Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 13, 2010

Turns for the Better in Afghanistan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post‘s well-respected foreign correspondent, had a lengthy dispatch on Sunday about Nawa, a district in Helmand Province, that has largely (but not completely) been pacified by the Marines and their Afghan partners. He concedes that Nawa, which I have visited twice (and he has visited five times), is a remarkable success story: “It is undeniable that Nawa has undergone a remarkable transformation since the Marines swept in, and it represents what is possible in Afghanistan when everything comes together correctly.” But he goes on to argue that “the changes in this district are fragile and that much of what has transpired here is unique rather than universal.”

I agree that the changes are fragile; not even the most starry-eyed optimist could possibly believe that the Taliban will be vanquished overnight. But I am less persuaded that what is transpiring in Nawa is unique. Chandrasekaran focuses on the high troop-to-population ratio, the large amount of economic aid poured in, and the competence shown both by Afghan security forces and by the district governor.

Granted, all that is true, but similarly favorable conditions exist, or are being created, in a number of other key districts being targeted by coalition forces. Sure, Nawa is doing well, but so too are Garmsir and Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Even Marjah, a notoriously difficult fight at the beginning of the year, has taken a turn for the better recently. Similar strategies are being employed with Kandahar, and although those operations aren’t as far along, they too are moving in the right direction.

No one would claim that all Afghanistan is going to become one big Nawa, but nor should Chandrasekaran suggest that it’s impossible for other parts of southern Afghanistan to take a Nawa-like turn for the better.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post‘s well-respected foreign correspondent, had a lengthy dispatch on Sunday about Nawa, a district in Helmand Province, that has largely (but not completely) been pacified by the Marines and their Afghan partners. He concedes that Nawa, which I have visited twice (and he has visited five times), is a remarkable success story: “It is undeniable that Nawa has undergone a remarkable transformation since the Marines swept in, and it represents what is possible in Afghanistan when everything comes together correctly.” But he goes on to argue that “the changes in this district are fragile and that much of what has transpired here is unique rather than universal.”

I agree that the changes are fragile; not even the most starry-eyed optimist could possibly believe that the Taliban will be vanquished overnight. But I am less persuaded that what is transpiring in Nawa is unique. Chandrasekaran focuses on the high troop-to-population ratio, the large amount of economic aid poured in, and the competence shown both by Afghan security forces and by the district governor.

Granted, all that is true, but similarly favorable conditions exist, or are being created, in a number of other key districts being targeted by coalition forces. Sure, Nawa is doing well, but so too are Garmsir and Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Even Marjah, a notoriously difficult fight at the beginning of the year, has taken a turn for the better recently. Similar strategies are being employed with Kandahar, and although those operations aren’t as far along, they too are moving in the right direction.

No one would claim that all Afghanistan is going to become one big Nawa, but nor should Chandrasekaran suggest that it’s impossible for other parts of southern Afghanistan to take a Nawa-like turn for the better.

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Group Outlines the Conservative Case Against New Start

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

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Depravity Defined

At the Huffington Post, Glenn Altschuler offers the following tips — without irony — to Barack Obama:

Obama, for example, might have personalized the health care debate, by appearing with terminally-ill patients denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, instead of standing on the sidelines while right-wingers denounced “death panels,” and playing Hamlet about an abstraction, “the public option.” He might have visited the home of a single mom, thrown out of work through no fault of her own, to dramatize the impact of Republican resistance to extending unemployment benefits. To quash rumors that he’s a closet Muslim, the president might speak out about how prayer and faith sustain him — and see to it that cameras capture him emerging from church services, with his family in tow.

Sure. What’s stopping him now? He could spend the holidays with the First Family in a Gitmo cell to highlight the cramped conditions. He could inject himself with a deadly virus to focus on the need for universal health care. He could play one-on-one with a victim of radiation poisoning to point out the importance of a nuclear-free world . . .

Instead of turning the presidency into a depressing sketch-comedy show, Mr. Altschuler might want to think about the kinds of unappealing policies that require such exploitative theatrics.

At the Huffington Post, Glenn Altschuler offers the following tips — without irony — to Barack Obama:

Obama, for example, might have personalized the health care debate, by appearing with terminally-ill patients denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, instead of standing on the sidelines while right-wingers denounced “death panels,” and playing Hamlet about an abstraction, “the public option.” He might have visited the home of a single mom, thrown out of work through no fault of her own, to dramatize the impact of Republican resistance to extending unemployment benefits. To quash rumors that he’s a closet Muslim, the president might speak out about how prayer and faith sustain him — and see to it that cameras capture him emerging from church services, with his family in tow.

Sure. What’s stopping him now? He could spend the holidays with the First Family in a Gitmo cell to highlight the cramped conditions. He could inject himself with a deadly virus to focus on the need for universal health care. He could play one-on-one with a victim of radiation poisoning to point out the importance of a nuclear-free world . . .

Instead of turning the presidency into a depressing sketch-comedy show, Mr. Altschuler might want to think about the kinds of unappealing policies that require such exploitative theatrics.

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Obama’s Cynical Maneuvering on the Health-Care Mandate

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

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Private Sector Voicing Outrage at Bankrolling Public-Employee Benefits

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

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Conservative Complaints About Tax Deal Must Be Heeded by GOP

We’ve spent most of the last week hearing about how the left thinks congressional Republicans rolled President Obama on tax cuts. After Obama’s startling rant about his liberal critics last week at a White House press conference, that embarrassing topic has lost some of its currency in the mainstream media. So today’s topic is the increasing unhappiness on the Tea Party right about the compromise. It’s one thing for Sen. Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin to decry the deal; it’s quite another for Charles Krauthammer to see it as an Obama triumph.

Krauthammer made his negative opinion about the deal known early via Fox News but got little attention, since most of the negative comments about it were coming from liberals who felt betrayed by Obama’s decision not to try to increase taxes on wealthier Americans. But with articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post today, the possibility of a conservative revolt, as opposed to a liberal one, is finally getting some notice.

Most conservatives were initially so happy about the GOP leadership’s forcing Obama to back down on his opposition to the across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts that they didn’t notice what else is included in the deal. As Krauthammer noted on Friday, the compromise includes a lot of things that no foe of big government ought to be willing to stomach, such as more subsidies for boondoggles like ethanol and windmills, as well as extensions of death taxes and a host of other provisions that justify the columnist’s calling it another version of Obama’s failed stimulus. Indeed, as Krauthammer points out, it might well be even more expensive than that disaster, blowing “another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.”

Though extending the tax cuts was important and cutting payroll taxes is something that every Tea Party sympathizer ought to applaud, this deal may well be remembered as the final act of a profligate Congress whose largesse with taxpayer money will haunt the nation for decades to come.

Krauthammer fears that this second stimulus will help re-elect Obama by pumping up the economy in the next two years, even if it will lead to another disaster after November 2012. Maybe so, but that assumes that, unlike the first stimulus, this act will actually jump-start the economy. No matter how much federal money Obama or the Congress waste, it is unlikely that we will be able to spend our way to prosperity. And if unemployment and growth are still problems in the fall of 2012, no one will look back on this tax deal and think it was the decisive moment when Obama’s victory or defeat was preordained.

Despite the carping from both the right and the left, the compromise deal will probably be passed before the lame-duck Congress slinks out of Washington. But the anger on the right ought to serve as a wake-up call to the GOP leadership that they should not take the Tea Party’s support for granted in the future. The new Congress with more conservatives in the House and the Senate will be a less-hospitable place for the sort of deal in which both sides of the aisle get pet projects funded whether or not they make sense. Despite the applause for groups that preach such compromises (such as the laughable No Labels), that will be a change for the better.

We’ve spent most of the last week hearing about how the left thinks congressional Republicans rolled President Obama on tax cuts. After Obama’s startling rant about his liberal critics last week at a White House press conference, that embarrassing topic has lost some of its currency in the mainstream media. So today’s topic is the increasing unhappiness on the Tea Party right about the compromise. It’s one thing for Sen. Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin to decry the deal; it’s quite another for Charles Krauthammer to see it as an Obama triumph.

Krauthammer made his negative opinion about the deal known early via Fox News but got little attention, since most of the negative comments about it were coming from liberals who felt betrayed by Obama’s decision not to try to increase taxes on wealthier Americans. But with articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post today, the possibility of a conservative revolt, as opposed to a liberal one, is finally getting some notice.

Most conservatives were initially so happy about the GOP leadership’s forcing Obama to back down on his opposition to the across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts that they didn’t notice what else is included in the deal. As Krauthammer noted on Friday, the compromise includes a lot of things that no foe of big government ought to be willing to stomach, such as more subsidies for boondoggles like ethanol and windmills, as well as extensions of death taxes and a host of other provisions that justify the columnist’s calling it another version of Obama’s failed stimulus. Indeed, as Krauthammer points out, it might well be even more expensive than that disaster, blowing “another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.”

Though extending the tax cuts was important and cutting payroll taxes is something that every Tea Party sympathizer ought to applaud, this deal may well be remembered as the final act of a profligate Congress whose largesse with taxpayer money will haunt the nation for decades to come.

Krauthammer fears that this second stimulus will help re-elect Obama by pumping up the economy in the next two years, even if it will lead to another disaster after November 2012. Maybe so, but that assumes that, unlike the first stimulus, this act will actually jump-start the economy. No matter how much federal money Obama or the Congress waste, it is unlikely that we will be able to spend our way to prosperity. And if unemployment and growth are still problems in the fall of 2012, no one will look back on this tax deal and think it was the decisive moment when Obama’s victory or defeat was preordained.

Despite the carping from both the right and the left, the compromise deal will probably be passed before the lame-duck Congress slinks out of Washington. But the anger on the right ought to serve as a wake-up call to the GOP leadership that they should not take the Tea Party’s support for granted in the future. The new Congress with more conservatives in the House and the Senate will be a less-hospitable place for the sort of deal in which both sides of the aisle get pet projects funded whether or not they make sense. Despite the applause for groups that preach such compromises (such as the laughable No Labels), that will be a change for the better.

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Federal Judge Rules ObamaCare Provision Unconstitutional

A Virginia federal judge has ruled that a key provision of ObamaCare is unconstitutional. “U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson found that Congress could not order individuals to buy health insurance,” the Washington Post reports. Yes, this was somewhat inevitable. And there will likely be similar rulings in the near future. The Supreme Court will eventually resolve the question of ObamaCare’s constitutionality one way or another.

But today’s ruling, coming when it did, is important beyond its implications for the fate of the health-care overhaul. For it is one more data point in a seemingly endless narrative of administration setbacks. Every failure is now a compounded failure. Furthermore, this is yet another setback about which Obama can do precious little. After a term of ferocious activism, this administration is stuck watching its own deficiencies play out along with the rest of us.

Bill Clinton couldn’t be reached for comment.

A Virginia federal judge has ruled that a key provision of ObamaCare is unconstitutional. “U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson found that Congress could not order individuals to buy health insurance,” the Washington Post reports. Yes, this was somewhat inevitable. And there will likely be similar rulings in the near future. The Supreme Court will eventually resolve the question of ObamaCare’s constitutionality one way or another.

But today’s ruling, coming when it did, is important beyond its implications for the fate of the health-care overhaul. For it is one more data point in a seemingly endless narrative of administration setbacks. Every failure is now a compounded failure. Furthermore, this is yet another setback about which Obama can do precious little. After a term of ferocious activism, this administration is stuck watching its own deficiencies play out along with the rest of us.

Bill Clinton couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Why Hitler’s Palestinian Ally Still Matters

WikiLeaks isn’t the only source of interesting government documents. On Friday, the National Archives published a report about American efforts to recruit former Nazis to help intelligence efforts during the Cold War. This is familiar territory for those familiar with the period. While war has always made for strange bedfellows (such as the necessity of the wartime alliance with Stalin against Hitler), the willingness of the United States government to employ all sorts of Nazi criminals to combat the Soviets is a sorry chapter in our history.

Nevertheless, included in this report was some fascinating material about one particular Nazi war criminal whose historical legacy lives on today: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The willingness of Husseini, the putative leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, to collaborate with the Nazis has long been established and has been the subject of more scholarly scrutiny in recent years. However, this report does help fill in some of the details about the extent of the mufti’s relationship with Berlin.

Among the interesting tidbits: the mufti who did Nazi propaganda broadcasts to the Islamic world and helped recruit a Bosnian Muslim brigade for the SS was on Hitler’s payroll and actually paid twice the salary received by German field marshals. More chilling was Hitler’s promise that he would install Husseini as the head of a Palestinian state after the planned German conquest of the Middle East and the extermination of the hundreds of thousands of Jews then in the British Mandate for Palestine. The report also details the way French and British intelligence allowed the mufti to flee his European hideouts and return to the Middle East in order to carry on his war against the Jews.

While this may seem like ancient history to observers of the contemporary Middle East, the mufti’s relevance to the political culture of the Palestinians should not be underestimated. His rejection of any accommodation with the Jews and his embrace of the crudest anti-Semitic slurs, which deliberately echo Nazi themes, is still felt today, what with even the supposedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority engaging in similar anti-Jewish incitement and hatred. So long as Hitler’s faithful Muslim ally remains a role model for Palestinians, peace is a long way off.

WikiLeaks isn’t the only source of interesting government documents. On Friday, the National Archives published a report about American efforts to recruit former Nazis to help intelligence efforts during the Cold War. This is familiar territory for those familiar with the period. While war has always made for strange bedfellows (such as the necessity of the wartime alliance with Stalin against Hitler), the willingness of the United States government to employ all sorts of Nazi criminals to combat the Soviets is a sorry chapter in our history.

Nevertheless, included in this report was some fascinating material about one particular Nazi war criminal whose historical legacy lives on today: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The willingness of Husseini, the putative leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, to collaborate with the Nazis has long been established and has been the subject of more scholarly scrutiny in recent years. However, this report does help fill in some of the details about the extent of the mufti’s relationship with Berlin.

Among the interesting tidbits: the mufti who did Nazi propaganda broadcasts to the Islamic world and helped recruit a Bosnian Muslim brigade for the SS was on Hitler’s payroll and actually paid twice the salary received by German field marshals. More chilling was Hitler’s promise that he would install Husseini as the head of a Palestinian state after the planned German conquest of the Middle East and the extermination of the hundreds of thousands of Jews then in the British Mandate for Palestine. The report also details the way French and British intelligence allowed the mufti to flee his European hideouts and return to the Middle East in order to carry on his war against the Jews.

While this may seem like ancient history to observers of the contemporary Middle East, the mufti’s relevance to the political culture of the Palestinians should not be underestimated. His rejection of any accommodation with the Jews and his embrace of the crudest anti-Semitic slurs, which deliberately echo Nazi themes, is still felt today, what with even the supposedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority engaging in similar anti-Jewish incitement and hatred. So long as Hitler’s faithful Muslim ally remains a role model for Palestinians, peace is a long way off.

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Marriage and Middle America

A study on “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” was recently published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

The report is both somewhat encouraging and quite alarming. First, let’s look at the encouraging side of things: among the affluent and highly educated (defined as those having at least a bachelor’s degree and who comprise about 30 percent of the adult population), marriage is stable and appears to be getting stronger. They now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the project, cites four reasons for this: First, they have access to better-paying and more stable work than their less-educated peers (stable employment and financial success help strengthen marriage and relieve pressure on families).

Second, highly educated Americans are more likely to hold the “bourgeois virtues” — self-control, a high regard for education, and a long-term orientation — that are crucial to maintaining a marriage in today’s cultural climate.

Third, highly educated Americans are now more likely to attend church or to be engaged in a meaningful civic organization than their less educated peers. According to Wilcox, “This type of civic engagement is important because being connected to communities of memory and mutual aid increases men and women’s odds of getting and staying married.”

Finally, highly educated Americans are increasingly prone to adopt a marriage mindset — marked, for instance, by an aversion to divorce and nonmarital pregnancy, and a willingness to stick it out in a marriage — that generally serves them well through the ups and downs of married life. They recognize that they and their children are more likely to thrive — and to succeed in life — if they get and stay married. “So, we are witnessing a striking reversal in American life where highly educated Americans are more likely to be connected to the religious and moral sources of a strong marriage culture than their fellow citizens from middle America,” Wilcox says.

Now for the bad news: among the poor, who because they have so little are most in need of stable institutions, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. For many of them, marriage is virtually nonexistent, a concept almost without meaning. This isn’t a new development; it is simply an accelerated one. Read More

A study on “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” was recently published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

The report is both somewhat encouraging and quite alarming. First, let’s look at the encouraging side of things: among the affluent and highly educated (defined as those having at least a bachelor’s degree and who comprise about 30 percent of the adult population), marriage is stable and appears to be getting stronger. They now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the project, cites four reasons for this: First, they have access to better-paying and more stable work than their less-educated peers (stable employment and financial success help strengthen marriage and relieve pressure on families).

Second, highly educated Americans are more likely to hold the “bourgeois virtues” — self-control, a high regard for education, and a long-term orientation — that are crucial to maintaining a marriage in today’s cultural climate.

Third, highly educated Americans are now more likely to attend church or to be engaged in a meaningful civic organization than their less educated peers. According to Wilcox, “This type of civic engagement is important because being connected to communities of memory and mutual aid increases men and women’s odds of getting and staying married.”

Finally, highly educated Americans are increasingly prone to adopt a marriage mindset — marked, for instance, by an aversion to divorce and nonmarital pregnancy, and a willingness to stick it out in a marriage — that generally serves them well through the ups and downs of married life. They recognize that they and their children are more likely to thrive — and to succeed in life — if they get and stay married. “So, we are witnessing a striking reversal in American life where highly educated Americans are more likely to be connected to the religious and moral sources of a strong marriage culture than their fellow citizens from middle America,” Wilcox says.

Now for the bad news: among the poor, who because they have so little are most in need of stable institutions, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. For many of them, marriage is virtually nonexistent, a concept almost without meaning. This isn’t a new development; it is simply an accelerated one.

And now for the really bad news: “In Middle America,” the reports states, “marriage is in trouble … the newest and perhaps most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where mar­riage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.” (Middle Americans are defined as those with a high school but not a four-year college degree. This “moderately educated” middle of America constitutes a full 58 percent of the adult population.)

Among this cohort, rates of nonmarital childbearing and divorce are rising, and marital happiness is falling. If this retreat from marriage among moderately educated citizens continues, the report argues, “then it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society” — one in which “for a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children’s life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life.”

“When Marriage Disappears” cites three cultural developments that have played a particularly noteworthy role in eroding the standing of marriage in Middle America.

First, the attitudes of the moderately educated have traditionally been more socially conservative on a cluster of marriage-related matters, but they now appear to be turning more socially permis­sive, even as highly educated Americans have become more likely to embrace a marriage-minded mindset.

The second cultural development that has helped to erode Middle-American marriage is that these Americans are more likely to be caught up in behaviors—from multiple sexual partners to marital infidelity—that endanger their prospects for marital suc­cess.

The third cultural development that has played a role in eroding the standing of marriage is that moderately educated Americans are markedly less likely than are highly educated Americans to embrace the bourgeois values and virtues—for instance, delayed gratification, a focus on education, and temperance—that are the sine qua nons of personal and marital success in the contemporary United States.

What we are seeing, then, is a growing “marriage gap” among moderately and highly educated Americans, which is leading to the stratification of our society. “The United States is increasingly a separate and unequal nation when it comes to the institution of marriage,” according to the report.

This is worrisome. American democracy has always depended on a relatively strong, stable middle class. If, because of the fracturing of the family, the middle class begins to enervate, it is bound to have negative, far-reaching ramifications. In addition, when marriages fail, children are the ones who absorb the most severe damage. Broken marriages and unwed pregnancies are also largely responsible for what in 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan called a “tangle of pathology.” And because the moderately educated middle in America don’t have the advantages more affluent, highly educated Americans do, the American Dream is slipping beyond their reach.

Here it’s worth recognizing the prescience of the social scientist Charles Murray, who in a 1995 essay in the Public Interest predicted a restoration of traditional society among what he called “the overclass” and wrote “there is reason to be optimistic about marriage and children for the overclass.” But Murray went on to warn about how the whole country must eventually participate in the restoration because “the horrific alternative to bringing the whole country along is a new kind of class society in America, divisive and ultimately destructive of American democracy.”

Whether and how we avoid this fate is not entirely clear. Certainly there are some grounds for optimism based on recent history. Over the past 15 years, on balance, the American family has indeed grown weaker — but almost every other social indicator (crime, drug use, welfare, rates of abortion, education, and others) has improved. This is an impressive achievement — but not one we can rely on ad infinitum. The family remains, in the words of Michael Novak, the original department of health, education, and welfare. For a growing number of middle-class Americans, it is a disappearing institution. And nothing good can come of that. Nothing at all.

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Saudi Glasnost Cities Illustrate Tyranny’s Dilemma

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

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No Labels? No Viewers.

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast.

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast.

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Morning Commentary

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

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Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

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The Piece of the Day: “Christopher Hitchens’s Jewish Problem”

On Jewish Ideas Daily, the extraordinary website run by my predecessor as editor of COMMENTARY Neal Kozodoy. the young critic Benjamin Kerstein offers a coruscating and long-overdue analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s animus toward Judaism.

Kerstein shows how the intellectual fundament of Hitchens’s thought about Judaism, Israel Shahak, was “cracked” (among other things, he accused Martin Buber, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher, of mass murder). Most important, he reveals the ways in which Hitchens’s passionate atheism cannot be used as the explanation for his feelings about Judaism, which run deeper than his hostility to the faiths that followed it; as Kerstein writes, “Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole.”

It’s a dazzling analysis of a dazzling polemicist whose brave turn against the sacred cows of his own leftist camp in the past decade should not blind us to the ugliness of his own core ideas.

On Jewish Ideas Daily, the extraordinary website run by my predecessor as editor of COMMENTARY Neal Kozodoy. the young critic Benjamin Kerstein offers a coruscating and long-overdue analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s animus toward Judaism.

Kerstein shows how the intellectual fundament of Hitchens’s thought about Judaism, Israel Shahak, was “cracked” (among other things, he accused Martin Buber, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher, of mass murder). Most important, he reveals the ways in which Hitchens’s passionate atheism cannot be used as the explanation for his feelings about Judaism, which run deeper than his hostility to the faiths that followed it; as Kerstein writes, “Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole.”

It’s a dazzling analysis of a dazzling polemicist whose brave turn against the sacred cows of his own leftist camp in the past decade should not blind us to the ugliness of his own core ideas.

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On Human Nature and Capitalism

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

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The President Shouldn’t Listen to Counsels of Despair on Afghanistan

The best indication that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan: a sundry collection of “experts” is ready to raise the white flag. A motley crew of academics and journalists (including my frequent sparring partner Nir Rosen) has just released an open letter to President Obama claiming that “the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago” and that “operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, are not going well.” Yet a few paragraphs later, the authors switch gears, writing, “The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.” So which is it: is the campaign failing, or is it suppressing the Taliban?

Having just visited Afghanistan, where I had the opportunity to visit Helmand and Kandahar provinces, among others, I return convinced that the campaign is, in fact, going well and that it is suppressing the Taliban. Obviously, the Taliban have not given up the struggle, as witness, for example, the terrible suicide bombing of a new Afghan-American patrol base in Kandahar’s Zhare district — an attack that killed six American servicemen. But keep in mind that Zhare has for years been one of the Taliban’s strongholds. The fact that the Taliban are still able to carry out an occasional suicide bombing there is much less significant than the fact that the area is now dotted with American patrol bases. U.S. troops have in fact had considerable, though still incomplete, success in pushing the Taliban out of many of their southern redoubts.

Once progress on the ground is further along, it is likely that elements of the Taliban will be eager to stop fighting. At that point, peace talks may produce some results. But that time is not now. Which is why the authors of the open letter are so far off base when they call on President Obama “to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.” The open letter claims that the “Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate,” which is true in the sense that the Taliban are happy to negotiate the exit of international forces in the expectation that they will then take over the whole country and reimpose their fundamentalist dictatorship. But they have so far shown little willingness to negotiate on terms acceptable to most Afghans or to the international community, which has sponsored Afghanistan’s post-2001 experiment in democracy. In fact, when some elements of the Taliban leadership showed a willingness to make concessions, they were promptly locked up by the Pakistanis, who don’t want to see their proxies surrendering without their say-so.

The notion “that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan” is simply delusional — at least for now. For talks to have any success, General Petraeus needs more time to pursue his comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Thankfully, it appears as if he will get that time from the Obama administration — which is far too sensible to listen to the counsels of despair from this open letter.

The best indication that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan: a sundry collection of “experts” is ready to raise the white flag. A motley crew of academics and journalists (including my frequent sparring partner Nir Rosen) has just released an open letter to President Obama claiming that “the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago” and that “operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, are not going well.” Yet a few paragraphs later, the authors switch gears, writing, “The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.” So which is it: is the campaign failing, or is it suppressing the Taliban?

Having just visited Afghanistan, where I had the opportunity to visit Helmand and Kandahar provinces, among others, I return convinced that the campaign is, in fact, going well and that it is suppressing the Taliban. Obviously, the Taliban have not given up the struggle, as witness, for example, the terrible suicide bombing of a new Afghan-American patrol base in Kandahar’s Zhare district — an attack that killed six American servicemen. But keep in mind that Zhare has for years been one of the Taliban’s strongholds. The fact that the Taliban are still able to carry out an occasional suicide bombing there is much less significant than the fact that the area is now dotted with American patrol bases. U.S. troops have in fact had considerable, though still incomplete, success in pushing the Taliban out of many of their southern redoubts.

Once progress on the ground is further along, it is likely that elements of the Taliban will be eager to stop fighting. At that point, peace talks may produce some results. But that time is not now. Which is why the authors of the open letter are so far off base when they call on President Obama “to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.” The open letter claims that the “Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate,” which is true in the sense that the Taliban are happy to negotiate the exit of international forces in the expectation that they will then take over the whole country and reimpose their fundamentalist dictatorship. But they have so far shown little willingness to negotiate on terms acceptable to most Afghans or to the international community, which has sponsored Afghanistan’s post-2001 experiment in democracy. In fact, when some elements of the Taliban leadership showed a willingness to make concessions, they were promptly locked up by the Pakistanis, who don’t want to see their proxies surrendering without their say-so.

The notion “that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan” is simply delusional — at least for now. For talks to have any success, General Petraeus needs more time to pursue his comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Thankfully, it appears as if he will get that time from the Obama administration — which is far too sensible to listen to the counsels of despair from this open letter.

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Name That Process

In Friday’s State Department press conference, P.J. Crowley rejected a description of the administration’s new peace process as “indirect talks.” That produced the following colloquy:

QUESTION: What’s – why are you allergic to saying, yeah, it’s going to be indirect talks. I mean, it’s obvious from what you’ve described that that’s what it is. They’re not talking to each other, you’d like them to talk to each other sometime, but now, like a tired, weary, and sad marriage counselor, you’re going to shuttle back and forth between them. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Arshad, tell us what you really think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the problem with – I mean, what’s the problem with saying indirect talks? Why is that – why are you allergic to that phrase? … Why won’t you call them indirect talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to put a label on them…

QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not playing a – do we have Middle East labels for $200?

“Parallel talks” is not a bad label, since the two sets of talks — like parallel lines — are never going to meet. But that label does not quite capture the logic of the process.

Over the past three months, the Palestinians have insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition of negotiations (even though they did not negotiate when they had one), and Israel has insisted on direct talks without preconditions. Having failed to get negotiations going after nearly two years, the Obama administration has come up with a process involving neither a settlement freeze nor direct talks — failing to meet both sides’ requirements. Perhaps a better name for the new process would be “parallel un-talks” (PUNT).

In her Saban Center speech Friday night, Hillary Clinton used a phrase that might become the State Department’s new label: “substantive two-way conversations.” But a more accurate label would be “dual substantive two-way conversations,” since there will actually be two separate two-way conversations (and how “substantive” they will be remains to be seen, since the Palestinian insistence on both a state and a “right of return” makes the whole exercise academic).

What about “Son of Proximity Talks”? In a perceptive analysis that should be read in its entirety, Robert Satloff suggests that the new process would not be a return to the dead-end proximity talks, which were just “talks about talks.” He says the new process could be a “high-level engagement with leaders exploring a set of hypotheticals,” with each side asked what it would do if the other did so-and-so. Satloff says the exchanges would require “discretion, candor, and authoritativeness.” I knew there was a catch.

The problem is more than one of process; it is more fundamental. Netanyahu made his Bar-Ilan speech more than 18 months ago, accepting a Palestinian state as long as it accepted a Jewish one and agreed to be demilitarized, with arrangements that would ensure it would stay that way. Until the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate on that basis, the process — whatever it is called — is not going to succeed.

In Friday’s State Department press conference, P.J. Crowley rejected a description of the administration’s new peace process as “indirect talks.” That produced the following colloquy:

QUESTION: What’s – why are you allergic to saying, yeah, it’s going to be indirect talks. I mean, it’s obvious from what you’ve described that that’s what it is. They’re not talking to each other, you’d like them to talk to each other sometime, but now, like a tired, weary, and sad marriage counselor, you’re going to shuttle back and forth between them. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Arshad, tell us what you really think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the problem with – I mean, what’s the problem with saying indirect talks? Why is that – why are you allergic to that phrase? … Why won’t you call them indirect talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to put a label on them…

QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not playing a – do we have Middle East labels for $200?

“Parallel talks” is not a bad label, since the two sets of talks — like parallel lines — are never going to meet. But that label does not quite capture the logic of the process.

Over the past three months, the Palestinians have insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition of negotiations (even though they did not negotiate when they had one), and Israel has insisted on direct talks without preconditions. Having failed to get negotiations going after nearly two years, the Obama administration has come up with a process involving neither a settlement freeze nor direct talks — failing to meet both sides’ requirements. Perhaps a better name for the new process would be “parallel un-talks” (PUNT).

In her Saban Center speech Friday night, Hillary Clinton used a phrase that might become the State Department’s new label: “substantive two-way conversations.” But a more accurate label would be “dual substantive two-way conversations,” since there will actually be two separate two-way conversations (and how “substantive” they will be remains to be seen, since the Palestinian insistence on both a state and a “right of return” makes the whole exercise academic).

What about “Son of Proximity Talks”? In a perceptive analysis that should be read in its entirety, Robert Satloff suggests that the new process would not be a return to the dead-end proximity talks, which were just “talks about talks.” He says the new process could be a “high-level engagement with leaders exploring a set of hypotheticals,” with each side asked what it would do if the other did so-and-so. Satloff says the exchanges would require “discretion, candor, and authoritativeness.” I knew there was a catch.

The problem is more than one of process; it is more fundamental. Netanyahu made his Bar-Ilan speech more than 18 months ago, accepting a Palestinian state as long as it accepted a Jewish one and agreed to be demilitarized, with arrangements that would ensure it would stay that way. Until the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate on that basis, the process — whatever it is called — is not going to succeed.

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