Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 7, 2009

Can Bibi Hold it Together?

In the AP report that Abe quoted the other day, President Obama says that he “recognize[s] the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that [stoping construction of settlements] done”, and in recent days there’s a new wave of speculation about whether this means the coming pulverization of the Israeli coalition. As most analysts see it, Benjamin Netanyahu is caught between the hammer (Obama) and the anvil (his coalition), and there’s no escape.

Today, the PM announced that he will respond to Obama’s Cairo speech next week:

“It must be understood, we seek peace with the Palestinians and with the states of the Arab world while trying to reach as much understanding as possible with the United States and our friends abroad,” the Israeli leader said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

This will not be easy. Netanyahu intends to confer with his coalition members, but the problem is that not all of them see things the same way. While some, like Labor’s Ehud Barak, will emphasis the “understanding” with the U.S part of Netanyahu’s promise, others, like Shas’s Eli Yishai might stick to sa different view:

“There is no need to panic,” he said, “While the Obama administration has a different outlook (regarding the settlements), we must uphold our principles.”

These conflicting views of coalition members, and the pressure on Netanyahu to respond positively to Obama’s demands, have added to pundits’ assumptions that a new coalition is likely to emerge soon. As Jeffrey Goldberg predicts:

Something is bound to break, and when it does, the Netanyahu government collapses. Which doesn’t mean that Netanyahu is out of power. It means that he then shares power with Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party. If I were an American policymaker, that’s the Israeli coalition I would hope for: Netanyahu-Barak-Livni, rather than Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman. You watch: It’s coming. 

Sounds convincing, unless one takes into account how complicated the building of such a coalition would be. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter specified:

What Livni seems to want is this: that Netanyahu disperse the existing coalition, shred its guidelines and adopt Kadima’s policy. Then they would have something to discuss. A senior person close to Livni, who in fact would gladly join the coalition, predicted this week that such a scenario isn’t going to happen. In that person’s assessment, if Netanyahu gets into a situation in which he needs Kadima, it will be from a position of weakness. Livni will demand an equivalent rotation and also everything he offered her in the negotiations conducted after the election: the same number of portfolios as Likud, including foreign affairs and defense; adoption of the formula of two states for two people; and a continuation of diplomatic negotiations from the point at which they were stopped during the days of the Kadima government. It is true that large parts of Kadima are longing to join, the source admitted, but not Tzipi. She won’t let that happen.

If Livni gets Defense, Ehud Barak has nothing to do in the government. If Kadima’s policy is adopted, Netanyahu will lose control within his own Likud Party. If you imagine this Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition to be a stable one, think again. All three parties combined have 68 mandates. With “rebels” expected in all three parties, and the fragility of this new arrangement, there’s hardly enough to maintain a coalition that is more stable than the current one. What the public fails to grasp, over and over, is that stability in Israel depends not on having the right number of coalition members but rather on executing a consensual policy. Netanyahu’s speech, in ten days, will give him the opportunity to provide such a policy – one that will make most Israelis nod in approval. Only by achieving this, will he be able to keep his government alive.

In the AP report that Abe quoted the other day, President Obama says that he “recognize[s] the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that [stoping construction of settlements] done”, and in recent days there’s a new wave of speculation about whether this means the coming pulverization of the Israeli coalition. As most analysts see it, Benjamin Netanyahu is caught between the hammer (Obama) and the anvil (his coalition), and there’s no escape.

Today, the PM announced that he will respond to Obama’s Cairo speech next week:

“It must be understood, we seek peace with the Palestinians and with the states of the Arab world while trying to reach as much understanding as possible with the United States and our friends abroad,” the Israeli leader said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

This will not be easy. Netanyahu intends to confer with his coalition members, but the problem is that not all of them see things the same way. While some, like Labor’s Ehud Barak, will emphasis the “understanding” with the U.S part of Netanyahu’s promise, others, like Shas’s Eli Yishai might stick to sa different view:

“There is no need to panic,” he said, “While the Obama administration has a different outlook (regarding the settlements), we must uphold our principles.”

These conflicting views of coalition members, and the pressure on Netanyahu to respond positively to Obama’s demands, have added to pundits’ assumptions that a new coalition is likely to emerge soon. As Jeffrey Goldberg predicts:

Something is bound to break, and when it does, the Netanyahu government collapses. Which doesn’t mean that Netanyahu is out of power. It means that he then shares power with Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party. If I were an American policymaker, that’s the Israeli coalition I would hope for: Netanyahu-Barak-Livni, rather than Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman. You watch: It’s coming. 

Sounds convincing, unless one takes into account how complicated the building of such a coalition would be. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter specified:

What Livni seems to want is this: that Netanyahu disperse the existing coalition, shred its guidelines and adopt Kadima’s policy. Then they would have something to discuss. A senior person close to Livni, who in fact would gladly join the coalition, predicted this week that such a scenario isn’t going to happen. In that person’s assessment, if Netanyahu gets into a situation in which he needs Kadima, it will be from a position of weakness. Livni will demand an equivalent rotation and also everything he offered her in the negotiations conducted after the election: the same number of portfolios as Likud, including foreign affairs and defense; adoption of the formula of two states for two people; and a continuation of diplomatic negotiations from the point at which they were stopped during the days of the Kadima government. It is true that large parts of Kadima are longing to join, the source admitted, but not Tzipi. She won’t let that happen.

If Livni gets Defense, Ehud Barak has nothing to do in the government. If Kadima’s policy is adopted, Netanyahu will lose control within his own Likud Party. If you imagine this Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition to be a stable one, think again. All three parties combined have 68 mandates. With “rebels” expected in all three parties, and the fragility of this new arrangement, there’s hardly enough to maintain a coalition that is more stable than the current one. What the public fails to grasp, over and over, is that stability in Israel depends not on having the right number of coalition members but rather on executing a consensual policy. Netanyahu’s speech, in ten days, will give him the opportunity to provide such a policy – one that will make most Israelis nod in approval. Only by achieving this, will he be able to keep his government alive.

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Undoing the Bush Letter

Martin Kramer has suggested that Obama’s Cairo speech can be understood as an example of “Third Worldism,” given some of the themes that pervaded the address:

Some of the influences on Obama bubble to the surface. There is the Third Worldism: Muslims are victims of our colonialism (Obama has read Fanon) and the Cold War (has he been reading Khalidi again?) The primacy of the West is over: “Any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” There is the implicit comparison of the Palestinians to black Americans during segregation, a familiar trope (Carter and Condi went for it too). Israel comes across as an anomaly. There is no appreciation of Israel as a strategic asset – its ties to the United States are “cultural and historical,” and thus not entirely rational. (That validates Obama’s other former Chicago colleague, Mearsheimer.) All of this has the ring of conviction – and of a Third Worldist sensibility.

Kramer’s reference to Rashid Khalidi is a useful clue to one of the more extraordinary incidents in the four-month old Obama administration:  the refusal, 21 times and counting, to answer whether the administration is bound by the 2004 Bush letter to Israel.

What would make a new president think he could simply ignore a written commitment to a U.S. ally – reflecting an agreement on existential issues and on which the ally acted in reliance?  Why would he treat the letter as if it were merely a prior politician’s pledge?  The answer can perhaps be found in Khalidi’s 2006 pseudo-scholarly book – “The Iron Cage: The Palestinian Struggle for Statehood” – which Obama likely read when it came out.  The book contains a discussion of the Bush letter, as well as Khalidi’s recommendation about how a subsequent president should handle it.

Khalidi acknowledged the letter is unambiguous.  It “recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements” and “endorsed the Israeli contention that Palestinian refugees cannot return to Israel proper.”  But Khalidi followed that description with a non-sequitur, asserting that the letter “helped lay low, perhaps definitively, the increasingly dim prospects of an independent, sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state ever coming into being.”

Why would rejection of a Palestinian right of return to Israel have any effect on an “independent, sovereign, contiguous” Palestinian state – particularly since the Bush letter endorsed a Palestinian right of return to the new Palestinian state?  Why would rejection of a right of return to Israel not be simply one of the minimum requirements for a two-state solution, assuming the goal was two states for two peoples?

Similarly, why would the permanence of major Israeli settlements have any effect on an “independent, sovereign, contiguous” Palestinian state – since those settlements occupy about eight percent of the West Bank, could be compensated with land swaps from pre-1967 Israel (even assuming 92 percent of the West Bank was not itself sufficient for a Palestinian state), and are essential to the defensible borders necessary to make any two-state solution work?

Khalidi did not acknowledge, much less answer, those questions.  He simply asserted – using the language of a Third Worldist – that the Bush letter represented “effective support of settlement, colonization, theft, and occupation” that would make the U.S. look like “a superpower bully, conniving with its powerful local ally to impose its will on the weak and powerless.”  Then he gave his suggestion, which reflects precisely what the Obama administration appears to be doing:  just “undo” the Bush letter.  In Khalidi’s words, “what one politician – American or Israeli – has done, another can undo.”  Treat the letter as merely a politician’s pledge, and break it.

The strategic significance of what Obama is doing (and undoing) with respect to the Bush letter is serious.  The considerations are analyzed with remarkable clarity by J.E. Dyer in the first and second installments of her series on “The Next Phase of World War IV.”  The title reflects the forgotten fact that we are in the middle of a new cold/hot war, in which this issue is not simply a peripheral one.  On the contrary, the persistent refusal of the State Department to address the U.S. commitment reflected in the Bush letter is, as she notes, “[p]erhaps one of the most important developments.”

Martin Kramer has suggested that Obama’s Cairo speech can be understood as an example of “Third Worldism,” given some of the themes that pervaded the address:

Some of the influences on Obama bubble to the surface. There is the Third Worldism: Muslims are victims of our colonialism (Obama has read Fanon) and the Cold War (has he been reading Khalidi again?) The primacy of the West is over: “Any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” There is the implicit comparison of the Palestinians to black Americans during segregation, a familiar trope (Carter and Condi went for it too). Israel comes across as an anomaly. There is no appreciation of Israel as a strategic asset – its ties to the United States are “cultural and historical,” and thus not entirely rational. (That validates Obama’s other former Chicago colleague, Mearsheimer.) All of this has the ring of conviction – and of a Third Worldist sensibility.

Kramer’s reference to Rashid Khalidi is a useful clue to one of the more extraordinary incidents in the four-month old Obama administration:  the refusal, 21 times and counting, to answer whether the administration is bound by the 2004 Bush letter to Israel.

What would make a new president think he could simply ignore a written commitment to a U.S. ally – reflecting an agreement on existential issues and on which the ally acted in reliance?  Why would he treat the letter as if it were merely a prior politician’s pledge?  The answer can perhaps be found in Khalidi’s 2006 pseudo-scholarly book – “The Iron Cage: The Palestinian Struggle for Statehood” – which Obama likely read when it came out.  The book contains a discussion of the Bush letter, as well as Khalidi’s recommendation about how a subsequent president should handle it.

Khalidi acknowledged the letter is unambiguous.  It “recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements” and “endorsed the Israeli contention that Palestinian refugees cannot return to Israel proper.”  But Khalidi followed that description with a non-sequitur, asserting that the letter “helped lay low, perhaps definitively, the increasingly dim prospects of an independent, sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state ever coming into being.”

Why would rejection of a Palestinian right of return to Israel have any effect on an “independent, sovereign, contiguous” Palestinian state – particularly since the Bush letter endorsed a Palestinian right of return to the new Palestinian state?  Why would rejection of a right of return to Israel not be simply one of the minimum requirements for a two-state solution, assuming the goal was two states for two peoples?

Similarly, why would the permanence of major Israeli settlements have any effect on an “independent, sovereign, contiguous” Palestinian state – since those settlements occupy about eight percent of the West Bank, could be compensated with land swaps from pre-1967 Israel (even assuming 92 percent of the West Bank was not itself sufficient for a Palestinian state), and are essential to the defensible borders necessary to make any two-state solution work?

Khalidi did not acknowledge, much less answer, those questions.  He simply asserted – using the language of a Third Worldist – that the Bush letter represented “effective support of settlement, colonization, theft, and occupation” that would make the U.S. look like “a superpower bully, conniving with its powerful local ally to impose its will on the weak and powerless.”  Then he gave his suggestion, which reflects precisely what the Obama administration appears to be doing:  just “undo” the Bush letter.  In Khalidi’s words, “what one politician – American or Israeli – has done, another can undo.”  Treat the letter as merely a politician’s pledge, and break it.

The strategic significance of what Obama is doing (and undoing) with respect to the Bush letter is serious.  The considerations are analyzed with remarkable clarity by J.E. Dyer in the first and second installments of her series on “The Next Phase of World War IV.”  The title reflects the forgotten fact that we are in the middle of a new cold/hot war, in which this issue is not simply a peripheral one.  On the contrary, the persistent refusal of the State Department to address the U.S. commitment reflected in the Bush letter is, as she notes, “[p]erhaps one of the most important developments.”

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Back on the Terror List?

Middle East policy notwithstanding, the Obama administration continues to wake up to from its “smart power” dream. Hillary Clinton says they’re mulling over putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism:

Clinton was asked on ABC’s “This Week” about a letter that some senators wrote Obama about returning North Korea to that list.

“We’re going to look at it. There’s a process for it,” Clinton said in the interview, taped Thursday in Egypt.”Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism.”

She added, “We’re just beginning to look at it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.”

In 2002, the unflagged North Korean freighter, So San, was caught delivering 15 scud missiles and 85 drums of “chemicals” to Yemen. In 2007, Israelis destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was being constructed with Pyongyang’s material and intellectual assistance. North Korea is already a chemical and nuclear proliferator, providing deadly weapons and deadly know-how to terror states. If they’re not on the list, there is no list.

The Bush administration’s decision to take North Korea off in 2008 is a strong contender for most depressing sign of Bush Doctrine collapse. The proven futility of that move is a crystalline indicator of the folly of engagement with terror regimes. After North Korea is put back on the list the Kim regime needs to be choked off from international economic and banking services — something else the administration is considering. Of course, as everybody knows, China’s cooperation is essential. If the Obama administration can convince Beijing that a refugee flow from a collapsing North Korea is less of a threat than a nuclear North Korea then the president and the secretary of state will have truly earned the right to be called practitioners of smart power.

Middle East policy notwithstanding, the Obama administration continues to wake up to from its “smart power” dream. Hillary Clinton says they’re mulling over putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism:

Clinton was asked on ABC’s “This Week” about a letter that some senators wrote Obama about returning North Korea to that list.

“We’re going to look at it. There’s a process for it,” Clinton said in the interview, taped Thursday in Egypt.”Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism.”

She added, “We’re just beginning to look at it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.”

In 2002, the unflagged North Korean freighter, So San, was caught delivering 15 scud missiles and 85 drums of “chemicals” to Yemen. In 2007, Israelis destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was being constructed with Pyongyang’s material and intellectual assistance. North Korea is already a chemical and nuclear proliferator, providing deadly weapons and deadly know-how to terror states. If they’re not on the list, there is no list.

The Bush administration’s decision to take North Korea off in 2008 is a strong contender for most depressing sign of Bush Doctrine collapse. The proven futility of that move is a crystalline indicator of the folly of engagement with terror regimes. After North Korea is put back on the list the Kim regime needs to be choked off from international economic and banking services — something else the administration is considering. Of course, as everybody knows, China’s cooperation is essential. If the Obama administration can convince Beijing that a refugee flow from a collapsing North Korea is less of a threat than a nuclear North Korea then the president and the secretary of state will have truly earned the right to be called practitioners of smart power.

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Israel’s Loyal Opposition?

Having become almost entirely inaudible within her own country, Tzipi Livni is looking for a new audience. She’s found it in the New York Times, where Israel’s Leader of the opposition put forth her own official response to President Obama’s Cairo speech.

Her central thesis is that for democracies to thrive in the Middle East, it is not enough for elections to be held. There needs to be an underlying worldview, a belief in liberty, a set of values that must be inculcated in a culture before one can call it democratic. This is perhaps the key paragraph:

I believe that democracy is about values before it is about voting. These values must be nurtured within society and integrated into the electoral process itself. We cannot offer international legitimacy for radical groups and then simply hope that elections and governance will take care of the rest. In fact, the capacity to influence radical groups can diminish significantly once they are viewed as indispensable coalition partners and are able to intimidate the electorate with the authority of the state behind them.

Livni is right, of course. There is no reason to legitimize Hamas or Hezbollah just because they’re taking part in elections — even if they win. This is an especially timely message today, as Lebanese go to the polls. But if the Times’s point was to show the world that Israel has voices that are different from the current hard-right-but-also-hard-left government, it failed. Livni’s article did not present a single idea that has not already been voiced by the Israeli center-right, most notably Prime Minister Netanyahu himself. In fact, the importance of creating the infrastructure for democracy — through education, law and order, and economic development, is the central point of his own prescription for peace with the Palestinians, and is likely to be the central feature of his major policy speech next week. For years, Natan Sharansky has been calling for a similar “bottom-up” approach to dealing with the region, and took issue with the Bush Administration’s elections-first approach to Iraq on precisely these grounds.

Which leaves us wondering: What was the point of the article? Was she trying to steal Netanyahu’s thunder by making it look like the ideas are her own? To distort Netanyahu’s views by implicitly suggesting that they are somehow different from her own?

Or maybe the explanation is something far less nefarious. Perhaps she is trying to show the Americans, particularly in the Obama administration, just how much of a consensus the current Israeli government’s views represent; that there really is such a thing as a “loyal opposition” — especially in the face of what Israel is currently facing around the world.

Having become almost entirely inaudible within her own country, Tzipi Livni is looking for a new audience. She’s found it in the New York Times, where Israel’s Leader of the opposition put forth her own official response to President Obama’s Cairo speech.

Her central thesis is that for democracies to thrive in the Middle East, it is not enough for elections to be held. There needs to be an underlying worldview, a belief in liberty, a set of values that must be inculcated in a culture before one can call it democratic. This is perhaps the key paragraph:

I believe that democracy is about values before it is about voting. These values must be nurtured within society and integrated into the electoral process itself. We cannot offer international legitimacy for radical groups and then simply hope that elections and governance will take care of the rest. In fact, the capacity to influence radical groups can diminish significantly once they are viewed as indispensable coalition partners and are able to intimidate the electorate with the authority of the state behind them.

Livni is right, of course. There is no reason to legitimize Hamas or Hezbollah just because they’re taking part in elections — even if they win. This is an especially timely message today, as Lebanese go to the polls. But if the Times’s point was to show the world that Israel has voices that are different from the current hard-right-but-also-hard-left government, it failed. Livni’s article did not present a single idea that has not already been voiced by the Israeli center-right, most notably Prime Minister Netanyahu himself. In fact, the importance of creating the infrastructure for democracy — through education, law and order, and economic development, is the central point of his own prescription for peace with the Palestinians, and is likely to be the central feature of his major policy speech next week. For years, Natan Sharansky has been calling for a similar “bottom-up” approach to dealing with the region, and took issue with the Bush Administration’s elections-first approach to Iraq on precisely these grounds.

Which leaves us wondering: What was the point of the article? Was she trying to steal Netanyahu’s thunder by making it look like the ideas are her own? To distort Netanyahu’s views by implicitly suggesting that they are somehow different from her own?

Or maybe the explanation is something far less nefarious. Perhaps she is trying to show the Americans, particularly in the Obama administration, just how much of a consensus the current Israeli government’s views represent; that there really is such a thing as a “loyal opposition” — especially in the face of what Israel is currently facing around the world.

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Claptrap

Former No. 3 man in the State Department Nicholas Burns, commenting on the president’s public bashing of Israel on settlements, spews the sort of gibberish for which Foggy Bottom is famous:

Most Palestinians and many Arabs have lost faith in the peace process. . . One of the major issues for the United States is to regain credibility. This is a down payment the Obama administration is making with the Arab world, and they’re saying it publicly.

Oh please. The Palestinians have “lost faith in the peace process”? Which ones — those shooting Fatah supporters in the knee caps?

Recall where we are. After withdrawing from Gaza, Israel was treated to an ongoing assault on its civilian population, prompting a military operation during which Arab states privately and not so privately cheered on the Israelis in their effort to disable Hamas, and thereby bloody the nose of its Iranian sponsors. There is no viable Palestinian negotiating partner. And we are supposed to buy the line that the Palestinians are put out because the U.S. hasn’t done what it is supposed to have done. This is the sort of enabling chatter which only cements the delusional outlook among Palestinians and the utterly unhelpful passivity of Arab states.

But we shouldn’t pick on Burns. This thinking is endemic in the administration and throughout much of the U.S. media. It fits with the “well, we’ve all made mistakes” canard and bolsters the notion that if we all just extract unilateral concessions from Israel it will all work out. ( Yeah well not in Lebanon. And not by exiting Gaza. But it will this time. Honest.) It fits nicely with the egocentric hooey from Obama that he, and only he, has spent time and effort thinking about how to solve this and can, through the sheer force of his “honesty,” get Israel to do the impossible and get the Palestinians to do what they have, for sixty years, refused to do. Where are the “realists” when you need them?

Former No. 3 man in the State Department Nicholas Burns, commenting on the president’s public bashing of Israel on settlements, spews the sort of gibberish for which Foggy Bottom is famous:

Most Palestinians and many Arabs have lost faith in the peace process. . . One of the major issues for the United States is to regain credibility. This is a down payment the Obama administration is making with the Arab world, and they’re saying it publicly.

Oh please. The Palestinians have “lost faith in the peace process”? Which ones — those shooting Fatah supporters in the knee caps?

Recall where we are. After withdrawing from Gaza, Israel was treated to an ongoing assault on its civilian population, prompting a military operation during which Arab states privately and not so privately cheered on the Israelis in their effort to disable Hamas, and thereby bloody the nose of its Iranian sponsors. There is no viable Palestinian negotiating partner. And we are supposed to buy the line that the Palestinians are put out because the U.S. hasn’t done what it is supposed to have done. This is the sort of enabling chatter which only cements the delusional outlook among Palestinians and the utterly unhelpful passivity of Arab states.

But we shouldn’t pick on Burns. This thinking is endemic in the administration and throughout much of the U.S. media. It fits with the “well, we’ve all made mistakes” canard and bolsters the notion that if we all just extract unilateral concessions from Israel it will all work out. ( Yeah well not in Lebanon. And not by exiting Gaza. But it will this time. Honest.) It fits nicely with the egocentric hooey from Obama that he, and only he, has spent time and effort thinking about how to solve this and can, through the sheer force of his “honesty,” get Israel to do the impossible and get the Palestinians to do what they have, for sixty years, refused to do. Where are the “realists” when you need them?

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An Unbalanced Act

According to today’s Ha’aretz, President Obama’s visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp,

was widely interpreted as a direct continuation of the “reconciliation” address he delivered in Cairo just 24 hours before, a kind of counterweight to his “salaam alaykum” speech intended to pacify Israel and its supporters in America, and refute the claim that the president had compared the suffering of the Holocaust to that of the Palestinians.

The Buchenwald visit is also widely seen as an attempt to convince the Arab and Muslim worlds that reconciliation between them and the West obligates them to recognize that Nazi persecution, and the Holocaust in particular, figure centrally in the West’s moral constellation.

Let us assume this is accurate. This understanding of balance presents three problems with respect to Obama’s Cairo speech – especially its passages on Palestinian refugees which immediately and causally followed his comments about the Holocaust. The first problem is that the Arab and Muslim worlds need not be convinced “that Nazi persecution and the Holocaust in particular figure centrally in the West’s moral constellation.” They know that very well. Ask Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The problem is not that they fail to see its centrality in Western thinking. The problem is that they object to it and vociferously and often insultingly ask the West to dispense with its memory. Those who accuse the West of supporting Israel out of guilt for the Holocaust do not ignore the centrality of that event in Western thinking. They wish to remove it from that central role. To remind the Arab and Muslim world therefore that America supports Israel because of the Holocaust — this seems to be the operational assumption of the balancing act — is not going to do the trick. It will just strengthen in the mind of people like Ahmadinejad or the Hamas leadership the idea that promoting more of Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry and the Walt and Mearsheimer The Israel Lobby is the right response.

The second problem is that this balancing act seems to suggest that Israel exists because of the Holocaust. Again, there is no disagreement here with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who’s been saying this all along. That’s why he recommends that Israelis be relocated to Germany and Austria — let the Europeans compensate the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants with their own land.

The third problem is that the balancing act seems to suggest the following: you can count on us to cry over the unmarked graves of dead Jews who perished in the Holocaust. In exchange for that favor, we’ll put living Jews in harm’s way for the sake of a photo-op at the Rose Garden, and hopefully a Nobel peace prize (even if co-shared).

Israel does not need that balancing act. Let’s hope the President really meant both his words and the symbolism of his visit for their own sake, and not for some short term political gain with part of his domestic constituency.

According to today’s Ha’aretz, President Obama’s visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp,

was widely interpreted as a direct continuation of the “reconciliation” address he delivered in Cairo just 24 hours before, a kind of counterweight to his “salaam alaykum” speech intended to pacify Israel and its supporters in America, and refute the claim that the president had compared the suffering of the Holocaust to that of the Palestinians.

The Buchenwald visit is also widely seen as an attempt to convince the Arab and Muslim worlds that reconciliation between them and the West obligates them to recognize that Nazi persecution, and the Holocaust in particular, figure centrally in the West’s moral constellation.

Let us assume this is accurate. This understanding of balance presents three problems with respect to Obama’s Cairo speech – especially its passages on Palestinian refugees which immediately and causally followed his comments about the Holocaust. The first problem is that the Arab and Muslim worlds need not be convinced “that Nazi persecution and the Holocaust in particular figure centrally in the West’s moral constellation.” They know that very well. Ask Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The problem is not that they fail to see its centrality in Western thinking. The problem is that they object to it and vociferously and often insultingly ask the West to dispense with its memory. Those who accuse the West of supporting Israel out of guilt for the Holocaust do not ignore the centrality of that event in Western thinking. They wish to remove it from that central role. To remind the Arab and Muslim world therefore that America supports Israel because of the Holocaust — this seems to be the operational assumption of the balancing act — is not going to do the trick. It will just strengthen in the mind of people like Ahmadinejad or the Hamas leadership the idea that promoting more of Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry and the Walt and Mearsheimer The Israel Lobby is the right response.

The second problem is that this balancing act seems to suggest that Israel exists because of the Holocaust. Again, there is no disagreement here with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who’s been saying this all along. That’s why he recommends that Israelis be relocated to Germany and Austria — let the Europeans compensate the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants with their own land.

The third problem is that the balancing act seems to suggest the following: you can count on us to cry over the unmarked graves of dead Jews who perished in the Holocaust. In exchange for that favor, we’ll put living Jews in harm’s way for the sake of a photo-op at the Rose Garden, and hopefully a Nobel peace prize (even if co-shared).

Israel does not need that balancing act. Let’s hope the President really meant both his words and the symbolism of his visit for their own sake, and not for some short term political gain with part of his domestic constituency.

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Sotomayor vs. Thomas

The New York Times sets up an interesting comparison between Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. For the former, it’s all about race and ethnicity, all the time. Thomas abhors affirmative action and identity politics. The Times paints an illuminating picture of the nominee:

Judge Sotomayor celebrates being Latina, calling it a reason for her success; Justice Thomas bristles at attempts to define him by race and says he has succeeded despite the obstacles it posed. Being a woman of Puerto Rican descent is rich and fulfilling, Judge Sotomayor says, while Justice Thomas calls being a black man in America a largely searing experience. Off the bench, Judge Sotomayor has helped build affirmative action programs. On the bench, Justice Thomas has argued against them with thunderous force.

[. . .]

Ms. Sotomayor also became a passionate advocate for Hispanic recruitment. She took a work-study job in the admissions office, traveling to high schools and lobbying on behalf of her best prospects. As co-chairwoman of Accíon Puertorriqueña, she wrote a complaint accusing Princeton of discrimination, convinced the leaders of the Chicano Caucus to co-sign it and filed it with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

[. . .]

Again [at Ylae Law School], she immersed herself in Puerto Rican issues, winning a spot on the law review with an article about Puerto Rico’s rights to resources in its seabed, leading the minority students’ association and urging the administration to hire a tenured Hispanic faculty member. (A quarter-century later, she is still pressing the school on the issue.)

When voters elected the “post-racial” Obama did they envision nominees like Sotomayor and the race-based programs and preferences to which she has devoted herself? Or did they expect the Thomas “get over it” view in which we put behind us the obsession with race, quotas, etc. ? The answer is different, of course, for different voters. But the polls suggest the Thomas view is the one held by the vast majority of voters.

This should be a fascinating confirmation hearing. And coming at a time when the Supreme Court will be handing down decisions on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and on the New Haven firefighter case, there will be, I suspect, a nation-wide debate about all of this. The administration and the national media may be stunned to find out that Thomas is in the “mainstream” on this one and they, Sotomayor, and Obama are not.

The New York Times sets up an interesting comparison between Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. For the former, it’s all about race and ethnicity, all the time. Thomas abhors affirmative action and identity politics. The Times paints an illuminating picture of the nominee:

Judge Sotomayor celebrates being Latina, calling it a reason for her success; Justice Thomas bristles at attempts to define him by race and says he has succeeded despite the obstacles it posed. Being a woman of Puerto Rican descent is rich and fulfilling, Judge Sotomayor says, while Justice Thomas calls being a black man in America a largely searing experience. Off the bench, Judge Sotomayor has helped build affirmative action programs. On the bench, Justice Thomas has argued against them with thunderous force.

[. . .]

Ms. Sotomayor also became a passionate advocate for Hispanic recruitment. She took a work-study job in the admissions office, traveling to high schools and lobbying on behalf of her best prospects. As co-chairwoman of Accíon Puertorriqueña, she wrote a complaint accusing Princeton of discrimination, convinced the leaders of the Chicano Caucus to co-sign it and filed it with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

[. . .]

Again [at Ylae Law School], she immersed herself in Puerto Rican issues, winning a spot on the law review with an article about Puerto Rico’s rights to resources in its seabed, leading the minority students’ association and urging the administration to hire a tenured Hispanic faculty member. (A quarter-century later, she is still pressing the school on the issue.)

When voters elected the “post-racial” Obama did they envision nominees like Sotomayor and the race-based programs and preferences to which she has devoted herself? Or did they expect the Thomas “get over it” view in which we put behind us the obsession with race, quotas, etc. ? The answer is different, of course, for different voters. But the polls suggest the Thomas view is the one held by the vast majority of voters.

This should be a fascinating confirmation hearing. And coming at a time when the Supreme Court will be handing down decisions on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and on the New Haven firefighter case, there will be, I suspect, a nation-wide debate about all of this. The administration and the national media may be stunned to find out that Thomas is in the “mainstream” on this one and they, Sotomayor, and Obama are not.

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Moral Equivalence Tour- NBC Edition

While in Dresden on Friday, Barack Obama sat down for yet another fawning interview, this time with NBC’s Tom Brokaw on the “Today Show.”

Brokaw asked Obama what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could learn from his visit to Buchenwald. Obama made short work of this softball, answering: “Well I was very explicit yesterday.  He should make his own visit.  I have no patience for people who would deny history. The history of the Holocaust is not something speculative.”

Well said, Mr. President!

Brokaw’s next question was something else entirely: “What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?”

To this the president responded: “Well, look, there’s no equivalency here.”

Of course, Obama had implied that there was such an “equivalency” in his speech in Cairo the day before by directly contrasting the Holocaust with the plight of the Palestinians in his patented “on the one and then on the other hand” style. But when Brokaw connected the dots that Obama had drawn, the president stepped back and repudiated the analogy. So far, so good. Had Obama stopped there, we might well think that the president understands the situation better than he let on in his Cairo speech. But he didn’t stop. Here’s the rest of his answer to the question:

But I do think that given the extraordinary moral traditions of Judaism, the potential power of empathy that arouses out of going through such historic hardships that – that will ultimately give the people of Israel the strength and purpose to seek a just and lasting peace. And I believe that will involve creating two states side by side with peace and security.

Though moments earlier he had said he had no patience for those who deny history, that’s exactly what he did when he spoke as if the people of Israel had yet to try to seek peace. He was, in effect denying the fact that it was the Jews who accepted the principle of partition of the land into two states for two peoples in 1937 and 1947 before the State of Israel was even born. He was denying that it was the people of Israel who reached out to the Palestinians and attempted to make peace with them in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and various follow-up agreements later that decade (including two signed by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). And that it was the Israelis who offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem at Camp David in July 2000 and a few months later in Taba. And that Ehud Olmert offered them even more last year after the Annapolis summit.

Obama was so quick to speak in a patronizing tone about what Israelis should learn from their own religion (which apparently Obama thinks he knows better than they do), he forgot to mention that it was the Palestinians who rejected peace each and every time and responded consistently to Israeli peace offers with war and terrorism (a word that never passes the president’s lips any more).

The people of Israel have already found the strength and purpose to try and make a lasting peace. They found it long before Obama arrived on the scene and need no instruction from him on the subject. What they need is a Palestinian negotiating partner that has found such strength and purpose, something completely lacking from both the feckless Palestinian Authority and the Hamas Islamist terrorist movement that he spoke of in Cairo, neither of who have any real interest in a two state solution. What they are both still striving for is a one state solution in which Israel is extinguished.

What they also need is for their sole ally to stop acting and speaking as if history began the day he entered office and that all that has gone before is of no significance. While his arrogance and condescension may play well on the international stage, it is no match for the realities of this complex situation. But if you’re Barack Obama, I guess you don’t have to worry too much about history or facts so long as the applause and fawning interviews keep coming.

A hat tip to Alan Luxenberg of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia for alerting me to the content of this interview.

While in Dresden on Friday, Barack Obama sat down for yet another fawning interview, this time with NBC’s Tom Brokaw on the “Today Show.”

Brokaw asked Obama what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could learn from his visit to Buchenwald. Obama made short work of this softball, answering: “Well I was very explicit yesterday.  He should make his own visit.  I have no patience for people who would deny history. The history of the Holocaust is not something speculative.”

Well said, Mr. President!

Brokaw’s next question was something else entirely: “What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?”

To this the president responded: “Well, look, there’s no equivalency here.”

Of course, Obama had implied that there was such an “equivalency” in his speech in Cairo the day before by directly contrasting the Holocaust with the plight of the Palestinians in his patented “on the one and then on the other hand” style. But when Brokaw connected the dots that Obama had drawn, the president stepped back and repudiated the analogy. So far, so good. Had Obama stopped there, we might well think that the president understands the situation better than he let on in his Cairo speech. But he didn’t stop. Here’s the rest of his answer to the question:

But I do think that given the extraordinary moral traditions of Judaism, the potential power of empathy that arouses out of going through such historic hardships that – that will ultimately give the people of Israel the strength and purpose to seek a just and lasting peace. And I believe that will involve creating two states side by side with peace and security.

Though moments earlier he had said he had no patience for those who deny history, that’s exactly what he did when he spoke as if the people of Israel had yet to try to seek peace. He was, in effect denying the fact that it was the Jews who accepted the principle of partition of the land into two states for two peoples in 1937 and 1947 before the State of Israel was even born. He was denying that it was the people of Israel who reached out to the Palestinians and attempted to make peace with them in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and various follow-up agreements later that decade (including two signed by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). And that it was the Israelis who offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem at Camp David in July 2000 and a few months later in Taba. And that Ehud Olmert offered them even more last year after the Annapolis summit.

Obama was so quick to speak in a patronizing tone about what Israelis should learn from their own religion (which apparently Obama thinks he knows better than they do), he forgot to mention that it was the Palestinians who rejected peace each and every time and responded consistently to Israeli peace offers with war and terrorism (a word that never passes the president’s lips any more).

The people of Israel have already found the strength and purpose to try and make a lasting peace. They found it long before Obama arrived on the scene and need no instruction from him on the subject. What they need is a Palestinian negotiating partner that has found such strength and purpose, something completely lacking from both the feckless Palestinian Authority and the Hamas Islamist terrorist movement that he spoke of in Cairo, neither of who have any real interest in a two state solution. What they are both still striving for is a one state solution in which Israel is extinguished.

What they also need is for their sole ally to stop acting and speaking as if history began the day he entered office and that all that has gone before is of no significance. While his arrogance and condescension may play well on the international stage, it is no match for the realities of this complex situation. But if you’re Barack Obama, I guess you don’t have to worry too much about history or facts so long as the applause and fawning interviews keep coming.

A hat tip to Alan Luxenberg of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia for alerting me to the content of this interview.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Karl Rove, on the significance of the 2009 gubernatorial races: “Democratic defeats in Virginia or New Jersey — or even narrow victories — would be discombobulating for the Obama White House and signal trouble in 2010. With unemployment likely to grow through perhaps the middle of next year and the federal government’s red ink likely to become even more visible to increasingly anxious voters well before then, Democrats would be in for a rough time in the midterms, especially in races for the House and governorships.”

Norman Ornstein, along the same lines: “Virginia has been trending blue, but the combination of an open contest for governor, a strong consensus Republican nominee and a hotly contested Democratic primary gives state Republicans real hopes of winning back a seat that has eluded them for the past two gubernatorial elections. In New Jersey, a bad economy has contributed to poor numbers for incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, leaving the GOP well positioned.”

Obama “hardens U.S. stance on North Korean defiance“? Well now his “patience is tested.” Next up: deep disappointment.

James Carafano nails it: “Is it me or did Obama just give the same speech for a third time? In his Notre Dame address he tackled the ‘right to life,’ in the National Archives speech he confronted combating terrorism…on both occasions he tried to say something to please almost everyone on very controversial subjects. What was different about his lecture on Islam in Egypt? Not much. Each of these talks has done much to uplift the president’s popularity. The real question, however, is if this will all serve to advance and protect American interests. Much like the French Revolution-its too soon to tell….but when in the same week the President of Iran declared his country a nuclear power and ready to start helping run the world….you kinda wonder.”

From Evan Thomas of the “non partisan” new Newsweek: “Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is ‘we are above that now.’ We’re not just parochial, we’re not just chauvinistic, we’re not just provincial. We stand for something – I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God.” Righhht.  I wonder if Americans expect their president to be all about America.

Of all the things to say about D-Day, Obama remarks on the “sheer improbability” of victory. Did FDR and Eisenhower feel that way?

A trend or a blip from Rasmussen? “Overall, 53% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far. That’s his lowest level of overall approval to date. Forty-seven percent (47%) now disapprove.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions says Sotomayor’s confirmation will turn on her “impartiality.” This, he says, is “the cornerstone” of our judicial system. Promising a respectful and thorough hearing he encourages Americans to listen up: “And, at the end of the day, ask: If I must one day go to court, what kind of judge do I want to hear my case? ‘Do I want a judge that allows his or her social, political, or religious views to impact the outcome? ‘Or, do I want a judge that objectively applies the law to the facts, and fairly rules on the merits?’”

So much for the “bipartisan” spin: “Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said in a 1998 speech that she owed her first federal judicial nomination almost entirely to New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, undercutting the spirit of President Obama’s claim that it was Republican President George H.W. Bush who was responsible for her first appointment to the federal bench.”

Who said Tim Pawlenty isn’t funny? “The only thing growing faster than the federal government’s deficit is Chris Matthews’ man-crush on Barack Obama.” Ouch.

It seems there was broad consensus among Justice Department lawyers, even the media darlings Jack Goldsmith and James Comey, that the enhanced interrogation techniques were not illegal. One wonders when the current Justice Department will give up the Bybee-Yoo withchunt — or is a leak of this magnitude to the New York Times the first sign of retreat? Because if Yoo and Bybee are to be punished then all of them must be, right?

Nestled in among some half-hearted praise for Obama’s ability to “shock” Israel the Washington Post editors meander around to the salient point: “The problem is that no Israeli government — not Mr. Netanyahu’s, not even one led by the current opposition — is likely to agree to a total construction ban. By insisting on one, the administration risks bogging itself down in a major dispute with its ally, while giving Arab governments and Palestinians a ready excuse not to make their own concessions. Meanwhile, the practical need for a total settlement freeze is debatable. Palestinian negotiators have already conceded that many of the towns will be annexed to Israel in any final deal; so did former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.” It’s debatable for another reason: there isn’t any remotely viable Palestinian government with which to negotiate.

Karl Rove, on the significance of the 2009 gubernatorial races: “Democratic defeats in Virginia or New Jersey — or even narrow victories — would be discombobulating for the Obama White House and signal trouble in 2010. With unemployment likely to grow through perhaps the middle of next year and the federal government’s red ink likely to become even more visible to increasingly anxious voters well before then, Democrats would be in for a rough time in the midterms, especially in races for the House and governorships.”

Norman Ornstein, along the same lines: “Virginia has been trending blue, but the combination of an open contest for governor, a strong consensus Republican nominee and a hotly contested Democratic primary gives state Republicans real hopes of winning back a seat that has eluded them for the past two gubernatorial elections. In New Jersey, a bad economy has contributed to poor numbers for incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, leaving the GOP well positioned.”

Obama “hardens U.S. stance on North Korean defiance“? Well now his “patience is tested.” Next up: deep disappointment.

James Carafano nails it: “Is it me or did Obama just give the same speech for a third time? In his Notre Dame address he tackled the ‘right to life,’ in the National Archives speech he confronted combating terrorism…on both occasions he tried to say something to please almost everyone on very controversial subjects. What was different about his lecture on Islam in Egypt? Not much. Each of these talks has done much to uplift the president’s popularity. The real question, however, is if this will all serve to advance and protect American interests. Much like the French Revolution-its too soon to tell….but when in the same week the President of Iran declared his country a nuclear power and ready to start helping run the world….you kinda wonder.”

From Evan Thomas of the “non partisan” new Newsweek: “Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is ‘we are above that now.’ We’re not just parochial, we’re not just chauvinistic, we’re not just provincial. We stand for something – I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God.” Righhht.  I wonder if Americans expect their president to be all about America.

Of all the things to say about D-Day, Obama remarks on the “sheer improbability” of victory. Did FDR and Eisenhower feel that way?

A trend or a blip from Rasmussen? “Overall, 53% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far. That’s his lowest level of overall approval to date. Forty-seven percent (47%) now disapprove.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions says Sotomayor’s confirmation will turn on her “impartiality.” This, he says, is “the cornerstone” of our judicial system. Promising a respectful and thorough hearing he encourages Americans to listen up: “And, at the end of the day, ask: If I must one day go to court, what kind of judge do I want to hear my case? ‘Do I want a judge that allows his or her social, political, or religious views to impact the outcome? ‘Or, do I want a judge that objectively applies the law to the facts, and fairly rules on the merits?’”

So much for the “bipartisan” spin: “Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said in a 1998 speech that she owed her first federal judicial nomination almost entirely to New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, undercutting the spirit of President Obama’s claim that it was Republican President George H.W. Bush who was responsible for her first appointment to the federal bench.”

Who said Tim Pawlenty isn’t funny? “The only thing growing faster than the federal government’s deficit is Chris Matthews’ man-crush on Barack Obama.” Ouch.

It seems there was broad consensus among Justice Department lawyers, even the media darlings Jack Goldsmith and James Comey, that the enhanced interrogation techniques were not illegal. One wonders when the current Justice Department will give up the Bybee-Yoo withchunt — or is a leak of this magnitude to the New York Times the first sign of retreat? Because if Yoo and Bybee are to be punished then all of them must be, right?

Nestled in among some half-hearted praise for Obama’s ability to “shock” Israel the Washington Post editors meander around to the salient point: “The problem is that no Israeli government — not Mr. Netanyahu’s, not even one led by the current opposition — is likely to agree to a total construction ban. By insisting on one, the administration risks bogging itself down in a major dispute with its ally, while giving Arab governments and Palestinians a ready excuse not to make their own concessions. Meanwhile, the practical need for a total settlement freeze is debatable. Palestinian negotiators have already conceded that many of the towns will be annexed to Israel in any final deal; so did former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.” It’s debatable for another reason: there isn’t any remotely viable Palestinian government with which to negotiate.

Read Less




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