and a willingness by those on the Left (who claim to possess exquisitely fined-tuned antennae for injustice) to accept that simply because the Right, Israel, George W. Bush, and most mainstream Democrats agree on a position they needn’t reflexively oppose it.

A friend sends this insightful bit of analysis on Gaza by one  Ian O’Doherty. First, he goes after the moral equivalence claptrap which has absorbed the Left and much of the western media:

It’s a common feeling amongst residents of southern Israeli towns who have been the silent victims of a long campaign of violence, intimidation and murder carried out by Hamas. And now, finally, that the Israelis have said that enough is enough, they are somehow meant to be the aggressors?

There are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, but one of the main problems in this debate lies in the cowardly tendency of the Western media to apply equivalence to both sides.

Thus, Hamas is seen to be as legitimate a government as the Israelis, and its rocket attacks across the border from Gaza are seen as being part of a yet another, intractable, interminable Middle Eastern dispute.

There’s just one problem with that approach — it’s completely wrong.

Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamic organisation intent on the eradication of the state of Israel and all its citizens; a violent fascist regime that allows honour killings and the execution of homosexuals to continue in its sphere of influence. Bankrolled by Iran, it manages to make even Hezbollah look like a moderate organisation.

But Hamas is clever.

As a friend of mine from Sderot pointed out, one of its favourite tactics is to launch Qassams from Palestinian schoolyards — while the schools are still in session.

Hamas does this, you see, knowing that the IDF can’t immediately strike back (they can vector a rocket launch site within 90 seconds) because the last thing the Israelis need is footage of a devastated Palestinian school with dead kids.

And then he addresses the Left’s failure to perceive which side in the conflict is its political and moral ally:

But there’s a bigger picture here, something which Israelis have been trying to broadcast to the world, but which, thanks to their spectacular inability to accurately and sympathetically portray their point of view, has not been properly transmitted. It’s this — Israel is the front line of the war between democracy and Islamic fascism.

Would you rather live in a society with a free press, equal rights for women — and anyone who knows an Israeli woman will know that they’re not easily suppressed, anyway — equal rights for gay people and a proud and stubborn belief in the right of the individual to lead their life in the way that they see fit or would you rather exist in a society where women who dare to speak their mind are executed, where gay people are not just shunned but murdered and where having a dissenting thought marks you out for death?

The civilian deaths in Gaza are to be mourned, and anyone who says otherwise is reprehensible. But in a sick and twisted irony, they are mourned more by Israelis than by Hamas, who know that every dead Palestinian kid is worth another piece of propaganda.

Here in the West, where we share the same values as Israel, we need to start standing shoulder with this tiny oasis of democracy in a vast desert of savagery.

To do otherwise is moral cowardice of the most repugnant kind.

The temptation is great to avert your gaze or plead intellectual exhaustion when there seems to be suffering and death on every cable news station, day after day. But this latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like every other one that proceeded it, demands some intellectual clarity. Who is the aggressor? What does the right of self-defense entail? How do you live with an unrepentant foe on your doorstep?

There are plenty of facts — historical and current — to aid in the inquiries. What is in short supply is some honesty and a willingness by those on the Left (who claim to possess exquisitely fined-tuned antennae for injustice) to accept that simply because the Right, Israel, George W. Bush, and most mainstream Democrats agree on a position they needn’t reflexively oppose it.

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Inexperience Preferred

As the notion of Leon Panetta as Director of Central Intelligence has had time to percolate, I find myself reconsidering  his suitability for the position — and, for that matter, reconsidering also the qualifications of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Both nominees have been roundly criticized for lacking appropriate experience and credentials in the areas of their prospective posts. But on further reflection, these two might just be what the departments need.

On the surface, the two have very little in common. Hillary Clinton is known for being headstrong, short-tempered, fiercely independent, controlling, and outspoken. Panetta, on the other hand, is a bit of a “wonk,” best known for his competence, loyalty, and ability to keep secrets.

But it’s what the two have in common that’s most appealing. They are both highly unlikely to “go native” at their respective agencies. Historically, places like State and the CIA have a remarkable tendency to seduce their appointed political leaders into putting the interests and agendas of the bureaucracy over the policies of the president and the good of the nation. Many a fine person has been reduced to utter ineffectiveness once they move in to Langley or Foggy Bottom.

Our current Secretary of State is a  prime example. Condoleezza Rice was a renowned academic, hawkish, and part of the infamous “Vulcans” — the predominantly conservative and neoconservative group of advisors who counseled then-candidate George W. Bush on foreign policy. But since she got her top job, she’s become almost a parody of her former self.

Hillary Clinton, by her very nature, is highly unlikely to put the State Department’s ingrained bureaucracy’s agenda ahead of her own (or, possibly, that of Obama’s). Instead, she will likely command the fealty of her underlings and demand they toe her line. And woe betide any who dare openly cross her.

Panetta, at the CIA, will likely be inclined to focus on protecting Obama and pushing the Obama agenda. He will not easily fall for the traditional enticements and ploys that have captured prior CIA directors and enticed them to put the White House’s plans and priorities and policies on the back burner.

For a very long time, many people have called for a major housecleaning — or outright abolition — of the Department of State and the CIA. Neither are likely to happen, but if there are two people who are better equipped to give Foggy Bottom and Langley a brisk scrubbing and clean out the bureaucrats and career drones that have crippled our foreign policy and intelligence operations for decades, I can’t think of them.

And it could be worse, after all. Imagine, say, Joseph Wilson as Secretary of State and Valerie Plame heading up the CIA.

As the notion of Leon Panetta as Director of Central Intelligence has had time to percolate, I find myself reconsidering  his suitability for the position — and, for that matter, reconsidering also the qualifications of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Both nominees have been roundly criticized for lacking appropriate experience and credentials in the areas of their prospective posts. But on further reflection, these two might just be what the departments need.

On the surface, the two have very little in common. Hillary Clinton is known for being headstrong, short-tempered, fiercely independent, controlling, and outspoken. Panetta, on the other hand, is a bit of a “wonk,” best known for his competence, loyalty, and ability to keep secrets.

But it’s what the two have in common that’s most appealing. They are both highly unlikely to “go native” at their respective agencies. Historically, places like State and the CIA have a remarkable tendency to seduce their appointed political leaders into putting the interests and agendas of the bureaucracy over the policies of the president and the good of the nation. Many a fine person has been reduced to utter ineffectiveness once they move in to Langley or Foggy Bottom.

Our current Secretary of State is a  prime example. Condoleezza Rice was a renowned academic, hawkish, and part of the infamous “Vulcans” — the predominantly conservative and neoconservative group of advisors who counseled then-candidate George W. Bush on foreign policy. But since she got her top job, she’s become almost a parody of her former self.

Hillary Clinton, by her very nature, is highly unlikely to put the State Department’s ingrained bureaucracy’s agenda ahead of her own (or, possibly, that of Obama’s). Instead, she will likely command the fealty of her underlings and demand they toe her line. And woe betide any who dare openly cross her.

Panetta, at the CIA, will likely be inclined to focus on protecting Obama and pushing the Obama agenda. He will not easily fall for the traditional enticements and ploys that have captured prior CIA directors and enticed them to put the White House’s plans and priorities and policies on the back burner.

For a very long time, many people have called for a major housecleaning — or outright abolition — of the Department of State and the CIA. Neither are likely to happen, but if there are two people who are better equipped to give Foggy Bottom and Langley a brisk scrubbing and clean out the bureaucrats and career drones that have crippled our foreign policy and intelligence operations for decades, I can’t think of them.

And it could be worse, after all. Imagine, say, Joseph Wilson as Secretary of State and Valerie Plame heading up the CIA.

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Commentary of the Day

Stuart Koehl, on Shmuel Rosner:

Why is Walt conducting a “thought experiment” on what would happen if Jews were expelled from the country in which they live? This in fact happened time and time again in 1948-49, as Jews were expelled from Arab countries from Iraq to Algiers to Yemen. The key is not the expulsion, but the reaction to the expulsion.

When hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Muslim countries in the aftermath of the Israeli War of Independence, they were taken into the State of Israel, at great expense; housed, clothed, educated and trained, and eventually (despite some fairly strong social discrimination against them) became full members of Israeli society.

On the other hand, Palestinian Arabs who came under the control of other Arab governments were not welcomed as brother Arabs and co-religionists, but were installed in squalid refugee camps, used as helots, and ultimately as pawns and cannon fodder against the Israeli state. If there is a Palestinian refugee problem today, the responsibility rests with the Arabs, not the Israelis. If there is no Jewish refugee problem today, the responsibility likewise rests with Israel, and not with the Arabs.

Stuart Koehl, on Shmuel Rosner:

Why is Walt conducting a “thought experiment” on what would happen if Jews were expelled from the country in which they live? This in fact happened time and time again in 1948-49, as Jews were expelled from Arab countries from Iraq to Algiers to Yemen. The key is not the expulsion, but the reaction to the expulsion.

When hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Muslim countries in the aftermath of the Israeli War of Independence, they were taken into the State of Israel, at great expense; housed, clothed, educated and trained, and eventually (despite some fairly strong social discrimination against them) became full members of Israeli society.

On the other hand, Palestinian Arabs who came under the control of other Arab governments were not welcomed as brother Arabs and co-religionists, but were installed in squalid refugee camps, used as helots, and ultimately as pawns and cannon fodder against the Israeli state. If there is a Palestinian refugee problem today, the responsibility rests with the Arabs, not the Israelis. If there is no Jewish refugee problem today, the responsibility likewise rests with Israel, and not with the Arabs.

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Not Following the Talking Points

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California was one of many incumbent legislators endorsed by J Street PAC, the political action committee of J Street, the self-styled “pro-Israel, pro-peace organization” (it is in fact neither). Yesterday, Schiff issued a statement on the situation in Gaza, in which he asserted Israel’s “right to defend its territory and its people from attack,” praised it for “exercis[ing] great forbearance in the weeks prior to the formal breakdown of the ceasefire,” faulted the “international community” for not sufficiently condemning Hamas rocket attacks, and affirmed that “Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for provoking this attack and for putting 1.5 million Palestinians in harm’s way – a fact that Arab leaders from Egypt to Saudi Arabia have noted.” Schiff’s bold declaration of support for the Jewish State, his clear distinction between the war crimes of Hamas and the painstaking precision of Israeli military operations, and his criticism of the anti-Israel bias so evident in foreign capitals is utterly at odds with the disgusting moral equivocations of J Street and its supporters.

Schiff acknowledges that the Gaza operation may not be successful. “It is too early to tell if Israel’s military actions will quell the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza and shut down smuggling routes from Egypt,” he says. But, unlike the pacifists at J Street, he never questions Israel’s moral or legal right to do what it is doing, nor does he equate the actions of a democratic ally of the United States with a terrorist gang. With all due respect to Congressman Schiff, the folks at J Street should be wondering what they got with this endorsement.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California was one of many incumbent legislators endorsed by J Street PAC, the political action committee of J Street, the self-styled “pro-Israel, pro-peace organization” (it is in fact neither). Yesterday, Schiff issued a statement on the situation in Gaza, in which he asserted Israel’s “right to defend its territory and its people from attack,” praised it for “exercis[ing] great forbearance in the weeks prior to the formal breakdown of the ceasefire,” faulted the “international community” for not sufficiently condemning Hamas rocket attacks, and affirmed that “Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for provoking this attack and for putting 1.5 million Palestinians in harm’s way – a fact that Arab leaders from Egypt to Saudi Arabia have noted.” Schiff’s bold declaration of support for the Jewish State, his clear distinction between the war crimes of Hamas and the painstaking precision of Israeli military operations, and his criticism of the anti-Israel bias so evident in foreign capitals is utterly at odds with the disgusting moral equivocations of J Street and its supporters.

Schiff acknowledges that the Gaza operation may not be successful. “It is too early to tell if Israel’s military actions will quell the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza and shut down smuggling routes from Egypt,” he says. But, unlike the pacifists at J Street, he never questions Israel’s moral or legal right to do what it is doing, nor does he equate the actions of a democratic ally of the United States with a terrorist gang. With all due respect to Congressman Schiff, the folks at J Street should be wondering what they got with this endorsement.

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China, Sponsor of Hamas Terrorism

“Countries that pay for the rockets hitting Israel should be the recipients of Israel’s response,” writes Dan Hogan, a reader commenting on Bret Stephens’s latest column.  Of course, Hogan is referring to Iran.  But should we stop with the Islamic Republic?

Iran purchased the 122mm rockets that hit Israel.  We know this because Tehran’s version of the same 122mm weapon does not have sufficient range to hit the Israeli areas that came under bombardment last month.  And where did the mullahs buy these longer-range instruments of destruction?  That would be the People’s Republic of China.

Beijing always says it is a responsible arms manufacturer and cannot control where its weapons are used.  Is that so?  If you wanted to give the Chinese the benefit of every doubt–you shouldn’t, but that’s another story–you could argue they could not have known that Pakistani terrorists would choose to use China’s specialized blue grenades, manufactured by state-owned Norinco, in the November attacks in Mumbai.

But you can’t make the same argument about the rockets manufactured by China’s state-owned Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corp.  And why not?  The Chinese have been deeply involved in Iran’s use of the weapons it has purchased from them.  They have, for instance, been supplying the Iranians with small arms and the components for roadside bombs and have worked with Tehran so that these items could be put into the hands of insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan without interdiction.  In view of the long and close relationships with its Iranian customers on even purchases of small items, it is inconceivable Beijing did not know how its big rockets would be used.  Chinese officials might not have known that Hamas would fire one off at a school in Beersheba on December 31, but they had more than just an inkling they would be directed at citizens in southern Israel.

Washington calls China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community.  It’s not.  It is a state sponsor of terrorism even though it is not on the State Department’s terrorism-sponsorship list.  Beijing is complicit in Gaza.  The White House needs to say this out loud because its behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the Chinese is not working: China is continuing to supply Hamas.  And the United States is looking the other way.

So, Mr. Hogan, thanks for raising a critical issue.  Beijing must answer for its actions–and Washington needs to explain its silence.

“Countries that pay for the rockets hitting Israel should be the recipients of Israel’s response,” writes Dan Hogan, a reader commenting on Bret Stephens’s latest column.  Of course, Hogan is referring to Iran.  But should we stop with the Islamic Republic?

Iran purchased the 122mm rockets that hit Israel.  We know this because Tehran’s version of the same 122mm weapon does not have sufficient range to hit the Israeli areas that came under bombardment last month.  And where did the mullahs buy these longer-range instruments of destruction?  That would be the People’s Republic of China.

Beijing always says it is a responsible arms manufacturer and cannot control where its weapons are used.  Is that so?  If you wanted to give the Chinese the benefit of every doubt–you shouldn’t, but that’s another story–you could argue they could not have known that Pakistani terrorists would choose to use China’s specialized blue grenades, manufactured by state-owned Norinco, in the November attacks in Mumbai.

But you can’t make the same argument about the rockets manufactured by China’s state-owned Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corp.  And why not?  The Chinese have been deeply involved in Iran’s use of the weapons it has purchased from them.  They have, for instance, been supplying the Iranians with small arms and the components for roadside bombs and have worked with Tehran so that these items could be put into the hands of insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan without interdiction.  In view of the long and close relationships with its Iranian customers on even purchases of small items, it is inconceivable Beijing did not know how its big rockets would be used.  Chinese officials might not have known that Hamas would fire one off at a school in Beersheba on December 31, but they had more than just an inkling they would be directed at citizens in southern Israel.

Washington calls China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community.  It’s not.  It is a state sponsor of terrorism even though it is not on the State Department’s terrorism-sponsorship list.  Beijing is complicit in Gaza.  The White House needs to say this out loud because its behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the Chinese is not working: China is continuing to supply Hamas.  And the United States is looking the other way.

So, Mr. Hogan, thanks for raising a critical issue.  Beijing must answer for its actions–and Washington needs to explain its silence.

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The Looming Truce

In all likelihood, the fighting in Gaza will soon screech to a halt.  As Palestinian civilian casualties have mounted, Israel’s limited timetable for action against Hamas – a diplomatic reality around which Israel must work, fairly or unfairly – is quickly expiring.  Indeed, the diplomatic wheels are spinning furiously towards international consensus on a Franco-Egyptian truce – one that favors Israel’s limited war goal of ending the rocket firings, as well as preventing the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza.  Naturally, Israel has accepted these broad terms in principle as a starting point for negotiations.

However, when it comes to encouraging Hamas to accept and comply with the truce, the international community will find itself in a serious bind.  For starters, accepting this truce would force Hamas to admit defeat – something that it cannot possibly do if it hopes to maintain its standing within the Muslim world, as well as among many Palestinians.  Moreover, Hamas cannot accept a truce that it has had no part in negotiating – and the international community cannot permit Hamas’s involvement in negotiations, because doing so would reward Hamas for firing rockets and instigating a deadly war with Israel in the first place.  Remember: the west has long maintained its boycott against Hamas on account of its terrorism and rejection of Israel’s existence, and the international community cannot allow Hamas to emerge from the current conflict with sudden diplomatic legitimacy.

For this reason, the success of any forthcoming truce depends entirely on whether Israel’s attack on Gaza has weakened Hamas sufficiently.  If rockets are no longer fired – or, more likely, if they fall on southern Israel with far less frequency – it will only be because Israel effectively subdued Hamas’s capabilities (particularly in northern Gaza) and targeted enough of its leadership.  Alternatively, if the rockets and weapon smugglings continue, Israel will have on its hands another military failure.  Either way, we can count on Hamas to continue its efforts against Israel through any means at its disposal – the organization has demonstrated its distaste for truces (whether with Fatah or Israel), and it seems unresponsive to Israeli deterrence strategies (such as the credible threat of air strikes or ground invasion).

In turn, Israel’s war in Gaza will end much differently than its 2006 war in Lebanon.  Politically, Hamas’s absence from the truce negotiations will postpone the official verdict on whether Israel won or lost – it will be months before we know whether or not Hamas’s rocket capabilities have been redressed sufficiently.  For Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – the faces of Israel’s Gaza war – this delayed verdict could be a blessing, particularly as the February 10th elections loom.

In all likelihood, the fighting in Gaza will soon screech to a halt.  As Palestinian civilian casualties have mounted, Israel’s limited timetable for action against Hamas – a diplomatic reality around which Israel must work, fairly or unfairly – is quickly expiring.  Indeed, the diplomatic wheels are spinning furiously towards international consensus on a Franco-Egyptian truce – one that favors Israel’s limited war goal of ending the rocket firings, as well as preventing the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza.  Naturally, Israel has accepted these broad terms in principle as a starting point for negotiations.

However, when it comes to encouraging Hamas to accept and comply with the truce, the international community will find itself in a serious bind.  For starters, accepting this truce would force Hamas to admit defeat – something that it cannot possibly do if it hopes to maintain its standing within the Muslim world, as well as among many Palestinians.  Moreover, Hamas cannot accept a truce that it has had no part in negotiating – and the international community cannot permit Hamas’s involvement in negotiations, because doing so would reward Hamas for firing rockets and instigating a deadly war with Israel in the first place.  Remember: the west has long maintained its boycott against Hamas on account of its terrorism and rejection of Israel’s existence, and the international community cannot allow Hamas to emerge from the current conflict with sudden diplomatic legitimacy.

For this reason, the success of any forthcoming truce depends entirely on whether Israel’s attack on Gaza has weakened Hamas sufficiently.  If rockets are no longer fired – or, more likely, if they fall on southern Israel with far less frequency – it will only be because Israel effectively subdued Hamas’s capabilities (particularly in northern Gaza) and targeted enough of its leadership.  Alternatively, if the rockets and weapon smugglings continue, Israel will have on its hands another military failure.  Either way, we can count on Hamas to continue its efforts against Israel through any means at its disposal – the organization has demonstrated its distaste for truces (whether with Fatah or Israel), and it seems unresponsive to Israeli deterrence strategies (such as the credible threat of air strikes or ground invasion).

In turn, Israel’s war in Gaza will end much differently than its 2006 war in Lebanon.  Politically, Hamas’s absence from the truce negotiations will postpone the official verdict on whether Israel won or lost – it will be months before we know whether or not Hamas’s rocket capabilities have been redressed sufficiently.  For Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – the faces of Israel’s Gaza war – this delayed verdict could be a blessing, particularly as the February 10th elections loom.

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Progress on Anti-Israel Bias

Today’s Jerusalem Post editorial brought to mind the late, great David Bar-Illan. A concert pianist and longtime contributor to COMMENTARY, Bar-Illan joined the Jerusalem Post in 1990 as editorial page editor and soon inaugurated a column called Eye on the Media. The point was to expose media bias against Israel, and the response from some of our co-workers at the paper (where I was then employed) was less than enthusiastic.

I caught David in the hall after one of his first columns appeared. As we chatted, an oh-so-helpful colleague approached him with a scowl and waving a finger at him declared, “Come the revolution, they’re going to string you up!” I was shocked. David smiled and replied, “I’m right here, I’m waiting.”

At the time, methodically pointing out that major media outlets were peddling falsehoods and distorting the truth because of their anti-Israel bias wasn’t exactly mainstream. David was considered a hard-line, right wing hawk and his focus on the media was viewed by many as nothing so much as anti-Left fanaticism.

Today, The Jerusalem Post has another David at the helm but editor David Horovitz isn’t a right-winger by any stretch of the imagination (I worked for him too at the Jerusalem Report). Horovitz is a Zionist, though, and he obviously recognizes that the scourge of anti-Israel bias in the news media is so serious it must be exposed and denounced. Indeed, choosing the worst example of anti-Israel reporting for the editorial must have been a real chore. Mike McNally goes so far as to praise Israel for keeping journos out of Gaza.

Clearly the problem Bar-Illan exposed nearly 20 years ago has gotten so bad that now even liberal members of the Israeli media can see the truth. Is that an improvement over bitter denial?

Either way, we miss you David Bar-Illan.

Today’s Jerusalem Post editorial brought to mind the late, great David Bar-Illan. A concert pianist and longtime contributor to COMMENTARY, Bar-Illan joined the Jerusalem Post in 1990 as editorial page editor and soon inaugurated a column called Eye on the Media. The point was to expose media bias against Israel, and the response from some of our co-workers at the paper (where I was then employed) was less than enthusiastic.

I caught David in the hall after one of his first columns appeared. As we chatted, an oh-so-helpful colleague approached him with a scowl and waving a finger at him declared, “Come the revolution, they’re going to string you up!” I was shocked. David smiled and replied, “I’m right here, I’m waiting.”

At the time, methodically pointing out that major media outlets were peddling falsehoods and distorting the truth because of their anti-Israel bias wasn’t exactly mainstream. David was considered a hard-line, right wing hawk and his focus on the media was viewed by many as nothing so much as anti-Left fanaticism.

Today, The Jerusalem Post has another David at the helm but editor David Horovitz isn’t a right-winger by any stretch of the imagination (I worked for him too at the Jerusalem Report). Horovitz is a Zionist, though, and he obviously recognizes that the scourge of anti-Israel bias in the news media is so serious it must be exposed and denounced. Indeed, choosing the worst example of anti-Israel reporting for the editorial must have been a real chore. Mike McNally goes so far as to praise Israel for keeping journos out of Gaza.

Clearly the problem Bar-Illan exposed nearly 20 years ago has gotten so bad that now even liberal members of the Israeli media can see the truth. Is that an improvement over bitter denial?

Either way, we miss you David Bar-Illan.

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If It’s Really About His Biogrpahy . . .

Today, London’s Guardian featured an Op-Ed by former Israeli Avi Shlaim – the post-Zionist new historian and Oxford don. Shlaim, surprisingly, insists on propping up his own credentials by writing, “I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders . . . ”

How that would somehow strengthen what follows it remains a mystery. After all, ideas, as well as historical interpretations, stand on their merits, not on the identity or resume of whoever is advocating them at a given time. This holds true especially with Shlaim, because much of his self-characterization amounts to a lie. He may have served loyally in the mid-1960′s, but he has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Israel, called it an “Ashkenazi trick,” supported the one-state solution and gone so far as to argue that “Zionism today is the greatest enemy of the Jews.”  Should you not be a bit more honest, Mr. Shlaim?

Today, London’s Guardian featured an Op-Ed by former Israeli Avi Shlaim – the post-Zionist new historian and Oxford don. Shlaim, surprisingly, insists on propping up his own credentials by writing, “I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders . . . ”

How that would somehow strengthen what follows it remains a mystery. After all, ideas, as well as historical interpretations, stand on their merits, not on the identity or resume of whoever is advocating them at a given time. This holds true especially with Shlaim, because much of his self-characterization amounts to a lie. He may have served loyally in the mid-1960′s, but he has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Israel, called it an “Ashkenazi trick,” supported the one-state solution and gone so far as to argue that “Zionism today is the greatest enemy of the Jews.”  Should you not be a bit more honest, Mr. Shlaim?

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Virtu, Indeed

Andrew Sullivan waxes . . . something on non-violence:

It is not the dream of some neconservatives, for whom war is the only state of being that brings out public virtu. And constant war to advance what is seen as the good – and stiffen domestic sinews – is something devoutly to be wished. Cheney is a conservative of this stripe. Eisenhower was the opposite. McCain is a warrior; Ron Paul is a conservative of non-violence. At some deep philosophical level, this is the dividing line between Oakeshott and Strauss, as well. (And one has to ponder how Zionism may have contributed to this divide.)

I stand with Oakeshott and Eisenhower. Somehow, we have to recover the prudent, non-pacifist conservatism of non-violence and freedom. If not in America, where?

And what was Zionism’s contribution when this conservative of non-violence proclaimed this:

We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn’t merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners – specifically Russia, NATO, China – so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone – and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed.

Or this:

The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. . . . They must be destroyed – systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

Seems he couldn’t find his copy of Oakeshott that day. I particularly like the part about the necessity of a disproportionate response.

Andrew Sullivan waxes . . . something on non-violence:

It is not the dream of some neconservatives, for whom war is the only state of being that brings out public virtu. And constant war to advance what is seen as the good – and stiffen domestic sinews – is something devoutly to be wished. Cheney is a conservative of this stripe. Eisenhower was the opposite. McCain is a warrior; Ron Paul is a conservative of non-violence. At some deep philosophical level, this is the dividing line between Oakeshott and Strauss, as well. (And one has to ponder how Zionism may have contributed to this divide.)

I stand with Oakeshott and Eisenhower. Somehow, we have to recover the prudent, non-pacifist conservatism of non-violence and freedom. If not in America, where?

And what was Zionism’s contribution when this conservative of non-violence proclaimed this:

We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn’t merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners – specifically Russia, NATO, China – so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone – and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed.

Or this:

The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. . . . They must be destroyed – systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

Seems he couldn’t find his copy of Oakeshott that day. I particularly like the part about the necessity of a disproportionate response.

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Re: The Next President’s Inevitable Mistakes

Pete, I think you provide a timely and insightful warning about the dangers of excessive and unbridled criticism of a new administration facing enormous challenges. I have a few additional thoughts and a distinction to offer on the subject you raised.

We shouldn’t get too carried away with restraint in the effort to be good citizens and loyal opponents. It is entirely appropriate and indeed helpful to the cause of good governance to call it as we see it when the President makes an error. If an unqualified or an ethically questionable nominee is put forward, as I would argue are the cases with Leon Panetta and Eric Holder, respectively, then the criticism is not only warranted but vital. If the President comes out with a bloated and ill-conceived stimulus package critics shouldn’t pull their punches.

The errors the next President is likely to make will, I suspect, come from hubris and, specifically, the hubris which comes from having “handled” the press so effectively during the campaign. Unlike a Republican administration, which would exercise a second round of vetting and self-evaluation in advance of criticism it knows will be unleashed, the Obama team has come to expect a degree of latitude almost unheard of in American political coverage. This isn’t in the long run a good thing — it promotes laxity and puts a premium on political salesmanship over carefully thought out policy. The temptation to conclude that “no one will notice” or “this should fly under the radar” is great.

So I think observers, whether from the Left or the Right, are well advised to offer criticism when warranted. It might improve the decision making and cause the administration to think twice before embarking on a rash course of action.

But two caveats should apply, I think. First, praise shouldn’t be withheld when warranted. Many here at CONTENTIONS and elsewhere around the Right blogosphere have complimented some of the President-elect’s better national security personnel selections and defended him for reaching out to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, to cite two examples. There should be more of that sort of encouragement and praise as we go forward. It does conservatives no good to be stingy with compliments. To the contrary, it serves the policy aims of those on the Right to demonstrate that the President-elect’s efforts to move to the center (and indeed to the right) will be appreciated.

Second, conservatives should get out of the business of questioning the motives of their opponents. This (coupled with the vile language, ideological extremism and hyper-negativity) was the Left’s failing during the Bush years. And sometimes the Right fell into the same trap.  ”Bush lied”– he didn’t merely get the WMD intelligence wrong, the netroots cried. Bush, we were told, hated poor people, didn’t care about the environment and wanted to rip apart the Republican party on immigration reform to gain Hispanic votes. All of these were accusations of motive and intent, built on flimsy grounds. The legitimate policy differences with the administration became twisted into nefarious plots and sinister intentions.

Conservatives shouldn’t get into this messy business. It isn’t necessary or becoming. If the President-elect makes a bad pick for CIA or Attorney General, conservatives can say it without attributing a nasty motive. If he extends an olive branch to House Republicans, why accuse him of trying to sucker punch the opposition? And if he comes out with an ill-conceived national health care plan, conservatives should explain why it is ill-conceived. In short, argue the merits, not the intentions.

Pete, all of this is a long way of saying your overarching point was precisely correct: the manner and tone of the criticism of the next President should be an improvement, not a repetition of what we witnessed in the Bush years. In that regard, “changing the tone” in Washington is as much the responsibility of the loyal opposition as it is of the next President.

Pete, I think you provide a timely and insightful warning about the dangers of excessive and unbridled criticism of a new administration facing enormous challenges. I have a few additional thoughts and a distinction to offer on the subject you raised.

We shouldn’t get too carried away with restraint in the effort to be good citizens and loyal opponents. It is entirely appropriate and indeed helpful to the cause of good governance to call it as we see it when the President makes an error. If an unqualified or an ethically questionable nominee is put forward, as I would argue are the cases with Leon Panetta and Eric Holder, respectively, then the criticism is not only warranted but vital. If the President comes out with a bloated and ill-conceived stimulus package critics shouldn’t pull their punches.

The errors the next President is likely to make will, I suspect, come from hubris and, specifically, the hubris which comes from having “handled” the press so effectively during the campaign. Unlike a Republican administration, which would exercise a second round of vetting and self-evaluation in advance of criticism it knows will be unleashed, the Obama team has come to expect a degree of latitude almost unheard of in American political coverage. This isn’t in the long run a good thing — it promotes laxity and puts a premium on political salesmanship over carefully thought out policy. The temptation to conclude that “no one will notice” or “this should fly under the radar” is great.

So I think observers, whether from the Left or the Right, are well advised to offer criticism when warranted. It might improve the decision making and cause the administration to think twice before embarking on a rash course of action.

But two caveats should apply, I think. First, praise shouldn’t be withheld when warranted. Many here at CONTENTIONS and elsewhere around the Right blogosphere have complimented some of the President-elect’s better national security personnel selections and defended him for reaching out to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, to cite two examples. There should be more of that sort of encouragement and praise as we go forward. It does conservatives no good to be stingy with compliments. To the contrary, it serves the policy aims of those on the Right to demonstrate that the President-elect’s efforts to move to the center (and indeed to the right) will be appreciated.

Second, conservatives should get out of the business of questioning the motives of their opponents. This (coupled with the vile language, ideological extremism and hyper-negativity) was the Left’s failing during the Bush years. And sometimes the Right fell into the same trap.  ”Bush lied”– he didn’t merely get the WMD intelligence wrong, the netroots cried. Bush, we were told, hated poor people, didn’t care about the environment and wanted to rip apart the Republican party on immigration reform to gain Hispanic votes. All of these were accusations of motive and intent, built on flimsy grounds. The legitimate policy differences with the administration became twisted into nefarious plots and sinister intentions.

Conservatives shouldn’t get into this messy business. It isn’t necessary or becoming. If the President-elect makes a bad pick for CIA or Attorney General, conservatives can say it without attributing a nasty motive. If he extends an olive branch to House Republicans, why accuse him of trying to sucker punch the opposition? And if he comes out with an ill-conceived national health care plan, conservatives should explain why it is ill-conceived. In short, argue the merits, not the intentions.

Pete, all of this is a long way of saying your overarching point was precisely correct: the manner and tone of the criticism of the next President should be an improvement, not a repetition of what we witnessed in the Bush years. In that regard, “changing the tone” in Washington is as much the responsibility of the loyal opposition as it is of the next President.

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Don’t Count on Fatah

The always-astute Reuel Gerecht makes many important observations in his Wall Street Journal op-ed today. This point in particular is one that I don’t think enough people have grasped:

Although Fatah, the ruling party within the Palestinian Authority, may get a second wind thanks to the excesses of Hamas and the Israelis’ killing much of Hamas’s brain power and muscle, it is difficult to envision Fatah reviving itself into an appealing political alternative for faithful Palestinians. Fatah is hopelessly corrupt, often brutal, and without an inspiring raison d’être: a Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza is, as Hamas correctly points out, boring, historically unappealing, and a noncontiguous geographic mess. Fatah only sounds impassioned when it gives vent to its anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, profoundly Muslim roots. It’s no accident that the religious allusions and suicide bombers of Fatah and Hamas after 2000 were hard to tell apart. If Hamas can withstand the current Israeli attack on its leadership and infrastructure, then the movement’s aura will likely be impossible to match. Iran’s influence among religious Palestinians could skyrocket.

Fatah’s woes and lack of appeal are such that, in the near term, it’s hard to see any alternative government in Gaza other than Hamas. That doesn’t mean that the current military operations won’t deter Hamas from reining in its rockets; the odds are that Israel will buy itself some peace for the time being, which is why I think that what Israel is doing is a good idea.  But it is hard to see how Israel can create a longterm alternative in Gaza. Attempts to bring in outside peacekeepers or monitors aren’t likely to do much good, as witness the UN’s failure to stop Hezbollah’s rearmament. The bottom line is that there is only one state that is willing to commit its military resources to stop the terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank, and that is Israel. That, alas, is unlikely to change.

The always-astute Reuel Gerecht makes many important observations in his Wall Street Journal op-ed today. This point in particular is one that I don’t think enough people have grasped:

Although Fatah, the ruling party within the Palestinian Authority, may get a second wind thanks to the excesses of Hamas and the Israelis’ killing much of Hamas’s brain power and muscle, it is difficult to envision Fatah reviving itself into an appealing political alternative for faithful Palestinians. Fatah is hopelessly corrupt, often brutal, and without an inspiring raison d’être: a Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza is, as Hamas correctly points out, boring, historically unappealing, and a noncontiguous geographic mess. Fatah only sounds impassioned when it gives vent to its anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, profoundly Muslim roots. It’s no accident that the religious allusions and suicide bombers of Fatah and Hamas after 2000 were hard to tell apart. If Hamas can withstand the current Israeli attack on its leadership and infrastructure, then the movement’s aura will likely be impossible to match. Iran’s influence among religious Palestinians could skyrocket.

Fatah’s woes and lack of appeal are such that, in the near term, it’s hard to see any alternative government in Gaza other than Hamas. That doesn’t mean that the current military operations won’t deter Hamas from reining in its rockets; the odds are that Israel will buy itself some peace for the time being, which is why I think that what Israel is doing is a good idea.  But it is hard to see how Israel can create a longterm alternative in Gaza. Attempts to bring in outside peacekeepers or monitors aren’t likely to do much good, as witness the UN’s failure to stop Hezbollah’s rearmament. The bottom line is that there is only one state that is willing to commit its military resources to stop the terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank, and that is Israel. That, alas, is unlikely to change.

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Just Like Me!

Sensing that the tide has turned against Caroline Kennedy, Maureen Dowd rides to her rescue. Dowd coos:

I know Caroline Kennedy. She’s smart, cultivated, serious and unpretentious. The Senate, shamefully sparse on profiles in courage during Dick Cheney’s reign of terror, would be lucky to get her.

You sense that between the second and third sentences Dowd was sorely tempted to insert: “Just like me!”

So now, with the election safely behind us and Sarah Palin tucked away back in Alaska, the truth can be told. Identity politics is not, in itself, objectionable — it just depends on the  identity. Not okay: small town, funny accent, overt religiosity, non-tony education. Okay: Manhattan address, Ivy League, discreet attire, impeccable lineage. (In other words, just like Dowd’s inner circle.)

And how do we know Caroline is “serious”? After all, she couldn’t muster any particularly unique policy views in her jaw-dropping media debut and her “scholarship” is either a compilation of others’ works, family tributes or both (as in a compilation of Jackie’s  favorite poetry). Now Dowd concedes that “It isn’t what your name is. It’s what you do with it.” So what precisely has Carline done?

Of course Dowd can’t resist invoking “profiles in courage” because that’s Caroline’s true claim to fame: her father. We have no reason to believe, however, that Caroline would be courageous. Her life is devoid of acts of political boldness, personal sacrifice or original thinking.

Certainly she could do something substantive and distinctive in her life, which might account for why she (or more likely a pushy relative) is eying the Senate. But let’s give up the pretense that she is anything more than the epitome of identity politics. She just happens to possess an identity to which Dowd can relate.

Sensing that the tide has turned against Caroline Kennedy, Maureen Dowd rides to her rescue. Dowd coos:

I know Caroline Kennedy. She’s smart, cultivated, serious and unpretentious. The Senate, shamefully sparse on profiles in courage during Dick Cheney’s reign of terror, would be lucky to get her.

You sense that between the second and third sentences Dowd was sorely tempted to insert: “Just like me!”

So now, with the election safely behind us and Sarah Palin tucked away back in Alaska, the truth can be told. Identity politics is not, in itself, objectionable — it just depends on the  identity. Not okay: small town, funny accent, overt religiosity, non-tony education. Okay: Manhattan address, Ivy League, discreet attire, impeccable lineage. (In other words, just like Dowd’s inner circle.)

And how do we know Caroline is “serious”? After all, she couldn’t muster any particularly unique policy views in her jaw-dropping media debut and her “scholarship” is either a compilation of others’ works, family tributes or both (as in a compilation of Jackie’s  favorite poetry). Now Dowd concedes that “It isn’t what your name is. It’s what you do with it.” So what precisely has Carline done?

Of course Dowd can’t resist invoking “profiles in courage” because that’s Caroline’s true claim to fame: her father. We have no reason to believe, however, that Caroline would be courageous. Her life is devoid of acts of political boldness, personal sacrifice or original thinking.

Certainly she could do something substantive and distinctive in her life, which might account for why she (or more likely a pushy relative) is eying the Senate. But let’s give up the pretense that she is anything more than the epitome of identity politics. She just happens to possess an identity to which Dowd can relate.

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Mourning the Palestinian State

Christopher Hitchens watches what is happening now in Gaza and mourns for what could have been – a “self-determined Palestinian state.”

[Hamas] knows very well that sanctions are injuring every Palestinian citizen, but-just like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq-it declines to cease the indiscriminate violence and the racist and religious demagogy that led to the sanctions in the first place.  [ . . . ] At a time when democratic and reformist trends are observable in the region, from Lebanon to the Gulf, Hamas’ leadership is physically and economically a part of the clientele of two of the area’s worst dictatorships [Iran and Syria].  [ . . . ]  Gaza could have been a prefiguration of a future self-determined Palestinian state. Instead, it has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and made into a place of repression for its inhabitants and aggression for its neighbors.

But long before Hamas “hijacked” the future Palestinian state, the actually existing one was doomed by its well-wishers who stood by and excused the Hobbesian state it promptly became — from the very first week after Israel turned over all of Gaza to “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas so the Palestinians could live “side by side in peace and security.”

Writing on September 19, 2005, a week into the new Palestinian state in Gaza, this is what Hitchens had to say about the chaos, violence, and raw anti-Semitism that characterized the first week of pure Palestinian self-rule:

Suppose someone were to come to me, after reading the papers last week, and say-Look: No sooner did Israeli troops leave Gaza than mobs began to loot and destroy even the greenhouses that had been left there as part of their agricultural infrastructure. The police of the Palestinian Authority, who had ample warning of the deadline, managed to post a total of 70 policemen at these valuable sites, who could do no more than stand by as people scavenged and stole. The synagogues left behind by the settlers, which the Israelis were too squeamish to destroy, could perhaps have been preserved for a day or so until a decision was made about what to do with them (a museum, perhaps, or even a school-religious buildings have no special sacredness for me), but they were simply and viciously torched. Gangs of ruffians and blackmailers roam Gaza unchecked, and even tolerated, and prey upon their fellows. Clerical extremist parties flourish their banners and mouth fearsome oaths and slogans. The promise to respect the border with Egypt is void, and smugglers and mobsters laugh at the authorities. So, now how do you like your Palestinian state?

Hitchens’s answer to his own question was that he still liked it:

It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t alter the case.  The right of the Palestinians to a homeland and flag and passport of their own is in the first place inalienable . . .

Too late smart, Hitchens must by now realize that not only is there no such thing as a right to a state (ask the Kurds), but that even if there were, it is not “inalienable.”  In fact, the Palestinians alienated it.

They demonstrated from day one in September 2005 that they were not ready for a state, and they are even less ready today.  Before their current catastrophe (which, just like the one in 1948, they brought upon themselves), they could not even determine whether their “president” (elected in 2005 running essentially unopposed) would or would not be properly in office come January 10.  A workable judicial system to decide such questions would come in handy when you’re trying to implement an inalienable right to a state.  Their succession to their current rulers in 2007 was managed by throwing their fellow putative citizens from the tops of buildings.  They have spent the last three years firing rockets indiscriminately at a civilian population.  They currently fight from civilian buildings, using human shields.

Those who stood by month after month, year after year, as rockets flew into Israel and thought it did not alter the case (although it undoubtedly broke their hearts) did the Palestinians no favor.  A corroding culture does not lead to a state, but to a state of nature.  Likewise those currently seeking to stop Israel before it can dismantle Hamas are doing the Palestinians no favor; on the contrary, they are consigning them to an even worse future.

It is more than three years past the time when anyone could reasonably argue that the problem was an “occupation.”  And now even Hitchens knows that their state would be simply a client state of two of the area’s worst dictatorships, one of them a genocidal religious theocracy.  Perhaps he still doesn’t think that alters the case, but it does.

Christopher Hitchens watches what is happening now in Gaza and mourns for what could have been – a “self-determined Palestinian state.”

[Hamas] knows very well that sanctions are injuring every Palestinian citizen, but-just like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq-it declines to cease the indiscriminate violence and the racist and religious demagogy that led to the sanctions in the first place.  [ . . . ] At a time when democratic and reformist trends are observable in the region, from Lebanon to the Gulf, Hamas’ leadership is physically and economically a part of the clientele of two of the area’s worst dictatorships [Iran and Syria].  [ . . . ]  Gaza could have been a prefiguration of a future self-determined Palestinian state. Instead, it has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and made into a place of repression for its inhabitants and aggression for its neighbors.

But long before Hamas “hijacked” the future Palestinian state, the actually existing one was doomed by its well-wishers who stood by and excused the Hobbesian state it promptly became — from the very first week after Israel turned over all of Gaza to “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas so the Palestinians could live “side by side in peace and security.”

Writing on September 19, 2005, a week into the new Palestinian state in Gaza, this is what Hitchens had to say about the chaos, violence, and raw anti-Semitism that characterized the first week of pure Palestinian self-rule:

Suppose someone were to come to me, after reading the papers last week, and say-Look: No sooner did Israeli troops leave Gaza than mobs began to loot and destroy even the greenhouses that had been left there as part of their agricultural infrastructure. The police of the Palestinian Authority, who had ample warning of the deadline, managed to post a total of 70 policemen at these valuable sites, who could do no more than stand by as people scavenged and stole. The synagogues left behind by the settlers, which the Israelis were too squeamish to destroy, could perhaps have been preserved for a day or so until a decision was made about what to do with them (a museum, perhaps, or even a school-religious buildings have no special sacredness for me), but they were simply and viciously torched. Gangs of ruffians and blackmailers roam Gaza unchecked, and even tolerated, and prey upon their fellows. Clerical extremist parties flourish their banners and mouth fearsome oaths and slogans. The promise to respect the border with Egypt is void, and smugglers and mobsters laugh at the authorities. So, now how do you like your Palestinian state?

Hitchens’s answer to his own question was that he still liked it:

It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t alter the case.  The right of the Palestinians to a homeland and flag and passport of their own is in the first place inalienable . . .

Too late smart, Hitchens must by now realize that not only is there no such thing as a right to a state (ask the Kurds), but that even if there were, it is not “inalienable.”  In fact, the Palestinians alienated it.

They demonstrated from day one in September 2005 that they were not ready for a state, and they are even less ready today.  Before their current catastrophe (which, just like the one in 1948, they brought upon themselves), they could not even determine whether their “president” (elected in 2005 running essentially unopposed) would or would not be properly in office come January 10.  A workable judicial system to decide such questions would come in handy when you’re trying to implement an inalienable right to a state.  Their succession to their current rulers in 2007 was managed by throwing their fellow putative citizens from the tops of buildings.  They have spent the last three years firing rockets indiscriminately at a civilian population.  They currently fight from civilian buildings, using human shields.

Those who stood by month after month, year after year, as rockets flew into Israel and thought it did not alter the case (although it undoubtedly broke their hearts) did the Palestinians no favor.  A corroding culture does not lead to a state, but to a state of nature.  Likewise those currently seeking to stop Israel before it can dismantle Hamas are doing the Palestinians no favor; on the contrary, they are consigning them to an even worse future.

It is more than three years past the time when anyone could reasonably argue that the problem was an “occupation.”  And now even Hitchens knows that their state would be simply a client state of two of the area’s worst dictatorships, one of them a genocidal religious theocracy.  Perhaps he still doesn’t think that alters the case, but it does.

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Palestinians’ Easy Fix

In the Times of London, Daniel Finkelstein writes,

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Talk about proportionality. Israel is asked to endure daily rocket attacks, ignore the conspiring forces of destruction on its borders, and to focus its energies on giving more land to their assailants. While all that’s required of Hamas is that they acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Forget about cease-fires and road maps: Hamas has yet to get on board with point one of the social contract that allows for coexistence on the planet. As Finkelstein reminds us:

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes.

This is not much different from saying, there cannot be peace.

In the Times of London, Daniel Finkelstein writes,

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Talk about proportionality. Israel is asked to endure daily rocket attacks, ignore the conspiring forces of destruction on its borders, and to focus its energies on giving more land to their assailants. While all that’s required of Hamas is that they acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Forget about cease-fires and road maps: Hamas has yet to get on board with point one of the social contract that allows for coexistence on the planet. As Finkelstein reminds us:

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes.

This is not much different from saying, there cannot be peace.

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Why Is the West Bank Quiet?

Writing for the Jerusalem Post in Ramallah, the Palestinian capital, Khaled Abu Toameh offers a crucial picture of the other Palestinians: those in the West Bank. While protesters denounce Israel by the tens of thousands not only in Europe, but also in Israeli-Arab towns like Sakhnin and Um el-Fahm, protests in the Palestinian-Authority controlled West Bank have not been able to attract more than a few hundred at a time. This, despite calls by Hamas leader Khaled Mashal for a “third intifada.” Why?

Abu Toameh offers a series of answers. Here’s the first:

One [reason] has to do with the tough measures imposed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank. The PA has banned pro-Hamas rallies, and Palestinians who were caught carrying Hamas flags were either beaten or detained by Abbas’s forces.

We get it, right? PA leader Mouhammed Abbas is worried that too much support for Hamas will undermine his regime, perhaps even leading to an overthrow similar to the one that brought Hamas to power in Gaza.

But wait: What about the famous “Arab street”? Aren’t the Palestinian people just beside themselves with anger at Israel’s wanton killing of Palestinian children in Gaza? So the demonstrations don’t have to support Hamas — but shouldn’t there still be widespread rioting, violence against IDF soldiers, or massive protests against Israel? Here’s Abu Toameh again:

Another reason behind the relative calm is attributed to the fact that some Palestinians blame Hamas for the latest cycle of violence. They are convinced that Hamas was responsible for the misery of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip because of its refusal to extend the cease-fire and its continued rocket attacks on Israel.

It’s also possible that the West Bankers today feel that they have more to lose by resorting to violence. Over the past two years, their economic situation has improved remarkably as the international community resumed financial aid to the PA. In contrast, the situation in the Gaza Strip ever since Hamas took full control over the area has only been deteriorating, on almost all levels.

Now, there’s a headline. The great majority of Palestinians, it is being suggested, don’t feel that the war in Gaza is really something worth protesting. According to this theory, the Palestinians know what the alternatives are, know who’s to blame, and recognize that there might be another way to go on with their lives other than by dedicating them to suicidal support for fanatical terrorists.

Of course, maybe this is wrong. Maybe the first answer is closer: they are not protesting because they have been told not to, and they do what they’re told.

All this leaves us with a small number of possibilities regarding the Palestinians, at least one of which must be true, but none of which fit well with the anti-Israel narrative:

1. That the “Arab street” is a myth, and that violent protests are always directed top-down, even in the face of so-called Israeli atrocities;

2. That West Bank Palestinians are starting to understand that renouncing terror and violence might have serious advantages;

3. That the destruction of the Hamas regime is of importance not only to the West, and not only to the tacitly supportive Egyptians, but even to most Palestinians, even at the cost of civilian casualties in Gaza;

4. That Palestinian national identity is a lot weaker than we are usually told — that West Bankers are more willing to support their local regime and way of life than their brethren in Gaza.

World leaders, take note.

Writing for the Jerusalem Post in Ramallah, the Palestinian capital, Khaled Abu Toameh offers a crucial picture of the other Palestinians: those in the West Bank. While protesters denounce Israel by the tens of thousands not only in Europe, but also in Israeli-Arab towns like Sakhnin and Um el-Fahm, protests in the Palestinian-Authority controlled West Bank have not been able to attract more than a few hundred at a time. This, despite calls by Hamas leader Khaled Mashal for a “third intifada.” Why?

Abu Toameh offers a series of answers. Here’s the first:

One [reason] has to do with the tough measures imposed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank. The PA has banned pro-Hamas rallies, and Palestinians who were caught carrying Hamas flags were either beaten or detained by Abbas’s forces.

We get it, right? PA leader Mouhammed Abbas is worried that too much support for Hamas will undermine his regime, perhaps even leading to an overthrow similar to the one that brought Hamas to power in Gaza.

But wait: What about the famous “Arab street”? Aren’t the Palestinian people just beside themselves with anger at Israel’s wanton killing of Palestinian children in Gaza? So the demonstrations don’t have to support Hamas — but shouldn’t there still be widespread rioting, violence against IDF soldiers, or massive protests against Israel? Here’s Abu Toameh again:

Another reason behind the relative calm is attributed to the fact that some Palestinians blame Hamas for the latest cycle of violence. They are convinced that Hamas was responsible for the misery of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip because of its refusal to extend the cease-fire and its continued rocket attacks on Israel.

It’s also possible that the West Bankers today feel that they have more to lose by resorting to violence. Over the past two years, their economic situation has improved remarkably as the international community resumed financial aid to the PA. In contrast, the situation in the Gaza Strip ever since Hamas took full control over the area has only been deteriorating, on almost all levels.

Now, there’s a headline. The great majority of Palestinians, it is being suggested, don’t feel that the war in Gaza is really something worth protesting. According to this theory, the Palestinians know what the alternatives are, know who’s to blame, and recognize that there might be another way to go on with their lives other than by dedicating them to suicidal support for fanatical terrorists.

Of course, maybe this is wrong. Maybe the first answer is closer: they are not protesting because they have been told not to, and they do what they’re told.

All this leaves us with a small number of possibilities regarding the Palestinians, at least one of which must be true, but none of which fit well with the anti-Israel narrative:

1. That the “Arab street” is a myth, and that violent protests are always directed top-down, even in the face of so-called Israeli atrocities;

2. That West Bank Palestinians are starting to understand that renouncing terror and violence might have serious advantages;

3. That the destruction of the Hamas regime is of importance not only to the West, and not only to the tacitly supportive Egyptians, but even to most Palestinians, even at the cost of civilian casualties in Gaza;

4. That Palestinian national identity is a lot weaker than we are usually told — that West Bankers are more willing to support their local regime and way of life than their brethren in Gaza.

World leaders, take note.

Read Less

Damage Control

The Obama team’s damage control operation on Leon Panetta’s selection for CIA Director ramped up yesterday with the usual combination of expressed contrition (to the slighted Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats), newly rounded up allies (e.g. Evan Bayh),  and some soothing words from the President-elect. This report explains:

President-elect Barack Obama phoned key lawmakers to defend the selection of Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency and quell concerns over Mr. Panetta’s lack of first-hand intelligence experience.

In his first public comments on intelligence matters since the election, Mr. Obama also promised that his intelligence team would break from Bush administration practices that he said had “tarnished” the government’s image.

The Obama team’s efforts met with mixed results:

Sen. Feinstein, who also heard from Vice President-elect Joe Biden, hasn’t yet been won over. Messrs. Obama and Biden “have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA director,” Sen. Feinstein said Tuesday. “I look forward to speaking with Mr. Panetta about the critical issues facing the intelligence community and his plans to address them.”

As fellow California Democrats, Sen. Feinstein and Mr. Panetta are longtime friends, said one person familiar with their relationship. “She holds him in high regard,” this person said. “It’s not at all any kind of enmity.” But Sen. Feinstein remains concerned about putting someone without hands-on intelligence experience at the helm of the CIA, the person added.

Sen. Rockefeller, an early supporter of Sen. Obama’s candidacy, said he and Mr. Obama “had a good conversation,” according to a Rockefeller aide. “They agreed that perhaps yesterday hadn’t been handled as well as it possibly could have but they’ll move forward from here,” the aide added.

Clearly things have gotten off on the wrong foot:

Although several top CIA officials who have interacted with Obama since the election expressed admiration for his grasp of the issues, the transition process has clearly left a bad taste. One senior official said that “the process was completely opaque” and that the agency was neither consulted nor informed. The official was among several who discussed the subject on the condition of anonymity.

A second official who had worked with President Bill Clinton’s national security team while Panetta was chief of staff said he had no recollection of Panetta taking an active role in intelligence briefings or discussions of CIA policy and practice.

“He just didn’t make an impression,” said the official, who also requested anonymity so he could speak freely.

(Ouch.)

Sen. Feinstein is right to be wary. Should the unimaginable occur during Panetta’s tenure, anyone and everyone who did not seriously evaluate and raise objections to placing someone in that role with no real intelligence background is going to pay a heavy price. Fairly or not, an intelligence failure on Panetta’s watch will be viewed as more than the CIA’s failure. Blame will be spread among the President and the approving Senators who put an intelligence novice in that role. Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer lays out the concern:

It is certainly a risky pick. The virtues are political and intellectual. Panetta is an extremely smart individual with extensive experience in the executive and legislative branches of government. Using these skills, he can potentially help the Agency rebuild itself through new ideas about gathering intelligence and by building strong coalitions of support in Washington. This is desperately needed, in ways that were true of the CIA after the Bay of Pigs in 1961.Then there is the risk. Directing the CIA is one of the most important jobs in the war on terrorism, as intelligence is our central weapon. Given that he has almost no experience in this area, this will put him at a disadvantage and require extraordinary learning on the job. Unlike some other areas of policy, this is one where international challenges and developments set the agenda rather than vice versa so inexperience can be costly.

Now, critics both from the left and the right who see the CIA as ineffective (or worse) might not be overly concerned if a budget guru gets put in charge of a key intelligence agency. There are some who don’t much care if Panetta really isn’t in a position to effectively provide the daily intelligence briefings to the President. Others might not be concerned if the Pentagon continues to assume a bigger and bigger intelligence role. Well, those argument are fine, if made on the merits. But so long as we’re operating under the premise that CIA is key in our national security structure and requires not just a fine manager but a knowledgeable one, then it seems the Panetta selection is playing with fire.

This isn’t the Commerce Department or a White House staff position. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation is blunt:

The CIA appointment is unlike most senior government positions, the director runs an “operational agency” where life and limb are on the line every day. Not an ideal place for on the job training. Additionally, this is a community of professionals that eye outsiders with caution. Look at the challenges Porter Goss faced and he was a veteran intelligence officer and ran the House oversight committee.

And I suspect that’s what Feinstein and a number of other Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, are going to be chewing over. (And yes, we’ve had “outsiders” at the CIA before but their record is mixed — that was pre- 9/11 and it’s hard to recall a CIA Director with as little recent intelligence experience as Panetta.) It’s quite a gamble.

The Obama team’s damage control operation on Leon Panetta’s selection for CIA Director ramped up yesterday with the usual combination of expressed contrition (to the slighted Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats), newly rounded up allies (e.g. Evan Bayh),  and some soothing words from the President-elect. This report explains:

President-elect Barack Obama phoned key lawmakers to defend the selection of Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency and quell concerns over Mr. Panetta’s lack of first-hand intelligence experience.

In his first public comments on intelligence matters since the election, Mr. Obama also promised that his intelligence team would break from Bush administration practices that he said had “tarnished” the government’s image.

The Obama team’s efforts met with mixed results:

Sen. Feinstein, who also heard from Vice President-elect Joe Biden, hasn’t yet been won over. Messrs. Obama and Biden “have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA director,” Sen. Feinstein said Tuesday. “I look forward to speaking with Mr. Panetta about the critical issues facing the intelligence community and his plans to address them.”

As fellow California Democrats, Sen. Feinstein and Mr. Panetta are longtime friends, said one person familiar with their relationship. “She holds him in high regard,” this person said. “It’s not at all any kind of enmity.” But Sen. Feinstein remains concerned about putting someone without hands-on intelligence experience at the helm of the CIA, the person added.

Sen. Rockefeller, an early supporter of Sen. Obama’s candidacy, said he and Mr. Obama “had a good conversation,” according to a Rockefeller aide. “They agreed that perhaps yesterday hadn’t been handled as well as it possibly could have but they’ll move forward from here,” the aide added.

Clearly things have gotten off on the wrong foot:

Although several top CIA officials who have interacted with Obama since the election expressed admiration for his grasp of the issues, the transition process has clearly left a bad taste. One senior official said that “the process was completely opaque” and that the agency was neither consulted nor informed. The official was among several who discussed the subject on the condition of anonymity.

A second official who had worked with President Bill Clinton’s national security team while Panetta was chief of staff said he had no recollection of Panetta taking an active role in intelligence briefings or discussions of CIA policy and practice.

“He just didn’t make an impression,” said the official, who also requested anonymity so he could speak freely.

(Ouch.)

Sen. Feinstein is right to be wary. Should the unimaginable occur during Panetta’s tenure, anyone and everyone who did not seriously evaluate and raise objections to placing someone in that role with no real intelligence background is going to pay a heavy price. Fairly or not, an intelligence failure on Panetta’s watch will be viewed as more than the CIA’s failure. Blame will be spread among the President and the approving Senators who put an intelligence novice in that role. Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer lays out the concern:

It is certainly a risky pick. The virtues are political and intellectual. Panetta is an extremely smart individual with extensive experience in the executive and legislative branches of government. Using these skills, he can potentially help the Agency rebuild itself through new ideas about gathering intelligence and by building strong coalitions of support in Washington. This is desperately needed, in ways that were true of the CIA after the Bay of Pigs in 1961.Then there is the risk. Directing the CIA is one of the most important jobs in the war on terrorism, as intelligence is our central weapon. Given that he has almost no experience in this area, this will put him at a disadvantage and require extraordinary learning on the job. Unlike some other areas of policy, this is one where international challenges and developments set the agenda rather than vice versa so inexperience can be costly.

Now, critics both from the left and the right who see the CIA as ineffective (or worse) might not be overly concerned if a budget guru gets put in charge of a key intelligence agency. There are some who don’t much care if Panetta really isn’t in a position to effectively provide the daily intelligence briefings to the President. Others might not be concerned if the Pentagon continues to assume a bigger and bigger intelligence role. Well, those argument are fine, if made on the merits. But so long as we’re operating under the premise that CIA is key in our national security structure and requires not just a fine manager but a knowledgeable one, then it seems the Panetta selection is playing with fire.

This isn’t the Commerce Department or a White House staff position. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation is blunt:

The CIA appointment is unlike most senior government positions, the director runs an “operational agency” where life and limb are on the line every day. Not an ideal place for on the job training. Additionally, this is a community of professionals that eye outsiders with caution. Look at the challenges Porter Goss faced and he was a veteran intelligence officer and ran the House oversight committee.

And I suspect that’s what Feinstein and a number of other Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, are going to be chewing over. (And yes, we’ve had “outsiders” at the CIA before but their record is mixed — that was pre- 9/11 and it’s hard to recall a CIA Director with as little recent intelligence experience as Panetta.) It’s quite a gamble.

Read Less

The Next President’s Inevitable Mistakes

Today’s Washington Post includes two large headlines above the fold: “Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection”  and “Senators Turn Burris Away at Capitol.”

According to the first story,

current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama’s choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director and suggested that the agency suffers from incompetent leadership and low morale. “People who suggest morale is low don’t have a clue about what’s going on now,” said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield, citing recent personnel reforms under Director Michael V. Hayden.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were still stewing over Obama not consulting them on the choice before it was leaked Monday and continued to question Panetta’s intelligence experience. Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. acknowledged that the transition team had made a “mistake” in not consulting or even notifying congressional leaders, and Obama telephoned committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her predecessor, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), yesterday to apologize.

…. The Panetta uproar starts Obama off on the wrong foot with the committee and intelligence professionals and was the latest glitch in what has largely been an unusually smooth and carefully choreographed transition.

… Although several top CIA officials who have interacted with Obama since the election expressed admiration for his grasp of the issues, the transition process has clearly left a bad taste. One senior official said that “the process was completely opaque” and that the agency was neither consulted nor informed.

The second story reports

[Roland] Burris’s single-minded push may yet succeed. Senate Democrats, once sharply opposed to allowing Burris to be seated because he was appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), are now considering allowing him to serve as a way to end a confrontation that could drag on for weeks and distract from what they hope will be an end to a decade of gridlock on Capitol Hill. One idea being considered, Democratic officials said, is allowing Burris to be seated if he agrees not to run for election in 2010, allowing the party to recruit another candidate to defend the seat (Burris has lost multiple statewide races in Illinois).

Sen. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) plan to meet with Burris today on Capitol Hill, and the two leaders are undoubtedly eager to defuse a situation in which their resistance to the appointment could alienate black voters.

These stories come in the wake of the withdrawal by Bill Richardson to be Secretary of Commerce, due to a grand jury investigation that had been focusing on Richardson’s gubernatorial office and a possible “pay-to-play” arrangement. Another headline in the Post put it this way:

Richardson, Obama Teams Trade Blame

So Barack Obama has not yet been sworn in and the 111th Congress has been in power for all of a day, and both are beginning to slip on banana peels. All of a sudden the vaunted Obama team, which made hardly any unforced errors during the campaign, has stirred up opposition within the intelligence community, offended key power players on Capitol Hill, and experienced an embarrassing transition mistake which should have been avoided – all within a matter of days. And within a matter of days, Democrats will have to back down and allow Roland Burris to be seated.

I make these observations to underscore a simple point: governing is more challenging than criticizing those who govern.

A brief anecdote: The Bush Administration was faced with a controversy over the Dubai Port Authority. At issue was the sale of port management businesses in six major U.S. seaports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and whether such a sale would compromise port security. I recall seeing several former members of the Clinton Administration on television, all wondering how such a thing could possibly have occurred and criticizing the Bush Administration for making a stupid, unnecessary error.

As it happened, I was at the time reading John Harris’s book on the Clinton Administration , The Survivor, which opens with a section recalling how poorly President Clinton’s transition was managed – from reneging on his pledge to cut middle class taxes, to his reversal of policy on Haitian refugees, to the implosion of the nominations of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood to be Attorney General, to attempting to revoke the military’s ban on gays. The irony wasn’t lost on me. One couldn’t help but wonder why former Clinton staffers now harshly criticizing the Bush Administration had not acted more competently during their own.

I understand this is a ritual. Those out of power always believe they will do things far better, more intelligently, and more competently than those in power. And obviously some Administrations are better at execution than others. But all incoming Administrations make mistakes, from important ones like the Bay of Pigs to more minor ones like promoting (and then backing away from) new policies for the military relating to gays.

In the current iteration, the Obama campaign specifically, and Democrats generally, have gotten a lot of mileage out of turning the Bush presidency into a punching bag, trying to reduce it to a series of mishandled incidents, from Hurricane Katrina and the failure of intelligence on Iraq down to the Harriet Miers nomination and other things.

The reality, of course, is very much different than all that. It’s not that mistakes weren’t made; over the course of eight years, lots of mistakes are inevitable. It’s that really significant achievements – from tax cuts to pro-life policies to seating two outstanding Supreme Court justices to education reform to introducing market reforms for health care to the surge in Iraq to jihadism in retreat – are ignored or downplayed.

What Obama and his team are learning during the transition, and what they will learn in a big way once they assume office, is that slip-ups are easy to make when you are tasked with governing the most powerful nation on earth and overseeing a huge federal bureaucracy. Once a mistake is made and media attention focuses on it for days, any commentator can sit in front of a camera and scratch their head that this or that thing was allowed to happen. Why wasn’t this problem spotted sooner? Why wasn’t the wound cauterized faster? Why was this nomination ever approved? Why isn’t this country doing more to support us in the war on terror? Why wasn’t that war (say, Israel v. Hamas) averted?

This cast of (critical) mind is particularly true, but not only true, of commentators who have never served in government or business and have done nothing but opine – some as theater critics, others as hosts of sports highlight shows – for most of their adult lives. It all looks quite easy to do when commenting from the safety and distance of a television studio or a blog post or a column in a news weekly.

I’m not asking for a moratorium on criticism or arguing that criticisms are unwarranted in every instance. That needs to be determined by facts and circumstances. And certainly we should have vigorous debates over the direction of policy.  But I do think we’d all be better served if we maintained perspective and reasonable expectations on what any President and his Administration can achieve and cut them some slack when their execution isn’t perfect or they stumble along the way. That goes for those of us who didn’t vote for Barack Obama and will likely oppose many of his initiatives. We should extend to him and his team some of the grace and fair-mindedness that hasn’t always been show to others in the past.

Today’s Washington Post includes two large headlines above the fold: “Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection”  and “Senators Turn Burris Away at Capitol.”

According to the first story,

current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama’s choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director and suggested that the agency suffers from incompetent leadership and low morale. “People who suggest morale is low don’t have a clue about what’s going on now,” said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield, citing recent personnel reforms under Director Michael V. Hayden.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were still stewing over Obama not consulting them on the choice before it was leaked Monday and continued to question Panetta’s intelligence experience. Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. acknowledged that the transition team had made a “mistake” in not consulting or even notifying congressional leaders, and Obama telephoned committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her predecessor, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), yesterday to apologize.

…. The Panetta uproar starts Obama off on the wrong foot with the committee and intelligence professionals and was the latest glitch in what has largely been an unusually smooth and carefully choreographed transition.

… Although several top CIA officials who have interacted with Obama since the election expressed admiration for his grasp of the issues, the transition process has clearly left a bad taste. One senior official said that “the process was completely opaque” and that the agency was neither consulted nor informed.

The second story reports

[Roland] Burris’s single-minded push may yet succeed. Senate Democrats, once sharply opposed to allowing Burris to be seated because he was appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), are now considering allowing him to serve as a way to end a confrontation that could drag on for weeks and distract from what they hope will be an end to a decade of gridlock on Capitol Hill. One idea being considered, Democratic officials said, is allowing Burris to be seated if he agrees not to run for election in 2010, allowing the party to recruit another candidate to defend the seat (Burris has lost multiple statewide races in Illinois).

Sen. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) plan to meet with Burris today on Capitol Hill, and the two leaders are undoubtedly eager to defuse a situation in which their resistance to the appointment could alienate black voters.

These stories come in the wake of the withdrawal by Bill Richardson to be Secretary of Commerce, due to a grand jury investigation that had been focusing on Richardson’s gubernatorial office and a possible “pay-to-play” arrangement. Another headline in the Post put it this way:

Richardson, Obama Teams Trade Blame

So Barack Obama has not yet been sworn in and the 111th Congress has been in power for all of a day, and both are beginning to slip on banana peels. All of a sudden the vaunted Obama team, which made hardly any unforced errors during the campaign, has stirred up opposition within the intelligence community, offended key power players on Capitol Hill, and experienced an embarrassing transition mistake which should have been avoided – all within a matter of days. And within a matter of days, Democrats will have to back down and allow Roland Burris to be seated.

I make these observations to underscore a simple point: governing is more challenging than criticizing those who govern.

A brief anecdote: The Bush Administration was faced with a controversy over the Dubai Port Authority. At issue was the sale of port management businesses in six major U.S. seaports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and whether such a sale would compromise port security. I recall seeing several former members of the Clinton Administration on television, all wondering how such a thing could possibly have occurred and criticizing the Bush Administration for making a stupid, unnecessary error.

As it happened, I was at the time reading John Harris’s book on the Clinton Administration , The Survivor, which opens with a section recalling how poorly President Clinton’s transition was managed – from reneging on his pledge to cut middle class taxes, to his reversal of policy on Haitian refugees, to the implosion of the nominations of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood to be Attorney General, to attempting to revoke the military’s ban on gays. The irony wasn’t lost on me. One couldn’t help but wonder why former Clinton staffers now harshly criticizing the Bush Administration had not acted more competently during their own.

I understand this is a ritual. Those out of power always believe they will do things far better, more intelligently, and more competently than those in power. And obviously some Administrations are better at execution than others. But all incoming Administrations make mistakes, from important ones like the Bay of Pigs to more minor ones like promoting (and then backing away from) new policies for the military relating to gays.

In the current iteration, the Obama campaign specifically, and Democrats generally, have gotten a lot of mileage out of turning the Bush presidency into a punching bag, trying to reduce it to a series of mishandled incidents, from Hurricane Katrina and the failure of intelligence on Iraq down to the Harriet Miers nomination and other things.

The reality, of course, is very much different than all that. It’s not that mistakes weren’t made; over the course of eight years, lots of mistakes are inevitable. It’s that really significant achievements – from tax cuts to pro-life policies to seating two outstanding Supreme Court justices to education reform to introducing market reforms for health care to the surge in Iraq to jihadism in retreat – are ignored or downplayed.

What Obama and his team are learning during the transition, and what they will learn in a big way once they assume office, is that slip-ups are easy to make when you are tasked with governing the most powerful nation on earth and overseeing a huge federal bureaucracy. Once a mistake is made and media attention focuses on it for days, any commentator can sit in front of a camera and scratch their head that this or that thing was allowed to happen. Why wasn’t this problem spotted sooner? Why wasn’t the wound cauterized faster? Why was this nomination ever approved? Why isn’t this country doing more to support us in the war on terror? Why wasn’t that war (say, Israel v. Hamas) averted?

This cast of (critical) mind is particularly true, but not only true, of commentators who have never served in government or business and have done nothing but opine – some as theater critics, others as hosts of sports highlight shows – for most of their adult lives. It all looks quite easy to do when commenting from the safety and distance of a television studio or a blog post or a column in a news weekly.

I’m not asking for a moratorium on criticism or arguing that criticisms are unwarranted in every instance. That needs to be determined by facts and circumstances. And certainly we should have vigorous debates over the direction of policy.  But I do think we’d all be better served if we maintained perspective and reasonable expectations on what any President and his Administration can achieve and cut them some slack when their execution isn’t perfect or they stumble along the way. That goes for those of us who didn’t vote for Barack Obama and will likely oppose many of his initiatives. We should extend to him and his team some of the grace and fair-mindedness that hasn’t always been show to others in the past.

Read Less

Support Israel, Support Freedom

The concluding paragraph in Benjamin Netanyahu’s piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is worth repeating:

We fight to defend ourselves, but in so doing we are also fighting a fanatical ideology that seeks to reverse the course of history and throw the civilized world back into a new dark age. The struggle between militant Islam and modernity — whether fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, India or Gaza — will decide our common future. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

Westerners seem to need constant reminders of the inclusiveness of that “we.”

The concluding paragraph in Benjamin Netanyahu’s piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is worth repeating:

We fight to defend ourselves, but in so doing we are also fighting a fanatical ideology that seeks to reverse the course of history and throw the civilized world back into a new dark age. The struggle between militant Islam and modernity — whether fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, India or Gaza — will decide our common future. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

Westerners seem to need constant reminders of the inclusiveness of that “we.”

Read Less

Finally, a Serious Sanction on Iran

Let’s wish Iran’s motorists well, Their country’s dependence on imported gasoline is about to get them in trouble. The Indian company, Reliance, one of five main international wholesale suppliers of gasoline to Iran, has just announced that it will no longer sell its refined oil products to the Islamic Republic.

The other four suppliers are based in Europe – and if European governments wish to truly pressure Iran further they could ask their companies to follow the Indian example. Once that happens, Iran’s economy can be crippled in a matter of weeks. This is the kind of measure President-elect Barack Obama should consider asking his European allies to adopt.

Let’s wish Iran’s motorists well, Their country’s dependence on imported gasoline is about to get them in trouble. The Indian company, Reliance, one of five main international wholesale suppliers of gasoline to Iran, has just announced that it will no longer sell its refined oil products to the Islamic Republic.

The other four suppliers are based in Europe – and if European governments wish to truly pressure Iran further they could ask their companies to follow the Indian example. Once that happens, Iran’s economy can be crippled in a matter of weeks. This is the kind of measure President-elect Barack Obama should consider asking his European allies to adopt.

Read Less

Settlement Follows Military Success

Thomas Friedman examines what he terms the three great Middle Eastern struggles (which Arab power will be the regional superpower, will Israel exist, and will militant Islamists or modernists prevail), and seems to inch toward reality when he writes:

Hamas rejects any recognition of Israel. By contrast, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has recognized Israel — and vice versa. If you believe, as I do, that the only stable solution is a two-state one, with the Palestinians getting all of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab sectors of East Jerusalem, then you have to hope for the weakening of Hamas.

Why? Because nothing has damaged Palestinians more than the Hamas death-cult strategy of turning Palestinian youths into suicide bombers. Because nothing would set back a peace deal more than if Hamas’s call to replace Israel with an Islamic state became the Palestinian negotiating position. And because Hamas’s attacks on towns in southern Israel is destroying a two-state solution, even more than Israel’s disastrous and reckless West Bank settlements.

Israel has proved that it can and will uproot settlements, as it did in Gaza. Hamas’s rocket attacks pose an irreversible threat. They say to Israel: “From Gaza, we can hit southern Israel. If we get the West Bank, we can rocket, and thereby close, Israel’s international airport — anytime, any day, from now to eternity.” How many Israelis will risk relinquishing the West Bank, given this new threat?

But then he takes a detour into Obama-worship and peace-process fantasyland, concluding:

No doubt, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are hoping that they can use the Gaza conflict to turn Obama into Bush. They know Barack Hussein Obama must be (am)Bushed — to keep America and its Arab allies on the defensive. Obama has to keep his eye on the prize. His goal — America’s goal — has to be a settlement in Gaza that eliminates the threat of Hamas rockets and opens Gaza economically to the world, under credible international supervision. That’s what will serve U.S. interests, moderate the three great struggles and earn him respect.

But what “settlement” is possible with the Hamas he aptly describes? How can Gaza be opened “to the world” if the opening is used to rain down rockets on Israel? We — and Friedman — should be honest here. The way to resolve all of the challenges he outlines ( diminsh Iranian hegemony, protect a Jewish state with secure borders, and boost the modernists) is for Israel to deal Hamas a death blow (or as close to it as possible).

It is very “Bush,” I know, to say that. But if Friedman and his idolized President-elect are as savvy as they portend to be they will recognize the logical conclusion of the analysis. Just as in Iraq, the political “solution” and the warm and fuzzy moments of reconciliation follow military success. President-elect Obama might not have had the wherewithal to lead and support those victories but he may be the beneficiary. The “prize” — if there is to be one — will be prepared for him by the Bush administration, which had the nerve to persevere in Iraq and the courage to stand by Israel. Thanks are not required, but some honesty would be nice.

Thomas Friedman examines what he terms the three great Middle Eastern struggles (which Arab power will be the regional superpower, will Israel exist, and will militant Islamists or modernists prevail), and seems to inch toward reality when he writes:

Hamas rejects any recognition of Israel. By contrast, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has recognized Israel — and vice versa. If you believe, as I do, that the only stable solution is a two-state one, with the Palestinians getting all of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab sectors of East Jerusalem, then you have to hope for the weakening of Hamas.

Why? Because nothing has damaged Palestinians more than the Hamas death-cult strategy of turning Palestinian youths into suicide bombers. Because nothing would set back a peace deal more than if Hamas’s call to replace Israel with an Islamic state became the Palestinian negotiating position. And because Hamas’s attacks on towns in southern Israel is destroying a two-state solution, even more than Israel’s disastrous and reckless West Bank settlements.

Israel has proved that it can and will uproot settlements, as it did in Gaza. Hamas’s rocket attacks pose an irreversible threat. They say to Israel: “From Gaza, we can hit southern Israel. If we get the West Bank, we can rocket, and thereby close, Israel’s international airport — anytime, any day, from now to eternity.” How many Israelis will risk relinquishing the West Bank, given this new threat?

But then he takes a detour into Obama-worship and peace-process fantasyland, concluding:

No doubt, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are hoping that they can use the Gaza conflict to turn Obama into Bush. They know Barack Hussein Obama must be (am)Bushed — to keep America and its Arab allies on the defensive. Obama has to keep his eye on the prize. His goal — America’s goal — has to be a settlement in Gaza that eliminates the threat of Hamas rockets and opens Gaza economically to the world, under credible international supervision. That’s what will serve U.S. interests, moderate the three great struggles and earn him respect.

But what “settlement” is possible with the Hamas he aptly describes? How can Gaza be opened “to the world” if the opening is used to rain down rockets on Israel? We — and Friedman — should be honest here. The way to resolve all of the challenges he outlines ( diminsh Iranian hegemony, protect a Jewish state with secure borders, and boost the modernists) is for Israel to deal Hamas a death blow (or as close to it as possible).

It is very “Bush,” I know, to say that. But if Friedman and his idolized President-elect are as savvy as they portend to be they will recognize the logical conclusion of the analysis. Just as in Iraq, the political “solution” and the warm and fuzzy moments of reconciliation follow military success. President-elect Obama might not have had the wherewithal to lead and support those victories but he may be the beneficiary. The “prize” — if there is to be one — will be prepared for him by the Bush administration, which had the nerve to persevere in Iraq and the courage to stand by Israel. Thanks are not required, but some honesty would be nice.

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