Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 3, 2009

Commentary of the Day

David S. Mazel, on Shmuel Rosner:

Gal-On has been mugged by reality. Good for her! I hope others in the peace camp are similarly attacked.

How many failures will it take for peaceniks to realize that it takes two sides to have peace? Not only must each side truly desire peace, but each side must have the means to implement it, support it, and maintain it. Peace is not unilateral. It cannot come from simple desires; it takes two. (For Israel it actually takes at least three: Israel, the PA, and Hamas, not to mention Europe, the U.S.A. and Israel’s neighbors.)

Israel is at a decision point with two urgent issues. One is Iran and the other is the peace process. When will Israel put an end (even a long delay would be good) to Iran’s nuclear program? That question will be answered soon enough; either Israel will take the action necessary or Iran will build its nuclear arsenal. Time is not on Israel’s side.

And Israel is at a decision point with the Palestinians: Should the peace process be dismissed for now until Palestinian leaders want peace and are able to deliver peace, or should Israel continue its futile process despite the present reality? The U.S.A. clearly wants to push the process, however, Israel is smarter than that. Even Gal-On sees that any peace process is foolish now and that Israel should wait. On that issue, time is on Israel’s side. Israel can wait and look forward to a future peace that will be worth implementing and that will be maintained. It’s not now though.

So, this is good news and good news is welcomed news. Mugging, as a metaphor, isn’t all bad, is it?

David S. Mazel, on Shmuel Rosner:

Gal-On has been mugged by reality. Good for her! I hope others in the peace camp are similarly attacked.

How many failures will it take for peaceniks to realize that it takes two sides to have peace? Not only must each side truly desire peace, but each side must have the means to implement it, support it, and maintain it. Peace is not unilateral. It cannot come from simple desires; it takes two. (For Israel it actually takes at least three: Israel, the PA, and Hamas, not to mention Europe, the U.S.A. and Israel’s neighbors.)

Israel is at a decision point with two urgent issues. One is Iran and the other is the peace process. When will Israel put an end (even a long delay would be good) to Iran’s nuclear program? That question will be answered soon enough; either Israel will take the action necessary or Iran will build its nuclear arsenal. Time is not on Israel’s side.

And Israel is at a decision point with the Palestinians: Should the peace process be dismissed for now until Palestinian leaders want peace and are able to deliver peace, or should Israel continue its futile process despite the present reality? The U.S.A. clearly wants to push the process, however, Israel is smarter than that. Even Gal-On sees that any peace process is foolish now and that Israel should wait. On that issue, time is on Israel’s side. Israel can wait and look forward to a future peace that will be worth implementing and that will be maintained. It’s not now though.

So, this is good news and good news is welcomed news. Mugging, as a metaphor, isn’t all bad, is it?

Read Less

Imported Soccer Passion Strictly Phony

This weekend America celebrates the most precious rite of spring as, like the blooming of flowers and the appearance of sunshine, the regular baseball season begins. Here in New York, we’ve got two new beautiful stadiums for our teams to enjoy and high hopes of success for both the Yankees and the Mets. But right now all thirty teams are 0-0, so whether you root for the Washington Nationals or the Kansas City Royals, everybody’s entitled to dream of pennants and the World Series.

But for some Americans, our national pastime is taking a back seat to that game that everybody else in the world thinks is grand: soccer. On Tuesday, the New York Times chose to interrupt its baseball coverage with a feature about how much they love soccer in that haven of high-tech and counter-culture, Seattle.

It’s a free country and if grownups want to pretend that what others call football is a game that you pay to watch rather than something that little children do for exercise, that’s okay. Soccer is a popular youth sport since it involves very little equipment and requires children to do little more than run around trying to kick a ball. But it’s been a very hard sell for Americans as a pro sport.

Lots of decent Americans like the game and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I think the fact that the number one sport in the world is so unpopular here is a fine symbolic expression of American exceptionalism.

But the Times piece is a reminder of just how alien pro soccer is to Americans.  Soccer fans here are forced to root for American teams that have names ending with the initials FC (Football Club). Other team names are distinct echoes of other foreign sports traditions, and feature the word “United.” Fans also wear scarves with their team colors, just like the Euros. In other words, the whole deal is a phony European import that will never succeed as an American game despite all the puffery it gets from the mainstream media.

As the season begins on Sunday, let the cry of “play ball” resound throughout this fair land, and by that I mean baseball and not a game in which fans have to pretend to be Europeans in order to properly enjoy themselves.

This weekend America celebrates the most precious rite of spring as, like the blooming of flowers and the appearance of sunshine, the regular baseball season begins. Here in New York, we’ve got two new beautiful stadiums for our teams to enjoy and high hopes of success for both the Yankees and the Mets. But right now all thirty teams are 0-0, so whether you root for the Washington Nationals or the Kansas City Royals, everybody’s entitled to dream of pennants and the World Series.

But for some Americans, our national pastime is taking a back seat to that game that everybody else in the world thinks is grand: soccer. On Tuesday, the New York Times chose to interrupt its baseball coverage with a feature about how much they love soccer in that haven of high-tech and counter-culture, Seattle.

It’s a free country and if grownups want to pretend that what others call football is a game that you pay to watch rather than something that little children do for exercise, that’s okay. Soccer is a popular youth sport since it involves very little equipment and requires children to do little more than run around trying to kick a ball. But it’s been a very hard sell for Americans as a pro sport.

Lots of decent Americans like the game and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I think the fact that the number one sport in the world is so unpopular here is a fine symbolic expression of American exceptionalism.

But the Times piece is a reminder of just how alien pro soccer is to Americans.  Soccer fans here are forced to root for American teams that have names ending with the initials FC (Football Club). Other team names are distinct echoes of other foreign sports traditions, and feature the word “United.” Fans also wear scarves with their team colors, just like the Euros. In other words, the whole deal is a phony European import that will never succeed as an American game despite all the puffery it gets from the mainstream media.

As the season begins on Sunday, let the cry of “play ball” resound throughout this fair land, and by that I mean baseball and not a game in which fans have to pretend to be Europeans in order to properly enjoy themselves.

Read Less

Re: The Right Approach To Regulation

John, Paul Singer’s contribution provides a welcome respite from the strawman arguments on both sides. The Democrats contend that Republicans want free markets with no regulation, the Republicans claim Democrats want to stifle markets altogether. Democrats led by the president point to “deregulation” as the source of our current problems, when the only real deregulation in the 1990s was in commercial banking. (The real failure was in failure to devise new regulations for derivatives,  an action which many supposed experts resisted vigorously.)

We’ve had plenty of regulation, but it has been woefully inadequate and inept. The SEC allowed Bernie Madoff to operate under its nose and Tim Geithner should plead guilty to fiddling while the economy burned.  None of that is to say that regulation isn’t needed, only that it is not easy to get it right.

We have seen some very troubling moves in the wake of the crisis, most specifically the acquisition of tremendous  authority in the Fed, which is shedding its image as an independent entity and losing its focus as watchdog of the nation’s money supply. There is good reason to place these powers elsewhere.

So the problem is not just a technical one; it is one of confidence and trust. Just as private businesses have lost the respect and confidence of the public so too have public institutions lost their luster. Conservatives and the public at large have every right to be wary of technocrats bearing regulatory gifts.

But conservatives have every reason to engage in the debate and help devise, to the extent they are able, a sane and workable system. The alternative is a highly personalized, ad hoc system of intrusion by Geithner, Obama and Bernanke. One is reminded of the current state of  Constitutional law, which boils down to “What does Justice Kennedy think?” Now we are at the whim of three individuals’ judgment as to the viability of firms and the rules under which they are to be governed. Far better to return to the rule of law — objective ground rules that don’t change daily and that aren’t dependent upon the personalities of those who inhabit government posts.

John, Paul Singer’s contribution provides a welcome respite from the strawman arguments on both sides. The Democrats contend that Republicans want free markets with no regulation, the Republicans claim Democrats want to stifle markets altogether. Democrats led by the president point to “deregulation” as the source of our current problems, when the only real deregulation in the 1990s was in commercial banking. (The real failure was in failure to devise new regulations for derivatives,  an action which many supposed experts resisted vigorously.)

We’ve had plenty of regulation, but it has been woefully inadequate and inept. The SEC allowed Bernie Madoff to operate under its nose and Tim Geithner should plead guilty to fiddling while the economy burned.  None of that is to say that regulation isn’t needed, only that it is not easy to get it right.

We have seen some very troubling moves in the wake of the crisis, most specifically the acquisition of tremendous  authority in the Fed, which is shedding its image as an independent entity and losing its focus as watchdog of the nation’s money supply. There is good reason to place these powers elsewhere.

So the problem is not just a technical one; it is one of confidence and trust. Just as private businesses have lost the respect and confidence of the public so too have public institutions lost their luster. Conservatives and the public at large have every right to be wary of technocrats bearing regulatory gifts.

But conservatives have every reason to engage in the debate and help devise, to the extent they are able, a sane and workable system. The alternative is a highly personalized, ad hoc system of intrusion by Geithner, Obama and Bernanke. One is reminded of the current state of  Constitutional law, which boils down to “What does Justice Kennedy think?” Now we are at the whim of three individuals’ judgment as to the viability of firms and the rules under which they are to be governed. Far better to return to the rule of law — objective ground rules that don’t change daily and that aren’t dependent upon the personalities of those who inhabit government posts.

Read Less

What to Do With Afghan Detainees?

At first I thought that U.S. District Judge John Bates’s ruling that prisoners held at Bagram have the right to file habeas petitions with the U.S. courts was a disaster. But on closer examination, it doesn’t seem so bad. He focused his ruling exclusively on non-Afghan prisoners detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, essentially extending the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous ruling on Gitmo. He did not apply his ruling to prisoners detained in Afghanistan, who constitute the bulk of Bagram detainees. He wrote:

It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram, which respondents correctly maintain is in a theater of war. It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries — far from any Afghan battlefield — and then bring them to a theater of war, where the
Constitution arguably may not reach.

That means that U.S. forces can continue to detain terrorism suspects captured in Afghanistan without instituting U.S. criminal court proceedings. The real difficulty so far in Afghanistan hasn’t been with the U.S. courts. It’s been with NATO, which allows troops to detain suspects for only 96 hours. As a result of that overly restrictive policy, we are holding only 621 detainees at Bagram — far too few, given that there are certainly over 10,000 insurgents operating in Afghanistan. (In Iraq, a smaller country, our forces were holding 24,000 detainees at the height of the surge.)

President Obama didn’t mention legal issues in unrolling his new Afghan strategy but finding a way to process and hold more detainees has to be a critical part of the war effort going forward. I hope that military commanders are not dissuaded from addressing this urgent task by Judge Bates’s ruling-which, in any case, is certain to be appealed.

At first I thought that U.S. District Judge John Bates’s ruling that prisoners held at Bagram have the right to file habeas petitions with the U.S. courts was a disaster. But on closer examination, it doesn’t seem so bad. He focused his ruling exclusively on non-Afghan prisoners detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, essentially extending the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous ruling on Gitmo. He did not apply his ruling to prisoners detained in Afghanistan, who constitute the bulk of Bagram detainees. He wrote:

It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram, which respondents correctly maintain is in a theater of war. It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries — far from any Afghan battlefield — and then bring them to a theater of war, where the
Constitution arguably may not reach.

That means that U.S. forces can continue to detain terrorism suspects captured in Afghanistan without instituting U.S. criminal court proceedings. The real difficulty so far in Afghanistan hasn’t been with the U.S. courts. It’s been with NATO, which allows troops to detain suspects for only 96 hours. As a result of that overly restrictive policy, we are holding only 621 detainees at Bagram — far too few, given that there are certainly over 10,000 insurgents operating in Afghanistan. (In Iraq, a smaller country, our forces were holding 24,000 detainees at the height of the surge.)

President Obama didn’t mention legal issues in unrolling his new Afghan strategy but finding a way to process and hold more detainees has to be a critical part of the war effort going forward. I hope that military commanders are not dissuaded from addressing this urgent task by Judge Bates’s ruling-which, in any case, is certain to be appealed.

Read Less

Our “Entire Approach to the Region”?

Over on his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt corrects his own previous assertion that Robert Kagan “helped derail efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Apparently, Kagan not only didn’t work against Israeli-Palestinian peace — he’s actually never written or spoken about the subject at all! Naturally, the notion that a renowned “neocon” has steered clear of the conflict is jarring to Walt’s narrow it’s-always-about-Israel-for-them worldview. And so the face-saving proceeds:

Kagan’s statement raises an obvious question: what are his views on a two-state solution? He has been a prolific commentator on U.S. foreign policy in recent years — including our Middle East policy — yet he has apparently remained silent on one of the most important issues that shapes our entire approach to the region.

Of course, Walt has it all wrong. The two-state solution doesn’t shape our “entire approach to the region.” Rather, the main U.S. goals in the Middle East are promoting stability to ensure the free flow of oil, as well as containing – if not defeating – radical leaders and movements that threaten our national security. Indeed, the various efforts comprising our current policy in the region are all geared towards these ends: preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities; ensuring the rise of a stable democracy in Iraq; supporting Israel to the extent that its neighbors are deterred from fighting it; backing Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority against Hamas; and maintaining strong alliances with Gulf Arab regimes.

In turn, promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only relevant to U.S. foreign policy interests insofar as the creation of a Palestinian state is a force for regional stability – and not a platform for radicalism. This is particularly true if you’re a realist – as Walt claims to be – and thereby prefer a foreign policy that places core national interests above moralistic motivations, such as securing Palestinians’ national rights.

Over on his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt corrects his own previous assertion that Robert Kagan “helped derail efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Apparently, Kagan not only didn’t work against Israeli-Palestinian peace — he’s actually never written or spoken about the subject at all! Naturally, the notion that a renowned “neocon” has steered clear of the conflict is jarring to Walt’s narrow it’s-always-about-Israel-for-them worldview. And so the face-saving proceeds:

Kagan’s statement raises an obvious question: what are his views on a two-state solution? He has been a prolific commentator on U.S. foreign policy in recent years — including our Middle East policy — yet he has apparently remained silent on one of the most important issues that shapes our entire approach to the region.

Of course, Walt has it all wrong. The two-state solution doesn’t shape our “entire approach to the region.” Rather, the main U.S. goals in the Middle East are promoting stability to ensure the free flow of oil, as well as containing – if not defeating – radical leaders and movements that threaten our national security. Indeed, the various efforts comprising our current policy in the region are all geared towards these ends: preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities; ensuring the rise of a stable democracy in Iraq; supporting Israel to the extent that its neighbors are deterred from fighting it; backing Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority against Hamas; and maintaining strong alliances with Gulf Arab regimes.

In turn, promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only relevant to U.S. foreign policy interests insofar as the creation of a Palestinian state is a force for regional stability – and not a platform for radicalism. This is particularly true if you’re a realist – as Walt claims to be – and thereby prefer a foreign policy that places core national interests above moralistic motivations, such as securing Palestinians’ national rights.

Read Less

Who Pays the Bills at British Universities?

The Centre for Social Cohesion, a British think-tank led by Douglas Murray, has just published a report by Robin Simcox, on “A Degree of Influence: The Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities.”  Anyone who is interested in the independence of higher education in the West should read it carefully.

The report makes the invaluable points that, first, the secrecy of foreign donations to British universities is cause for concern, and, second, the donations are large, frequently appear to be given for political reasons, and come predominantly from the Middle East and China.

The bulk of the report is a careful itemization of what is known, and what is not known, about foreign donations to leading British universities to support the study of subjects the government has designated as strategically important — which include the Middle East and China.  While donations from the Middle East tend to draw more attention and controversy, the evidence Simcox presents suggests tha the Chinese support of “Confucius Institutes” is better coordinated and more blatantly biased.

Simcox concludes that “universities are placing their objectivity at risk by accepting huge financial donations without putting in place safeguards to ensure that they retain their neutrality,” and that their pursuit of these donations from politically repressive states is inconsistent with their professed support for human rights.

The report’s recommendation of greater openness about past and present agreements is eminently sensible, though there is little if any chance that universities will adopt it, simply because it would cost them money.  Of course, that reluctance is always a one-way street: no university could get away with accepting a donation from a right-wing authoritarian regime, but they never hesitate to take money from far worse places with which the left wants to “engage.”

From my own knowledge, Simcox is, if anything, understating the case.  As one friend who was offered a position in South East Asian studies at a leading British university told me, he was informed that part of his job there would be to ingratiate the university with visiting foreign dignitaries, so as to keep their governments on board for future donations.  That was not a job he wanted, so he turned down the offer.

Undoubtedly, others will be quite willing to take on the job of academic glad-hander in chief to dictators.  Absent serious and lasting engagement by alumni, there is nothing at all to prevent many more of those positions from being created.

The Centre for Social Cohesion, a British think-tank led by Douglas Murray, has just published a report by Robin Simcox, on “A Degree of Influence: The Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities.”  Anyone who is interested in the independence of higher education in the West should read it carefully.

The report makes the invaluable points that, first, the secrecy of foreign donations to British universities is cause for concern, and, second, the donations are large, frequently appear to be given for political reasons, and come predominantly from the Middle East and China.

The bulk of the report is a careful itemization of what is known, and what is not known, about foreign donations to leading British universities to support the study of subjects the government has designated as strategically important — which include the Middle East and China.  While donations from the Middle East tend to draw more attention and controversy, the evidence Simcox presents suggests tha the Chinese support of “Confucius Institutes” is better coordinated and more blatantly biased.

Simcox concludes that “universities are placing their objectivity at risk by accepting huge financial donations without putting in place safeguards to ensure that they retain their neutrality,” and that their pursuit of these donations from politically repressive states is inconsistent with their professed support for human rights.

The report’s recommendation of greater openness about past and present agreements is eminently sensible, though there is little if any chance that universities will adopt it, simply because it would cost them money.  Of course, that reluctance is always a one-way street: no university could get away with accepting a donation from a right-wing authoritarian regime, but they never hesitate to take money from far worse places with which the left wants to “engage.”

From my own knowledge, Simcox is, if anything, understating the case.  As one friend who was offered a position in South East Asian studies at a leading British university told me, he was informed that part of his job there would be to ingratiate the university with visiting foreign dignitaries, so as to keep their governments on board for future donations.  That was not a job he wanted, so he turned down the offer.

Undoubtedly, others will be quite willing to take on the job of academic glad-hander in chief to dictators.  Absent serious and lasting engagement by alumni, there is nothing at all to prevent many more of those positions from being created.

Read Less

The Not So Peaceful Saudi Peace Intitiative

Among the least discussed aspects of President Obama’s European tour was his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah (or “Abdullah the Great,” as would-be Obama intelligence chief Charles Freeman likes to call him) in which the president endorsed the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.

The Saudi initiative is nowadays considered just another shorthand term for support for a 2-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians living happily ever after alongside each other. However, a short refresher course on the plan would reveal that it is anything but.

For those whose memories do not extend all the way back to 2002, the Saudi plan was promoted by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who claimed he and one of the Saudi royals had a Vulcan mind-meld moment and that the result was a peace plan that fell onto the Saudis’ desks like manna from heaven. For Friedman, it was a typical piece of self-promotion but for the Saudis it was a gift from the Times that kept on giving. In 2002 ,the Saudis had a big public relations problem stemming from the 9/11 attacks. Due to our typically parochial view of the world, most Americans identified the oil-rich Kingdom with Al Qaeda. But rather than change their guiding philosophy, the Saudis decided that it would be smarter to earn some good PR by pretending to make peace with Israel. And with an assist from the feckless Friedman, that’s just what they did.

Their peace plan did say they would recognize the State of Israel; that was certainly progress. But the details of their plan (which they have consistently said were not negotiable) also called for complete Israeli withdrawal from every centimeter of disputed land that Israel took in 1967, and recognition of the Palestinian “right of return.” Following through on the latter would flood Israel with millions of descendants of refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. So, despite the sweet talk, what the Saudi plan really calls for is two Palestinian states, albeit one with a sizeable number of Jews living there. In other words, the Saudi initiative is no peace plan at all, that is as long as you think Israel has a right to be the one Jewish state on the planet amid the 22 existing Arab countries (in most of which, including Saudi Arabia, Jews are not permitted to live).

Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, thinks making nice with the Saudis makes good diplomatic sense for the United States. But if he, like Bush, really wants to advance the cause of peace, he’ll tell his new Saudi pals to come up with a real peace plan. Who knows? Maybe Tom Friedman can even get a column out of it.

Among the least discussed aspects of President Obama’s European tour was his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah (or “Abdullah the Great,” as would-be Obama intelligence chief Charles Freeman likes to call him) in which the president endorsed the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.

The Saudi initiative is nowadays considered just another shorthand term for support for a 2-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians living happily ever after alongside each other. However, a short refresher course on the plan would reveal that it is anything but.

For those whose memories do not extend all the way back to 2002, the Saudi plan was promoted by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who claimed he and one of the Saudi royals had a Vulcan mind-meld moment and that the result was a peace plan that fell onto the Saudis’ desks like manna from heaven. For Friedman, it was a typical piece of self-promotion but for the Saudis it was a gift from the Times that kept on giving. In 2002 ,the Saudis had a big public relations problem stemming from the 9/11 attacks. Due to our typically parochial view of the world, most Americans identified the oil-rich Kingdom with Al Qaeda. But rather than change their guiding philosophy, the Saudis decided that it would be smarter to earn some good PR by pretending to make peace with Israel. And with an assist from the feckless Friedman, that’s just what they did.

Their peace plan did say they would recognize the State of Israel; that was certainly progress. But the details of their plan (which they have consistently said were not negotiable) also called for complete Israeli withdrawal from every centimeter of disputed land that Israel took in 1967, and recognition of the Palestinian “right of return.” Following through on the latter would flood Israel with millions of descendants of refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. So, despite the sweet talk, what the Saudi plan really calls for is two Palestinian states, albeit one with a sizeable number of Jews living there. In other words, the Saudi initiative is no peace plan at all, that is as long as you think Israel has a right to be the one Jewish state on the planet amid the 22 existing Arab countries (in most of which, including Saudi Arabia, Jews are not permitted to live).

Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, thinks making nice with the Saudis makes good diplomatic sense for the United States. But if he, like Bush, really wants to advance the cause of peace, he’ll tell his new Saudi pals to come up with a real peace plan. Who knows? Maybe Tom Friedman can even get a column out of it.

Read Less

If It Keeps Up, He Won’t Have 50

The Wall Street Journal editors are tickled:

In a vote late Wednesday, no fewer than 26 Democrats joined all 41 Republicans to insist that any new cap and tax on carbon energy would require at least 60 votes.

Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander called it “the biggest vote of the year” so far, and he’s right. This means Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t jam cap and tax through as part of this year’s budget resolution with a bare majority of 50 Senators. More broadly, it’s a signal that California and East Coast Democrats won’t be able to sock it to coal and manufacturing-heavy Midwestern states without a fight. Senators voting in favor of the 60-vote rule included liberals from Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia.

They might not want to break out the champagne quite yet. There is a conference ahead during which the House and Senate versions of the budget will be ironed out. If you recall, that is where the mischief on AIG bonuses occurred last time. There’s no guarantee of what will be put back in and what will come out the other end.

But we do know the president’s majorities are getting narrower. The budget passed the House with no Republican votes and 20 Democrats defectors. It passed the Senate by a 55-43 margin, with no Republican votes and two Democrats voting “no.” That is considerably worse than his tally on the stimulus bill. It seems that the more of his agenda he makes public, the fewer votes he gathers. For fiscal conservatives, this is progress.

The Wall Street Journal editors are tickled:

In a vote late Wednesday, no fewer than 26 Democrats joined all 41 Republicans to insist that any new cap and tax on carbon energy would require at least 60 votes.

Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander called it “the biggest vote of the year” so far, and he’s right. This means Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t jam cap and tax through as part of this year’s budget resolution with a bare majority of 50 Senators. More broadly, it’s a signal that California and East Coast Democrats won’t be able to sock it to coal and manufacturing-heavy Midwestern states without a fight. Senators voting in favor of the 60-vote rule included liberals from Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia.

They might not want to break out the champagne quite yet. There is a conference ahead during which the House and Senate versions of the budget will be ironed out. If you recall, that is where the mischief on AIG bonuses occurred last time. There’s no guarantee of what will be put back in and what will come out the other end.

But we do know the president’s majorities are getting narrower. The budget passed the House with no Republican votes and 20 Democrats defectors. It passed the Senate by a 55-43 margin, with no Republican votes and two Democrats voting “no.” That is considerably worse than his tally on the stimulus bill. It seems that the more of his agenda he makes public, the fewer votes he gathers. For fiscal conservatives, this is progress.

Read Less

The Times, in a Knot over Stevens

In that intellectual wasteland known as the typical New York Times editorial, inconvenient facts and simple logic are never allowed to intrude on the pursuit of the editorial board’s agenda or on a good ad hominem attack on former President George W. Bush.

But today’s editorial on the collapse of the case against former Senator Ted Stevens rises to the level of self-parody. I’m no fan of Ted Stevens, who is a poster child for all that is wrong with Congress and members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. But the abuse of power and ethical violations by the prosecutors last year led directly to their being held in contempt by the judge and the current attorney general, and to the convictions being voided, and the case against Stevens being dropped.

The Times writes, “Given the flagrant partisanship of the Bush Justice Department, it is especially reassuring to see Mr. Holder ignore party lines to do the right thing by Mr. Stevens. It has been far too long since the attorney general seemed interested in enforcing ethics and nonpartisanship in a department that has been shockingly lacking in both.”

So let’s see:  It was the Republican Bush Justice Department that, in an act of gross partisanship, indicted the longest-sitting Republican senator in history last year. And it was the Republican Justice Department that tried this Republican senator, withholding exculpatory evidence to insure his conviction a mere eight days before the general election. Almost certainly because of that conviction, the Republican senator went down in a narrow defeat — fewer than 4000 votes — giving way to the first elected Democrat in the Alaska congressional delegation in almost three decades.

Has “Saturday Night Live” infiltrated the Times? Nah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

In that intellectual wasteland known as the typical New York Times editorial, inconvenient facts and simple logic are never allowed to intrude on the pursuit of the editorial board’s agenda or on a good ad hominem attack on former President George W. Bush.

But today’s editorial on the collapse of the case against former Senator Ted Stevens rises to the level of self-parody. I’m no fan of Ted Stevens, who is a poster child for all that is wrong with Congress and members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. But the abuse of power and ethical violations by the prosecutors last year led directly to their being held in contempt by the judge and the current attorney general, and to the convictions being voided, and the case against Stevens being dropped.

The Times writes, “Given the flagrant partisanship of the Bush Justice Department, it is especially reassuring to see Mr. Holder ignore party lines to do the right thing by Mr. Stevens. It has been far too long since the attorney general seemed interested in enforcing ethics and nonpartisanship in a department that has been shockingly lacking in both.”

So let’s see:  It was the Republican Bush Justice Department that, in an act of gross partisanship, indicted the longest-sitting Republican senator in history last year. And it was the Republican Justice Department that tried this Republican senator, withholding exculpatory evidence to insure his conviction a mere eight days before the general election. Almost certainly because of that conviction, the Republican senator went down in a narrow defeat — fewer than 4000 votes — giving way to the first elected Democrat in the Alaska congressional delegation in almost three decades.

Has “Saturday Night Live” infiltrated the Times? Nah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Read Less

Not Exactly Lightening our Load

Some may choose to call this progress: “In a symbolic gesture, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will accept one terrorist suspect being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.”

But I’m not so sure. If nakedly homicidal plots set off a chain of events that have brought us around to admittedly symbolic gestures, it’s fair to say the West took a wrong turn somewhere. Sarkozy’s announcement highlights the thorough transformation of a national security concern into a circus of self-congratulation. The charges against Guantanamo detainees are not symbolic; nor are the crimes of which they are accused. “We are terrorists to the bone,” declared a recent statement from a group of five 9/11 planners being held at Guantanamo.

And us? We’re moral preeners all the way down to our skins. While released detainees reconnect with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, European and American leaders toss around the Gitmo issue like a vanity mirror. Barack Obama scolds us on the “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” Nicolas Sarkozy  says, “We can’t condemn the United States because they have that camp and then wash our hands of it once they close it. That’s not what being allies is about.” No, every student of history knows that great alliances are built on symbolically handing off prisoners in units of one.

It’s wonderful to have a friendly relationship with France. But we’ve enjoyed that ever since May 2007 when Sarkozy became the French president. All closing Guantanamo Bay did for U.S.-EU relations is complicate them. It created unnecessary tension around the issue of prisoner relocation. Maybe if there were 200-plus European nations willing to each take in one token prisoner we’d have a workable plan.

Some may choose to call this progress: “In a symbolic gesture, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will accept one terrorist suspect being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.”

But I’m not so sure. If nakedly homicidal plots set off a chain of events that have brought us around to admittedly symbolic gestures, it’s fair to say the West took a wrong turn somewhere. Sarkozy’s announcement highlights the thorough transformation of a national security concern into a circus of self-congratulation. The charges against Guantanamo detainees are not symbolic; nor are the crimes of which they are accused. “We are terrorists to the bone,” declared a recent statement from a group of five 9/11 planners being held at Guantanamo.

And us? We’re moral preeners all the way down to our skins. While released detainees reconnect with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, European and American leaders toss around the Gitmo issue like a vanity mirror. Barack Obama scolds us on the “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” Nicolas Sarkozy  says, “We can’t condemn the United States because they have that camp and then wash our hands of it once they close it. That’s not what being allies is about.” No, every student of history knows that great alliances are built on symbolically handing off prisoners in units of one.

It’s wonderful to have a friendly relationship with France. But we’ve enjoyed that ever since May 2007 when Sarkozy became the French president. All closing Guantanamo Bay did for U.S.-EU relations is complicate them. It created unnecessary tension around the issue of prisoner relocation. Maybe if there were 200-plus European nations willing to each take in one token prisoner we’d have a workable plan.

Read Less

What Moderate Means in Tehran

According to an analysis published by Reuters, the new U.S. administration is in agreement with some Western European countries that the June presidential election in Iran could conceivably bring a moderate to power and create opportunities for diplomacy.

Do any candidates in the race warrant such hopes? There are currently three challengers to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — but Mirhossein Musavi seems in pole position.  He is viewed as a reformist and fondly remembered by some in Iran for his competent management of the ship of state during the Iran-Iraq war, when he was prime minister. Next comes Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf — a former IRGC air force commander with a clear track record of supporting hard-line stances domestically, including support for the crackdown of students in the summer of 1999, and police brutality in 2003 when he was chief of police. He is close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and so is the other candidate — Mehdi Karrubi — who’s the only cleric to run.

On the surface, one could count on Mousavi to show a more reasonable face to the world than the current president has. But quite aside from Mousavi’s past relations with the current supreme leader not always being a friendly one — Khamenei was president when Mousavi was prime minister — there is little difference on nuclear issues between Iran’s various factions. Consider this: It was on Mousavi’s watch that, in 1984, Iran restarted its nuclear program. It was during his time as prime minister and later on during the presidency of Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani that Iran’s illicit nuclear procurements from Pakistan — including weapons’ designs — took place. Rafsanjani did nothing to stop, suspend, or slow down Iran’s nuclear program — only Khatami did when he was president, and only after the program was exposed to the world. But if one believes certain details in the U.S. 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, that means Khatami’s Iran spent 5 years of his presidency building nuclear weapons — hardly an indication of a reformist changing direction.

For these reasons, it is a mistake to make the June presidential election such a watershed event. Even a reformist president is unlikely to renounce Iran’s nuclear ambitions, unless under severe pressure from the outside — Khatami allegedly suspended Iran’s weaponization program and agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment due to outside pressure, not for lack of enthusiasm in the program. Whether Obama wishes to negotiate before imposing new sanctions is a different question — but tougher sanctions should not fall prey to electoral cycles.

According to an analysis published by Reuters, the new U.S. administration is in agreement with some Western European countries that the June presidential election in Iran could conceivably bring a moderate to power and create opportunities for diplomacy.

Do any candidates in the race warrant such hopes? There are currently three challengers to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — but Mirhossein Musavi seems in pole position.  He is viewed as a reformist and fondly remembered by some in Iran for his competent management of the ship of state during the Iran-Iraq war, when he was prime minister. Next comes Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf — a former IRGC air force commander with a clear track record of supporting hard-line stances domestically, including support for the crackdown of students in the summer of 1999, and police brutality in 2003 when he was chief of police. He is close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and so is the other candidate — Mehdi Karrubi — who’s the only cleric to run.

On the surface, one could count on Mousavi to show a more reasonable face to the world than the current president has. But quite aside from Mousavi’s past relations with the current supreme leader not always being a friendly one — Khamenei was president when Mousavi was prime minister — there is little difference on nuclear issues between Iran’s various factions. Consider this: It was on Mousavi’s watch that, in 1984, Iran restarted its nuclear program. It was during his time as prime minister and later on during the presidency of Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani that Iran’s illicit nuclear procurements from Pakistan — including weapons’ designs — took place. Rafsanjani did nothing to stop, suspend, or slow down Iran’s nuclear program — only Khatami did when he was president, and only after the program was exposed to the world. But if one believes certain details in the U.S. 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, that means Khatami’s Iran spent 5 years of his presidency building nuclear weapons — hardly an indication of a reformist changing direction.

For these reasons, it is a mistake to make the June presidential election such a watershed event. Even a reformist president is unlikely to renounce Iran’s nuclear ambitions, unless under severe pressure from the outside — Khatami allegedly suspended Iran’s weaponization program and agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment due to outside pressure, not for lack of enthusiasm in the program. Whether Obama wishes to negotiate before imposing new sanctions is a different question — but tougher sanctions should not fall prey to electoral cycles.

Read Less

Gal-On Getting It?

Zehava Gal-On is a dovish former Israeli Knesset member. She’s probably the most pacifist member of any party (in this case, Meretz) still calling itself Zionist. Gal-On is no longer in the Knesset because Meretz decided to reinvent itself by adding some negligible new members to its candidate list in the hope of challenging Labor’s grasp on the center-left electorate. Gal-On herself, confident in the party’s prospects for attracting new votes through this scheme, agreed to step down from her original slot in order to make room for a newcomer. Gal-On was supposed to be candidate number four, but the new Meretz only got three seats.

Now Gal-On, one of Israel’s most active and respected parliamentarians, is recovering from her political and personal defeat. Her first interview since the election was naturally granted to Haaretz.  In it she airs some of her frustrations with big-league mentors from the Left: On author Amos Oz’s declaration that “The Labor Party has concluded its historic role,” she says, “Oz ended up burying Labor and Meretz both.”

But the paragraph I found most intriguing in her long interview is about the Palestinian issue. Gal-On — and I cannot overemphasize her dovishness — seems to have realized, just like Avigdor Lieberman, what a joke the Annapolis Process really is. Here is her take on the desired agenda of the Israeli left vis-à-vis the Palestinians:

We have to tell the public that we have a problem with the Palestinians. What we thought would happen didn’t happen so quickly. I think it’s an urgent interest of ours to end the occupation: both morally and in terms of what’s in Israel’s best interest. But there’s a problem. What are we proposing to our public? Should we just tell them again that we’re going to talk with Abu Mazen? I’m in favor of talking with Abu Mazen, but it’s like ‘giving full gas in neutral.’ I, for example, think that we need to reach a long-term cease-fire with Hamas. At the moment I don’t see any basis for a dialogue with Hamas about a peace agreement. Maybe we have to think about the entry of a multinational force that would serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, whose role would be both security policing and economic rehabilitation.

Gal-On hasn’t turned into a hawk, of course. She would consider talking to Hamas and opposed the Gaza op from day one (she’s whining in the interview over her party’s position not being coherent). But she does understand the one simple truth enthusiastic proponents of peace do not always keep in sight: there is “a problem with the Palestinians.” The “Peace Now” slogan — one that Gal-On once uncritically supported — is no longer persuasive, not even to true-believers.

Zehava Gal-On is a dovish former Israeli Knesset member. She’s probably the most pacifist member of any party (in this case, Meretz) still calling itself Zionist. Gal-On is no longer in the Knesset because Meretz decided to reinvent itself by adding some negligible new members to its candidate list in the hope of challenging Labor’s grasp on the center-left electorate. Gal-On herself, confident in the party’s prospects for attracting new votes through this scheme, agreed to step down from her original slot in order to make room for a newcomer. Gal-On was supposed to be candidate number four, but the new Meretz only got three seats.

Now Gal-On, one of Israel’s most active and respected parliamentarians, is recovering from her political and personal defeat. Her first interview since the election was naturally granted to Haaretz.  In it she airs some of her frustrations with big-league mentors from the Left: On author Amos Oz’s declaration that “The Labor Party has concluded its historic role,” she says, “Oz ended up burying Labor and Meretz both.”

But the paragraph I found most intriguing in her long interview is about the Palestinian issue. Gal-On — and I cannot overemphasize her dovishness — seems to have realized, just like Avigdor Lieberman, what a joke the Annapolis Process really is. Here is her take on the desired agenda of the Israeli left vis-à-vis the Palestinians:

We have to tell the public that we have a problem with the Palestinians. What we thought would happen didn’t happen so quickly. I think it’s an urgent interest of ours to end the occupation: both morally and in terms of what’s in Israel’s best interest. But there’s a problem. What are we proposing to our public? Should we just tell them again that we’re going to talk with Abu Mazen? I’m in favor of talking with Abu Mazen, but it’s like ‘giving full gas in neutral.’ I, for example, think that we need to reach a long-term cease-fire with Hamas. At the moment I don’t see any basis for a dialogue with Hamas about a peace agreement. Maybe we have to think about the entry of a multinational force that would serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, whose role would be both security policing and economic rehabilitation.

Gal-On hasn’t turned into a hawk, of course. She would consider talking to Hamas and opposed the Gaza op from day one (she’s whining in the interview over her party’s position not being coherent). But she does understand the one simple truth enthusiastic proponents of peace do not always keep in sight: there is “a problem with the Palestinians.” The “Peace Now” slogan — one that Gal-On once uncritically supported — is no longer persuasive, not even to true-believers.

Read Less

Brave and Vital Immigrants

It was great to read about the enlistment ceremony held in Times Square on Wednesday by the Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey. He swore in the first batch of recruits who have signed up under a trial program that allows the enlistment of certain immigrants who lack citizenship or even a Green Card. As reported by the New York Times, there is a lot of interest: “Of 4,833 applicants so far, 52 people have enlisted, including Wednesday’s group, while 445 have been disqualified, military officials said.”

Given that unemployment is rising, recruiting homegrown Americans will get easier. That will make it tempting for the Department of Defense to abort this program or not expand it. That would be a mistake. Those who are signing up bring vital skills, many of them in short supply in the military:

Of the 52 new enlistees, 11 have master’s degrees, 31 have bachelor’s degrees and 4 have associate’s degrees or the equivalent, officials said. The remaining six are high school graduates. At least 24 of the soldiers speak Korean, 11 speak Hindi, 9 speak a Chinese dialect, 3 speak Russian, 3 speak Arabic and one speaks Urdu.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest should be expanded, no matter what happens with traditional recruiting.

It was great to read about the enlistment ceremony held in Times Square on Wednesday by the Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey. He swore in the first batch of recruits who have signed up under a trial program that allows the enlistment of certain immigrants who lack citizenship or even a Green Card. As reported by the New York Times, there is a lot of interest: “Of 4,833 applicants so far, 52 people have enlisted, including Wednesday’s group, while 445 have been disqualified, military officials said.”

Given that unemployment is rising, recruiting homegrown Americans will get easier. That will make it tempting for the Department of Defense to abort this program or not expand it. That would be a mistake. Those who are signing up bring vital skills, many of them in short supply in the military:

Of the 52 new enlistees, 11 have master’s degrees, 31 have bachelor’s degrees and 4 have associate’s degrees or the equivalent, officials said. The remaining six are high school graduates. At least 24 of the soldiers speak Korean, 11 speak Hindi, 9 speak a Chinese dialect, 3 speak Russian, 3 speak Arabic and one speaks Urdu.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest should be expanded, no matter what happens with traditional recruiting.

Read Less

Good Cop, Bad Cop?

Rick Richman has interpreted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s first official address as promoting a policy of peace through strength.  Frankly, insofar as Lieberman’s domestic supporters and detractors alike don’t typically see the Yisrael Beitenu leader as a man of peace, this seems a bit too generous.

But even if Rick’s analysis is accurate, the more important point is that Lieberman’s deeply controversial reputation precedes him, thereby coloring virtually everyone else’s interpretation of whatever he happens to say.  Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the reactions to Lieberman’s speech — which merely put another nail in the coffin of the long-dead Annapolis “process” — have been almost unanimously negative.  For this reason, Jerusalem faces a serious challenge in its conduct of foreign policy: how can it put a reputedly undiplomatic top diplomat to good use?

Here’s one possibility: perhaps Lieberman’s contrast with Benjamin Netanyahu lends itself to a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic.  After all, Netanyahu — whose first address as prime minister was well received and considered “conciliatory” — is hard at work trying to convince foreign leaders of his own moderation, hoping to reinforce support against Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Insofar as international perceptions of Lieberman will make anything he says — fairly or unfairly — seem “hawkish,” Netanyahu can emerge looking less trigger-happy by comparison.

Of course, making Netanyahu look good is hardly what Lieberman had in mind when he joined the Likud-led government.  But at least the good-cop/bad-cop dynamic gives Lieberman a clear function, as well as a reason to continue espousing his views freely for the benefit of his political base.

Otherwise, history suggests that Lieberman would be cast to the side.  After all, during his previous premiership, Netanyahu similarly appointed two foreign ministers with minimal diplomatic skills and international esteem, thereby ensuring his total domination of Israeli diplomacy.  Indeed, like the non-English speaking David Levy before him, Lieberman is destined to be diplomatically overshadowed despite controlling the Foreign Ministry.  But unlike Levy, at least Lieberman won’t have to be quiet.

Rick Richman has interpreted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s first official address as promoting a policy of peace through strength.  Frankly, insofar as Lieberman’s domestic supporters and detractors alike don’t typically see the Yisrael Beitenu leader as a man of peace, this seems a bit too generous.

But even if Rick’s analysis is accurate, the more important point is that Lieberman’s deeply controversial reputation precedes him, thereby coloring virtually everyone else’s interpretation of whatever he happens to say.  Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the reactions to Lieberman’s speech — which merely put another nail in the coffin of the long-dead Annapolis “process” — have been almost unanimously negative.  For this reason, Jerusalem faces a serious challenge in its conduct of foreign policy: how can it put a reputedly undiplomatic top diplomat to good use?

Here’s one possibility: perhaps Lieberman’s contrast with Benjamin Netanyahu lends itself to a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic.  After all, Netanyahu — whose first address as prime minister was well received and considered “conciliatory” — is hard at work trying to convince foreign leaders of his own moderation, hoping to reinforce support against Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Insofar as international perceptions of Lieberman will make anything he says — fairly or unfairly — seem “hawkish,” Netanyahu can emerge looking less trigger-happy by comparison.

Of course, making Netanyahu look good is hardly what Lieberman had in mind when he joined the Likud-led government.  But at least the good-cop/bad-cop dynamic gives Lieberman a clear function, as well as a reason to continue espousing his views freely for the benefit of his political base.

Otherwise, history suggests that Lieberman would be cast to the side.  After all, during his previous premiership, Netanyahu similarly appointed two foreign ministers with minimal diplomatic skills and international esteem, thereby ensuring his total domination of Israeli diplomacy.  Indeed, like the non-English speaking David Levy before him, Lieberman is destined to be diplomatically overshadowed despite controlling the Foreign Ministry.  But unlike Levy, at least Lieberman won’t have to be quiet.

Read Less

The Right Approach to Regulation

Paul Singer, a member of the board of COMMENTARY Inc. and founder and chief executive officer of Elliott Management Corp., has an important piece today in the Wall Street Journal about the need for a new global regulatory system to prevent the taking of apocalyptic risk:

Creating a regulatory system that reflects the modern-day realities of financial markets is not as difficult as it may appear. The financial structures that destabilized our markets have definable characteristics….It is critical that any new regulatory initiative have a global mandate and contain mechanisms to prevent “risk infection” by countries that try to dodge risk controls. There are legitimate concerns about the time needed to devise a global risk-management system and staff it with individuals with the requisite sophistication and experience. But there are relatively simple solutions.

First, the government can hire private firms to assist in assessing risks posed by complicated financial instruments. Despite the failure of financial CEOs to understand the wizardry invented by their own “rocket scientists,” there are independent firms such as Duff & Phelps that can make sense of these products and serve as objective advisers.

Second, interim steps can be adopted to immediately rein in leverage and risk, such as increasing margin requirements for certain types of instruments. For example, in order to initiate credit default swaps, all parties (including dealers, who currently put up little or nothing) should be required to post deposits or reserves of at least 15%, if hedged against a credit instrument of the same company, and 30% otherwise…

I understand the inclination among free-market conservatives to dismiss the government’s regulatory efforts as misguided. Some government actions over the past year have been reactive and incomplete. Yet these actions have been large and reasonably fast, which were the critical elements for the survival of the system.

Read the whole thing.

Paul Singer, a member of the board of COMMENTARY Inc. and founder and chief executive officer of Elliott Management Corp., has an important piece today in the Wall Street Journal about the need for a new global regulatory system to prevent the taking of apocalyptic risk:

Creating a regulatory system that reflects the modern-day realities of financial markets is not as difficult as it may appear. The financial structures that destabilized our markets have definable characteristics….It is critical that any new regulatory initiative have a global mandate and contain mechanisms to prevent “risk infection” by countries that try to dodge risk controls. There are legitimate concerns about the time needed to devise a global risk-management system and staff it with individuals with the requisite sophistication and experience. But there are relatively simple solutions.

First, the government can hire private firms to assist in assessing risks posed by complicated financial instruments. Despite the failure of financial CEOs to understand the wizardry invented by their own “rocket scientists,” there are independent firms such as Duff & Phelps that can make sense of these products and serve as objective advisers.

Second, interim steps can be adopted to immediately rein in leverage and risk, such as increasing margin requirements for certain types of instruments. For example, in order to initiate credit default swaps, all parties (including dealers, who currently put up little or nothing) should be required to post deposits or reserves of at least 15%, if hedged against a credit instrument of the same company, and 30% otherwise…

I understand the inclination among free-market conservatives to dismiss the government’s regulatory efforts as misguided. Some government actions over the past year have been reactive and incomplete. Yet these actions have been large and reasonably fast, which were the critical elements for the survival of the system.

Read the whole thing.

Read Less

Perhaps It’s Because They Believe in Something

Earlier this week, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor unveiled a new Washington organization called the Foreign Policy Initiative with a conference about Afghanistan. As they did in the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that he was committing 17,000 troops to the country to pursue a surge-like policy designed by Gen. David Petraeus, Kristol and Kagan took pains to praise Obama. “A gutsy decision,” Kagan said.

Today, a youth at the New Republic with the opulent name of Barron YoungSmith wonders what exactly that devililsh Br’er Bill Kristol is up to:

Neocons have uprooted themselves from their post-Iraq position and planted themselves squarely in the putative political center. Or at least they’ve gone to lengths to make it seem that way. The FPI has all the identifiable trappings of Establishment foreign policy centrism: Gone is the stylized talk about World Domination and a New American Century; in its place is a nondescript name and a blue globe emblem that makes the organization appear like the younger cousin of the UN or CFR. Needless to say, the transformation isn’t totally convincing.

Really, this is just embarrassing. In the first place, the stylized talk about neoconservatives and “World Domination” comes from places like the New Republic’s own blog, the Plank, and not from “neoconservatives.” (As for “New American Century,” the term is a reference to one created by that famous neoconservative Henry Luce, then the proprietor of the notoriously intellectual Time Magazine. It is plausible YoungSmith, Brown ’06,  doesn’t know much about Henry Luce, since he existed before Twitter.) Speculations as to motive here are comical. Kristol and Kagan believe that a certain policy approach is best for the United States and the world. They  discover that Republicans on Capitol Hill are willing to surrender their own principles in pursuit of partisan posturing. So what do they do? They support the policy, not the party.

That, as it happens, has always been true of them. When Bill Kristol declared in 1994 that there was no health care crisis, he said it because he believed it, not because he was coming up with an angle. Bob Kagan was rather ruthless in his criticisms of the Bush administration and its handling of certain foreign-policy matters — and that was the case even when his own wife was working in the White House. This, Barron YoungSmith, is what people do when they possess deep convictions.

It might be prudent for YoungSmith to take a break from this sort of thing until he becomes Barron A Little Bit OlderSmith.

Earlier this week, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor unveiled a new Washington organization called the Foreign Policy Initiative with a conference about Afghanistan. As they did in the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that he was committing 17,000 troops to the country to pursue a surge-like policy designed by Gen. David Petraeus, Kristol and Kagan took pains to praise Obama. “A gutsy decision,” Kagan said.

Today, a youth at the New Republic with the opulent name of Barron YoungSmith wonders what exactly that devililsh Br’er Bill Kristol is up to:

Neocons have uprooted themselves from their post-Iraq position and planted themselves squarely in the putative political center. Or at least they’ve gone to lengths to make it seem that way. The FPI has all the identifiable trappings of Establishment foreign policy centrism: Gone is the stylized talk about World Domination and a New American Century; in its place is a nondescript name and a blue globe emblem that makes the organization appear like the younger cousin of the UN or CFR. Needless to say, the transformation isn’t totally convincing.

Really, this is just embarrassing. In the first place, the stylized talk about neoconservatives and “World Domination” comes from places like the New Republic’s own blog, the Plank, and not from “neoconservatives.” (As for “New American Century,” the term is a reference to one created by that famous neoconservative Henry Luce, then the proprietor of the notoriously intellectual Time Magazine. It is plausible YoungSmith, Brown ’06,  doesn’t know much about Henry Luce, since he existed before Twitter.) Speculations as to motive here are comical. Kristol and Kagan believe that a certain policy approach is best for the United States and the world. They  discover that Republicans on Capitol Hill are willing to surrender their own principles in pursuit of partisan posturing. So what do they do? They support the policy, not the party.

That, as it happens, has always been true of them. When Bill Kristol declared in 1994 that there was no health care crisis, he said it because he believed it, not because he was coming up with an angle. Bob Kagan was rather ruthless in his criticisms of the Bush administration and its handling of certain foreign-policy matters — and that was the case even when his own wife was working in the White House. This, Barron YoungSmith, is what people do when they possess deep convictions.

It might be prudent for YoungSmith to take a break from this sort of thing until he becomes Barron A Little Bit OlderSmith.

Read Less

A New Low

In the “gaffe” section of its analysis of the president’s performance at the G-20, the New York Times writes:

The Obamas gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod loaded with songs and videos — this after weeks of grief from the British press over the 25 DVDs that the couple gave Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain when he visited Washington. (The Browns gave the Obamas an ornate penholder made from the timber of a Victorian antislave ship.)

And Michelle Obama, during the meeting with the queen, touched her, raising already high-brows over on this side of the pond. Buckingham Palace protocol says that commoners must not touch the queen, a dictate that foreign leaders in the past have ignored at their own peril. When Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia did the same thing back in 1992 the newspapers here called him the “Lizard of Oz.”

Hmm… What’s missing? Let’s think. Wow – they seem to have left out any mention of the president’s utterly inappropriate low bow before Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Let’s imagine if George W. Bush had pulled such a stunt. I think we would have had the photo above-the-fold.

After a May 2004 meeting between Abdullah and Bush the Times sniffed:

A tone of studied deference could be seen in Mr. Bush’s repeatedly calling the king ”your majesty” and the king’s referring to the president as ”sir.” Mr. Bush went out of his way to thank the king for giving him advice on the current situation.

And in 2005 the media obsessed over hand-holding between Bush and Abdullah.

But an American president dips low before a foreign king and nary a mention from the Gray Lady. Well, virtually no mention was made elsewhere in the mainstream media either, so the Times is not alone in concealing the mega-gaffe from the public. Which leaves one wondering: why? It seems a tad more significant than Michelle’s embrace (which followed the Queen’s own physical gesture and therefore technically did not violate the “Don’t touch the Queen” rule). It certainly is more appalling.

In the “gaffe” section of its analysis of the president’s performance at the G-20, the New York Times writes:

The Obamas gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod loaded with songs and videos — this after weeks of grief from the British press over the 25 DVDs that the couple gave Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain when he visited Washington. (The Browns gave the Obamas an ornate penholder made from the timber of a Victorian antislave ship.)

And Michelle Obama, during the meeting with the queen, touched her, raising already high-brows over on this side of the pond. Buckingham Palace protocol says that commoners must not touch the queen, a dictate that foreign leaders in the past have ignored at their own peril. When Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia did the same thing back in 1992 the newspapers here called him the “Lizard of Oz.”

Hmm… What’s missing? Let’s think. Wow – they seem to have left out any mention of the president’s utterly inappropriate low bow before Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Let’s imagine if George W. Bush had pulled such a stunt. I think we would have had the photo above-the-fold.

After a May 2004 meeting between Abdullah and Bush the Times sniffed:

A tone of studied deference could be seen in Mr. Bush’s repeatedly calling the king ”your majesty” and the king’s referring to the president as ”sir.” Mr. Bush went out of his way to thank the king for giving him advice on the current situation.

And in 2005 the media obsessed over hand-holding between Bush and Abdullah.

But an American president dips low before a foreign king and nary a mention from the Gray Lady. Well, virtually no mention was made elsewhere in the mainstream media either, so the Times is not alone in concealing the mega-gaffe from the public. Which leaves one wondering: why? It seems a tad more significant than Michelle’s embrace (which followed the Queen’s own physical gesture and therefore technically did not violate the “Don’t touch the Queen” rule). It certainly is more appalling.

Read Less

Through the Looking-Glass

With the Obama era well underway, we’re experiencing Change — but not, I think, the kind of Change intended. Things are rapidly turning into an adventure in surrealism.

For example, the State Department not only can’t spell the Russian word for “Reset,” but doesn’t bother telling the First Lady that one does not touch the Queen of England.

The IRS is commanded by a Treasury Secretary who was caught cheating on his taxes.

The Justice Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been found guilty of discriminating against its own employees.

Similarly, the employees of the Service Employees International Union have been picketing against their union employer.

The Justice Department has been trying to find a way to back a proposed law that its own officials have said would be unconstitutional.

The President of the United States fired the CEO of a private company, then announced that the government will guarantee its warranties.

Some of these are understandable, but overall, the effect is dizzying.

With the Obama era well underway, we’re experiencing Change — but not, I think, the kind of Change intended. Things are rapidly turning into an adventure in surrealism.

For example, the State Department not only can’t spell the Russian word for “Reset,” but doesn’t bother telling the First Lady that one does not touch the Queen of England.

The IRS is commanded by a Treasury Secretary who was caught cheating on his taxes.

The Justice Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been found guilty of discriminating against its own employees.

Similarly, the employees of the Service Employees International Union have been picketing against their union employer.

The Justice Department has been trying to find a way to back a proposed law that its own officials have said would be unconstitutional.

The President of the United States fired the CEO of a private company, then announced that the government will guarantee its warranties.

Some of these are understandable, but overall, the effect is dizzying.

Read Less

More Than a Sideshow

Charles Krauthammer explains what the president is up to:

His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation’s income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

So Krauthammer is not all that concerned about nationalizing GM or bossing around banks because this is a confined sideshow to “Obama’s real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy” — with which, Krauthammer contends, “will come a radical extension of the welfare state; social and economic leveling in the name of fairness; and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.”

But it seems the nationalizations and the holy trinity are inextricably linked. The statist interventions have a three-fold impact on the economic and political climate. First,  they slowly accustom the populace to the notion that massive government interventions are not extraordinary but “reasonable” steps. In a year or so it won’t seem odd at all that the government has determined which medical procedures are best and which are to be de-funded.  Second, it perpetuates the notion that the private sector is incompetent and requires the best and brightest government technocrats to guide and restrain it. We are told that Tim Geithner is a genius and the heads of banks and major industrial concerns are dolts. Who in their right mind would let the latter run their own concerns? And finally, we eliminate from the conversation any concern about Constitutionality or free-market traditions. Congress holds no hearings, nor does it even get to appropriate funds for these escapades. The Executive Branch just does things — gigantic things — without need for justification.

Freedoms, whether political or economic, are lost bit by bit. And the sideshows are more often than not, warm up acts. And the main act here is going to be quite a show stopper.

Charles Krauthammer explains what the president is up to:

His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation’s income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

So Krauthammer is not all that concerned about nationalizing GM or bossing around banks because this is a confined sideshow to “Obama’s real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy” — with which, Krauthammer contends, “will come a radical extension of the welfare state; social and economic leveling in the name of fairness; and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.”

But it seems the nationalizations and the holy trinity are inextricably linked. The statist interventions have a three-fold impact on the economic and political climate. First,  they slowly accustom the populace to the notion that massive government interventions are not extraordinary but “reasonable” steps. In a year or so it won’t seem odd at all that the government has determined which medical procedures are best and which are to be de-funded.  Second, it perpetuates the notion that the private sector is incompetent and requires the best and brightest government technocrats to guide and restrain it. We are told that Tim Geithner is a genius and the heads of banks and major industrial concerns are dolts. Who in their right mind would let the latter run their own concerns? And finally, we eliminate from the conversation any concern about Constitutionality or free-market traditions. Congress holds no hearings, nor does it even get to appropriate funds for these escapades. The Executive Branch just does things — gigantic things — without need for justification.

Freedoms, whether political or economic, are lost bit by bit. And the sideshows are more often than not, warm up acts. And the main act here is going to be quite a show stopper.

Read Less

And the Band Plays On…

A committee of Arab doctors has been established to “investigate” what caused the death of Yasser Arafat. The passing of the Palestinian terrorist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been shrouded in mystery ever since he died in 2004, as his widow forbade an autopsy and the French doctors who treated him at his deathbed in Paris could not officially determine a reason for his sudden, “massive brain hemorrhage.” Other symptoms that Arafat faced in the later stages of his life were an immune system–suppressing blood disease, the loss of 1/3 of his weight, and mental dysfunction.

These conditions, of course, are all associated with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which may very well have killed Arafat. His alleged homosexuality was something of an open secret among intimates, if rarely ever reported on by a fawning media that didn’t want to complicate the macho image of the courageous resistance fighter (although Arafat’s homosexuality was probably not something that would bother most of the left-wing reporters who cover the Middle East, the same cannot be said for his Palestinian followers and sympathizers in the Arab world). Ignoring the probable cause of Arafat’s death has served the Palestinian political narrative, as it it allows them to place his death on the ledger of grievances against Israel: it was Israeli poison, not AIDS, that killed him. That the French medical officials who cared for Arafat could find no trace of lethal toxins in his system has done nothing to disabuse Palestinians of this meme.

So much of the discourse in the Arab and Muslim world thrives on deceit, the way in which homosexuality is discussed being one of the most egregious examples (for instance, see Saudi Arabia, where sex between men — including members of the Royal Family — is prevalent to a comical extent, yet for which the penalty is death by decapitation). Impaneling a group of venal doctors to issue a politically useful diagnosis on the long-deceased leader of the Palestinian national liberation movement may provide a gloss of legitimization for yet another Arab conspiracy theory. Its more corrosive effect will be the exacerbation of a destructive cultural artifice.

A committee of Arab doctors has been established to “investigate” what caused the death of Yasser Arafat. The passing of the Palestinian terrorist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been shrouded in mystery ever since he died in 2004, as his widow forbade an autopsy and the French doctors who treated him at his deathbed in Paris could not officially determine a reason for his sudden, “massive brain hemorrhage.” Other symptoms that Arafat faced in the later stages of his life were an immune system–suppressing blood disease, the loss of 1/3 of his weight, and mental dysfunction.

These conditions, of course, are all associated with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which may very well have killed Arafat. His alleged homosexuality was something of an open secret among intimates, if rarely ever reported on by a fawning media that didn’t want to complicate the macho image of the courageous resistance fighter (although Arafat’s homosexuality was probably not something that would bother most of the left-wing reporters who cover the Middle East, the same cannot be said for his Palestinian followers and sympathizers in the Arab world). Ignoring the probable cause of Arafat’s death has served the Palestinian political narrative, as it it allows them to place his death on the ledger of grievances against Israel: it was Israeli poison, not AIDS, that killed him. That the French medical officials who cared for Arafat could find no trace of lethal toxins in his system has done nothing to disabuse Palestinians of this meme.

So much of the discourse in the Arab and Muslim world thrives on deceit, the way in which homosexuality is discussed being one of the most egregious examples (for instance, see Saudi Arabia, where sex between men — including members of the Royal Family — is prevalent to a comical extent, yet for which the penalty is death by decapitation). Impaneling a group of venal doctors to issue a politically useful diagnosis on the long-deceased leader of the Palestinian national liberation movement may provide a gloss of legitimization for yet another Arab conspiracy theory. Its more corrosive effect will be the exacerbation of a destructive cultural artifice.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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