Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 12, 2009

Now He Pushes Democracy

President Obama operates by variable foreign policy standards, as his July 10 visit to Ghana illustrates: It is the last leg of a trip on which he has visited Russia for talks with Medvedev and Putin, and Italy for the G-8 conference. Given Obama’s own African heritage, his first visit as President to sub-Saharan Africa has been much anticipated by Africans of many nationalities. The choice of Ghana, according to Obama and his spokesmen, is intended to show support to one of the most successfully democratized African nations — but also, and less justifiably, to rebuke the much larger African nations of Nigeria and Kenya (both of them with longstanding ties to the U.S.), for their democratic shortcomings.

A single-nation stop in Africa could hardly encompass every aspect of U.S. policy for the region. Obama’s own comments, however, make clear his priority in selecting Ghana:

Well, part of the reason is because Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election. I think that the new president, President Mills, has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country. And I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.

Meanwhile:

We have seen progress [in other African nations] over the last several years; in some cases, though, we’re also seeing some backsliding. In my father’s own country of Kenya, I’m concerned about how the political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election…

There is a very practical, pragmatic consequence to political instability and corruption when it comes to whether people can feed their families, educate their children, and we think that Africa – the African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.

Obama’s endorsement of the rule of law and democratic commitments in Ghana, and his concern over Kenya’s failures in that regard, make an interesting contrast with the absence of any such endorsement regarding Iraq in 2009, and with his careful neutrality on the outcome of the disputed June election in Iran, regarding which, his policy was to avoid the appearance of “meddling.” Indeed, the Obama administration’s posture on Kenya, which is currently the subject of an International Criminal Court probe over election-related violence, stands in pointed contrast to its Iran policy: for Kenya, “throwing its weight behind” Kofi Annan’s ICC campaign to identify and try the perpetrators of violence; for Iran, commending the G-8’s condemnation of the post-election violence, but pursuing no tightening of sanctions or other concrete actions. Kofi Annan probably will not be handing the ICC a list of election-violence perpetrators from Iran any time soon, as he did July 9 with a list from Kenya.

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President Obama operates by variable foreign policy standards, as his July 10 visit to Ghana illustrates: It is the last leg of a trip on which he has visited Russia for talks with Medvedev and Putin, and Italy for the G-8 conference. Given Obama’s own African heritage, his first visit as President to sub-Saharan Africa has been much anticipated by Africans of many nationalities. The choice of Ghana, according to Obama and his spokesmen, is intended to show support to one of the most successfully democratized African nations — but also, and less justifiably, to rebuke the much larger African nations of Nigeria and Kenya (both of them with longstanding ties to the U.S.), for their democratic shortcomings.

A single-nation stop in Africa could hardly encompass every aspect of U.S. policy for the region. Obama’s own comments, however, make clear his priority in selecting Ghana:

Well, part of the reason is because Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election. I think that the new president, President Mills, has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country. And I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.

Meanwhile:

We have seen progress [in other African nations] over the last several years; in some cases, though, we’re also seeing some backsliding. In my father’s own country of Kenya, I’m concerned about how the political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election…

There is a very practical, pragmatic consequence to political instability and corruption when it comes to whether people can feed their families, educate their children, and we think that Africa – the African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.

Obama’s endorsement of the rule of law and democratic commitments in Ghana, and his concern over Kenya’s failures in that regard, make an interesting contrast with the absence of any such endorsement regarding Iraq in 2009, and with his careful neutrality on the outcome of the disputed June election in Iran, regarding which, his policy was to avoid the appearance of “meddling.” Indeed, the Obama administration’s posture on Kenya, which is currently the subject of an International Criminal Court probe over election-related violence, stands in pointed contrast to its Iran policy: for Kenya, “throwing its weight behind” Kofi Annan’s ICC campaign to identify and try the perpetrators of violence; for Iran, commending the G-8’s condemnation of the post-election violence, but pursuing no tightening of sanctions or other concrete actions. Kofi Annan probably will not be handing the ICC a list of election-violence perpetrators from Iran any time soon, as he did July 9 with a list from Kenya.

We should perhaps not make too much of a single African visit. And there are good reasons to highlight the genuine successes of Ghana in building and maintaining a democratic tradition. But the importance Obama has attached to not choosing Nigeria or Kenya throws two of his emerging trends into stronger relief.

One is that Obama’s application of principle is situational and selective. We need look no further than the African continent to note that Obama eschews Kenya and Nigeria for electoral irregularities and violence, though he was quite willing to make his seminal speech to the Arab Muslim world — with explicit attention to the location’s symbolism — from Cairo, where Hosni Mubarak has routinely “won” reelection, as he did in 2005. Obama’s priority of effective democratization for Africa stands in further contrast to his recurring displays of respect for the politics and leadership of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the theocratic monarch of one of the least-democratic nations in the Middle East.

If this pattern is fundamentally one of pragmatic — we might even say cynical — “realism,” it seems to be a realism that prizes symbolism over significant aspects of reality. Kenya has been a key partner in combating transnational Sunni terrorism in Africa, for example, as well as in the multinational effort to suppress piracy off Somalia. The common object of both of these efforts — Somalia itself — is under attack from a major guerrilla campaign against the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), waged since May by the Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group Al-Shabaab. The TFG president, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, visited neighboring nations this week to drum up greater material support for the African Union’s Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a Bush-era peacekeeping force currently numbering about 4,300 in the country.  Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in fact called on June 20 for armed intervention by his neighbors against the Al-Shabaab guerrillas.

That a crucial, game-changing fight is underway in Somalia is evident from further reporting that Eritrea, an emerging client of Iran, has been providing direct support to the Al-Shabaab terrorists, who also acknowledged their link to al Qaeda back in March. It is encouraging that UN Ambassador Susan Rice is requesting an increased UN commitment to AMISOM, as well as UN efforts in Somalia. But Obama’s overriding interest in the history of electoral violence in Kenya, and his invocation of Nairobi’s internal politics as a tiebreaker for his choice of African visits, appear disjointed in the overall context of U.S. security concerns in the Horn of Africa. A president cannot visit every nation; but the diplomatic utility of giving negative reasons for not visiting a long-time partner is questionable, particularly when the partner is the most stable nation in the region.

Obama, of course, was involved in 2006 in campaigning for one of the candidates in that year’s Kenyan election, Raila Odinga (and therefore campaigning against the current president, Mwai Kibaki). Understandably, Obama has unique ties to his father’s homeland. But it is a good question whether they justify emphasizing internal Kenyan politics over regional security issues.

Looking west across Africa, meanwhile, we can at least note that the President’s personal ties are not at issue in Nigeria.  Nigeria has endured a renewed assault since mid-spring by the guerrillas of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose depredations against oil and gas infrastructure are considered by analysts to be the driver behind steadily-increasing world oil prices. Chevron, Shell, and Italy’s Agip have all had to close facilities, evacuate personnel, and increase security in the Niger Delta, where daily national production has been down by more than a fifth from 2008’s, as of mid-June.

Perhaps more ominous, this week saw the report of Nigerian guerrillas seizing a Philippines-flagged tanker off the Niger Delta’s coast, portending an expansion of MEND’s (and other groups’) hostage-taking and extortion activities, which have heretofore occurred ashore. While plagued by numerous problems, Nigeria is not likely to collapse into ungovernable turmoil like Somalia. But neither has the troubled government of President Umaru Yar’Adua had any notable success in suppressing MEND militancy in the Delta region. It is not encouraging that the at-sea tanker seizure this week unfolded nearly concurrently with an unconditional amnesty agreement accorded to MEND’s long-time leader.

We may hope that Obama’s policies will evolve to emphasize the kinds of practical engagement George W. Bush arranged with the nations of Africa. The new administration is to be commended for continuing the suite of Bush-era initiatives outlined in U.S. Africa Command’s command briefing, which include measures like the Africa Partnership Station, a Navy-centered effort to improve maritime security through bilateral and multilateral projects and exercises. Indeed, USS Nashville (LPD-13), an amphibious assault ship, worked with Nigeria and other nations in the Gulf of Guinea in March and April 2009, as the Aegis destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) did with Kenya’s navy in June.

That Obama has not dismantled or repudiated the Africa Command initiatives is a positive sign. Less so is his initial approach to sub-Saharan Africa, of implying that he is withholding state visits as a rebuke to nations that have not gotten their democratic mechanisms in order. This approach forms a notable contrast with his outreaches to demonstrably undemocratic (and electorally violent) regimes from Venezuela to Egypt to Iran. It also seems to emphasize a focus on the internal politics of some African nations, over pragmatic, and strategically comprehensive, attention to emerging threats in the region. Support for Ghana’s exemplary record of consensual government is laudable — but will have little impact on the looming future of Somalia as a failed state overrun by transnational terrorists, or on crime, terrorism, and the control of oil in the Niger Delta.

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Post-Ideological? Not Quite

Mimicking the president’s focus on his nominee’s biography, the Washington Post tells a heartfelt tale about the hardworking outsider Sonia Sotomayor who, as it turns out, succeeded in large part by strategically using mentors to boost her career. Nothing’s wrong with that, yet neither does it bolster the spin that she is a brilliant jurist. But the jaw-dropper is the Post’s declaration:

Since her earliest years, Sotomayor’s identity has been inseparable from her ethnicity — from the sofrito she watched her mother and aunts make on Saturday mornings to the dozen years she spent on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

But this intense ethnic sensibility has not corresponded with intense ideological views.

The argument is ludicrous on its face, because of course the agenda of PRLDEF is the intensely ideological — from its opposition to the death penalty to its spirited defense of racial preferences. So what is the evidence for the Post’s claim that Sotomayor is non-ideological? She never registered as a Democrat, she married a non-Hispanic, and she didn’t wear anti-war buttons in school. Convinced? Me neither.

No mention is made of her speeches, which are rife with the ideologies of moral and intellectual relativism and ethnic determinism. No discussion of Ricci or her other controversial decisions, nor of her judicial methodology, which searches frantically for facts or blithely ignores them depending on what best suits her agenda.

But the Post gives a useful peek at the sort of platitudinous, feel-good rhetoric we can expect to hear at the confirmation hearings this week. Those who have concerns about Sotomayor should be prepared to query the nominee on specific cases and speeches, and press here on her often-repeated and bold ideological views. There is plenty of material to work with, despite the Post’s puffery to the contrary.

Mimicking the president’s focus on his nominee’s biography, the Washington Post tells a heartfelt tale about the hardworking outsider Sonia Sotomayor who, as it turns out, succeeded in large part by strategically using mentors to boost her career. Nothing’s wrong with that, yet neither does it bolster the spin that she is a brilliant jurist. But the jaw-dropper is the Post’s declaration:

Since her earliest years, Sotomayor’s identity has been inseparable from her ethnicity — from the sofrito she watched her mother and aunts make on Saturday mornings to the dozen years she spent on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

But this intense ethnic sensibility has not corresponded with intense ideological views.

The argument is ludicrous on its face, because of course the agenda of PRLDEF is the intensely ideological — from its opposition to the death penalty to its spirited defense of racial preferences. So what is the evidence for the Post’s claim that Sotomayor is non-ideological? She never registered as a Democrat, she married a non-Hispanic, and she didn’t wear anti-war buttons in school. Convinced? Me neither.

No mention is made of her speeches, which are rife with the ideologies of moral and intellectual relativism and ethnic determinism. No discussion of Ricci or her other controversial decisions, nor of her judicial methodology, which searches frantically for facts or blithely ignores them depending on what best suits her agenda.

But the Post gives a useful peek at the sort of platitudinous, feel-good rhetoric we can expect to hear at the confirmation hearings this week. Those who have concerns about Sotomayor should be prepared to query the nominee on specific cases and speeches, and press here on her often-repeated and bold ideological views. There is plenty of material to work with, despite the Post’s puffery to the contrary.

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Solid in Ghana

That was an impressive speech President Obama just gave in Ghana. Most of it could have been — and indeed was — delivered by his predecessor. He told the audience:

Development depends on good governance. (Applause.) That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans….

History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not….

In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges — (applause); an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. (Applause.) Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives….

Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.

What gave this message special appeal — witness all those interruptions for applause — was of course its delivery by an African-American president of the United States, whose own father was born in and spent much of his life in Kenya. Thus Obama had special resonance when he dismissed African complaints that their troubles are the fault of Western oppressors:

Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.

I would say this is an example of Obama putting his eloquence to good use — as was, I believe, his Cairo speech in which he explained to Muslims why America was not in conflict with them. Of course, as Obama is discovering, his eloquence alone is not enough to reshape the world. But it can’t hurt.

That was an impressive speech President Obama just gave in Ghana. Most of it could have been — and indeed was — delivered by his predecessor. He told the audience:

Development depends on good governance. (Applause.) That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans….

History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not….

In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges — (applause); an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. (Applause.) Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives….

Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.

What gave this message special appeal — witness all those interruptions for applause — was of course its delivery by an African-American president of the United States, whose own father was born in and spent much of his life in Kenya. Thus Obama had special resonance when he dismissed African complaints that their troubles are the fault of Western oppressors:

Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.

I would say this is an example of Obama putting his eloquence to good use — as was, I believe, his Cairo speech in which he explained to Muslims why America was not in conflict with them. Of course, as Obama is discovering, his eloquence alone is not enough to reshape the world. But it can’t hurt.

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Blog Items of the Weekend II

Kenneth Hennessey, who served George W. Bush as senior White House economics advisor, has an important blog entry responding to President Obama’s column in the Washington Post this morning (h/t: Instapundit).

The president’s column is, not surprisingly, the usual self-serving, tendentious twaddle that politicians of Left and Right turn out when a newspaper asks for an op ed. In it, he makes the now inevitable point that the current economic downturn is the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.” As Hennessey shows with a chart from Donald Marron, that is just nonsense. The current downturn is not even the worst of the post-war era, at least not yet, although it is getting there. So far, the economy has contracted 3.6 percent. In 1957-58 it contracted 3.7 percent.

How bad was the contraction in 1929-33? The exact figure is 29.3 percent, eight times as severe as the current contraction. To be sure, the recession of 1957-58 and the Great Depression are over. We know where their bottoms were. That can’t be said of the current recession. There are signs that we are at or near the bottom and even that recovery might be stirring already, although unemployment, a lagging indicator, will almost certainly get worse for several months to come.

Still, it should be remembered that in the spring of 1930, when a group of clergymen visited Herbert Hoover to ask for a public-works program, the president told them in all sincerity, “You are six weeks too late. The depression is over.” Equally, however, when liberals ask for a blank check in order to fight “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” it should be remembered that it’s a bit like calling a canoe that overturned in May, 1912, “the worst shipwreck since the Titanic.”

Kenneth Hennessey, who served George W. Bush as senior White House economics advisor, has an important blog entry responding to President Obama’s column in the Washington Post this morning (h/t: Instapundit).

The president’s column is, not surprisingly, the usual self-serving, tendentious twaddle that politicians of Left and Right turn out when a newspaper asks for an op ed. In it, he makes the now inevitable point that the current economic downturn is the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.” As Hennessey shows with a chart from Donald Marron, that is just nonsense. The current downturn is not even the worst of the post-war era, at least not yet, although it is getting there. So far, the economy has contracted 3.6 percent. In 1957-58 it contracted 3.7 percent.

How bad was the contraction in 1929-33? The exact figure is 29.3 percent, eight times as severe as the current contraction. To be sure, the recession of 1957-58 and the Great Depression are over. We know where their bottoms were. That can’t be said of the current recession. There are signs that we are at or near the bottom and even that recovery might be stirring already, although unemployment, a lagging indicator, will almost certainly get worse for several months to come.

Still, it should be remembered that in the spring of 1930, when a group of clergymen visited Herbert Hoover to ask for a public-works program, the president told them in all sincerity, “You are six weeks too late. The depression is over.” Equally, however, when liberals ask for a blank check in order to fight “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” it should be remembered that it’s a bit like calling a canoe that overturned in May, 1912, “the worst shipwreck since the Titanic.”

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Thou Shalt Not Challenge Thy Betters

A new standard is being established in politics: if you challenge — or worse, humiliate — your liberal betters, you will be exposed, scrutinized, and — if necessary — destroyed.

We saw it with “Joe the Plumber.” This guy was minding his own business, playing with his son in his front yard, when Barack Obama made an unscheduled campaign stop in his neighborhood. This was no setup, this was no plot — Obama came to Joe, who asked him an uncomfortable question, to which Obama gave an even more uncomfortable answer. That was that. Within days, we knew everything there was to know about Joe — how he wasn’t a licensed plumber, how he’d had some tax problems, and — most shocking of all — “Joe” wasn’t his first name, but his middle name.

All for asking a question.

The tactic worked pretty well, and now it’s being applied to a Connecticut firefighter who had the gall to file a lawsuit that, at one point, crossed the bench of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  The People for the American Way — a leftist advocacy group — is urging journalists to “look into” Frank Ricci, the lead complainant of the New Haven firefighters who sued the city after passing a test for promotion and nevertheless being denied the promotion because the city discarded the results due to racial-quota considerations. (Of the twenty who passed, nineteen were Caucasian and one was Latino.)

The People for the American Way certainly seems well-named. It has apparently become the “American Way” to engage in character assasination against individuals who succeed in standing up to their liberal betters — to expose and scrutinize every aspect of the lives, employing even the media to bring them down.

Sorry, Mr. Wurzelbacher and Mr. Ricci. You thought you could ask questions or stand up for your rights? You should have known better.

A new standard is being established in politics: if you challenge — or worse, humiliate — your liberal betters, you will be exposed, scrutinized, and — if necessary — destroyed.

We saw it with “Joe the Plumber.” This guy was minding his own business, playing with his son in his front yard, when Barack Obama made an unscheduled campaign stop in his neighborhood. This was no setup, this was no plot — Obama came to Joe, who asked him an uncomfortable question, to which Obama gave an even more uncomfortable answer. That was that. Within days, we knew everything there was to know about Joe — how he wasn’t a licensed plumber, how he’d had some tax problems, and — most shocking of all — “Joe” wasn’t his first name, but his middle name.

All for asking a question.

The tactic worked pretty well, and now it’s being applied to a Connecticut firefighter who had the gall to file a lawsuit that, at one point, crossed the bench of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  The People for the American Way — a leftist advocacy group — is urging journalists to “look into” Frank Ricci, the lead complainant of the New Haven firefighters who sued the city after passing a test for promotion and nevertheless being denied the promotion because the city discarded the results due to racial-quota considerations. (Of the twenty who passed, nineteen were Caucasian and one was Latino.)

The People for the American Way certainly seems well-named. It has apparently become the “American Way” to engage in character assasination against individuals who succeed in standing up to their liberal betters — to expose and scrutinize every aspect of the lives, employing even the media to bring them down.

Sorry, Mr. Wurzelbacher and Mr. Ricci. You thought you could ask questions or stand up for your rights? You should have known better.

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Afghanistan in Perspective

John F. Burns is an outstanding reporter but his article in the New York Times, on rising opposition to the Afghanistan war in Britain, makes me question how much he or other Britons know about their own history. He writes:

Partly because of Britain’s 19th-century history of catastrophic military ventures in Afghanistan, when it sought to secure the outer defenses of British imperial rule in India, the government faces an uphill task in rallying public opinion to the current conflict.

I realize this fits in with the popular myth about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires,” but the historical record doesn’t live up to the hype. Britain had precisely one “catastrophic military venture” in Afghanistan. That was the invasion of Afghanistan  in 1938, which culminated in the massacre of the British column on the retreat from Kabul in January 1842. More than 15,000 people — mostly camp followers and Indian sepoys, but also including some 700 Europeans — were wiped out by Afghan raiders and the bitter cold. But that was hardly the end of the story. An Army of Retribution soon came marching through the Khyber Pass. British soldiers briefly occupied Kabul and destroyed its Great Bazaar along with much else as an act of vengeance.

In 1878, another British army marched into Afghanistan and after some setbacks managed to emerge with what the British government wanted: a treaty that in effect made Afghanistan a British protectorate. Afghan foreign policy would henceforward be under British control and Afghanistan would become a buffer state between the British and Russian empires. That arrangement lasted until 1919, when following another brief uprising (the Third Afghan War), the British finally let Afghanistan go its own way — a move that had no detrimental impact on British security.

Was Afghanistan a nuisance to Britain in the nineteenth century? Certainly. Did Britain suffer a military catastrophe there? Yes. But that is far from saying that Afghanistan was the graveyard of the British empire or a place where the Brits were constantly defeated. That would be like saying that the United States had a history of “catastrophic military ventures” against the Native Americans because of the defeat suffered by Custer at the Little Bighorn or by General Arthur St. Clair in Ohio in 1791. Those were certainly serious setbacks (the Ohio defeat — little remembered today — was actually far more costly than Custer’s Last Stand) but they did not represent the entirety of the Indian Wars which, as we know, ended in a victory for the United States, not for the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Afghanistan is without doubt an extremely challenging place to fight in, and British, American, and other NATO troops have their hands full today with the Taliban and other enemies. But let’s not exaggerate the scope of the threat either today or in the past.

John F. Burns is an outstanding reporter but his article in the New York Times, on rising opposition to the Afghanistan war in Britain, makes me question how much he or other Britons know about their own history. He writes:

Partly because of Britain’s 19th-century history of catastrophic military ventures in Afghanistan, when it sought to secure the outer defenses of British imperial rule in India, the government faces an uphill task in rallying public opinion to the current conflict.

I realize this fits in with the popular myth about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires,” but the historical record doesn’t live up to the hype. Britain had precisely one “catastrophic military venture” in Afghanistan. That was the invasion of Afghanistan  in 1938, which culminated in the massacre of the British column on the retreat from Kabul in January 1842. More than 15,000 people — mostly camp followers and Indian sepoys, but also including some 700 Europeans — were wiped out by Afghan raiders and the bitter cold. But that was hardly the end of the story. An Army of Retribution soon came marching through the Khyber Pass. British soldiers briefly occupied Kabul and destroyed its Great Bazaar along with much else as an act of vengeance.

In 1878, another British army marched into Afghanistan and after some setbacks managed to emerge with what the British government wanted: a treaty that in effect made Afghanistan a British protectorate. Afghan foreign policy would henceforward be under British control and Afghanistan would become a buffer state between the British and Russian empires. That arrangement lasted until 1919, when following another brief uprising (the Third Afghan War), the British finally let Afghanistan go its own way — a move that had no detrimental impact on British security.

Was Afghanistan a nuisance to Britain in the nineteenth century? Certainly. Did Britain suffer a military catastrophe there? Yes. But that is far from saying that Afghanistan was the graveyard of the British empire or a place where the Brits were constantly defeated. That would be like saying that the United States had a history of “catastrophic military ventures” against the Native Americans because of the defeat suffered by Custer at the Little Bighorn or by General Arthur St. Clair in Ohio in 1791. Those were certainly serious setbacks (the Ohio defeat — little remembered today — was actually far more costly than Custer’s Last Stand) but they did not represent the entirety of the Indian Wars which, as we know, ended in a victory for the United States, not for the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Afghanistan is without doubt an extremely challenging place to fight in, and British, American, and other NATO troops have their hands full today with the Taliban and other enemies. But let’s not exaggerate the scope of the threat either today or in the past.

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Blog Items of the Weekend

Please read this important post by Scott Johnson of Powerline, which reveals a deep dishonesty in the New York Times‘s coverage of a report on War-on-Terror investigative techniques. Then read Andy McCarthy’s description of the same report; it will astonish you.

Please read this important post by Scott Johnson of Powerline, which reveals a deep dishonesty in the New York Times‘s coverage of a report on War-on-Terror investigative techniques. Then read Andy McCarthy’s description of the same report; it will astonish you.

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Perhaps Hayek’s Term Had Not Yet Been Invented

In this morning’s New York Times Book Review, Nick Gillespie reviews Joe Scarborough’s “The Last Best Hope:  Restoring Conservatism and America’s Promise.” The book is dedicated “to conservatives of all parties” — an apparent homage to F. A. Hayek’s 1944 book, “The Road to Serfdom,” which was dedicated “to the socialists of all parties.”

Gillespie thinks Scarborough should have looked more carefully at Hayek:

[He] would have done well to grok more Hayek . . . In the essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” Hayek noted that conservatism is a reactionary impulse that “by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving.” At most, Hayek said, it might succeed in “slowing down undesirable developments.”

Instead, Hayek pushed a decentralist, libertarian line . . .

In his essay, Hayek actually disclaimed not only conservatism but liberalism and libertarianism as descriptive terms for his beliefs.  He wrote that he had “racked [his] brain unsuccessfully to find a descriptive term” for them:

[I]f one could still, with Lord Acton, speak of Burke, Macaulay, and Gladstone as the three greatest liberals, or if one could still, with Harold Laske, regard Tocqueville and Lord Acton as “the essential liberals of the nineteenth century,” I should indeed be only too proud to describe myself by that name. But . . . . what I have called “liberalism” has little to do with any political movement that goes under that name today.

[T]he term “libertarian” has been used instead. It may be the answer; but for my part I find it singularly unattractive. For my taste it carries too much the flavor of a manufactured term and of a substitute.

For Hayek, the ideals in his essay were not encompassed in any of the above three political terms.  The ideals, however, had at one time been associated with a particular political party, which had in turn inspired the Founders:

It was the ideals of the English Whigs that inspired what later came to be known as the liberal movement in the whole of Europe and that provided the conceptions that the American colonists carried with them and which guided them in their struggle for independence and in the establishment of their constitution. . . .

It is the doctrine on which the American system of government is based. In its pure form it is represented in the United States, not by the radicalism of Jefferson, nor by the conservatism of Hamilton or even of John Adams, but by the ideas of James Madison, the “father of the Constitution.”

It would not have been a perfect fit, but Hayek might have favored the term given a later political philosophy — a philosophy that merged aspects of what Hayek viewed as true liberalism with a sense of national mission that had roots in the views of the Founders.  As Robert Kagan describes those roots:

Hamilton, even in the 1790s, looked forward to the day when America would be powerful enough to assist peoples in the “gloomy regions of despotism” to rise up against the “tyrants” that oppressed them. James Madison saw as the “great struggle of the Epoch” the battle between “Liberty and Despotism,” and America’s role in that battle was inescapable.

Call it a philosophy of freedom, one applicable both in domestic and foreign affairs, a kind of fire in men’s minds.

In this morning’s New York Times Book Review, Nick Gillespie reviews Joe Scarborough’s “The Last Best Hope:  Restoring Conservatism and America’s Promise.” The book is dedicated “to conservatives of all parties” — an apparent homage to F. A. Hayek’s 1944 book, “The Road to Serfdom,” which was dedicated “to the socialists of all parties.”

Gillespie thinks Scarborough should have looked more carefully at Hayek:

[He] would have done well to grok more Hayek . . . In the essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” Hayek noted that conservatism is a reactionary impulse that “by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving.” At most, Hayek said, it might succeed in “slowing down undesirable developments.”

Instead, Hayek pushed a decentralist, libertarian line . . .

In his essay, Hayek actually disclaimed not only conservatism but liberalism and libertarianism as descriptive terms for his beliefs.  He wrote that he had “racked [his] brain unsuccessfully to find a descriptive term” for them:

[I]f one could still, with Lord Acton, speak of Burke, Macaulay, and Gladstone as the three greatest liberals, or if one could still, with Harold Laske, regard Tocqueville and Lord Acton as “the essential liberals of the nineteenth century,” I should indeed be only too proud to describe myself by that name. But . . . . what I have called “liberalism” has little to do with any political movement that goes under that name today.

[T]he term “libertarian” has been used instead. It may be the answer; but for my part I find it singularly unattractive. For my taste it carries too much the flavor of a manufactured term and of a substitute.

For Hayek, the ideals in his essay were not encompassed in any of the above three political terms.  The ideals, however, had at one time been associated with a particular political party, which had in turn inspired the Founders:

It was the ideals of the English Whigs that inspired what later came to be known as the liberal movement in the whole of Europe and that provided the conceptions that the American colonists carried with them and which guided them in their struggle for independence and in the establishment of their constitution. . . .

It is the doctrine on which the American system of government is based. In its pure form it is represented in the United States, not by the radicalism of Jefferson, nor by the conservatism of Hamilton or even of John Adams, but by the ideas of James Madison, the “father of the Constitution.”

It would not have been a perfect fit, but Hayek might have favored the term given a later political philosophy — a philosophy that merged aspects of what Hayek viewed as true liberalism with a sense of national mission that had roots in the views of the Founders.  As Robert Kagan describes those roots:

Hamilton, even in the 1790s, looked forward to the day when America would be powerful enough to assist peoples in the “gloomy regions of despotism” to rise up against the “tyrants” that oppressed them. James Madison saw as the “great struggle of the Epoch” the battle between “Liberty and Despotism,” and America’s role in that battle was inescapable.

Call it a philosophy of freedom, one applicable both in domestic and foreign affairs, a kind of fire in men’s minds.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

George Will reminds us that Obama’s stimulus was actually “Stimulus II,” following on the heels of George W. Bush’s $168B effort in 2008. And look where we are heading: “Will a person or institution looking for a place to invest $1 billion seek opportunities in the United States, where policy decisions are deliberately increasing taxes, debt, regulations and the cost of energy, and soon will increase the cost of borrowing and hiring? Or will the investor look at, say, India. . . Which nation, India or the United States, is apt to have the higher economic growth over the next decade? Yet while government diminishes America’s comparative advantages, liberals are clamoring for . . . higher taxes.”  

Bill Kristol on the unraveling ultra-liberal agenda: “Rahm Emanuel famously said, ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste.’ The American people, to their credit, seem unwilling to let the Obama team exploit this crisis as thoroughly as they’d like to. Now it’s up to conservative leaders — and Republican politicians — to do two things: thwart Obama’s liberal power grabs and rebuild a conservative governing agenda.”  

The Washington Post’s ombudsman lets it rip on the “salons.” He also blows the cover story of the Post’s management, who originally tried to pin this on an over-eager business developer: “By having outside underwriters, the Post was effectively charging for access to its newsroom personnel. Reporters or editors could easily be perceived as being in the debt of the sponsors. And by promising participants that their conversations would be private, those attending would be assured a measure of confidentiality that the news department typically opposes. [Publisher Katharine] Weymouth and [Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli came to realize all this was wrong — but only after the controversy erupted. In separate interviews this week, they acknowledged this with candor, regret and embarrassment.” But not before they were less than candid about their knowledge and involvement in the effort.  

Not content to allow conservativea trumpet the Left’s lack of “empathy” for the Frank Ricci’s of the country or to turn the Sotomayor hearing into a national lesson on the adverse consequences of identity politics, People for the American Way is now running a smear campaign against the dyslexic firefighter. I think this is called “Swift-boating” — or maybe just atrocious political judgment.  

Obama’s Honduras policy isn’t winning over Congress: “There are tentative signs from Democrats in Congress of support for the forces that removed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya from power at the end of June. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of a key House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Honduras, roundly criticized both factions at a Friday hearing. But he also stopped short of calling for Zelaya’s immediate reinstatement, which he’d done in previous statements.”  

Perhaps not a good idea for Arlen Specter to attack his Democratic-primary opponent Joe Sestak for being a ” flagrant hypocrite” and for avoiding party affiliation because he was serving in the armed service. (Honestly, you can’t make this up.) Sestak strikes back: “We’ve learned today that Arlen Specter can abandon his party, but he just cant quit making Republican swift-boat attacks on the integrity of Democrats who served in our military. My question to Arlen Specter is this: do you regret voting for George Bush and John McCain? Why should Democrats support someone like you who actively campaigned as recently as last year for politicians with values like George W. Bush?”  

In case you thought this is a prime opportunity to rein in frivolous lawsuits that contribute to unnecessary medical procedures and runaway costs: “Republicans see the debate over health care reform as their latest opportunity to reform the medical malpractice system — but they hold out little hope that this will occur.” Well, not so long as the trial lawyers give generously to the Democratic Party. Par for the course: “‘I honestly really don’t see this as a health care issue,’ said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Instead, the Senator, a former Rhode Island attorney general, argued that medical malpractice is more of an ‘intruder’ into the debate to protect insurance companies, hospitals and doctors from being accountable for their mistakes.”

George Will reminds us that Obama’s stimulus was actually “Stimulus II,” following on the heels of George W. Bush’s $168B effort in 2008. And look where we are heading: “Will a person or institution looking for a place to invest $1 billion seek opportunities in the United States, where policy decisions are deliberately increasing taxes, debt, regulations and the cost of energy, and soon will increase the cost of borrowing and hiring? Or will the investor look at, say, India. . . Which nation, India or the United States, is apt to have the higher economic growth over the next decade? Yet while government diminishes America’s comparative advantages, liberals are clamoring for . . . higher taxes.”  

Bill Kristol on the unraveling ultra-liberal agenda: “Rahm Emanuel famously said, ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste.’ The American people, to their credit, seem unwilling to let the Obama team exploit this crisis as thoroughly as they’d like to. Now it’s up to conservative leaders — and Republican politicians — to do two things: thwart Obama’s liberal power grabs and rebuild a conservative governing agenda.”  

The Washington Post’s ombudsman lets it rip on the “salons.” He also blows the cover story of the Post’s management, who originally tried to pin this on an over-eager business developer: “By having outside underwriters, the Post was effectively charging for access to its newsroom personnel. Reporters or editors could easily be perceived as being in the debt of the sponsors. And by promising participants that their conversations would be private, those attending would be assured a measure of confidentiality that the news department typically opposes. [Publisher Katharine] Weymouth and [Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli came to realize all this was wrong — but only after the controversy erupted. In separate interviews this week, they acknowledged this with candor, regret and embarrassment.” But not before they were less than candid about their knowledge and involvement in the effort.  

Not content to allow conservativea trumpet the Left’s lack of “empathy” for the Frank Ricci’s of the country or to turn the Sotomayor hearing into a national lesson on the adverse consequences of identity politics, People for the American Way is now running a smear campaign against the dyslexic firefighter. I think this is called “Swift-boating” — or maybe just atrocious political judgment.  

Obama’s Honduras policy isn’t winning over Congress: “There are tentative signs from Democrats in Congress of support for the forces that removed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya from power at the end of June. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of a key House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Honduras, roundly criticized both factions at a Friday hearing. But he also stopped short of calling for Zelaya’s immediate reinstatement, which he’d done in previous statements.”  

Perhaps not a good idea for Arlen Specter to attack his Democratic-primary opponent Joe Sestak for being a ” flagrant hypocrite” and for avoiding party affiliation because he was serving in the armed service. (Honestly, you can’t make this up.) Sestak strikes back: “We’ve learned today that Arlen Specter can abandon his party, but he just cant quit making Republican swift-boat attacks on the integrity of Democrats who served in our military. My question to Arlen Specter is this: do you regret voting for George Bush and John McCain? Why should Democrats support someone like you who actively campaigned as recently as last year for politicians with values like George W. Bush?”  

In case you thought this is a prime opportunity to rein in frivolous lawsuits that contribute to unnecessary medical procedures and runaway costs: “Republicans see the debate over health care reform as their latest opportunity to reform the medical malpractice system — but they hold out little hope that this will occur.” Well, not so long as the trial lawyers give generously to the Democratic Party. Par for the course: “‘I honestly really don’t see this as a health care issue,’ said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Instead, the Senator, a former Rhode Island attorney general, argued that medical malpractice is more of an ‘intruder’ into the debate to protect insurance companies, hospitals and doctors from being accountable for their mistakes.”

Read Less

A Time to Be Heard

News reports indicate that the president will be meeting with heads of Jewish organizations at the White House on Monday. One can imagine that Iran and the U.S. position on Israeli settlements will be on the agenda. We now have “a test,” as Moshe Arens wrote recently, of whether Israel’s self-proclaimed friends in the U.S. have the nerve to tell the president that his policies, if continued, will imperil the security of the Jewish state and do damage to the historic relationship between the U.S. and Israel. 

It is tempting and natural for Jewish leaders, many of whom are Democrats and supported the president’s campaign, to pull their punches. Who wants a confrontation with the president? Really, might not the president’s policies “improve” with time? As Jonathan Tobin aptly detailed in his discussionof Alan Dershowitz’s defense of Obama’s Israel policy, the temptation to apologize and rationalize is great. But it is also foolhardy and dangerous. Israel faces an existential threat and U.S.-Israeli relations are at a crossroads. Muteness by American Jewish leaders, or even worse, encouragement of a U.S. policy that is more hostile toward Israel than any in recent memory, may have tragic consequences. 

So the question remains: is there a Peter Bergson for the 21st Century? For those needing to freshen up their knowledge of history, this story summarizes how Bergson and a small group of American Jews made a difference at a time when world Jewry also faced an existential threat:

On the morning of November 25, 1942, a small but shocking article in “The Washington Post” grabbed the attention of Peter Bergson, a young Jewish Palestinian who was staying in Washington, D.C. The headline read “Two Million Jews Slain.” The story went on to explain that World Jewish Congress Chairman Rabbi Stephen Wise had confirmation from the State Department that the Nazis were planning to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe. The 32-year-old reader was not only dismayed at the content of the article, he was also extremely distressed that it had been buried on page six of the paper. It made such an impact on him that it would drastically change his mission in the United States, making him take a course of action that would ultimately play a decisive role in President Roosevelt’s decision to create a government agency devoted to saving Jews. 

[. . .] 

Almost immediately, Bergson and his followers’ unorthodox methods caught the attention of the public and caused tension within the Jewish community. In response to a report that the Rumanian government was prepared to ship 70,000 Jews to a safe haven as long as the Allies covered the expenses, the Bergson group took out an attention-grabbing advertisement. Under the shocking headline FOR SALE TO HUMANITY 70,000 JEWS, GUARANTEED HUMAN BEINGS AT $50 A PIECE, the group demanded that the Allied countries “immediately appoint an inter-governmental committee” to devise plans to end the Holocaust. The established American Jewish leadership, Zionists included, was horrified: they accused the “Bergson Boys”, as the young men were known, of sensationalism and recklessness; and they argued the foreigners had no mandate to speak for American Jews.

Bergson, with scriptwriter Ben Hecht, mounted a pageant in Madison Square Garden to raise awareness of the 2,000,000 European Jews who had already been murdered. It also played in five cities including Washington D.C. before First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, six Supreme Court Justices and 300 senators and congressmen. Although tens of thousands saw the performance, neither the American government nor established Jewish organizations were moved. Bergson persisted. He took out a full page ad in the New York Times decrying the British-U.S. Bermuda Conference in March 1943 (which had failed to address the slaughter of European Jews). He held conferences and lobbied Congress to create an agency to save European Jews. In November 1943, Bergson and his allies managed to introduce resolutions in Congress, recommending that FDR set up an agency to rescue Europe’s Jews.

Only then did FDR set up the War Refugee Board, “in part because the Treasury Department had just presented him with a searing indictment of the State Department’s continuous obstruction of all rescue efforts.” Without Bergson’s group, it is unclear whether U.S. policy, however belated and inadequate, would have changed:   

Although the War Refugee Board suffered from inadequate funding and lack of cooperation from other government agencies, it probably saved about 200,000 lives. Scholars the “Bergson Boys” deserve some credit for that. They had arrived in the U.S just a few years earlier without a network of followers or any financial support. Within months of hearing about the Nazis’ plan to destroy European Jewry, they had created a mass movement — the Emergency Committee itself would ultimately boast more than 125,000 active members and supporters. The Bergsonites enjoyed greater success than most American Jewish activists because they were unfettered by allegiances to existing political organizations. And, unlike American Jewish leaders who were at times hesitant to be too vocal for fear of exacerbating anti-Semitism, they had no qualms about whom in America they offended. Ultimately, Bergson and his followers were driven by one belief: the need to act with all haste to save the remaining Jews in Europe. They never questioned their right to agitate within the U.S. for government action. When others asked with what authority they did so, they would reply we have “the mandate of conscience.”

Jewry again faces a critical juncture. Who will stand up and be counted? Who will be an irritant, if necessary, to established voices in the Jewish community and to the administration, which would rather not hear voices of dissent? As Moshe Arens wrote, the American Jewish community is being tested. Let us see who, if anyone, rises to the occasion.

News reports indicate that the president will be meeting with heads of Jewish organizations at the White House on Monday. One can imagine that Iran and the U.S. position on Israeli settlements will be on the agenda. We now have “a test,” as Moshe Arens wrote recently, of whether Israel’s self-proclaimed friends in the U.S. have the nerve to tell the president that his policies, if continued, will imperil the security of the Jewish state and do damage to the historic relationship between the U.S. and Israel. 

It is tempting and natural for Jewish leaders, many of whom are Democrats and supported the president’s campaign, to pull their punches. Who wants a confrontation with the president? Really, might not the president’s policies “improve” with time? As Jonathan Tobin aptly detailed in his discussionof Alan Dershowitz’s defense of Obama’s Israel policy, the temptation to apologize and rationalize is great. But it is also foolhardy and dangerous. Israel faces an existential threat and U.S.-Israeli relations are at a crossroads. Muteness by American Jewish leaders, or even worse, encouragement of a U.S. policy that is more hostile toward Israel than any in recent memory, may have tragic consequences. 

So the question remains: is there a Peter Bergson for the 21st Century? For those needing to freshen up their knowledge of history, this story summarizes how Bergson and a small group of American Jews made a difference at a time when world Jewry also faced an existential threat:

On the morning of November 25, 1942, a small but shocking article in “The Washington Post” grabbed the attention of Peter Bergson, a young Jewish Palestinian who was staying in Washington, D.C. The headline read “Two Million Jews Slain.” The story went on to explain that World Jewish Congress Chairman Rabbi Stephen Wise had confirmation from the State Department that the Nazis were planning to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe. The 32-year-old reader was not only dismayed at the content of the article, he was also extremely distressed that it had been buried on page six of the paper. It made such an impact on him that it would drastically change his mission in the United States, making him take a course of action that would ultimately play a decisive role in President Roosevelt’s decision to create a government agency devoted to saving Jews. 

[. . .] 

Almost immediately, Bergson and his followers’ unorthodox methods caught the attention of the public and caused tension within the Jewish community. In response to a report that the Rumanian government was prepared to ship 70,000 Jews to a safe haven as long as the Allies covered the expenses, the Bergson group took out an attention-grabbing advertisement. Under the shocking headline FOR SALE TO HUMANITY 70,000 JEWS, GUARANTEED HUMAN BEINGS AT $50 A PIECE, the group demanded that the Allied countries “immediately appoint an inter-governmental committee” to devise plans to end the Holocaust. The established American Jewish leadership, Zionists included, was horrified: they accused the “Bergson Boys”, as the young men were known, of sensationalism and recklessness; and they argued the foreigners had no mandate to speak for American Jews.

Bergson, with scriptwriter Ben Hecht, mounted a pageant in Madison Square Garden to raise awareness of the 2,000,000 European Jews who had already been murdered. It also played in five cities including Washington D.C. before First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, six Supreme Court Justices and 300 senators and congressmen. Although tens of thousands saw the performance, neither the American government nor established Jewish organizations were moved. Bergson persisted. He took out a full page ad in the New York Times decrying the British-U.S. Bermuda Conference in March 1943 (which had failed to address the slaughter of European Jews). He held conferences and lobbied Congress to create an agency to save European Jews. In November 1943, Bergson and his allies managed to introduce resolutions in Congress, recommending that FDR set up an agency to rescue Europe’s Jews.

Only then did FDR set up the War Refugee Board, “in part because the Treasury Department had just presented him with a searing indictment of the State Department’s continuous obstruction of all rescue efforts.” Without Bergson’s group, it is unclear whether U.S. policy, however belated and inadequate, would have changed:   

Although the War Refugee Board suffered from inadequate funding and lack of cooperation from other government agencies, it probably saved about 200,000 lives. Scholars the “Bergson Boys” deserve some credit for that. They had arrived in the U.S just a few years earlier without a network of followers or any financial support. Within months of hearing about the Nazis’ plan to destroy European Jewry, they had created a mass movement — the Emergency Committee itself would ultimately boast more than 125,000 active members and supporters. The Bergsonites enjoyed greater success than most American Jewish activists because they were unfettered by allegiances to existing political organizations. And, unlike American Jewish leaders who were at times hesitant to be too vocal for fear of exacerbating anti-Semitism, they had no qualms about whom in America they offended. Ultimately, Bergson and his followers were driven by one belief: the need to act with all haste to save the remaining Jews in Europe. They never questioned their right to agitate within the U.S. for government action. When others asked with what authority they did so, they would reply we have “the mandate of conscience.”

Jewry again faces a critical juncture. Who will stand up and be counted? Who will be an irritant, if necessary, to established voices in the Jewish community and to the administration, which would rather not hear voices of dissent? As Moshe Arens wrote, the American Jewish community is being tested. Let us see who, if anyone, rises to the occasion.

Read Less

Mini-Healthcare Reform

Michael Kinsley makes a useful suggestion on healthcare reform:

Why doesn’t the president give himself a well-deserved treat and slow down a bit on health-care reform? Instead of going for a total overhaul, go for some smaller successes, or what business executives and gorillas call the “low-hanging fruit”? Pick half a dozen, get Congress to swallow them and see where we stand?

And his first low-hanging fruit — malpractice reform — is a fine idea. Unfortunately, next to Big Labor there is no group Democrats are more dependant on than trial lawyers. So we can pretty much cross that one off the list. Next on his list is “eliminating paperwork.” Again, a good idea. But are we to have a Federal Czar of Paperwork enforce the new rules? I can hardly wait for the volumes of regulations on eliminating paperwork. Next is “outcomes research.” That is a nice way of saying “rationing by bureuacrats.” We’ve seen how this turned out in the U.K. and elsewhere. And lastly, Kinsley says we over-use ambulances and emergency rooms, which may be true but the fix is harder than it seems. (Charge poor people for calling an ambulance they don’t need?)

Kinsley’s conclusion is nevertheless correct if you favor sweeping healthcare reform: “There are two risks in comprehensive health-care reform. One is that it won’t pass — and a second failure would doom the project for decades. The second is that it will pass but won’t work.” And if you oppose healthcare reform as too expensive and unlikely to produce beneficial results, then you too would prefer some “smaller” reforms, which would be far less expensive and damaging than the grandiose plans making their way (or not) through Congress.

So although it isn’t easy to come up with a list of mini-reforms that is both politically feasible and effective, it may be worth a try. At least, small and ineffective measures won’t entail massive taxes or a takeover of 17% of the economy. And if significant malpractice reform is really on the list, then we might find Republicans flocking to support it. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such offer to materialize.

What is the president up to? He’s in full straw-man and ad hominem attack mode. He decried un-named “special interests” from overseas:

President Barack Obama said Friday as he left an international summit in L’Aquila, Italy, that he believes a health care bill will pass Congress this year, but said “special interests who profit from the existing system” are actively “scaring people.”

“I’m confident that we’re going to get it done,” the president said at a news conference before he headed from the G-8 to an audience with Pope Benedict. “I think it’s going to get done. It is going to be hard, though. … As dissatisfied as Americans may be with the health care system, as concerned as they are about the prospects that they may lose their coverage or their premiums may keep on rising, they’re also afraid of the unknown.

And we have a long history in America of scaring people that they’re going to lose their doctor, they’re going to lose their health care plans; they’re going to be stuck with some bureaucratic government system that’s not responsive to their needs. And overcoming that fear — fear that is often actively promoted by special interests who profit from the existing system — is a challenge

But just who is he attacking — his own Blue Dog Democrats? Senators like Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad who reject the public option? Really, if we are going to get either big or mini-reform on health care, must we not end the “politics of personal destruction” and “move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington“?

Maybe the president should take up his anger with the House Democrats. They and their Senate collegues seem not to have gotten the message that anyone who opposes him is “scaring people” and defending the “existing system.”

Michael Kinsley makes a useful suggestion on healthcare reform:

Why doesn’t the president give himself a well-deserved treat and slow down a bit on health-care reform? Instead of going for a total overhaul, go for some smaller successes, or what business executives and gorillas call the “low-hanging fruit”? Pick half a dozen, get Congress to swallow them and see where we stand?

And his first low-hanging fruit — malpractice reform — is a fine idea. Unfortunately, next to Big Labor there is no group Democrats are more dependant on than trial lawyers. So we can pretty much cross that one off the list. Next on his list is “eliminating paperwork.” Again, a good idea. But are we to have a Federal Czar of Paperwork enforce the new rules? I can hardly wait for the volumes of regulations on eliminating paperwork. Next is “outcomes research.” That is a nice way of saying “rationing by bureuacrats.” We’ve seen how this turned out in the U.K. and elsewhere. And lastly, Kinsley says we over-use ambulances and emergency rooms, which may be true but the fix is harder than it seems. (Charge poor people for calling an ambulance they don’t need?)

Kinsley’s conclusion is nevertheless correct if you favor sweeping healthcare reform: “There are two risks in comprehensive health-care reform. One is that it won’t pass — and a second failure would doom the project for decades. The second is that it will pass but won’t work.” And if you oppose healthcare reform as too expensive and unlikely to produce beneficial results, then you too would prefer some “smaller” reforms, which would be far less expensive and damaging than the grandiose plans making their way (or not) through Congress.

So although it isn’t easy to come up with a list of mini-reforms that is both politically feasible and effective, it may be worth a try. At least, small and ineffective measures won’t entail massive taxes or a takeover of 17% of the economy. And if significant malpractice reform is really on the list, then we might find Republicans flocking to support it. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such offer to materialize.

What is the president up to? He’s in full straw-man and ad hominem attack mode. He decried un-named “special interests” from overseas:

President Barack Obama said Friday as he left an international summit in L’Aquila, Italy, that he believes a health care bill will pass Congress this year, but said “special interests who profit from the existing system” are actively “scaring people.”

“I’m confident that we’re going to get it done,” the president said at a news conference before he headed from the G-8 to an audience with Pope Benedict. “I think it’s going to get done. It is going to be hard, though. … As dissatisfied as Americans may be with the health care system, as concerned as they are about the prospects that they may lose their coverage or their premiums may keep on rising, they’re also afraid of the unknown.

And we have a long history in America of scaring people that they’re going to lose their doctor, they’re going to lose their health care plans; they’re going to be stuck with some bureaucratic government system that’s not responsive to their needs. And overcoming that fear — fear that is often actively promoted by special interests who profit from the existing system — is a challenge

But just who is he attacking — his own Blue Dog Democrats? Senators like Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad who reject the public option? Really, if we are going to get either big or mini-reform on health care, must we not end the “politics of personal destruction” and “move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington“?

Maybe the president should take up his anger with the House Democrats. They and their Senate collegues seem not to have gotten the message that anyone who opposes him is “scaring people” and defending the “existing system.”

Read Less




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