Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 29, 2010

Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

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Everyone Does Not Know What Everyone Supposedly Knows

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

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Boycotts vs. Public Debate

As reported in various outlets, several groups — including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America — are boycotting the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference because CPAC is allowing GOProud, a conservative gay-rights organization, to be a sponsoring organization (one of more than 70). This strikes me as a bad idea on several levels.

As Ed Morrissey points out, CPAC brings together a variety of conservative groups holding different beliefs. They include libertarians, social conservatives, internationalists, isolationists, atheists, religious believers, and more. The point isn’t to determine a platform that conservatives must embrace; it is to engage in a debate about the merits of various issues. That should include those who embrace repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and same-sex marriage. Like it or not, those issues are part of the public conversation; they should therefore be engaged in a serious, thoughtful manner. Boycotting conferences to express moral disapproval won’t accomplish anything useful.

Beyond that, the boycotting organizations come across as defensive and insecure, as if they fear that their arguments cannot win the day on the merits. Perhaps they can or perhaps they cannot; but for organizations to pick up their marbles and leave — and in the process to accuse CPAC of engaging in a “moral sell-out” and of committing an act of “moral surrender” — strikes me as small-minded and unwise.

Part of this, I suppose, is subjective. There are certainly some hate groups that would be inappropriate to have as a sponsoring organization. But a gay-rights advocacy group like GOProud certainly doesn’t qualify. It shouldn’t be denied the chance to make its case. Groups that believe they have a strong moral and intellectual case should welcome a public debate on the merits. To do so is consistent with the American tradition. To fail to do so is contrary to it.

As reported in various outlets, several groups — including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America — are boycotting the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference because CPAC is allowing GOProud, a conservative gay-rights organization, to be a sponsoring organization (one of more than 70). This strikes me as a bad idea on several levels.

As Ed Morrissey points out, CPAC brings together a variety of conservative groups holding different beliefs. They include libertarians, social conservatives, internationalists, isolationists, atheists, religious believers, and more. The point isn’t to determine a platform that conservatives must embrace; it is to engage in a debate about the merits of various issues. That should include those who embrace repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and same-sex marriage. Like it or not, those issues are part of the public conversation; they should therefore be engaged in a serious, thoughtful manner. Boycotting conferences to express moral disapproval won’t accomplish anything useful.

Beyond that, the boycotting organizations come across as defensive and insecure, as if they fear that their arguments cannot win the day on the merits. Perhaps they can or perhaps they cannot; but for organizations to pick up their marbles and leave — and in the process to accuse CPAC of engaging in a “moral sell-out” and of committing an act of “moral surrender” — strikes me as small-minded and unwise.

Part of this, I suppose, is subjective. There are certainly some hate groups that would be inappropriate to have as a sponsoring organization. But a gay-rights advocacy group like GOProud certainly doesn’t qualify. It shouldn’t be denied the chance to make its case. Groups that believe they have a strong moral and intellectual case should welcome a public debate on the merits. To do so is consistent with the American tradition. To fail to do so is contrary to it.

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Anarchists, Unite (a Little)!

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort? Read More

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort?

–Hello? Anonymous?

–That’s taken. Anonymous goes by Anonymous.

–What do you mean anonymous goes by anonymous? Since when?

–Since they launched the DDOS attacks in support of WikiLeaks.

–Those attacks were anonymous.

–Right. I mean, wrong. The A was capitalized.

–Damn. Typo in my paper.

–Live and learn. Anyway, we, uh, I mean this still needs a name.

–I’m thinking. Got it! Nobody. Signed Nobody. Menacing, right?

–“Nobody bombed an embassy in Paris today”?  “Governments around the world have to worry about nobody”?

–Point taken.

–How about a simple, non-dramatic, descriptive approach? The Anarchist Federation.

–What’s your home address again?

–Why?

–Well, as an anarchist, I’m obligated to bomb federations not join them.

–Take it easy. I’m thinking of a compromise. How about the Loose Anarchist Federation?

–Uh, little acronym issue there.

–Right. Hmmm. The Informal Anarchist Federation?

–”Look out. The Informal Anarchist Federation is after you. Better institute dress-down Fridays.” Why not the Business Casual Anarchist Federation? The Half-Baked Anarchist Federation …

–Holy cow! I’m about to the miss the mailman. I’ve got to post this letter bomb by noon.

–See what happens when you waste time collaborating as fellow citizens?

–Informal going once, twice …

–Fine. Thank goodness our names aren’t attached to this thing.

–After this, I say we go back to the old A in the circle.

–Sure. Because anarchism is all about tradition and institutions and safe symbols, isn’t it. Wouldn’t want to think for ourselves, would we …

–Logging off, Bob.

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The 2011 Economy and Obama’s Political Fate

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

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The War in Afghanistan Is Part of the Larger Struggle Against Global Terrorism

When I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate about Afghanistan, my debate partner, terrorism expert Peter Bergen (who, like me, argued that it’s not a lost cause), was practically hooted off the stage by a skeptical audience when he said there was not much difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Now his insight is confirmed by U.S. intelligence reporting.

As described in the New York Times, “New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like ‘a syndicate,’ joining forces in ways not seen before.” The elements of the “syndicate” cited are the Quetta Shura Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Haqqani Network, and HiG (Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin), which are increasingly cooperating to stage attacks in Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. But all three have close links to other jihadist groups based in Pakistan, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban (aka the Pakistan Taliban), and, lest we forget, al-Qaeda. An American officer quoted by the Times does a good job of summing up the state of play among the jihadists:

“This is actually a syndicate of related and associated militant groups and networks, Trying to parse them, as if they have firewalls in between them, is really kind of silly. They cooperate with each other. They franchise work with each other.”

If that’s the case — and the preponderance of intelligence reporting certainly points in that direction — then it’s silly to disassociate the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as so many critics of the war effort do, from the broader struggle against jihadist groups bent on inflicting serious harm on America and on our allies. There are real differences among the jihadist groups, but there is also a growing commonality of tactics and purpose. The war in Afghanistan is part of a broader struggle — a global war — that we must win not only to safeguard distant allies but also our own territory.

When I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate about Afghanistan, my debate partner, terrorism expert Peter Bergen (who, like me, argued that it’s not a lost cause), was practically hooted off the stage by a skeptical audience when he said there was not much difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Now his insight is confirmed by U.S. intelligence reporting.

As described in the New York Times, “New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like ‘a syndicate,’ joining forces in ways not seen before.” The elements of the “syndicate” cited are the Quetta Shura Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Haqqani Network, and HiG (Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin), which are increasingly cooperating to stage attacks in Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. But all three have close links to other jihadist groups based in Pakistan, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban (aka the Pakistan Taliban), and, lest we forget, al-Qaeda. An American officer quoted by the Times does a good job of summing up the state of play among the jihadists:

“This is actually a syndicate of related and associated militant groups and networks, Trying to parse them, as if they have firewalls in between them, is really kind of silly. They cooperate with each other. They franchise work with each other.”

If that’s the case — and the preponderance of intelligence reporting certainly points in that direction — then it’s silly to disassociate the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as so many critics of the war effort do, from the broader struggle against jihadist groups bent on inflicting serious harm on America and on our allies. There are real differences among the jihadist groups, but there is also a growing commonality of tactics and purpose. The war in Afghanistan is part of a broader struggle — a global war — that we must win not only to safeguard distant allies but also our own territory.

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Dogma and the New Progressives

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

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Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

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Obama Takes Moral Step Backward in Treatment of Suspected Terrorists

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

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Why FOX Is Crowing

The 2010 cable news ratings are in — and it was an unprecedented rout.

FOX News has the top dozen rated shows on cable news. Thirteen FOX News programs draw more than 1 million viewers; three draw more than 2 million; and one program, The O’Reilly Factor, draws more than 3 million. In fact, the 11:00 p.m. repeat of The O’Reilly Factor, which ranks eighth (1.41 million viewers), easily outdistanced the top-rated program on MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which ranked 13th (1.035 million viewers).

CNN’s top-rated show, Larry King Live, finished at number 18 (672,000 viewers). Things were so bad for CNN in 2010 that Nancy Grace of Headline News ranked ahead of King, who has now retired from his nightly hosting duties.

The genius of Roger Ailes is that he not only brought the network to the top but, once there, continued to build on its dominance. We’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s no wonder that FOX News provokes such envy and animus from its competitors. They not only can’t beat FOX News; they can hardly compete with it anymore.

The 2010 cable news ratings are in — and it was an unprecedented rout.

FOX News has the top dozen rated shows on cable news. Thirteen FOX News programs draw more than 1 million viewers; three draw more than 2 million; and one program, The O’Reilly Factor, draws more than 3 million. In fact, the 11:00 p.m. repeat of The O’Reilly Factor, which ranks eighth (1.41 million viewers), easily outdistanced the top-rated program on MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which ranked 13th (1.035 million viewers).

CNN’s top-rated show, Larry King Live, finished at number 18 (672,000 viewers). Things were so bad for CNN in 2010 that Nancy Grace of Headline News ranked ahead of King, who has now retired from his nightly hosting duties.

The genius of Roger Ailes is that he not only brought the network to the top but, once there, continued to build on its dominance. We’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s no wonder that FOX News provokes such envy and animus from its competitors. They not only can’t beat FOX News; they can hardly compete with it anymore.

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EU Prepares to Repeat Its Cyprus Mistake in the Middle East

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

Read Less




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