Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 16, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Rob Dawson, on Jonathan Tobin:

You have to understand that Europeans have convinced themselves that any armed struggle against Islamist terrorists is ultimately self-defeating. They believe that killing one breeds a hundred more. It’s not clear why they actually believe this, but placating their large and growing domestic Islamic radical population is likely part of this. If you can’t fight them, all that’s left is to talk to them. This has led to the second European belief: that talking can solve all problems. This quasi-religious belief in diplomacy generally seems to involve only one side (the Jews or the West) providing concessions.

So, on the basis of the two above beliefs, Europeans believe that any action from Israel that involved violence is ultimately self-defeating, not only for them, but perhaps more importantly in their minds, for their own radical Muslim population. The notion that Israel’s response must be proportional seems all about not riling up Europe’s Muslims (after all, if violence is counter-productive, then why not make it proportional?). Add to this the notion that if Jews are now like Nazis, then what happened in Europe in those pre-enlightened days isn’t so bad, see it could happen to anyone, Europeans weren’t rotten to put Jews in ovens, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. If Jews can be Nazis then we’re really all alike, and violence against Islam is self-defeating, and talking cures everything.

Rob Dawson, on Jonathan Tobin:

You have to understand that Europeans have convinced themselves that any armed struggle against Islamist terrorists is ultimately self-defeating. They believe that killing one breeds a hundred more. It’s not clear why they actually believe this, but placating their large and growing domestic Islamic radical population is likely part of this. If you can’t fight them, all that’s left is to talk to them. This has led to the second European belief: that talking can solve all problems. This quasi-religious belief in diplomacy generally seems to involve only one side (the Jews or the West) providing concessions.

So, on the basis of the two above beliefs, Europeans believe that any action from Israel that involved violence is ultimately self-defeating, not only for them, but perhaps more importantly in their minds, for their own radical Muslim population. The notion that Israel’s response must be proportional seems all about not riling up Europe’s Muslims (after all, if violence is counter-productive, then why not make it proportional?). Add to this the notion that if Jews are now like Nazis, then what happened in Europe in those pre-enlightened days isn’t so bad, see it could happen to anyone, Europeans weren’t rotten to put Jews in ovens, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. If Jews can be Nazis then we’re really all alike, and violence against Islam is self-defeating, and talking cures everything.

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Card Check Kaput?

The Washington Post’s editorial staff’s report on its visit with the President-elect includes the following paragraph:

On the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize by obtaining a majority of signatures from employees in a workplace rather than having to win secret-ballot elections, Mr. Obama signaled willingness to consider other mechanisms to address the concern that employers unfairly use the current process to intimidate workers not to join unions. And he seemed in no hurry to have Congress bring it up. “If we’re losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items,” Mr. Obama said, declining to state whether he wanted to see the issue debated during his first year in office.

It would be churlish to point out that federal labor law already prohibits employers from interfering with employees’ union activities or intimidating them in the course of union elections (no promises [bribes or rewards for voting against union representation], spying, interrogation, or threats — we labor lawyers tell our clients). But that’s fine — let them pass the same law again if it makes Big Labor happy. (Jonathan Chait seems utterly ignorant of current labor law on this point, cooking up images of employer harrassment — so maybe passing existing law all over again would actually work with an uninformed Left). And we already expect ferocious enforcement activity by the Labor Department.

The Post editors are impressed with this and other signs of “pragmatism.” We’ll see how telling these signs are: so far the gargantuan stimulus measure doesn’t seem to follow this rubric. But whatever the motivation, whether a heartfelt desire for moderation or a canny assessment that it would be best to avoid an unnecessary Congressional free-for-all, the decision to dump or postpone card-check legislation should be applauded. The recession is bad enough — let’s not chase whatever employment-providing businesses are left out of the country.

The Washington Post’s editorial staff’s report on its visit with the President-elect includes the following paragraph:

On the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize by obtaining a majority of signatures from employees in a workplace rather than having to win secret-ballot elections, Mr. Obama signaled willingness to consider other mechanisms to address the concern that employers unfairly use the current process to intimidate workers not to join unions. And he seemed in no hurry to have Congress bring it up. “If we’re losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items,” Mr. Obama said, declining to state whether he wanted to see the issue debated during his first year in office.

It would be churlish to point out that federal labor law already prohibits employers from interfering with employees’ union activities or intimidating them in the course of union elections (no promises [bribes or rewards for voting against union representation], spying, interrogation, or threats — we labor lawyers tell our clients). But that’s fine — let them pass the same law again if it makes Big Labor happy. (Jonathan Chait seems utterly ignorant of current labor law on this point, cooking up images of employer harrassment — so maybe passing existing law all over again would actually work with an uninformed Left). And we already expect ferocious enforcement activity by the Labor Department.

The Post editors are impressed with this and other signs of “pragmatism.” We’ll see how telling these signs are: so far the gargantuan stimulus measure doesn’t seem to follow this rubric. But whatever the motivation, whether a heartfelt desire for moderation or a canny assessment that it would be best to avoid an unnecessary Congressional free-for-all, the decision to dump or postpone card-check legislation should be applauded. The recession is bad enough — let’s not chase whatever employment-providing businesses are left out of the country.

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Anti-Israeli Media Bias from Europe

When it comes to Israel, the European news media seem to be operating in an alternative universe. The latest evidence is this Financial Times headline: “Pressure mounts for Israeli war crimes probe.” And who is applying this “pressure”? The first source quoted is none other than Richard Falk, who is identified neutrally and incompletely as “UN human rights envoy for the occupied Palestinian territories.”

There is no mention here that Falk is a radical, anti-Israeli professor at Princeton who has acquired a reputation as, well, a bit of a nut job. As summed up by no less an authority than the New York Times: “He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that ‘only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.'”

But FT reporter Frances Williams doesn’t feel compelled to offer much in the way of balance or background. To the contrary, it’s pile-on time:

Human rights groups also point to attacks on ambulances and rescue vehicles, and the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons that make civilian casualties inevitable…. Moreover, Israel’s definition of a legitimate military target appears to go way beyond what is permissible in international law to encompass anyone and anything suspected of supporting Hamas’s military or political apparatus. “Military objectives” have included police stations, government buildings, mosques, the Islamic University and a money-changing office.

“Indiscriminate”? “Way beyond what is permissible”? From the FT’s perspective such loaded language is treated as a dispassionate judgment so unimpeachable as to not warrant quoting a single supporter of Israel who might point out what is obvious: namely that it is Hamas that is violating international law by dressing its armed fighters in civilian clothes and placing them amid civilians in “police stations, government buildings, mosques, the Islamic University,” etc.

Israel is actually showing superhuman restraint in the application of firepower, at least as compared to previous counterinsurgencies waged by the U.S. in Vietnam, Britain in Kenya, France in Algeria, and so on — to say nothing of Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Syria and Algeria in dealing with their own internal Islamist uprisings. Where are the voices calling for war crimes trials for Russian officials? You don’t even hear much anymore about prosecuting Syrian officials for blowing up the former prime minister of Lebanon with a car bomb. Instead, as usual, it’s poor Israel that is the subject of the world’s opprobrium, with the European press corps leading the snarling pack.

When it comes to Israel, the European news media seem to be operating in an alternative universe. The latest evidence is this Financial Times headline: “Pressure mounts for Israeli war crimes probe.” And who is applying this “pressure”? The first source quoted is none other than Richard Falk, who is identified neutrally and incompletely as “UN human rights envoy for the occupied Palestinian territories.”

There is no mention here that Falk is a radical, anti-Israeli professor at Princeton who has acquired a reputation as, well, a bit of a nut job. As summed up by no less an authority than the New York Times: “He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that ‘only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.'”

But FT reporter Frances Williams doesn’t feel compelled to offer much in the way of balance or background. To the contrary, it’s pile-on time:

Human rights groups also point to attacks on ambulances and rescue vehicles, and the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons that make civilian casualties inevitable…. Moreover, Israel’s definition of a legitimate military target appears to go way beyond what is permissible in international law to encompass anyone and anything suspected of supporting Hamas’s military or political apparatus. “Military objectives” have included police stations, government buildings, mosques, the Islamic University and a money-changing office.

“Indiscriminate”? “Way beyond what is permissible”? From the FT’s perspective such loaded language is treated as a dispassionate judgment so unimpeachable as to not warrant quoting a single supporter of Israel who might point out what is obvious: namely that it is Hamas that is violating international law by dressing its armed fighters in civilian clothes and placing them amid civilians in “police stations, government buildings, mosques, the Islamic University,” etc.

Israel is actually showing superhuman restraint in the application of firepower, at least as compared to previous counterinsurgencies waged by the U.S. in Vietnam, Britain in Kenya, France in Algeria, and so on — to say nothing of Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Syria and Algeria in dealing with their own internal Islamist uprisings. Where are the voices calling for war crimes trials for Russian officials? You don’t even hear much anymore about prosecuting Syrian officials for blowing up the former prime minister of Lebanon with a car bomb. Instead, as usual, it’s poor Israel that is the subject of the world’s opprobrium, with the European press corps leading the snarling pack.

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Chris Matthews Gets It Wrong

Chris Matthews has hosted Hardball on MSNBC since 1999, so he’s technically been covering the news for the entirety of the George W. Bush presidency.  Yet his immediate reaction to President Bush’s farewell address last night left me wondering whether – in between his grouchy rants against the Bush administration – he’s ever bothered paying attention.  While denouncing Bush’s Middle East “freedom agenda,” Matthews struggled to provide accurate examples of the administration’s supposed failures (h/t Freedom Eden):

… History would have told him that in the Arab world, it’s the Arab street, it’s the regular people out there, the vast population in numbers, who oppose the state of Israel, who have always been radicalized. …

Look what happened under him. Algeria had a chance at radical politics, and look what we got there, a bit of, a taste of that. Hamas elected on the West Bank, that did a great deal for peace-making in the Middle East. The election of Ahmadinejad.

And so the head scratching begins.  Does Matthews really think that the current Bush administration tried to promote democracy in Algeria?  Maybe he should read this congratulatory statement, which Bush sent to Abdelaziz Bouteflika after the Algerian leader won a very undemocratic 85% of the vote in 2004.  On Iran, is Matthews unaware that Ahmadinejad’s election had nothing to do with the “democracy agenda” – and that presidential elections have occurred in Iran since 1989?  Or, on a more basic level, does Matthews really think that the “Arab street” (an analytically vacuous concept to begin with) is of any political consequence in non-Arab Iran?

Of course, Matthews finally gets something right when he notes that the Bush administration pushed for the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and, in turn, got Hamas.  Yet Matthews’s sound bite obscures the Bush administration’s actual sin in this affair – namely, failing to reinforce its 2002 demand that the Palestinians elect leaders “not compromised by terror.”

As a result, Matthews fails to recognize the Bush administration’s real foreign policy shortcoming: not that it promoted democracy naively, but that it promoted democracy inconsistently and – at times – half-heartedly.  Yes, the administration demonstrated a very substantial commitment to democracy in Iraq – and history has not reached a unanimous verdict on this project yet.  But in Egypt, the administration abandoned its landmark call for democracy, sitting idly by as the most prominent opposition candidate was jailed following false elections; in the Levant, the administration retreated from its multilateral effort to evict Syria from Lebanon, ultimately endorsing a treaty that strengthened Damascus’s position in Beirut; and throughout the Gulf, the administration strengthened its ties to oil-dripping despots.

In turn, perhaps the Bush administration’s real downfall is that it has discredited the “democracy agenda” by compromising and mitigating its efforts on that front so often.  In the United States, we are unlikely to feel the immediate consequences: the Obama administration will probably embrace “power politics,” thus returning to the framework that has guided American foreign policy historically.  But in the Middle East, the consequences will be tragic – particularly for liberals, who spent much of the past eight years working for change, only to expose themselves to greater repression when American support was not forthcoming.

Chris Matthews has hosted Hardball on MSNBC since 1999, so he’s technically been covering the news for the entirety of the George W. Bush presidency.  Yet his immediate reaction to President Bush’s farewell address last night left me wondering whether – in between his grouchy rants against the Bush administration – he’s ever bothered paying attention.  While denouncing Bush’s Middle East “freedom agenda,” Matthews struggled to provide accurate examples of the administration’s supposed failures (h/t Freedom Eden):

… History would have told him that in the Arab world, it’s the Arab street, it’s the regular people out there, the vast population in numbers, who oppose the state of Israel, who have always been radicalized. …

Look what happened under him. Algeria had a chance at radical politics, and look what we got there, a bit of, a taste of that. Hamas elected on the West Bank, that did a great deal for peace-making in the Middle East. The election of Ahmadinejad.

And so the head scratching begins.  Does Matthews really think that the current Bush administration tried to promote democracy in Algeria?  Maybe he should read this congratulatory statement, which Bush sent to Abdelaziz Bouteflika after the Algerian leader won a very undemocratic 85% of the vote in 2004.  On Iran, is Matthews unaware that Ahmadinejad’s election had nothing to do with the “democracy agenda” – and that presidential elections have occurred in Iran since 1989?  Or, on a more basic level, does Matthews really think that the “Arab street” (an analytically vacuous concept to begin with) is of any political consequence in non-Arab Iran?

Of course, Matthews finally gets something right when he notes that the Bush administration pushed for the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and, in turn, got Hamas.  Yet Matthews’s sound bite obscures the Bush administration’s actual sin in this affair – namely, failing to reinforce its 2002 demand that the Palestinians elect leaders “not compromised by terror.”

As a result, Matthews fails to recognize the Bush administration’s real foreign policy shortcoming: not that it promoted democracy naively, but that it promoted democracy inconsistently and – at times – half-heartedly.  Yes, the administration demonstrated a very substantial commitment to democracy in Iraq – and history has not reached a unanimous verdict on this project yet.  But in Egypt, the administration abandoned its landmark call for democracy, sitting idly by as the most prominent opposition candidate was jailed following false elections; in the Levant, the administration retreated from its multilateral effort to evict Syria from Lebanon, ultimately endorsing a treaty that strengthened Damascus’s position in Beirut; and throughout the Gulf, the administration strengthened its ties to oil-dripping despots.

In turn, perhaps the Bush administration’s real downfall is that it has discredited the “democracy agenda” by compromising and mitigating its efforts on that front so often.  In the United States, we are unlikely to feel the immediate consequences: the Obama administration will probably embrace “power politics,” thus returning to the framework that has guided American foreign policy historically.  But in the Middle East, the consequences will be tragic – particularly for liberals, who spent much of the past eight years working for change, only to expose themselves to greater repression when American support was not forthcoming.

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Just Change Leaders — Ours!

You can’t help but wonder whether the New York Times editors read the news. They pronounce:

We agree that Israel had to defend itself against Hamas’s rocket attacks. But we fear the assault on Gaza has passed the point of diminishing returns. It is time for a cease-fire with Hamas and a return to the peace negotiations that are the only real hope for guaranteeing Israel’s long-term security.

They must have stumbled on that word “return.” When exactly were there peace negotiations with Hamas? Well, never. There is no peace with Hamas. There is only truce and war.

Now, of course, the Times editors rush to assure us Israel “is right to demand a permanent halt to Hamas’s rocket fire. Israel is also right not to rely on Hamas’s promises. Hamas used the last cease-fire to restock its arsenal with weapons ferried in through tunnels dug under the Egypt-Gaza border.” Hmm. That truce option may be tricky. But the Times has a solution. You guessed it:

President-elect Barack Obama says he will work for a peace deal from Day 1. We hope Israel picks a new leader in elections next month who is truly committed to a two-state solution. With the support of the new American president, he or she must make an early downpayment on peace by ending settlement construction, cooperating seriously with Mr. Abbas and improving the lives of all Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.

And we have come full circle in the spinning circle of endless platitudes. The problem is that we just didn’t try hard enough for peace. That Israel had the wrong leaders. Israel is building settlements. If they stopped and everyone — except the Palestinians, of course — got more compliant leaders, we’d finally have peace. Why didn’t evacuation of Gaza bring peace? The Times editors never explain. Might the problem be that Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction? The Times editors would do well to read Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing testimony. She got it mostly right. Might it be that Iran sees endless benefit and little downside in egging on and arming its surrogates?

Logic is absent. Fantasy is omnipresent. These people are no realists.

You can’t help but wonder whether the New York Times editors read the news. They pronounce:

We agree that Israel had to defend itself against Hamas’s rocket attacks. But we fear the assault on Gaza has passed the point of diminishing returns. It is time for a cease-fire with Hamas and a return to the peace negotiations that are the only real hope for guaranteeing Israel’s long-term security.

They must have stumbled on that word “return.” When exactly were there peace negotiations with Hamas? Well, never. There is no peace with Hamas. There is only truce and war.

Now, of course, the Times editors rush to assure us Israel “is right to demand a permanent halt to Hamas’s rocket fire. Israel is also right not to rely on Hamas’s promises. Hamas used the last cease-fire to restock its arsenal with weapons ferried in through tunnels dug under the Egypt-Gaza border.” Hmm. That truce option may be tricky. But the Times has a solution. You guessed it:

President-elect Barack Obama says he will work for a peace deal from Day 1. We hope Israel picks a new leader in elections next month who is truly committed to a two-state solution. With the support of the new American president, he or she must make an early downpayment on peace by ending settlement construction, cooperating seriously with Mr. Abbas and improving the lives of all Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.

And we have come full circle in the spinning circle of endless platitudes. The problem is that we just didn’t try hard enough for peace. That Israel had the wrong leaders. Israel is building settlements. If they stopped and everyone — except the Palestinians, of course — got more compliant leaders, we’d finally have peace. Why didn’t evacuation of Gaza bring peace? The Times editors never explain. Might the problem be that Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction? The Times editors would do well to read Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing testimony. She got it mostly right. Might it be that Iran sees endless benefit and little downside in egging on and arming its surrogates?

Logic is absent. Fantasy is omnipresent. These people are no realists.

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Bidenism of the Day

From the New York Times interview with the gravitas-emitting Vice President-Elect:

He said he would bring more to the job than any of his predecessors, except possibly Lyndon B. Johnson. “I know as much or more than Cheney,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody.”

Somebody tell Jacob Weisberg he needs a new gig.

From the New York Times interview with the gravitas-emitting Vice President-Elect:

He said he would bring more to the job than any of his predecessors, except possibly Lyndon B. Johnson. “I know as much or more than Cheney,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody.”

Somebody tell Jacob Weisberg he needs a new gig.

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The Square Root of Hope

The website of the New York Times has a super-snazzy interactive audio-visual feature about people’s hopes for the Obama administration. By clicking on different dialogue bubbles, you can hear Americans elaborate on what they want from our next president. My favorite comes from one Tim Kanaley of Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Quite frankly, I think my single greatest hope is the re-establishment of hope in this country. Just getting people happy again, with greater hope — we’ll be able to build ourselves out of the rut we’re in right now.

Sure hope he’s right.

The website of the New York Times has a super-snazzy interactive audio-visual feature about people’s hopes for the Obama administration. By clicking on different dialogue bubbles, you can hear Americans elaborate on what they want from our next president. My favorite comes from one Tim Kanaley of Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Quite frankly, I think my single greatest hope is the re-establishment of hope in this country. Just getting people happy again, with greater hope — we’ll be able to build ourselves out of the rut we’re in right now.

Sure hope he’s right.

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Pushing Karzai

This Financial Times story suggests that the incoming administration will take a tougher stance toward Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, than the Bush administration has. It quotes “one long-serving US official in Afghanistan” who predicts

that “everything will change on January 21″ as the new administration ditches “the blind support we saw during the Bush years”, adding that the Obama team will “order” Mr. Karzai to remove corrupt officials.

The official contended that Mr Karzai kept getting an easy ride from Mr. Bush long after Afghanistan had started deteriorating under his leadership because the White House was desperate for a success story, particularly in the years when the war in Iraq was faring badly. “They were just in complete denial.”

Of course it’s possible that the Bush administration wasn’t in denial, that it was aware of Karzai’s flaws but didn’t see any realistic alternative. There is something to be said for dealing with the man in power, as we have also done in Iraq, rather than pining away for ideal alternatives that never materialize. But it is absolutely essential to push a leader like Karzai (or Maliki) to make tough but necessary decisions he would rather avoid. In the case of Afghanistan, that means cracking down on corruption above all.

Karzai seemed to be most effective when Zal Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador in Kabul. He pushed Karzai to cashier warlords serving in government posts and to make other moves that shored up governance. Since Khalilzad left in 2005, Karzai has seemed a bit adrift. If the new administration shows Karzai some “tough love” that would be a good thing, and they have apparently chosen the perfect representative to implement this approach — Dick Holbrooke, who is, if rumors are accurate, to become special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. His experience in resolving the Bosnian crisis is the perfect background for sorting out the complex tribal politics of Afghanistan.

This Financial Times story suggests that the incoming administration will take a tougher stance toward Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, than the Bush administration has. It quotes “one long-serving US official in Afghanistan” who predicts

that “everything will change on January 21″ as the new administration ditches “the blind support we saw during the Bush years”, adding that the Obama team will “order” Mr. Karzai to remove corrupt officials.

The official contended that Mr Karzai kept getting an easy ride from Mr. Bush long after Afghanistan had started deteriorating under his leadership because the White House was desperate for a success story, particularly in the years when the war in Iraq was faring badly. “They were just in complete denial.”

Of course it’s possible that the Bush administration wasn’t in denial, that it was aware of Karzai’s flaws but didn’t see any realistic alternative. There is something to be said for dealing with the man in power, as we have also done in Iraq, rather than pining away for ideal alternatives that never materialize. But it is absolutely essential to push a leader like Karzai (or Maliki) to make tough but necessary decisions he would rather avoid. In the case of Afghanistan, that means cracking down on corruption above all.

Karzai seemed to be most effective when Zal Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador in Kabul. He pushed Karzai to cashier warlords serving in government posts and to make other moves that shored up governance. Since Khalilzad left in 2005, Karzai has seemed a bit adrift. If the new administration shows Karzai some “tough love” that would be a good thing, and they have apparently chosen the perfect representative to implement this approach — Dick Holbrooke, who is, if rumors are accurate, to become special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. His experience in resolving the Bosnian crisis is the perfect background for sorting out the complex tribal politics of Afghanistan.

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From the Terrorists’ Own Mouths

To hear Hamas officials offer the kind of candid opinions they tend to leave out of op-eds in sympathetic Western forums, check out this video, produced by the MEMRI organization, of Hamas in their own words.

I don’t recall reading, “The annihilation of the Jews here in Palestine is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine,” in Tuesday’s Guardian piece.

To hear Hamas officials offer the kind of candid opinions they tend to leave out of op-eds in sympathetic Western forums, check out this video, produced by the MEMRI organization, of Hamas in their own words.

I don’t recall reading, “The annihilation of the Jews here in Palestine is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine,” in Tuesday’s Guardian piece.

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Failing Upwards

Michael Jordan said it best:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Eric Holder said it a little worse:

My decisions were not always perfect. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.

The former Clinton-administration Justice-department official up for Attorney General has a political “rap sheet” as long as his arm. The involvement in Bill Clinton’s shady last-minute pardons alone would be enough to disqualify most people. Indeed, Holder himself won’t defend his actions — rather, he admits guilt and apologizes — but is not above trying to use them to his advantage. He makes an interesting argument — “I’ve screwed up plenty, so you don’t have to worry about me making those mistakes again because I learned from these bad experiences!”

On the surface, a bold move. But, really, what other choice does he have?

A similar thing seems to be going on with Obama’s nominated Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. Here’s a guy who will be in charge of the IRS, and even he can’t keep his own taxes in order. Or keep up with his employees’ immigration status. But he’s highly qualified, because he headed up the New York Federal Reserve Bank… and “supervised” the greatest financial meltdown.

It isn’t just Obama’s nominees either, but other Democrats. In the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Committee is headed up by Charlie Rangel. The head of the main tax-writing committee is apparently incapable of understanding his own financial situations — the number of rent-controlled apartments in New York he can hold, whether he can claim a “homestead” tax deduction for a DC-area house and still legally represent New York in Congress, whether he can use his Congressional parking spot in the garage to store his classic Mercedes, whether he has to declare rental income on a property in the Caribbean . . .

By today’s standard, Geithner, Holder, and Rangel should be found wanting, and cast aside for their imperfections.

Michael Jordan said it best:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Eric Holder said it a little worse:

My decisions were not always perfect. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.

The former Clinton-administration Justice-department official up for Attorney General has a political “rap sheet” as long as his arm. The involvement in Bill Clinton’s shady last-minute pardons alone would be enough to disqualify most people. Indeed, Holder himself won’t defend his actions — rather, he admits guilt and apologizes — but is not above trying to use them to his advantage. He makes an interesting argument — “I’ve screwed up plenty, so you don’t have to worry about me making those mistakes again because I learned from these bad experiences!”

On the surface, a bold move. But, really, what other choice does he have?

A similar thing seems to be going on with Obama’s nominated Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. Here’s a guy who will be in charge of the IRS, and even he can’t keep his own taxes in order. Or keep up with his employees’ immigration status. But he’s highly qualified, because he headed up the New York Federal Reserve Bank… and “supervised” the greatest financial meltdown.

It isn’t just Obama’s nominees either, but other Democrats. In the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Committee is headed up by Charlie Rangel. The head of the main tax-writing committee is apparently incapable of understanding his own financial situations — the number of rent-controlled apartments in New York he can hold, whether he can claim a “homestead” tax deduction for a DC-area house and still legally represent New York in Congress, whether he can use his Congressional parking spot in the garage to store his classic Mercedes, whether he has to declare rental income on a property in the Caribbean . . .

By today’s standard, Geithner, Holder, and Rangel should be found wanting, and cast aside for their imperfections.

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Farewell Speech

President Bush’s speech was not filled with poetry or memorable lines but it did serve to pull back the focus onto the greater picture of his presidency. To a large extent it was an honest speech. Gone were extravagant and unsubstantiated claims of fiscal discipline or of progress with North Korea (which Secretary of State Condi Rice incoherently keeps insisting on). There was a sense of modesty and self-reflection. He knows he  hasn’t been widely-loved of late, nor successful at improving Washington’s tenor.

It was clear from the structure and substance of the speech that he primarily regards himself as a wartime president, and was deeply transformed by 9-11. The attention devoted to national security and the war on terror signaled these issues’ paramount relevance to his administration. He noted purposefully, “Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our Nation.  And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.”

If that has been the focus of his presidency, then his claims of success — liberating Iraq and keeping America safe from attacks — are valid. His argument is simple: on the issues most central to his presidency he (albeit at great cost and amid great controversy) got them, essentially, right. And the proof in large part will be, as Charles Krauthammer points out, whether those undertakings — leaving a free and independent Iraq and securing the country with appropriate policies and institutions — are supported and completed by his successor.

And what are his claims on the domestic front? There are a few: he lowered taxes, he provided prescription drug benefits, he assisted faith-based charities, he enacted No Child Left Behind and he appointed two stellar Supreme Court Justices. Conservatives won’t like a couple of them, liberals won’t like the rest. But they make for a respectable list.

It will take time, of course, to see how these accomplishments match up against the obvious and much discussed negatives — the scandals, the fiscal laxity, the recession, and the failed domestic initiatives on immigration and social security. And his successes, his critics will remind us, are marred by errors (e.g. the mismanaged years of the Iraq war) which sometimes threatened to overshadow the positives .

But his purpose last night was not to battle it out with critics. He wanted to remind us that he did some big things. Perhaps in time, when the venom of the political season dies down, the successes will enjoy more universal appreciation.

President Bush’s speech was not filled with poetry or memorable lines but it did serve to pull back the focus onto the greater picture of his presidency. To a large extent it was an honest speech. Gone were extravagant and unsubstantiated claims of fiscal discipline or of progress with North Korea (which Secretary of State Condi Rice incoherently keeps insisting on). There was a sense of modesty and self-reflection. He knows he  hasn’t been widely-loved of late, nor successful at improving Washington’s tenor.

It was clear from the structure and substance of the speech that he primarily regards himself as a wartime president, and was deeply transformed by 9-11. The attention devoted to national security and the war on terror signaled these issues’ paramount relevance to his administration. He noted purposefully, “Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our Nation.  And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.”

If that has been the focus of his presidency, then his claims of success — liberating Iraq and keeping America safe from attacks — are valid. His argument is simple: on the issues most central to his presidency he (albeit at great cost and amid great controversy) got them, essentially, right. And the proof in large part will be, as Charles Krauthammer points out, whether those undertakings — leaving a free and independent Iraq and securing the country with appropriate policies and institutions — are supported and completed by his successor.

And what are his claims on the domestic front? There are a few: he lowered taxes, he provided prescription drug benefits, he assisted faith-based charities, he enacted No Child Left Behind and he appointed two stellar Supreme Court Justices. Conservatives won’t like a couple of them, liberals won’t like the rest. But they make for a respectable list.

It will take time, of course, to see how these accomplishments match up against the obvious and much discussed negatives — the scandals, the fiscal laxity, the recession, and the failed domestic initiatives on immigration and social security. And his successes, his critics will remind us, are marred by errors (e.g. the mismanaged years of the Iraq war) which sometimes threatened to overshadow the positives .

But his purpose last night was not to battle it out with critics. He wanted to remind us that he did some big things. Perhaps in time, when the venom of the political season dies down, the successes will enjoy more universal appreciation.

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Why They Fight

One of the remarkable aspects of the current conflict in Gaza is the contrast between the way the fighting is viewed by the people of Israel and the way in which it is framed by international opinion.

The view of much of the rest of the world was neatly summed up in an editorial in the Guardian earlier this week, describing Israel as “a country which now gives every appearance of having turned its back on global opinion.”

While the Guardian thinks it’s a shame that Jews in Europe may be targeted for hate because of Israel’s actions, the fate of Israeli Jews who have been subjected to rocket fire and terrorist attacks from Palestinians whose chief ambition is to eradicate the Jewish State is a topic in which they lack interest.

Instead, the newspaper demands that Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband call in Israel’s ambassador to London for a dressing down about the “illegal” nature of the Gaza counter-offensive, which the Guardian feels “could well merit future investigation as possible war crimes.”

Their hope is that the prospect of a new administration in Washington will force Israel to stand down: “All the signs are that the Obama administration is not going to be sympathetic to a future of failed blockades or the intransigent refusal to talk to Israel’s enemies.”

And what has Israel been doing the past 15 years since Oslo, during which time it allowed the PLO to take over the territories and then unilaterally withdrew from Gaza?

The Guardian concludes by warning the Israelis that if they don’t quit, Europe will soon embrace harsher tactics to force them to stop defending themselves:

That is why the talk elsewhere is now of boycotts, of arms embargos, of revoking trade agreements, withholding financial support and cancelling export credit guarantees. These are not all appealing options, nor should they be yet necessary. But a country which truly rejects the collective concerns of the international community leaves its friends, never mind its enemies, running out of road.

Such sentiments were also reflected in another piece published across the pond in Boston on that same day. In the Boston Globe, columnist H.D.S. Greenway laments American support for Israel’s attempts to hold Hamas responsible for its actions, which he, too, considers a possible war crime.

Greenway is puzzled by the unwillingness of Israelis to consider themselves to be in the wrong. He even quotes Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is not exactly a right-winger, as being unwilling to look at the situation from the other fellow’s point of view.

I heard Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, on the radio asking, ‘Why do they do this?’ If Hamas cared about its people, it wouldn’t attack us, he said.

No doubt Hamas is stubborn, even unreasonable, but Peres well remembers that in the long history of his own people there have been times, from Masada to Warsaw, when stubborn men deemed it better to resist against hopeless odds rather than accept subjugation.

Just as some people have viciously attempted to compare Israel with the Nazis, Greenway is prepared to consider the Islamist fanatics of Hamas to be the moral equivalent of the Zealots on Masada or the embattled and doomed Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Such comparisons are obscene. The Roman objective was to eradicate any vestige of Jewish sovereignty. The Nazi goal was simply to kill every Jew in the world. The Israelis just want the Palestinians in Gaza to stop shooting missiles over the border at them.

So why do the Israelis continue to persist in their effort when so many others elsewhere don’t understand them? The Jerusalem Post’s Elliot Jager put it quite succinctly when he was asked by the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner why Israelis “really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?”

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

Another example of how Israelis answer Bronner’s question is in the New Republic today. There, Yossi Klein Halevi gives us a close-up look at a squad of Israeli reservists about to be deployed into Gaza.

Though many of them, including the commander, wonder about whether the offensive should continue, they have no doubt about whether their country is in the right. Some have reported for duty even though they had the option of staying home.

Halevi explains:

Israel has known excruciating moments of self-doubt, even during war, but this isn’t one of them. Many Israelis feel anguished about Gaza’s suffering, but few feel apologetic. And Israelis have no patience for those critics unable to separate sympathy for Gaza’s victims with political conclusions that only strengthen the jihadists most responsible for Gaza’s suffering. Israel’s left-wing Meretz party has managed, as of this writing, to bring all of 1,000 demonstrators into the streets. And even Meretz supported the first week’s air offensive. One reason for the consensus is the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. At that time, Israeli leaders reassured skeptics that, if terrorists attacked over the international border, the IDF would have the moral legitimacy to return to Gaza. After thousands of missiles have fallen over the last three years, the IDF has belatedly done just that. The left knows its credibility is being tested: If Israel can’t defend Beersheva and Ashdod from the 1967 border with Gaza, it won’t be able to defend Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from the 1967 border with the West Bank. And, if Israel is unable to stop the missiles from Gaza, there will be very little public support for further withdrawals.

One of the remarkable aspects of the current conflict in Gaza is the contrast between the way the fighting is viewed by the people of Israel and the way in which it is framed by international opinion.

The view of much of the rest of the world was neatly summed up in an editorial in the Guardian earlier this week, describing Israel as “a country which now gives every appearance of having turned its back on global opinion.”

While the Guardian thinks it’s a shame that Jews in Europe may be targeted for hate because of Israel’s actions, the fate of Israeli Jews who have been subjected to rocket fire and terrorist attacks from Palestinians whose chief ambition is to eradicate the Jewish State is a topic in which they lack interest.

Instead, the newspaper demands that Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband call in Israel’s ambassador to London for a dressing down about the “illegal” nature of the Gaza counter-offensive, which the Guardian feels “could well merit future investigation as possible war crimes.”

Their hope is that the prospect of a new administration in Washington will force Israel to stand down: “All the signs are that the Obama administration is not going to be sympathetic to a future of failed blockades or the intransigent refusal to talk to Israel’s enemies.”

And what has Israel been doing the past 15 years since Oslo, during which time it allowed the PLO to take over the territories and then unilaterally withdrew from Gaza?

The Guardian concludes by warning the Israelis that if they don’t quit, Europe will soon embrace harsher tactics to force them to stop defending themselves:

That is why the talk elsewhere is now of boycotts, of arms embargos, of revoking trade agreements, withholding financial support and cancelling export credit guarantees. These are not all appealing options, nor should they be yet necessary. But a country which truly rejects the collective concerns of the international community leaves its friends, never mind its enemies, running out of road.

Such sentiments were also reflected in another piece published across the pond in Boston on that same day. In the Boston Globe, columnist H.D.S. Greenway laments American support for Israel’s attempts to hold Hamas responsible for its actions, which he, too, considers a possible war crime.

Greenway is puzzled by the unwillingness of Israelis to consider themselves to be in the wrong. He even quotes Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is not exactly a right-winger, as being unwilling to look at the situation from the other fellow’s point of view.

I heard Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, on the radio asking, ‘Why do they do this?’ If Hamas cared about its people, it wouldn’t attack us, he said.

No doubt Hamas is stubborn, even unreasonable, but Peres well remembers that in the long history of his own people there have been times, from Masada to Warsaw, when stubborn men deemed it better to resist against hopeless odds rather than accept subjugation.

Just as some people have viciously attempted to compare Israel with the Nazis, Greenway is prepared to consider the Islamist fanatics of Hamas to be the moral equivalent of the Zealots on Masada or the embattled and doomed Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Such comparisons are obscene. The Roman objective was to eradicate any vestige of Jewish sovereignty. The Nazi goal was simply to kill every Jew in the world. The Israelis just want the Palestinians in Gaza to stop shooting missiles over the border at them.

So why do the Israelis continue to persist in their effort when so many others elsewhere don’t understand them? The Jerusalem Post’s Elliot Jager put it quite succinctly when he was asked by the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner why Israelis “really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?”

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

Another example of how Israelis answer Bronner’s question is in the New Republic today. There, Yossi Klein Halevi gives us a close-up look at a squad of Israeli reservists about to be deployed into Gaza.

Though many of them, including the commander, wonder about whether the offensive should continue, they have no doubt about whether their country is in the right. Some have reported for duty even though they had the option of staying home.

Halevi explains:

Israel has known excruciating moments of self-doubt, even during war, but this isn’t one of them. Many Israelis feel anguished about Gaza’s suffering, but few feel apologetic. And Israelis have no patience for those critics unable to separate sympathy for Gaza’s victims with political conclusions that only strengthen the jihadists most responsible for Gaza’s suffering. Israel’s left-wing Meretz party has managed, as of this writing, to bring all of 1,000 demonstrators into the streets. And even Meretz supported the first week’s air offensive. One reason for the consensus is the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. At that time, Israeli leaders reassured skeptics that, if terrorists attacked over the international border, the IDF would have the moral legitimacy to return to Gaza. After thousands of missiles have fallen over the last three years, the IDF has belatedly done just that. The left knows its credibility is being tested: If Israel can’t defend Beersheva and Ashdod from the 1967 border with Gaza, it won’t be able to defend Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from the 1967 border with the West Bank. And, if Israel is unable to stop the missiles from Gaza, there will be very little public support for further withdrawals.

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An Invitation To Say “Nooooo!”

So much for the non-ideologue, the eclectic and bipartisan President-elect. That persona is just for dinner parties. The one who seeks to govern apparently is an unalloyed liberal with little interest in crafting bipartisan, practical legislation. In devising his signature stimulus-piece he set the House Democrats loose and ignored the Republicans. The result: a $825B pork-filled monstrosity, containing no redeeming features for Republicans (e.g. tax rate cuts, significant military spending). Republicans were understandably horrified:

Republicans suggested the greater danger was the level of spending in the bill itself. “Oh, my God,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R- Ohio) told reporters in a hastily called press conference. “I can’t tell you how shocked I am at what I’m seeing.”

California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations panel, said, “We have serious concerns about its size, scope, and astronomical cost. This legislation appears to blanket government programs in spending with little thought toward real economic results, job creation, or respect for the taxpayer.”

“Pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into government programs and saddling future generations with this tab will exacerbate our nation’s economic challenges, not solve them. If we fail to protect the interest of the taxpayer and make funding decisions based on campaign pledges and political games, the results will be disastrous.”

Just how bad is it? Well, Megan McArdle, no Republican partisan, observes the President-elect didn’t even keep to his tax cuts for 95% of taxpayers. Then the rest is just awful:

The rest of the bill is about what you expected–a lot of probably useless green energy spending that I fairly confidently predict will come to nothing, some stuff we should have done anyway, and a bunch of pandering, porky highway spending. The better the projects are, the less likely they are to be stimulative, because they’re complicated and time consuming, like healthcare IT and high-speed rail.  If we do them on a stimulus timeframe, we’ll screw them up, waste an enormous amount of money, and likely make American voters worse off in the long term by locking them in to bad solutions–we won’t get a second bite at high-speed rail between LA and San Francisco. Mostly, Democrats took their wish lists, called them “stimulus”, and look set to inflict them on the American people in badly done drag.

I’m not sure what the game-plan is here. If the President-elect hoped to lure Republicans, provide some cover for Democrats and get some insurance (via meaningful tax cuts) just in case his Keynesian feast doesn’t work, he and his Congressional allies entirely missed the mark. I sincerely doubt it will attract any more than a handful of Republican votes in its current form. And it shouldn’t.

Some conservatives will be gleeful. This will “highlight the differences” between the parties and “force Democrats to take responsibility for the recession.” Perhaps, but it is also dreadful policy, highly unlikely to ameliorate the recession and certain to explode our debt. Moreover, it reeks of Old Politics: The Democrats have the votes? So jam the measure through. The Republicans want to offer amendments? Change the rules so they can’t.

It is unfortunate that the President-elect’s soothing rhetoric isn’t yet being implemented in his first concrete domestic policy move. We may be catching a glimpse of the chasm between talk and walk. The President-elect talks about change in national security but sets a policy course eerily similar to Bush’s second term (e.g. “close Guantanamo” but just only by the end of the first term if at all, “engage” on the Middle East but not with Hamas, “end” the Iraq War but only according to the Bush timetable). He talks bipartisanship and moderation on the domestic front, but favors a mega-New Deal spending bonanza that incorporates no conservative ideas. We won’t know for some time whether this dichotomy — some would say hypocrisy — is the Obama modus operandi.

For now, Republicans should make clear just how bad a piece of legislation this is and just how partisan was the method by which it was produced. That will, if nothing else, test the President-elect’s seriousness about listening to his political opponents.

So much for the non-ideologue, the eclectic and bipartisan President-elect. That persona is just for dinner parties. The one who seeks to govern apparently is an unalloyed liberal with little interest in crafting bipartisan, practical legislation. In devising his signature stimulus-piece he set the House Democrats loose and ignored the Republicans. The result: a $825B pork-filled monstrosity, containing no redeeming features for Republicans (e.g. tax rate cuts, significant military spending). Republicans were understandably horrified:

Republicans suggested the greater danger was the level of spending in the bill itself. “Oh, my God,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R- Ohio) told reporters in a hastily called press conference. “I can’t tell you how shocked I am at what I’m seeing.”

California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations panel, said, “We have serious concerns about its size, scope, and astronomical cost. This legislation appears to blanket government programs in spending with little thought toward real economic results, job creation, or respect for the taxpayer.”

“Pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into government programs and saddling future generations with this tab will exacerbate our nation’s economic challenges, not solve them. If we fail to protect the interest of the taxpayer and make funding decisions based on campaign pledges and political games, the results will be disastrous.”

Just how bad is it? Well, Megan McArdle, no Republican partisan, observes the President-elect didn’t even keep to his tax cuts for 95% of taxpayers. Then the rest is just awful:

The rest of the bill is about what you expected–a lot of probably useless green energy spending that I fairly confidently predict will come to nothing, some stuff we should have done anyway, and a bunch of pandering, porky highway spending. The better the projects are, the less likely they are to be stimulative, because they’re complicated and time consuming, like healthcare IT and high-speed rail.  If we do them on a stimulus timeframe, we’ll screw them up, waste an enormous amount of money, and likely make American voters worse off in the long term by locking them in to bad solutions–we won’t get a second bite at high-speed rail between LA and San Francisco. Mostly, Democrats took their wish lists, called them “stimulus”, and look set to inflict them on the American people in badly done drag.

I’m not sure what the game-plan is here. If the President-elect hoped to lure Republicans, provide some cover for Democrats and get some insurance (via meaningful tax cuts) just in case his Keynesian feast doesn’t work, he and his Congressional allies entirely missed the mark. I sincerely doubt it will attract any more than a handful of Republican votes in its current form. And it shouldn’t.

Some conservatives will be gleeful. This will “highlight the differences” between the parties and “force Democrats to take responsibility for the recession.” Perhaps, but it is also dreadful policy, highly unlikely to ameliorate the recession and certain to explode our debt. Moreover, it reeks of Old Politics: The Democrats have the votes? So jam the measure through. The Republicans want to offer amendments? Change the rules so they can’t.

It is unfortunate that the President-elect’s soothing rhetoric isn’t yet being implemented in his first concrete domestic policy move. We may be catching a glimpse of the chasm between talk and walk. The President-elect talks about change in national security but sets a policy course eerily similar to Bush’s second term (e.g. “close Guantanamo” but just only by the end of the first term if at all, “engage” on the Middle East but not with Hamas, “end” the Iraq War but only according to the Bush timetable). He talks bipartisanship and moderation on the domestic front, but favors a mega-New Deal spending bonanza that incorporates no conservative ideas. We won’t know for some time whether this dichotomy — some would say hypocrisy — is the Obama modus operandi.

For now, Republicans should make clear just how bad a piece of legislation this is and just how partisan was the method by which it was produced. That will, if nothing else, test the President-elect’s seriousness about listening to his political opponents.

Read Less

Water Still Wet, Sun Still Rises In East, Rangel Still Out To Destroy The Military

Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) is trying to distract Americans from his tax problems by resurrecting a bad idea he’s brought up many times before: the return of military conscription. In other words, the man in charge of writing tax laws is hoping we’ll forget that he couldn’t be bothered to obey said laws himself and focus instead on the contemptuous nonsense he is now uttering with regard to our military recruitment-structure.

For most of its history, the United States — like most nations — relied on conscription to man its military, though women were never subjected to the draft. This became a major rallying point against the Viet Nam war, because any young man could find himself in uniform, toting a gun, fighting in a war he not only did not support, but actively opposed. The draft was abolished in 1973, and the U.S. withdrew its troops from Viet Nam shortly thereafter.

At the time, Nixon’s plan to phase out the draft and replace it with an all-volunteer military was highly controversial. There were plenty of critics who worried it would cripple the military, leaving it woefully short of volunteers.

They were right — in the short run. It took several years for the all-volunteer military to recover from the shock delivered to its system but, in the long run, retiring the draft was definitely a successful policy. It took years for voluntary enlistment to reach a critical point, but eventually military service shifted from being seen as a burden to being seen as a calling. The military soon found that it had to work a bit harder to “sell” itself to young men (and, increasingly, to young women) to persuade them to put on their nation’s uniform.

It worked. Boy, has it worked! The term “all-volunteer military” fell out of favor, supplanted by “professional military,” which is a more accurate characterization. Continuously replenished with talent that not only wanted to be there, but had to prove worthy of the challenges, our military became better and better, attaining a degree of sophistication and efficiency that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Rangel thinks something needs fixing in all this?

Rangel, at least, is honest in why he wants to bring back the draft: he wants to fire up more opposition to the war in Iraq. Apparently he’s a bit behind on developments that have occurred there in the last year or so. Understandable, I guess; he’s been busy not paying his taxes, not obeying rent-control laws, ignoring political-contribution regulations, dismissing rules of the House parking garage, and whatnot. It’s been a rough year for Mr. Rangel.

The anti-war movement has been seriously impaired in their effort to cast Iraq as Vietnam in part because one essential feature to warrant any parallel was missing: the draft. All U.S. troops in Iraq are volunteers, and their reenlistment rate is actually higher than among troops deployed elsewhere. There is not a single American serviceman or servicewoman in Iraq who did not choose to serve. No one in the U.S. has any reason to fear being dragged into the military by force and sent off to Iraq.

As noted, the U.S. military is more powerful than any other country’s in the world. It is the most professional, most capable, and most flexible force in the world. Rangel, of course, just cannot let that be.

The military is not sufficiently “diverse” for Rangel’s standards: it’s filled with too many people from the lower socio-economic strata, and not enough from the more privileged classes. If more families were invested in the military by having their sons — and possibly daughters — forced to serve, the theory goes, then there would be greater internal pressure to refrain from warfare. In essence, Rangel wants to use America’s youths as hostages.

Rangel has been unrelenting on this pseudo-argument since the beginning of the Iraq war — his efforts culminating in one of the most entertaining moments in political history: In 2004 Rangel was pushing his perennial draft bill when the Republicans, in a whimsical bluff, decided to fast-track it by putting it — unaltered — to a House vote.  It failed by 402 to 2, with Rangel himself bitterly complaining as he voted against his own measure. Apparently, to Rangel, taking him at his word and presuming he would like to have a bill he submitted being given a chance to pass into law is “playing political games.”

If the draft is reinstated there will be greater popular reluctance to use the military: not out of a sense of “protecting our children,” but in recognition of the military’s decreased effectiveness. There would be a schism between those who serve in the military because they want to, and those who are there because they have no other choice.

If Rangel is set on purposefully destroying our military on purpose, he couldn’t have found a better way.

He is attempting to use the military as an experimental body for his social engineering schemes. But the military is not to be toyed with: It is the strong right arm of the United States, tasked with the responsibility of manually carrying out international policy when things get unruly. Anything impairing its ability to perform this vital role needs to be weighed extremely carefully. In the specific case of reinstating the draft, let’s paraphrase Dorothy Parker:“This is not an idea to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) is trying to distract Americans from his tax problems by resurrecting a bad idea he’s brought up many times before: the return of military conscription. In other words, the man in charge of writing tax laws is hoping we’ll forget that he couldn’t be bothered to obey said laws himself and focus instead on the contemptuous nonsense he is now uttering with regard to our military recruitment-structure.

For most of its history, the United States — like most nations — relied on conscription to man its military, though women were never subjected to the draft. This became a major rallying point against the Viet Nam war, because any young man could find himself in uniform, toting a gun, fighting in a war he not only did not support, but actively opposed. The draft was abolished in 1973, and the U.S. withdrew its troops from Viet Nam shortly thereafter.

At the time, Nixon’s plan to phase out the draft and replace it with an all-volunteer military was highly controversial. There were plenty of critics who worried it would cripple the military, leaving it woefully short of volunteers.

They were right — in the short run. It took several years for the all-volunteer military to recover from the shock delivered to its system but, in the long run, retiring the draft was definitely a successful policy. It took years for voluntary enlistment to reach a critical point, but eventually military service shifted from being seen as a burden to being seen as a calling. The military soon found that it had to work a bit harder to “sell” itself to young men (and, increasingly, to young women) to persuade them to put on their nation’s uniform.

It worked. Boy, has it worked! The term “all-volunteer military” fell out of favor, supplanted by “professional military,” which is a more accurate characterization. Continuously replenished with talent that not only wanted to be there, but had to prove worthy of the challenges, our military became better and better, attaining a degree of sophistication and efficiency that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Rangel thinks something needs fixing in all this?

Rangel, at least, is honest in why he wants to bring back the draft: he wants to fire up more opposition to the war in Iraq. Apparently he’s a bit behind on developments that have occurred there in the last year or so. Understandable, I guess; he’s been busy not paying his taxes, not obeying rent-control laws, ignoring political-contribution regulations, dismissing rules of the House parking garage, and whatnot. It’s been a rough year for Mr. Rangel.

The anti-war movement has been seriously impaired in their effort to cast Iraq as Vietnam in part because one essential feature to warrant any parallel was missing: the draft. All U.S. troops in Iraq are volunteers, and their reenlistment rate is actually higher than among troops deployed elsewhere. There is not a single American serviceman or servicewoman in Iraq who did not choose to serve. No one in the U.S. has any reason to fear being dragged into the military by force and sent off to Iraq.

As noted, the U.S. military is more powerful than any other country’s in the world. It is the most professional, most capable, and most flexible force in the world. Rangel, of course, just cannot let that be.

The military is not sufficiently “diverse” for Rangel’s standards: it’s filled with too many people from the lower socio-economic strata, and not enough from the more privileged classes. If more families were invested in the military by having their sons — and possibly daughters — forced to serve, the theory goes, then there would be greater internal pressure to refrain from warfare. In essence, Rangel wants to use America’s youths as hostages.

Rangel has been unrelenting on this pseudo-argument since the beginning of the Iraq war — his efforts culminating in one of the most entertaining moments in political history: In 2004 Rangel was pushing his perennial draft bill when the Republicans, in a whimsical bluff, decided to fast-track it by putting it — unaltered — to a House vote.  It failed by 402 to 2, with Rangel himself bitterly complaining as he voted against his own measure. Apparently, to Rangel, taking him at his word and presuming he would like to have a bill he submitted being given a chance to pass into law is “playing political games.”

If the draft is reinstated there will be greater popular reluctance to use the military: not out of a sense of “protecting our children,” but in recognition of the military’s decreased effectiveness. There would be a schism between those who serve in the military because they want to, and those who are there because they have no other choice.

If Rangel is set on purposefully destroying our military on purpose, he couldn’t have found a better way.

He is attempting to use the military as an experimental body for his social engineering schemes. But the military is not to be toyed with: It is the strong right arm of the United States, tasked with the responsibility of manually carrying out international policy when things get unruly. Anything impairing its ability to perform this vital role needs to be weighed extremely carefully. In the specific case of reinstating the draft, let’s paraphrase Dorothy Parker:“This is not an idea to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Read Less

Maybe Her Curlers Are a Little Too Tight

In Forbes, Elisabeth Eaves celebrates Barack Obama  as “The Cosmopolitan President,” but she sounds truly excited about a character closer to Obama, The Backpack President. What follows is the most ridiculous, myopic endorsement of a politician I’ve ever come across:

I was attracted to candidate Obama in part because of, not despite, his dislocated background. I identified with it. It meant sympathy for my own stints living abroad and my habit of roving around the world for work, education and pleasure.

I’m not alone: Obama’s background meant that he understood the life of an enormous swathe of young Americans. We are predominately urban, coastal, college educated, under 40 and our sense of normal is not Peggy Noonan’s or George W. Bush’s. In my world, it is stranger not to have lived abroad than to have done so.

Maybe they can trade scrapbooks.

Eaves does get around to more penetrating analysis of “[her] world”:

Discovering last week that my new hairdresser was from Uzbekistan made me feel reassured that all was right in the world. Maybe that’s the same sense of reassurance that members of an older, more stationary generation got from knowing that someone was one of their own.

I guess she thinks American immigration began with her jet-setting generation.

This, one needs to remember, is not taken from the diary page of a college freshman doing a semester abroad; this is the work of a successful journalist at an esteemed publication. This is the enlightened circle of smarty-pants who hated George W. Bush, feared Sarah Palin, and voted in our next president. Start your weekend off with a laugh and read the whole thing.

In Forbes, Elisabeth Eaves celebrates Barack Obama  as “The Cosmopolitan President,” but she sounds truly excited about a character closer to Obama, The Backpack President. What follows is the most ridiculous, myopic endorsement of a politician I’ve ever come across:

I was attracted to candidate Obama in part because of, not despite, his dislocated background. I identified with it. It meant sympathy for my own stints living abroad and my habit of roving around the world for work, education and pleasure.

I’m not alone: Obama’s background meant that he understood the life of an enormous swathe of young Americans. We are predominately urban, coastal, college educated, under 40 and our sense of normal is not Peggy Noonan’s or George W. Bush’s. In my world, it is stranger not to have lived abroad than to have done so.

Maybe they can trade scrapbooks.

Eaves does get around to more penetrating analysis of “[her] world”:

Discovering last week that my new hairdresser was from Uzbekistan made me feel reassured that all was right in the world. Maybe that’s the same sense of reassurance that members of an older, more stationary generation got from knowing that someone was one of their own.

I guess she thinks American immigration began with her jet-setting generation.

This, one needs to remember, is not taken from the diary page of a college freshman doing a semester abroad; this is the work of a successful journalist at an esteemed publication. This is the enlightened circle of smarty-pants who hated George W. Bush, feared Sarah Palin, and voted in our next president. Start your weekend off with a laugh and read the whole thing.

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Time Is Not On Tim’s Side

Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner’s tax revelation hasn’t been drowned out in the flurry of pre-inauguration news. On the contrary, the hearing delay has given everyone time to mull things over. The New York Times reports:

The disclosure that Mr. Geithner paid $48,000 in delinquent taxes and interest, some only when he was about to be nominated, has slowed down that confirmation. Several Republicans have said they still support him, so he is still likely to be confirmed, but his hearing will not be held until the day after the inauguration, leaving the Treasury at least briefly in the hands of a caretaker. Obama aides said that would be Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey, a Bush appointee who was asked to stay on.

While the president-elect and his aides have publicly fallen in line behind Mr. Geithner, privately a few Obama officials have started to express concern. Mr. Geithner’s selection to collect the nation’s taxes after failing to pay his own has become fodder for late-night comics. “This needs to get done,” one nervous Obama transition official said.

And A.P. notes:

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for treasury secretary is becoming a national punchline for late-night comics, a clear sign that not paying your taxes is a growing problem in the public’s eyes if you’re the guy tapped to oversee the IRS.

Obama and many of the senators involved in confirming Timothy Geithner maintain that concerns about his failure to pay $34,000 in taxes isn’t enough to cost him the Treasury job, which includes oversight of the IRS and, perhaps more significantly, Obama’s economic recovery plan.

But the delay in Geithner’s confirmation hearing — now scheduled for Wednesday — means more time for the public’s unease with Geithner’s problems to build, a fact he seemed to appreciate Thursday. He continued his courtesy visits to Senate offices to personally answer any questions senators might have about his nomination.

The Senate Finance Committee scheduled Geithner’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, a setback for Obama and Senate Democrats who wanted a quick hearing this week in time for Geithner to be confirmed on Inauguration Day.

Some senators began receiving calls this week from constituents angry about Geithner, who has acknowledged he didn’t pay his self-employment taxes from 2001 to 2004. Newspaper editorials are stacking up. Television and talk radio shows are keeping the topic alive. And comics are making fun of Geithner’s revelation.

“Hey, I don’t pay my taxes. Why can’t I be treasury secretary?” asked Steve Colbert on Wednesday night’s The Colbert Report.

It may be funny to some, but the question is serious, and part of the continuing back-and-forth messages exchanged on Twitter, a free messaging service that allows users to send brief comments about issues of the day from their phones or computers.

“I’m still trying to get my mind around Tim Geithner wanting to collect taxes, but he doesn’t believe in paying taxes,” wrote Ken Barnes of New York in a message Wednesday evening.

Editorial pages  in major newspapers were similarly harsh.

It may be that the initially forgiving attitudes that Senators expressed are going to undergo some revision in light of the public, almost uniform reaction that this is bizarrely unacceptable behavior for a Treasury Secretary. And Senators do have an “out.” Much of the reaction was given (surprise) before they had all the facts, namely that Geithner pocketed a tax allowance from the IMF and signed explicit documentation concerning his tax obligations. They also likely didn’t focus on Geithner’s decision in the wake of the 2006 audit (while at the Fed) to avoid payment on the 2001 and 2002 tax liabilities that were beyond the statute of limitations. And then there was the gambit to use his kids ritzy summer camp as a “childcare deduction.” (Nor do his claims that his error was a common one or that an accountant blessed his return entirely hold up.) So Senators have plenty of reason to backtrack once they have the benefit of a more complete picture.

But will they? It depends on how sensitive they are to the brooding angrer and disgust that many Americans harbor toward government. It’s not just small-minded populists or ranting talk show hosts who are convinced Washington is out to get the average American. Sophisticated urbanites (yes, Democratic voters!) don’t like the “one rule for them, another for everybody else” mentality. Senators’ initial failures to perceive how objectionable Geithner’s conduct might seem to many Americans only underscores how vast the divide is between the governed and the governing classes.

But in the end, what matters is if Geithner is perceived as a petty chisler who was dismissive of the rules — unless they favored him (e.g. a three year statute of limitations protection) — which he will, if confirmed, enforce against others. As CONTENTIONS contributor Linda Chavez succinctly asks, “Is the public going to accept his explanation?” So far, not so much. And if the public doesn’t, politicians will soon get the idea that they’d do well to get to the bottom of this before exonerating someone who is now the butt of late night comics’ jokes.

Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner’s tax revelation hasn’t been drowned out in the flurry of pre-inauguration news. On the contrary, the hearing delay has given everyone time to mull things over. The New York Times reports:

The disclosure that Mr. Geithner paid $48,000 in delinquent taxes and interest, some only when he was about to be nominated, has slowed down that confirmation. Several Republicans have said they still support him, so he is still likely to be confirmed, but his hearing will not be held until the day after the inauguration, leaving the Treasury at least briefly in the hands of a caretaker. Obama aides said that would be Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey, a Bush appointee who was asked to stay on.

While the president-elect and his aides have publicly fallen in line behind Mr. Geithner, privately a few Obama officials have started to express concern. Mr. Geithner’s selection to collect the nation’s taxes after failing to pay his own has become fodder for late-night comics. “This needs to get done,” one nervous Obama transition official said.

And A.P. notes:

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for treasury secretary is becoming a national punchline for late-night comics, a clear sign that not paying your taxes is a growing problem in the public’s eyes if you’re the guy tapped to oversee the IRS.

Obama and many of the senators involved in confirming Timothy Geithner maintain that concerns about his failure to pay $34,000 in taxes isn’t enough to cost him the Treasury job, which includes oversight of the IRS and, perhaps more significantly, Obama’s economic recovery plan.

But the delay in Geithner’s confirmation hearing — now scheduled for Wednesday — means more time for the public’s unease with Geithner’s problems to build, a fact he seemed to appreciate Thursday. He continued his courtesy visits to Senate offices to personally answer any questions senators might have about his nomination.

The Senate Finance Committee scheduled Geithner’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, a setback for Obama and Senate Democrats who wanted a quick hearing this week in time for Geithner to be confirmed on Inauguration Day.

Some senators began receiving calls this week from constituents angry about Geithner, who has acknowledged he didn’t pay his self-employment taxes from 2001 to 2004. Newspaper editorials are stacking up. Television and talk radio shows are keeping the topic alive. And comics are making fun of Geithner’s revelation.

“Hey, I don’t pay my taxes. Why can’t I be treasury secretary?” asked Steve Colbert on Wednesday night’s The Colbert Report.

It may be funny to some, but the question is serious, and part of the continuing back-and-forth messages exchanged on Twitter, a free messaging service that allows users to send brief comments about issues of the day from their phones or computers.

“I’m still trying to get my mind around Tim Geithner wanting to collect taxes, but he doesn’t believe in paying taxes,” wrote Ken Barnes of New York in a message Wednesday evening.

Editorial pages  in major newspapers were similarly harsh.

It may be that the initially forgiving attitudes that Senators expressed are going to undergo some revision in light of the public, almost uniform reaction that this is bizarrely unacceptable behavior for a Treasury Secretary. And Senators do have an “out.” Much of the reaction was given (surprise) before they had all the facts, namely that Geithner pocketed a tax allowance from the IMF and signed explicit documentation concerning his tax obligations. They also likely didn’t focus on Geithner’s decision in the wake of the 2006 audit (while at the Fed) to avoid payment on the 2001 and 2002 tax liabilities that were beyond the statute of limitations. And then there was the gambit to use his kids ritzy summer camp as a “childcare deduction.” (Nor do his claims that his error was a common one or that an accountant blessed his return entirely hold up.) So Senators have plenty of reason to backtrack once they have the benefit of a more complete picture.

But will they? It depends on how sensitive they are to the brooding angrer and disgust that many Americans harbor toward government. It’s not just small-minded populists or ranting talk show hosts who are convinced Washington is out to get the average American. Sophisticated urbanites (yes, Democratic voters!) don’t like the “one rule for them, another for everybody else” mentality. Senators’ initial failures to perceive how objectionable Geithner’s conduct might seem to many Americans only underscores how vast the divide is between the governed and the governing classes.

But in the end, what matters is if Geithner is perceived as a petty chisler who was dismissive of the rules — unless they favored him (e.g. a three year statute of limitations protection) — which he will, if confirmed, enforce against others. As CONTENTIONS contributor Linda Chavez succinctly asks, “Is the public going to accept his explanation?” So far, not so much. And if the public doesn’t, politicians will soon get the idea that they’d do well to get to the bottom of this before exonerating someone who is now the butt of late night comics’ jokes.

Read Less

People Aren’t Irrational — Government Policy Is

David Brooks thinks both parties have put too much faith in rationality — at least with respect to how people make economic decisions:

For years, Republicans have been trying to create a large investor class with policies like private Social Security accounts, medical savings accounts and education vouchers. These policies were based on the belief that investors are careful, rational actors who make optimal decisions. There was little allowance made for the frailty of the decision-making process, let alone the mass delusions that led to the current crack-up.

Democrats also have an unfaced crisis. Democratic discussions of the stimulus package also rest on a mechanical, dehumanized view of the economy. You pump in a certain amount of money and “the economy” spits out a certain number of jobs. Democratic economists issue highly specific accounts of multiplier effects — whether a dollar of spending creates $1.20 or $1.40 of economic activity.

But an economy is a society of trust and faith. A recession is a mental event, and every recession has its own unique spirit. This recession was caused by deep imbalances and is propelled by a cascade of fundamental insecurities. You can pump hundreds of billions into the banks, but insecure bankers still won’t lend. You can run up gigantic deficits, hire road builders and reduce the unemployment rate from 8 percent to 7 percent, but insecure people will still not spend and invest.

But perhaps people are more rational than Brooks gives them credit for being. People are swimming in consumer debt and the President-elect is telling them our problems are getting worse. Isn’t it rational to save rather than spend that one-time rebate check? Businesses observe bailout mania, so isn’t it rational to wait before they invest or make long term decisions — to see if the government may come along and give them something for free? And those homeowners have probably figured out that if they don’t stay current on their mortgage payments the government has a rescue plan just for them. Pretty rational, actually.

In short, very bad and confused government policy skews decision-making and transforms economic decisions into political calculations. Perhaps if government were more rational, people would behave in predictable and economically advantageous ways. We shouldn’t be surprised when shoveling pork and coming up with yet another round of rebate checks  don’t encourage recession-busting behavior. Rather, substantial tax-rate cuts, easily understood payroll and business tax breaks, and some clear signals that bailouts won’t be available for purposes other than stabilizing financial institutions might just get people to return to making economically sensible decisions. But the government needs to stop its nonsense first.

David Brooks thinks both parties have put too much faith in rationality — at least with respect to how people make economic decisions:

For years, Republicans have been trying to create a large investor class with policies like private Social Security accounts, medical savings accounts and education vouchers. These policies were based on the belief that investors are careful, rational actors who make optimal decisions. There was little allowance made for the frailty of the decision-making process, let alone the mass delusions that led to the current crack-up.

Democrats also have an unfaced crisis. Democratic discussions of the stimulus package also rest on a mechanical, dehumanized view of the economy. You pump in a certain amount of money and “the economy” spits out a certain number of jobs. Democratic economists issue highly specific accounts of multiplier effects — whether a dollar of spending creates $1.20 or $1.40 of economic activity.

But an economy is a society of trust and faith. A recession is a mental event, and every recession has its own unique spirit. This recession was caused by deep imbalances and is propelled by a cascade of fundamental insecurities. You can pump hundreds of billions into the banks, but insecure bankers still won’t lend. You can run up gigantic deficits, hire road builders and reduce the unemployment rate from 8 percent to 7 percent, but insecure people will still not spend and invest.

But perhaps people are more rational than Brooks gives them credit for being. People are swimming in consumer debt and the President-elect is telling them our problems are getting worse. Isn’t it rational to save rather than spend that one-time rebate check? Businesses observe bailout mania, so isn’t it rational to wait before they invest or make long term decisions — to see if the government may come along and give them something for free? And those homeowners have probably figured out that if they don’t stay current on their mortgage payments the government has a rescue plan just for them. Pretty rational, actually.

In short, very bad and confused government policy skews decision-making and transforms economic decisions into political calculations. Perhaps if government were more rational, people would behave in predictable and economically advantageous ways. We shouldn’t be surprised when shoveling pork and coming up with yet another round of rebate checks  don’t encourage recession-busting behavior. Rather, substantial tax-rate cuts, easily understood payroll and business tax breaks, and some clear signals that bailouts won’t be available for purposes other than stabilizing financial institutions might just get people to return to making economically sensible decisions. But the government needs to stop its nonsense first.

Read Less

Sharansky’s History Lesson

Natan Sharansky, in an article at Bloomberg.com that should be read in its entirety, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the last time Israel used “disproportionate” force:

On June 1, 2001, a suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one Israelis, mostly young people, were killed, and more than 130 injured. This was the latest in a long string of suicide bombings that had been launched since the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000.

The next day, I took part in a dramatic cabinet meeting to discuss our options — a Sabbath-day meeting, which only a true emergency could justify. Most of the ministers felt decisive action had to be taken. Military officials presented a plan for uprooting the terror infrastructure, through a complex campaign in the heart of Palestinian cities and refugee camps. . . .

Throughout the meeting, though, our foreign minister kept going in and out of the room, talking to world leaders and reporting back. His message was clear: Right now Israel enjoys the sympathy of the international community. As long as we keep our military response to a minimum, the world will continue to be on our side, and increased diplomatic pressure will rein in the terror. . . .

Eventually the prime minister was convinced of this approach, and the decision was made to stick to a proportionate response — pinpoint attacks on terror cells, special operations, arrests — and to allow diplomacy to work its magic.

Here is how Sharansky describes what happened next:

Over the next nine months, Israel held its fire, and the world indeed condemned terrorism. But the attacks only increased. In the heart of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, suicide bombers blew up coffee shops, buses and hotels. Nightlife ground to a halt, tourism was decimated and hotels had to release most of their workers. One of my colleagues in the government, Rehavam Zeevi, was gunned down by terrorists. In the meantime, the U.S. suffered its own terror attacks on Sept. 11 and put intense pressure on us not to retaliate against the Palestinians, for fear of complicating its own war on al-Qaeda.

The situation came to a head in March 2002, when more than 130 Israelis were killed in a single month alone — most infamously on March 27, Passover Eve, at the Park Hotel in Netanya. The next day, the cabinet convened — again, in an extraordinary meeting during a religious holiday. The meeting started at 6 p.m. and lasted the night.

This time, however, the government decided to launch Operation Defensive Shield — the same plan the Israel Defense Forces had offered the previous year.

And here was the immediate result:

The United Nations condemned us, and the U.S. dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell to tell us to stop the assault immediately. The global media mounted a brutal campaign depicting us as war criminals, spreading false rumors of the wholesale butchering of Palestinian civilians, describing the operation as the worst atrocity of modern history.

The most outrageous of these rumors was the Jenin libel . . . . It didn’t matter that, in fact, Israel had taken unprecedented measures to minimize civilian casualties . . .

For years to come, the “Jenin massacre” was the centerpiece of the anti-Israel propaganda machine, reverberating across Europe and on U.S. campuses as the symbol of Israeli iniquity.

Sharansky nevertheless concludes that “all this was a small price to pay for what Israel gained” – the virtual elimination of terror attacks from the West Bank – and the outcome of that experience is a lesson for both Israelis and Palestinians and those who hope for peace:

Within a few weeks, Palestinian terror [on the West Bank] was rendered ineffective, with the number of Israelis killed falling from hundreds per month to fewer than a dozen over the next year.  Life returned to Israeli streets.  Tourists returned by the hundreds of thousands.  The economy started moving again.

No less important, though, was the effect Defensive Shield had on the Palestinians themselves. . . . In more than six years since the operation, the West Bank’s economy has boomed. If there is hope in the West Bank today, it is because Israel abandoned the ideas of proportionality and diplomacy in handling terror.

Sharansky’s history lesson demonstrates that — notwithstanding international demonstrations, UN resolutions, and State Department knee-jerk reactions — there is only one effective way to stop terror.  It is not with “smart power.”  Or a cease-fire.

Natan Sharansky, in an article at Bloomberg.com that should be read in its entirety, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the last time Israel used “disproportionate” force:

On June 1, 2001, a suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one Israelis, mostly young people, were killed, and more than 130 injured. This was the latest in a long string of suicide bombings that had been launched since the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000.

The next day, I took part in a dramatic cabinet meeting to discuss our options — a Sabbath-day meeting, which only a true emergency could justify. Most of the ministers felt decisive action had to be taken. Military officials presented a plan for uprooting the terror infrastructure, through a complex campaign in the heart of Palestinian cities and refugee camps. . . .

Throughout the meeting, though, our foreign minister kept going in and out of the room, talking to world leaders and reporting back. His message was clear: Right now Israel enjoys the sympathy of the international community. As long as we keep our military response to a minimum, the world will continue to be on our side, and increased diplomatic pressure will rein in the terror. . . .

Eventually the prime minister was convinced of this approach, and the decision was made to stick to a proportionate response — pinpoint attacks on terror cells, special operations, arrests — and to allow diplomacy to work its magic.

Here is how Sharansky describes what happened next:

Over the next nine months, Israel held its fire, and the world indeed condemned terrorism. But the attacks only increased. In the heart of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, suicide bombers blew up coffee shops, buses and hotels. Nightlife ground to a halt, tourism was decimated and hotels had to release most of their workers. One of my colleagues in the government, Rehavam Zeevi, was gunned down by terrorists. In the meantime, the U.S. suffered its own terror attacks on Sept. 11 and put intense pressure on us not to retaliate against the Palestinians, for fear of complicating its own war on al-Qaeda.

The situation came to a head in March 2002, when more than 130 Israelis were killed in a single month alone — most infamously on March 27, Passover Eve, at the Park Hotel in Netanya. The next day, the cabinet convened — again, in an extraordinary meeting during a religious holiday. The meeting started at 6 p.m. and lasted the night.

This time, however, the government decided to launch Operation Defensive Shield — the same plan the Israel Defense Forces had offered the previous year.

And here was the immediate result:

The United Nations condemned us, and the U.S. dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell to tell us to stop the assault immediately. The global media mounted a brutal campaign depicting us as war criminals, spreading false rumors of the wholesale butchering of Palestinian civilians, describing the operation as the worst atrocity of modern history.

The most outrageous of these rumors was the Jenin libel . . . . It didn’t matter that, in fact, Israel had taken unprecedented measures to minimize civilian casualties . . .

For years to come, the “Jenin massacre” was the centerpiece of the anti-Israel propaganda machine, reverberating across Europe and on U.S. campuses as the symbol of Israeli iniquity.

Sharansky nevertheless concludes that “all this was a small price to pay for what Israel gained” – the virtual elimination of terror attacks from the West Bank – and the outcome of that experience is a lesson for both Israelis and Palestinians and those who hope for peace:

Within a few weeks, Palestinian terror [on the West Bank] was rendered ineffective, with the number of Israelis killed falling from hundreds per month to fewer than a dozen over the next year.  Life returned to Israeli streets.  Tourists returned by the hundreds of thousands.  The economy started moving again.

No less important, though, was the effect Defensive Shield had on the Palestinians themselves. . . . In more than six years since the operation, the West Bank’s economy has boomed. If there is hope in the West Bank today, it is because Israel abandoned the ideas of proportionality and diplomacy in handling terror.

Sharansky’s history lesson demonstrates that — notwithstanding international demonstrations, UN resolutions, and State Department knee-jerk reactions — there is only one effective way to stop terror.  It is not with “smart power.”  Or a cease-fire.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Mitt Romney presented a first-rate set of recommendations for a stimulus plan: permanent tax cuts, military spending, and entitlement reform. And he managed to work in a pithy condemnation of card check: “It would lead investors to send their funds elsewhere, businesses to expand elsewhere and jobs to relocate elsewhere. It is the plan to virtually impose unions on all small, medium and large businesses by removing the right of workers to vote by secret ballot. Card check is a very bad idea under any circumstances. In these circumstances, it would be calamitous.” This, of course, is also a pretty good model for 2012 contenders: only speak up if you have something to contribute to the current policy debate.

And if you have a job, do something innovative and distinctive. Tim Pawlenty did by offering an array of tax cuts and job development initiatives. (h/t Marc Ambinder) Very impressive.

Timing is everything. CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, the day after the $350B bailout money is released and the $800B plus stimulus plan is unveiled, warn about a critical point for market capitalism and a “shift from a market-based economy to a political one in which the government picks winners and losers and extends its reach and power in unprecedented ways.” And conservatives? They’d do well to “put forward an agenda that reforms key institutions in a way that advances individual freedom, without creating an unacceptable level of insecurity.” Read the whole thing, as they say. (The trick will be finding effective spokesmen and unused political oxygen while Americans are swept up in the tide of Obamamania.)

For all his fundraising prowess Terry McAuliffe is out-raised by his potential Republican rival in the Virginia gubernatorial race. I’m sure McAuliffe is just getting warmed up — he is sure to pull in tens of millions thanks to the Clintons’ fundraising contact list.

Could Obama’s (Susan) Rice be more helpful to Israel at the UN than Bush’s (Condi) Rice?

Governor Corzine may be in trouble in his re-election bid. Given New Jersey’s budget woes it is not surprising that he may have a very competitive race. But somehow New Jersey races for Republicans are like Charlie Brown and that football — they always think this time they’ll connect.

Sen. Clarie McCaskill gets points for asking questions about our idiotic airport security rules.

Princess Caroline plummets in the polls. Was it something she, you know, said?

Sen. Specter showed why he was a pretty good prosecutor in his day — drilling down on the witness and getting him mad. The subject? Eric Holder’s position on appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate Al Gore.

I agree with this take: Holder and the Democrats are stonewalling, but I don’t see enough Republicans (at least not yet) demanding enough documentation and witnesses to seriously impede the nomination. The new “transparency” doesn’t extend, it seems, to the confirmation of cabinet officials.

Joe Biden is the most obnoxious and loose-lipped VP “since anybody.” Tip for ya, Joe: if you tell the world what’s in your memos to the President, he won’t read them. (Granted that might be the case now.)

Charles Krauthammer observes that the surest sign that George Bush got some things right on national security is how many of his policies his successor is keeping in place.

Did George Bush get the biggest item right? “By his own standard, Mr. Bush achieved the one big thing he and all Americans demanded of his Administration. Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11. Al Qaeda was flushed from safe havens in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and its terrorist network put under siege around the world. All subsequent terror attacks hit soft targets and used primitive means. No one seriously predicted such an outcome at the time.”

Seeing the extraordinary photos of the jetliner bobbing in the Hudson, I must admit, left me thinking, “I thought those ‘water landing’ procedures were just to make us feel better.” Generally that is the case: “The pilots of US Airways Flight 1549 achieved one of the rarest and most technically challenging feats in commercial aviation: landing on water without fatalities. Although commercial jetliners are equipped with life vests and inflatable slides, there have been few successful attempts at water landings during the jet age. Indeed, even though pilots go through the motions of learning to ditch a plane in water, the generally held belief is that such landings would almost certainly result in fatalities.”

Marty Peretz on Gaza: “Peace is a shibboleth in this conflict. Hamas does not want peace, and no one–not the FT, not the New York Times, and not the United Nations–can even muster inferential evidence that it does. This is, in fact, a deception–although, to give these parties the benefit of the doubt, maybe a self-deception, although I really don’t believe that either. It is, to be truthful, a lie.” One hopes the administration Peretz enthusiastically supported is as clear thinking.

Kimberley Strassel thinks the President-elect is getting “rolled” by the liberals in Congress. Perhaps. Or maybe he’s using them to get through what he wants without spoiling his “moderate” image. Really, is Harry  Reid capable of rolling anyone? Senator Burris thinks not.

Mitt Romney presented a first-rate set of recommendations for a stimulus plan: permanent tax cuts, military spending, and entitlement reform. And he managed to work in a pithy condemnation of card check: “It would lead investors to send their funds elsewhere, businesses to expand elsewhere and jobs to relocate elsewhere. It is the plan to virtually impose unions on all small, medium and large businesses by removing the right of workers to vote by secret ballot. Card check is a very bad idea under any circumstances. In these circumstances, it would be calamitous.” This, of course, is also a pretty good model for 2012 contenders: only speak up if you have something to contribute to the current policy debate.

And if you have a job, do something innovative and distinctive. Tim Pawlenty did by offering an array of tax cuts and job development initiatives. (h/t Marc Ambinder) Very impressive.

Timing is everything. CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, the day after the $350B bailout money is released and the $800B plus stimulus plan is unveiled, warn about a critical point for market capitalism and a “shift from a market-based economy to a political one in which the government picks winners and losers and extends its reach and power in unprecedented ways.” And conservatives? They’d do well to “put forward an agenda that reforms key institutions in a way that advances individual freedom, without creating an unacceptable level of insecurity.” Read the whole thing, as they say. (The trick will be finding effective spokesmen and unused political oxygen while Americans are swept up in the tide of Obamamania.)

For all his fundraising prowess Terry McAuliffe is out-raised by his potential Republican rival in the Virginia gubernatorial race. I’m sure McAuliffe is just getting warmed up — he is sure to pull in tens of millions thanks to the Clintons’ fundraising contact list.

Could Obama’s (Susan) Rice be more helpful to Israel at the UN than Bush’s (Condi) Rice?

Governor Corzine may be in trouble in his re-election bid. Given New Jersey’s budget woes it is not surprising that he may have a very competitive race. But somehow New Jersey races for Republicans are like Charlie Brown and that football — they always think this time they’ll connect.

Sen. Clarie McCaskill gets points for asking questions about our idiotic airport security rules.

Princess Caroline plummets in the polls. Was it something she, you know, said?

Sen. Specter showed why he was a pretty good prosecutor in his day — drilling down on the witness and getting him mad. The subject? Eric Holder’s position on appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate Al Gore.

I agree with this take: Holder and the Democrats are stonewalling, but I don’t see enough Republicans (at least not yet) demanding enough documentation and witnesses to seriously impede the nomination. The new “transparency” doesn’t extend, it seems, to the confirmation of cabinet officials.

Joe Biden is the most obnoxious and loose-lipped VP “since anybody.” Tip for ya, Joe: if you tell the world what’s in your memos to the President, he won’t read them. (Granted that might be the case now.)

Charles Krauthammer observes that the surest sign that George Bush got some things right on national security is how many of his policies his successor is keeping in place.

Did George Bush get the biggest item right? “By his own standard, Mr. Bush achieved the one big thing he and all Americans demanded of his Administration. Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11. Al Qaeda was flushed from safe havens in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and its terrorist network put under siege around the world. All subsequent terror attacks hit soft targets and used primitive means. No one seriously predicted such an outcome at the time.”

Seeing the extraordinary photos of the jetliner bobbing in the Hudson, I must admit, left me thinking, “I thought those ‘water landing’ procedures were just to make us feel better.” Generally that is the case: “The pilots of US Airways Flight 1549 achieved one of the rarest and most technically challenging feats in commercial aviation: landing on water without fatalities. Although commercial jetliners are equipped with life vests and inflatable slides, there have been few successful attempts at water landings during the jet age. Indeed, even though pilots go through the motions of learning to ditch a plane in water, the generally held belief is that such landings would almost certainly result in fatalities.”

Marty Peretz on Gaza: “Peace is a shibboleth in this conflict. Hamas does not want peace, and no one–not the FT, not the New York Times, and not the United Nations–can even muster inferential evidence that it does. This is, in fact, a deception–although, to give these parties the benefit of the doubt, maybe a self-deception, although I really don’t believe that either. It is, to be truthful, a lie.” One hopes the administration Peretz enthusiastically supported is as clear thinking.

Kimberley Strassel thinks the President-elect is getting “rolled” by the liberals in Congress. Perhaps. Or maybe he’s using them to get through what he wants without spoiling his “moderate” image. Really, is Harry  Reid capable of rolling anyone? Senator Burris thinks not.

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