Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 11, 2009

Re: Not Attacking Iran

Gordon, I understand your concern regarding today’s New York Times report that the Bush administration prevented Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear sites.  However, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the administration has taken “the military option off the table.”

Rather, by denying Israel’s request for aid to attack Iran – and then leaking this information to the press – the Bush administration is signaling that Israel’s threat to use force against Iran is highly credible.  The Bush administration is further signaling that only the United States – which Israel needs for acquiring bunker-busting bombs and permission to use Iraqi air space – can prevent Israel from acting on this threat.

In turn, the Bush administration is not, as you write, placing “great pressure” on Obama’s proposed diplomacy with Iran to succeed.  To the contrary, the pressure is squarely on Tehran: if it fails to negotiate with Obama on its nuclear program in good faith, Obama always has the option of green-lighting an Israeli attack.  As a result, Obama would actually enter talks with Tehran with relatively little at stake: if negotiations fail and Iran maintains its determination to achieve nuclear capabilities, Obama can deploy Israel well before he even has to consider risking American lives.

Just to be clear: I remain highly skeptical of direct talks with Tehran, and agree that Iran has demonstrated its total unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully on the nuclear issue (among others).  However, by putting the brakes on an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear sites, the Bush administration has actually strengthened the credibility of the military option, and kept it very much on the table.  The big question is whether Obama – who peddled an all-talk approach to Iran on the campaign trail – knows how to use Israeli hawkishness vis-à-vis Iran to his strategic advantage.

Gordon, I understand your concern regarding today’s New York Times report that the Bush administration prevented Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear sites.  However, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the administration has taken “the military option off the table.”

Rather, by denying Israel’s request for aid to attack Iran – and then leaking this information to the press – the Bush administration is signaling that Israel’s threat to use force against Iran is highly credible.  The Bush administration is further signaling that only the United States – which Israel needs for acquiring bunker-busting bombs and permission to use Iraqi air space – can prevent Israel from acting on this threat.

In turn, the Bush administration is not, as you write, placing “great pressure” on Obama’s proposed diplomacy with Iran to succeed.  To the contrary, the pressure is squarely on Tehran: if it fails to negotiate with Obama on its nuclear program in good faith, Obama always has the option of green-lighting an Israeli attack.  As a result, Obama would actually enter talks with Tehran with relatively little at stake: if negotiations fail and Iran maintains its determination to achieve nuclear capabilities, Obama can deploy Israel well before he even has to consider risking American lives.

Just to be clear: I remain highly skeptical of direct talks with Tehran, and agree that Iran has demonstrated its total unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully on the nuclear issue (among others).  However, by putting the brakes on an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear sites, the Bush administration has actually strengthened the credibility of the military option, and kept it very much on the table.  The big question is whether Obama – who peddled an all-talk approach to Iran on the campaign trail – knows how to use Israeli hawkishness vis-à-vis Iran to his strategic advantage.

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Sure, We’re Your Problem

In Pakistan, anti-Israel protesters are targeting the American consulate:

Security forces used tear gas and batons to repel anti-Israel protesters who tried to attack a U.S. consulate in Pakistan Sunday, as tens of thousands in Europe, the Middle East and Asia demonstrated against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

[...]

Some 2,000 protesters in the Pakistani port city of Karachi burned U.S. flags and chanted anti-Israel slogans, and several hundred of them marched on the U.S. Consulate, senior police official Ameer Sheikh said.

Meanwhile, after the Mumbai attacks America’s entire foreign policy apparatus has been focused on downplaying evidence of Pakistani intelligence involvement and keeping India from retaliating. Everyone from John McCain to Condoleezza Rice to George Bush has weighed in to reassure the world that the Zardari government is a serious committed partner in the war on terror, but Pakistanis just want to torch our flag because we don’t institutionally discriminate against Jews.

The biggest challenge in dealing with the Muslim Middle East is getting publics to react to phenomena based on what we take for granted: the logical connection between actions and outcomes. If they can’t recognize favors, they won’t recognize allies. And if they can’t spot genuine atrocities, they’ll never renounce terrorism.

In Pakistan, anti-Israel protesters are targeting the American consulate:

Security forces used tear gas and batons to repel anti-Israel protesters who tried to attack a U.S. consulate in Pakistan Sunday, as tens of thousands in Europe, the Middle East and Asia demonstrated against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

[...]

Some 2,000 protesters in the Pakistani port city of Karachi burned U.S. flags and chanted anti-Israel slogans, and several hundred of them marched on the U.S. Consulate, senior police official Ameer Sheikh said.

Meanwhile, after the Mumbai attacks America’s entire foreign policy apparatus has been focused on downplaying evidence of Pakistani intelligence involvement and keeping India from retaliating. Everyone from John McCain to Condoleezza Rice to George Bush has weighed in to reassure the world that the Zardari government is a serious committed partner in the war on terror, but Pakistanis just want to torch our flag because we don’t institutionally discriminate against Jews.

The biggest challenge in dealing with the Muslim Middle East is getting publics to react to phenomena based on what we take for granted: the logical connection between actions and outcomes. If they can’t recognize favors, they won’t recognize allies. And if they can’t spot genuine atrocities, they’ll never renounce terrorism.

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CNN’s Idea of an Interview

CNN’s website claims that Cal Perry is a journalist, but I’m starting to have my doubts.  During yesterday’s interview with Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Turkey, Perry demonstrated remarkable impotence when it came to asking critical follow-up questions.  First, Perry allowed the dictator’s wife to filibuster on the plight of young people in the Middle East:

Three hundred million people live in the Middle East, of which 60 percent are under 25.  So, we have an opportunity, and we have a challenge.  The opportunity is to make sure that they believe in the future, that they see it as an exciting opportunity, that they feel that they’re able to contribute, to get involved ….  The reality on the ground is increasingly going further and further away from that, and it’s not just the Palestinians in Gaza.  It’s increasingly affecting all of us.  And, for us to see people suffering is, if anything, weakening the voice of the moderates and empowering the voice of the extremists.

Incredibly, Perry balked at asking the obvious question: to what extent is your husband’s dictatorship contributing to young people’s despair in the Middle East?  Or, to what extent is the relationship between your husband’s regime and radical organizations – such as Hamas and Hezbollah – contributing to the strengthening of extremists?

Granted, there are more subtle ways of asking these questions.  But instead, Perry offered a total softball: what did Assad hope to get out of her weekend meetings with other Arab first ladies?  Naturally, Assad used the opening to blast Israel:

The Israeli barbaric assault on innocent civilians – innocent Palestinian civilians – has been horrific.  … Gaza is a prison.  It’s been a prison for three years.  The embargo that has affected people’s lives has almost devastated the Palestinian community.  Eighty-percent of the Palestinians in Gaza rely on food aid.  They rely on humanitarian aid not just to live, but to survive.  One million people in Gaza – Palestinian people – are without electricity.  …  This is the twenty-first century.  Where in the world could this happen?  … As a mother and as a human being, we need to make sure that these atrocities stop.

Once again, the irony of Assad’s concerns was totally lost on Perry.  Where else in the world do millions of people go without electricity in the 21st century?  Why, how about in Syria!  Of course, there’s a difference: the current electricity problems in Gaza stem from an ongoing war, whereas electricity problems in Syria stem from dictatorial corruption.

But rather than infusing his interview with an ounce of journalistic integrity, Perry opted to take his next question from his children’s pre-school syllabus:

Are you sad?  Are you frustrated?  Are you angry?  I mean, you have to go to these meetings – you have to go these dinners.  Is it difficult with what’s going on?

Assad answered by saying that it’s “been difficult to smile.”  Well, the same cannot be said for her colleagues back in Damascus.  They’ve just found their new favorite interviewer in Cal Perry – and are probably smiling ear-to-ear.

CNN’s website claims that Cal Perry is a journalist, but I’m starting to have my doubts.  During yesterday’s interview with Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Turkey, Perry demonstrated remarkable impotence when it came to asking critical follow-up questions.  First, Perry allowed the dictator’s wife to filibuster on the plight of young people in the Middle East:

Three hundred million people live in the Middle East, of which 60 percent are under 25.  So, we have an opportunity, and we have a challenge.  The opportunity is to make sure that they believe in the future, that they see it as an exciting opportunity, that they feel that they’re able to contribute, to get involved ….  The reality on the ground is increasingly going further and further away from that, and it’s not just the Palestinians in Gaza.  It’s increasingly affecting all of us.  And, for us to see people suffering is, if anything, weakening the voice of the moderates and empowering the voice of the extremists.

Incredibly, Perry balked at asking the obvious question: to what extent is your husband’s dictatorship contributing to young people’s despair in the Middle East?  Or, to what extent is the relationship between your husband’s regime and radical organizations – such as Hamas and Hezbollah – contributing to the strengthening of extremists?

Granted, there are more subtle ways of asking these questions.  But instead, Perry offered a total softball: what did Assad hope to get out of her weekend meetings with other Arab first ladies?  Naturally, Assad used the opening to blast Israel:

The Israeli barbaric assault on innocent civilians – innocent Palestinian civilians – has been horrific.  … Gaza is a prison.  It’s been a prison for three years.  The embargo that has affected people’s lives has almost devastated the Palestinian community.  Eighty-percent of the Palestinians in Gaza rely on food aid.  They rely on humanitarian aid not just to live, but to survive.  One million people in Gaza – Palestinian people – are without electricity.  …  This is the twenty-first century.  Where in the world could this happen?  … As a mother and as a human being, we need to make sure that these atrocities stop.

Once again, the irony of Assad’s concerns was totally lost on Perry.  Where else in the world do millions of people go without electricity in the 21st century?  Why, how about in Syria!  Of course, there’s a difference: the current electricity problems in Gaza stem from an ongoing war, whereas electricity problems in Syria stem from dictatorial corruption.

But rather than infusing his interview with an ounce of journalistic integrity, Perry opted to take his next question from his children’s pre-school syllabus:

Are you sad?  Are you frustrated?  Are you angry?  I mean, you have to go to these meetings – you have to go these dinners.  Is it difficult with what’s going on?

Assad answered by saying that it’s “been difficult to smile.”  Well, the same cannot be said for her colleagues back in Damascus.  They’ve just found their new favorite interviewer in Cal Perry – and are probably smiling ear-to-ear.

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Forget Smooth Sailing — Will Holder’s Nomination Capsize?

Eric Holder has gone from shoo-in to the recipient of a sure-to-be unpleasant “grilling” by the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Senate Judiciary Committee staffers vetting Eric H. Holder Jr.’s nomination for attorney general said Friday they are seeking testimony from the Justice Department’s former pardon attorney as they inquire into Holder’s role in the 1999 grant of clemency to members of a Puerto Rican terrorist organization.

The former pardon attorney, Roger Adams, told the Los Angeles Times this week that Holder pushed subordinates to drop their opposition to President Clinton’s consideration of clemency in that case. The clemency application received strong resistance from law enforcement officials and the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which typically offers an up or down recommendation on such requests. But the request was backed by a few Democratic members of Congress, religious groups and President Carter.

Adams’ statements — and accompanying documents disclosed in the news accounts — provided the committee with new information about Holder’s role in the controversial case, said one GOP committee staff member who asked not to be identified.

The staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the topic, said the disclosures elevated concerns about Holder’s independence in cases where there may have been political pressure from the White House.

The New York Times confirms that Holder will not have an easy time of it as Republicans go over his record in private practice and potential conflicts of interest:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is to begin confirmation hearings on Mr. Holder on Thursday, and if he is confirmed he will take over at the Justice Department with perhaps the most extensive private practice of any attorney general in modern times. Colleagues and admirers see his impressive range of work as a sign of a lawyer who has seen the law from all sides.

But some Republicans plan to press Mr. Holder about what they view as the potential conflicts of interest posed by his client list and how he would go about deciding whether to bow out of issues that come before him involving past clients, staff members said. Others question how his corporate ties would affect his work at the Justice Department.

“We’ve had eight years of an administration that turned a blind eye to corporate criminals,” said Terry Collingsworth, a Washington lawyer who is suing Chiquita [ whom Holder defended against federal charges for paying protection money to Colombian terrorists to safeguard its banana crops] over the Colombian protection money and is facing Mr. Holder in the case. “We need someone with his level of experience and cachet to clean up the Justice Department. Yet I do have a concern and I sure hope that he doesn’t carry over his corporate defense practice into his approach to the job and how he handles these types of cases.”

The Democrats are rounding up high profile character witnesses (e.g. former Virginia Senator John Warner, former FBI chief Louis Freeh). I suspect that the Republicans will thank these fine gentleman for their time, but make the point that they and the public at large have not heretofore had the benefit of knowing all the details surrounding the Marc Rich and FALN terrorists pardons. The sordid details are just now coming to light. That unfamiliarity with the nooks and crannies of Holder’s career, frankly, may apply to the Obama team, which hasn’t distinguished itself in the vetting department — having given a pass to Bill Richardson and, earlier in the campaign, having selected Fannie Mae chieftan  and “Friend of Angelo” discounted mortgage recipient James Johnson to head the VP search committee (just as the housing crisis was coming to light).

During the hearing the Democrats may become victims of their own rhetoric –specifically, the outrage many prominent Democrats expressed  in 2001 over the Rich pardon. And, of course, more generally the Democrats have made a cottage industry of defending career attorneys in the Justice Department from the political whims of the Bush appointees, claiming that the latter sullied the reputation and independence of the Justice Department. (I seem to remember them denying, for example, Hans von Spakovsky , a seat on the FEC because he dared to override the views of career attorneys in the Voting Rights Section – even though von Spakovsky’s legal position was later vindicated by the Supreme Court.)

For awhile the Democrats trotted out the “one mistake” rule in Holder’s defense, but that’s not right. There are multiple mistakes:

• Weighing in as “neutral leaning favorble” on the Rich pardon;

• Steering Rich’s attorneys around the Justice Department’s established pardon process;

• Finding an attorney for Rich and providing advice to him while Holder was a Justice Department official;

• Providing less than candid testimony to Congress in 2001 that he had only a “passing familiarity” with the Rich matter when he had in fact received an in-person briefing on it and had more than a dozen contacts with Rich’s attorneys;

• Favoring the pardon of unrepentant FALN terrorists; and

• Pressuring Justice Department attorneys to change their pardon recommendation to provide the White House with the answer the Clintons wanted.  

I count six fairly serious mistakes, any one of which might be considered a disqualifying error of judgment or character. I don’t think Holder would necessarily be in such hot water if we were not talking about the attorney general. Lesser roles in government are subject to review and supervision, but the attorney general possess enormous latitude and responsibility. As we learned during Alberto Gonzales’s tenure, an attorney general who lacks ethical stature and the trust of both parties is soon rendered ineffective.

In light of all of this, the Democratic Senators and the President-elect may be forced to consider whether Holder is the appropriate chief law enforcement officer for an administration struggling mightily to diffuse the “culture of corruption” meme. It seems remarkable that the Democrats are on the verge of turning a blind eye to Holder’s serious shortcomings. But perhaps the confirmation hearing will be a clarifying event for everyone as we learn just how serious the Holder mistakes are and just how tolerant the Democrats are of business as usual in Washington. 

Eric Holder has gone from shoo-in to the recipient of a sure-to-be unpleasant “grilling” by the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Senate Judiciary Committee staffers vetting Eric H. Holder Jr.’s nomination for attorney general said Friday they are seeking testimony from the Justice Department’s former pardon attorney as they inquire into Holder’s role in the 1999 grant of clemency to members of a Puerto Rican terrorist organization.

The former pardon attorney, Roger Adams, told the Los Angeles Times this week that Holder pushed subordinates to drop their opposition to President Clinton’s consideration of clemency in that case. The clemency application received strong resistance from law enforcement officials and the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which typically offers an up or down recommendation on such requests. But the request was backed by a few Democratic members of Congress, religious groups and President Carter.

Adams’ statements — and accompanying documents disclosed in the news accounts — provided the committee with new information about Holder’s role in the controversial case, said one GOP committee staff member who asked not to be identified.

The staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the topic, said the disclosures elevated concerns about Holder’s independence in cases where there may have been political pressure from the White House.

The New York Times confirms that Holder will not have an easy time of it as Republicans go over his record in private practice and potential conflicts of interest:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is to begin confirmation hearings on Mr. Holder on Thursday, and if he is confirmed he will take over at the Justice Department with perhaps the most extensive private practice of any attorney general in modern times. Colleagues and admirers see his impressive range of work as a sign of a lawyer who has seen the law from all sides.

But some Republicans plan to press Mr. Holder about what they view as the potential conflicts of interest posed by his client list and how he would go about deciding whether to bow out of issues that come before him involving past clients, staff members said. Others question how his corporate ties would affect his work at the Justice Department.

“We’ve had eight years of an administration that turned a blind eye to corporate criminals,” said Terry Collingsworth, a Washington lawyer who is suing Chiquita [ whom Holder defended against federal charges for paying protection money to Colombian terrorists to safeguard its banana crops] over the Colombian protection money and is facing Mr. Holder in the case. “We need someone with his level of experience and cachet to clean up the Justice Department. Yet I do have a concern and I sure hope that he doesn’t carry over his corporate defense practice into his approach to the job and how he handles these types of cases.”

The Democrats are rounding up high profile character witnesses (e.g. former Virginia Senator John Warner, former FBI chief Louis Freeh). I suspect that the Republicans will thank these fine gentleman for their time, but make the point that they and the public at large have not heretofore had the benefit of knowing all the details surrounding the Marc Rich and FALN terrorists pardons. The sordid details are just now coming to light. That unfamiliarity with the nooks and crannies of Holder’s career, frankly, may apply to the Obama team, which hasn’t distinguished itself in the vetting department — having given a pass to Bill Richardson and, earlier in the campaign, having selected Fannie Mae chieftan  and “Friend of Angelo” discounted mortgage recipient James Johnson to head the VP search committee (just as the housing crisis was coming to light).

During the hearing the Democrats may become victims of their own rhetoric –specifically, the outrage many prominent Democrats expressed  in 2001 over the Rich pardon. And, of course, more generally the Democrats have made a cottage industry of defending career attorneys in the Justice Department from the political whims of the Bush appointees, claiming that the latter sullied the reputation and independence of the Justice Department. (I seem to remember them denying, for example, Hans von Spakovsky , a seat on the FEC because he dared to override the views of career attorneys in the Voting Rights Section – even though von Spakovsky’s legal position was later vindicated by the Supreme Court.)

For awhile the Democrats trotted out the “one mistake” rule in Holder’s defense, but that’s not right. There are multiple mistakes:

• Weighing in as “neutral leaning favorble” on the Rich pardon;

• Steering Rich’s attorneys around the Justice Department’s established pardon process;

• Finding an attorney for Rich and providing advice to him while Holder was a Justice Department official;

• Providing less than candid testimony to Congress in 2001 that he had only a “passing familiarity” with the Rich matter when he had in fact received an in-person briefing on it and had more than a dozen contacts with Rich’s attorneys;

• Favoring the pardon of unrepentant FALN terrorists; and

• Pressuring Justice Department attorneys to change their pardon recommendation to provide the White House with the answer the Clintons wanted.  

I count six fairly serious mistakes, any one of which might be considered a disqualifying error of judgment or character. I don’t think Holder would necessarily be in such hot water if we were not talking about the attorney general. Lesser roles in government are subject to review and supervision, but the attorney general possess enormous latitude and responsibility. As we learned during Alberto Gonzales’s tenure, an attorney general who lacks ethical stature and the trust of both parties is soon rendered ineffective.

In light of all of this, the Democratic Senators and the President-elect may be forced to consider whether Holder is the appropriate chief law enforcement officer for an administration struggling mightily to diffuse the “culture of corruption” meme. It seems remarkable that the Democrats are on the verge of turning a blind eye to Holder’s serious shortcomings. But perhaps the confirmation hearing will be a clarifying event for everyone as we learn just how serious the Holder mistakes are and just how tolerant the Democrats are of business as usual in Washington. 

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Not Attacking Iran

Last year, President Bush prevented Israel from striking Iran by refusing to supply bunker busting bombs and aircraft refueling equipment as well as denying permission to fly over Iraq, according to this morning’s New York Times.  This most recent news item is consistent with reports over the last several months that Israeli requests for American assistance have been turned down cold.  According to the Times, the Bush administration has been employing covert means to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

For now, American efforts, secret and otherwise, have not persuaded the Iranians to give up their bomb program.  As the Times report suggests, covert operations can at best buy only a little time.  And Bush efforts in recent months to obtain Russian and Chinese cooperation for tough Security Council sanctions have failed.  That hasn’t deterred President-elect Obama, who said in an interview today that he will “move swiftly” to engage Tehran.  Of course, he feels a political imperative to make an effort to talk to the Iranians, not only because he famously said during the primaries he would do so but also because new leaders never feel they can start their terms with coercive solutions.

Yet the Iranians are not stopping their uranium enrichment just because the American political calendar demands a whole new round of time-consuming discussions.  By taking a military solution off the table, the Bush administration has placed great pressure on Obama’s diplomacy to succeed.

At this point, diplomacy is just not that promising.  The Iranians “have the cookbook,” as Mohamed ElBaradei put it in September.  The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency has identified the main problem with nonmilitary solutions: the Iranians already have all the technology to make a nuclear device.  All they lack are “ingredients.”  With a few more spins of their centrifuges-now numbering about 5,000-they will have enough uranium for a warhead to fit atop their missiles.

In December, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel is thinking about how to attack Iran without Washington’s help.   At this point, military force is the only realistic option to stop the mullahs from possessing the most destructive weapon on earth.

Last year, President Bush prevented Israel from striking Iran by refusing to supply bunker busting bombs and aircraft refueling equipment as well as denying permission to fly over Iraq, according to this morning’s New York Times.  This most recent news item is consistent with reports over the last several months that Israeli requests for American assistance have been turned down cold.  According to the Times, the Bush administration has been employing covert means to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

For now, American efforts, secret and otherwise, have not persuaded the Iranians to give up their bomb program.  As the Times report suggests, covert operations can at best buy only a little time.  And Bush efforts in recent months to obtain Russian and Chinese cooperation for tough Security Council sanctions have failed.  That hasn’t deterred President-elect Obama, who said in an interview today that he will “move swiftly” to engage Tehran.  Of course, he feels a political imperative to make an effort to talk to the Iranians, not only because he famously said during the primaries he would do so but also because new leaders never feel they can start their terms with coercive solutions.

Yet the Iranians are not stopping their uranium enrichment just because the American political calendar demands a whole new round of time-consuming discussions.  By taking a military solution off the table, the Bush administration has placed great pressure on Obama’s diplomacy to succeed.

At this point, diplomacy is just not that promising.  The Iranians “have the cookbook,” as Mohamed ElBaradei put it in September.  The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency has identified the main problem with nonmilitary solutions: the Iranians already have all the technology to make a nuclear device.  All they lack are “ingredients.”  With a few more spins of their centrifuges-now numbering about 5,000-they will have enough uranium for a warhead to fit atop their missiles.

In December, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel is thinking about how to attack Iran without Washington’s help.   At this point, military force is the only realistic option to stop the mullahs from possessing the most destructive weapon on earth.

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An Occupation?

The Associated Press reports on the escalation in Gaza:

Israeli defense officials say they are prepared for a third stage of their offensive, in which ground troops would push further into Gaza, but are waiting for approval from the government.

[...]

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because military plans have not been made public, said the army also has a contingency plan for a fourth phase-the full reoccupation of Gaza and toppling of Hamas. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of military occupation.

One hopes that wherever this conflict goes, there is not a future occupation of Gaza. Such an undertaking would constitute a depressing backslide, and consume Israel in doomed political and PR machinations. However, if there really is a plan to crush Hamas, Israel should not worry about the occupation fetishists. They never stopped referring to Gaza as occupied anyway.

The term occupation has become both loaded and meaningless over the past few years. If, for example, a single American soldier shows up somewhere with an ammo belt, someone’s bound to call it an occupation. And it doesn’t even have to be on foreign soil: Cindy Sheehan accused George W. Bush of militarily occupying the state of Louisiana when the National Guard went in after Hurricane Katrina.

But the truth is, like the word preemption, occupation is itself a neutral term and relies on political context for negative or positive connotation. Thank goodness the U.S. occupied Europe in the wake of World War II. Americans helped shape the post-war wasteland into a group of free and dynamic states with whom we could collaborate throughout the second half of the 20th Century.  Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq (that ended December 4, 2007 with the approval of the Presidency Council of Iraq) was critical in enabling a decimated country to defend itself against saboteurs and rebuild.  But in 1979, when the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan with 40,000 troops and installed Babrack Karmal as president, it embarked on a (failed) occupation to pursue the nakedly immoral and unjust goal of aggressive expansionism.

If Hamas is to be toppled and Gaza occupied by Israel, surely supplanting a government that Ralph Peters today rightly describes as a “Jew-killing machine” with a temporary alternative puts that occupation on legitimate footing. As does the fact that Palestinian citizens of the occupied West Bank enjoy a host of freedoms not known to Gazans suffering under Hamas’s rule. Alas, the term sovereignty is another one that has been tortured into fitting a political agenda. And people have forgotten that sovereignty needs to be earned in order to be respected; a government that puts its citizens to use as both shields and ammunition in a war to exterminate Jews is nothing but a grotesque corruption of the idea.

The Associated Press reports on the escalation in Gaza:

Israeli defense officials say they are prepared for a third stage of their offensive, in which ground troops would push further into Gaza, but are waiting for approval from the government.

[...]

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because military plans have not been made public, said the army also has a contingency plan for a fourth phase-the full reoccupation of Gaza and toppling of Hamas. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of military occupation.

One hopes that wherever this conflict goes, there is not a future occupation of Gaza. Such an undertaking would constitute a depressing backslide, and consume Israel in doomed political and PR machinations. However, if there really is a plan to crush Hamas, Israel should not worry about the occupation fetishists. They never stopped referring to Gaza as occupied anyway.

The term occupation has become both loaded and meaningless over the past few years. If, for example, a single American soldier shows up somewhere with an ammo belt, someone’s bound to call it an occupation. And it doesn’t even have to be on foreign soil: Cindy Sheehan accused George W. Bush of militarily occupying the state of Louisiana when the National Guard went in after Hurricane Katrina.

But the truth is, like the word preemption, occupation is itself a neutral term and relies on political context for negative or positive connotation. Thank goodness the U.S. occupied Europe in the wake of World War II. Americans helped shape the post-war wasteland into a group of free and dynamic states with whom we could collaborate throughout the second half of the 20th Century.  Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq (that ended December 4, 2007 with the approval of the Presidency Council of Iraq) was critical in enabling a decimated country to defend itself against saboteurs and rebuild.  But in 1979, when the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan with 40,000 troops and installed Babrack Karmal as president, it embarked on a (failed) occupation to pursue the nakedly immoral and unjust goal of aggressive expansionism.

If Hamas is to be toppled and Gaza occupied by Israel, surely supplanting a government that Ralph Peters today rightly describes as a “Jew-killing machine” with a temporary alternative puts that occupation on legitimate footing. As does the fact that Palestinian citizens of the occupied West Bank enjoy a host of freedoms not known to Gazans suffering under Hamas’s rule. Alas, the term sovereignty is another one that has been tortured into fitting a political agenda. And people have forgotten that sovereignty needs to be earned in order to be respected; a government that puts its citizens to use as both shields and ammunition in a war to exterminate Jews is nothing but a grotesque corruption of the idea.

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The Genesis of a Libel

As Israel continues to hammer at Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the same old games are being played by observers around the world — especially the “war crimes” accusations.

The current contender for dumbest accusation has to be that Israel is violating international law by using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza. This is a re-run — the same charge was made a couple of years ago against the United States and Fallujah. This is an argument born of tremendous ignorance — the type that can only be explained as deliberate. White phosphorus munitions have tremendous utility for the military. Due to White phosphorus’s unique properties, it serves two very useful (and contradictory) purposes. It burns very brightly, and it gives off a great deal of smoke. That means that if it’s used in midair, it lights up the area and makes it very hard for the enemy to hide. When it’s used on the ground, it puts out a lot of smoke that makes it very hard for the enemy to see.

In Gaza, Israel is primarily using it for the latter — to conceal its ground troops and allow them to get close enough to the enemy to engage them before they can find more civilians to hide behind. White phosphorus can be a very dangerous substance. It burns on contact and can cause fires if it lands on something suitably flammable.

But it’s rarely used as an incendiary weapon. The reason is that there are other substances that do the same job, far more efficiently. Thermite burns even hotter, and is used to destroy metal. Napalm works better on “softer” targets, as it is more flexible (it can be sprayed easily) and tends to cling to whatever it touches.

Critics are also fond of calling white phosphorus a “chemical weapon.” This is also nonsensical. The specific laws and treaties governing chemical weapons are very specific on  definitions: a chemical weapon is one that causes harm by a chemical process other than combustion.  The mere fact that a substance is toxic doesn’t make it a chemical weapon; in sufficient qualities, a lot of things are poisonous. Indeed, lead itself is a toxic metal, but no one wants to call a bullet a chemical weapon.

The final argument is that weapons like white phosphorus are “inhumane.” That particular argument holds great emotional sway — until you question the fundamental presumption behind it. If white phosphorus is an inhumane weapon, what is a “humane” weapon?

The best answer to that I’ve ever seen was in David Gerrold’s novel A Matter For Men. The topic comes up while a grizzled veteran is equips the new soldier (and protagonist) with a flamethrower.

“…Let me ask you this: what is it that makes a weapon inhumane?””Uh…” I thought about it.

“Let me make it easier for you. Tell me a humane weapon.”

“Um– I see your point.”

“Right. There’s no such thing. It’s like Christmas — it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts.” He came around behind me and started fitting the pads under the straps. “A weapon, Jim — never forget this; lift your arms — is a tool for stopping the other fellow. That’s the purpose — stopping him. The so-called humane weapons merely stop a man without permanently injuring him. The best weapons — you can put your arms down now — are the ones that work by implication, by threat, and never have to be used at all. The enemy stops himself.”

“It’s when they don’t stop” — he turned me around to adjust the fittings in front — “that the weapons become inhumane, because that’s when you have to use them. And so far, the most effective ones are the ones that kill — because they stop the guy permanently.”

War is brutal. War is inhumane. War is horrible. So are the tools used to wage war. Indeed, the only thing worse than war is to not fight back.

As Israel continues to hammer at Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the same old games are being played by observers around the world — especially the “war crimes” accusations.

The current contender for dumbest accusation has to be that Israel is violating international law by using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza. This is a re-run — the same charge was made a couple of years ago against the United States and Fallujah. This is an argument born of tremendous ignorance — the type that can only be explained as deliberate. White phosphorus munitions have tremendous utility for the military. Due to White phosphorus’s unique properties, it serves two very useful (and contradictory) purposes. It burns very brightly, and it gives off a great deal of smoke. That means that if it’s used in midair, it lights up the area and makes it very hard for the enemy to hide. When it’s used on the ground, it puts out a lot of smoke that makes it very hard for the enemy to see.

In Gaza, Israel is primarily using it for the latter — to conceal its ground troops and allow them to get close enough to the enemy to engage them before they can find more civilians to hide behind. White phosphorus can be a very dangerous substance. It burns on contact and can cause fires if it lands on something suitably flammable.

But it’s rarely used as an incendiary weapon. The reason is that there are other substances that do the same job, far more efficiently. Thermite burns even hotter, and is used to destroy metal. Napalm works better on “softer” targets, as it is more flexible (it can be sprayed easily) and tends to cling to whatever it touches.

Critics are also fond of calling white phosphorus a “chemical weapon.” This is also nonsensical. The specific laws and treaties governing chemical weapons are very specific on  definitions: a chemical weapon is one that causes harm by a chemical process other than combustion.  The mere fact that a substance is toxic doesn’t make it a chemical weapon; in sufficient qualities, a lot of things are poisonous. Indeed, lead itself is a toxic metal, but no one wants to call a bullet a chemical weapon.

The final argument is that weapons like white phosphorus are “inhumane.” That particular argument holds great emotional sway — until you question the fundamental presumption behind it. If white phosphorus is an inhumane weapon, what is a “humane” weapon?

The best answer to that I’ve ever seen was in David Gerrold’s novel A Matter For Men. The topic comes up while a grizzled veteran is equips the new soldier (and protagonist) with a flamethrower.

“…Let me ask you this: what is it that makes a weapon inhumane?””Uh…” I thought about it.

“Let me make it easier for you. Tell me a humane weapon.”

“Um– I see your point.”

“Right. There’s no such thing. It’s like Christmas — it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts.” He came around behind me and started fitting the pads under the straps. “A weapon, Jim — never forget this; lift your arms — is a tool for stopping the other fellow. That’s the purpose — stopping him. The so-called humane weapons merely stop a man without permanently injuring him. The best weapons — you can put your arms down now — are the ones that work by implication, by threat, and never have to be used at all. The enemy stops himself.”

“It’s when they don’t stop” — he turned me around to adjust the fittings in front — “that the weapons become inhumane, because that’s when you have to use them. And so far, the most effective ones are the ones that kill — because they stop the guy permanently.”

War is brutal. War is inhumane. War is horrible. So are the tools used to wage war. Indeed, the only thing worse than war is to not fight back.

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Walt’s Confusions

When Stephen M. Walt co-authored The Israel Lobby three years ago, he claimed that his main interest was patriotic: he simply believed that pro-Israel groups were advocating positions that were harmful to U.S. interests, and wanted to expose them.  He further insisted that he held no personal malice towards Israel, and even believed that the U.S. should “come to Israel’s aid if its survival is at risk.”

Well, throughout his week-long stint as a blogger for Foreign Policy, Walt has given readers every reason to doubt his sincerity.  Indeed, rather than using his realist perspective (the raison d’etre of his blog) to analyze the current fighting in Gaza and its impact on U.S. interests, Walt has become just another run-of-the-mill anti-Israel web-activist.  And, as with most other anti-Israel web-activists, it seems that no argument against Israel is too obtuse for Walt to regurgitate.  In this vein, Walt hails the following “thought experiment”:

NEARLY SEVENTY YEARS ago, in the course of World War II … The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books if the Germans had won the war.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as ‘hostages’ and exploit the women and children as ‘human shields,’ they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

Consistent with his odd habit of prizing virtually any criticism of Israel written by Jews, Walt actually borrows this latest “thought experiment” from leftist Israeli activist Uri Avnery.  And naturally, Walt doesn’t waste any time dealing with the inconveniences that make this Gaza-as-London/Israelis-as-Nazis/Hamas-as-the-British analogy ridiculous.  In turn, he doesn’t care to mention that the British weren’t firing missiles into Germany from London; or that Britain didn’t hide its munitions under schools and churches; or that Churchill didn’t have a “gang,” whatever that means.

Of course, Walt’s point is that – facts aside – the Nazis would have claimed self-defense in their blitz on London had they won World War II.  But this line of argument only reinforces the extent to which Walt has retreated from analysis in favor of ideology.  Indeed, rather than distinguishing between fact and fiction as per his scholarly charge, Walt condemns Israeli claims outright on the sole basis of what Nazis might have claimed in some alternate dimension.  In turn, video footage of Hamas fighters firing mortars from a Gazan schoolhouse, for example, would have no impact on Walt’s assessment.  Walt’s thought process goes something like this: since the Nazis would have lied about the “Churchill gang” operating from within civilian centers in my imagined universe, the Israelis are lying about Hamas in the unimagined universe.

For supporters of Israel, Walt’s intellectual gymnastics are actually reassuring.  After all, if a distinguished professor has to rewrite history in order to find cause for criticizing the war in Gaza, then Israel is probably on solid moral footing.

When Stephen M. Walt co-authored The Israel Lobby three years ago, he claimed that his main interest was patriotic: he simply believed that pro-Israel groups were advocating positions that were harmful to U.S. interests, and wanted to expose them.  He further insisted that he held no personal malice towards Israel, and even believed that the U.S. should “come to Israel’s aid if its survival is at risk.”

Well, throughout his week-long stint as a blogger for Foreign Policy, Walt has given readers every reason to doubt his sincerity.  Indeed, rather than using his realist perspective (the raison d’etre of his blog) to analyze the current fighting in Gaza and its impact on U.S. interests, Walt has become just another run-of-the-mill anti-Israel web-activist.  And, as with most other anti-Israel web-activists, it seems that no argument against Israel is too obtuse for Walt to regurgitate.  In this vein, Walt hails the following “thought experiment”:

NEARLY SEVENTY YEARS ago, in the course of World War II … The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books if the Germans had won the war.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as ‘hostages’ and exploit the women and children as ‘human shields,’ they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

Consistent with his odd habit of prizing virtually any criticism of Israel written by Jews, Walt actually borrows this latest “thought experiment” from leftist Israeli activist Uri Avnery.  And naturally, Walt doesn’t waste any time dealing with the inconveniences that make this Gaza-as-London/Israelis-as-Nazis/Hamas-as-the-British analogy ridiculous.  In turn, he doesn’t care to mention that the British weren’t firing missiles into Germany from London; or that Britain didn’t hide its munitions under schools and churches; or that Churchill didn’t have a “gang,” whatever that means.

Of course, Walt’s point is that – facts aside – the Nazis would have claimed self-defense in their blitz on London had they won World War II.  But this line of argument only reinforces the extent to which Walt has retreated from analysis in favor of ideology.  Indeed, rather than distinguishing between fact and fiction as per his scholarly charge, Walt condemns Israeli claims outright on the sole basis of what Nazis might have claimed in some alternate dimension.  In turn, video footage of Hamas fighters firing mortars from a Gazan schoolhouse, for example, would have no impact on Walt’s assessment.  Walt’s thought process goes something like this: since the Nazis would have lied about the “Churchill gang” operating from within civilian centers in my imagined universe, the Israelis are lying about Hamas in the unimagined universe.

For supporters of Israel, Walt’s intellectual gymnastics are actually reassuring.  After all, if a distinguished professor has to rewrite history in order to find cause for criticizing the war in Gaza, then Israel is probably on solid moral footing.

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Victim or Victimizer?

There  is no shortage of misdirected and uninformed talk about “war crimes” in Gaza. Indeed there are war crimes, but not committed by Israel, as the usual crowd of anti-Israel critics would have us believe. Alan Dershowitz writes:

A temporary cease-fire in Gaza that simply allows Hamas to obtain more lethal weapons will assure a repetition of Hamas’ win-win tactic of firing rockets at Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

The best example of Hamas’ double war crime tactic was Tuesday, when it succeeded in sending a rocket to a town less than 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and injuring a child. At the same time, it provoked Israel to attack a United Nations school from which Hamas was launching its rockets. Residents of the neighborhood said two Hamas fighters were in the area at the time, and the Israeli military said they had been killed, according to the New York Times.

The Hamas tactic of firing rockets from schools, hospitals and mosques dates back to 2005, when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza. Several months ago, the head of the Israeli air force showed me a videotape (now available on YouTube) of a Hamas terrorist deliberately moving his rocket launcher to the front of a U.N. school, firing a rocket and then running away, no doubt hoping that Israel would then respond by attacking the rocket launcher and thus killing Palestinian children in the school.

This is the Hamas dual strategy: to kill and injure as many Israeli civilians as possible by firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets, and to provoke Israel to kill as many Palestinian civilians as possible to garner world sympathy.

The hypocrisy of the perpetually and selectively outraged international human rights lobby is revealed by its unwillingness to recognize, let alone condemn, the war crimes of Hamas. Where are the condemnations from the UN? Where is Amnesty International? Ah, they have little interest in disturbing the myth that the Palestinians’ plight is attributable to the Israelis, rather than theie own warped leadership which uses civilian deaths to score points. Dershowitz explains:

The best proof of Hamas’ media strategy of manipulating sympathy is the way it dealt with a rocket it fired the day before Israel’s airstrikes began. The rocket fell short of its target in Israel and landed in Gaza, killing two young Palestinian girls. Hamas, which exercises total control of Gaza, censored any video coverage of those deaths. Although there were print reports, no one saw pictures of these two dead Palestinian children because they were killed by Palestinian rockets rather than by Israeli rockets. Hamas knows that pictures are more powerful than words. That is probably why Israel has — mistakenly in my view — kept foreign journalists from entering the war zone.

Israel must continue to try to stop the Hamas rockets that endanger more than a million Israeli civilians. It also must continue to do everything in its power to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, not only because that is the right thing to do but because every Palestinian death plays into the hands of Hamas’ leaders.

A bad day for Hamas is a day in which its rockets fail to kill or injure any Israeli civilians and Israel kills no Palestinian civilians. That is what Israel and the world must strive for. Hamas knows that the moment it ends its policy of firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind the shield of Palestinian civilians, Israel will end its military activities in Gaza. That is precisely the result Hamas does not want to achieve.

It will be interesting to see whether the new administration is any more successful in turning the international community’s attention to the root cause of the suffering and death in Gaza. It is noteworthy that the Obama team made an exception to its general “no comment” policy to bat down a story in the Guardian which claimed the Obama administration was heading toward recognition of Hamas. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The incoming Obama administration will not abandon President George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman has told The Jerusalem Post. President-elect Barack Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements,” said Brooke Anderson in a statement to the Post. . . “The president-elect’s repeated statements [about not dealing with Hamas] are accurate,” Anderson said. “This unsourced story is not.”

If the Obama team maintains this level of intellectual clarity perhaps they can assist the UN and the “international community” (however one defines those whom President Bush apparently ignored and alienated) in recognizing who is victim and victimizer. And yes, the Left in America, might perk up if it is President Obama rather than the hated George Bush who patiently explains that those who kill their own children for political gain are deserving of our condemnation, not our sympathy. Time will tell if the new President is willing or able to perform this much needed role.

There  is no shortage of misdirected and uninformed talk about “war crimes” in Gaza. Indeed there are war crimes, but not committed by Israel, as the usual crowd of anti-Israel critics would have us believe. Alan Dershowitz writes:

A temporary cease-fire in Gaza that simply allows Hamas to obtain more lethal weapons will assure a repetition of Hamas’ win-win tactic of firing rockets at Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

The best example of Hamas’ double war crime tactic was Tuesday, when it succeeded in sending a rocket to a town less than 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and injuring a child. At the same time, it provoked Israel to attack a United Nations school from which Hamas was launching its rockets. Residents of the neighborhood said two Hamas fighters were in the area at the time, and the Israeli military said they had been killed, according to the New York Times.

The Hamas tactic of firing rockets from schools, hospitals and mosques dates back to 2005, when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza. Several months ago, the head of the Israeli air force showed me a videotape (now available on YouTube) of a Hamas terrorist deliberately moving his rocket launcher to the front of a U.N. school, firing a rocket and then running away, no doubt hoping that Israel would then respond by attacking the rocket launcher and thus killing Palestinian children in the school.

This is the Hamas dual strategy: to kill and injure as many Israeli civilians as possible by firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets, and to provoke Israel to kill as many Palestinian civilians as possible to garner world sympathy.

The hypocrisy of the perpetually and selectively outraged international human rights lobby is revealed by its unwillingness to recognize, let alone condemn, the war crimes of Hamas. Where are the condemnations from the UN? Where is Amnesty International? Ah, they have little interest in disturbing the myth that the Palestinians’ plight is attributable to the Israelis, rather than theie own warped leadership which uses civilian deaths to score points. Dershowitz explains:

The best proof of Hamas’ media strategy of manipulating sympathy is the way it dealt with a rocket it fired the day before Israel’s airstrikes began. The rocket fell short of its target in Israel and landed in Gaza, killing two young Palestinian girls. Hamas, which exercises total control of Gaza, censored any video coverage of those deaths. Although there were print reports, no one saw pictures of these two dead Palestinian children because they were killed by Palestinian rockets rather than by Israeli rockets. Hamas knows that pictures are more powerful than words. That is probably why Israel has — mistakenly in my view — kept foreign journalists from entering the war zone.

Israel must continue to try to stop the Hamas rockets that endanger more than a million Israeli civilians. It also must continue to do everything in its power to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, not only because that is the right thing to do but because every Palestinian death plays into the hands of Hamas’ leaders.

A bad day for Hamas is a day in which its rockets fail to kill or injure any Israeli civilians and Israel kills no Palestinian civilians. That is what Israel and the world must strive for. Hamas knows that the moment it ends its policy of firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind the shield of Palestinian civilians, Israel will end its military activities in Gaza. That is precisely the result Hamas does not want to achieve.

It will be interesting to see whether the new administration is any more successful in turning the international community’s attention to the root cause of the suffering and death in Gaza. It is noteworthy that the Obama team made an exception to its general “no comment” policy to bat down a story in the Guardian which claimed the Obama administration was heading toward recognition of Hamas. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The incoming Obama administration will not abandon President George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman has told The Jerusalem Post. President-elect Barack Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements,” said Brooke Anderson in a statement to the Post. . . “The president-elect’s repeated statements [about not dealing with Hamas] are accurate,” Anderson said. “This unsourced story is not.”

If the Obama team maintains this level of intellectual clarity perhaps they can assist the UN and the “international community” (however one defines those whom President Bush apparently ignored and alienated) in recognizing who is victim and victimizer. And yes, the Left in America, might perk up if it is President Obama rather than the hated George Bush who patiently explains that those who kill their own children for political gain are deserving of our condemnation, not our sympathy. Time will tell if the new President is willing or able to perform this much needed role.

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Walt’s Delusions

I will try not to turn this into a weekly habit – giving Stephen Walt even more attention than he already gets is bad strategy. But I can’t resist doing it just one more time.

Walt, the co-author of the notoriously biased The Israel Lobby, now blogs for Foreign Policy. As I expected, his main topic – at least in his first week of blogging – has been Israel. And he hasn’t gotten away with it easily. I wrote unfavorably about him here, and so have many others such as Ross Douthat, David Rothkopf and Jeffrey Goldberg. In his attempt to respond, Walt asks that we “Judge my book on its merits.” (We have already done so.)

Walt writes, “Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it.” Does he mean to say reviewers were mostly Jewish? He goes on to ask: “how does one explain the four positive reviews (one of them positively glowing) that we received in Israel itself, including a lengthy, thoughtful, and generally favorable review in Ha’aretz?”

This question is easily answered. The first review Walt relies on is by Uri Avnery, the most eccentric and radical icon of Israel’s extreme left. Avnery is a fascinating character, with a biography that merits a book, a documentary film and a small museum. Nevertheless, relying on him as someone representing “positive reviews” in “Israel itself” is like relying on, say, a good review from Noam Chosky as evidence of “generally favorable” reviews in the U.S.

The second review Walt mentions did indeed appearin my former paper, Haaretz. First, the writer: nominally “Israeli,” Daniel Levy does not live in Israel and hardly represents the “positive reaction” of Israelis in general to Walt’s book. Levy wrote this positive review of The Israel Lobby while he was already working to establish a Washington shop of his own, the dovish J Street. The Israel Lobby wasn’t commissioned or written by J Street founders, but it served their cause well. So yes, Levy gave the book a favorable review–as a Washingtonian, not as an Israeli.

Add to that the fact that Levy himself has quite radical tendencies (you do not meet many Israelis who support his views, not even on the left. Many of Levy’s former colleagues think he has gone too far – to put it mildly). And Haaretz has always been a hub for sanctimonious Israel-bashing (as well as great reporting and writing).

While it’s convenient for Walt to quote the one positive review written for Haaretz by an outsider, the coverage in Haaretz by staff members was mostly negative. I wrote about the book here, here and here. And columnist Reuven Pdhatzur wrote this:

Two reputable professors, one from Harvard, Stephen Walt, and the other from University of Chicago, John Mearsheimer, wrote a shameful document as far as its arguments go, and an embarrassing one as far as its academic level is concerned.

Walt says he got generally positive coverage in Israel? This claim is as credible as his book.

I will try not to turn this into a weekly habit – giving Stephen Walt even more attention than he already gets is bad strategy. But I can’t resist doing it just one more time.

Walt, the co-author of the notoriously biased The Israel Lobby, now blogs for Foreign Policy. As I expected, his main topic – at least in his first week of blogging – has been Israel. And he hasn’t gotten away with it easily. I wrote unfavorably about him here, and so have many others such as Ross Douthat, David Rothkopf and Jeffrey Goldberg. In his attempt to respond, Walt asks that we “Judge my book on its merits.” (We have already done so.)

Walt writes, “Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it.” Does he mean to say reviewers were mostly Jewish? He goes on to ask: “how does one explain the four positive reviews (one of them positively glowing) that we received in Israel itself, including a lengthy, thoughtful, and generally favorable review in Ha’aretz?”

This question is easily answered. The first review Walt relies on is by Uri Avnery, the most eccentric and radical icon of Israel’s extreme left. Avnery is a fascinating character, with a biography that merits a book, a documentary film and a small museum. Nevertheless, relying on him as someone representing “positive reviews” in “Israel itself” is like relying on, say, a good review from Noam Chosky as evidence of “generally favorable” reviews in the U.S.

The second review Walt mentions did indeed appearin my former paper, Haaretz. First, the writer: nominally “Israeli,” Daniel Levy does not live in Israel and hardly represents the “positive reaction” of Israelis in general to Walt’s book. Levy wrote this positive review of The Israel Lobby while he was already working to establish a Washington shop of his own, the dovish J Street. The Israel Lobby wasn’t commissioned or written by J Street founders, but it served their cause well. So yes, Levy gave the book a favorable review–as a Washingtonian, not as an Israeli.

Add to that the fact that Levy himself has quite radical tendencies (you do not meet many Israelis who support his views, not even on the left. Many of Levy’s former colleagues think he has gone too far – to put it mildly). And Haaretz has always been a hub for sanctimonious Israel-bashing (as well as great reporting and writing).

While it’s convenient for Walt to quote the one positive review written for Haaretz by an outsider, the coverage in Haaretz by staff members was mostly negative. I wrote about the book here, here and here. And columnist Reuven Pdhatzur wrote this:

Two reputable professors, one from Harvard, Stephen Walt, and the other from University of Chicago, John Mearsheimer, wrote a shameful document as far as its arguments go, and an embarrassing one as far as its academic level is concerned.

Walt says he got generally positive coverage in Israel? This claim is as credible as his book.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Three million . . .  four million. . . do I hear five million jobs? Upping the job “creation” number  sounds like something that was fifth or sixth on a staffer’s list of “Ways to get Americans to agree to a trillion dollars of debt.” The President-elect’s credibility is a precious thing and shouldn’t be frittered away with silly stunts like this.

And his media magic is waning. David Broder says the President-elect has taken a “drubbing” over the Bill Richardson and Blago/Roland Burris messes. So is the honeymoon over?

P.J. O’Rourke goes even farther: “Is it too soon to talk about the failed Obama presidency just because Obama isn’t president yet? That depends upon how quickly Barack Obama is able to apply the lessons he’s learned from Management Secrets of the Illinois Governors. So far he’s not doing very well. He has allowed America’s current number one jackleg, crackpot, smut-mouth, slime-licking politician to give the Obama Senate seat to a lovable old African-American doofus whom no one has the heart to execrate. Roland Burris will be the kind of ornament to this year’s Senate that the broken plastic Rudolph with its antlers missing was to last year’s Christmas tree.” (All kidding aside, it’s obviously too early to declare the presidency failed or even seriously damaged, but Obama’s image of infallibility has bitten the dust.)

Katon Dawson tells the New York Times the concern about his more than decade-long membership in a whites-only club is “so bogus.” (What is he– in sixth grade?) That’s probably what Harry Reid said about concerns over the backlash which might be triggered by throwing Burris out in the rain. What do you think is the first fact every single MSM outlet will mention if Dawson is eliminated? But it doesn’t matter what the MSM says because the GOP doesn’t have an image problem with minorities and has plenty of adherents, right? Oh, wait.

Grover Norquist explains Obama-nomics: “Taking a dollar from one side of the economy and spending it in another state is just moving wealth, jobs or income around. Nothing is created. Imagine Obama taking a bucket of water out of one side of the lake and carrying it around to the other side of the lake and then holding a press conference to have himself filmed ‘filling the lake with water.’ Does anyone outside of dead economists named Keynes believe that the level of water in the lake is now higher? That is his plan. It won’t work. We will waste billions building pyramids (ours are horizontal and called light rail and get fewer visitors than the pyramids). We will be left with the stench of corruption. Debt. And the kind of economic recovery people lived through in the 1930s–high unemployment, low wages, little investment.”

If you think the Bush administration made hash out of the Six Party talks, opened the door to big government and didn’t have the nerve to insist the car companies make fundamental changes you are in good company — with Vice President Dick Cheney. More than anything else, the Stephen Hayes interview reveals the degree to which Cheney was not calling the shots, at least in the second term.

Is Dick Durbin making sense on taxes?

Mitt Romney usually makes sense on taxes — which is one reason the House Republicans are inviting him to present his economic recovery ideas. He’s one of the few Republican candidates who came out looking better at the end than the beginning of the presidential race. (He’s also avoided any hint of intra-party nastiness, which is both smart and welcomed. Come to think of it, that might be why he seems less damaged than all the other former contenders.)

The language is a bit harsh in this piece, but I agree with this insight on Sarah Palin: “She would be wise to spend the next three years studying and formulating a world view rooted in facts. This is what Rudy Giuliani did after a less-than-stellar campaign for mayor of New York City that saw him lose to David Dinkins in 1989. He roared back four years later to serve two terms. Palin must do the same if she’s ever going to expand her popularity — or be taken seriously by anyone — beyond that narrow, aging and shrinking band of the Republican Party that likes things the way they were 20 years ago.” And really, the “media is unfair” routine is getting old.

Another observer finds President-elect Obama’s biggest problems reside on the Democratic side of the aisle: “Senator Reid’s gratuitous comments the other day that, ‘he does not work for the President’ is the first shot over Obama’s bow. The Democrats control everything, but in reality will they be in control? Can they control themselves?”  I think the answers are “sometimes” and “no,” respectively.

Lately I’ve been finding myself in surprising  agreement with some leftwingers around the blogosphere. Here’s today’s edition, this time from Salon: enough with the “Al Franken stole it” talk.

Three million . . .  four million. . . do I hear five million jobs? Upping the job “creation” number  sounds like something that was fifth or sixth on a staffer’s list of “Ways to get Americans to agree to a trillion dollars of debt.” The President-elect’s credibility is a precious thing and shouldn’t be frittered away with silly stunts like this.

And his media magic is waning. David Broder says the President-elect has taken a “drubbing” over the Bill Richardson and Blago/Roland Burris messes. So is the honeymoon over?

P.J. O’Rourke goes even farther: “Is it too soon to talk about the failed Obama presidency just because Obama isn’t president yet? That depends upon how quickly Barack Obama is able to apply the lessons he’s learned from Management Secrets of the Illinois Governors. So far he’s not doing very well. He has allowed America’s current number one jackleg, crackpot, smut-mouth, slime-licking politician to give the Obama Senate seat to a lovable old African-American doofus whom no one has the heart to execrate. Roland Burris will be the kind of ornament to this year’s Senate that the broken plastic Rudolph with its antlers missing was to last year’s Christmas tree.” (All kidding aside, it’s obviously too early to declare the presidency failed or even seriously damaged, but Obama’s image of infallibility has bitten the dust.)

Katon Dawson tells the New York Times the concern about his more than decade-long membership in a whites-only club is “so bogus.” (What is he– in sixth grade?) That’s probably what Harry Reid said about concerns over the backlash which might be triggered by throwing Burris out in the rain. What do you think is the first fact every single MSM outlet will mention if Dawson is eliminated? But it doesn’t matter what the MSM says because the GOP doesn’t have an image problem with minorities and has plenty of adherents, right? Oh, wait.

Grover Norquist explains Obama-nomics: “Taking a dollar from one side of the economy and spending it in another state is just moving wealth, jobs or income around. Nothing is created. Imagine Obama taking a bucket of water out of one side of the lake and carrying it around to the other side of the lake and then holding a press conference to have himself filmed ‘filling the lake with water.’ Does anyone outside of dead economists named Keynes believe that the level of water in the lake is now higher? That is his plan. It won’t work. We will waste billions building pyramids (ours are horizontal and called light rail and get fewer visitors than the pyramids). We will be left with the stench of corruption. Debt. And the kind of economic recovery people lived through in the 1930s–high unemployment, low wages, little investment.”

If you think the Bush administration made hash out of the Six Party talks, opened the door to big government and didn’t have the nerve to insist the car companies make fundamental changes you are in good company — with Vice President Dick Cheney. More than anything else, the Stephen Hayes interview reveals the degree to which Cheney was not calling the shots, at least in the second term.

Is Dick Durbin making sense on taxes?

Mitt Romney usually makes sense on taxes — which is one reason the House Republicans are inviting him to present his economic recovery ideas. He’s one of the few Republican candidates who came out looking better at the end than the beginning of the presidential race. (He’s also avoided any hint of intra-party nastiness, which is both smart and welcomed. Come to think of it, that might be why he seems less damaged than all the other former contenders.)

The language is a bit harsh in this piece, but I agree with this insight on Sarah Palin: “She would be wise to spend the next three years studying and formulating a world view rooted in facts. This is what Rudy Giuliani did after a less-than-stellar campaign for mayor of New York City that saw him lose to David Dinkins in 1989. He roared back four years later to serve two terms. Palin must do the same if she’s ever going to expand her popularity — or be taken seriously by anyone — beyond that narrow, aging and shrinking band of the Republican Party that likes things the way they were 20 years ago.” And really, the “media is unfair” routine is getting old.

Another observer finds President-elect Obama’s biggest problems reside on the Democratic side of the aisle: “Senator Reid’s gratuitous comments the other day that, ‘he does not work for the President’ is the first shot over Obama’s bow. The Democrats control everything, but in reality will they be in control? Can they control themselves?”  I think the answers are “sometimes” and “no,” respectively.

Lately I’ve been finding myself in surprising  agreement with some leftwingers around the blogosphere. Here’s today’s edition, this time from Salon: enough with the “Al Franken stole it” talk.

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