Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 18, 2009

Honoring The Threat

Well, peace has prevailed in Gaza. Or, at least, Israel has said it’s going to stop fighting, and Hamas is renewing its vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, which is as close to “peace” as you’re going to get. Expect Hamas to use the breather to fire more rockets into Israel, while Israel is urged to “show restraint,” and the same old game to starts up all over again.

The “restraint” argument is one of the most specious lines of criticism. As civil and decent and responsible and humane as it sounds, it’s ultimately self-defeating.

Hamas’s core purpose — enshrined in its charter — is the destruction of Israel. That must end before there can be any kind of peace between Israel and Hamas, yet Hamas has not shown the slightest inclination to alter their goal. Indeed, at every opportunity, they reaffirm it. And it seems that nothing Israel does brings any such alteration closer — everything it does prompts Hamas to reassert its intentions. Israel pulls out of Gaza — it’s a great victory for Hamas. Israel strikes Gaza — it’s a provocation. Israel does nothing — then they are cowards. It’s reminiscent of the argument over global cooling, or global warming, or climate change — everything is proof of one side, nothing is proof of the other.

The “restraint” and “proportionality” canards need to be rebutted thoroughly. The United States Air Force has its own policy version of such a rebuttal: it’s called “Honor the threat.”

When a threat is made — verbally or nonverbally, explicitly or implicitly — it must be treated as legitimate until it is either countered or proven to be of no real danger. And even if it proves to be of no immediate potency, it’s a good idea to keep a suspicious eye on it for some time, in case things change.

Hamas has made its threat. It says that it is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Not the liberation of the Palestinian people, not freedom and peace, but destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamist state. All the group’s words and deeds are variations on that core theme.

The threat is made. It must be honored.

Can Hamas actually destroy Israel? Not today. We know this through simple logic. Has Hamas ever given any sign that it is exercising restraint or moderation?

The answer is obviously no. Members are doing all they can to kill Israelis. The fact that they have not killed or wounded more is a fairly convincing argument that they are not capable of doing more.

Broadly speaking, the threat from Hamas can decrease, remain relatively stable, or it can increase.

Let’s accept that in the short term, the threat from Hamas has been lessened. Several hundred of its fighters, including some key leaders, have been converted to the “non-threatening” category by virtue of having been killed. A lot of its stockpiles of weapons have been destroyed, and the group’s standing among the people of Gaza has been damaged by its inability to stop (or even seriously inconvenience) the IDF.

But that’s very short-term. Weeks, maybe months. In the long term, is Hamas likely to pose less of a threat to Israel? Is there a chance that this bloody nose will bring them to their senses?

Not likely. Indeed, according to Hamas leaders’ own words, the war in Gaza has done nothing but redouble (for the six jillionth time, by my reckoning) their resolve.

Will Hamas’s threats remain at their current levels? Will they be content with their current capabilities and keep plugging away as they have been for years?

In a word, no. Hamas has tended to increase its ability to attack Israel. It has moved from snipers and cross-border raids to outright kidnapping and armed assaults on border crossings. The crude Qassam rockets have been supplemented by Grad rockets, which have greater range, accuracy, and warheads. Most importantly, the group’s Iranian sponsors have been steadily increasing political and material support for actions against Israel. This is where Hamas’s existential threat to Israel comes into play.

To argue that Hamas will somehow be enlightened to the benefits of peace and the joys of a negotiated settlement is sheer self-delusion. There is not a trace of evidence from Hamas to back up that fantasy. Indeed, their “cease-fire” proposal can be summed up simply: Get out of Gaza and end the embargo so we can get even more weapons. Open the borders so we can smuggle those weapons into Israel, and we’ll think about stopping the rockets. And don’t even bother asking about Gilad Shalit.

To show “restraint” or limit the response to one deemed “proportional” by the international community is not just folly, but suicidal. Sadly, much of the world seems to have no problem with that — witness the widespread condemnation of Israel, the openly anti-Semitic riots, and the outright cheering for Hamas.

If negotiating a settlement represents the greatest hope for dealing with Hamas, we’re a long time away from a solution. In the meantime, the military option is the best way to buy time until mature, realistic Palestinian leadership emerges. The periodic destruction of Hamas’s military capabilities slows the group’s progress toward becoming an existential threat to Israel.

Well, peace has prevailed in Gaza. Or, at least, Israel has said it’s going to stop fighting, and Hamas is renewing its vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, which is as close to “peace” as you’re going to get. Expect Hamas to use the breather to fire more rockets into Israel, while Israel is urged to “show restraint,” and the same old game to starts up all over again.

The “restraint” argument is one of the most specious lines of criticism. As civil and decent and responsible and humane as it sounds, it’s ultimately self-defeating.

Hamas’s core purpose — enshrined in its charter — is the destruction of Israel. That must end before there can be any kind of peace between Israel and Hamas, yet Hamas has not shown the slightest inclination to alter their goal. Indeed, at every opportunity, they reaffirm it. And it seems that nothing Israel does brings any such alteration closer — everything it does prompts Hamas to reassert its intentions. Israel pulls out of Gaza — it’s a great victory for Hamas. Israel strikes Gaza — it’s a provocation. Israel does nothing — then they are cowards. It’s reminiscent of the argument over global cooling, or global warming, or climate change — everything is proof of one side, nothing is proof of the other.

The “restraint” and “proportionality” canards need to be rebutted thoroughly. The United States Air Force has its own policy version of such a rebuttal: it’s called “Honor the threat.”

When a threat is made — verbally or nonverbally, explicitly or implicitly — it must be treated as legitimate until it is either countered or proven to be of no real danger. And even if it proves to be of no immediate potency, it’s a good idea to keep a suspicious eye on it for some time, in case things change.

Hamas has made its threat. It says that it is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Not the liberation of the Palestinian people, not freedom and peace, but destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamist state. All the group’s words and deeds are variations on that core theme.

The threat is made. It must be honored.

Can Hamas actually destroy Israel? Not today. We know this through simple logic. Has Hamas ever given any sign that it is exercising restraint or moderation?

The answer is obviously no. Members are doing all they can to kill Israelis. The fact that they have not killed or wounded more is a fairly convincing argument that they are not capable of doing more.

Broadly speaking, the threat from Hamas can decrease, remain relatively stable, or it can increase.

Let’s accept that in the short term, the threat from Hamas has been lessened. Several hundred of its fighters, including some key leaders, have been converted to the “non-threatening” category by virtue of having been killed. A lot of its stockpiles of weapons have been destroyed, and the group’s standing among the people of Gaza has been damaged by its inability to stop (or even seriously inconvenience) the IDF.

But that’s very short-term. Weeks, maybe months. In the long term, is Hamas likely to pose less of a threat to Israel? Is there a chance that this bloody nose will bring them to their senses?

Not likely. Indeed, according to Hamas leaders’ own words, the war in Gaza has done nothing but redouble (for the six jillionth time, by my reckoning) their resolve.

Will Hamas’s threats remain at their current levels? Will they be content with their current capabilities and keep plugging away as they have been for years?

In a word, no. Hamas has tended to increase its ability to attack Israel. It has moved from snipers and cross-border raids to outright kidnapping and armed assaults on border crossings. The crude Qassam rockets have been supplemented by Grad rockets, which have greater range, accuracy, and warheads. Most importantly, the group’s Iranian sponsors have been steadily increasing political and material support for actions against Israel. This is where Hamas’s existential threat to Israel comes into play.

To argue that Hamas will somehow be enlightened to the benefits of peace and the joys of a negotiated settlement is sheer self-delusion. There is not a trace of evidence from Hamas to back up that fantasy. Indeed, their “cease-fire” proposal can be summed up simply: Get out of Gaza and end the embargo so we can get even more weapons. Open the borders so we can smuggle those weapons into Israel, and we’ll think about stopping the rockets. And don’t even bother asking about Gilad Shalit.

To show “restraint” or limit the response to one deemed “proportional” by the international community is not just folly, but suicidal. Sadly, much of the world seems to have no problem with that — witness the widespread condemnation of Israel, the openly anti-Semitic riots, and the outright cheering for Hamas.

If negotiating a settlement represents the greatest hope for dealing with Hamas, we’re a long time away from a solution. In the meantime, the military option is the best way to buy time until mature, realistic Palestinian leadership emerges. The periodic destruction of Hamas’s military capabilities slows the group’s progress toward becoming an existential threat to Israel.

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Past is Prologue

Writing in Haaretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel note the test Israel will face when Hamas resumes firing rockets, which the group surely will:

We have already failed that very test at least three times in the past: After the pullout from Lebanon in 2000, after the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and during the cease-fire with Hamas in 2008.

In all the aforementioned cases, the threat of a harsh response on Israel’s part turned out to be an empty one, and hostilities against Israel continued to trickle in, eventually resulting in a major conflagration.

Because Israel appears to have chosen a Syria-style approach to Hamas — leaving its leaders in place in the hope that they will be deterred by the punishment the IDF is capable of inflicting on their subordinates — Israel must now demonstrate that it intends to enforce a new and more edgy standoff. Some semblance of honor can still be salvaged if Israel responds to any rocket attacks by inflicting irreversible damage, such as by targeted killings of Hamas leaders and commanders, or by occupying the Philadelphi corridor. A return to the pre-war arrangement, in which Israel acquiesces to an interminable rocket war on several of its cities, will be more than dishonorable, and will mean more than retroactively rendering the Gaza War futile. It will vindicate the Hamas/Hezbollah/Iranian strategy of using small conflagrations to extract concessions and foment world opinion against Israel. In other words, any Israeli reluctance to respond to rocket fire will encourage more of it.

If the “international community” actually cares about peace it will encourage Israeli retaliation to rockets, so that a more useful standoff with Hamas can be established. Of course, the problem is that the international community is not actually interested in peace. Especially among its European members, it is far more intimidated by the way that Israeli military action causes the eruption of the famed Arab street in places like London and Paris. One of the things that the Gaza War seems to have established very clearly is that the tranquility of many European cities depends on restraining the IDF from defending Israel. As European demography continues its ineluctable shift, this problem will only get worse.

Writing in Haaretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel note the test Israel will face when Hamas resumes firing rockets, which the group surely will:

We have already failed that very test at least three times in the past: After the pullout from Lebanon in 2000, after the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and during the cease-fire with Hamas in 2008.

In all the aforementioned cases, the threat of a harsh response on Israel’s part turned out to be an empty one, and hostilities against Israel continued to trickle in, eventually resulting in a major conflagration.

Because Israel appears to have chosen a Syria-style approach to Hamas — leaving its leaders in place in the hope that they will be deterred by the punishment the IDF is capable of inflicting on their subordinates — Israel must now demonstrate that it intends to enforce a new and more edgy standoff. Some semblance of honor can still be salvaged if Israel responds to any rocket attacks by inflicting irreversible damage, such as by targeted killings of Hamas leaders and commanders, or by occupying the Philadelphi corridor. A return to the pre-war arrangement, in which Israel acquiesces to an interminable rocket war on several of its cities, will be more than dishonorable, and will mean more than retroactively rendering the Gaza War futile. It will vindicate the Hamas/Hezbollah/Iranian strategy of using small conflagrations to extract concessions and foment world opinion against Israel. In other words, any Israeli reluctance to respond to rocket fire will encourage more of it.

If the “international community” actually cares about peace it will encourage Israeli retaliation to rockets, so that a more useful standoff with Hamas can be established. Of course, the problem is that the international community is not actually interested in peace. Especially among its European members, it is far more intimidated by the way that Israeli military action causes the eruption of the famed Arab street in places like London and Paris. One of the things that the Gaza War seems to have established very clearly is that the tranquility of many European cities depends on restraining the IDF from defending Israel. As European demography continues its ineluctable shift, this problem will only get worse.

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A Warning in Italy

The JTA reports that “a rudimentary explosive device” failed to detonate at its intended target: “the entrance of the Chabad House in Florence.” At this point, it is unclear who targeted the Florence Chabad House — a crazy individual or a coordinated group. Either way, Israel’s defensive incursion into Gaza may have exposed a sentiment shared by many around the world.

One can infer that those motivated to bomb a Chabad house in Italy because of Israel’s military actions are not acting on anti-Israel sentiment alone but on deeply felt  anti-Semitism, as the report suggests that the targeting of the Chabad house in Florence fits into an emerging pattern in Italy:

Tensions are high in Italy over Israel’s operation in Gaza. Last week, red paint was thrown at the façade of the synagogue in Pisa. On Saturday, thousands of people, many of them Muslim, staged a pro-Palestinian march in Rome. Some of the placards showed swastikas superimposed on the Star of David.

It is important, also, not to forget who Israel is targeting in Gaza: some of the greatest anti-Semites in the world. To side with Hamas, against Israel, is not a sign of dissent from Israel’s policies, but of something far deeper and far more troubling.

The JTA reports that “a rudimentary explosive device” failed to detonate at its intended target: “the entrance of the Chabad House in Florence.” At this point, it is unclear who targeted the Florence Chabad House — a crazy individual or a coordinated group. Either way, Israel’s defensive incursion into Gaza may have exposed a sentiment shared by many around the world.

One can infer that those motivated to bomb a Chabad house in Italy because of Israel’s military actions are not acting on anti-Israel sentiment alone but on deeply felt  anti-Semitism, as the report suggests that the targeting of the Chabad house in Florence fits into an emerging pattern in Italy:

Tensions are high in Italy over Israel’s operation in Gaza. Last week, red paint was thrown at the façade of the synagogue in Pisa. On Saturday, thousands of people, many of them Muslim, staged a pro-Palestinian march in Rome. Some of the placards showed swastikas superimposed on the Star of David.

It is important, also, not to forget who Israel is targeting in Gaza: some of the greatest anti-Semites in the world. To side with Hamas, against Israel, is not a sign of dissent from Israel’s policies, but of something far deeper and far more troubling.

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Speech Ideas

Politico is collecting ideas for the Inauguration Speech. They are varied and amusing.

There is this one:

I want President Obama to invoke the miracle of the jet that crashed in the Hudson River without a single life lost. I want him to use this as a metaphor for what America can be again. A place where highly-trained professionals like the pilot use their best judgment, and we can rely on the well-educated brainpower of Americans to secure our future. A country where dedicated public servants take their work seriously and are always prepared to serve. A nation where miracles can still happen because of the talents of our people and our ability to work together across divides, and under the most challenging circumstances, to make a difference.

In a word: no. The last thing we need is everyone thinking about near-death experiences, sinking, and why they never want to fly again. Should it come as a surprise that this idea came from a Harvard professor?

There is this one from Mark McKinnon:

We need a true call for sacrifice. No time for sugar coating. Everybody’s got to give. But the new boss has got to ask. Hard times demand hard choices. And President-elect Obama has to level-set expectations between what he promised during the campaign and what is now possible, realistic and pragmatic. He’ll take some heat, but easier to fade it now when he’s got the helium of historic approval ratings to keep him afloat. In short, he’ll need to give hope a haircut. President Bush has been incredibly gracious during the transition and Obama should return the gesture during his remarks by acknowledging that despite their differences, they share a core sense of decency and humanity.

Boy, that makes a whole lot of sense and would be illustrative of the bipartisan, non-ideological notes the Obama team has been sounding. I fear however that we’re not going to get a dose of undiluted realism on Tuesday.

Then there is this one from Donna Shalala:

I hope he also says something about immigration reform. It is time to get that done.

Yikes! Even if you favor comprehensive immigration reform you have to think that would be a horrid topic — too pedestrian, too divisive, and just wrong. It isn’t time for this, not for a while and not until you get everyone to stop panicking about their own jobs. Other than that, great idea.

Well, it is fairly obvious that President Obama is going to deliver a lofty, inspirational message that will have the MSNBC anchors tingling all over. And if he reminds us that government power is an imperfect instrument which should be used wisely (with the law of unintended consequences firmly in mind), offers some praise for President Bush and the progress we’ve made in winning an historic battle against Islamic terror,  acknowledges that bipartisanship means more than lip service to one’s opponents, and gives some suggestion that he is pivoting away from the unseriousness of a campaign to the serious business of making hard choices  — well then it might be a very memorable speech indeed. But please no plane crashes.

Politico is collecting ideas for the Inauguration Speech. They are varied and amusing.

There is this one:

I want President Obama to invoke the miracle of the jet that crashed in the Hudson River without a single life lost. I want him to use this as a metaphor for what America can be again. A place where highly-trained professionals like the pilot use their best judgment, and we can rely on the well-educated brainpower of Americans to secure our future. A country where dedicated public servants take their work seriously and are always prepared to serve. A nation where miracles can still happen because of the talents of our people and our ability to work together across divides, and under the most challenging circumstances, to make a difference.

In a word: no. The last thing we need is everyone thinking about near-death experiences, sinking, and why they never want to fly again. Should it come as a surprise that this idea came from a Harvard professor?

There is this one from Mark McKinnon:

We need a true call for sacrifice. No time for sugar coating. Everybody’s got to give. But the new boss has got to ask. Hard times demand hard choices. And President-elect Obama has to level-set expectations between what he promised during the campaign and what is now possible, realistic and pragmatic. He’ll take some heat, but easier to fade it now when he’s got the helium of historic approval ratings to keep him afloat. In short, he’ll need to give hope a haircut. President Bush has been incredibly gracious during the transition and Obama should return the gesture during his remarks by acknowledging that despite their differences, they share a core sense of decency and humanity.

Boy, that makes a whole lot of sense and would be illustrative of the bipartisan, non-ideological notes the Obama team has been sounding. I fear however that we’re not going to get a dose of undiluted realism on Tuesday.

Then there is this one from Donna Shalala:

I hope he also says something about immigration reform. It is time to get that done.

Yikes! Even if you favor comprehensive immigration reform you have to think that would be a horrid topic — too pedestrian, too divisive, and just wrong. It isn’t time for this, not for a while and not until you get everyone to stop panicking about their own jobs. Other than that, great idea.

Well, it is fairly obvious that President Obama is going to deliver a lofty, inspirational message that will have the MSNBC anchors tingling all over. And if he reminds us that government power is an imperfect instrument which should be used wisely (with the law of unintended consequences firmly in mind), offers some praise for President Bush and the progress we’ve made in winning an historic battle against Islamic terror,  acknowledges that bipartisanship means more than lip service to one’s opponents, and gives some suggestion that he is pivoting away from the unseriousness of a campaign to the serious business of making hard choices  — well then it might be a very memorable speech indeed. But please no plane crashes.

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“Honey, I Shrunk the Economy”

This morning, Thomas Friedman suggested that the Obama administration adopt a “come-to-Jesus strategy” for the banking system.  Round up the presidents of the 300 biggest banks, herd them into the East Room, and tell them they caused the downturn in the economy.  Then the New York Times columnist would inform these culprits that the Federal government will nationalize and shut down the insolvent institutions, merge the weak, and give capital to the strong.

Well, I suppose that’s possible, Tom, but this course of action will not solve problems.  The bankers didn’t cause current economic troubles.  Yes, they made imprudent choices, but those bad decisions were virtually inevitable once trillions of dollars of excess liquidity flooded the international financial system.  Banks, important intermediaries in that system, took advantage of the easy money, extended credit freely, earned billions, and grew like crazy.  “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance,” Charles Prince famously said when he was still Citigroup’s chief executive.  And those that didn’t dance were then punished by the market.

Now, of course, the music has stopped.  Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, hoping to stimulate lending, has shoveled billions into the banks, but they’re reluctant to part with the new-found cash from the government.  And Friedman’s proposal will not make credit available either.  Why?  Who wants to make new bad loans?

At this moment, the world has too many iron ore mines, car factories, and luxury good retailers.  Governments can try to stimulate their economies, but they will not succeed.  We will see genuine recovery only once excess capacity has been closed down.  In short, we have just experienced a bubble of grand proportions, and, despite what politicians may say and pundits may write, economies will need to become smaller.  “No amount of stimulus will work without a healthy banking system,” Friedman wrote this morning.  Yes, but there cannot be a healthy banking system without a healthy economy.  And there won’t be a healthy economy until there is wrenching change.

The Great Depression ended only when demand picked up due to the need to rearm and fight a global conflict.  Unless Mr. Obama wants to wage a worldwide war himself, he will succeed in creating the conditions for prosperity only when he can look Michelle in the eye and say, “Honey, I shrunk the economy.”

This morning, Thomas Friedman suggested that the Obama administration adopt a “come-to-Jesus strategy” for the banking system.  Round up the presidents of the 300 biggest banks, herd them into the East Room, and tell them they caused the downturn in the economy.  Then the New York Times columnist would inform these culprits that the Federal government will nationalize and shut down the insolvent institutions, merge the weak, and give capital to the strong.

Well, I suppose that’s possible, Tom, but this course of action will not solve problems.  The bankers didn’t cause current economic troubles.  Yes, they made imprudent choices, but those bad decisions were virtually inevitable once trillions of dollars of excess liquidity flooded the international financial system.  Banks, important intermediaries in that system, took advantage of the easy money, extended credit freely, earned billions, and grew like crazy.  “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance,” Charles Prince famously said when he was still Citigroup’s chief executive.  And those that didn’t dance were then punished by the market.

Now, of course, the music has stopped.  Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, hoping to stimulate lending, has shoveled billions into the banks, but they’re reluctant to part with the new-found cash from the government.  And Friedman’s proposal will not make credit available either.  Why?  Who wants to make new bad loans?

At this moment, the world has too many iron ore mines, car factories, and luxury good retailers.  Governments can try to stimulate their economies, but they will not succeed.  We will see genuine recovery only once excess capacity has been closed down.  In short, we have just experienced a bubble of grand proportions, and, despite what politicians may say and pundits may write, economies will need to become smaller.  “No amount of stimulus will work without a healthy banking system,” Friedman wrote this morning.  Yes, but there cannot be a healthy banking system without a healthy economy.  And there won’t be a healthy economy until there is wrenching change.

The Great Depression ended only when demand picked up due to the need to rearm and fight a global conflict.  Unless Mr. Obama wants to wage a worldwide war himself, he will succeed in creating the conditions for prosperity only when he can look Michelle in the eye and say, “Honey, I shrunk the economy.”

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An Old Strategy Returns

In the New York Times Book Review, Ethan Bronner reviewsRestoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President” — a collection of essays by 15 experts at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, with a forward and lead essay by Richard Haass and Martin Indyk.

If Barack Obama seeks a set of essays based on a single tendentious point of view, this appears to be the book:  Bronner says the “assumption informing all the essays is that the Bush years have been a catastrophe.”

Bronner thinks the essays “display nuance and realism” (can there be any higher praise?), and he is able to summarize all the recommendations in just three paragraphs:

So what do the contributors think the new administration should do? Vastly increase the role of diplomacy and thereby bring Russia aboard its Mideast initiatives. Cut the number of American troops in Iraq by as much as half within two years. Open direct dialogue with Tehran quickly. Don’t give up on counterterrorism, but remove it from its current central place. Foster reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas by, among other things, reducing demands on Hamas, and press Israel to end all construction in occupied lands even in existing settlements and in Jerusalem.  All of this should be carried out through two special envoys, one for Iran and the other for the Israeli-Arab dispute.

Thus the grand bargain comes into view. Through direct, top-level negotiation, Washington gets Tehran to rethink its priorities. Russia, a key supplier to Iran, helps out. To woo Moscow, [two authors] suggest in their essay, the new administration should pull back from efforts at bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and from plans to install missile defenses in Europe.

[Two other authors] recommend other steps to reduce the influence of Iran. These include peeling Syria away from its alliance with Tehran by stepping up American relations with Damascus and getting Israel to return the Golan Heights through Turkish mediation; blunting the power of Hamas by bringing it into the Palestinian Authority fold and pressing for the removal of settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state; and pulling Lebanon away from Hezbollah by promoting the national unity government and seeking to involve it in peace talks with Israel.

Actually, the recommendations can be more succinctly summarized as follows:  (1) reduce demands on Hamas while pressuring Israel to withdraw from settlements, return the Golan Heights, meet Lebanon’s demands, and create a Palestinian state; (2) forgo missile defenses for European allies and NATO protection for Georgia and Ukraine; and (3) talk quickly to Iran, de-emphasize counterterrorism, and get out of Iraq.

In fact, the recommendations can be stated even more succinctly than that:  lean hard on Israel, reduce our commitment to European allies and new democracies, and talk to the new sheriff in the Middle East about a “grand bargain” to let us get out of Dodge.

This strategy has a different name than “nuance and realism.”  It reflects an approach last tried in the 1930s, when the West adopted policies that sent a signal — to adversaries who already doubted its resolve — that it was not prepared to defend its interests.

The result was a catastrophe.

In the New York Times Book Review, Ethan Bronner reviewsRestoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President” — a collection of essays by 15 experts at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, with a forward and lead essay by Richard Haass and Martin Indyk.

If Barack Obama seeks a set of essays based on a single tendentious point of view, this appears to be the book:  Bronner says the “assumption informing all the essays is that the Bush years have been a catastrophe.”

Bronner thinks the essays “display nuance and realism” (can there be any higher praise?), and he is able to summarize all the recommendations in just three paragraphs:

So what do the contributors think the new administration should do? Vastly increase the role of diplomacy and thereby bring Russia aboard its Mideast initiatives. Cut the number of American troops in Iraq by as much as half within two years. Open direct dialogue with Tehran quickly. Don’t give up on counterterrorism, but remove it from its current central place. Foster reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas by, among other things, reducing demands on Hamas, and press Israel to end all construction in occupied lands even in existing settlements and in Jerusalem.  All of this should be carried out through two special envoys, one for Iran and the other for the Israeli-Arab dispute.

Thus the grand bargain comes into view. Through direct, top-level negotiation, Washington gets Tehran to rethink its priorities. Russia, a key supplier to Iran, helps out. To woo Moscow, [two authors] suggest in their essay, the new administration should pull back from efforts at bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and from plans to install missile defenses in Europe.

[Two other authors] recommend other steps to reduce the influence of Iran. These include peeling Syria away from its alliance with Tehran by stepping up American relations with Damascus and getting Israel to return the Golan Heights through Turkish mediation; blunting the power of Hamas by bringing it into the Palestinian Authority fold and pressing for the removal of settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state; and pulling Lebanon away from Hezbollah by promoting the national unity government and seeking to involve it in peace talks with Israel.

Actually, the recommendations can be more succinctly summarized as follows:  (1) reduce demands on Hamas while pressuring Israel to withdraw from settlements, return the Golan Heights, meet Lebanon’s demands, and create a Palestinian state; (2) forgo missile defenses for European allies and NATO protection for Georgia and Ukraine; and (3) talk quickly to Iran, de-emphasize counterterrorism, and get out of Iraq.

In fact, the recommendations can be stated even more succinctly than that:  lean hard on Israel, reduce our commitment to European allies and new democracies, and talk to the new sheriff in the Middle East about a “grand bargain” to let us get out of Dodge.

This strategy has a different name than “nuance and realism.”  It reflects an approach last tried in the 1930s, when the West adopted policies that sent a signal — to adversaries who already doubted its resolve — that it was not prepared to defend its interests.

The result was a catastrophe.

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The Unasked Question

Israel declared a cease-fire in its campaign in Gaza yesterday. However, just as Hamas may be unwilling to halt its attacks on Israeli towns, many in the international media are just as unwilling to ask the Palestinians in Gaza some hard questions.

In today’s New York Times, two articles are devoted to the plight of Arab victims of the Israeli counter-offensive. One features a Palestinian doctor who is a peace advocate and who has had three of his daughters killed in the fighting. Another discusses the plight of the people of the border town of Rafah. The story about the doctor does not pretend that this peace-lover is a typical Gazan. To the contrary, it notes that Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish “is a rarity: a Gazan at home among Israelis. He describes himself as a bridge between two worlds, one of the few Gazans with a permit to enter Israel because of his work.”

However, even in this generally fair-minded piece by Dina Kraft (who is better known to readers of Jewish publications for her regular dispatches and features written for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency), there is no discussion, even in passing, of what set off this round of fighting. The fact that Hamas regularly shelled towns, villages and farms in southern Israel killing, wounding and traumatizing the people who lived there is not mentioned. The same is true for the piece about Rafah. But what is most striking about these articles — as well as just about every other article about the unfortunate fate of Gazans who have been deliberately put in harm’s way by Hamas — is the fact that the Palestinians are seemingly never asked about the rocket fire on Israel.

That is significant because it is a rare article indeed that discusses the attitudes of Israelis without featuring direct questions and answers about their thoughts on the suffering of Gazans. Such questions are appropriate even though most reporters seem dismayed about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis feel bad about deaths and injuries suffered by Palestinians, but still think their country is justified in fighting to protect their own citizens. But in articles like the two published today by the Times, reporters don’t put the Palestinians on the spot in the same way.

Instead, the Palestinians are allowed to portray the war as a one-sided affair with all of the suffering coming on their side, as the Israeli attacks are never placed in the context of the Hamas attacks.

In the Rafah story, there is a discussion of what the Israeli objective in attacking Gaza might be. But there is no mention of the rocket fire on Israel. Instead, there is much hand wringing about the destruction of targets associated with Hamas. Policeman who work for Hamas (and presumably help Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups in various ways) are described as mere writers of traffic tickets and thus not legitimate targets.

Samira Shalah, who was making coffee on the hot plate, chimed in: “They say its Hamas’s fault. They don’t want to take responsibility for anyone else they kill.”

Muhammad Muhaisin, 35, a member of the rival Fatah party who was not particularly enthusiastic about Hamas, said people were getting the sense that the real target was Palestinian civil society itself. “We see this war as a war on the Palestinian state, not against a party,” he said. “They are targeting the institutions of the Palestinian state.”

The municipal building and another public building that handled marriages and electricity payments were also hit. Those buildings, he said, were built by Fatah.

“They say they want to replace Hamas with Fatah, but really they just don’t want anybody in charge,” he said in his living room, where the windows had no glass and a clock hung sideways, stopped at 12:27, the time a bomb hit the mosque across the street. The war, he said, will not diminish Palestinians’ national aspirations.

“The idea of Palestine is in people’s minds, not in buildings,” he said. “Every time they press us it gets stronger.”

Never in any of these quotes is there ever a thought expressed about the fact that Hamas has chosen to shoot at Israel or that the Israelis evacuated every settlement and soldier from Gaza in August 2005 in the hope of peace. But even though it isn’t fully explained, the Palestinians’ motivation for their decision to provoke the war is mentioned.

“The idea of Palestine” as Mr. Muhaisin of Fatah puts it, is the point. Because, the “Palestine” they speak of, the “Palestine” after which some of them are even named, is not a state existing peacefully alongside Israel and comprised of Gaza and the West Bank in accordance with the pre-June 1967 borders. The “Palestine” they want consists of all of this land and pre-1967 Israel.

Hamas attacked Israel in the past and will do so again in the future with the full support of the majority of Palestinians, simply because in their minds, “resistance” to the Zionists means fighting until Israel is eradicated. That is why they think unprovoked shelling of Israel is justified (even if it means more Israeli attacks on their own homes) and why they are far less concerned with the fate of Israeli casualties than the Israelis are of Palestinian casualties.

But we are still entitled to ask why journalists covering the Palestinians are prepared to let them get away with this double standard.

Israel declared a cease-fire in its campaign in Gaza yesterday. However, just as Hamas may be unwilling to halt its attacks on Israeli towns, many in the international media are just as unwilling to ask the Palestinians in Gaza some hard questions.

In today’s New York Times, two articles are devoted to the plight of Arab victims of the Israeli counter-offensive. One features a Palestinian doctor who is a peace advocate and who has had three of his daughters killed in the fighting. Another discusses the plight of the people of the border town of Rafah. The story about the doctor does not pretend that this peace-lover is a typical Gazan. To the contrary, it notes that Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish “is a rarity: a Gazan at home among Israelis. He describes himself as a bridge between two worlds, one of the few Gazans with a permit to enter Israel because of his work.”

However, even in this generally fair-minded piece by Dina Kraft (who is better known to readers of Jewish publications for her regular dispatches and features written for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency), there is no discussion, even in passing, of what set off this round of fighting. The fact that Hamas regularly shelled towns, villages and farms in southern Israel killing, wounding and traumatizing the people who lived there is not mentioned. The same is true for the piece about Rafah. But what is most striking about these articles — as well as just about every other article about the unfortunate fate of Gazans who have been deliberately put in harm’s way by Hamas — is the fact that the Palestinians are seemingly never asked about the rocket fire on Israel.

That is significant because it is a rare article indeed that discusses the attitudes of Israelis without featuring direct questions and answers about their thoughts on the suffering of Gazans. Such questions are appropriate even though most reporters seem dismayed about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis feel bad about deaths and injuries suffered by Palestinians, but still think their country is justified in fighting to protect their own citizens. But in articles like the two published today by the Times, reporters don’t put the Palestinians on the spot in the same way.

Instead, the Palestinians are allowed to portray the war as a one-sided affair with all of the suffering coming on their side, as the Israeli attacks are never placed in the context of the Hamas attacks.

In the Rafah story, there is a discussion of what the Israeli objective in attacking Gaza might be. But there is no mention of the rocket fire on Israel. Instead, there is much hand wringing about the destruction of targets associated with Hamas. Policeman who work for Hamas (and presumably help Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups in various ways) are described as mere writers of traffic tickets and thus not legitimate targets.

Samira Shalah, who was making coffee on the hot plate, chimed in: “They say its Hamas’s fault. They don’t want to take responsibility for anyone else they kill.”

Muhammad Muhaisin, 35, a member of the rival Fatah party who was not particularly enthusiastic about Hamas, said people were getting the sense that the real target was Palestinian civil society itself. “We see this war as a war on the Palestinian state, not against a party,” he said. “They are targeting the institutions of the Palestinian state.”

The municipal building and another public building that handled marriages and electricity payments were also hit. Those buildings, he said, were built by Fatah.

“They say they want to replace Hamas with Fatah, but really they just don’t want anybody in charge,” he said in his living room, where the windows had no glass and a clock hung sideways, stopped at 12:27, the time a bomb hit the mosque across the street. The war, he said, will not diminish Palestinians’ national aspirations.

“The idea of Palestine is in people’s minds, not in buildings,” he said. “Every time they press us it gets stronger.”

Never in any of these quotes is there ever a thought expressed about the fact that Hamas has chosen to shoot at Israel or that the Israelis evacuated every settlement and soldier from Gaza in August 2005 in the hope of peace. But even though it isn’t fully explained, the Palestinians’ motivation for their decision to provoke the war is mentioned.

“The idea of Palestine” as Mr. Muhaisin of Fatah puts it, is the point. Because, the “Palestine” they speak of, the “Palestine” after which some of them are even named, is not a state existing peacefully alongside Israel and comprised of Gaza and the West Bank in accordance with the pre-June 1967 borders. The “Palestine” they want consists of all of this land and pre-1967 Israel.

Hamas attacked Israel in the past and will do so again in the future with the full support of the majority of Palestinians, simply because in their minds, “resistance” to the Zionists means fighting until Israel is eradicated. That is why they think unprovoked shelling of Israel is justified (even if it means more Israeli attacks on their own homes) and why they are far less concerned with the fate of Israeli casualties than the Israelis are of Palestinian casualties.

But we are still entitled to ask why journalists covering the Palestinians are prepared to let them get away with this double standard.

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Big Questions on Gaza

War in Gaza is over, sort of – let the debate begin. These are the questions that Israelis, Palestinians and the greater Middle East will consider in the coming days (and the questions Israeli voters will consider) if the cease-fire holds:

Was the war a real testimony to the IDF’s strength and renewed competency – or was Hamas a weak enemy that presented no real challenge to the forces? This will be the question that determines whether Israel has really restored its deterrence and sent its neighbors the message that attempts to take out a supposedly weakened Israel is a bad idea.

Was it necessary to bomb and kill this number of civilians in Gaza or did Israel use excessive force that can’t be justified? While the operation was not controversial in Israel, where public support was wide and firm, the aftermath will bring to the fore questions related to the tragedy of civilians living in Gaza. This leads to the next question:

Was it wise to keep the war going for this long, or could Israel have ended it a week or ten days ago? Israelis will have to be convinced that the outcome would have been less favorable had Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire earlier.

On the other hand, could Israel have achieved more? Were we really on the verge of toppling Hamas and did we miss an opportunity? Likud Party leaders will argue that the IDF performed magnificently, but that on the strategic-diplomatic front (namely, those issues for which Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is responsible) Israel has failed to translate the military achievement into a clear victory.

Is the cease-fire going to last? The first couple of hours were not encouraging, but the IDF had already been expecting Hamas to keep firing for “one or two days,” so the test will really come later in the week. One of the ironies of the cease-fire is that Hamas still gets to decide if the agreements between Israel, Egypt and other parties (such as the U.S.) can really hold. If Hamas decides not to halt its fire, Israel will face complicated decisions, and international commitments will be tested.

Can the Egyptians be trusted to do more than promise robust preventive measures against weapon smuggling? Will it really act? Egypt’s determination to help Israel has been suspect in the past.

Why did Israel agree to stop the operation without a clear commitment that the abducted soldier Gilead Shalit will come home? This will be a question of little significance for international observers, but in Israel it is one of the topics that can turn public opinion against the government.

And the question most Israelis do not really care about, but that the international community will busy itself with: what are the implications of the Gaza operation for the peace process? The Palestinians will now face a dilemma: do they want to renew the work on a national unity government with Fatah and Hamas? If they do, the dilemma will shift to Israel: will it be willing to negotiate with such a government?

War in Gaza is over, sort of – let the debate begin. These are the questions that Israelis, Palestinians and the greater Middle East will consider in the coming days (and the questions Israeli voters will consider) if the cease-fire holds:

Was the war a real testimony to the IDF’s strength and renewed competency – or was Hamas a weak enemy that presented no real challenge to the forces? This will be the question that determines whether Israel has really restored its deterrence and sent its neighbors the message that attempts to take out a supposedly weakened Israel is a bad idea.

Was it necessary to bomb and kill this number of civilians in Gaza or did Israel use excessive force that can’t be justified? While the operation was not controversial in Israel, where public support was wide and firm, the aftermath will bring to the fore questions related to the tragedy of civilians living in Gaza. This leads to the next question:

Was it wise to keep the war going for this long, or could Israel have ended it a week or ten days ago? Israelis will have to be convinced that the outcome would have been less favorable had Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire earlier.

On the other hand, could Israel have achieved more? Were we really on the verge of toppling Hamas and did we miss an opportunity? Likud Party leaders will argue that the IDF performed magnificently, but that on the strategic-diplomatic front (namely, those issues for which Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is responsible) Israel has failed to translate the military achievement into a clear victory.

Is the cease-fire going to last? The first couple of hours were not encouraging, but the IDF had already been expecting Hamas to keep firing for “one or two days,” so the test will really come later in the week. One of the ironies of the cease-fire is that Hamas still gets to decide if the agreements between Israel, Egypt and other parties (such as the U.S.) can really hold. If Hamas decides not to halt its fire, Israel will face complicated decisions, and international commitments will be tested.

Can the Egyptians be trusted to do more than promise robust preventive measures against weapon smuggling? Will it really act? Egypt’s determination to help Israel has been suspect in the past.

Why did Israel agree to stop the operation without a clear commitment that the abducted soldier Gilead Shalit will come home? This will be a question of little significance for international observers, but in Israel it is one of the topics that can turn public opinion against the government.

And the question most Israelis do not really care about, but that the international community will busy itself with: what are the implications of the Gaza operation for the peace process? The Palestinians will now face a dilemma: do they want to renew the work on a national unity government with Fatah and Hamas? If they do, the dilemma will shift to Israel: will it be willing to negotiate with such a government?

Read Less

Not 1965 Anymore

George Will looks at the most controversial matter to be taken up by the Supreme Court in years: a case to decide whether Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is Constitutional. Will explains:

The case concerns a manifestly anachronistic and therefore now constitutionally dubious provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That year, because they had used many tactics to suppress voting by blacks, six states and some jurisdictions in other states were required to seek permission — “pre-clearance” — from the Justice Department for even minor changes in voting procedures. In 1975, the act was extended to cover Texas and two other states. The act’s “bailout” provision, which ostensibly provides a path by which jurisdictions can end federal supervision, is so burdensome as to be often unusable. The pre-clearance requirements, which were originally intended to exist for five years, have been extended four times, most recently in 2006 — for 25 years. The Senate voted the extension to 2031 unanimously, which is evidence that genuflection had replaced reflection.

Now, however, a Texas utility district that did not exist until 1986 and that has never had a voting-related complaint says that the bailout provision has been virtually nullified by judicial interpretations. It further argues that the pre-clearance requirement — arguably the most intrusive law abridging states’ sovereignty — was a response to a vanished emergency and is, after 44 years of racial progress, an indefensible violation of the Constitution’s federal structure. The district argues that it “consigns broad swaths of the nation to apparently perpetual federal receivership” based on absurdly out-of-date evidence.

In 1966, the Supreme Court said the pre-clearance requirement was a “rational” response to that era’s crisis. In 1997, however, the court held that, to be justified, such an infringement of states’ self-government must demonstrate “congruence and proportionality” concerning the problem it addresses. The 25-year extension in 2006, which the Texas jurisdiction challenges, is incongruent and disproportionate because it was based on the evidence used for the 1975 extension — that of the 1972 and some earlier presidential elections. So the 2006 renewal is itself evidence that there are no contemporary findings of unconstitutional behavior proportional to the Voting Rights Act’s sweeping 1965 remedy. In 2031, which will be 59 years after the 1972 election, Congress probably will reflexively extend this receivership — unless the court insists upon the pertinence of evidence.

When African American turnout has reached historic highs and when record numbers of white voters have elected an African American Presiden, it’s hard to maintain that the Voting Rights Act is necessary or, more to the point, Constitutional. Defenders will point to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives Congress wide latitude to ” to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article” (meaning the guarantee of equal protection). But the Court has made clear that power is not unlimited. So the question remains what extraordinary discrimination in voting still exists to justify such extraordinary federal intervention?

There is an entire civil rights industry devoted to the proposition that voting discrimination is still rampant and therefore the federal government must still regulate all manner of election procedures in the Old South (and other designated jurisdictions) despite forty years of electing African Americans to federal, state and local offices. The Obama administration will soberly argue that the nation has not much changed since 1965.

These days, Constitutional law boils down to what Justice Kennedy thinks. So your guess is as good as mine as to how the Court will rule. But I think two days before swearing in the first African American President most of us can agree this isn’t 1965 anymore.

George Will looks at the most controversial matter to be taken up by the Supreme Court in years: a case to decide whether Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is Constitutional. Will explains:

The case concerns a manifestly anachronistic and therefore now constitutionally dubious provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That year, because they had used many tactics to suppress voting by blacks, six states and some jurisdictions in other states were required to seek permission — “pre-clearance” — from the Justice Department for even minor changes in voting procedures. In 1975, the act was extended to cover Texas and two other states. The act’s “bailout” provision, which ostensibly provides a path by which jurisdictions can end federal supervision, is so burdensome as to be often unusable. The pre-clearance requirements, which were originally intended to exist for five years, have been extended four times, most recently in 2006 — for 25 years. The Senate voted the extension to 2031 unanimously, which is evidence that genuflection had replaced reflection.

Now, however, a Texas utility district that did not exist until 1986 and that has never had a voting-related complaint says that the bailout provision has been virtually nullified by judicial interpretations. It further argues that the pre-clearance requirement — arguably the most intrusive law abridging states’ sovereignty — was a response to a vanished emergency and is, after 44 years of racial progress, an indefensible violation of the Constitution’s federal structure. The district argues that it “consigns broad swaths of the nation to apparently perpetual federal receivership” based on absurdly out-of-date evidence.

In 1966, the Supreme Court said the pre-clearance requirement was a “rational” response to that era’s crisis. In 1997, however, the court held that, to be justified, such an infringement of states’ self-government must demonstrate “congruence and proportionality” concerning the problem it addresses. The 25-year extension in 2006, which the Texas jurisdiction challenges, is incongruent and disproportionate because it was based on the evidence used for the 1975 extension — that of the 1972 and some earlier presidential elections. So the 2006 renewal is itself evidence that there are no contemporary findings of unconstitutional behavior proportional to the Voting Rights Act’s sweeping 1965 remedy. In 2031, which will be 59 years after the 1972 election, Congress probably will reflexively extend this receivership — unless the court insists upon the pertinence of evidence.

When African American turnout has reached historic highs and when record numbers of white voters have elected an African American Presiden, it’s hard to maintain that the Voting Rights Act is necessary or, more to the point, Constitutional. Defenders will point to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives Congress wide latitude to ” to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article” (meaning the guarantee of equal protection). But the Court has made clear that power is not unlimited. So the question remains what extraordinary discrimination in voting still exists to justify such extraordinary federal intervention?

There is an entire civil rights industry devoted to the proposition that voting discrimination is still rampant and therefore the federal government must still regulate all manner of election procedures in the Old South (and other designated jurisdictions) despite forty years of electing African Americans to federal, state and local offices. The Obama administration will soberly argue that the nation has not much changed since 1965.

These days, Constitutional law boils down to what Justice Kennedy thinks. So your guess is as good as mine as to how the Court will rule. But I think two days before swearing in the first African American President most of us can agree this isn’t 1965 anymore.

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Broder’s Taxing Conventionalism

David Broder long ago ceased to be (if he ever was) an influential columnist. But he does serve a useful purpose: few writers capture shallow conventional wisdom quite as well as Mr. Broder. Take Broder’s latest column, in which Broder claims that “the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency” was “his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 attacks.” According to Broder, “the only thing [Americans not in the military] were asked to do was ‘go shopping.'” And what “sacrifice” does Broder believe the President should have asked for? Why higher taxes, of course. The great sin of the Bush presidency is that “President Bush declared war on America’s enemies without asking for the higher taxes needed to pay for it.”

This column is ignorant on several levels.

To start with: the claim that shopping was the “only thing” the President asked people to do in the way of sacrifice after 9/11 is demonstrably false. Responding to this charge doesn’t require uncovering any state secrets. Broder might have consulted, for starters, one of the most watched speeches of the Bush Presidency: the 2002 State of the Union address, in which the President said this:

For too long our culture has said, “If it feels good, do it.”  Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: “Let’s roll.” In the sacrifice of soldiers, the fierce brotherhood of firefighters, and the bravery and generosity of ordinary citizens, we have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility could look like.  We want to be a nation that serves goals larger than self.  We’ve been offered a unique opportunity, and we must not let this moment pass.

My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years — 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime — to the service of your neighbors and your nation. Many are already serving, and I thank you.  If you aren’t sure how to help, I’ve got a good place to start.  To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps.  The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need:  responding in case of crisis at home; rebuilding our communities; and extending American compassion throughout the world.

One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies; volunteers to help police and fire departments; transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.

Our country also needs citizens working to rebuild our communities.  We need mentors to love children, especially children whose parents are in prison.  And we need more talented teachers in troubled schools.  USA Freedom Corps will expand and improve the good efforts of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to recruit more than 200,000 new volunteers.

And America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world.  So we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world.

This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity — a moment we must seize to change our culture.  Through the gathering momentum of millions of acts of service and decency and kindness, I know we can overcome evil with greater good.

So Broder’s claim is indisputably wrong.

On the matter of tax increases as a proxy for sacrifice: Most people’s ideas of sacrifice are closer to what the President laid out than what Broder has in mind. More tellingly, Broder does not think of tax policy through the lens of economics. If he did, he would know that raising taxes in the midst of a recession (which Bush inherited in the early months of 2001) and after the blow the September 11th attacks delivered on the American economy (we lost a million jobs in 90 days, with some sectors of the economy almost coming to a full stop) would be insanity. The truth is that the President’s tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 helped jump start the economy. And the flood tide of revenues that came in helped the deficit to decrease to just above one percent of GDP in 2007, significantly below the average 2.3 percent that’s been the norm since 1970. Economists at the time were saying that at the current pace, the budget could move back into surplus as early as 2008. So tax cuts were, in fact, generating economic growth, and the revenues that generated were in turn virtually paying for the war President Bush had declared on America’s enemies.

But the economy began to slow down in 2008 and, in September, the financial and credit crisis hit, causing the deficit to explode. The trouble for Mr. Broder’s thesis is that no sentient person blames tax cuts for the housing bubble that burst. If Broder wants to pin blame on anyone, perhaps he could devote a few columns to Democrats who blocked efforts by President Bush (and for that matter, John McCain) to impose needed regulations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage finance companies that actually did contribute to the crisis we now face.

Mr. Broder is one of those people who views higher taxes as a sign of moral rectitude. This sentiment runs so deep that one senses if Broder knew lower taxes would generate more economic growth and higher revenues, he would still oppose them on the grounds that higher taxes are morally superior to lower taxes, quite apart from their economic consequences.

Mr. Broder’s column is evidence of a lazy writer and a lazy mind at work. I’m not sure this qualifies as a “moral failing,” but it does qualify as an intellectual one.

David Broder long ago ceased to be (if he ever was) an influential columnist. But he does serve a useful purpose: few writers capture shallow conventional wisdom quite as well as Mr. Broder. Take Broder’s latest column, in which Broder claims that “the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency” was “his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 attacks.” According to Broder, “the only thing [Americans not in the military] were asked to do was ‘go shopping.'” And what “sacrifice” does Broder believe the President should have asked for? Why higher taxes, of course. The great sin of the Bush presidency is that “President Bush declared war on America’s enemies without asking for the higher taxes needed to pay for it.”

This column is ignorant on several levels.

To start with: the claim that shopping was the “only thing” the President asked people to do in the way of sacrifice after 9/11 is demonstrably false. Responding to this charge doesn’t require uncovering any state secrets. Broder might have consulted, for starters, one of the most watched speeches of the Bush Presidency: the 2002 State of the Union address, in which the President said this:

For too long our culture has said, “If it feels good, do it.”  Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: “Let’s roll.” In the sacrifice of soldiers, the fierce brotherhood of firefighters, and the bravery and generosity of ordinary citizens, we have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility could look like.  We want to be a nation that serves goals larger than self.  We’ve been offered a unique opportunity, and we must not let this moment pass.

My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years — 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime — to the service of your neighbors and your nation. Many are already serving, and I thank you.  If you aren’t sure how to help, I’ve got a good place to start.  To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps.  The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need:  responding in case of crisis at home; rebuilding our communities; and extending American compassion throughout the world.

One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies; volunteers to help police and fire departments; transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.

Our country also needs citizens working to rebuild our communities.  We need mentors to love children, especially children whose parents are in prison.  And we need more talented teachers in troubled schools.  USA Freedom Corps will expand and improve the good efforts of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to recruit more than 200,000 new volunteers.

And America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world.  So we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world.

This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity — a moment we must seize to change our culture.  Through the gathering momentum of millions of acts of service and decency and kindness, I know we can overcome evil with greater good.

So Broder’s claim is indisputably wrong.

On the matter of tax increases as a proxy for sacrifice: Most people’s ideas of sacrifice are closer to what the President laid out than what Broder has in mind. More tellingly, Broder does not think of tax policy through the lens of economics. If he did, he would know that raising taxes in the midst of a recession (which Bush inherited in the early months of 2001) and after the blow the September 11th attacks delivered on the American economy (we lost a million jobs in 90 days, with some sectors of the economy almost coming to a full stop) would be insanity. The truth is that the President’s tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 helped jump start the economy. And the flood tide of revenues that came in helped the deficit to decrease to just above one percent of GDP in 2007, significantly below the average 2.3 percent that’s been the norm since 1970. Economists at the time were saying that at the current pace, the budget could move back into surplus as early as 2008. So tax cuts were, in fact, generating economic growth, and the revenues that generated were in turn virtually paying for the war President Bush had declared on America’s enemies.

But the economy began to slow down in 2008 and, in September, the financial and credit crisis hit, causing the deficit to explode. The trouble for Mr. Broder’s thesis is that no sentient person blames tax cuts for the housing bubble that burst. If Broder wants to pin blame on anyone, perhaps he could devote a few columns to Democrats who blocked efforts by President Bush (and for that matter, John McCain) to impose needed regulations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage finance companies that actually did contribute to the crisis we now face.

Mr. Broder is one of those people who views higher taxes as a sign of moral rectitude. This sentiment runs so deep that one senses if Broder knew lower taxes would generate more economic growth and higher revenues, he would still oppose them on the grounds that higher taxes are morally superior to lower taxes, quite apart from their economic consequences.

Mr. Broder’s column is evidence of a lazy writer and a lazy mind at work. I’m not sure this qualifies as a “moral failing,” but it does qualify as an intellectual one.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Matt Continetti thinks the small government crowd has it wrong: “The lesson of the last eight years is not that Americans want a smaller government. It’s that Americans recoil at what appears to be an incompetently run government out of touch with the major challenges of the day. Your average voter doesn’t mind government action if he deems it necessary to pursue a public good like national defense or supporting retirees. He votes for the party that has the most compelling program for the future, not the one simply trying to stand athwart it.”

A sound take on the real success of the Bush presidency: “Osama bin Laden once told Time magazine that the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after the murder of 18 U.S. troops on a humanitarian mission made him realize ‘more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat.’ Members of al Qaeda have told intelligence officials that they never thought that Washington would respond to the 9/11 attacks as ferociously as Bush responded. They expected a few bombs to be dropped, no boots on the ground, a swift withdrawal if casualties mounted – the usual short-attention span foreign policy that warped Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, the African embassy bombings and the attack on the destroyer Cole. Bush showed America’s enemies a country that does not retreat in fear, does not bomb with impunity, and most important, does not desert civilians or foreign governments that trust us. If you think that doesn’t matter, look at Libya, which disarmed its weapons program. And see how much easier Obama’s presidency will be, because Bush kept the faith.”It would reflect well on the new President if he acknowledged this but it does not matter in the end — it only matters what Bush did and how the world stage onto which Obama steps has been transformed by his predecessor.

Jonah Goldberg reminds us that Bill Moyers is a crackpot.

The “permanent campaign” goes on. But it’s okay because it’s Democrats. It is only bad when Republicans do it.

Norm Coleman vs. Mark Dayton for Minnesota Governor in 2010? “Dayton is best know for closing his Senate office in October 2004 because he feared that a terrorist attack would endanger him and his staff.   The incident drew him widespread ridicule, and he decided not to run for re-election in 2006.” If that race comes about Coleman certainly would have cornered the market on foolish opponents.

Eric Holder will get confirmed, it seems, but his participation in the pardon of 16 FALN terrorists and his refusal to acknowledge the gross error in that judgment is disturbing, to say the least. Scott Johnson is right:  “Whether or not the FALN terrorists were convicted of murder, they wantonly perpetrated it. Does Holder dispute that? Morevoer, if the recommendation was based on Holder’s best judgment, Holder shouldn’t be a partner at a prominent Washington law firm, let alone the Attorney General of the United States.”

David Ignatius on the surge and Ambassador Ryan Crocker: “Bush’s decision rocked America’s adversaries, says Crocker: ‘The lesson they had learned from Lebanon was, ‘Stick it to the Americans, make them feel the pain, and they won’t have the stomach to stick it out.’ That assumption was challenged by the surge.’ Soon, Iraq will be Barack Obama’s problem. And I ask Crocker what mistakes the new administration could make. He answers that he thinks it will avoid these errors, but he lists them anyway: ‘Concluding that this was the Bush administration’s war, that it’s stable enough now, that we don’t want to inherit it, so we’re going to back away.'” Good advice which perhaps the new and old Secretary of Defense can impart to the new President.

Is Tim Geithner really worth it? Perhaps there is something more at stake: “Politics, of course, involves compromise—and by sticking with Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, Obama has signaled his willingness to overlook an earlier lapse in judgment by his nominee in order to get the most competent person for the job. Ignoring $34,000 in missing tax payments may seem a small price to pay for rescuing the financial system. But the country needs a cultural overhaul, and to bring it about Obama must set the right tone and example from the start.” Really, if Geithner had gotten more of the major financial decisions (e.g. Lehman Brothers) right in the last year, the “he’s indispensable” argument would have more sell.

Fred Barnes neatly categorizes all the things we have to fear about President Obama. I’ll add another: he thinks he can sustain an enormous gap between rhetoric and action (e.g. “closing” Guantanamo but not really, ending enhanced interrogation but not really, supporting Big Labor’s agenda but not really, bringing transparency to government but not really) without losing credibility. Won’t people begin to notice?

Atlantic’s OB-GYN pronounces: “I blog rather than do cable is that I think I can get at more nuanced, detailed and factual truths online than on TV.” Uh huh.

The Washington Post demonstrates all three of those qualities: “But, as matters in Iraq now stand, there is a decent chance of a reasonably pro-American incipient democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. This would be a major accomplishment, and one that would cast the invasion, the failures of the early years of occupation and the painful loss of more than 4,000 American lives and many thousand more Iraqi lives in a different light than that in which they are seen by most Americans now. It would also vindicate his unpopular decision to stabilize Iraq with more U.S. troops rather than abandon it to civil war and possible genocide — an instance in which Mr. Bush’s self-assurance and steadfastness paid off. ”

The Obama team grouse about losing IM. Maybe it is a good thing — reminding them that not every idea which pops into their heads should be shared with every major news outlet (which is where many White House communications eventually wind up). It’s not a bad thing to become more deliberate and more formal in the White House. You hope the complainers understand that.

The Blue Dogs seem more like lap dogs, willing to accept a huge spending plan and insignificant tax cuts in exchange for vague promises of entitlement reform and convinced that the mere election of Barack Obama will buy us great PR in the Arab world. These are the conservative Democrats?

Matt Continetti thinks the small government crowd has it wrong: “The lesson of the last eight years is not that Americans want a smaller government. It’s that Americans recoil at what appears to be an incompetently run government out of touch with the major challenges of the day. Your average voter doesn’t mind government action if he deems it necessary to pursue a public good like national defense or supporting retirees. He votes for the party that has the most compelling program for the future, not the one simply trying to stand athwart it.”

A sound take on the real success of the Bush presidency: “Osama bin Laden once told Time magazine that the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after the murder of 18 U.S. troops on a humanitarian mission made him realize ‘more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat.’ Members of al Qaeda have told intelligence officials that they never thought that Washington would respond to the 9/11 attacks as ferociously as Bush responded. They expected a few bombs to be dropped, no boots on the ground, a swift withdrawal if casualties mounted – the usual short-attention span foreign policy that warped Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, the African embassy bombings and the attack on the destroyer Cole. Bush showed America’s enemies a country that does not retreat in fear, does not bomb with impunity, and most important, does not desert civilians or foreign governments that trust us. If you think that doesn’t matter, look at Libya, which disarmed its weapons program. And see how much easier Obama’s presidency will be, because Bush kept the faith.”It would reflect well on the new President if he acknowledged this but it does not matter in the end — it only matters what Bush did and how the world stage onto which Obama steps has been transformed by his predecessor.

Jonah Goldberg reminds us that Bill Moyers is a crackpot.

The “permanent campaign” goes on. But it’s okay because it’s Democrats. It is only bad when Republicans do it.

Norm Coleman vs. Mark Dayton for Minnesota Governor in 2010? “Dayton is best know for closing his Senate office in October 2004 because he feared that a terrorist attack would endanger him and his staff.   The incident drew him widespread ridicule, and he decided not to run for re-election in 2006.” If that race comes about Coleman certainly would have cornered the market on foolish opponents.

Eric Holder will get confirmed, it seems, but his participation in the pardon of 16 FALN terrorists and his refusal to acknowledge the gross error in that judgment is disturbing, to say the least. Scott Johnson is right:  “Whether or not the FALN terrorists were convicted of murder, they wantonly perpetrated it. Does Holder dispute that? Morevoer, if the recommendation was based on Holder’s best judgment, Holder shouldn’t be a partner at a prominent Washington law firm, let alone the Attorney General of the United States.”

David Ignatius on the surge and Ambassador Ryan Crocker: “Bush’s decision rocked America’s adversaries, says Crocker: ‘The lesson they had learned from Lebanon was, ‘Stick it to the Americans, make them feel the pain, and they won’t have the stomach to stick it out.’ That assumption was challenged by the surge.’ Soon, Iraq will be Barack Obama’s problem. And I ask Crocker what mistakes the new administration could make. He answers that he thinks it will avoid these errors, but he lists them anyway: ‘Concluding that this was the Bush administration’s war, that it’s stable enough now, that we don’t want to inherit it, so we’re going to back away.'” Good advice which perhaps the new and old Secretary of Defense can impart to the new President.

Is Tim Geithner really worth it? Perhaps there is something more at stake: “Politics, of course, involves compromise—and by sticking with Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, Obama has signaled his willingness to overlook an earlier lapse in judgment by his nominee in order to get the most competent person for the job. Ignoring $34,000 in missing tax payments may seem a small price to pay for rescuing the financial system. But the country needs a cultural overhaul, and to bring it about Obama must set the right tone and example from the start.” Really, if Geithner had gotten more of the major financial decisions (e.g. Lehman Brothers) right in the last year, the “he’s indispensable” argument would have more sell.

Fred Barnes neatly categorizes all the things we have to fear about President Obama. I’ll add another: he thinks he can sustain an enormous gap between rhetoric and action (e.g. “closing” Guantanamo but not really, ending enhanced interrogation but not really, supporting Big Labor’s agenda but not really, bringing transparency to government but not really) without losing credibility. Won’t people begin to notice?

Atlantic’s OB-GYN pronounces: “I blog rather than do cable is that I think I can get at more nuanced, detailed and factual truths online than on TV.” Uh huh.

The Washington Post demonstrates all three of those qualities: “But, as matters in Iraq now stand, there is a decent chance of a reasonably pro-American incipient democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. This would be a major accomplishment, and one that would cast the invasion, the failures of the early years of occupation and the painful loss of more than 4,000 American lives and many thousand more Iraqi lives in a different light than that in which they are seen by most Americans now. It would also vindicate his unpopular decision to stabilize Iraq with more U.S. troops rather than abandon it to civil war and possible genocide — an instance in which Mr. Bush’s self-assurance and steadfastness paid off. ”

The Obama team grouse about losing IM. Maybe it is a good thing — reminding them that not every idea which pops into their heads should be shared with every major news outlet (which is where many White House communications eventually wind up). It’s not a bad thing to become more deliberate and more formal in the White House. You hope the complainers understand that.

The Blue Dogs seem more like lap dogs, willing to accept a huge spending plan and insignificant tax cuts in exchange for vague promises of entitlement reform and convinced that the mere election of Barack Obama will buy us great PR in the Arab world. These are the conservative Democrats?

Read Less

The Test of the Cease-Fire

Noah Pollak is right to be skeptical of the cease-fire declared last night. What should have happened is clear: The real goal of Israel’s assault should have been to topple the Hamas regime, undoing the violent coup of 2006, gutting the Strip of its hard core of terror, restoring rule to the Palestinian Authority which, since Israel removed the West Bank’s own terror core in 2002, has been gradually working its way to a reasonable attitude towards violence, and reestablishing its economy, civic institutions, and security apparatus.

Anything short of that goal is a real problem. Ultimately, there can be no peace unless the Palestinians forswear terror and violence against Israel. But Hamas is unflinchingly dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to employing terror until Israel is gone. The real question is: How much political support do they maintain in the Gaza Strip? Or in the rest of the Arab world? Clearly, the terror worldview has taken a beating in the war, but the results will be ambiguous so long as Hamas can show they survived Israel’s heaviest onslaught. They can claim victory just like Hezbollah. And they can continue to terrify their own population into supporting them. Only removing them from Gaza will make the message crystal clear.

We can guess the Israeli considerations that led to the cease-fire: The fear of major IDF casualties in a house-to-house operation, and the fear of losing international support, especially as Barack Obama enters the White House. Yet these fears should have been outweighed by other fears: the fear of any new oversight regime turning into another toothless deal like the UN Resolution 1701 that supposedly was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming but instead became the framework enabling Hezbollah to rearm; and the fear of the Israeli voter, who is willing to endure missiles on civilian centers only so long as the IDF is going in to finish the job. Oh yes, and that part about Gilad Shalit — this will certainly not go over so well with voters. Last night, Shalit’s parents held a press conference declaring that any agreement that does not include his release amounts to a death sentence for him. And then there were all those soldiers, carrying banners with Shalit’s name on it into war…

There are exactly two possibilities here. Either the cease-fire is a tactical pause, aimed at re-establishing Israel’s international standing in advance of the final push, or offering the Hamas leadership the chance to relocate to Syria before being removed by force. Or it is yet another in a long series of Israeli failures to fight terror — ventures that start with a large pile of political will and public backing, and end with capitulation to international pressure that inevitably lets the terrorists off the hook, to later regroup, rearm, and come back stronger. This was the story of Arafat after Beirut; the story of Hezbollah in 2006; will it be the story of Hamas in 2009?

Israel will definitely earn a lot of international points this week for its cease-fire: Today, we will enjoy the company of Sarkozy and Merkel, who come to Israel to show support. Both of the above scenarios could benefit from these visits.

We should not expect a swift Israeli withdrawal under Hamas fire. Little can be more damaging to Kadima’s and Labor’s election hopes than a replay of Ehud Barak’s disastrous Lebanon pullout in 2000. A continuation of hostilities will make the cease-fire increasingly untenable.

If Hamas is smart, they will stop launching rockets at Israel now, even though they vow to keep fighting on. So far, however, Hamas has not been so smart. And they are under incredible pressure to keep fighting — from their Damascus headquarters, and from their Iranian sponsors. But the Hamas regime’s fate is in its hands right now.

If I had to bet, I would still put my money on an eventual removal of the Hamas regime: It is still in the clear interests of Kadima, Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Barack Obama. The timetable? Weeks, not months. Israel holds elections on February 10, and we can be fairly certain that the government’s future rests on being able to show the public that this war, with all its horrors on both sides, was not in vain. Stay tuned.

Noah Pollak is right to be skeptical of the cease-fire declared last night. What should have happened is clear: The real goal of Israel’s assault should have been to topple the Hamas regime, undoing the violent coup of 2006, gutting the Strip of its hard core of terror, restoring rule to the Palestinian Authority which, since Israel removed the West Bank’s own terror core in 2002, has been gradually working its way to a reasonable attitude towards violence, and reestablishing its economy, civic institutions, and security apparatus.

Anything short of that goal is a real problem. Ultimately, there can be no peace unless the Palestinians forswear terror and violence against Israel. But Hamas is unflinchingly dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to employing terror until Israel is gone. The real question is: How much political support do they maintain in the Gaza Strip? Or in the rest of the Arab world? Clearly, the terror worldview has taken a beating in the war, but the results will be ambiguous so long as Hamas can show they survived Israel’s heaviest onslaught. They can claim victory just like Hezbollah. And they can continue to terrify their own population into supporting them. Only removing them from Gaza will make the message crystal clear.

We can guess the Israeli considerations that led to the cease-fire: The fear of major IDF casualties in a house-to-house operation, and the fear of losing international support, especially as Barack Obama enters the White House. Yet these fears should have been outweighed by other fears: the fear of any new oversight regime turning into another toothless deal like the UN Resolution 1701 that supposedly was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming but instead became the framework enabling Hezbollah to rearm; and the fear of the Israeli voter, who is willing to endure missiles on civilian centers only so long as the IDF is going in to finish the job. Oh yes, and that part about Gilad Shalit — this will certainly not go over so well with voters. Last night, Shalit’s parents held a press conference declaring that any agreement that does not include his release amounts to a death sentence for him. And then there were all those soldiers, carrying banners with Shalit’s name on it into war…

There are exactly two possibilities here. Either the cease-fire is a tactical pause, aimed at re-establishing Israel’s international standing in advance of the final push, or offering the Hamas leadership the chance to relocate to Syria before being removed by force. Or it is yet another in a long series of Israeli failures to fight terror — ventures that start with a large pile of political will and public backing, and end with capitulation to international pressure that inevitably lets the terrorists off the hook, to later regroup, rearm, and come back stronger. This was the story of Arafat after Beirut; the story of Hezbollah in 2006; will it be the story of Hamas in 2009?

Israel will definitely earn a lot of international points this week for its cease-fire: Today, we will enjoy the company of Sarkozy and Merkel, who come to Israel to show support. Both of the above scenarios could benefit from these visits.

We should not expect a swift Israeli withdrawal under Hamas fire. Little can be more damaging to Kadima’s and Labor’s election hopes than a replay of Ehud Barak’s disastrous Lebanon pullout in 2000. A continuation of hostilities will make the cease-fire increasingly untenable.

If Hamas is smart, they will stop launching rockets at Israel now, even though they vow to keep fighting on. So far, however, Hamas has not been so smart. And they are under incredible pressure to keep fighting — from their Damascus headquarters, and from their Iranian sponsors. But the Hamas regime’s fate is in its hands right now.

If I had to bet, I would still put my money on an eventual removal of the Hamas regime: It is still in the clear interests of Kadima, Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Barack Obama. The timetable? Weeks, not months. Israel holds elections on February 10, and we can be fairly certain that the government’s future rests on being able to show the public that this war, with all its horrors on both sides, was not in vain. Stay tuned.

Read Less




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