Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 12, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Maine’s Michael, on Gordon G. Chang:

Even if we discount (at Israel’s peril) the genocidal statements, coming from some of Iran’s more bellicose or just plain nutty leaders, there is still the very real and dangerous fact that nuclear weaponry would give Iran complete hegemony over the gulf.

This in turn would give it a foot on the neck of the West’s economy for the foreseeable future.

Iran will need this power to arrogate wealth to itself. Its economy is currently on a collision course with reality as things stand.

Few people take into account that things look so bad for Iran, currently, that it cannot afford to give up its plans for economic hegemony over the Gulf via nuclear weaponry.

Even the ‘realists’ should be able to see this reality.

Maine’s Michael, on Gordon G. Chang:

Even if we discount (at Israel’s peril) the genocidal statements, coming from some of Iran’s more bellicose or just plain nutty leaders, there is still the very real and dangerous fact that nuclear weaponry would give Iran complete hegemony over the gulf.

This in turn would give it a foot on the neck of the West’s economy for the foreseeable future.

Iran will need this power to arrogate wealth to itself. Its economy is currently on a collision course with reality as things stand.

Few people take into account that things look so bad for Iran, currently, that it cannot afford to give up its plans for economic hegemony over the Gulf via nuclear weaponry.

Even the ‘realists’ should be able to see this reality.

Read Less

A Tale of Two Ledes

From “Death brings despair and a defiant smile in a Gaza hospital,” by Taghreed El-Khodary, International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2008:

The emergency room at Shifa Hospital is never calm but on Thursday, the 13th day of Israel’s assault on Gaza, it was a scene of gore and despair and a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a vengeful military behemoth.

From “Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain,” by Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times, January 8, 2008:

The emergency room in Shifa Hospital is often a place of gore and despair. On Thursday, it was also a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a military behemoth.

Though the stories have different titles, they are roughly identical (the Times owns the IHT). The use of the word “vengeful” to describe the Israeli “military behemoth” raises some interesting questions. Are such adjectives used to describe other countries that patiently withstand rocket attacks on their civilians for three years before responding effectively? Is Hamas “vengeful” for its stated desire to kill Jews and eliminate the state of Israel? It’s reassuring to see that there are responsible copy editors at the Times. Perhaps one of them should be dispatched to Paris.

Thanks to reader M.H. for pointing this out.

From “Death brings despair and a defiant smile in a Gaza hospital,” by Taghreed El-Khodary, International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2008:

The emergency room at Shifa Hospital is never calm but on Thursday, the 13th day of Israel’s assault on Gaza, it was a scene of gore and despair and a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a vengeful military behemoth.

From “Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain,” by Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times, January 8, 2008:

The emergency room in Shifa Hospital is often a place of gore and despair. On Thursday, it was also a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a military behemoth.

Though the stories have different titles, they are roughly identical (the Times owns the IHT). The use of the word “vengeful” to describe the Israeli “military behemoth” raises some interesting questions. Are such adjectives used to describe other countries that patiently withstand rocket attacks on their civilians for three years before responding effectively? Is Hamas “vengeful” for its stated desire to kill Jews and eliminate the state of Israel? It’s reassuring to see that there are responsible copy editors at the Times. Perhaps one of them should be dispatched to Paris.

Thanks to reader M.H. for pointing this out.

Read Less

No Love Lost

As Jonathan Tobin noted, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are not particularly fond of one another — a fact well-known for quite a while. Rice apparently misses the charm and elegance of Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, and Dov Weisglass’s–his emissary to Washington–sense of humor. Olmert never treated her with genuine respect, and seldom hesitated to use his good standing with President Bush to undermine her.

Frictions between the two were never kept secret. A year and a half ago I reported (with my colleague Aluf Benn) that “[t]he Annapolis summit and the efforts to revive the peace process have exacerbated the tension that already existed between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” While Bush is seen in Israel as a great friend, Rice is treated with suspicion. This is to be expected, given the traditional nature of the Secretary of State’s role as in-house representative of  academia and “international public opinion.”  Israel’s version Rice’s increasing disenchanment with Olmert does not flatter the Secretary:

Rice’s anger at Israel really derives from more current events: She was deeply offended at the height of the Second Lebanon War, while preparing to leave for Beirut to pull together a cease-fire, when the IDF killed Lebanese civilians during the bombing of Kafr Kana. Her trip was canceled at the last minute, the war went on for more than another two weeks, and some who know her say that Rice never forgave Israel for this slap in the face. 

However, while such stories have been circulating among reporters and columnists, the two have managed to remain civil towards each other, at least until today. Now that both are ready to step down soon–Olmert when the new Israeli government is formed in March, Rice next week–it seems as if the gloves are finally off.

At the root of Olmert’s anger is Rice’s way of handling the Security-Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. While in Israel this resolution serves as a political tool against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (the military was well prepared for the war, while the Foreign Ministry supposedly wasn’t), Olmert’s frustration with Rice is personal. Today he was not shy about airing this irritation in explicit terms:

She was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favour,” Olmert said in a speech in the southern town of Ashkelon…

In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favour,” Olmert said. “I said ‘get me President Bush on the phone’. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care. ‘I need to talk to him now’. He got off the podium and spoke to me.

I told him the United States could not vote in favour. It cannot vote in favour of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favour.

This is not the first time Olmert called Bush to demand last-minute corrections to policies initiated by Rice, but it might be the last. Rice was clearly unhappy this time–not that she had ever been happy when such a thing has happened before. Here is one prediction regarding the memoirs both Bush and Rice have promised to write: their respective assessments of Ehud Olmert’s leadership of Israel will be a major point of contention between the two.

As Jonathan Tobin noted, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are not particularly fond of one another — a fact well-known for quite a while. Rice apparently misses the charm and elegance of Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, and Dov Weisglass’s–his emissary to Washington–sense of humor. Olmert never treated her with genuine respect, and seldom hesitated to use his good standing with President Bush to undermine her.

Frictions between the two were never kept secret. A year and a half ago I reported (with my colleague Aluf Benn) that “[t]he Annapolis summit and the efforts to revive the peace process have exacerbated the tension that already existed between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” While Bush is seen in Israel as a great friend, Rice is treated with suspicion. This is to be expected, given the traditional nature of the Secretary of State’s role as in-house representative of  academia and “international public opinion.”  Israel’s version Rice’s increasing disenchanment with Olmert does not flatter the Secretary:

Rice’s anger at Israel really derives from more current events: She was deeply offended at the height of the Second Lebanon War, while preparing to leave for Beirut to pull together a cease-fire, when the IDF killed Lebanese civilians during the bombing of Kafr Kana. Her trip was canceled at the last minute, the war went on for more than another two weeks, and some who know her say that Rice never forgave Israel for this slap in the face. 

However, while such stories have been circulating among reporters and columnists, the two have managed to remain civil towards each other, at least until today. Now that both are ready to step down soon–Olmert when the new Israeli government is formed in March, Rice next week–it seems as if the gloves are finally off.

At the root of Olmert’s anger is Rice’s way of handling the Security-Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. While in Israel this resolution serves as a political tool against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (the military was well prepared for the war, while the Foreign Ministry supposedly wasn’t), Olmert’s frustration with Rice is personal. Today he was not shy about airing this irritation in explicit terms:

She was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favour,” Olmert said in a speech in the southern town of Ashkelon…

In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favour,” Olmert said. “I said ‘get me President Bush on the phone’. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care. ‘I need to talk to him now’. He got off the podium and spoke to me.

I told him the United States could not vote in favour. It cannot vote in favour of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favour.

This is not the first time Olmert called Bush to demand last-minute corrections to policies initiated by Rice, but it might be the last. Rice was clearly unhappy this time–not that she had ever been happy when such a thing has happened before. Here is one prediction regarding the memoirs both Bush and Rice have promised to write: their respective assessments of Ehud Olmert’s leadership of Israel will be a major point of contention between the two.

Read Less

Pride of The Fleet

Over the weekend, the latest nuclear-powered supercarrier was officially commissioned into the United States Navy. CVN-77 was christened the “U.S.S. George H. W. Bush,” and, for the first time in history, the namesake of a carrier was on hand to see his legacy go on duty.

It was a remarkably moving ceremony. Both Presidents Bush were in attendance, and it was a reminder that our 41st president is, whatever else you may say about him, a genuine war hero.

George H. W. Bush signed up for the Navy on his 18th birthday, and served as a torpedo-bomber pilot in the war. He flew many missions, quite successfully, and was shot down once–but was rescued before being captured. By the end of the war, he had three Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and a portion of a Presidential Unit Citation awarded to his ship, the light aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).

There is a world of difference between the old San Jacinto and the George H. W. Bush. The new carrier is several orders of magnitude larger:

USS San Jacinto: 622 feetlong, 109 feet wide, 11,000 tons displacement, 1,549 crew, 45 aircraft, top speed 31.6 knots.

USS George H. W. Bush:  1,092 feet long, 252 feet wide, 97,000 tons displacement, 5,700 crew, 90 aircraft, top speed “in excess of 30 knots.”

And in a truly moving surprise-tribute during the commissioning ceremony, the Navy scrounged up a fully-functional  Grumman TBM Avenger, the very model Bush himself piloted during the war, and had it fly over in honor of the former Navy pilot and president.

There may be a world of difference between the USS San Jacinto and USS George H. W. Bush, but the heroism embodied by the men and women who serve on vessels such as these remains consistent. This weekend’s christening is a testament to the indomitability of the American armed forces in general, and one hero in particular..

Over the weekend, the latest nuclear-powered supercarrier was officially commissioned into the United States Navy. CVN-77 was christened the “U.S.S. George H. W. Bush,” and, for the first time in history, the namesake of a carrier was on hand to see his legacy go on duty.

It was a remarkably moving ceremony. Both Presidents Bush were in attendance, and it was a reminder that our 41st president is, whatever else you may say about him, a genuine war hero.

George H. W. Bush signed up for the Navy on his 18th birthday, and served as a torpedo-bomber pilot in the war. He flew many missions, quite successfully, and was shot down once–but was rescued before being captured. By the end of the war, he had three Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and a portion of a Presidential Unit Citation awarded to his ship, the light aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).

There is a world of difference between the old San Jacinto and the George H. W. Bush. The new carrier is several orders of magnitude larger:

USS San Jacinto: 622 feetlong, 109 feet wide, 11,000 tons displacement, 1,549 crew, 45 aircraft, top speed 31.6 knots.

USS George H. W. Bush:  1,092 feet long, 252 feet wide, 97,000 tons displacement, 5,700 crew, 90 aircraft, top speed “in excess of 30 knots.”

And in a truly moving surprise-tribute during the commissioning ceremony, the Navy scrounged up a fully-functional  Grumman TBM Avenger, the very model Bush himself piloted during the war, and had it fly over in honor of the former Navy pilot and president.

There may be a world of difference between the USS San Jacinto and USS George H. W. Bush, but the heroism embodied by the men and women who serve on vessels such as these remains consistent. This weekend’s christening is a testament to the indomitability of the American armed forces in general, and one hero in particular..

Read Less

Gaza As Preemption

Most of those who have defended Operation Cast Lead as justifiable, whether or not they believe it to be in Israel’s best interest, have done so on the rather obvious grounds of self-defense. But another equally sound, if not stronger, case for the moral and legal justification of Israel’s Gaza offensive can be made using the doctrine of preemption.

In order for the “disproportionate” argument to make sense, many of Israel’s critics have argued that the near-daily rocket fire that Israel had endured since it evacuated Gaza in 2005 was really not that big of a deal. “Rag-tag,” as the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein put it. Whatever the myopia of this argument — no state, not even the utopia envisioned by Goldstein and her colleagues in liberal imagination-land — would put up with what Israel endured for so long. Indeed, it’s because of the double-standard that Israel and Israel alone is subjected to in the world media and international fora that its leaders waited so long before taking such necessary action to protect its citizens. If you want an example of what other countries do when felt put-upon by lesser antagonists, see the case of Russia vs. Georgia.

That said, there is something seductive in the disproportionality argument, seeing that the Hamas rockets, up until very recently, were almost entirely hitting the small town of Sderot and had only killed a handful of people. As wanton as the attacks might have been, the vast majority of Israelis were never threatened by the terrorism that their government has risked so much — in terms of national prestige, international reputation, and the lives of soldiers — to thwart.

For the sake of argument, let’s concede that the Hamas rocket attacks up until this point did not nearly merit the aggressive response that they eventually elicited. But along with that concession comes this concern: what would Hamas have been capable of had Israel not invaded and decimated its offensive capabilities? While the initial attacks from Gaza utilized the unguided Qassams (which, however crude, were no less deadly to the people who lived within their range), they became more threatening once Hamas violently seized control over the territory in 2007 and slowly expanded its arsenal — thanks to support from the Iranian regime. Last week, Israel reported that it believes Hamas acquired dozens of Iranian Fajr-3 missiles, and that, over time, Hamas would have obtained rockets able to strike the Israel nuclear installation at Dimona, 20 miles east of Beersheba. At some point, given the existence of a massive tunnel smuggling network, Hamas would have weapons capable of hitting Tel Aviv.

Though it has greatly reduced rocket fire, Operation Cast Lead has not eliminated it. There is no doubt, however, that left unmolested, Hamas would soon be firing rockets at densely populated areas, thus disturbing normal life for an ever greater number of Israelis and inflicting many more casualties than the number currently deemed acceptable by Israel’s critics. Given the current unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — both of which were undertaken not only as responses to illegal and dangerous behavior by the regimes then in power, but also to preempt even graver threats down the line — it’s understandable that Israel and its defenders would opt for the relatively easier case of self-defense as opposed to preemption. But the latter is justified all the same.

Most of those who have defended Operation Cast Lead as justifiable, whether or not they believe it to be in Israel’s best interest, have done so on the rather obvious grounds of self-defense. But another equally sound, if not stronger, case for the moral and legal justification of Israel’s Gaza offensive can be made using the doctrine of preemption.

In order for the “disproportionate” argument to make sense, many of Israel’s critics have argued that the near-daily rocket fire that Israel had endured since it evacuated Gaza in 2005 was really not that big of a deal. “Rag-tag,” as the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein put it. Whatever the myopia of this argument — no state, not even the utopia envisioned by Goldstein and her colleagues in liberal imagination-land — would put up with what Israel endured for so long. Indeed, it’s because of the double-standard that Israel and Israel alone is subjected to in the world media and international fora that its leaders waited so long before taking such necessary action to protect its citizens. If you want an example of what other countries do when felt put-upon by lesser antagonists, see the case of Russia vs. Georgia.

That said, there is something seductive in the disproportionality argument, seeing that the Hamas rockets, up until very recently, were almost entirely hitting the small town of Sderot and had only killed a handful of people. As wanton as the attacks might have been, the vast majority of Israelis were never threatened by the terrorism that their government has risked so much — in terms of national prestige, international reputation, and the lives of soldiers — to thwart.

For the sake of argument, let’s concede that the Hamas rocket attacks up until this point did not nearly merit the aggressive response that they eventually elicited. But along with that concession comes this concern: what would Hamas have been capable of had Israel not invaded and decimated its offensive capabilities? While the initial attacks from Gaza utilized the unguided Qassams (which, however crude, were no less deadly to the people who lived within their range), they became more threatening once Hamas violently seized control over the territory in 2007 and slowly expanded its arsenal — thanks to support from the Iranian regime. Last week, Israel reported that it believes Hamas acquired dozens of Iranian Fajr-3 missiles, and that, over time, Hamas would have obtained rockets able to strike the Israel nuclear installation at Dimona, 20 miles east of Beersheba. At some point, given the existence of a massive tunnel smuggling network, Hamas would have weapons capable of hitting Tel Aviv.

Though it has greatly reduced rocket fire, Operation Cast Lead has not eliminated it. There is no doubt, however, that left unmolested, Hamas would soon be firing rockets at densely populated areas, thus disturbing normal life for an ever greater number of Israelis and inflicting many more casualties than the number currently deemed acceptable by Israel’s critics. Given the current unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — both of which were undertaken not only as responses to illegal and dangerous behavior by the regimes then in power, but also to preempt even graver threats down the line — it’s understandable that Israel and its defenders would opt for the relatively easier case of self-defense as opposed to preemption. But the latter is justified all the same.

Read Less

Just How Blue Is Virginia?

Terry McAuliffe, former DNC Chair and longtime Clinton friend is running for Governor in Virginia, but doesn’t seem much concerned that the electorate for a gubernatorial race may more closely mirror prior Virginia elections than the 2008 presidential race. If it’s the former, his identification as a hyper-partisan liberal Democratic operative may be a problem. For now he’s putting up a good face, not appearing particularly defensive about his lack of state roots or being branded a “national Democrat.” As this report notes:

At the core of McAuliffe’s campaign is the presumption that he can place firmly in the past several long-standing rules about Virginia politics: that successful candidates must have deep roots in Virginia, that they must spend years cultivating support in local and state party organizations and that, if they are Democrats, they must stay connected with conservative-minded Virginians by keeping their distance from the national party.

But some are skeptical as to whether this is going to fly:

“Virginia has a long history of electing people who have served in elected positions in the community for a long time,” said Fairfax Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who is supporting [McAuliffe primary opponent Brian] Moran. “They don’t look kindly on people who come in from Washington or other areas and waltz in and think they’re going to run for the top spot in the commonwealth.”

Many longtime Democratic activists snicker at McAuliffe’s recent gaffe in Prince William County, where he mistakenly referred to the research institutions and universities as those “we have here in Florida.” Some have tartly remarked that neither Moran nor Deeds needs a “listening tour” to understand the issues important to Virginia. About 200 supporters gave Moran a two-minute standing ovation at a recent evening meeting of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, an unsubtle rebuke of McAuliffe’s entrance into the race.

We’ ll find out whether the Obama era has changed all that. If the general election turnout in November is anything like 2008–a huge turnout among African Americans, new arrivals to the state, and young voters–chances are that McAuliffe won’t have any problem with his image. But if not, the strategy used so successfully by prior Democratic Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (e.g. pro-gun, social moderation, rural appeal, distance from the national party) might not be so safely jettisoned.

And this certainly will be a test of the new President’s impact on national politics. With his close ally and still-Governor Kaine as the head of the DNC, the Virginia race, even more than many previously expected it to, will be nationalized. We will see, in a year in which the economy most likely will not have snapped back, whether the Democrats can run effectively under the Obama banner and succeed, even in a state which has only recently swung Blue.

Terry McAuliffe, former DNC Chair and longtime Clinton friend is running for Governor in Virginia, but doesn’t seem much concerned that the electorate for a gubernatorial race may more closely mirror prior Virginia elections than the 2008 presidential race. If it’s the former, his identification as a hyper-partisan liberal Democratic operative may be a problem. For now he’s putting up a good face, not appearing particularly defensive about his lack of state roots or being branded a “national Democrat.” As this report notes:

At the core of McAuliffe’s campaign is the presumption that he can place firmly in the past several long-standing rules about Virginia politics: that successful candidates must have deep roots in Virginia, that they must spend years cultivating support in local and state party organizations and that, if they are Democrats, they must stay connected with conservative-minded Virginians by keeping their distance from the national party.

But some are skeptical as to whether this is going to fly:

“Virginia has a long history of electing people who have served in elected positions in the community for a long time,” said Fairfax Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who is supporting [McAuliffe primary opponent Brian] Moran. “They don’t look kindly on people who come in from Washington or other areas and waltz in and think they’re going to run for the top spot in the commonwealth.”

Many longtime Democratic activists snicker at McAuliffe’s recent gaffe in Prince William County, where he mistakenly referred to the research institutions and universities as those “we have here in Florida.” Some have tartly remarked that neither Moran nor Deeds needs a “listening tour” to understand the issues important to Virginia. About 200 supporters gave Moran a two-minute standing ovation at a recent evening meeting of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, an unsubtle rebuke of McAuliffe’s entrance into the race.

We’ ll find out whether the Obama era has changed all that. If the general election turnout in November is anything like 2008–a huge turnout among African Americans, new arrivals to the state, and young voters–chances are that McAuliffe won’t have any problem with his image. But if not, the strategy used so successfully by prior Democratic Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (e.g. pro-gun, social moderation, rural appeal, distance from the national party) might not be so safely jettisoned.

And this certainly will be a test of the new President’s impact on national politics. With his close ally and still-Governor Kaine as the head of the DNC, the Virginia race, even more than many previously expected it to, will be nationalized. We will see, in a year in which the economy most likely will not have snapped back, whether the Democrats can run effectively under the Obama banner and succeed, even in a state which has only recently swung Blue.

Read Less

Of Moderates and Mullahs

Fareed Zakaria thinks Israel is causing itself more harm than good:

Look at the effects of the invasion. Moderate Arabs are on the defense. Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt despises Hamas-seen as an offshoot of its own outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. But after blaming the Islamists in the first few days of the Israeli assault, Mubarak has now hastily joined in the condemnations of Israel. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are similarly backtracking. This is a repeat of their reaction during Israel’s 2006 war with Hizbullah.

The Saudis are “moderate Arabs”? The war on terror must be working out better than I thought.

When it comes to regimes such as the Wahabist one in Riyadh and the autocratic one in Cairo, Zakaria should be celebrating their initial condemnation of Hamas–not lamenting their inevitable denunciations of Israel.

It is the inevitability of those denunciations that lives at the heart of the “moderate” question. The problem with so-called Arab moderates is that they are forever tilting toward Israel and the West, but never quite getting there. They prove Xeno’s paradox in political terms: each tack Westward covers a fraction of the distance of their previous move, so that the day never comes when they’ll say, “we fully embrace democracy, Israel, and the West.”

But the non-moderate Arabs don’t exactly hold back on their end, do they? So, while it’s always crucial to engage genuine moderates, any triage approach to Israel’s neighbors finds radicals to be the more immediate concern of the two.Zakaria’s ultimate point is that the Gaza operation is somehow emboldening Tehran:

Israel believes that the lesson of its 2006 war with Hizbullah was to improve its military tactics. And its superb defense forces have adapted well. But by crushing Gaza militarily, Israel might actually be giving Iran’s mullahs the ideological issue they thrive on. That might be the political lesson of this war.

On this point, it’s best to consider what Ze’ev Maghen wrote in “Eradicating the ‘Little Satan’,” his lead story for this month’s issue of COMMENTARY:

More and more Iranian Islamists today-together with their zealous coreligionists in other Muslim countries-believe that the erasure of the Jewish state from the map is a dream that can be realized in the here and now, whether in one fell swoop or through a relentless process of attrition and erosion. And one strong indication of this, beginning in 2005 and continuing and intensifying up to the present, is a major turnaround in government statements and published material about Israel and the Jews in the official Persian press.Up until recently, the prevalent tendency of such coverage had involved the traditional exaggeration of the power and influence of the “Jewish lobby” and the long arm and entrenched tentacles of the government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization. This entailed everything from in-depth “analyses” of how the Jewish cabal that owns Hollywood has utilized the enormous potential of “the world’s seventh art” to bolster Zionism and blacken the face of Islam; to “documentary evidence” that Zionist money and pressure is responsible for the anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite bent of the al-Jazeera television network; to in-depth “scholarly” exposés of the manner in which historically the Jews carved Protestantism out of Catholicism in order to re-impose on Christianity the ethos of the Hebrew Bible with its doctrine of the chosen people.But these and hundreds of other portraits of Israel and world Jewry as the “hidden hand” undermining Islam at every turn have dwindled considerably of late, giving way instead to their opposite. The emphasis now is on every detectable crack, fault, and weakness in the Jewish national edifice, and on Israel as a polity teetering on the brink of collapse.

It is the peddling of this conception of Israel as a state in fatal disrepair that serves as the mullahs’ rallying cry. A show of force like the one currently underway in Gaza completely undermines the new domestic and regional message emanating from Iranian leadership. Crack? Fault? Weakness? Collapse? Not according to all the coverage. The fighting in Gaza robs Ahmadinejad of his single talking point: the certainty of Israel’s destruction.

Fareed Zakaria thinks Israel is causing itself more harm than good:

Look at the effects of the invasion. Moderate Arabs are on the defense. Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt despises Hamas-seen as an offshoot of its own outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. But after blaming the Islamists in the first few days of the Israeli assault, Mubarak has now hastily joined in the condemnations of Israel. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are similarly backtracking. This is a repeat of their reaction during Israel’s 2006 war with Hizbullah.

The Saudis are “moderate Arabs”? The war on terror must be working out better than I thought.

When it comes to regimes such as the Wahabist one in Riyadh and the autocratic one in Cairo, Zakaria should be celebrating their initial condemnation of Hamas–not lamenting their inevitable denunciations of Israel.

It is the inevitability of those denunciations that lives at the heart of the “moderate” question. The problem with so-called Arab moderates is that they are forever tilting toward Israel and the West, but never quite getting there. They prove Xeno’s paradox in political terms: each tack Westward covers a fraction of the distance of their previous move, so that the day never comes when they’ll say, “we fully embrace democracy, Israel, and the West.”

But the non-moderate Arabs don’t exactly hold back on their end, do they? So, while it’s always crucial to engage genuine moderates, any triage approach to Israel’s neighbors finds radicals to be the more immediate concern of the two.Zakaria’s ultimate point is that the Gaza operation is somehow emboldening Tehran:

Israel believes that the lesson of its 2006 war with Hizbullah was to improve its military tactics. And its superb defense forces have adapted well. But by crushing Gaza militarily, Israel might actually be giving Iran’s mullahs the ideological issue they thrive on. That might be the political lesson of this war.

On this point, it’s best to consider what Ze’ev Maghen wrote in “Eradicating the ‘Little Satan’,” his lead story for this month’s issue of COMMENTARY:

More and more Iranian Islamists today-together with their zealous coreligionists in other Muslim countries-believe that the erasure of the Jewish state from the map is a dream that can be realized in the here and now, whether in one fell swoop or through a relentless process of attrition and erosion. And one strong indication of this, beginning in 2005 and continuing and intensifying up to the present, is a major turnaround in government statements and published material about Israel and the Jews in the official Persian press.Up until recently, the prevalent tendency of such coverage had involved the traditional exaggeration of the power and influence of the “Jewish lobby” and the long arm and entrenched tentacles of the government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization. This entailed everything from in-depth “analyses” of how the Jewish cabal that owns Hollywood has utilized the enormous potential of “the world’s seventh art” to bolster Zionism and blacken the face of Islam; to “documentary evidence” that Zionist money and pressure is responsible for the anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite bent of the al-Jazeera television network; to in-depth “scholarly” exposés of the manner in which historically the Jews carved Protestantism out of Catholicism in order to re-impose on Christianity the ethos of the Hebrew Bible with its doctrine of the chosen people.But these and hundreds of other portraits of Israel and world Jewry as the “hidden hand” undermining Islam at every turn have dwindled considerably of late, giving way instead to their opposite. The emphasis now is on every detectable crack, fault, and weakness in the Jewish national edifice, and on Israel as a polity teetering on the brink of collapse.

It is the peddling of this conception of Israel as a state in fatal disrepair that serves as the mullahs’ rallying cry. A show of force like the one currently underway in Gaza completely undermines the new domestic and regional message emanating from Iranian leadership. Crack? Fault? Weakness? Collapse? Not according to all the coverage. The fighting in Gaza robs Ahmadinejad of his single talking point: the certainty of Israel’s destruction.

Read Less

Condi’s UN Embarrassment

In today’s Wall Street Journal, former UN ambassador John Bolton rightly criticizes the Bush administration for abstaining on a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

He writes:

That’s no way to lead. If Washington concluded that a harsh resolution on Gaza was warranted, the proper course was to vote for it. And that is, apparently, what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had hoped to do. Speaking to the Security Council, Ms. Rice endorsed the basic content of the British draft, saying “this resolution is a step toward our goals.” She also said that the U.S. was abstaining to give Egypt’s ongoing mediation efforts time to work.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, however, indicates that there may have been another reason. He said publicly  Ms. Rice told him just before the vote that she had “been given new instructions” (certainly from President George W. Bush) not to support the draft.

Today’s Jerusalem Post gives us a more complete answer as to what happened, at least according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert<.
Speaking today in Ashkelon, Olmert bragged that he dragged Bush out of a speech in Philadelphia and told him he didn’t want Rice to vote for the resolution:

I [called the White House and] said, ‘Get President Bush on the phone.’ They tried and told me he was in the middle of a lecture in Philadelphia. I said ‘I’m not interested, I need to speak to him right now.’ He got down from the podium, went out and took the phone call. I told him the US cannot possibly vote for this resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote for it. She was left quite embarrassed.

Olmert ought not to be speaking publicly in this manner about his country’s only ally. While I doubt that it all went down exactly as he says (as I doubt just about everything that man says), this sort of loose talk is insulting to the United States and to Bush, who has been a good friend to Olmert. The sooner this ethically challenged politician is out of office the better it will be for Israel.
As for Rice, she should be embarrassed. As Bolton writes:

In the past, both Democratic and Republican administrations reacted to one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions by vetoing them.

That is exactly what the U.S. should have done in this case.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, former UN ambassador John Bolton rightly criticizes the Bush administration for abstaining on a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

He writes:

That’s no way to lead. If Washington concluded that a harsh resolution on Gaza was warranted, the proper course was to vote for it. And that is, apparently, what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had hoped to do. Speaking to the Security Council, Ms. Rice endorsed the basic content of the British draft, saying “this resolution is a step toward our goals.” She also said that the U.S. was abstaining to give Egypt’s ongoing mediation efforts time to work.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, however, indicates that there may have been another reason. He said publicly  Ms. Rice told him just before the vote that she had “been given new instructions” (certainly from President George W. Bush) not to support the draft.

Today’s Jerusalem Post gives us a more complete answer as to what happened, at least according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert<.
Speaking today in Ashkelon, Olmert bragged that he dragged Bush out of a speech in Philadelphia and told him he didn’t want Rice to vote for the resolution:

I [called the White House and] said, ‘Get President Bush on the phone.’ They tried and told me he was in the middle of a lecture in Philadelphia. I said ‘I’m not interested, I need to speak to him right now.’ He got down from the podium, went out and took the phone call. I told him the US cannot possibly vote for this resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote for it. She was left quite embarrassed.

Olmert ought not to be speaking publicly in this manner about his country’s only ally. While I doubt that it all went down exactly as he says (as I doubt just about everything that man says), this sort of loose talk is insulting to the United States and to Bush, who has been a good friend to Olmert. The sooner this ethically challenged politician is out of office the better it will be for Israel.
As for Rice, she should be embarrassed. As Bolton writes:

In the past, both Democratic and Republican administrations reacted to one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions by vetoing them.

That is exactly what the U.S. should have done in this case.

Read Less

Get Well, Jack Kemp

I was saddened, as were so many others, to hear that Jack Kemp had been diagnosed with cancer. His optimism, intellectual verve and commitment to improving the lives of all Americans (before anyone had heard of or dismissed the term “compassionate conservative”) were hallmarks of his political career and invaluable contributions to his party and country.

I did have an experience with Kemp when I was a college student at UC Berkeley. (Needless to say the institution and I agreed to disagree on virtually everything.) Kemp came to very hostile territory to preach what he always did — faith in free markets, upward mobility and, yes, a return to the gold standard. It was indicative of his crusading spirit that he believed the message should be delivered even in Berkeley. He talked that day about one of his favorite ideas– tax free enterprise zones for inner cities. The crowd was small and largely silent.

In the Q and A one surly character said, “But we want high quality jobs — not a bunch of fast food companies.” Kemp smiled and delivered the most persuasive argument I’ve heard on the benefits of free market capitalism — its power as a great social leveler, its ability to enhance personal  dignity and its ever-enduring ability to deliver the American dream. With good humor he told the students about his dad’s business “The California Trucking Company,” which he explained started out with one driver (his dad) and one truck and grew into a successful business, providing jobs and enhancing many lives. And he ended with a line aimed at his rather privileged  audience: “And don’t you forget– there is no such thing as a bad job.” Needless to say, he made his point. It was vintage Kemp.

I was saddened, as were so many others, to hear that Jack Kemp had been diagnosed with cancer. His optimism, intellectual verve and commitment to improving the lives of all Americans (before anyone had heard of or dismissed the term “compassionate conservative”) were hallmarks of his political career and invaluable contributions to his party and country.

I did have an experience with Kemp when I was a college student at UC Berkeley. (Needless to say the institution and I agreed to disagree on virtually everything.) Kemp came to very hostile territory to preach what he always did — faith in free markets, upward mobility and, yes, a return to the gold standard. It was indicative of his crusading spirit that he believed the message should be delivered even in Berkeley. He talked that day about one of his favorite ideas– tax free enterprise zones for inner cities. The crowd was small and largely silent.

In the Q and A one surly character said, “But we want high quality jobs — not a bunch of fast food companies.” Kemp smiled and delivered the most persuasive argument I’ve heard on the benefits of free market capitalism — its power as a great social leveler, its ability to enhance personal  dignity and its ever-enduring ability to deliver the American dream. With good humor he told the students about his dad’s business “The California Trucking Company,” which he explained started out with one driver (his dad) and one truck and grew into a successful business, providing jobs and enhancing many lives. And he ended with a line aimed at his rather privileged  audience: “And don’t you forget– there is no such thing as a bad job.” Needless to say, he made his point. It was vintage Kemp.

Read Less

Front Page Canard

As Eric Trager mentioned, a “news analysis” above the fold on the front page of the New York Times this morning proclaims the fear that the current “Crisis Imperils 2-State Plan.”

Written by Michael Slackman, whose dateline is Cairo, the piece presents the idea that Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza is hurting the prospects of a peaceful solution to the conflict via “an independent Palestinian state co-existing with Israel.”

Slackman writes:

Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be pressed to absorb the Palestinian populations now living beyond their borders. If Israel does not assume responsibility for humanitarian aid in Gaza, for example, pressure could compel Egypt to fill the vacuum; Jordan, in turn, worries that Israel will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory.

In that case, both states fear, they could become responsible for policing the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, undermining their peace treaties with Israel.

While I don’t doubt that this is the spin Slackman is getting from official circles in Cairo, it couldn’t be more misleading. First, floating the idea that Israel “will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory” is a canard.

Israel has never sought to do that and such an idea has no support from its government or any of the leading parties. It’s a lie, pure and simple, and allowing it to be mentioned even as a possibility on the front page of the Times is an act of irresponsibility on behalf of the newspaper’s editors.

Second, the only possible chance the two-state solution has requires Hamas to be defeated by Israel. So long as Gaza is controlled by Hamas (which makes the current situation a de-facto three-state solution with Hamas-run Gaza alongside Israel and the West Bank under the nominal control of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority) any sort of peace is impossible since Hamas is unwilling to even lie about its willingness to live in peace with Israel (which Fatah does sometimes). No rational Israeli government will give up more territory so as to enable the creation of another Hamasistan in the West Bank.

It’s not clear that the two-state idea is actually still alive. Fatah (whose pro-peace credentials are far from impeccable) is on life support and survives more on foreign aid than domestic popularity. It may be that there is nothing that Israel or the West can do to enable it to retake control of Gaza. But if a deal with the so-called “moderates” of Fatah is ever to be reached, it will have to be prefaced by the defeat of Hamas.

More interesting is the fact that Slackman’s Egyptian sources are openly worrying about the possibility of being asked to take responsibility for Gaza. Of course, nothing would please Israel more. It has been widely reported that during the negotiations for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin asked Anwar Sadat to take Gaza back along with all of the Sinai. Sadat, who was no dummy, said “no thanks.”

The idea that somehow Jordan can be compelled to take back the West Bank and Egypt, the Gaza strip is a tempting goal for Israel. Unfortunately, the chances of getting the Palestinians, the Egyptians, or the Jordanians to agree to this are nonexistent.

The Palestinians don’t wish to return to the pre-June 1967 situation where they were oppressed by their fellow Arabs.  Doing so would mean that the world would no longer care about their plight since no one cared about what happened to them so long as they were not under the control of the Jews. And, as Slackman rightly reports, Egypt and Jordan have good reason to fear being forced to deal with Hamas.

Two days earlier, on Saturday, Slackman reported that the Egyptian government is now allowing its state-sponsored imams to preach the sort of open Jew-hatred that is commonplace in mosques controlled by both Hamas and Fatah.

He concludes his “analysis” today by writing about the continuing Egyptian support for a two-state solution despite the anger on the “Egyptian street” about supposed Israeli atrocities. But what he fails to add is that this is also why Cairo is privately hoping for a decisive defeat of Hamas at the hands of the Israelis.

As Eric Trager mentioned, a “news analysis” above the fold on the front page of the New York Times this morning proclaims the fear that the current “Crisis Imperils 2-State Plan.”

Written by Michael Slackman, whose dateline is Cairo, the piece presents the idea that Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza is hurting the prospects of a peaceful solution to the conflict via “an independent Palestinian state co-existing with Israel.”

Slackman writes:

Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be pressed to absorb the Palestinian populations now living beyond their borders. If Israel does not assume responsibility for humanitarian aid in Gaza, for example, pressure could compel Egypt to fill the vacuum; Jordan, in turn, worries that Israel will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory.

In that case, both states fear, they could become responsible for policing the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, undermining their peace treaties with Israel.

While I don’t doubt that this is the spin Slackman is getting from official circles in Cairo, it couldn’t be more misleading. First, floating the idea that Israel “will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory” is a canard.

Israel has never sought to do that and such an idea has no support from its government or any of the leading parties. It’s a lie, pure and simple, and allowing it to be mentioned even as a possibility on the front page of the Times is an act of irresponsibility on behalf of the newspaper’s editors.

Second, the only possible chance the two-state solution has requires Hamas to be defeated by Israel. So long as Gaza is controlled by Hamas (which makes the current situation a de-facto three-state solution with Hamas-run Gaza alongside Israel and the West Bank under the nominal control of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority) any sort of peace is impossible since Hamas is unwilling to even lie about its willingness to live in peace with Israel (which Fatah does sometimes). No rational Israeli government will give up more territory so as to enable the creation of another Hamasistan in the West Bank.

It’s not clear that the two-state idea is actually still alive. Fatah (whose pro-peace credentials are far from impeccable) is on life support and survives more on foreign aid than domestic popularity. It may be that there is nothing that Israel or the West can do to enable it to retake control of Gaza. But if a deal with the so-called “moderates” of Fatah is ever to be reached, it will have to be prefaced by the defeat of Hamas.

More interesting is the fact that Slackman’s Egyptian sources are openly worrying about the possibility of being asked to take responsibility for Gaza. Of course, nothing would please Israel more. It has been widely reported that during the negotiations for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin asked Anwar Sadat to take Gaza back along with all of the Sinai. Sadat, who was no dummy, said “no thanks.”

The idea that somehow Jordan can be compelled to take back the West Bank and Egypt, the Gaza strip is a tempting goal for Israel. Unfortunately, the chances of getting the Palestinians, the Egyptians, or the Jordanians to agree to this are nonexistent.

The Palestinians don’t wish to return to the pre-June 1967 situation where they were oppressed by their fellow Arabs.  Doing so would mean that the world would no longer care about their plight since no one cared about what happened to them so long as they were not under the control of the Jews. And, as Slackman rightly reports, Egypt and Jordan have good reason to fear being forced to deal with Hamas.

Two days earlier, on Saturday, Slackman reported that the Egyptian government is now allowing its state-sponsored imams to preach the sort of open Jew-hatred that is commonplace in mosques controlled by both Hamas and Fatah.

He concludes his “analysis” today by writing about the continuing Egyptian support for a two-state solution despite the anger on the “Egyptian street” about supposed Israeli atrocities. But what he fails to add is that this is also why Cairo is privately hoping for a decisive defeat of Hamas at the hands of the Israelis.

Read Less

Re: Re: Re: Not Attacking Iran

Noticing that my colleagues have already weighed in on various aspects of David Sanger’s article in the New York Times, I thought I would add my

my two-cents worth. The article confirmed what has long been suspected (and reported elsewhere): that President Bush turned down a request from Israel for aid in carrying out a bombing campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. That provides further evidence-as I noted in this Foreign Policy article last week-of how far Bush has backed off of a central element of the Bush Doctrine: namely, preemption.

On his watch, North Korea has gone nuclear and Iran has come perilously close, while Pakistan has become a breeding ground of terrorism. American efforts to “preempt” these threats have been pretty small beer, amounting to a few Predator strikes in Pakistan and some covert action designed to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.

Neither action is commensurate with the scale of the threat we face-or with Bush’s promises back in 2002 to preempt dangers in advance. Back then Bush said:

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

We have obviously waited too long when it came to North Korea, and, I fear, as well as with regard to Iran and quite possibly Pakistan.

To say that Bush has failed to preempt or to warn us of the price we may have to pay for his inaction is not necessarily to argue that he should have taken decisive military action against any of these threats. In all cases there were (and still are) several disadvantages to action which may outweigh the respective benefits.

The case for military action is strongest against Iran but even there I am not sure whether a US military-strike would be a good idea. Much depends on what kind of intelligence we have and how much damage our military and intelligence experts think we can do. There is not much point in risking an Iranian backlash if there is not a good likelihood that our strikes will disable their nuclear program for a substantial period to come. In this regard Sanger’s story offers an interesting detail:

Admiral Mullen, traveling to Israel in early July on a previously scheduled trip, questioned Israeli officials about their intentions. His Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, argued that an aerial attack could set Iran’s program back by two or three years, according to officials familiar with the exchange. The American estimates at the time were far more conservative.

If it is, indeed, the case that American air strikes will set the Iranian nuclear program back by a lot less than two years, then the case for such strikes is certainly weakened. On the other hand, I wonder if our intelligence community can be trusted to soberly reach such conclusions given their well-known antipathy to a strike, which led to one of the worst National Intelligence Estimates ever published–one that claimed, unconvincingly, that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons work. Moreover, no matter how limited its tangible benefits, an air strike is likely to prove more of an obstacle to Iran going nuclear than are the endless negotiations which Bush and the Europeans have engaged in, and which Obama promises to emphasize even more.

I honestly am not sure whether an attack on the Iranian nuclear program is a good idea. No one without possession of the most classified material can reach a good judgment. But I am pretty sure that, no matter how much he may deny it, Bush has effectively abandoned most of the foreign policy precepts he laid out in his first term-preemption foremost among them. Perhaps he has done so for good reason, but if so, he would have been better advised to explain his changing reasoning rather than pretending to have remained unwavering.

Noticing that my colleagues have already weighed in on various aspects of David Sanger’s article in the New York Times, I thought I would add my

my two-cents worth. The article confirmed what has long been suspected (and reported elsewhere): that President Bush turned down a request from Israel for aid in carrying out a bombing campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. That provides further evidence-as I noted in this Foreign Policy article last week-of how far Bush has backed off of a central element of the Bush Doctrine: namely, preemption.

On his watch, North Korea has gone nuclear and Iran has come perilously close, while Pakistan has become a breeding ground of terrorism. American efforts to “preempt” these threats have been pretty small beer, amounting to a few Predator strikes in Pakistan and some covert action designed to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.

Neither action is commensurate with the scale of the threat we face-or with Bush’s promises back in 2002 to preempt dangers in advance. Back then Bush said:

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

We have obviously waited too long when it came to North Korea, and, I fear, as well as with regard to Iran and quite possibly Pakistan.

To say that Bush has failed to preempt or to warn us of the price we may have to pay for his inaction is not necessarily to argue that he should have taken decisive military action against any of these threats. In all cases there were (and still are) several disadvantages to action which may outweigh the respective benefits.

The case for military action is strongest against Iran but even there I am not sure whether a US military-strike would be a good idea. Much depends on what kind of intelligence we have and how much damage our military and intelligence experts think we can do. There is not much point in risking an Iranian backlash if there is not a good likelihood that our strikes will disable their nuclear program for a substantial period to come. In this regard Sanger’s story offers an interesting detail:

Admiral Mullen, traveling to Israel in early July on a previously scheduled trip, questioned Israeli officials about their intentions. His Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, argued that an aerial attack could set Iran’s program back by two or three years, according to officials familiar with the exchange. The American estimates at the time were far more conservative.

If it is, indeed, the case that American air strikes will set the Iranian nuclear program back by a lot less than two years, then the case for such strikes is certainly weakened. On the other hand, I wonder if our intelligence community can be trusted to soberly reach such conclusions given their well-known antipathy to a strike, which led to one of the worst National Intelligence Estimates ever published–one that claimed, unconvincingly, that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons work. Moreover, no matter how limited its tangible benefits, an air strike is likely to prove more of an obstacle to Iran going nuclear than are the endless negotiations which Bush and the Europeans have engaged in, and which Obama promises to emphasize even more.

I honestly am not sure whether an attack on the Iranian nuclear program is a good idea. No one without possession of the most classified material can reach a good judgment. But I am pretty sure that, no matter how much he may deny it, Bush has effectively abandoned most of the foreign policy precepts he laid out in his first term-preemption foremost among them. Perhaps he has done so for good reason, but if so, he would have been better advised to explain his changing reasoning rather than pretending to have remained unwavering.

Read Less

An Obama Peace Process?

Barack Obama said yesterday his administration will be “immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole.”  He is “determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now,” and believes “if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.”

The common experience of the two prior administrations actually teaches a different lesson.  In both cases, an American president — one Democratic, the other Republican — engaged in an extraordinary multi-year effort to create a Palestinian state as a solution to the Middle East situation, and each president left office with a new Middle East war on his hands.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Barack Obama said yesterday his administration will be “immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole.”  He is “determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now,” and believes “if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.”

The common experience of the two prior administrations actually teaches a different lesson.  In both cases, an American president — one Democratic, the other Republican — engaged in an extraordinary multi-year effort to create a Palestinian state as a solution to the Middle East situation, and each president left office with a new Middle East war on his hands.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Read Less

The Economist vs. Israel

I’m sure those at The Economist believe its current cover story and lead editorial, “The hundred years’ war,” is a balanced appraisal of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Gaza, we learn, “is only one item in a mighty catalogue of misery, whose entries are inscribed in tears. The Jews and Arabs of Palestine have been fighting off and on for 100 years.” We learn, too, that “[t]he fact that the Arabs rejected the UN’s partition plan of 60 years ago has long given ideological comfort to Israel and its supporters.” And “Israel’s story” is that the Arabs have “muffed at least four chances to have a Palestinian state.”

“This story of Israeli acceptance and Arab rejection is not just a yarn convenient to Israel’s supporters,” we are informed. So it turns out the case for Israel hasn’t been constructed entirely out of straw.

Yet in trying to recapitulate the history of the Middle East, The Economist succeeds in distorting issues through its effort for “balance.” Take, for example, this claim:

After the ignominious defeat of 1967, the Arab states again rejected the idea of peace with Israel. That was, indeed, a wasted opportunity. But even though the Israel of 1967 discussed how much of the West Bank it was ready to trade for peace, the Likud governments of the late 1970s and 1980s wanted it all. For Israel fell in love with the territories it had occupied.

This was the period of Israel rejection. Israeli prime ministers such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir asserted a God-given right to a “greater Israel” that included the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which Israeli governments of all stripes continued to plant (illegal) settlements.

Now what two words might be missing from this account? How about “Sinai Desert”? This was the oil-rich land which Israel, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. In fact, Israel offered to return all of the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

So this was not, in fact, a “period of Israel rejection.” And the Likud governments of the late 1970s did not “want it all.” And Israel had not “fallen in love with the territories it had occupied.” Beyond that, The Economist has things just about right.

Over the years, The Economist has come back, time and again, to the issue of the West Bank. In its current editorial, for example, The Economist writes:

Israel must show not only that it is too strong to be swept away but also that it is willing to give up the land — the West Bank, not just Gaza — where the promised Palestinian state must stand.

Once again, a bit of history is in order. For example, if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they grant one to Palestinians when they had the opportunity? During their 19-year-rule (1948-1967), neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or the Gaza strip. Palestinian self-rule seemed less of a priority back then. Perhaps that’s because governments of nations like Jordan, which in the early 1970s the Palestinians wanted to overthrow, were busily engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinians.  (The PLO terrorist group “Black September,” which killed Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, took on that name in memory of thousands of Palestinians killed by King Hussein in 1970.) And for those who maintain that the engine of animosity against Israel is the “occupied territories” and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: The PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

In any event, in 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all of these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada (The Economist ludicrously cites the intifada of 2001-2003 as part of an effort to “convince Israel that this [the notion that Palestinians are a non-people to be fobbed off with self-government under Israeli or perhaps Jordanian supervision] was an illusion”). And in Gaza in 2005 Israel did what no other nation–not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point. In the wake of this, The Economist informs us that–you guessed it–it is Israel that must give up more land.

At some point, under the proper conditions, such a thing might well happen. Most of the citizens and political leadership of Israel are certainly open to allowing it to happen; all they ask in response is a Palestinian state that has made its own inner peace with the Jewish state and can ensure that the land won’t be used as a nerve center for attacks against Israel. That is certainly a reasonable, and even de minimus, requirement.

Yet The Economist ends up where it always does: placing the burden on Israel to cede ever more land in order to move the “peace process” forward. It would be nice if critics of Israel recognized more often than they do just how much land Israel has already given up in its search for peace and that, when it is able to deal with Arab nations not committed to its destruction, Israel will go to great lengths to both return territory and enter into peace agreements.

Those interested in authentic peace in the Middle East ought to put the pressure where it belongs: on terrorist groups like Hamas, which are committed to eviscerating the Jewish state, rather than on Israel. She has done quite a lot already, and deserves credit rather than condemnation, to say nothing of a fair recounting of history.

I’m sure those at The Economist believe its current cover story and lead editorial, “The hundred years’ war,” is a balanced appraisal of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Gaza, we learn, “is only one item in a mighty catalogue of misery, whose entries are inscribed in tears. The Jews and Arabs of Palestine have been fighting off and on for 100 years.” We learn, too, that “[t]he fact that the Arabs rejected the UN’s partition plan of 60 years ago has long given ideological comfort to Israel and its supporters.” And “Israel’s story” is that the Arabs have “muffed at least four chances to have a Palestinian state.”

“This story of Israeli acceptance and Arab rejection is not just a yarn convenient to Israel’s supporters,” we are informed. So it turns out the case for Israel hasn’t been constructed entirely out of straw.

Yet in trying to recapitulate the history of the Middle East, The Economist succeeds in distorting issues through its effort for “balance.” Take, for example, this claim:

After the ignominious defeat of 1967, the Arab states again rejected the idea of peace with Israel. That was, indeed, a wasted opportunity. But even though the Israel of 1967 discussed how much of the West Bank it was ready to trade for peace, the Likud governments of the late 1970s and 1980s wanted it all. For Israel fell in love with the territories it had occupied.

This was the period of Israel rejection. Israeli prime ministers such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir asserted a God-given right to a “greater Israel” that included the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which Israeli governments of all stripes continued to plant (illegal) settlements.

Now what two words might be missing from this account? How about “Sinai Desert”? This was the oil-rich land which Israel, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. In fact, Israel offered to return all of the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

So this was not, in fact, a “period of Israel rejection.” And the Likud governments of the late 1970s did not “want it all.” And Israel had not “fallen in love with the territories it had occupied.” Beyond that, The Economist has things just about right.

Over the years, The Economist has come back, time and again, to the issue of the West Bank. In its current editorial, for example, The Economist writes:

Israel must show not only that it is too strong to be swept away but also that it is willing to give up the land — the West Bank, not just Gaza — where the promised Palestinian state must stand.

Once again, a bit of history is in order. For example, if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they grant one to Palestinians when they had the opportunity? During their 19-year-rule (1948-1967), neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or the Gaza strip. Palestinian self-rule seemed less of a priority back then. Perhaps that’s because governments of nations like Jordan, which in the early 1970s the Palestinians wanted to overthrow, were busily engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinians.  (The PLO terrorist group “Black September,” which killed Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, took on that name in memory of thousands of Palestinians killed by King Hussein in 1970.) And for those who maintain that the engine of animosity against Israel is the “occupied territories” and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: The PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

In any event, in 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all of these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada (The Economist ludicrously cites the intifada of 2001-2003 as part of an effort to “convince Israel that this [the notion that Palestinians are a non-people to be fobbed off with self-government under Israeli or perhaps Jordanian supervision] was an illusion”). And in Gaza in 2005 Israel did what no other nation–not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point. In the wake of this, The Economist informs us that–you guessed it–it is Israel that must give up more land.

At some point, under the proper conditions, such a thing might well happen. Most of the citizens and political leadership of Israel are certainly open to allowing it to happen; all they ask in response is a Palestinian state that has made its own inner peace with the Jewish state and can ensure that the land won’t be used as a nerve center for attacks against Israel. That is certainly a reasonable, and even de minimus, requirement.

Yet The Economist ends up where it always does: placing the burden on Israel to cede ever more land in order to move the “peace process” forward. It would be nice if critics of Israel recognized more often than they do just how much land Israel has already given up in its search for peace and that, when it is able to deal with Arab nations not committed to its destruction, Israel will go to great lengths to both return territory and enter into peace agreements.

Those interested in authentic peace in the Middle East ought to put the pressure where it belongs: on terrorist groups like Hamas, which are committed to eviscerating the Jewish state, rather than on Israel. She has done quite a lot already, and deserves credit rather than condemnation, to say nothing of a fair recounting of history.

Read Less

The End of the Two-State Solution?

Over the past few weeks, conventional wisdom has dictated that the current fighting in Gaza has significantly undermined chances for a two-state solution–whether Israel wins or loses.  In today’s New York Times, Michael Slackman presents the latest version of this doomsday thesis, absurdly claiming that Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be forced to absorb Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Naturally, Slackman substantiates this position through his standard strategy: interviewing the few (and, in this case, very few) English-speaking Arab “experts” who agree with him.  In turn, Slackman ignores some painfully obvious counterarguments: such as the fact that the current fighting is in Gaza, and that West Bank Palestinian institutions haven’t been affected; or that Israel isn’t actually trying “to push Palestinians from the West Bank” into Jordan, despite supposed Jordanian worries; or that the “withering criticism” that Egypt has faced hasn’t driven it towards the Iranian position on peace with Israel (actually, quite to the contrary).  Meanwhile, Slackman buries another inconvenient tidbit: Egypt has rejected international monitors for the Gaza-Egyptian border, which suggests that it prefers–rather than “fears”–an active role in securing Gaza.

Yet even without Slackman’s lazy pseudo-journalism, the notion that the two-state solution is “slipping away” on account of the current Gaza war is totally baseless.  Actually, there are two possibilities.  On one hand, Israeli success vis-à-vis Hamas might deal a serious blow to Islamists, thereby empowering Palestinian moderates who recognize the benefits of peace with Israel.  Indeed, a two-state solution is totally impossible with Hamas violently empowered–at the very least, Israeli success in the current war would preserve (if not advance) hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  On the other hand, the peace process might have been a bankrupt enterprise long before the current fighting in Gaza began–and perhaps long before Hamas ever controlled Gaza in the first place.

Either way, it’s hard to see how a two-state solution had a better chance of success immediately prior to the current fighting, when–aside from refusing to recognize Israel–Hamas refused to even extend a short-term truce and instead renewed its rocket firings.  Slackman should know better.  Regrettably, he never does.

Over the past few weeks, conventional wisdom has dictated that the current fighting in Gaza has significantly undermined chances for a two-state solution–whether Israel wins or loses.  In today’s New York Times, Michael Slackman presents the latest version of this doomsday thesis, absurdly claiming that Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be forced to absorb Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Naturally, Slackman substantiates this position through his standard strategy: interviewing the few (and, in this case, very few) English-speaking Arab “experts” who agree with him.  In turn, Slackman ignores some painfully obvious counterarguments: such as the fact that the current fighting is in Gaza, and that West Bank Palestinian institutions haven’t been affected; or that Israel isn’t actually trying “to push Palestinians from the West Bank” into Jordan, despite supposed Jordanian worries; or that the “withering criticism” that Egypt has faced hasn’t driven it towards the Iranian position on peace with Israel (actually, quite to the contrary).  Meanwhile, Slackman buries another inconvenient tidbit: Egypt has rejected international monitors for the Gaza-Egyptian border, which suggests that it prefers–rather than “fears”–an active role in securing Gaza.

Yet even without Slackman’s lazy pseudo-journalism, the notion that the two-state solution is “slipping away” on account of the current Gaza war is totally baseless.  Actually, there are two possibilities.  On one hand, Israeli success vis-à-vis Hamas might deal a serious blow to Islamists, thereby empowering Palestinian moderates who recognize the benefits of peace with Israel.  Indeed, a two-state solution is totally impossible with Hamas violently empowered–at the very least, Israeli success in the current war would preserve (if not advance) hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  On the other hand, the peace process might have been a bankrupt enterprise long before the current fighting in Gaza began–and perhaps long before Hamas ever controlled Gaza in the first place.

Either way, it’s hard to see how a two-state solution had a better chance of success immediately prior to the current fighting, when–aside from refusing to recognize Israel–Hamas refused to even extend a short-term truce and instead renewed its rocket firings.  Slackman should know better.  Regrettably, he never does.

Read Less

Hamas is Responsible

Steven Erlanger wrote a revealing article in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.

“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’être is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.

Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides a good summary explanation that most of my colleagues should know well by now:

The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.

These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.

Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.

Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.

“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”

If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.

Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.

Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.

Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.

In any case, the use of human shields is strictly prohibited. The Law of Armed Conflict is absolutely clear on this point. It “requires defenders to separate military objects from civilian objects to the maximum extent feasible. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to locate a hospital or POW camp next to an ammunition factory.”

It is likewise inappropriate to place civilians atop buildings that are known to be targets. Israeli pilots should not have to warn these people with “knocks on the roof.”

Hamas routinely turns civilian buildings into military assets and targets. “Weapons are hidden in mosques,” Erlanger reports, “schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.” Ynet also reports that Israeli soldiers found a school and even a zoo rigged to explode. You can see a video of that booby-trapped school here on YouTube.

Hamas leaders couldn’t endanger more Palestinians if they tried.

“Israeli press officers call the tactics of Hamas cynical, illegal and inhumane,” Erlanger writes. “[E]ven Israel’s critics agree that Hamas’s regular use of rockets to fire at civilians in Israel, and its use of civilians as shields in Gaza, are also violations of the rules of war.”

He’s right that Israel’s fair-minded critics acknowledge Hamas is an army of war criminals. But few seem bothered by the fact that Hamas violates the laws and ethics of war as a matter of course. Perhaps that’s because few expect any better from a violent fascist regime that aspires to genocide. But the record should show, even so, that Hamas is morally, ethically, and legally responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza as well as in Israel.

Steven Erlanger wrote a revealing article in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.

“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’être is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.

Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides a good summary explanation that most of my colleagues should know well by now:

The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.

These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.

Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.

Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.

“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”

If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.

Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.

Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.

Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.

In any case, the use of human shields is strictly prohibited. The Law of Armed Conflict is absolutely clear on this point. It “requires defenders to separate military objects from civilian objects to the maximum extent feasible. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to locate a hospital or POW camp next to an ammunition factory.”

It is likewise inappropriate to place civilians atop buildings that are known to be targets. Israeli pilots should not have to warn these people with “knocks on the roof.”

Hamas routinely turns civilian buildings into military assets and targets. “Weapons are hidden in mosques,” Erlanger reports, “schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.” Ynet also reports that Israeli soldiers found a school and even a zoo rigged to explode. You can see a video of that booby-trapped school here on YouTube.

Hamas leaders couldn’t endanger more Palestinians if they tried.

“Israeli press officers call the tactics of Hamas cynical, illegal and inhumane,” Erlanger writes. “[E]ven Israel’s critics agree that Hamas’s regular use of rockets to fire at civilians in Israel, and its use of civilians as shields in Gaza, are also violations of the rules of war.”

He’s right that Israel’s fair-minded critics acknowledge Hamas is an army of war criminals. But few seem bothered by the fact that Hamas violates the laws and ethics of war as a matter of course. Perhaps that’s because few expect any better from a violent fascist regime that aspires to genocide. But the record should show, even so, that Hamas is morally, ethically, and legally responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza as well as in Israel.

Read Less

What’s Wrong With You Dumb Voters?

Award season in Hollywood always offers a fine array of enlightening celebrity comments. Yesterday’s Golden Globes did not disappoint. We were graced with this bit of wisdom from Tom Hanks on California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage:

“I hope it is reversed–I think it’s anti-American,” Hanks said. It passed, he said, “because in any given election in the state of California, you could put commercials on the air and convince anyone of anything for a while. . .  But we’re America, and we’re going to do the right thing. I wish you could get married to whoever you want to get married to, because love is love.”

Without delving into the merits of Proposition 8, I think we can agree this is the Hollywood trifecta of political discourse. First, he accuses his opponents of being “anti-American.” Despite claims to the contrary, President Bush and Republicans never would have dreamed of saying the same about the Hollywood gang. But so long as your intentions are pure it’s perfectly fine to excoriate your fellow citizens in the most vile terms.

Second, putting commercials on the air to win elections is unacceptable political conduct? No, no–not the billion-dollar ad campaign by Barack Obama; everyone else’s political campaigns are just gross manipulation of the dummies out there.

And third, we’re going to “get it right” and correct the errors of the the little people–the bigots and the ignoramuses–because getting it “right” is something which liberal elites do routinely. Without the benefit of crude ad campaigns even!

Liberals often seem clueless as to why so many Americans resent them. Perhaps it’s because they are tired of being called anti-American dullards and having their democratic decisions voided by their elite betters. And proponents of gay marriage would do well to find different supporters, ones who show less contempt for other Americans and for democracy itself.

Award season in Hollywood always offers a fine array of enlightening celebrity comments. Yesterday’s Golden Globes did not disappoint. We were graced with this bit of wisdom from Tom Hanks on California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage:

“I hope it is reversed–I think it’s anti-American,” Hanks said. It passed, he said, “because in any given election in the state of California, you could put commercials on the air and convince anyone of anything for a while. . .  But we’re America, and we’re going to do the right thing. I wish you could get married to whoever you want to get married to, because love is love.”

Without delving into the merits of Proposition 8, I think we can agree this is the Hollywood trifecta of political discourse. First, he accuses his opponents of being “anti-American.” Despite claims to the contrary, President Bush and Republicans never would have dreamed of saying the same about the Hollywood gang. But so long as your intentions are pure it’s perfectly fine to excoriate your fellow citizens in the most vile terms.

Second, putting commercials on the air to win elections is unacceptable political conduct? No, no–not the billion-dollar ad campaign by Barack Obama; everyone else’s political campaigns are just gross manipulation of the dummies out there.

And third, we’re going to “get it right” and correct the errors of the the little people–the bigots and the ignoramuses–because getting it “right” is something which liberal elites do routinely. Without the benefit of crude ad campaigns even!

Liberals often seem clueless as to why so many Americans resent them. Perhaps it’s because they are tired of being called anti-American dullards and having their democratic decisions voided by their elite betters. And proponents of gay marriage would do well to find different supporters, ones who show less contempt for other Americans and for democracy itself.

Read Less

Re: Re: Not Attacking Iran

Eric, many thanks for your thoughtful and perceptive comments.  Of course, I hope you are right that the Bush-administration strategy has advanced the prospects of successful diplomacy.

The reason I do not agree with your analysis, however, is that President Bush essentially gave up opposing Iran at the same time he denied Israel’s request for weapons, equipment, and overflight rights.  Moscow and Beijing expressed their opposition to his attempts to stiffen UN sanctions, and Mr. Bush then acceded to the Russians and the Chinese.  After Washington capitulated–that is, unfortunately, the best word for it–the stopping of Israel was tantamount to acceptance of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

I could be wrong–and I hope I am–but I believe Obama’s approach of renewed engagement with the mullahs is unlikely to succeed at this late date.  The only tactic that can disarm the theocracy short of conflict is mobilization of our military followed by the issuance of a harsh ultimatum, and I don’t see the new president following this course of action.

President Bush agreed to cooperate with Russia and China with regard to North Korea, but his diplomacy failed to stop Pyongyang from becoming a nuclear power.  He then tried this same general approach with Iran.  Unless Mr. Obama attempts something drastically different, the result will be another radical regime armed with the most destructive weapon in history.

Eric, many thanks for your thoughtful and perceptive comments.  Of course, I hope you are right that the Bush-administration strategy has advanced the prospects of successful diplomacy.

The reason I do not agree with your analysis, however, is that President Bush essentially gave up opposing Iran at the same time he denied Israel’s request for weapons, equipment, and overflight rights.  Moscow and Beijing expressed their opposition to his attempts to stiffen UN sanctions, and Mr. Bush then acceded to the Russians and the Chinese.  After Washington capitulated–that is, unfortunately, the best word for it–the stopping of Israel was tantamount to acceptance of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

I could be wrong–and I hope I am–but I believe Obama’s approach of renewed engagement with the mullahs is unlikely to succeed at this late date.  The only tactic that can disarm the theocracy short of conflict is mobilization of our military followed by the issuance of a harsh ultimatum, and I don’t see the new president following this course of action.

President Bush agreed to cooperate with Russia and China with regard to North Korea, but his diplomacy failed to stop Pyongyang from becoming a nuclear power.  He then tried this same general approach with Iran.  Unless Mr. Obama attempts something drastically different, the result will be another radical regime armed with the most destructive weapon in history.

Read Less

Death Do Us Part

It should come as no surprise that President-elect Barack Obama will propose keeping the estate tax which was set to be eliminated, and then hike things back up to pre-Bush rates when the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. But two things are noteworthy:

First, he wants to keep the tax at the current level–excluding the first $3.5M in estate value and taxing the remainder at a 45% rate rather than reverting to the higher level of tax in effect during the Clinton years (55% rate with an exclusion of only one million). My favorite tax accountant said: “What a Republican! This will keep our estate department employed but practically no one will pay it.” Indeed, this seems like further evidence that President Obama may be more modest in his “change” ambitions than either side expected. “Keeping the estate rate at the George Bush level” isn’t exactly what his left-wing supporters probably had in mind.

Second, this is one of many items–immigration reform and D.C. representation being two others–which Republicans could have negotiated on more favorable terms during the Bush years. Now they must settle for far worse deals in an era of Democratic dominance. As this report explains:

Almost since the change was put in place, repeal advocates have pushed for an earlier permanent elimination in the face of huge budget deficits, with no luck.

They always sensed an estate-tax elimination set far in the future was tenuous at best, especially since the law as written has the repeal last only one year.

Then, anticipating Democratic majorities in Congress that would ultimately seek to block full repeal, the coalition began seeking compromises that would leave a minimal tax in place for a tiny fraction of estates. Estate-tax opponents agreed they would get the best possible deal with Mr. Bush still in office.

But sharp divisions in the coalition emerged between the super rich and the merely rich. Business groups have sought a measure of certainty with an estate tax that is free of graduated timelines or sunset provisions, with the largest possible tax exemption — $10 million, or $20 million per couple. The rate of taxation above that level was of little concern, since virtually every small business would be exempt from taxation.

Yet the super affluent who began the movement wanted the lowest possible rate, since even a $10 million exemption would leave the bulk of their estates subject to tax. They backed a call by Mark Bloomfield of the American Council for Capital Formation to tax all estate transfers as capital gains, at 15%, with little or no exemption.

“The very wealthy, in their quest to reduce their exposure, made proposals that threw the small-business community overboard,” said one prominent small-business lobbyist, referring to a move to have estates taxed as capital gains upon their disposition, without regard to the amount shielded from taxation.

Ms. Soldano said “the small-business people were being shortsighted in thinking, ‘Let’s just fix it now for me.’”
Former Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican who fought the tax his entire political career, said he and Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl must have given 10 speeches to the movement, exhorting them to come together and accept the best that could pass Congress while the GOP had control.

Now, the movement is likely to confront an estate tax that is far bigger than what it may have gotten with more compromise.

“People mistook political reality,” Mr. Bloomfield said. “The end result is we’ll have a worse tax policy than if Sen. Kyl had succeeded.”

So, as with possibly much else in the Obama administration, the estate tax repeal isn’t what conservatives want to hear, but it could have been worse. And it could have been better had Republicans been savvier deal makers in the last few years.

It should come as no surprise that President-elect Barack Obama will propose keeping the estate tax which was set to be eliminated, and then hike things back up to pre-Bush rates when the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. But two things are noteworthy:

First, he wants to keep the tax at the current level–excluding the first $3.5M in estate value and taxing the remainder at a 45% rate rather than reverting to the higher level of tax in effect during the Clinton years (55% rate with an exclusion of only one million). My favorite tax accountant said: “What a Republican! This will keep our estate department employed but practically no one will pay it.” Indeed, this seems like further evidence that President Obama may be more modest in his “change” ambitions than either side expected. “Keeping the estate rate at the George Bush level” isn’t exactly what his left-wing supporters probably had in mind.

Second, this is one of many items–immigration reform and D.C. representation being two others–which Republicans could have negotiated on more favorable terms during the Bush years. Now they must settle for far worse deals in an era of Democratic dominance. As this report explains:

Almost since the change was put in place, repeal advocates have pushed for an earlier permanent elimination in the face of huge budget deficits, with no luck.

They always sensed an estate-tax elimination set far in the future was tenuous at best, especially since the law as written has the repeal last only one year.

Then, anticipating Democratic majorities in Congress that would ultimately seek to block full repeal, the coalition began seeking compromises that would leave a minimal tax in place for a tiny fraction of estates. Estate-tax opponents agreed they would get the best possible deal with Mr. Bush still in office.

But sharp divisions in the coalition emerged between the super rich and the merely rich. Business groups have sought a measure of certainty with an estate tax that is free of graduated timelines or sunset provisions, with the largest possible tax exemption — $10 million, or $20 million per couple. The rate of taxation above that level was of little concern, since virtually every small business would be exempt from taxation.

Yet the super affluent who began the movement wanted the lowest possible rate, since even a $10 million exemption would leave the bulk of their estates subject to tax. They backed a call by Mark Bloomfield of the American Council for Capital Formation to tax all estate transfers as capital gains, at 15%, with little or no exemption.

“The very wealthy, in their quest to reduce their exposure, made proposals that threw the small-business community overboard,” said one prominent small-business lobbyist, referring to a move to have estates taxed as capital gains upon their disposition, without regard to the amount shielded from taxation.

Ms. Soldano said “the small-business people were being shortsighted in thinking, ‘Let’s just fix it now for me.’”
Former Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican who fought the tax his entire political career, said he and Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl must have given 10 speeches to the movement, exhorting them to come together and accept the best that could pass Congress while the GOP had control.

Now, the movement is likely to confront an estate tax that is far bigger than what it may have gotten with more compromise.

“People mistook political reality,” Mr. Bloomfield said. “The end result is we’ll have a worse tax policy than if Sen. Kyl had succeeded.”

So, as with possibly much else in the Obama administration, the estate tax repeal isn’t what conservatives want to hear, but it could have been worse. And it could have been better had Republicans been savvier deal makers in the last few years.

Read Less

Ehud Olmert’s Epiphany

History books will one day explore the transformation of Ehud Olmert over the past two and a half years. In 2006, he was a swaggering incompetent, making implausible declarations about the IDF’s ability to dispatch with Hezbollah. In 2007-2008, as the Winograd Commission discredited his war leadership and a police investigation exposed his corruption, he became a scorned adolescent, throwing tantrums in the press and ruminating on the future collapse of the state of which he is prime minister. It was not a pretty sight.

Today, in his conduct of the Gaza war, he is wisdom and steel. He has exposed the hypocrisy of the “international community,” declaring that “no country in the world, including those that preach morals to us, would have shown restraint as we have.” He denounced the double standard the world applies to Israel, saying that when it comes to self-defense “what is acceptable for every other country in the world is barely accepted when it comes to Israel.”

And now he is going up against Livni and Ehud Barak who appear ready, right at the moment when Hamas is teetering, to quit the Gaza war. Livni is afraid that if Israel doesn’t withdraw, diplomats in Europe will criticize the Jewish state more vigorously than they already do. In his rejoinder, Olmert spoke some truth to power:

The pressure we are exerting [on Hamas] must not be reduced. Anyone who broadcasts weakness will earn the good will of the global community for 12 seconds, but will not change anything essential.

Such a perfect combination of truth and contempt! Israel’s defiance of absurd calls for cease-fire has paid dividends in Israeli morale and in exposing the hypocrisy and fecklessness of today’s guardians of the international system. I don’t know what caused the transformation we are witnessing in Ehud Olmert, but it is something for which we should be thankful.

History books will one day explore the transformation of Ehud Olmert over the past two and a half years. In 2006, he was a swaggering incompetent, making implausible declarations about the IDF’s ability to dispatch with Hezbollah. In 2007-2008, as the Winograd Commission discredited his war leadership and a police investigation exposed his corruption, he became a scorned adolescent, throwing tantrums in the press and ruminating on the future collapse of the state of which he is prime minister. It was not a pretty sight.

Today, in his conduct of the Gaza war, he is wisdom and steel. He has exposed the hypocrisy of the “international community,” declaring that “no country in the world, including those that preach morals to us, would have shown restraint as we have.” He denounced the double standard the world applies to Israel, saying that when it comes to self-defense “what is acceptable for every other country in the world is barely accepted when it comes to Israel.”

And now he is going up against Livni and Ehud Barak who appear ready, right at the moment when Hamas is teetering, to quit the Gaza war. Livni is afraid that if Israel doesn’t withdraw, diplomats in Europe will criticize the Jewish state more vigorously than they already do. In his rejoinder, Olmert spoke some truth to power:

The pressure we are exerting [on Hamas] must not be reduced. Anyone who broadcasts weakness will earn the good will of the global community for 12 seconds, but will not change anything essential.

Such a perfect combination of truth and contempt! Israel’s defiance of absurd calls for cease-fire has paid dividends in Israeli morale and in exposing the hypocrisy and fecklessness of today’s guardians of the international system. I don’t know what caused the transformation we are witnessing in Ehud Olmert, but it is something for which we should be thankful.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

President-elect Obama has learned closing Gitmo isn’t easy, likes Dick Cheney’s advice and is planning on continuing Clinton and Bush 43′s policy toward Israel. This is change? No, but it’s very smart and will garner him praise from everyone but the netroots.

And I fail to understand why conservatives mock the President-elect for suggesting we need some shared sacrifice. Aren’t Republicans in favor of limiting spending, ending the bailouts and denying aid to faltering auto companies, for example? That’s spreading the pain. I think the tone and approach of the Right needs some fine-tuning. Leaping on the President-elect when he says something entirely reasonable is self-defeating and off-putting. It is a good thing when he says things like: “I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace we had hoped.” (Ed Morrissey didn’t fall into the trap of knee-jerk criticism.)

Jeffrey Goldberg tries his level best to educate his fellow blogger about who George Bisharat is.

Marty Peretz reveals the deepest, darkest secrets of the Jewish Lobby. Not really, but it is nice to know how many non-Jews are members.

“With every image of the dead in Gaza inflaming people across the Arab world, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.” They are kidding, right? Everything was just humming along on the path to peace before this. Yeah. ( Maybe John Bolton was right — it’s time for a three state solution.)

What will Maureen Dowd have to write about and where will all that random venom go when Bush and Cheney leave office?

Mike Duncan leads in publicly pledged votes for the RNC slot. Hey, I suppose if Rick Wagoner can keep his CEO job at GM, Duncan can keep his RNC chairmanship. Come to think of it, which one had a worse year?

The A.P. mimics People magazine with “a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.” Ooooh, she rides the subway! Ahh, she books her own airline flights! So do a majority of  New Yorkers, but I bet they don’t consider those as reasons to appoint them senator.

Is Sen. Chris Dodd in trouble — that is re-election trouble (we know about the legal problems)?

This headline seems confused: “Will Mitch McConnell Rain on Obama’s Parade?” I think it’s Harry Reid who has been giving Obama the most difficulty, beginning with sending Roland Burris out into that rain.

How long will the new President be able to blame George Bush for the recession? Not so long, according to Charles Krauthammer: “By mid-year it becomes his. I mean, everything is blamed on the predecessor at the beginning, as you should. And this always happens. By summer it will be his recession and, of course, even by his own estimates, it will be getting worse. Unemployment will be climbing. It probably will be at 9 or 10 percent probably all the way into the midterm elections in 2010. ”

Meanwhile, Bill Kristol takes comfort from Time magazine’s gloomy prediction about Israel’s Gaza incursion: ” I was cheered up by that Time Magazine cover. This is the same magazine that in 2002 said Israel’s incursion into the West Bank couldn’t possibly succeed in crushing the intifada and reducing terrorism and that said that the U.S. surge in Iraq — I remember this vividly — in January 2007, the surge can’t succeed. Look, I think Israel is pursuing a diplomatic and military strategy on two tracks. That may work. No guarantees. All this talk about world opinion — they’re negotiating with Egypt. Senior Israeli defense officials were in Egypt and they’re going back to Egypt Monday to try to get Egypt to be serious about cutting down on the smuggling.”

More on what to expect at the Eric Holder hearing: “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary panel, said he is awaiting Mr. Holder’s responses at the hearing before deciding on his vote on confirmation. In a Senate speech last week on Mr. Holder’s nomination, he said, ‘Sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and courage to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes.’ ‘ Even one of Mr. Holder’s prominent backers, James Comey, a former deputy attorney general appointed by Mr. Bush, criticized Mr. Holder’s ‘huge misjudgment’ on the pardons in a letter to the Senate panel expressing support for confirmation.” Hmm, perhaps Holder could use fewer letters. Still, with some prominent Republicans coming forward to support him, Holder may get through — provided the Democrats can explain why politicization of the Justice Department to extract undeserving pardons for fugitives and terrorists is no big deal. This is one place where less continuity and more change would be a good move.

President-elect Obama has learned closing Gitmo isn’t easy, likes Dick Cheney’s advice and is planning on continuing Clinton and Bush 43′s policy toward Israel. This is change? No, but it’s very smart and will garner him praise from everyone but the netroots.

And I fail to understand why conservatives mock the President-elect for suggesting we need some shared sacrifice. Aren’t Republicans in favor of limiting spending, ending the bailouts and denying aid to faltering auto companies, for example? That’s spreading the pain. I think the tone and approach of the Right needs some fine-tuning. Leaping on the President-elect when he says something entirely reasonable is self-defeating and off-putting. It is a good thing when he says things like: “I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace we had hoped.” (Ed Morrissey didn’t fall into the trap of knee-jerk criticism.)

Jeffrey Goldberg tries his level best to educate his fellow blogger about who George Bisharat is.

Marty Peretz reveals the deepest, darkest secrets of the Jewish Lobby. Not really, but it is nice to know how many non-Jews are members.

“With every image of the dead in Gaza inflaming people across the Arab world, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.” They are kidding, right? Everything was just humming along on the path to peace before this. Yeah. ( Maybe John Bolton was right — it’s time for a three state solution.)

What will Maureen Dowd have to write about and where will all that random venom go when Bush and Cheney leave office?

Mike Duncan leads in publicly pledged votes for the RNC slot. Hey, I suppose if Rick Wagoner can keep his CEO job at GM, Duncan can keep his RNC chairmanship. Come to think of it, which one had a worse year?

The A.P. mimics People magazine with “a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.” Ooooh, she rides the subway! Ahh, she books her own airline flights! So do a majority of  New Yorkers, but I bet they don’t consider those as reasons to appoint them senator.

Is Sen. Chris Dodd in trouble — that is re-election trouble (we know about the legal problems)?

This headline seems confused: “Will Mitch McConnell Rain on Obama’s Parade?” I think it’s Harry Reid who has been giving Obama the most difficulty, beginning with sending Roland Burris out into that rain.

How long will the new President be able to blame George Bush for the recession? Not so long, according to Charles Krauthammer: “By mid-year it becomes his. I mean, everything is blamed on the predecessor at the beginning, as you should. And this always happens. By summer it will be his recession and, of course, even by his own estimates, it will be getting worse. Unemployment will be climbing. It probably will be at 9 or 10 percent probably all the way into the midterm elections in 2010. ”

Meanwhile, Bill Kristol takes comfort from Time magazine’s gloomy prediction about Israel’s Gaza incursion: ” I was cheered up by that Time Magazine cover. This is the same magazine that in 2002 said Israel’s incursion into the West Bank couldn’t possibly succeed in crushing the intifada and reducing terrorism and that said that the U.S. surge in Iraq — I remember this vividly — in January 2007, the surge can’t succeed. Look, I think Israel is pursuing a diplomatic and military strategy on two tracks. That may work. No guarantees. All this talk about world opinion — they’re negotiating with Egypt. Senior Israeli defense officials were in Egypt and they’re going back to Egypt Monday to try to get Egypt to be serious about cutting down on the smuggling.”

More on what to expect at the Eric Holder hearing: “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary panel, said he is awaiting Mr. Holder’s responses at the hearing before deciding on his vote on confirmation. In a Senate speech last week on Mr. Holder’s nomination, he said, ‘Sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and courage to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes.’ ‘ Even one of Mr. Holder’s prominent backers, James Comey, a former deputy attorney general appointed by Mr. Bush, criticized Mr. Holder’s ‘huge misjudgment’ on the pardons in a letter to the Senate panel expressing support for confirmation.” Hmm, perhaps Holder could use fewer letters. Still, with some prominent Republicans coming forward to support him, Holder may get through — provided the Democrats can explain why politicization of the Justice Department to extract undeserving pardons for fugitives and terrorists is no big deal. This is one place where less continuity and more change would be a good move.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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