Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 20, 2010

Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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Human Rights Watch Now Openly Endorsing BDS

Human Rights Watch doesn’t like Israel. No surprise there. But since the advocacy group still does important work on human rights issues in other countries, it continues to get taken seriously by the media and government officials. This legitimacy should end immediately in light of HRW’s latest report, which tacitly endorses the beyond-fringe Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. From the text of the study:

The report is based on case studies comparing Israel’s starkly different treatment of settlements and next-door Palestinian communities in these areas. It calls on the US and EU member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law.

The report also asks the U.S. to avoid “offsetting the costs of Israeli expenditures on settlements by withholding U.S. funding from the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.”

That’s bad enough. But there was one recommendation that really caught my eye:

Congress should request a report from the General Accounting Office on the subject of tax-exempt organizations that support settlements and settlement-related activities. Such a study should include specific assessments of the amounts and types of donations involved and the actual end-uses of such donations in the settlements. The report should also address whether current laws and regulations regarding charitable organizations ensure that tax-exempt status is not granted to organizations that facilitate human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law, are adequately enforced, and whether they are adequate or require revision.

Hmm. As we know from the Z Street case, the IRS has already been giving some pro-Israel groups a hard time on their tax-exemption applications — ostensibly because Israel has a “higher risk of terrorism.” But could the IRS also be concerned about tax-exempt groups giving support to Israeli settlements? And if not, will this be the next rallying cry picked up by the BDS movement?

In addition to those suggestions, HRW also recommended the following quasi-BDS tactics:

• The international community should tack on extra tariffs to products imported from Israeli settlements: “Ensure that policies do not promote settlement activity, such as the discriminatory violations of Palestinian human rights documented in this report, by enforcing tariff agreements in accordance with international law, such that Israeli settlement goods are not given preferential treatment, including by requiring and enforcing clear origin labeling.”

• Businesses operating from the settlements should cease involvement in any activity that HRW deems to be a violation of international law, “including where necessary ending such [business] operations altogether.”

The NGO Monitor has also denounced the report. In an e-mail, it called it evidence that HRW “endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), disguised as opposition to settlements, but in reality seeking the destruction of Israel.”

“This is further proof of HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s conclusion that the organization has turned Israel into a pariah state,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg added, in a statement on Sunday.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t like Israel. No surprise there. But since the advocacy group still does important work on human rights issues in other countries, it continues to get taken seriously by the media and government officials. This legitimacy should end immediately in light of HRW’s latest report, which tacitly endorses the beyond-fringe Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. From the text of the study:

The report is based on case studies comparing Israel’s starkly different treatment of settlements and next-door Palestinian communities in these areas. It calls on the US and EU member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law.

The report also asks the U.S. to avoid “offsetting the costs of Israeli expenditures on settlements by withholding U.S. funding from the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.”

That’s bad enough. But there was one recommendation that really caught my eye:

Congress should request a report from the General Accounting Office on the subject of tax-exempt organizations that support settlements and settlement-related activities. Such a study should include specific assessments of the amounts and types of donations involved and the actual end-uses of such donations in the settlements. The report should also address whether current laws and regulations regarding charitable organizations ensure that tax-exempt status is not granted to organizations that facilitate human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law, are adequately enforced, and whether they are adequate or require revision.

Hmm. As we know from the Z Street case, the IRS has already been giving some pro-Israel groups a hard time on their tax-exemption applications — ostensibly because Israel has a “higher risk of terrorism.” But could the IRS also be concerned about tax-exempt groups giving support to Israeli settlements? And if not, will this be the next rallying cry picked up by the BDS movement?

In addition to those suggestions, HRW also recommended the following quasi-BDS tactics:

• The international community should tack on extra tariffs to products imported from Israeli settlements: “Ensure that policies do not promote settlement activity, such as the discriminatory violations of Palestinian human rights documented in this report, by enforcing tariff agreements in accordance with international law, such that Israeli settlement goods are not given preferential treatment, including by requiring and enforcing clear origin labeling.”

• Businesses operating from the settlements should cease involvement in any activity that HRW deems to be a violation of international law, “including where necessary ending such [business] operations altogether.”

The NGO Monitor has also denounced the report. In an e-mail, it called it evidence that HRW “endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), disguised as opposition to settlements, but in reality seeking the destruction of Israel.”

“This is further proof of HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s conclusion that the organization has turned Israel into a pariah state,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg added, in a statement on Sunday.

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Sure, All Secular Leaders Have One of These

For no apparent reason, the Guardian is running a story on the limbo status of the Koran that Saddam Hussein commissioned to be transcribed in his own blood:

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight — locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

There’s not much to the story beyond that. But it’s worth noting how little we heard of the “Blood Koran” back when the media was doggedly making the case that Saddam was not only secular but also averse to Muslim zealotry. Today, with no argument to make against Bush, the invasion, or its rationale, the press can begin to examine the truth — apropos of absolutely nothing. In any event, better to be stuck with this grotesque document on our hands than the man who dreamed up its execution.

For no apparent reason, the Guardian is running a story on the limbo status of the Koran that Saddam Hussein commissioned to be transcribed in his own blood:

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight — locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

There’s not much to the story beyond that. But it’s worth noting how little we heard of the “Blood Koran” back when the media was doggedly making the case that Saddam was not only secular but also averse to Muslim zealotry. Today, with no argument to make against Bush, the invasion, or its rationale, the press can begin to examine the truth — apropos of absolutely nothing. In any event, better to be stuck with this grotesque document on our hands than the man who dreamed up its execution.

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Muslim Students, Catholic Universities

An article in today’s Washington Post notes the increase in Muslim students who attend Catholic colleges, including the flagship Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The number is now higher at some Catholic colleges than at secular institutions and poses interesting dilemmas for both the students and schools. What apparently attracts the students in the first place is the religious nature of the campuses, but it makes for some startling images, as the Post photo gallery makes clear.

Students praying to Allah under crucifixes will surely give pause to many people, but the trend may be a positive one. It suggests a bow to the pluralism that increasingly defines America. These Muslim students are not smashing idols but learning to find their own niche among others who do not share their faith but who do share a commitment to religious education.

As one Catholic U Muslim student explains it, “Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. “They have the same values we do.” Many of these students come from Saudi Arabia and other places in the Muslim world where no such religious tolerance is practiced. But clearly, these particular students are learning that we do things differently in the United States.

An article in today’s Washington Post notes the increase in Muslim students who attend Catholic colleges, including the flagship Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The number is now higher at some Catholic colleges than at secular institutions and poses interesting dilemmas for both the students and schools. What apparently attracts the students in the first place is the religious nature of the campuses, but it makes for some startling images, as the Post photo gallery makes clear.

Students praying to Allah under crucifixes will surely give pause to many people, but the trend may be a positive one. It suggests a bow to the pluralism that increasingly defines America. These Muslim students are not smashing idols but learning to find their own niche among others who do not share their faith but who do share a commitment to religious education.

As one Catholic U Muslim student explains it, “Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. “They have the same values we do.” Many of these students come from Saudi Arabia and other places in the Muslim world where no such religious tolerance is practiced. But clearly, these particular students are learning that we do things differently in the United States.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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Radical Islam to Be Investigated: CAIR Cries Foul

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

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Echoes of ObamaCare Autocracy

The popular myth about the GOP and ObamaCare had it that Republicans on Capitol Hill functioned as just-say-no “nihilists,” looking to stop any health-care reform and refusing to offer productive solutions. In truth, Republicans such as Paul Ryan came up with thoughtful and innovative proposals, which were unceremoniously dismissed by Democratic ideologues. It’s happening again, this time on New START. The Washington Times’s Eli Lake reports that key Republican senators have withdrawn their support for the U.S.-Russia arms-control treaty after their proposed amendments to it were shot down:

The Republicans made their statements after the defeat Saturday of a treaty amendment offered by Mr. Graham’s close ally Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The McCain amendment — which would have stricken language from the treaty’s preamble linking defensive and offensive missile systems — failed by a vote of 59-37.

Republicans also failed Sunday to attach an amendment that sought to link strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty’s preamble. Strategic weapons are those that can hit the United States from Russia; tactical nuclear weapons are considered battlefield weapons.

Democrats argue that any change to the preamble, no matter how small, will reopen negotiations with Russia and effectively kill the treaty.

The new bipartisan spirit means that Democrats are willing to work with the Kremlin, just not with Republicans. Not that this will stop the media from assailing GOP obstructionism once again.

The popular myth about the GOP and ObamaCare had it that Republicans on Capitol Hill functioned as just-say-no “nihilists,” looking to stop any health-care reform and refusing to offer productive solutions. In truth, Republicans such as Paul Ryan came up with thoughtful and innovative proposals, which were unceremoniously dismissed by Democratic ideologues. It’s happening again, this time on New START. The Washington Times’s Eli Lake reports that key Republican senators have withdrawn their support for the U.S.-Russia arms-control treaty after their proposed amendments to it were shot down:

The Republicans made their statements after the defeat Saturday of a treaty amendment offered by Mr. Graham’s close ally Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The McCain amendment — which would have stricken language from the treaty’s preamble linking defensive and offensive missile systems — failed by a vote of 59-37.

Republicans also failed Sunday to attach an amendment that sought to link strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty’s preamble. Strategic weapons are those that can hit the United States from Russia; tactical nuclear weapons are considered battlefield weapons.

Democrats argue that any change to the preamble, no matter how small, will reopen negotiations with Russia and effectively kill the treaty.

The new bipartisan spirit means that Democrats are willing to work with the Kremlin, just not with Republicans. Not that this will stop the media from assailing GOP obstructionism once again.

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Palestinian Authority: 10 EU States to Approve Palestinian Embassies

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

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Biden’s Talk of Withdrawal in Afghanistan Makes Troops’ Task Harder

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

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Morning Commentary

North Korea largely ignored the South Korean artillery drills this morning, despite fears that the military demonstrations would provoke a violent reaction from Pyongyang: “Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and ‘brutal consequences beyond imagination,’ South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North. … The immediate response from Pyongyang was surprisingly muted, however. A statement from the North’s official news agency Monday night said it was ‘not worth reacting’ to the exercise.”

Democrats face an uphill battle on New START this week after two key Senate Republicans announced they will not support the treaty’s ratification: “‘I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,’ Mr. McConnell said Sunday on CNN. ‘I think the verification provisions are inadequate, and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.’”

The second installment in the Washington Post investigation “Top Secret America” sheds light on the Obama administration’s domestic-surveillance counterterrorism policies: “The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

CNN and the Tea Party Express are teaming up to host a debate for the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, but the move has prompted criticism from both the left and the right: “But news of the alliance elicited a critical reaction from media observers and rival networks, as well as from the presumed target demographic for the debate: tea partiers and conservatives more generally. ‘This is nothing more than a press stunt for CNN that cries out “Pay attention to us!”’ said Everett Wilkinson, an organizer with the South Florida Tea Party, who said there’s been talk in tea party circles about protesting the debate, or even infiltrating it.”

As the FCC takes steps to expand Internet regulation, Robert M. McDowell warns this will lead to decreased innovation and increased consumer prices: “The FCC’s threat to Internet freedom: Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being ‘data driven’ in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.”

Universities aren’t teaching today’s young progressives about the dangerous errors made by yesterday’s Communists, writes Barry Rubin: “Are people learning about apologists for foreign states and movements, the concealing of crimes, the foolishness of the intellectuals, the belief that the more government control the better, the failure to understand that the far left was as much an enemy of liberalism as the far right, and the other mistakes involved in that experience?”

North Korea largely ignored the South Korean artillery drills this morning, despite fears that the military demonstrations would provoke a violent reaction from Pyongyang: “Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and ‘brutal consequences beyond imagination,’ South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North. … The immediate response from Pyongyang was surprisingly muted, however. A statement from the North’s official news agency Monday night said it was ‘not worth reacting’ to the exercise.”

Democrats face an uphill battle on New START this week after two key Senate Republicans announced they will not support the treaty’s ratification: “‘I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,’ Mr. McConnell said Sunday on CNN. ‘I think the verification provisions are inadequate, and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.’”

The second installment in the Washington Post investigation “Top Secret America” sheds light on the Obama administration’s domestic-surveillance counterterrorism policies: “The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

CNN and the Tea Party Express are teaming up to host a debate for the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, but the move has prompted criticism from both the left and the right: “But news of the alliance elicited a critical reaction from media observers and rival networks, as well as from the presumed target demographic for the debate: tea partiers and conservatives more generally. ‘This is nothing more than a press stunt for CNN that cries out “Pay attention to us!”’ said Everett Wilkinson, an organizer with the South Florida Tea Party, who said there’s been talk in tea party circles about protesting the debate, or even infiltrating it.”

As the FCC takes steps to expand Internet regulation, Robert M. McDowell warns this will lead to decreased innovation and increased consumer prices: “The FCC’s threat to Internet freedom: Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being ‘data driven’ in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.”

Universities aren’t teaching today’s young progressives about the dangerous errors made by yesterday’s Communists, writes Barry Rubin: “Are people learning about apologists for foreign states and movements, the concealing of crimes, the foolishness of the intellectuals, the belief that the more government control the better, the failure to understand that the far left was as much an enemy of liberalism as the far right, and the other mistakes involved in that experience?”

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Peace Studies and the Historical Profession

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is. Read More

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is.

The books on his list are all, exclusively, about peace activists and peace movements. Not one of them is actually concerned with “the causes of war.” It is not quite fair to say that all the books are also laudatory, but that is certainly very much their tendency. It is as if I had set out to compile a list of books about alcohol and ended up with a collection of studies of temperance movements, most of them supportive. Such movements are certainly  legitimate subjects for study, but no legitimate field defines itself so narrowly. And it is entirely unfair to imply that the only people seriously interested in alcohol, or war, are the activist movements against them.

Prof. Howlett’s list not only omits classics on the causes of war (such as Thucydides, to start at the beginning). It omits works like Jeremi Suri’s recent Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. More damagingly, it also omits works like Prof. Sir Michael Howard’s The Invention of Peace, though I can understand why this one got a pass: its demonstration that the very concept of “peace” is a modern invention cuts to the heart of Prof. Howlett’s complaint that peace activism has not received much attention in the long run of history. (Full disclosure: I studied under Sir Michael and was a colleague of Prof. Suri’s.) Perhaps the real fault of these works, though, is that they are not sufficiently keen on “the transformation of society” to merit inclusion in the canon of “peace studies.”

Departing from this depressing field, I turn to Robert Townsend’s piece on the production of history Ph.D.’s. But the figures here — all deriving from data from the National Research Council — are beyond grim. No matter where you look, less than 45 percent of history graduate students receive a Ph.D. after eight years, and less than 50 percent of graduates find academic employment. I would like to say that the low-ranked programs are to blame, and there is some evidence for this: they offer much less financial support and have a lower completion rate. But the fact remains that the top-rated programs produce about as many Ph.D.’s as all the other programs put together.

The Economist puts the icing on the cake by pointing out that the production of Ph.D.’s has outstripped demand, that there is no relationship between academic supply and demand (thus, the concept of a “job market” is meaningless), that this is a tremendous waste of human talent, that this oversupply is very convenient for faculty members who are more interested in research than teaching, and that the earnings premium from a Ph.D. in all subjects amounts to no more than 3 percent. I really cannot think of any other line of work that would supposedly take such care in choosing its raw materials — the admissions process is very selective — and then take over eight years to throw half of them away while watching half of the other half not gain the employment for which the system had supposedly trained them.

One result of overproduction, of course, is the need to define new kinds of expertise in order to stimulate artificial demand. That is why the number of journals in history continues to rise, in spite of the fact that no one reads them. And it probably offers some insight into the rise of fields like peace studies: it is another way to define yourself in a very crowded marketplace. Unfortunately, this academic balkanization is profoundly destructive: its specialization alienates students, and its politicization alienates everyone except the true believers.

Since the true believers control the system, that does not matter very much in the short run. But at some point, the long run arrives: the recent protests in Britain give us some insight into what happens when, finally, a government is forced to recognize that offering unconditional subsidies to a system that so palpably fails to deliver public goods of comparable worth is a game not worth the candle. The implication of the depressing reality that academics are disposable, after all, is that there should be fewer of them.

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The Moral Case for Conservative Economics

I wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard that attempts to explain what’s wrong with the liberal affinity for class warfare. In response to it, one of the really bright political minds I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president.

Whether or not that’s accurate — and I happen to believe there’s a lot of wisdom in it — it does strike me that a compelling moral argument on behalf of conservative economics specifically, and capitalism more broadly, has been sorely missing from the public debate. That case can be made easily enough; the question is who will step forward to make it.

There is, I think, a useful analogy that can be made to welfare reform. The conservative case was far more powerful and effective when welfare reform was framed in explicitly moral terms — when those on the right argued why (a) welfare policies (in the form of AFDC) were inflicting terrible damage on those they were intended to assist, and (b) reforms to the system would lead to greater self-reliance and human flourishing.

Something similar needs to be done on economics. (Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and I try to do it in this monograph, Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism.) Conservatives need to expand on their reliance on economic facts and figures and explain why economic growth is the best antidote to widespread poverty and misery; why Leviathan is a threat to liberty and human character; and why capitalism is a civilizing agent and national wealth a moral good. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for a movement that counts Adam Smith (a profound moral philosopher) and Abraham Lincoln (a profound moral thinker) in its pantheon.

I wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard that attempts to explain what’s wrong with the liberal affinity for class warfare. In response to it, one of the really bright political minds I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president.

Whether or not that’s accurate — and I happen to believe there’s a lot of wisdom in it — it does strike me that a compelling moral argument on behalf of conservative economics specifically, and capitalism more broadly, has been sorely missing from the public debate. That case can be made easily enough; the question is who will step forward to make it.

There is, I think, a useful analogy that can be made to welfare reform. The conservative case was far more powerful and effective when welfare reform was framed in explicitly moral terms — when those on the right argued why (a) welfare policies (in the form of AFDC) were inflicting terrible damage on those they were intended to assist, and (b) reforms to the system would lead to greater self-reliance and human flourishing.

Something similar needs to be done on economics. (Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and I try to do it in this monograph, Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism.) Conservatives need to expand on their reliance on economic facts and figures and explain why economic growth is the best antidote to widespread poverty and misery; why Leviathan is a threat to liberty and human character; and why capitalism is a civilizing agent and national wealth a moral good. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for a movement that counts Adam Smith (a profound moral philosopher) and Abraham Lincoln (a profound moral thinker) in its pantheon.

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Has the Politically Impossible Become Possible?

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

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