The entire question of how to treat terrorist captives rests on a fallacy. People who have never read the Geneva Conventions somehow believe that “enemy combatants” are the equivalent of soldiers. They are not. They are subject to drum-head trial and immediate execution. Unless you are in uniform, or bearing a distinguishing mark such as an armband or other device, you are what was referred to in the conventions as a “Francs-tireurs.”
The U.S. and allied military forces have the legal right to try and execute individuals who are caught in arms without the protection of uniform. Similarly, pirates are “against all flags” and are, by international convention subject to similar penalties when caught; ditto slavers.
Astounding sympathy has been lavished on these murderers and religious fanatics. I hope they do not confuse kindness with weakness. As is well established, weakness invites attack.
Posts For: January 22, 2009
Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post’s military correspondent, reports that the Israel Defense Forces are refuting a claim by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that the number of Palestinian deaths in the recently concluded Israeli offensive in Gaza was wildly exaggerated.
Lorenzo Cremonesi, a reporter for Corriere on the scene in Gaza writes that no more than 500-600 Palestinians were killed, not 1,300 as many reports have claimed. He also says that the number is far less than the 5,000 figure which has also been reported.
Katz quotes Cremonesi as saying:
“It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don’t add up,” he wrote.
In the European hospital in Rafah, one of the facilities which would presumably be filled with wounded from the “war of the tunnels,” many beds were empty, according to Cremonesi. A similar situation was noted in the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, and in the privately-run Amal Hospital Cremonesi reported that only five out 150 beds were occupied.
Cremonesi interviewed Gazans who echoed Israel’s insistence of how Hamas gunmen used civilians as human shields. One Gazan recalled civilians in Gaza shouting at Hamas and Islamic Jihad men, “Go away, go away from here! Do you want the Israelis to kill us all? Do you want our children to die under their bombs? Take your guns and missiles with you.”
But according to Katz, Israeli military officials are sticking with the number of 1,300 deaths:
Israeli defense officials on Thursday said there were around 1,300 Palestinians killed during the fighting in Gaza and that a majority of them were Hamas operatives.
The IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration have already compiled a list with 900 names of Palestinians killed during the operation, out of which 750 are believed to be Hamas operatives.
Perhaps the IDF is right in their unwillingness to lower their casualty estimates. But the reporting of Cremonesi, who writes for a newspaper that has not exactly been known as a stalwart supporter of the Jewish state, should at least raise some doubts about the official numbers.
Can this be a replay of the case of Mohammed Al Dura, the Palestinian boy who was shot at the beginning of the second intifada?
If you recall, the picture of that boy cradled in his father’s arms became an international scandal and an iconic image of alleged Israeli cruelty. The IDF took responsibility for his death and apologized even though there were doubts immediately raised as to whether the bullets that allegedly killed the boy were Israeli rather than Palestinian. Subsequent investigations showed that there was no way for the Israelis to have killed the boy and the IDF took back their claim of responsibility.
Some doubt whether the whole incident was a fraud, a piece of “Pallywood” fakery created by the Palestinian propaganda machine and eagerly devoured by a credulous media. But whether that’s true or not, had the IDF been a bit more skeptical about the false claims made regarding the case, it’s possible that the story wouldn’t have become such a big propaganda success for the anti-Israel crowd.
The point here is not to make an argument for or against any specific number. And it should be stipulated that all civilian deaths in the fighting are a tragedy, albeit one necessitated by Hamas’s terrorism. But the Palestinians have a long record of making false casualty and atrocity claims — such as the Jenin “massacre” in 2002 which even the United Nations eventually admitted wasn’t true. Given Hamas’s complete lack of credibility, I’d say Cremonesi’s report deserves a closer look.
The late great Jerry Williams, the “Dean” of talk radio, made it a policy not to discuss abortion on his program. When challenged on his policy, he stated there were three factors behind his decision: everyone already has an opinion, no one is likely to change that opinion, and there really hasn’t been much new to add to the argument in the last thirty or so years. And while there certainly are exceptions to each of those points, they’re generally valid and preempt any progress from being made in debating the issue.
Today though, on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court decision that struck down nearly all state bans and restrictions on abortion — it seems somehow appropriate to discuss the matter.
First up, is there anyone who is willing to argue that Roe v. Wade is a well-written decision? Regardless of one’s position on the issue, it’s a mess. It invented entire legal concepts to back up its decision, and shows every sign of backwards reasoning — coming up with the decision on the case, then working from there to find some rationale to justify it. Other Supreme Court rulings have been just plain wrong-headed — Plessy v. Ferguson comes to mind — but they were usually based on existing laws and a careful study of the Constitution. Not here, though — Justice Blackmun found an implied right to privacy within the 9th and 14th Amendment, and declared that abortion fell in there somewhere.
Second, the whole issue raises very ugly questions for partisans on both sides. For the pro-life side, who wish that abortion be made illegal, I have to ask: if it were to be made illegal, what would that law say? Who would be charged with the crime of participating in an abortion? And what would the penalties be for breaking that law?
According to the pro-life argument, abortion is murder. So by existing laws, committing murder and soliciting murder are the most severe crimes, punishable by life in prison or death in several states. So should women and their doctors face such penalties?
For the pro-choice side, I have to ask: at what point does a fetus become “human enough” to acquire the “right” to not be destroyed? The Supreme Court chose as the criterion “viability” — the point when the fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb — but this is a shifting standard. It was initially specified as 24 weeks from conception, but since then premature babies have survived at just under 20 weeks from conception. As medical science advances, that will only continue to decrease.
Abortion is one of those issues with no easy answer. I’ve long advocated the coward’s approach: strike down Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states. There, it can be decided on a state by state basis, by legislators that are directly accountable to the people, and the people of each state can direct their legislators to pass laws that reflect their beliefs on the issue.
In some states, it’ll be a slam dunk. Massachusetts, for example, will be staunchly pro-choice. On the other hand, Utah will most likely have the most restrictions.
In essence, we will have 51 different laboratories to try out different approaches and solutions to the issue of abortion. Some will work, some won’t. But that is not a bug in our system, but a feature — it’s a lot easier to get a legislature to change a law than it is to get a court to overrule its decision.
It’s not an easy solution. Indeed, it is guaranteed to be messy.
But it addresses one of the key points of Jerry Williams’ objection: the arguments would, for the first time in decades, be meaningful. There would be direct consequences of the debates, as the legislatures of the various states will not be able to dodge their obligations.
Much attention has been focused on the Employee Free Choice Act (“card check”) legislation. But there’s been little commentary about a measure currently working its way through Congress that will provide a new bonanza to trial lawyers and deliver yet another headache to employers. A final vote in the Senate is expected today (after Republican amendments are voted down) on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (S-181). A similar measure passed the House earlier this month.
This would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company(2007). Lilly Ledbetter was a Goodyear employee for almost twenty years. She filed a charge with the EEOC around the time of her retirement alleging pay discrimination because over the course of her career she received smaller pay increases than male co-workers. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter was required to bring suit within 180 days of “the act of discrimination,” and rejected her argument that each paycheck should allow her to file a discrimination claim about business decisions made years earlier.
So what does the Senate bill do? It would overturn Ledbetter and specify that the statutes of limitations under several discrimination statutes (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age, disability, race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) starts with each paycheck, essentially wiping out time limits for many employment discrimination claims. S. 181 would also expand the class of potential plaintiffs to anyone “affected by” discrimination. This could mean that a spouse or heir who receives pension checks and was not a victim of discrimination would have be able to file a lawsuit.
Republicans are trying to beat back the worst aspects of the bill. Andrew Grossman at the Heritage Foundation writes:
The most thoughtful alternative to the Ledbetter Act’s approach is embodied in an amendment (SA 25) proposed by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and based on her Title VII Fairness Act (S. 166). Rather than allowing any claim–no matter how old, no matter if the plaintiff delayed filing just to gain an upper hand–this amendment would start the limitations period running only when an employee reasonably suspects, or should reasonably suspect, that he or she has been discriminated against.
This kind of filing deadline, known as a “discovery rule,” protects employees who are kept in the dark about pay disparities and the like, while preventing stale claims and gaming of the system. It also preserves the incentive to bring claims quickly so that discrimination is halted sooner, to the benefit not just of the plaintiff but also other potential victims and the public. That, in the end, is what Title VII is all about: ending discrimination.
The Ledbetter Act, in contrast, has less to do with stamping out discriminatory practices than making money for plaintiff’s attorneys. By eliminating the filing deadline, it would actually undermine the law’s strong incentive to resolve cases quickly, and instead encourage savvy parties to strategically delay suit. While they sit on their claims, the passage of time would drive up damages available in court and allow defensive evidence to fade. In this way, other victims who are unaware of discrimination would continue to suffer its effects, while the would-be plaintiff games the law for private gain.
But alas Hutchinson’s amendment was defeated today. Unless lightning strikes, the bill is headed for passage and then reconciliation with the House version.
All of this is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, although President Obama argued that his number-one priority is creating jobs, it is clear that Democrats’ number-one legislative priority is paying off debts to Big Labor, trial lawyers, and the civil rights lobby. This bill has nothing to do, of course, with creating jobs. It has everything to do with increasing the legal cost for U.S. companies. Second, this is what happens when you lose Senate seats. Last year the bill was defeated on a cloture vote in the Senate 56-42. But those days are gone — the Democrats clearly have the votes this time.
So American employers — many that donated (via PACS and executives’ individual contributions) to Democratic candidates’ coffers should see this as a wake-up call. The next few years, even without card check legislation, are not going to be kind to business.
Today is “Stick It To The Bush Torture Regime Day” at the White House. Like so many holidays, it’s a day of symbols. The man who thought wearing a flag lapel-pin was a symbolic substitute for real patriotism has decided that symbolic substitutes are the point, after all. As Jennifer rightly noted, this is all about PR.
In fact, if you want to get crazy and look past the document-signing photo-op and the round of Oval Office applause, there’s reason for human-rights activists to be profoundly discouraged: “The administration already has suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of the military tribunals.” But, hey, what’s a four-month delay of habeas corpus compared to the nation-defining issue of . . . prisoner relocation?
This was an all-day celebration, of which the White House Guantanamo show was only the main event. During his confirmation hearing, President Obama’s
CIA DirectorNational Intelligence Chief-nominee Dennis Blair joined in the festivities with the weighty pronouncement that there would be no U.S. torture of criminals on his watch. And once again, a peek past the symbolism finds weaselly continuity in place of change: ” . . . Blair refused to say whether he believes waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — is torture.”
There is an argument to be made that the Obama administration’s commitment to symbolically ameliorating the globe’s anti-Americans will pay real-world dividends. Maybe closing Guantanamo Bay will get us a handful more allies the next time we fight. Maybe a winking pledge to soften prisoner interrogations will induce al Qaeda to behead fewer American captives.
But any serious reckoning has to weigh the likelihood of those advantages against the likelihood of the drawbacks. Just what does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad think of the fact that the new American President has used his first full day in office to condemn and partially reverse the antiterrorism methods that have kept the American homeland attack-free for seven-plus years? What might Ayman al-Zawahiri think about this? Barack Obama said that his administration would not “continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals.” And that’s true — his administration has actually introduced this fallacy. And by reducing “our ideals” to a couple of PR coups, he is sacrificing both them and our safety.
In Minnesota the state took steps to fight global warming by requiring school buses to use biodiesel fuel. Unfortunately, at extreme temperatures, the fuel congeals and disables the vehicles. In other words, “we’d like to fight global warming, but it’s too cold out!”
It’s now becoming clear just why the buzz-phrase has morphed from “global warming” to the more temperature neutral “climate change.” In the old, pre-enlightened days, another word for climate change was “seasons.”
Salzman argues that deterrence is a prerequisite for any negotiation and that Israel’s experience in the West Bank demonstrates that “[c]onquering attackers is the most robust peace process.” But in both Lebanon and Gaza, the “international community” has prevented a similar result:
While condemnation is never heard against Arab invasions and terrorist campaigns against Israel, whenever Israel strikes back the “international community” demands it cease, giving commitments for guarding the peace which are never fulfilled. So the options available for Israel are either “weak and failing victim” or “cruel conqueror.” I would suggest that the latter is preferable, and that surrounding adversaries will be more reticent in attacking the “cruel conqueror” than the “weak and failing victim.”
Unfortunately, there is a third category: weak and failing conqueror. It is a country that prosecutes a war against those who attack it, but is forced by the “international community” to withdraw before a definitive conclusion, leaving the surrounding adversaries in place and relying instead on a UN resolution (as in Lebanon) or a “memorandum of understanding” (as in Gaza) that reads like a UN resolution.
The problem will only be compounded by premature “engagement” by the Obama administration, operating on a misconceived view that the obstacle to peace was the alleged “disengagement” of the Bush administration.
There is a certain hubris in thinking that, after the failures of Bill Clinton and George Bush, the solution is a new “engaged” president, or that a special envoy whose success in Ireland depended on the defeat of the IRA can succeed where Hamas and Hezbollah remain not only undefeated, but effectively protected by both the Arab League and the “international community.”
The first practical question is where to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 245 or so other remaining Gitmo prisoners. Dangerous enemy combatants can’t simply be released into the streets. The Obama camp says that after reviewing the classified files, it will try to repatriate as many as safely possible. But 60 already cleared for release remain because they may be persecuted by their home countries. And even Mr. Obama’s vaunted diplomacy is unlikely to convince rights-protecting countries to resettle people he believes are too dangerous to release in the U.S. — and the more willing Mr. Obama is to release prisoners, the more difficult this problem will become.
One suggestion is moving the remaining prisoners to Kansas’s Fort Leavenworth, but state politicians are already sounding a red alert. The military base is integrated into the community and, lacking Guantanamo’s isolation and defense capacities, would instantly become a potential terror target. Expect similar protests from other states that are involuntarily entered in this sweepstakes.
The first question that comes to mind is: why go through all of this? Ah, but Guantamano has such a bad reputation. Yet it is largely based on misinformation about the actual treatment of detainees there. Supposedly we must put these very same people somewhere but we just don’t want to keep them at Guantanamo. At some level then we are inflating a PR problem — one which can be alleviated by creative people (rename the facility? build a new one in the parking lot?) — into a giant political and national security problem, especially for people living in the unlucky states that will play host to these very dangerous people.
If the Republicans are looking for a good issue, here is one: promise to filibuster (with the help of Democrats from affected states) any attempt (and the required funding) to put terror suspects within the confines of the U.S. Why should Democrats’ acute sensitivity about world opinion (emanating from that bastion of human rights, the UN) take priority over the peace of mind of our own citizens? It is baffling.
And of course this ducks the real issue: what legal system we are going to use to process and evaluate the detainees. The Obama team apparently would like to reinvent the wheel, but not really:
An alternative to military commissions that is gaining political traction is the idea of a national security court, composed of Article III judges to supervise detentions and administer trials. There are real risks here. Politically, it will cost time and capital that Mr. Obama probably prefers to spend elsewhere. Practically, any new system is likely to face the same legal challenges from the white-shoe lawyers at Shearman and Sterling and anti-antiterror activists that for years tied down military commissions.
But legal experts across the political spectrum including Harvard’s Jack Goldsmith, the Brookings Institution’s Ben Wittes and Georgetown’s Neal Katyal advance this option as a way to restore “credibility” to the detainee process. The national security court would operate under rules of evidence and classification that would allow the military to avoid compromising intelligence sources and methods, as well as admit intelligence gathered under battlefield conditions.
Then again, such rules would be almost identical to those now used in . . . George Bush’s military commissions. On wiretaps, interrogations and now Gitmo, the new Administration is discovering that the left-wing attack lines against Bush policies are mostly simplistic illusions. Now those critics are Mr. Obama’s problem.
So in the end we’d have essentially the same legal system, extremely dangerous prisoners on U.S. soil, and the same complaints from the civil liberties lobby. This is a peculiar type of change indeed, one attuned to the elusive and subjective feelings of “world opinion,” and the liberal attorneys now populating the Justice Department. But in this new moral equation we actually don’t treat the detainees any differently. We just move them. (I can only imagine what it will do for housing prices in those locales.) There is an exquisite degree of hypocrisy at work and a lack of appreciation for what really matters — the safety of our own citizens.
Let’s hope that on further reflection the Obama team comes to the conclusion that the Bush administration’s approach to these issues are better than the alternatives.
“Mexico is not a failed state,” declared Patricia Espinosa at the end of last week. The country’s foreign minister was reacting to, among other things, a recent U.S. Joint Forces Command report warning that two countries-Pakistan and Mexico-are at risk of “rapid and sudden collapse.”
The Pentagon’s assessment sounds about right. The Mexican government is fighting a brutal war with drug barons, who are also fighting each other. Last year 5,300 Mexicans were killed in the various struggles, some shot in public, many beheaded or mutilated. Tijuana, the sprawling city opposite tranquil San Diego, and Juarez, across El Paso, are littered with bodies each morning. President Felipe Calderon, to his credit, deployed the army in the battle in 2006, but he has nonetheless been losing ground to the cartels, which now control large parts of the country. Earlier this month Stephen Hadley, then national security adviser, stated that the violence even threatened Mexico’s democracy.
And our nation is also endangered. “Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States,” the Pentagon report notes. Drug violence has already spilled over the almost 2,000-mile border, the world’s most frequently crossed international boundary. “There is a wave of barbarity that is heading toward the U.S.” said one Mexican.
Whether or not Mexico is a failed state, we need to work with Mr. Calderon for the good of both of our countries. “The more secure Mexico is, the more secure the U.S. will be,” the Mexican leader said as he met Mr. Obama in Washington before he took office. There are many international challenges for the United States, but perhaps the most pressing is the one closest to home.
With the appointment of former Senate majority leader George Mitchell as America’s new Middle East peace envoy, there has been much discussion of Mitchell’s background (unlike many other veterans of the Clinton foreign-policy team, he’s not Jewish and is, in part, of Lebanese extraction) and the notion that he will be more “even-handed” in his work rather than sympathetic to Israel. Like most other peace processors, Mitchell spent his time on the issue chasing the illusion of a Palestinian renunciation of terror and full acceptance of the Jewish state to be purchased by Israeli concessions on territory.
But Mitchell’s foreign policy credentials and his stature as a foreign-affairs guru stem chiefly from his role as the broker of the “Good Friday” agreement, which effectively ended the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
There are those who consider Mitchell’s role in that affair to be overrated. He presided over a process that codified the decision of Sinn Fein to acknowledge the futility of further terrorism and the willingness of the Unionists to accept them as political partners. Give him credit for doing so, but it’s not as if he persuaded the two sides to do anything that they had not already acknowledged as inevitable.
But whether or not we want to give Mitchell credit for any of this, there is a bigger problem with the precedent of Irish peace that is often brought forward as an example of how intractable conflicts can be resolved if only there is the will.
There are some striking differences between the two conflicts that speak directly not only to the intractability of the Arab war against Israel but to the ignorance and naïveté of those who believe that peace is always just around the corner. Those who cite Mitchell’s experience as proof that all the Middle East peace process needs is more American pressure need to learn some Irish history.
The first problem with this analogy is that the goal of Irish Republicans was not the destruction of Britain but an Ireland free of British rule. After many years of struggle, they achieved part of that goal in 1922. IRA leader Michael Collins accepted the partition of the country, which left six mainly Protestant northern counties in British hands but left the remaining 26 as an Irish Free State (which eventually transformed itself into the current Irish Republic). The Irish fought a civil war over whether to accept this deal. The result was a defeat for the maximalist rump of the IRA, though Collins was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
The conflict in Northern Ireland lasted seven more decades and was ended by the defeat of terrorism and the recognition by both the Ulster Protestants and London that power would be shared in the province. But it must still be understood that the historic compromise that Collins accepted has stood the test of time.
By contrast, the goal of Hamas and the Palestinian nationalist movement has always been the utter destruction of Israel, not merely the creation of a Palestinian Arab state alongside it.
Moreover, no Palestinian leader has ever made the sort of decision that Michael Collins made in 1922 and accepted less than he wanted in exchange for sovereignty in part of the country. Many thought that was what Yasser Arafat was doing in 1993 when he signed the Oslo Accords. But his subsequent record of terrorism, and his refusal to accept peace when it was offered at Camp David in July 2000, made it clear that real peace was never on his agenda.
Ireland has relative peace today because the Irish were prepared to take “yes” for an answer from the British and accept a favorable compromise — even if it wasn’t all they desired. The Palestinians have never been willing to do that because they have always seen the conflict as a zero-sum game in which the goal was Israel’s extinction, not merely its withdrawal from part of the country. Not even the most hard-line members of the Provisional IRA ever sought to end Britain’s existence as an independent state.
Until the Palestinians find their Michael Collins — a man who is willing to put aside his irredentist goals and wage war on his own side’s uncompromising extremists — peace will be impossible, no matter how badly George Mitchell wants it to happen.
This afternoon the new president signed an executive order that will close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba. Fine; he won the presidency, this is one of the things he promised to do, and he is going to do it. But there are several oddities to consider here. It was the opponents of Gitmo’s existence, not its advocates, who fetishized it and the proceedings therein. Gitmo was a means, not an end; one way of solving a convoluted problem that will not go away just because the facility is shuttered. Gitmo was a method of holding stateless actors—terrorists whose loyalty was not to a given country but to a group or movement–in a condition of statelessness. The purpose of doing so was to ensure that our enemies in the war on terror were not regularized, did not achieve the legal standing of lawful combatants in a sovereign fighting force. That was, as well, the reason they were denied the protections of the Geneva Convention, which, under the terms of the convention as written, they were not entitled to.
Determining how to deal with this unprecedented state of affairs is now the problem of the Obama administration, which will soon find the legal and moral problems raised by the detention of terrorists cannot be wished away with the stroke of an executive-action pen. If they are wished away in this manner without a corresponding seriousness about neutralizing the specific threat from captured terrorists, we will eventually reap the whirlwind and they will be responsible.
“We intend to win this fight,” President Obama said. “We are going to win it on our own terms.” That’s wonderful, as long as he remembers that the other people in the fight have their own terms too, and their terms won’t necessarily include letting us win it on our own terms.
Well, Caroline Kennedy has given up her quest to become the next Senator from New York. She gave the vague “personal reasons” excuse, and the New York Times‘s unnamed source hinted that it had to do with her uncle Ted’s health.
That doesn’t quite ring true, especially to anyone who can read a calendar. Senator Kennedy’s health has been front-page news for almost a year now. He announced his brain cancer last May. He had surgery for it in June, and in August was in such rough shape that he only attended a single night of the Democratic National Convention — where Caroline played a very prominent role. He was also rushed to the hospital for a seizure in September.
To presume that Caroline Kennedy was unaware of the seriousness of Ted’s health problems before Tuesday strains credibility. He is not only her uncle, but the patriarch of her family. She had to have been aware of things before she announced her interest in Hillary’s Senate seat last December 15.
The only thing to have changed since then has been Caroline’s public image and the decreasing likelihood of her being given the seat. Her stock in the public eye has crashed and burned spectacularly ever since people had a chance to actually see her for who she simply is, and not the fairy-tale princess image she’s cultivated for decades.
One school of thought has it that she is now in line to be awarded Ted’s seat upon his death or resignation, but that possibility doesn’t seem too likely, either. The seat will be assigned by Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, and he is not exactly a strong Kennedy ally. Indeed, Patrick is struggling with his own unpopularity at the moment — he’s been pretty much a disaster as governor — and will be up for re-election next year. He needs all the allies he can get, and the Kennedy political machine is nowhere near what it used to be. It can get Kennedys elected, but that’s about it.
Also, the twin figures of Kennedy and Kerry in the Senate have posed a logjam for Massachusetts Democrats for decades. They’ve been in the Senate since 1962 and 1985, respectively. That means that for over 20 years, no Democrats have been able to progress above the position of representative. The thought of getting a chance at one of those Senate seats sent Massachusetts Democrats into a frenzy in 2004, when Kerry was the Democratic nominee, and his defeat was a personal blow to many who coveted his seat.
Were Patrick to allow Caroline to pull a reverse of what her uncle Bobby did and move to Massachusetts just in time to become a senator, every single Democrat who thought he or she had a shot at that Senate seat would be livid. Many of them have spent decades “paying their dues” in the Bay State, and for Patrick to award that most coveted prize to another Kennedy — who in all likelihood, will camp there for at least a couple of decades — would infuriate and unite all of them in punishing Patrick in return.
No, it’s most likely that Caroline Kennedy’s political career is over before it began. The most probable explanation is that New York’s Governor Paterson quietly sent word to her that she was not going to get the seat, and should probably take her name out of the running if she wanted to save any face at all. Paterson will appoint someone else, Ted Kennedy will remain in the Senate, and Caroline will go back to doing whatever she did before Hillary Clinton was nominated to be Secretary of State.
The flirtation of the American Jewish voter with the Republican party over the past quarter-century has been, like all great flirtations, a lure and a torment. Both were in evidence again throughout 2008. Barack Obama was dogged throughout the year by questions about his close associations with Rashid Khalidi, an academic profoundly hostile to Israel who served as an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1980′s; with Jeremiah Wright, the pastor whose church issued flagrantly anti-Semitic literature; and with several aides and advisers who laid the blame for the failure of the Arab-Israeli peace process almost exclusively on the Jewish state. The controversy over these ties and Obama’s offer to meet without precondition with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President who sponsored a conference denying the fact of the Holocaust and whose aggressive nuclear program may pose an existential threat to Israel, together suggested that the 2008 election might prove a watershed for Jews and the GOP.
Click here to read the rest of this SPECIAL PREVIEW from the February issue of COMMENTARY.
J.G., you will notice that the President was not amused by Biden’s “joke.” He remained stiff and lock-jawed as the crowd gasped. It is not simply that Biden is gaffe-prone. That’s the media spin: “Oh, that silly, harmless Joe!” It is worse than that.
His lack of personal discipline results in rude and disrespectful behavior utterly at odds with the dignity of the office he now occupies. Image how mortified Chief Justice Roberts was by his error in administering the oath. Biden nevertheless couldn’t resist the need to rub it in. His personal insecurity runneth over and then manifests as obnoxious comments — Hillary wasn’t the first choice for Secretary of State, Chief Justice Roberts messed up, etc.
Well, the President can be annoyed all he likes, but Biden was his choice. (He may want to take this up with Princess Caroline and Eric Holder who headed the VP selection committee — further evidence that the latter is no prize himself.) Never before has “temperament” been declared such a priority in a presidential candidate, and let’s not forget that need to raise the standards of discourse in Washington. It makes it all the more baffling that he selected someone whose temperament is so abysmal and whose main contribution to the campaign seems to be offending friend and foe alike.
President Obama would do well to keep Biden away from the press, foreign leaders, other senior officials, and Congress. The motto for Biden must be “do no harm.” And for Biden that amounts to doing nothing. The perfect job description for the Vice President.
Israel is booming with excitement today — partially fueled by sheer political hype, and partially substantiated by semi-reliable leaks — over the possible release of abducted Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit had been kidnapped into Gaza a couple of days before the start of the 2006 Lebanon war, and his fate has not been settled yet, neither via negotiations nor by the 2009 Gaza war. He has been in captivity for over 900 days, and the public is restless over his status and health.
Many soldiers returning from the Gaza operation expressed frustration over Israel’s decision to not make his release a precondition for withdrawing forces from Gaza. Today, many are demanding that none of the Gaza passages be opened as long as Shalit remains in captivity there, and some of the ministers have even publicly announced that they will vote against any such measure.
“There is a sense that we can afford to relax our criteria on the prisoner release, as any benefit to Hamas would be more than offset by the damage it sustained in Gaza,” said one Israeli security official.
The official said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted to clinch a deal before he is replaced in a February 10 election, though it was not clear whether the Israeli security cabinet could approve all of the names on the Hamas release roster.
Hamas insists no progress has been made regarding his release, but Israeli newspapers carried more hopeful headlines today. Israel is willing to pay a heavy price for Shalit’s release, including a prisoner swap which would set free many dangerous terrorists. Israel has a history of initial resolve over not paying above-market rates in exchange for abducted soldiers followed by eventual decisions to do just that – a cycle mystifying to many observers. As I wrote half a year ago regarding the return of the bodies of two soldiers kidnapped into Lebanon (the incident that ignited the war):
Emotions in Israel are high whenever a deal like this is under discussion. The public seems to want the “boys” to be returned at whatever price, while the government is always torn between conflicting advice from professionals…. When it comes to the return of hostages, Israel tends to throw all strategic considerations out of the window. The famous example of Entebbe-when Israeli commandos raided a Ugandan airport 32 years ago and liberated dozens of hostages in one of the most heroic forays of the Israel Defense Forces-was the exception, not the rule. The truth is that in most cases, Israel will pay any price to get its soldiers back.
Prime Minister Olmert started out his term determined to change the rules of this costly game. He failed. Israelis tend to see the release of kidnapped soldiers as a moral cause. If a deal is struck, there’s always some who bicker about the exorbitant price. But when a deal is on the table, government officials just can’t afford to vote against it. It would be a politically suicidal vote, and the enemy knows it.
The upcoming elections are also a factor. Shalit’s release is the one trump-card that Labor’s Ehud Barak and Kadima’s Tzipi Livni may acquire that could steal what now seems an almost certain victory from Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu. Being the opposition leader, Netanyahu can’t get any credit for the release – only Barack and Livni can share it (or, more likely, fight over it).
So — is it going to be yet another round of political maneuvers similar to the ones we witnessed prior to the release of the Lebanon-2006 abducted soldiers? Israel is hopeful because victory on the battlefield leaves Hamas short of leverage. Achieving the release of hundreds of Palestinian terrorists will provide Hamas with a desperately needed claim to victory. Hizbollah — while more successful in 2006 than Hamas has been in the latest confrontation, had similar motives — as Jonathan Spyer of the GLORIA Center remarked:
Indeed, some analysts have suggested that group leader Hassan Nasrallah accepted a less favourable deal than he had originally held out for, in order to conclude the negotiations as speedily as possible. What is clear is that the prisoner swap is having the desired effect for Hizbullah – rebuilding its legitimacy. Most (though not all) of the leaders of the pro-western and pro-Saudi March 14 movement appear to be accepting the portrayal of the swap as a victory for Lebanon, and the consequent depiction of the infanticidal [terrorist Samir] Kuntar as a Lebanese national hero.
Hamas’s post-war vindication is not what Israel needs now. However – Israel feels it can no longer delay the release of Shalit (if a deal is possible). Strategic blunder? Yes: the net result will be a boost to Hamas’s public image in the eyes of its constituency, and more incentives to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the future. But Israel also has another strategic matter to consider: the Gaza war has catalyzed a rare unity of purpose in Israel’s society. Having the public united against the enemy is a serious factor, and the exchange of terrorists for the release of Shalit and of future kidnapped is the price it seems willing to pay. That is, until an Israeli leader is convincing enough to reeducate the Israeli public and turn the tide of opinion against such costly deals.
Kudos on the do-over oath. (Whose idea, I wonder?) The Constitution is not horseshoes — close doesn’t count. But conservatives should enjoy what may be the last moment in which strict constitutional interpretation carries the day in the Obama administration.
Two other presidents repeated the oath.
The New York Times declares that the Palestinian question brings “tough choices” for President Obama. Who knew? Lots of things are “tough” in the Obama Presidency — if only they were easy like they were for George W. Bush.
John Taylor dissects President Obama’s national security remarks and grammar.
Call me a cynic but unlike David Broder I don’t think President Obama’s race or age is going to make it easier to craft bipartisan tax and fiscal policy. By claiming the problem is just “emotional baggage” from the past, Broder ignores the very real differences of opinion on fundamental policies that separate the parties. In fifty years of covering Washington could he have missed that?
Minority Leader John Boehner gets to the heart of the matter on Guantanamo’s “closing” — where do we put them?
Tim Pawlenty sounds like a presidential candidate, a fairly articulate and wonky one.
Some people take issue with President Obama’s castigating legitimate political debate as “childish.” (h/t Megan McArdle) To be fair, some of the style of political discourse is pretty childish, but he does take the unity message a bit far. Writing off political opponents as “cynics” whose arguments are not legitimate disagreements but ones which “no longer apply” doesn’t sound very respectful or bipartisan. (That would be when you recognize the legitimacy of your opponents’ positions and incorporate some of their ideas.) Didn’t another President get lambasted for characterizing dissent as unpatriotic or taking an “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” stance? Hmm.
Does E.J. Dionne realize that the “era of responsibility” is straight from the Clinton playbook (“those who do the work and pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules”)? No, it’s all completely new and revolutionary!
Somehow it doesn’t seem that new: “President Obama’s new lobbying rules are fueling the concerns of senators from both parties regarding the nomination of William Lynn to become deputy defense secretary. Obama signed an executive order Wednesday strengthening the restrictions on lobbyists and former lobbyists entering his administration. . . Lynn lobbied on behalf of defense contractor Raytheon Co. until last year and now stands to be in a position to make decisions on a plethora of the defense giant’s programs as the new manager of the Pentagon.”
I rarely agree with Gail Collins, but on Tim Geithner I do: “The idea that there’s only one man who can save the day in a time of great economic crisis is worrisome, given the number of indispensable financial giants who’ve turned out to be deeply dispensable on second look. (Let us pause to remember a presidential campaign past, in which McCain said that if Alan Greenspan, then the Federal Reserve chairman, were to die, he should be propped up and kept on the job anyway.) Perhaps there’s no time to start digging up a new Treasury secretary at this point. But we are starting the new era with the bar set surprisingly low.”
Virtually every word of this from Nicholas Kristof is absurd and patently false: “The Bush policy of (mostly) disengagement and obliviousness to Palestinian suffering has made it harder to achieve a peace that is the best hope for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Mr. Obama’s calls Wednesday to Middle Eastern leaders were helpful, and he should immediately make clear that he wants Israel to halt the settlements and ease repressive restrictions on the West Bank.” Didn’t Bush spend endless time pursing a fantasy peace process and formally declare U.S. policy to be a two state solution? And is there is a shred of evidence that suggests Israel’s West Bank settlement policies affect Hamas? Didn’t Israel withdraw completely from Gaza?
George McGovern sounds what is sure to be the next rallying cry of the Left: out of Afghanistan.
Ex-McCain advisor John Weaver thinks it might be a problem on Meet the Press if the new head of the RNC belonged to a whites-only club. Just on MTP, you think?
As tough as it might be to make fun of President Obama, there is a ray of hope: Vice President Joe Biden is still the one-man gaffe machine. Those who thought the office of the vice-presidency might sober him up and curb his tongue — forget about it. He’s already mocking Chief Justice John Roberts over the botched oath of office for Obama. And if insulting the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court isn’t enough, Biden mentioning the flub is a delightful reminder that Barack Obama did his own mangling of the oath, too:
This is what Joe Biden does. This is what Joe Biden is.
The man cheerfully lets his mouth runneth over. There are literally decades of Biden’s verbal bombs, but here are some of the best of just the last campaign season:
He greeted one state lawmaker as an old friend and called for him to stand up — not realizing that his “old buddy” was confined to a wheelchair.
He described his eventual running mate as follows: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Why, I bet some of Biden’s best friends are black.
He talked about how President Roosevelt went on TV to reassure the nation after the stock-market crash of 1929 — almost three years before Roosevelt was elected and about a decade before the first commercial television station went on the air.
On the campaign trail, he told an audience, “Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me.” This dovetails quite elegantly with Mrs. Biden stating that Biden was given the choice of the vice presidency or the secretary of state slot — his choice meaning that Hillary got Biden’s castoff.
That’s just a few. Bidenisms are legion.
The one blessing here is that now Biden is out of the Senate and holds what is historically the least powerful position in government, only possessing whatever power the president chooses to imbue to the holder — and Obama doesn’t strike me as the sort who would let a lot of real power slip out of his hands.
Tim Geithner will likely be confirmed. But we are now setting a dangerous precedent: it is okay to be disingenuous in your confirmation hearing. It is hard to reach any other conclusion other than that Geithner is now fibbing to get through the Senate:
Perhaps the most embarrassing moment for Mr. Geithner was his attempt to evade the questions by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on why he had only remedied the error on back taxes for two of the four years. Because the statute of limitations had run out on the 2001-2002 tax payments, Mr. Geithner was not legally required to pay them — and didn’t until a Treasury confirmation hearing seemed possible.
But instead of fessing up that he had obeyed only the letter of the law, he insisted yesterday that, gee whiz, the earlier tax dodge didn’t even occur to him — an excuse that came off as legalistic and implausible. His replies finally brought Mr. Kyl to insist, “Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it — please?”
Mr. Geithner replied that “I did not believe I was avoiding my liability,” and that he had worked in government his entire life and “would never put myself in the position where I was deliberately not meeting my obligation as a taxpayer.”
Hence, one is left to conclude that he lied in response to Senator Kyl. The underlying offense may have been “minor,” and his judgment in chiseling the Treasury in 2006 flawed, but they might not be considered disqualifiers for this or future nominees. But what about lying? Is this the new standard for the Senate?
That’s the same predicament that Eric Holder is now in. It’s evident his underlying judgment in the Marc Rich pardon matter was deeply flawed — he, in fact, admits it. But it has become increasingly hard to believe his “I had no idea Rich was such a bad guy” defense. The facts scream otherwise. Yet he’s about to be whisked through, regardless of his lack of candor before the Senate.
This all comes as a new era of responsibility and transparency is declared. If that is the case, perhaps we should go back to the bad old days when nominees gracefully withdrew when their past transgressions proved embarrassing and Senators of both parties demanded a basic level of honesty. At some point Senators and the public will wish we hadn’t systematically lowered the bar for high office to the point where lying was tolerated and, in some sense, encouraged as a maneuver to obtain confirmation.
I don’t see it on the Internet, but the Jerusalem Post today runs a depressing excerpt of remarks delivered in Israel last month by George Mitchell, who apparently has been picked to be the next U.S. Middle East envoy:
“I understand the people in the Middle East are discouraged,” Mitchell said. “I understand your feelings. But from my experience in Northern Ireland, I share the feeling that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created by human beings, and can be ended by human beings. It may take a long time. But with committed, active, and strong leadership, it can happen here in the Middle East.”
Where to begin? For starters, remember why the Northern Ireland conflict ended: the IRA had been beaten. Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk have not been beaten. They have taken a licking from Israel but they will emerge stronger than ever — and unlikely to make peace. Efforts to end this conflict prematurely are likely to backfire as badly as did the Oslo peace process or the Israeli pullouts from southern Lebanon and Gaza, all of which convinced the Palestinians not that the Israelis were “partners for peace” but that they were a weak, decadent society ripe for defeat.
One would think that the circumstances today are less propitious for peace negotiations than ever. After all, Hamas, which is dedicated to Israel’s destruction, is in total control of Gaza and bids to replace Fatah in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas leads a discredited, corrupt, and ineffective administration. And Iran is getting more powerful, thus encouraging its proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah to be as intransigent as ever. For all these reasons, most Israelis that I talk to (I’ve been in Israel for the past few days) are resigned to the fact that their conflict with the Palestinians has no solution, at least not in the short-term. But here come the Obama-ites, led by Mitchell, with their naïve hope that the major obstacle to a “solution” was George W. Bush’s unwillingness to “engage,” and that they will make up for this failing.
Their failure is almost predestined. All I can hope is that the consequences won’t be too costly.