Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 7, 2011

When It Comes to Congressional Staff, Bigger Is Not Better

Republicans have followed through on a promise to cut congressional staff budgets, but the 5 percent reduction is more symbolic than real. Some 23,000 people work for congressional members and committee offices, at a cost of roughly $4 billion, according to Vital Statistics on Congress, which is published by the Brooking Institution.

More staff translates into more potential for mischief — like writing 2,400-page health-care bills. The last time Republicans took over, they made significant cuts in congressional staffs, but even Republicans are wary of cutting too deeply for fear they won’t have enough personnel to do executive-branch oversight. Rep. Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already announced a wide range of issues he intends to investigate, from the administration’s handling of WikiLeaks to the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the financial meltdown.

But Issa is just carrying on a tradition that goes back at least as far as the Nixon years. As a young staffer on the House Judiciary Committee in the early 1970s, I saw the staff grow from about three dozen to more than 100 during the Watergate investigation and impeachment period. Somehow, with only a handful of lawyers and a few secretaries on staff, the Judiciary Committee managed to draft and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and the Equal Rights Amendment, to name just a few of the significant pieces of legislation of the era. Now committees can’t manage their duties with fewer than 100 people on board. Bigger hasn’t translated into better.

Republicans have followed through on a promise to cut congressional staff budgets, but the 5 percent reduction is more symbolic than real. Some 23,000 people work for congressional members and committee offices, at a cost of roughly $4 billion, according to Vital Statistics on Congress, which is published by the Brooking Institution.

More staff translates into more potential for mischief — like writing 2,400-page health-care bills. The last time Republicans took over, they made significant cuts in congressional staffs, but even Republicans are wary of cutting too deeply for fear they won’t have enough personnel to do executive-branch oversight. Rep. Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already announced a wide range of issues he intends to investigate, from the administration’s handling of WikiLeaks to the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the financial meltdown.

But Issa is just carrying on a tradition that goes back at least as far as the Nixon years. As a young staffer on the House Judiciary Committee in the early 1970s, I saw the staff grow from about three dozen to more than 100 during the Watergate investigation and impeachment period. Somehow, with only a handful of lawyers and a few secretaries on staff, the Judiciary Committee managed to draft and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and the Equal Rights Amendment, to name just a few of the significant pieces of legislation of the era. Now committees can’t manage their duties with fewer than 100 people on board. Bigger hasn’t translated into better.

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Yes, Rudy Is Considering Another Presidential Run

Get ready to see America’s mayor back in action. The New York Post reported this morning that Rudy Giuliani is readying himself for another presidential run in 2012, and now it sounds like his plans have been in the works for several months. A source familiar with the issue tells me that Giuliani has been reaching out to people about launching another presidential bid since at least last summer.

The former mayor would obviously be a long shot in the race — especially after his disastrous campaign in 2008 — but it may be premature to discount him entirely. One of the problems that plagued his last run was his unwillingness to mount tough attacks against his close friend Sen. John McCain. There were also reports that several of Rudy’s opponents were sitting on treasure troves of damaging opposition research on him, but I’m told that time may have made that information less of a concern.

And according to the Post, Rudy could have other reasons to be confident. Sources told the paper that the former mayor “thinks the Republican race will be populated with far-right candidates like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, and there’s opportunity for a moderate candidate with a background in national security.”

Which really gets down to the brass tacks of why Giuliani is probably mounting this bid: he wants to ensure that his issues — primarily national security — play a prominent role in the election. Obviously his chances of winning are small, but at least by running he can keep a foot in the game and keep his policy interests in the spotlight.

Get ready to see America’s mayor back in action. The New York Post reported this morning that Rudy Giuliani is readying himself for another presidential run in 2012, and now it sounds like his plans have been in the works for several months. A source familiar with the issue tells me that Giuliani has been reaching out to people about launching another presidential bid since at least last summer.

The former mayor would obviously be a long shot in the race — especially after his disastrous campaign in 2008 — but it may be premature to discount him entirely. One of the problems that plagued his last run was his unwillingness to mount tough attacks against his close friend Sen. John McCain. There were also reports that several of Rudy’s opponents were sitting on treasure troves of damaging opposition research on him, but I’m told that time may have made that information less of a concern.

And according to the Post, Rudy could have other reasons to be confident. Sources told the paper that the former mayor “thinks the Republican race will be populated with far-right candidates like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, and there’s opportunity for a moderate candidate with a background in national security.”

Which really gets down to the brass tacks of why Giuliani is probably mounting this bid: he wants to ensure that his issues — primarily national security — play a prominent role in the election. Obviously his chances of winning are small, but at least by running he can keep a foot in the game and keep his policy interests in the spotlight.

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Santorum Choice: Lose National or Lose Local?

Roll Call posed an interesting question today when it asked whether the Democrats were trying to entice Rick Santorum into abandoning his putative presidential candidacy in favor of another crack at the U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2006. The DC publication noted that Public Policy Forum, a Democratic Party polling firm, has issued a new survey showing that Santorum was the most viable challenger to incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, the man who ended the Republican’s Senate career after two terms in a landslide only four years ago.

Santorum currently trails Casey by only seven points, far better than any other potential GOP candidate. While that number isn’t terribly encouraging, it is certainly an improvement over the 17-point margin that he lost by in 2006. The PPF release stated that since polls showed Santorum losing Pennsylvania to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a larger margin than he trailed Casey, “Santorum may choose to abandon his exploration of a presidential bid in favor of a rematch of his 2006 loss to now Senator Bob Casey. If he does that, he would at least make it much closer than the rout Casey laid on him four years ago, but he would come little closer than he does against the president.”

The Democrats may be enjoying rubbing Santorum’s nose in these results, but he isn’t giving up his presidential hopes this quickly. Santorum might not have much of a chance of being the GOP nominee in 2012, but in a wide-open race with no clear front-runner, and the field far from being decided (yes, we’re talking about you, Sarah Palin), why shouldn’t he give it a try? His candidacy is based on the idea that he will be a sort of combination of Mike Huckabee and John Bolton: the sole candidate who combines strong social conservatism with vigorous stands on foreign policy. It may be far-fetched, but if you think about it, it’s no loonier than the notion that the Republicans will nominate the man who implemented his own form of the hated ObamaCare health-care legislation (yes, we’re talking about you, Mitt Romney).

More to the point, Santorum knows he has little chance of beating Bob Casey in a rematch even if 2012 turns out to be another Republican year. Casey has flown beneath the radar during his four years in the Senate just as he did when running against Santorum. The polar opposite of publicity-hungry senators like his former colleague Arlen Specter, Casey avoids exposure like the plague. It works for him, as it is hard to pin anything that happens on this mild-mannered son of an immensely popular former Pennsylvania governor. Casey is mildly pro-life and pro-gun while also espousing mildly liberal stands on economic issues. In other words, he’s more or less perfect for Pennsylvania, and it’s unlikely that any big-name Republican will try his or her luck against him in 2012.

Santorum won a Senate seat in the 1994 Republican landslide and was re-elected in 2000 due to a weak opponent and because he spent his first six years in office running to the center and focusing on local needs. But he wore out his welcome at home by spending his second term moving to the right, especially on social issues, due to his burgeoning national ambitions. The point is, he checked out of Pennsylvania politics even before he lost his Senate set. It’s president or nothing for Santorum.

Roll Call posed an interesting question today when it asked whether the Democrats were trying to entice Rick Santorum into abandoning his putative presidential candidacy in favor of another crack at the U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2006. The DC publication noted that Public Policy Forum, a Democratic Party polling firm, has issued a new survey showing that Santorum was the most viable challenger to incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, the man who ended the Republican’s Senate career after two terms in a landslide only four years ago.

Santorum currently trails Casey by only seven points, far better than any other potential GOP candidate. While that number isn’t terribly encouraging, it is certainly an improvement over the 17-point margin that he lost by in 2006. The PPF release stated that since polls showed Santorum losing Pennsylvania to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a larger margin than he trailed Casey, “Santorum may choose to abandon his exploration of a presidential bid in favor of a rematch of his 2006 loss to now Senator Bob Casey. If he does that, he would at least make it much closer than the rout Casey laid on him four years ago, but he would come little closer than he does against the president.”

The Democrats may be enjoying rubbing Santorum’s nose in these results, but he isn’t giving up his presidential hopes this quickly. Santorum might not have much of a chance of being the GOP nominee in 2012, but in a wide-open race with no clear front-runner, and the field far from being decided (yes, we’re talking about you, Sarah Palin), why shouldn’t he give it a try? His candidacy is based on the idea that he will be a sort of combination of Mike Huckabee and John Bolton: the sole candidate who combines strong social conservatism with vigorous stands on foreign policy. It may be far-fetched, but if you think about it, it’s no loonier than the notion that the Republicans will nominate the man who implemented his own form of the hated ObamaCare health-care legislation (yes, we’re talking about you, Mitt Romney).

More to the point, Santorum knows he has little chance of beating Bob Casey in a rematch even if 2012 turns out to be another Republican year. Casey has flown beneath the radar during his four years in the Senate just as he did when running against Santorum. The polar opposite of publicity-hungry senators like his former colleague Arlen Specter, Casey avoids exposure like the plague. It works for him, as it is hard to pin anything that happens on this mild-mannered son of an immensely popular former Pennsylvania governor. Casey is mildly pro-life and pro-gun while also espousing mildly liberal stands on economic issues. In other words, he’s more or less perfect for Pennsylvania, and it’s unlikely that any big-name Republican will try his or her luck against him in 2012.

Santorum won a Senate seat in the 1994 Republican landslide and was re-elected in 2000 due to a weak opponent and because he spent his first six years in office running to the center and focusing on local needs. But he wore out his welcome at home by spending his second term moving to the right, especially on social issues, due to his burgeoning national ambitions. The point is, he checked out of Pennsylvania politics even before he lost his Senate set. It’s president or nothing for Santorum.

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Two Very Different GOP Responses to DADT Repeal

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership? Read More

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership?

Not to mention that holding hearings and investigations will only serve to complicate and drag out the process even more:

Armed services committee aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hearings will focus on implementation issues, from housing to benefits to changes in criminal laws — which would have the effect of slowing down the change.

The Republican argument for keeping DADT in place was that our military shouldn’t have to deal with a major policy change while embroiled in two wars. Now that the ban has been lifted, McCain is taking the correct approach by offering to help ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible. Wilson’s proposals will only impede that effort, creating additional hurtles for our troops.

I know I keep returning to what Bill Kristol wrote in late December, but his advice to conservatives on this issue was dead-on: “Don’t fret, don’t whine.” Now that DADT’s been lifted, there’s no point in harping on it. There are more important battles out there to fight, more damaging policies that need to be repealed (ObamaCare being a perfect example). Congress had its say on the matter; now it’s time for lawmakers to step back and let our military take it from here.

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That Debt Ceiling Again

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

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RE: Curb Your Enthusiasm

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

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Silving Lining in Jobs Numbers

The new job numbers released today may not be great — fewer jobs were created than expected, 113,000 in December while the economy needs 120,000 per month just to keep up with new entries into the job market — but there is a silver lining.

All the jobs created were in the private sector, while state and local governments continue to shed jobs. The decline in public employment is obviously painful for government workers who lose their jobs, but it’s good for everyone else. After years of profligate growth in the public sector, which required higher taxes and drained economic resources from the private sector, we’re finally seeing some enforced restraint. And a smaller government workforce will mean less in the coffers of public-employee unions and thus less support for candidates who favor bigger government.

The new job numbers released today may not be great — fewer jobs were created than expected, 113,000 in December while the economy needs 120,000 per month just to keep up with new entries into the job market — but there is a silver lining.

All the jobs created were in the private sector, while state and local governments continue to shed jobs. The decline in public employment is obviously painful for government workers who lose their jobs, but it’s good for everyone else. After years of profligate growth in the public sector, which required higher taxes and drained economic resources from the private sector, we’re finally seeing some enforced restraint. And a smaller government workforce will mean less in the coffers of public-employee unions and thus less support for candidates who favor bigger government.

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The Economist vs. Israel (Again)

In an editorial on the Middle East, the Economist writes this:

All of this should give new urgency to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. To start with, at least, peace will be incomplete: Iran, Hizbullah and sometimes Hamas say that they will never accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. But it is the unending Israeli occupation that gives these rejectionists their oxygen. Give the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and it will become very much harder for the rejectionists to justify going to war.

This paragraph is par for the course for the Economist when it comes to Israel and the Middle East: utterly detached from reality and history.

The assertion that “unending Israel occupation” is what gives “rejectionists their oxygen” is utterly false. The oxygen is a fierce, burning, and unquenchable hatred for the Jewish state and for Jews themselves. The oxygen is anti-Semitism.

Consider this: the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

As for the “rejectionists” needing to “justify” going to war with Israel: is the Economist familiar with (to take just one example) the mad rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Does it really believe Ahmadinejad needs the lack of a Palestinian state to justify his (and militant Islam’s) hostility to Israel? Ahmadinejad’s hated of Israel is existential; granting the Palestinians a state wouldn’t placate his detestation for Israel in the least.

Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to sacrifice “land for peace.” In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

Today most Israelis and their political leaders favor, even long for, a two-state solution; witness the extraordinary concessions Israel offered up in the last decade. Not surprisingly, though, we have (re)learned the lesson that a two-state solution requires two partners who are (a) interested in peace and (b) have the power to enforce it. That has simply not been, and is not now, the case. Those Palestinian figures who desire amicable relations with Israel have not shown the capacity to enforce their will on others. And it is, tragically, innocent Palestinians who continue to suffer, to live in misery, and to be a people without a home. That, among other things, is what corrupt Palestinian leadership and a wider, malignant ideology have wrought.

What the “peace process” has taught us is that authentic peace cannot be achieved based on a deep misreading of the true disposition of the enemies of Israel. One would hope that at some point, even the Economist would absorb that blindingly obvious lesson.

In an editorial on the Middle East, the Economist writes this:

All of this should give new urgency to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. To start with, at least, peace will be incomplete: Iran, Hizbullah and sometimes Hamas say that they will never accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. But it is the unending Israeli occupation that gives these rejectionists their oxygen. Give the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and it will become very much harder for the rejectionists to justify going to war.

This paragraph is par for the course for the Economist when it comes to Israel and the Middle East: utterly detached from reality and history.

The assertion that “unending Israel occupation” is what gives “rejectionists their oxygen” is utterly false. The oxygen is a fierce, burning, and unquenchable hatred for the Jewish state and for Jews themselves. The oxygen is anti-Semitism.

Consider this: the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

As for the “rejectionists” needing to “justify” going to war with Israel: is the Economist familiar with (to take just one example) the mad rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Does it really believe Ahmadinejad needs the lack of a Palestinian state to justify his (and militant Islam’s) hostility to Israel? Ahmadinejad’s hated of Israel is existential; granting the Palestinians a state wouldn’t placate his detestation for Israel in the least.

Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to sacrifice “land for peace.” In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

Today most Israelis and their political leaders favor, even long for, a two-state solution; witness the extraordinary concessions Israel offered up in the last decade. Not surprisingly, though, we have (re)learned the lesson that a two-state solution requires two partners who are (a) interested in peace and (b) have the power to enforce it. That has simply not been, and is not now, the case. Those Palestinian figures who desire amicable relations with Israel have not shown the capacity to enforce their will on others. And it is, tragically, innocent Palestinians who continue to suffer, to live in misery, and to be a people without a home. That, among other things, is what corrupt Palestinian leadership and a wider, malignant ideology have wrought.

What the “peace process” has taught us is that authentic peace cannot be achieved based on a deep misreading of the true disposition of the enemies of Israel. One would hope that at some point, even the Economist would absorb that blindingly obvious lesson.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Iran Is Still on Track to Have a Bomb in Four Years

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

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The Irony of American History

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer argues, “What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.”

He concludes with this:

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

Krauthammer is, I think, correct on both counts. Constitutionalism will require careful and thoughtful development, since how we should apply this particular political philosophy to the issues of our time isn’t always self-evident. But Charles is also correct in saying that constitutionalism has wide appeal and philosophical depth. Which raises the question: Who would have thought in 2008, when liberals swept control of every branch of government, that the second half of Obama’s first term would be devoted to counteracting the rise of constitutionalism?

In what surely qualifies as one of the ironies of the 21st century, Barack Obama is in good measure responsible for the ascendancy of both conservatism and constitutionalism.

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer argues, “What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.”

He concludes with this:

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

Krauthammer is, I think, correct on both counts. Constitutionalism will require careful and thoughtful development, since how we should apply this particular political philosophy to the issues of our time isn’t always self-evident. But Charles is also correct in saying that constitutionalism has wide appeal and philosophical depth. Which raises the question: Who would have thought in 2008, when liberals swept control of every branch of government, that the second half of Obama’s first term would be devoted to counteracting the rise of constitutionalism?

In what surely qualifies as one of the ironies of the 21st century, Barack Obama is in good measure responsible for the ascendancy of both conservatism and constitutionalism.

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Morning Commentary

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

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Read the Great Thinkers You Quote Before You Quote Them

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

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Rep. Paul Ryan in Dialogue

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

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