Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 5, 2011

Great New Blog Alert

The luckiest moments for blog readers come when important thinkers and great writers who have not previously blogged decide to join the rough-and-tumble of the blogosphere. The names Walter Russell Mead and Joshua Muravchik come to mind.

It has just happened again. Elliott Abrams, COMMENTARY contributor and former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, has gone live with his Pressure Points blog over on the Council on Foreign Relations’s website. In his introductory post, he describes the blog’s purpose and point of view:

[The] purpose here is to discuss American human rights policy and events in the Middle East from a particular perspective: that we must use our own greatest strengths, defend our values and interests, and probe the weaknesses of our opponents in protecting our national security.

That perspective is built around the conviction that the promotion of democracy, including in the Middle East, is in the interest of the United States despite the many difficulties involved in such a policy; that the association of the United States with the cause of human rights strengthens our foreign policy and should be viewed as a fundamental goal rather than an inconvenience or problem; that Iran, rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is now the most consequential problem in the Middle East; and that despite the widespread and sometimes violent criticism of Israel in the region and beyond it, the close association between the United States and the State of Israel remains very much in our own national interest.

It’s hard to conceive of a more important new blog for our times. In an intellectual realm packed with self-appointed experts, the appearance of the real thing is sure to upset all the right people. Start reading now.

The luckiest moments for blog readers come when important thinkers and great writers who have not previously blogged decide to join the rough-and-tumble of the blogosphere. The names Walter Russell Mead and Joshua Muravchik come to mind.

It has just happened again. Elliott Abrams, COMMENTARY contributor and former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, has gone live with his Pressure Points blog over on the Council on Foreign Relations’s website. In his introductory post, he describes the blog’s purpose and point of view:

[The] purpose here is to discuss American human rights policy and events in the Middle East from a particular perspective: that we must use our own greatest strengths, defend our values and interests, and probe the weaknesses of our opponents in protecting our national security.

That perspective is built around the conviction that the promotion of democracy, including in the Middle East, is in the interest of the United States despite the many difficulties involved in such a policy; that the association of the United States with the cause of human rights strengthens our foreign policy and should be viewed as a fundamental goal rather than an inconvenience or problem; that Iran, rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is now the most consequential problem in the Middle East; and that despite the widespread and sometimes violent criticism of Israel in the region and beyond it, the close association between the United States and the State of Israel remains very much in our own national interest.

It’s hard to conceive of a more important new blog for our times. In an intellectual realm packed with self-appointed experts, the appearance of the real thing is sure to upset all the right people. Start reading now.

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SPJ Voting on Whether to Rename Helen Thomas Award

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.” Read More

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.”

“[T]he same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America, protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” wrote Weston. “And while I vehemently disagree with the opinions she has expressed about Jews and Zionists, I will defend, as long as I live, her right to express them.”

How courageous for Weston to vow to “defend” Thomas’s right to an opinion, but I don’t think anybody here is attempting to deny her that right. This issue isn’t about freedom of speech; it’s about the public image of a respected institution. Societies like the SPJ give these types of awards because they’re considered prestigious for both the honoree and the organization. Well-regarded groups probably wouldn’t pass out awards named after, say, David Duke or Paris Hilton.

So to echo what Foxman said, I’m not sure many journalists would want to put “Recipient of the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement” alongside their byline. I also have a hunch that the SPJ’s public affairs department probably doesn’t want to deal with the inevitably uncomfortable press coverage every time they hand out the award.

Thomas still has a great deal of friends, supporters, and defenders in the journalism industry, but I have a feeling that this vote will result in a name change. It would be a nightmare for SPJ if its Executive Committee decided otherwise. As unfortunate as it may be, Thomas’s recent anti-Semitic statements have come to define her. And fair or not, if SPJ votes to continue to issue the award in her name, it will be viewed as a nod of support for her remarks.

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Speaker Boehner’s Maiden Speech

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

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RE: Judging Captain Honors

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

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The Peaceful Transfer of Power Is No Small Thing

In watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the election of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, it’s worth recalling what is often overlooked: the peaceful transfer of political power from one party to another is an amazing achievement. By now it is commonplace, of course; the ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said; and for Americans, this choice has long since been made. But for much of human history, including in many countries in the world today, the loss of political power is accompanied by violence and bloodshed. To watch the proceedings today — the votes, ceremony, and formality; the milling around, side conversations, and even the looks of boredom — is to be reminded that this nation and its form of government is, as Gladstone said of the U.S. Constitution, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

Sometimes the normalcy and routine nature of events hide just how extraordinary they are.

In watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the election of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, it’s worth recalling what is often overlooked: the peaceful transfer of political power from one party to another is an amazing achievement. By now it is commonplace, of course; the ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said; and for Americans, this choice has long since been made. But for much of human history, including in many countries in the world today, the loss of political power is accompanied by violence and bloodshed. To watch the proceedings today — the votes, ceremony, and formality; the milling around, side conversations, and even the looks of boredom — is to be reminded that this nation and its form of government is, as Gladstone said of the U.S. Constitution, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

Sometimes the normalcy and routine nature of events hide just how extraordinary they are.

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Israeli Knesset Votes to Investigate Leftist NGOs

The Knesset voted today to investigate the funding sources of leftist NGOs involved in the Israel-delegitimization campaign. Such groups are becoming increasingly problematic in the country, and there have been indications that some of them may be funded by foreign governments and organizations that seek the destruction of the Jewish state:

The initiative, brought forth by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu faction, called primarily to investigate the sources of funding for these groups. The panel will essentially be charged with looking into where these groups have been attaining their funds, particularly whether this money is coming from foreign states or even organizations deemed to be involved in terrorist activities.

While the initiative passed easily by a vote of 47 to 16, reports say that the debate grew extremely heated at points. Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz called the proposal “a shame on the Knesset,” and others compared it to 1950s McCarthyism in the U.S.

There are certainly serious reasons to be concerned about who funds some of these highly politicized leftist NGOs. But without having read the text of the initiative, I still foresee a couple of potential problems with this proposal. First, it’s unclear how they will define which groups qualify for investigation and which do not. There are varying degrees of participation in the Israel delegitimization movement, from those who engage in lawfare and divestment activities to those who use terms like “apartheid wall” and “illegal occupation.” Where would the line be drawn?

It seems like the Knesset is setting itself up for trouble with this decision. If it believes it is a crucial security concern to investigate the funding of certain NGOs, then maybe it would better to call for transparency for all NGOs, regardless of political leanings (as was proposed last year). But by concentrating solely on leftist organizations, the Knesset only gives ammunition to baseless and tedious claims that Israel is on its way to becoming an ultra-right-wing, anti-democratic state.

The Knesset voted today to investigate the funding sources of leftist NGOs involved in the Israel-delegitimization campaign. Such groups are becoming increasingly problematic in the country, and there have been indications that some of them may be funded by foreign governments and organizations that seek the destruction of the Jewish state:

The initiative, brought forth by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu faction, called primarily to investigate the sources of funding for these groups. The panel will essentially be charged with looking into where these groups have been attaining their funds, particularly whether this money is coming from foreign states or even organizations deemed to be involved in terrorist activities.

While the initiative passed easily by a vote of 47 to 16, reports say that the debate grew extremely heated at points. Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz called the proposal “a shame on the Knesset,” and others compared it to 1950s McCarthyism in the U.S.

There are certainly serious reasons to be concerned about who funds some of these highly politicized leftist NGOs. But without having read the text of the initiative, I still foresee a couple of potential problems with this proposal. First, it’s unclear how they will define which groups qualify for investigation and which do not. There are varying degrees of participation in the Israel delegitimization movement, from those who engage in lawfare and divestment activities to those who use terms like “apartheid wall” and “illegal occupation.” Where would the line be drawn?

It seems like the Knesset is setting itself up for trouble with this decision. If it believes it is a crucial security concern to investigate the funding of certain NGOs, then maybe it would better to call for transparency for all NGOs, regardless of political leanings (as was proposed last year). But by concentrating solely on leftist organizations, the Knesset only gives ammunition to baseless and tedious claims that Israel is on its way to becoming an ultra-right-wing, anti-democratic state.

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Ramsey Clark Embraces Hamas: Whose Reputation Is Damaged?

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

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Bringing Afghans Over to the Coalition Side, One Tribe at a Time

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

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Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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RE: Unforgivable

Abe’s post on the bowdlerization of Mark Twain reminded me of the evolution of the opening line of the great Broadway musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1927, when the curtain went up, the chorus sang “Niggers all work on de Mississippi, /Niggers all work while de white folk play. /Loadin’ up boats with de bales of cotton. /Gettin’ no rest till de /Judgment Day!”

By the 1936 movie, the line had become “Darkies all work …” The 1946 Broadway revival began “Colored folk work on de Mississippi.” By the 1951 movie, it was “Here we all work …” The 1966 Lincoln Center production simply omitted the line altogether. Only with John McGlinn’s magnificent recording of the complete score in 1988 was the original text first restored.

No one could possibly accuse Oscar Hammerstein of being a racist and, indeed, the word he chose was historically and dialectically correct. It’s the word black stevedores on the Mississippi would have used in the 1880s.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have said about an expurgated Huckleberry Finn. I bet it would have been funny. I happen to know what Oscar Hammerstein would have said. When Paul Robeson started rewriting “Ol’ Man River” for his own political purposes, Hammerstein said: “As the author of these words, I should like it known that I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest  that Paul would write his own songs and leave mine alone.”

Abe’s post on the bowdlerization of Mark Twain reminded me of the evolution of the opening line of the great Broadway musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1927, when the curtain went up, the chorus sang “Niggers all work on de Mississippi, /Niggers all work while de white folk play. /Loadin’ up boats with de bales of cotton. /Gettin’ no rest till de /Judgment Day!”

By the 1936 movie, the line had become “Darkies all work …” The 1946 Broadway revival began “Colored folk work on de Mississippi.” By the 1951 movie, it was “Here we all work …” The 1966 Lincoln Center production simply omitted the line altogether. Only with John McGlinn’s magnificent recording of the complete score in 1988 was the original text first restored.

No one could possibly accuse Oscar Hammerstein of being a racist and, indeed, the word he chose was historically and dialectically correct. It’s the word black stevedores on the Mississippi would have used in the 1880s.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have said about an expurgated Huckleberry Finn. I bet it would have been funny. I happen to know what Oscar Hammerstein would have said. When Paul Robeson started rewriting “Ol’ Man River” for his own political purposes, Hammerstein said: “As the author of these words, I should like it known that I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest  that Paul would write his own songs and leave mine alone.”

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Morning Commentary

As Max Boot noted yesterday, the assassination of Salman Taseer highlights the rise of Islamic extremists in Pakistan, who have been gaining power in the country despite the fact that their views aren’t shared by the majority of Pakistanis: “Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.”

Politico reports that Robert Gibbs’s days as White House press secretary may be numbered. Gibbs is apparently considering stepping aside within the next few weeks to concentrate on handling media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

At the Guardian, Sohrab Ahmari’s writes an excellent takedown of Stephen Kinzer’s recent column on human rights “imperialism”: “But it is Kinzer’s extreme cultural relativism that makes his argument against the human rights community particularly troubling. For he is effectively implying that some people deserve fewer individual rights than others.”

Days after dozens of Egyptian Christians were murdered in a terrorist attack during Mass, supporters of the victims protest peacefully in Cairo: “Hundreds of supporters of Egyptian Christians protesting a New Year’s bombing that killed nearly two dozen of their members marched Tuesday night on a church in a Cairo suburb, where they were met by an equal number of security officers in riot gear.”

Say what you will about Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism efforts — its intelligence service is top notch. While most spy agencies focus on tracking down human moles, the Saudis are concentrating on their avian counterparts.

As Max Boot noted yesterday, the assassination of Salman Taseer highlights the rise of Islamic extremists in Pakistan, who have been gaining power in the country despite the fact that their views aren’t shared by the majority of Pakistanis: “Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.”

Politico reports that Robert Gibbs’s days as White House press secretary may be numbered. Gibbs is apparently considering stepping aside within the next few weeks to concentrate on handling media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

At the Guardian, Sohrab Ahmari’s writes an excellent takedown of Stephen Kinzer’s recent column on human rights “imperialism”: “But it is Kinzer’s extreme cultural relativism that makes his argument against the human rights community particularly troubling. For he is effectively implying that some people deserve fewer individual rights than others.”

Days after dozens of Egyptian Christians were murdered in a terrorist attack during Mass, supporters of the victims protest peacefully in Cairo: “Hundreds of supporters of Egyptian Christians protesting a New Year’s bombing that killed nearly two dozen of their members marched Tuesday night on a church in a Cairo suburb, where they were met by an equal number of security officers in riot gear.”

Say what you will about Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism efforts — its intelligence service is top notch. While most spy agencies focus on tracking down human moles, the Saudis are concentrating on their avian counterparts.

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Israel’s Opposition Leader Puts Politics Before Pollard

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

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