Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 14, 2010

Holder and Sebelius, Looking Very Weak

Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius’s Washington Post op-ed responding to yesterday’s federal court ruling on ObamaCare is arresting. Neither its style nor its force is remarkable. Rather, it is arresting in its refusal to call the decision wrong in accordance with the law. Here’s how Holder and Sebelius address yesterday’s judgment: “Opponents claim the individual responsibility provision is unlawful because it ‘regulates inactivity.’ But none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care. All of us need health care eventually.”

This is actually false. Most adults choose to seek health care eventually.  Some of us — and we all know such people — resist health care in every single circumstance. Others — a very lucky minority — are not opposed to seeking health care as a matter of personal policy but never find themselves sick enough to enlist a medical professional. All this is to say Holder and Sebelius brush rather breezily over the sticky question of what constitutes a “need,” and it is a contention about universal need on which they claim the constitutional soundness of ObamaCare. Weak stuff.

Never do they assert that it is lawful to regulate inactivity. Nor do they demonstrate that not purchasing insurance is not inactivity. They treat the issue as some sort of communally understood given, and blur the legal question out of existence. The rest of the op-ed is devoted to the economics of insurance and the mentioning of people who are ill. Both of those are of supreme importance to health-care policy as a whole. But neither has much to do with yesterday’s ruling. So the judge was wrong simply because “none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care” and because people are sick in America. That’s not legal, and if it’s the best they can do, they’re in trouble.

Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius’s Washington Post op-ed responding to yesterday’s federal court ruling on ObamaCare is arresting. Neither its style nor its force is remarkable. Rather, it is arresting in its refusal to call the decision wrong in accordance with the law. Here’s how Holder and Sebelius address yesterday’s judgment: “Opponents claim the individual responsibility provision is unlawful because it ‘regulates inactivity.’ But none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care. All of us need health care eventually.”

This is actually false. Most adults choose to seek health care eventually.  Some of us — and we all know such people — resist health care in every single circumstance. Others — a very lucky minority — are not opposed to seeking health care as a matter of personal policy but never find themselves sick enough to enlist a medical professional. All this is to say Holder and Sebelius brush rather breezily over the sticky question of what constitutes a “need,” and it is a contention about universal need on which they claim the constitutional soundness of ObamaCare. Weak stuff.

Never do they assert that it is lawful to regulate inactivity. Nor do they demonstrate that not purchasing insurance is not inactivity. They treat the issue as some sort of communally understood given, and blur the legal question out of existence. The rest of the op-ed is devoted to the economics of insurance and the mentioning of people who are ill. Both of those are of supreme importance to health-care policy as a whole. But neither has much to do with yesterday’s ruling. So the judge was wrong simply because “none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care” and because people are sick in America. That’s not legal, and if it’s the best they can do, they’re in trouble.

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Richard Holbrooke’s Legacy

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

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In Defense of Labels

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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Mitchell’s Back: The Fool Returns to His Errand

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

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Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

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Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

Read Less

The Left’s Ornery Adolescents

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Read Less

West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

Read Less

The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

Read Less

Is the IRS Investigating Pro-Israel Groups for Terrorism Ties?

Court affidavits filed by the IRS indicate that the agency has been giving extra scrutiny to Jewish organizations that provide material or financial support to Israel, out of concerns that these resources may be going to “terrorist” activities.

The court documents came to light during an ongoing legal battle between the pro-Israel group Z Street and the IRS. Z Street filed a lawsuit against the agency in August, alleging that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed because of its support for the Jewish state.

IRS officials now say that Z Street’s application was referred to a special task force that deals with groups that support countries with a “higher risk of terrorism.”

“The application indicated that Z Street could be providing resources to organizations within Israel or facilitating the provision of resources to organizations within the state of Israel,” wrote IRS official Jon Waddell in a Dec. 12 affidavit. “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’”

He said that referring organizations to the IRS’s investigative task force is “appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.”

But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus denied that the group provided assistance to Israel. “We have never, ever given any money or resources to anybody, or any organization, in Israel at all,” Lowenthal Marcus told me during an interview. “We don’t give money to anything. Even if this ridiculous [IRS] policy exists, Z Street still doesn’t fall within it, so what are they doing?”

She added that the incoming Republican House leadership has expressed interest in potentially launching an investigation into the matter.

Z Street asserts that it isn’t the only pro-Israel group the IRS has targeted. At the end of November, Z Street introduced a letter in court that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status.

In the letter, the agent asked the group, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” At the time, some tax attorneys told Politico’s Ben Smith that they found the IRS’s inquiries to be inappropriate.

Lowenthal Marcus says Z Street will keep moving ahead with its lawsuit, and of course we’ll be following the developments here at CONTENTIONS.

Court affidavits filed by the IRS indicate that the agency has been giving extra scrutiny to Jewish organizations that provide material or financial support to Israel, out of concerns that these resources may be going to “terrorist” activities.

The court documents came to light during an ongoing legal battle between the pro-Israel group Z Street and the IRS. Z Street filed a lawsuit against the agency in August, alleging that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed because of its support for the Jewish state.

IRS officials now say that Z Street’s application was referred to a special task force that deals with groups that support countries with a “higher risk of terrorism.”

“The application indicated that Z Street could be providing resources to organizations within Israel or facilitating the provision of resources to organizations within the state of Israel,” wrote IRS official Jon Waddell in a Dec. 12 affidavit. “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’”

He said that referring organizations to the IRS’s investigative task force is “appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.”

But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus denied that the group provided assistance to Israel. “We have never, ever given any money or resources to anybody, or any organization, in Israel at all,” Lowenthal Marcus told me during an interview. “We don’t give money to anything. Even if this ridiculous [IRS] policy exists, Z Street still doesn’t fall within it, so what are they doing?”

She added that the incoming Republican House leadership has expressed interest in potentially launching an investigation into the matter.

Z Street asserts that it isn’t the only pro-Israel group the IRS has targeted. At the end of November, Z Street introduced a letter in court that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status.

In the letter, the agent asked the group, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” At the time, some tax attorneys told Politico’s Ben Smith that they found the IRS’s inquiries to be inappropriate.

Lowenthal Marcus says Z Street will keep moving ahead with its lawsuit, and of course we’ll be following the developments here at CONTENTIONS.

Read Less




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