Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 21, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Peter Shalen, on Eric Trager:

I knew Starbucks was a Zionist conspiracy, but did not know about KFC. My question is what the Colonel’s name was before it was changed.

Back in the 1970’s I was teaching at Rice University, and was a faculty associate of Hanszen College. One of my advisees, a Saudi student on an exchange program, decided to invite my wife and me over for dinner in his room. It was toward the end of the academic year, and attempting to make conversation, he pointed to his TV set and said he was going to have to sell it before he went home because it was made by Sears Roebuck, a “Jewish” company.

Feigning innocence, I asked why that was a problem. He gave me a disbelieving look and finally said, “Well, you know, we don’t like Jews.” I explained that my wife and I are Jewish. Then he started tying himself in knots, first saying that they have nothing against the Jews here in the US, only the Jews in Israel; then that we’re not really Jews because we’re descended from Khazars or Khabars who converted; etc., etc. We got away as soon as we could.

Peter Shalen, on Eric Trager:

I knew Starbucks was a Zionist conspiracy, but did not know about KFC. My question is what the Colonel’s name was before it was changed.

Back in the 1970’s I was teaching at Rice University, and was a faculty associate of Hanszen College. One of my advisees, a Saudi student on an exchange program, decided to invite my wife and me over for dinner in his room. It was toward the end of the academic year, and attempting to make conversation, he pointed to his TV set and said he was going to have to sell it before he went home because it was made by Sears Roebuck, a “Jewish” company.

Feigning innocence, I asked why that was a problem. He gave me a disbelieving look and finally said, “Well, you know, we don’t like Jews.” I explained that my wife and I are Jewish. Then he started tying himself in knots, first saying that they have nothing against the Jews here in the US, only the Jews in Israel; then that we’re not really Jews because we’re descended from Khazars or Khabars who converted; etc., etc. We got away as soon as we could.

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Re: Who’s Mr. Transparent Now?

As Abe noted, former Vice President Cheney turned up the heat on the Obama administration over its conduct in the war on terror. Cheney wants release of the memos showing intelligence “successes” from the enhanced interrogation techniques. I’d personally like to see the ones documenting Nancy Pelosi’s tour of detention facilities and inquiry as to whether we were doing enough to extract information.

Don’t get me wrong: I was against the release of the enhanced interrogation memos. I believe this decision has and will continue to do real and lasting damage to our national security. But observing what is now unfolding one suspects that the release of the memos has not stemmed the calls for further disclosure. The president has, to the contrary, poured more fuel on the fire.

Nothing prevents the ACLU or other litigants  from pressing for more information and using the Obama administration’s release of this batch of memos as grounds for eviscerating any national security claim. Nothing prevents Congress now from insisting on its “truth commission.” And conversely, defenders of the Bush administration rightly claim that if we are going to reveal information about the interrogation techniques, then it is only fair to reveal who knew what (including members of Congress) and what was gained from these interrogation sessions. How do you get at the “truth” without a complete picture of everyone’s involvement and the benefits obtained from the interrogation techniques?

And today the president himself in a rambling answer ( followed by a train wreck of a press conference by Robert Gibbs) explicitly suggested — we think — that  all types of investigations might continue. Odd that he didn’t mention that at Langely yesterday in front of the affected CIA employees. (Yesterday, was “let bygones be bygones” and today was “all bets are off”).  For better or worse, many interested parties on both sides want to get even more information. And they may now get it. Unless the president changes his tune again tomorrow.

As Abe noted, former Vice President Cheney turned up the heat on the Obama administration over its conduct in the war on terror. Cheney wants release of the memos showing intelligence “successes” from the enhanced interrogation techniques. I’d personally like to see the ones documenting Nancy Pelosi’s tour of detention facilities and inquiry as to whether we were doing enough to extract information.

Don’t get me wrong: I was against the release of the enhanced interrogation memos. I believe this decision has and will continue to do real and lasting damage to our national security. But observing what is now unfolding one suspects that the release of the memos has not stemmed the calls for further disclosure. The president has, to the contrary, poured more fuel on the fire.

Nothing prevents the ACLU or other litigants  from pressing for more information and using the Obama administration’s release of this batch of memos as grounds for eviscerating any national security claim. Nothing prevents Congress now from insisting on its “truth commission.” And conversely, defenders of the Bush administration rightly claim that if we are going to reveal information about the interrogation techniques, then it is only fair to reveal who knew what (including members of Congress) and what was gained from these interrogation sessions. How do you get at the “truth” without a complete picture of everyone’s involvement and the benefits obtained from the interrogation techniques?

And today the president himself in a rambling answer ( followed by a train wreck of a press conference by Robert Gibbs) explicitly suggested — we think — that  all types of investigations might continue. Odd that he didn’t mention that at Langely yesterday in front of the affected CIA employees. (Yesterday, was “let bygones be bygones” and today was “all bets are off”).  For better or worse, many interested parties on both sides want to get even more information. And they may now get it. Unless the president changes his tune again tomorrow.

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Harold Koh on the Durban Process

Unusually for him, Harold Koh, the Obama administration’s nominee for Legal Adviser to the State Department, has been silent on the question of whether or not the U.S. should have attended the Durban Review Conference. Likely, he realizes it’s a no win: support the boycott and alienate the Left, or oppose it, and attack the declared policy of the administration that nominated him. But we can glean some insight into his point of view by looking at what Koh said about the first Durban conference in 2001.

According to Koh, who spoke on the record for the PBS NewsHour, the Bush Administration’s failure to send Colin Powell to the Durban conference was a “missed opportunity . . . for the United States to help shape the emerging global agenda on race discrimination.”  It was also, according to Koh, a “missed opportunity” for the “articulate” Powell to tell “a story about how one individual suffered discrimination and was able nevertheless to become our Secretary of State.” One wonders if this assertion that Powell was particularly suitable to serve as the U.S. spokesman at a conference on racism would be uncontroversial if it had been made by a conservative.

But Koh’s overall point is clear: engage, engage, engage. No indignity is too severe, no draft document too horrible, no list of attendees too heavily stacked, to justify boycotting an international event. According to Koh, the U.S. should “not stat[e] some conditions that we didn’t think would be met before the conference came to life.” Apparently, therefore, the U.S. should only state conditions that it believes will be met. Specifically, the 2001 Durban conference equated Zionism and racism because “we boycotted the last two conferences, and what that did was to make sure that the Zionism-as-racism issue arose again.”

Koh makes it quite clear that he entirely rejects this claim about Zionism, but his desire is always to attend to state the U.S. case and in the hope of being able to “water down the language.” According to him, there is nothing at all embarrassing or wrong about attending a conference, on an official basis, where Israel is pilloried:

The fact of the matter is the U.S. goes to conferences every week, every month. I attended many myself in which the issue of Zionism as racism came up.

There is a good deal that could be said about Koh’s aim being limited to “water[ing] down the language,” or his belief that the U.S. should not disrupt conferences by imposing unacceptable conditions in advance. But what strikes me most forcefully is Koh’s willingness to sit in the room as the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor — his position from 1998 to 2000 — while speakers rail against Israel.

When I think of these anti-Semitic, hate-filled conferences, I am revolted: out of simple self-respect, I have no desire to be present, and I would feel that even more strongly if I were serving as a representative of the United States. American diplomats must rebut these sentiments when confronted with them, but it is wrong to lend American credibility to hate by deliberately sending official representatives to listen to it.

No matter what you say afterwards, the tyrants see that you are willing to reply to their invitations, to sit still when they speak, and to accept that the forum over which they are lording themselves has value.  This kind of diplomacy does not frighten liberty’s enemies, it emboldens them. It is the Oliver Twist school of diplomacy: please sir, may I have some more?

Unusually for him, Harold Koh, the Obama administration’s nominee for Legal Adviser to the State Department, has been silent on the question of whether or not the U.S. should have attended the Durban Review Conference. Likely, he realizes it’s a no win: support the boycott and alienate the Left, or oppose it, and attack the declared policy of the administration that nominated him. But we can glean some insight into his point of view by looking at what Koh said about the first Durban conference in 2001.

According to Koh, who spoke on the record for the PBS NewsHour, the Bush Administration’s failure to send Colin Powell to the Durban conference was a “missed opportunity . . . for the United States to help shape the emerging global agenda on race discrimination.”  It was also, according to Koh, a “missed opportunity” for the “articulate” Powell to tell “a story about how one individual suffered discrimination and was able nevertheless to become our Secretary of State.” One wonders if this assertion that Powell was particularly suitable to serve as the U.S. spokesman at a conference on racism would be uncontroversial if it had been made by a conservative.

But Koh’s overall point is clear: engage, engage, engage. No indignity is too severe, no draft document too horrible, no list of attendees too heavily stacked, to justify boycotting an international event. According to Koh, the U.S. should “not stat[e] some conditions that we didn’t think would be met before the conference came to life.” Apparently, therefore, the U.S. should only state conditions that it believes will be met. Specifically, the 2001 Durban conference equated Zionism and racism because “we boycotted the last two conferences, and what that did was to make sure that the Zionism-as-racism issue arose again.”

Koh makes it quite clear that he entirely rejects this claim about Zionism, but his desire is always to attend to state the U.S. case and in the hope of being able to “water down the language.” According to him, there is nothing at all embarrassing or wrong about attending a conference, on an official basis, where Israel is pilloried:

The fact of the matter is the U.S. goes to conferences every week, every month. I attended many myself in which the issue of Zionism as racism came up.

There is a good deal that could be said about Koh’s aim being limited to “water[ing] down the language,” or his belief that the U.S. should not disrupt conferences by imposing unacceptable conditions in advance. But what strikes me most forcefully is Koh’s willingness to sit in the room as the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor — his position from 1998 to 2000 — while speakers rail against Israel.

When I think of these anti-Semitic, hate-filled conferences, I am revolted: out of simple self-respect, I have no desire to be present, and I would feel that even more strongly if I were serving as a representative of the United States. American diplomats must rebut these sentiments when confronted with them, but it is wrong to lend American credibility to hate by deliberately sending official representatives to listen to it.

No matter what you say afterwards, the tyrants see that you are willing to reply to their invitations, to sit still when they speak, and to accept that the forum over which they are lording themselves has value.  This kind of diplomacy does not frighten liberty’s enemies, it emboldens them. It is the Oliver Twist school of diplomacy: please sir, may I have some more?

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Re: America the Apologetic

Pete, I have little to add to your exhaustive analysis of the problem with employing non-stop apology as the principal instrument of national security. I would only observe that your take is not just the conclusion of many conservatives; it seems to be the emerging and surprising consensus across ideological lines. As noted earlier Eugene Robinson is greatly discomforted. Now Gloria Borger pipes up:

But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.

It’s one thing to shake hands and speak of a willingness to engage; that’s all good. No one wants to turn a tyrant’s tirade into an obstacle to sitting down at a table to end the nuclear threat. No one wants to create a rhetorical cycle that escalates — and ends any chance of constructive engagement.

At some point, however, looking away becomes a statement itself. Especially when outrage is completely justified — and even preferable.

[. . .]

But at some point, this turning-the-other-cheek policy can slap us in the face. By not responding, we can look tone-deaf.

Granted her main concern is that Obama has handed a weapon to the Republicans (What about our country’s foes, Ms. Borger?), but she shares your view and, grudgingly, that of Newt Gingrich. With Gingrich, Romney, Robinson, Borger, Wehner, and Rubin all in agreement we certainly have an extraordinary and possibly unprecedented  foreign policy consensus. Obama is bringing us all together.

Pete, I have little to add to your exhaustive analysis of the problem with employing non-stop apology as the principal instrument of national security. I would only observe that your take is not just the conclusion of many conservatives; it seems to be the emerging and surprising consensus across ideological lines. As noted earlier Eugene Robinson is greatly discomforted. Now Gloria Borger pipes up:

But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.

It’s one thing to shake hands and speak of a willingness to engage; that’s all good. No one wants to turn a tyrant’s tirade into an obstacle to sitting down at a table to end the nuclear threat. No one wants to create a rhetorical cycle that escalates — and ends any chance of constructive engagement.

At some point, however, looking away becomes a statement itself. Especially when outrage is completely justified — and even preferable.

[. . .]

But at some point, this turning-the-other-cheek policy can slap us in the face. By not responding, we can look tone-deaf.

Granted her main concern is that Obama has handed a weapon to the Republicans (What about our country’s foes, Ms. Borger?), but she shares your view and, grudgingly, that of Newt Gingrich. With Gingrich, Romney, Robinson, Borger, Wehner, and Rubin all in agreement we certainly have an extraordinary and possibly unprecedented  foreign policy consensus. Obama is bringing us all together.

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An Admirable Same-Sex Marriage Argument

Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer and columnist at National Journal and a correspondent with the Atlantic, has published an essay, “Not Whether But How: Gay Marriage and the Revival of Burkean Conservatism.”

I have differed with Rauch on several issues over the years, but I always admire the quality and rigor of his arguments. This essay is no different. Unlike other advocates of same-sex marriage, who routinely brand those with whom they disagree as bigots and worse, Rauch presents his arguments in a careful, measured, and analytically rigorous way.

Indeed, what is most impressive to me is that Rauch presents something close to a model of what public discourse should be. For example, according to Rauch, “for Burkean conservatives same-sex marriage is a particular conundrum because it presents so many competing narratives and so many uncertainties.” Rauch then lays out two competing narratives — what he calls the “Jonathan Rauch narrative” and the “Maggie Gallagher narrative.” He does a splendid job of encapsulating both views in a single paragraph each; and having done so, he asks, “Confronted with these two starkly opposed narratives, what’s a Burkean to do?” He proceeds to offer his views in the remainder of the essay.

It isn’t as if Rauch doesn’t have a point of view; he does, and it is a deeply held one. That makes his mode of argumentation all the more impressive. It takes work and integrity to capture, in an intellectually honest way, the views of those with whom you disagree.

Serious arguments, made intelligently and in a fair-minded fashion, are a pleasure to read, even if one disagrees with the conclusion. This is doubly so in the Internet age, when sloppy arguments and ad hominem attacks are more common than one might wish. It’s worth reading Rauch’s essay even, and maybe especially, if you disagree with it.

Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer and columnist at National Journal and a correspondent with the Atlantic, has published an essay, “Not Whether But How: Gay Marriage and the Revival of Burkean Conservatism.”

I have differed with Rauch on several issues over the years, but I always admire the quality and rigor of his arguments. This essay is no different. Unlike other advocates of same-sex marriage, who routinely brand those with whom they disagree as bigots and worse, Rauch presents his arguments in a careful, measured, and analytically rigorous way.

Indeed, what is most impressive to me is that Rauch presents something close to a model of what public discourse should be. For example, according to Rauch, “for Burkean conservatives same-sex marriage is a particular conundrum because it presents so many competing narratives and so many uncertainties.” Rauch then lays out two competing narratives — what he calls the “Jonathan Rauch narrative” and the “Maggie Gallagher narrative.” He does a splendid job of encapsulating both views in a single paragraph each; and having done so, he asks, “Confronted with these two starkly opposed narratives, what’s a Burkean to do?” He proceeds to offer his views in the remainder of the essay.

It isn’t as if Rauch doesn’t have a point of view; he does, and it is a deeply held one. That makes his mode of argumentation all the more impressive. It takes work and integrity to capture, in an intellectually honest way, the views of those with whom you disagree.

Serious arguments, made intelligently and in a fair-minded fashion, are a pleasure to read, even if one disagrees with the conclusion. This is doubly so in the Internet age, when sloppy arguments and ad hominem attacks are more common than one might wish. It’s worth reading Rauch’s essay even, and maybe especially, if you disagree with it.

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Re: Not So Fast

The rules according to Tim Geithner: Rule #1 is there are no rules. Last month when the AIG bonus feeding frenzy was boiling over he assured the firms he was trying to lure into the toxic asset-buying program, “The comp conditions will not apply to the asset managers and investors in the program.” Today the Washington Post reports:

Treasury Department lawyers have determined that firms participating in a $1 trillion program to relieve banks of toxic assets could be subject to limits on executive compensation, contradicting the Obama administration’s previous public position, according to a report to be released today by a federal watchdog agency.

Really, at this point any CEO who agrees to do business with the government should be fired. If he signs up with the government, he in essence is turning over control of his company to political operatives who bounce from position to position like ping pong balls. Public opinion squawks, they jump and the rules are different. This is the worst form of statist intervention — lawless and unpredictable. It operates outside any published regulatory regime or statute and without regard even for a gentleman’s promise. No business can operate successfully this way; the entire financial sector of our economy certainly cannot.

At some point Congress might want to recover its collective constitutional manhood, reclaim the role as maker of impartial and fixed rules under which everyone operates, and cease ceding its oversight and lawmaking authority to a treasury secretary whose fickleness knows no bounds.

The rules according to Tim Geithner: Rule #1 is there are no rules. Last month when the AIG bonus feeding frenzy was boiling over he assured the firms he was trying to lure into the toxic asset-buying program, “The comp conditions will not apply to the asset managers and investors in the program.” Today the Washington Post reports:

Treasury Department lawyers have determined that firms participating in a $1 trillion program to relieve banks of toxic assets could be subject to limits on executive compensation, contradicting the Obama administration’s previous public position, according to a report to be released today by a federal watchdog agency.

Really, at this point any CEO who agrees to do business with the government should be fired. If he signs up with the government, he in essence is turning over control of his company to political operatives who bounce from position to position like ping pong balls. Public opinion squawks, they jump and the rules are different. This is the worst form of statist intervention — lawless and unpredictable. It operates outside any published regulatory regime or statute and without regard even for a gentleman’s promise. No business can operate successfully this way; the entire financial sector of our economy certainly cannot.

At some point Congress might want to recover its collective constitutional manhood, reclaim the role as maker of impartial and fixed rules under which everyone operates, and cease ceding its oversight and lawmaking authority to a treasury secretary whose fickleness knows no bounds.

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Brutality in Gaza

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report on brutality in the Gaza Strip. Not Israel’s, but Hamas’s. According to a new 26-page report, during and since Israel’s Gaza operation in January, Hamas has committed extra-judicial killings of at least 32 people. In addition, the Jerusalem Post tells us, the report “presents a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maiming by shooting and extrajudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces.” Oh yes, and one more thing: “Of particular concern is the widespread practice of maiming people by shooting them in the legs, which Hamas first used in June 2007, when it seized control of the Gaza Strip,” the report tells us.

People living in the region will not be surprised by the contents of the report, as much as its existence at all: Israel is so frequently subjected to horrible double-standards in discussing the conflict with the Palestinians, any breath of truth from NGOs like HRW is a surprise. Coming in the midst of Durban II, it is particularly well timed.

And if we’re on the subject of double-standards against Israel, I have to recommend a piece by Bret Stephens in today’s Wall Street Journal. He draws a splendid comparison between how Israel is treated versus Russia in its fight against the Chechens. Give it a read.

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report on brutality in the Gaza Strip. Not Israel’s, but Hamas’s. According to a new 26-page report, during and since Israel’s Gaza operation in January, Hamas has committed extra-judicial killings of at least 32 people. In addition, the Jerusalem Post tells us, the report “presents a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maiming by shooting and extrajudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces.” Oh yes, and one more thing: “Of particular concern is the widespread practice of maiming people by shooting them in the legs, which Hamas first used in June 2007, when it seized control of the Gaza Strip,” the report tells us.

People living in the region will not be surprised by the contents of the report, as much as its existence at all: Israel is so frequently subjected to horrible double-standards in discussing the conflict with the Palestinians, any breath of truth from NGOs like HRW is a surprise. Coming in the midst of Durban II, it is particularly well timed.

And if we’re on the subject of double-standards against Israel, I have to recommend a piece by Bret Stephens in today’s Wall Street Journal. He draws a splendid comparison between how Israel is treated versus Russia in its fight against the Chechens. Give it a read.

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Who’s Mr. Transparent Now?

How dark and sinister is the dungeon of Dick Cheney’s mind? How depraved was our ex-vice president in his quest to unleash an open-ended program of sadism under the shameless cloak of “national security”?

So dark, so sinister, and so depraved that he’s calling for the declassifying of all the “torture memos” so that the world may reach a more fully informed assessment of the CIA interrogations that occurred during the Bush presidency.

“If we’re going to have this debate, let’s have an honest debate,” he told Sean Hannity. Cheney sounds like a citizen under the delusion that the new American president promised an age of transparency and vigorous policy discussion. Unfortunately for all of us, there will be no debate. Barack Obama decided to pick for declassification a handful of greatest hits memos that spoke to him of betrayed ideals, national reconciliation, and PR gold. Anyway, the president has already forbidden use of the methods in question — without a debate. And, of course, without punishing those who employed such methods.

So, who’s operating under false pretenses here: the last administration that’s calling for a full review of its most controversial program or the new one that wraps itself in the political glamor of “transparency” only to take an incoherent shot at its predecessor and move on?

How dark and sinister is the dungeon of Dick Cheney’s mind? How depraved was our ex-vice president in his quest to unleash an open-ended program of sadism under the shameless cloak of “national security”?

So dark, so sinister, and so depraved that he’s calling for the declassifying of all the “torture memos” so that the world may reach a more fully informed assessment of the CIA interrogations that occurred during the Bush presidency.

“If we’re going to have this debate, let’s have an honest debate,” he told Sean Hannity. Cheney sounds like a citizen under the delusion that the new American president promised an age of transparency and vigorous policy discussion. Unfortunately for all of us, there will be no debate. Barack Obama decided to pick for declassification a handful of greatest hits memos that spoke to him of betrayed ideals, national reconciliation, and PR gold. Anyway, the president has already forbidden use of the methods in question — without a debate. And, of course, without punishing those who employed such methods.

So, who’s operating under false pretenses here: the last administration that’s calling for a full review of its most controversial program or the new one that wraps itself in the political glamor of “transparency” only to take an incoherent shot at its predecessor and move on?

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America the Apologetic

President Obama, who over the weekend continued his overseas effort to, among other things, apologize for supposed American misdeeds from both the recent and distant past, held a press conference on Sunday. He made several statements that are, I think, worth examining.

On explaining his apologies for America, President Obama said this:

If we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues.

But what Obama has engaged in is more than an “occasional confession”; apology is, in fact, a centerpiece of his approach. He has spent an unprecedented amount of time as President giving voice to grievances of both allies and adversaries over America. And when he’s not himself confirming those criticisms, he is showing himself less than eager to respond to them.

As for what he hopes to gain by this approach, Obama explains it this way:

Countries are going to have interests, and changes in foreign policy approaches by my administration aren’t suddenly going to make all those interests that may diverge from ours disappear. What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we’re pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they’re cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem.

President Obama also took issue with those who believe that “if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness.” According to Obama, “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”

But what matters is the stratagem behind the “polite conversations.” President Obama appears to be making a bet that his personal charm and reticence in defending America against those who are disparaging her will redound to our benefit, that his approach will win the confidence of leaders long antagonistic to America and its values, and that in the end his apology tour will lead to greater cooperation in advancing justice and American ideals.

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

President Obama, who over the weekend continued his overseas effort to, among other things, apologize for supposed American misdeeds from both the recent and distant past, held a press conference on Sunday. He made several statements that are, I think, worth examining.

On explaining his apologies for America, President Obama said this:

If we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues.

But what Obama has engaged in is more than an “occasional confession”; apology is, in fact, a centerpiece of his approach. He has spent an unprecedented amount of time as President giving voice to grievances of both allies and adversaries over America. And when he’s not himself confirming those criticisms, he is showing himself less than eager to respond to them.

As for what he hopes to gain by this approach, Obama explains it this way:

Countries are going to have interests, and changes in foreign policy approaches by my administration aren’t suddenly going to make all those interests that may diverge from ours disappear. What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we’re pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they’re cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem.

President Obama also took issue with those who believe that “if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness.” According to Obama, “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”

But what matters is the stratagem behind the “polite conversations.” President Obama appears to be making a bet that his personal charm and reticence in defending America against those who are disparaging her will redound to our benefit, that his approach will win the confidence of leaders long antagonistic to America and its values, and that in the end his apology tour will lead to greater cooperation in advancing justice and American ideals.

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

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Not Holding my Breath

Durban II, complete with clown protesters taking on Ahmadinejad and with a wholesale walk-out by the EU representatives, descended into an entirely expected farce yesterday. It is now clear that all the serious contemplation by the Obama administration over whether to attend was kabuki theater designed to do what the president now does non-stop — attempt to ingratiate himself with the world’s miscreants.

This tactic is troubling even to those extremely supportive of the president. Marty Peretz pens an open letter to Obama, stating his objections to the president’s characterization of Durban I, which the president said “became a session through which folks expressed antagonism towards Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.” The letter states in part:

These people whom you call “folks”–they were not people assembled at a “hootenanny”–were formal representatives of governments, some democratic, most not. They are not dumb. They were not being “counterproductive.” They knew exactly what they were doing. And they were not being “hypocritical.” They said exactly what they believed. And all that they said was actually false.

Peretz is exactly right, but he’s barking up the wrong tree if he expects moral clarity from this president. Obama is in the business of  “engagement.” That’s the whole point of his TV outreach to the mullahs, the European apologies, the refusal to recognize that the North Korean missile shot was a direct challenge to the U.S. (and to him personally) and yes, the grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez (followed by the nauseating “thank you” for the book gift, because the president, you see, is a “reader”).

If Obama declines to send U.S. representatives to Durban II it is “with regret.” If the Iranians kidnap a U.S. journalist he is “gravely concerned.” It is not exactly a ringing defense of our values, is it? Well, I too dearly hope the president would adopt definitive language which signifies an awareness of America’s unique position to speak — what is the phrase? — ah, truth to power. I too hope he would stop turning a blind eye to evil and make clear what America expects as a prerequisite for decent relations with other nations. I too would hope he could give up the fantasy that avoiding offense is the same as furthering American interests. But I’m not holding my breath.

Durban II, complete with clown protesters taking on Ahmadinejad and with a wholesale walk-out by the EU representatives, descended into an entirely expected farce yesterday. It is now clear that all the serious contemplation by the Obama administration over whether to attend was kabuki theater designed to do what the president now does non-stop — attempt to ingratiate himself with the world’s miscreants.

This tactic is troubling even to those extremely supportive of the president. Marty Peretz pens an open letter to Obama, stating his objections to the president’s characterization of Durban I, which the president said “became a session through which folks expressed antagonism towards Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.” The letter states in part:

These people whom you call “folks”–they were not people assembled at a “hootenanny”–were formal representatives of governments, some democratic, most not. They are not dumb. They were not being “counterproductive.” They knew exactly what they were doing. And they were not being “hypocritical.” They said exactly what they believed. And all that they said was actually false.

Peretz is exactly right, but he’s barking up the wrong tree if he expects moral clarity from this president. Obama is in the business of  “engagement.” That’s the whole point of his TV outreach to the mullahs, the European apologies, the refusal to recognize that the North Korean missile shot was a direct challenge to the U.S. (and to him personally) and yes, the grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez (followed by the nauseating “thank you” for the book gift, because the president, you see, is a “reader”).

If Obama declines to send U.S. representatives to Durban II it is “with regret.” If the Iranians kidnap a U.S. journalist he is “gravely concerned.” It is not exactly a ringing defense of our values, is it? Well, I too dearly hope the president would adopt definitive language which signifies an awareness of America’s unique position to speak — what is the phrase? — ah, truth to power. I too hope he would stop turning a blind eye to evil and make clear what America expects as a prerequisite for decent relations with other nations. I too would hope he could give up the fantasy that avoiding offense is the same as furthering American interests. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Who’s To Blame?

This is what our president said following a diatribe against the United States by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega: “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.” How unfortunate that Barack Obama did not himself blame President Ortega for things that happened when Obama himself was 21, 22, 23, 24 years old, when Ortega was the Communist dictator of Nicaragua. Like driving one-tenth of the population of Nicaragua into exile in Honduras. Like the systematic abuse of the Miskito Indians. Like the harrassment of the nation’s archbishop, Miguel Obando y Bravo, who had provided key support for the crushing of the Somoza regime in 1979. Like the inhumane treatment of Nicaragua’s small and liberal Jewish community (now being duplicated in Venezuela, the home of Obama’s handshake pal, Hugo Chavez). Like the destruction of the free press. Like the forced nationalizations. Like all manner of conduct that goes under the name of Marxism-Leninism. My guess is that President Obama wouldn’t blame Daniel Ortega for any of that because, at the time, he was too busy opposing the efforts of the Reagan administration to block the spread of Marxism in Central America and overthrow Ortega’s evil regime to notice.

This is what our president said following a diatribe against the United States by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega: “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.” How unfortunate that Barack Obama did not himself blame President Ortega for things that happened when Obama himself was 21, 22, 23, 24 years old, when Ortega was the Communist dictator of Nicaragua. Like driving one-tenth of the population of Nicaragua into exile in Honduras. Like the systematic abuse of the Miskito Indians. Like the harrassment of the nation’s archbishop, Miguel Obando y Bravo, who had provided key support for the crushing of the Somoza regime in 1979. Like the inhumane treatment of Nicaragua’s small and liberal Jewish community (now being duplicated in Venezuela, the home of Obama’s handshake pal, Hugo Chavez). Like the destruction of the free press. Like the forced nationalizations. Like all manner of conduct that goes under the name of Marxism-Leninism. My guess is that President Obama wouldn’t blame Daniel Ortega for any of that because, at the time, he was too busy opposing the efforts of the Reagan administration to block the spread of Marxism in Central America and overthrow Ortega’s evil regime to notice.

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What Careless Diplomacy Looks Like

Sometimes, careless diplomacy looks like a mistranslated Russian phrase, or a set of incompatible DVDs. But those things, though damaging and indicative of superficiality and carelessness, are the stuff of day-to-day incompetence.  The real work of diplomacy centers on presenting the government’s policy, reporting home, and negotiating treaties.

Last week, during his visit to Mexico, administration officials confirmed that President Obama will push the U.S. Senate to ratify the “Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.”  The Clinton administration signed the treaty, better known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA, after the Organization of American States adopted it in 1997.  The Senate has not ratified it, but as the administration acknowledges, the U.S. has abided by the spirit of the Convention.

The Convention has several problems, about which I’ve already written at length on Heritage’s Foundry.  The biggest one is that it criminalizes speech: under its terms, it is illegal to “counsel” the illicit manufacturing of or trafficking in arms.

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

Sometimes, careless diplomacy looks like a mistranslated Russian phrase, or a set of incompatible DVDs. But those things, though damaging and indicative of superficiality and carelessness, are the stuff of day-to-day incompetence.  The real work of diplomacy centers on presenting the government’s policy, reporting home, and negotiating treaties.

Last week, during his visit to Mexico, administration officials confirmed that President Obama will push the U.S. Senate to ratify the “Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.”  The Clinton administration signed the treaty, better known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA, after the Organization of American States adopted it in 1997.  The Senate has not ratified it, but as the administration acknowledges, the U.S. has abided by the spirit of the Convention.

The Convention has several problems, about which I’ve already written at length on Heritage’s Foundry.  The biggest one is that it criminalizes speech: under its terms, it is illegal to “counsel” the illicit manufacturing of or trafficking in arms.

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

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Robinson Is Right

Inspired perhaps by his Pulitzer Prize, Eugene Robinson pens a spot-on column on the Obama-Chavez encounter. His general affection for the president does not interfere with his observation that on this one Obama blew it — and blew it with Daniel Ortega, too. Robinson writes:

Chávez can be charming. But when Obama shook the man’s hand, he should have telegraphed clearly, through posture, expression and language, that he was not amused. Chávez’s gift of the book was meant to affront, not to enlighten, and I would have advised Obama to reciprocate in kind.

The other moment for presidential theatrics was Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute speech excoriating, yes, the long and sordid history of U.S. meddling in Latin America. Asked later about Ortega’s peroration, Obama replied curtly that “it was 50 minutes long.”

Obama was correct not to walk out on the speech. But as was the case with Chávez’s tendentious present, Ortega’s speech was intended as a slap. When Obama spoke later, he should have prefaced his promising call for an “equal partnership” with other countries in the hemisphere with some strong pushback against those who would rather relive the insults of the past than move forward.

One needn’t agree with Robinson’s view that Chavez poses no threat to the U.S. (like candidate Obama who observed the “tiny” country of Iran, Robinson confuses mortal threat with threats to our interest and allies) to agree with his conclusion that Obama risks appearing weak with provocative thugs. It is too much to hope that Obama might have followed the example of Richard Nixon’s “kitchen debate,” but it is not too much to expect he would firmly defend his country rather than ignore Ortega’s rant or fawn over Chavez’s gift selection. Obama seems not to realize he is leading the team — the U.S. team — and not hectoring American policy from the crowd.

It is his job now not simply to avoid insults or “get along” but to advance our interests, encourage others to follow our lead, and stand up for the principles which gird our international policy. (In his first blast against Obama’s foreign policy “timidity,” Mitt Romney echoes some of these thoughts.) One doesn’t accomplish that by being a straight man in a propaganda film for every tin-pot dictator. It is a frightful shame. Because of his celebrity status, Obama has the ability to make it cool to be pro-democracy, pro-American, and anti-dictator. Instead, he is signaling it is cool to slam Uncle Sam.

Inspired perhaps by his Pulitzer Prize, Eugene Robinson pens a spot-on column on the Obama-Chavez encounter. His general affection for the president does not interfere with his observation that on this one Obama blew it — and blew it with Daniel Ortega, too. Robinson writes:

Chávez can be charming. But when Obama shook the man’s hand, he should have telegraphed clearly, through posture, expression and language, that he was not amused. Chávez’s gift of the book was meant to affront, not to enlighten, and I would have advised Obama to reciprocate in kind.

The other moment for presidential theatrics was Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute speech excoriating, yes, the long and sordid history of U.S. meddling in Latin America. Asked later about Ortega’s peroration, Obama replied curtly that “it was 50 minutes long.”

Obama was correct not to walk out on the speech. But as was the case with Chávez’s tendentious present, Ortega’s speech was intended as a slap. When Obama spoke later, he should have prefaced his promising call for an “equal partnership” with other countries in the hemisphere with some strong pushback against those who would rather relive the insults of the past than move forward.

One needn’t agree with Robinson’s view that Chavez poses no threat to the U.S. (like candidate Obama who observed the “tiny” country of Iran, Robinson confuses mortal threat with threats to our interest and allies) to agree with his conclusion that Obama risks appearing weak with provocative thugs. It is too much to hope that Obama might have followed the example of Richard Nixon’s “kitchen debate,” but it is not too much to expect he would firmly defend his country rather than ignore Ortega’s rant or fawn over Chavez’s gift selection. Obama seems not to realize he is leading the team — the U.S. team — and not hectoring American policy from the crowd.

It is his job now not simply to avoid insults or “get along” but to advance our interests, encourage others to follow our lead, and stand up for the principles which gird our international policy. (In his first blast against Obama’s foreign policy “timidity,” Mitt Romney echoes some of these thoughts.) One doesn’t accomplish that by being a straight man in a propaganda film for every tin-pot dictator. It is a frightful shame. Because of his celebrity status, Obama has the ability to make it cool to be pro-democracy, pro-American, and anti-dictator. Instead, he is signaling it is cool to slam Uncle Sam.

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Shuttering Our War Colleges?

Tom Ricks has set off a heck of a controversy in military circles with an article arguing that the service academies and war colleges should be shuttered. Good-bye, West Point. So long, Naval War College. He thinks that instead we should be commissioning all officers through the ROTC and sending all midlevel officers to civilian graduate schools.

I disagree, as do most of those who have responded. I think Tom Mahnken has it right when he writes: “Strengthen, Don’t Shutter, Our War Colleges.” Having just visited West Point, I got an earful from some of the instructors about how the military is great at training but not so good at education — the former designed to teach students to perform tasks more or less by rote, the latter to think more independently and creatively. There is certainly room for strengthening the curriculum, especially by forcing all students to spend time abroad. I also think it’s a good idea to expose more officers to civilian institutions.

But there is no way we could send all those who currently attend command and staff colleges and war colleges to civilian graduate schools; the capacity to handle that inflow doesn’t exist, especially if we expect the officers to study subjects related to strategy and war — two areas sadly neglected in civilian universities.

But although I disagree with Ricks, I commend him for making an unorthodox, even radical suggestion that has stimulated debate and forced all of us to think a little bit about something we normally take for granted. That’s exactly what good opinion journalism should do, whether you agree with the opinions expressed or not.

Tom Ricks has set off a heck of a controversy in military circles with an article arguing that the service academies and war colleges should be shuttered. Good-bye, West Point. So long, Naval War College. He thinks that instead we should be commissioning all officers through the ROTC and sending all midlevel officers to civilian graduate schools.

I disagree, as do most of those who have responded. I think Tom Mahnken has it right when he writes: “Strengthen, Don’t Shutter, Our War Colleges.” Having just visited West Point, I got an earful from some of the instructors about how the military is great at training but not so good at education — the former designed to teach students to perform tasks more or less by rote, the latter to think more independently and creatively. There is certainly room for strengthening the curriculum, especially by forcing all students to spend time abroad. I also think it’s a good idea to expose more officers to civilian institutions.

But there is no way we could send all those who currently attend command and staff colleges and war colleges to civilian graduate schools; the capacity to handle that inflow doesn’t exist, especially if we expect the officers to study subjects related to strategy and war — two areas sadly neglected in civilian universities.

But although I disagree with Ricks, I commend him for making an unorthodox, even radical suggestion that has stimulated debate and forced all of us to think a little bit about something we normally take for granted. That’s exactly what good opinion journalism should do, whether you agree with the opinions expressed or not.

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Well, That Could Be a Problem

David Brooks is enamored of the president’s Georgetown speech made last week on the economy (“a small masterpiece”). But in the final two paragraphs (after throwing in enough flattering words to keep the Obama spin patrol off his back, perhaps) Brooks zeroes in (on much the same grounds as the Washington Post editors did) on the underlying weakness in the Obama agenda:

Obama imposes hard choices on others, but has postponed his own. He presented an agenda that bleeds red ink a trillion dollars at a time. Now he seems passive as Congress kills his few revenue ideas (cap and trade) and spending cuts (agricultural subsidies). Huge fiscal gaps are opening this decade that can’t be closed by distant entitlement reform. They can’t be closed by cynical Potemkin cuts, a few million at a time.

This is not a matter of economics only, but credibility. Obama understands that this is primarily an authority crisis. A system Americans have trusted — the market — has failed in important ways. He has found a theme and bids to reassert authority. But he will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself.

Gosh, that seems to be a rather large problem, one that undermines the entire new New Deal. (Brooks does not touch on some other serious flaws including the questionable premise that the government can set up huge bureaucracies to effectively manage healthcare, carbon output, industrial relations, and the rest.) Brooks’s honest appraisal is quite bracing: if the president is not telling the truth about his own fiscal plans (and instead pulling stunts like a $100M round of budget nibbling), how’s this all going to work? More importantly, how’s the Agent of Hope and Change going to survive politically once the public figures out this is a Ponzi scheme worthy of Bernie Madoff?

A president can deliver all the small verbal masterpieces he wants, but if his agenda is an easily uncovered scam it’s not going to get him very far. Even with those who admire his speeches.

David Brooks is enamored of the president’s Georgetown speech made last week on the economy (“a small masterpiece”). But in the final two paragraphs (after throwing in enough flattering words to keep the Obama spin patrol off his back, perhaps) Brooks zeroes in (on much the same grounds as the Washington Post editors did) on the underlying weakness in the Obama agenda:

Obama imposes hard choices on others, but has postponed his own. He presented an agenda that bleeds red ink a trillion dollars at a time. Now he seems passive as Congress kills his few revenue ideas (cap and trade) and spending cuts (agricultural subsidies). Huge fiscal gaps are opening this decade that can’t be closed by distant entitlement reform. They can’t be closed by cynical Potemkin cuts, a few million at a time.

This is not a matter of economics only, but credibility. Obama understands that this is primarily an authority crisis. A system Americans have trusted — the market — has failed in important ways. He has found a theme and bids to reassert authority. But he will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself.

Gosh, that seems to be a rather large problem, one that undermines the entire new New Deal. (Brooks does not touch on some other serious flaws including the questionable premise that the government can set up huge bureaucracies to effectively manage healthcare, carbon output, industrial relations, and the rest.) Brooks’s honest appraisal is quite bracing: if the president is not telling the truth about his own fiscal plans (and instead pulling stunts like a $100M round of budget nibbling), how’s this all going to work? More importantly, how’s the Agent of Hope and Change going to survive politically once the public figures out this is a Ponzi scheme worthy of Bernie Madoff?

A president can deliver all the small verbal masterpieces he wants, but if his agenda is an easily uncovered scam it’s not going to get him very far. Even with those who admire his speeches.

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The Excess of Evil

Are you fat — I mean, horizontally challenged and metabolically slow? Then you are guilty! Guilty of causing global warming, of course — at least according to a recently released study, which, among other things, blames fat people for the terrible fate awaiting polar bears: “Dr Phil Edwards, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler.”

According to the report,

Each fat person is said to be responsible for emitting a tonne more of climate-warming carbon dioxide per year than a thin one. It means an extra BILLION TONNES of CO2 a year is created, according to World Health Organisation estimates of overweight people.

That the World Health Organization had estimates of overweight people is reasonable, but that they would calculate their average per capita CO2 emission a year is a little over the top. Naturally, it’s only a short step to designating evil:

The scientists say providing extra grub for them to guzzle adds to carbon emissions that heat up the world, melting polar ice caps, raising sea levels and killing rain forests.

The environmental impact of fat humans is made even worse because they are more likely to travel by car – another major cause of carbon emissions.

So, to recap, if you are fat and walk about, you’ll produce more CO2. If you stop walking and drive, that’s even worse. Policy prescription: fat people should neither walk nor drive. How about flying?

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining in the story: the problem doesn’t lie with all exceedingly overweight people — mostly the overweight in Western countries. That’s because “researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say wealthy nations like the US and Britain are getting fatter by the decade.”

As usual, the Western way of life is responsible for all the evils in the world.

We should all apologize and go on a diet.

Are you fat — I mean, horizontally challenged and metabolically slow? Then you are guilty! Guilty of causing global warming, of course — at least according to a recently released study, which, among other things, blames fat people for the terrible fate awaiting polar bears: “Dr Phil Edwards, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler.”

According to the report,

Each fat person is said to be responsible for emitting a tonne more of climate-warming carbon dioxide per year than a thin one. It means an extra BILLION TONNES of CO2 a year is created, according to World Health Organisation estimates of overweight people.

That the World Health Organization had estimates of overweight people is reasonable, but that they would calculate their average per capita CO2 emission a year is a little over the top. Naturally, it’s only a short step to designating evil:

The scientists say providing extra grub for them to guzzle adds to carbon emissions that heat up the world, melting polar ice caps, raising sea levels and killing rain forests.

The environmental impact of fat humans is made even worse because they are more likely to travel by car – another major cause of carbon emissions.

So, to recap, if you are fat and walk about, you’ll produce more CO2. If you stop walking and drive, that’s even worse. Policy prescription: fat people should neither walk nor drive. How about flying?

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining in the story: the problem doesn’t lie with all exceedingly overweight people — mostly the overweight in Western countries. That’s because “researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say wealthy nations like the US and Britain are getting fatter by the decade.”

As usual, the Western way of life is responsible for all the evils in the world.

We should all apologize and go on a diet.

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Not So Fast

Tim Geithner is making it clear he may not let the banks pay back their TARP funds. He’s going to consider general issues of “financial stability.” Wait a second. Where does he get the legal authorization to say “no”? I understand that it is a quaint notion these days to ask for the legislative authority for the government to boss around private firms. But if the banks send a check and thereafter refuse to abide by the government’s TARP edicts, what is the government going to do? I’m not sure a public fight or lawsuit against banks trying to get off the public dole is a public relations winner for Obama. It will, I think, strike most people as ludicrous.

If the public gets wind of the fact that the government, after pressuring a number of banks to accept TARP funds, now won’t let them out I suspect there may be some political and economic ramifications. On the political front, the public doesn’t like bailouts. Hates them in fact. So the Obama team in essence is going to return the check from the banks trying to pay back the taxpayers? This has the makings of a political debacle.

Moreover, the message is now being heard loud and clear by other businesses: run the other way when the government offers “help.” The Washington Post reports, “Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a $750 million government loan because executives didn’t want to abide by new federal limits on pay, sources familiar with the matter say.” (Unfortunately for Chrysler, it already accepted some funds and is under the government’s thumb.)

We are witnessing an unseemly and never-ending power play — the government firing CEOs, undoing contracts,  and making up regulations as they go along. It is a lesson for the public, Congressm and American industry: without the rule of law and clear boundaries between the government and private industry we have something akin to a banana republic. Mercurial leaders and ever changing groundrules make for poor government and economic chaos.

Tim Geithner is making it clear he may not let the banks pay back their TARP funds. He’s going to consider general issues of “financial stability.” Wait a second. Where does he get the legal authorization to say “no”? I understand that it is a quaint notion these days to ask for the legislative authority for the government to boss around private firms. But if the banks send a check and thereafter refuse to abide by the government’s TARP edicts, what is the government going to do? I’m not sure a public fight or lawsuit against banks trying to get off the public dole is a public relations winner for Obama. It will, I think, strike most people as ludicrous.

If the public gets wind of the fact that the government, after pressuring a number of banks to accept TARP funds, now won’t let them out I suspect there may be some political and economic ramifications. On the political front, the public doesn’t like bailouts. Hates them in fact. So the Obama team in essence is going to return the check from the banks trying to pay back the taxpayers? This has the makings of a political debacle.

Moreover, the message is now being heard loud and clear by other businesses: run the other way when the government offers “help.” The Washington Post reports, “Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a $750 million government loan because executives didn’t want to abide by new federal limits on pay, sources familiar with the matter say.” (Unfortunately for Chrysler, it already accepted some funds and is under the government’s thumb.)

We are witnessing an unseemly and never-ending power play — the government firing CEOs, undoing contracts,  and making up regulations as they go along. It is a lesson for the public, Congressm and American industry: without the rule of law and clear boundaries between the government and private industry we have something akin to a banana republic. Mercurial leaders and ever changing groundrules make for poor government and economic chaos.

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Starbucks: A Jewish Conspiracy!

The invaluable MEMRI has posted a video from Egyptian satellite television in which a cleric insists that Muslims boycott Starbucks coffee.  Sadly, the cleric’s outrage has nothing to do with Starbucks’ preposterous prices, nor is he trying to protect domestic mom-and-pop coffee shops. Rather, the cleric is claiming that the woman on Starbucks’s logo is Queen Esther, and that the prevalence of the ancient Persian-Jewish queen’s image within the Muslim world is an insult to Islam.

You can’t blame the cleric for not knowing that the Starbucks woman is actually a mermaid. But you can blame him for being an idiot — and apparently he’s not alone.  According to a friend of mine spending the year in Syria, another common belief holds that Kentucky Fried Chicken is also a front for a vast Jewish conspiracy.  You see, Colonel Sanders is supposedly a legendary soldier in the IDF, while Kentucky contains a disproportionately large Jewish population!  Who knew?

Ultimately, I find it hard to decide whether these conspiracy theories are sad, dangerous, or hysterically funny.  Either way, anyone considering opening a Long John Silver’s restaurant in Cairo might want to think twice.  Indeed, with a last name like Silver, detection is inevitable!

The invaluable MEMRI has posted a video from Egyptian satellite television in which a cleric insists that Muslims boycott Starbucks coffee.  Sadly, the cleric’s outrage has nothing to do with Starbucks’ preposterous prices, nor is he trying to protect domestic mom-and-pop coffee shops. Rather, the cleric is claiming that the woman on Starbucks’s logo is Queen Esther, and that the prevalence of the ancient Persian-Jewish queen’s image within the Muslim world is an insult to Islam.

You can’t blame the cleric for not knowing that the Starbucks woman is actually a mermaid. But you can blame him for being an idiot — and apparently he’s not alone.  According to a friend of mine spending the year in Syria, another common belief holds that Kentucky Fried Chicken is also a front for a vast Jewish conspiracy.  You see, Colonel Sanders is supposedly a legendary soldier in the IDF, while Kentucky contains a disproportionately large Jewish population!  Who knew?

Ultimately, I find it hard to decide whether these conspiracy theories are sad, dangerous, or hysterically funny.  Either way, anyone considering opening a Long John Silver’s restaurant in Cairo might want to think twice.  Indeed, with a last name like Silver, detection is inevitable!

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Peter Huber has a must-read column on the foolishness of the effort to cap carbon emissions: “We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.”

A chilling reminder of what life in North Korea is like.

A helpful visual aid to understanding the magnitude of Obama’s proposed budget cuts.

The White House press corps roughs up Robert Gibbs over the budget savings charade. I think it’s safe to say the whole exercise was a PR disaster and merely highlighted how much the administration has been spending.

Really no one, not even the AP, is buying this.

Richard Cohen refuses to play the moral equivalence game with Israel. Roger Cohen might find the column illuminating.

Bill McGurn explains that Obama seems inclined to substitute Bagram for Guantanamo. Conservatives may be fine with that, but not the Left. “The good news is that Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that the relative obscurity of Bagram, not to mention the approval he has received on Guantanamo, enables him to do the right thing here without, as [Glenn] Greenwald notes, worrying too much that he will be called to account for a substantive about-face. The bad news is that we seem to have reached the point where our best hope for sensible war policy now depends largely on presidential cynicism.” We’re counting on the same cynicism when it comes to enhanced interrogation techniques.

The public’s appetite for government activism is limited according to a Rasmussen poll: “Fifty-two percent (52%) now are concerned that the government will end up doing too much in response to the nation’s economic challenges. That’s the highest level of concern since last November’s Presidential Election. Just 31% now worry the government will do too little.”

Newt Gingrich explains why the president’s grip-and-grin routine matters.

The underdog Democrat in the Virginia gubernatorial race goes after the two front runners, James Moran’s brother Brian and Terry McAuliffe, over “the campaign contributions they received from wealthy out-of-state donors and defense contractors.”

The usually reliable Chris Cillizza writes that in the New Jersey gubernatorial race “Christie and Corzine are in a virtual dead heat.” Huh? Christie enjoys an average lead of more than thirteen points according to Pollster.com.

Larry Kudlow explains why the stock market tanked on Monday: “White House and Treasury officials are now talking about turning government TARP loans into common stock for the 19 biggest banks. It’s clearly a backdoor path to nationalization, as Uncle Sam would be the largest shareholder in these institutions. What’s more, it’s not at all clear that the administration will even let certain banks pay down their TARP loans. .  . Once again, the investor class got shafted.” There’s more of that coming, I suspect.

It seems the Jane Harman lobbying for AIPAC story has quite a few problems. Okay, lots and lots of problems. But the better story is who’s spinning it — CIA? White House?

In the nicest possible way Howard Kurtz explains David Gregory is losing viewers and doesn’t know how to question guests on Meet The Press. (“But where Russert created tension by trying to catch his guests in inconsistencies, Gregory often poses low-key, open-ended questions.”) Does he make it through the year?

Peter Huber has a must-read column on the foolishness of the effort to cap carbon emissions: “We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.”

A chilling reminder of what life in North Korea is like.

A helpful visual aid to understanding the magnitude of Obama’s proposed budget cuts.

The White House press corps roughs up Robert Gibbs over the budget savings charade. I think it’s safe to say the whole exercise was a PR disaster and merely highlighted how much the administration has been spending.

Really no one, not even the AP, is buying this.

Richard Cohen refuses to play the moral equivalence game with Israel. Roger Cohen might find the column illuminating.

Bill McGurn explains that Obama seems inclined to substitute Bagram for Guantanamo. Conservatives may be fine with that, but not the Left. “The good news is that Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that the relative obscurity of Bagram, not to mention the approval he has received on Guantanamo, enables him to do the right thing here without, as [Glenn] Greenwald notes, worrying too much that he will be called to account for a substantive about-face. The bad news is that we seem to have reached the point where our best hope for sensible war policy now depends largely on presidential cynicism.” We’re counting on the same cynicism when it comes to enhanced interrogation techniques.

The public’s appetite for government activism is limited according to a Rasmussen poll: “Fifty-two percent (52%) now are concerned that the government will end up doing too much in response to the nation’s economic challenges. That’s the highest level of concern since last November’s Presidential Election. Just 31% now worry the government will do too little.”

Newt Gingrich explains why the president’s grip-and-grin routine matters.

The underdog Democrat in the Virginia gubernatorial race goes after the two front runners, James Moran’s brother Brian and Terry McAuliffe, over “the campaign contributions they received from wealthy out-of-state donors and defense contractors.”

The usually reliable Chris Cillizza writes that in the New Jersey gubernatorial race “Christie and Corzine are in a virtual dead heat.” Huh? Christie enjoys an average lead of more than thirteen points according to Pollster.com.

Larry Kudlow explains why the stock market tanked on Monday: “White House and Treasury officials are now talking about turning government TARP loans into common stock for the 19 biggest banks. It’s clearly a backdoor path to nationalization, as Uncle Sam would be the largest shareholder in these institutions. What’s more, it’s not at all clear that the administration will even let certain banks pay down their TARP loans. .  . Once again, the investor class got shafted.” There’s more of that coming, I suspect.

It seems the Jane Harman lobbying for AIPAC story has quite a few problems. Okay, lots and lots of problems. But the better story is who’s spinning it — CIA? White House?

In the nicest possible way Howard Kurtz explains David Gregory is losing viewers and doesn’t know how to question guests on Meet The Press. (“But where Russert created tension by trying to catch his guests in inconsistencies, Gregory often poses low-key, open-ended questions.”) Does he make it through the year?

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