Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 20, 2011

Lebanon: Too Quiet?

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

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Civility Watch: Cohen Won’t Back Down on Comparing GOP to Nazis

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

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The Unraveling of the New York Times‘s ‘Citizens United Scandal’ Story

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

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Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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‘Conversing’ About Afghanistan

I had not previously suspected that Grover Norquist has quite the sense of humor. I had thought of him as a dour ideologue, but he shows hidden strains of mirth in responding to my blog post expressing skepticism about his attempts to rally a “center-right” coalition against the Afghan war. The Daily Caller quotes him as follows:

Norquist said Boot’s comments underscore the need for a real debate on America’s strategy in the Af-Pak theatre. “OK, people for whom everything is World War II haven’t read much history. Because they have no other analogies other than things they have seen from World War II movies,” he told me. “There’s got to be a better case for what we’re doing in Afghanistan than Max Boot’s. Somewhere. ‘Shut up’, he argued. It’s, you know, it’s embarrassing.”

At the same time, Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet. “I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” he said. “There are guys who do this for a living, and they’re focused on it, who have strong criticisms of the status quo in different places. I’m very comfortable saying this is not for free and that the benefits are not clear to me. Could we have a conversation about the cost, and please make the benefits clear to me and others?”

“When somebody says ‘I don’t want to have a conversation about [what] this costs, I don’t want to have a conversation about what the benefits are, I surely don’t want to be asked what the point of this is’. … I think they have a weak case, because I do other things in life, right? But [proponents of the war] are focused on this all day. They think they have a weak case, and that’s scary, that’s frightening. I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

I will bypass his jape about not reading “much history,” which as it happens is what I do pretty much all day, every day — it’s necessary to read a lot of history to write your own works of history, which is what I spend most of my time doing.

I am more amused by his attempt to walk away from his viewpoint. As Alana pointed out earlier, he’s not really suggesting getting out of Afghanistan, he claims; he just wants to have a “conversation” about it. As if we had not debated it before, ad nauseum. Grover may not have noticed while he was doing “other things in life,” but this conversation has been going on for quite some time, both inside and outside the administration. I am hardly “embarrassed” to debate the merits of the war effort. If he is interested in my explanation of why we can win and why we must do so, he might start by reading two COMMENTARY articles I wrote — here and here.

I am hard put to see, however, why we must revive the debate now on Norquist’s say-so. President Obama — hardly a hawk — oversaw a fairly intensive debate within the administration in the fall of 2009. The surge strategy he approved then is only now being implemented. It makes sense to wait until we see how it plays out before starting a “conversation” about a pullout. Read More

I had not previously suspected that Grover Norquist has quite the sense of humor. I had thought of him as a dour ideologue, but he shows hidden strains of mirth in responding to my blog post expressing skepticism about his attempts to rally a “center-right” coalition against the Afghan war. The Daily Caller quotes him as follows:

Norquist said Boot’s comments underscore the need for a real debate on America’s strategy in the Af-Pak theatre. “OK, people for whom everything is World War II haven’t read much history. Because they have no other analogies other than things they have seen from World War II movies,” he told me. “There’s got to be a better case for what we’re doing in Afghanistan than Max Boot’s. Somewhere. ‘Shut up’, he argued. It’s, you know, it’s embarrassing.”

At the same time, Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet. “I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” he said. “There are guys who do this for a living, and they’re focused on it, who have strong criticisms of the status quo in different places. I’m very comfortable saying this is not for free and that the benefits are not clear to me. Could we have a conversation about the cost, and please make the benefits clear to me and others?”

“When somebody says ‘I don’t want to have a conversation about [what] this costs, I don’t want to have a conversation about what the benefits are, I surely don’t want to be asked what the point of this is’. … I think they have a weak case, because I do other things in life, right? But [proponents of the war] are focused on this all day. They think they have a weak case, and that’s scary, that’s frightening. I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

I will bypass his jape about not reading “much history,” which as it happens is what I do pretty much all day, every day — it’s necessary to read a lot of history to write your own works of history, which is what I spend most of my time doing.

I am more amused by his attempt to walk away from his viewpoint. As Alana pointed out earlier, he’s not really suggesting getting out of Afghanistan, he claims; he just wants to have a “conversation” about it. As if we had not debated it before, ad nauseum. Grover may not have noticed while he was doing “other things in life,” but this conversation has been going on for quite some time, both inside and outside the administration. I am hardly “embarrassed” to debate the merits of the war effort. If he is interested in my explanation of why we can win and why we must do so, he might start by reading two COMMENTARY articles I wrote — here and here.

I am hard put to see, however, why we must revive the debate now on Norquist’s say-so. President Obama — hardly a hawk — oversaw a fairly intensive debate within the administration in the fall of 2009. The surge strategy he approved then is only now being implemented. It makes sense to wait until we see how it plays out before starting a “conversation” about a pullout.

Or is the war of such urgent fiscal concern that we need to pull out tomorrow? Hardly. We are spending roughly $100 billion a year in Afghanistan. Our budget deficit last year was $1.29 trillion. So even if we suddenly stopped all spending on Afghanistan, that would reduce the deficit by less than 8 percent. But of course, not even most advocates of a troop drawdown suggest that we should abandon Afghanistan entirely. Most agree we need to keep Special Operations forces there, keep trainers there to help the Afghan Security Forces, etc. So our actual savings would be considerably less than that. There are many reasons for opposing the war effort, but Norquist’s chosen argument — calling for fiscal rectitude by withdrawing — is not terribly compelling.

Nor am I convinced by a poll sponsored by the liberal New America Foundation, with which Norquist has affiliated himself, claiming that most conservatives favor drawing down our troop numbers now. I suspect this is typical of the partisan “polls” that Washington operatives like Norquist put together to make their cause du jour appear more popular than it actually is. In reality, Republicans in Congress are solidly behind the war effort; I rather doubt they do so in the face of adamant opposition from their conservative constituents. In any case, I have not seen much sign of conservative opposition to the Afghan war effort — which is why Norquist is working with the New America Foundation, not, say, the Heritage Foundation.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: America: The Left’s Dispensable Nation

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Tunisia’s Anti-Israel Eliza Doolittle

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

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Norquist Dodging, Again, on Afghanistan

If Grover Norquist wants U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan right now, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?

Last week, at a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation, Norquist tiptoed around the issue, but “stopped short of personally calling for a rapid withdrawal,” according to the Huffington Post.

Instead he called for a “conversation” on the war, saying that he was “confident about where that conversation would go” — i.e., in the direction of withdrawal.

And in an interview with the Daily Caller today, Norquist again avoided giving a direct answer. “Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet,” reported the Caller.

“I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” said Norquist, adding that “I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

Well, nobody is stopping him from having a conversation. In fact, the discussion has been going on for years inside the conservative movement. And, no, it hasn’t led to the conclusion that Norquist “confidently” alluded to but for some reason declined to say outright.

Could it be that Norquist isn’t yet ready to throw his lot in with those on the right who have openly supported withdrawal — Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimondo, for example?

Whatever the reason, it’s a good move on his part. By framing this as a “conversation,” Norquist can shoot out anti-war talking points while refusing to commit himself to a solid position on the issue. After all, he’s just asking questions, right?

If Grover Norquist wants U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan right now, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?

Last week, at a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation, Norquist tiptoed around the issue, but “stopped short of personally calling for a rapid withdrawal,” according to the Huffington Post.

Instead he called for a “conversation” on the war, saying that he was “confident about where that conversation would go” — i.e., in the direction of withdrawal.

And in an interview with the Daily Caller today, Norquist again avoided giving a direct answer. “Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet,” reported the Caller.

“I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” said Norquist, adding that “I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

Well, nobody is stopping him from having a conversation. In fact, the discussion has been going on for years inside the conservative movement. And, no, it hasn’t led to the conclusion that Norquist “confidently” alluded to but for some reason declined to say outright.

Could it be that Norquist isn’t yet ready to throw his lot in with those on the right who have openly supported withdrawal — Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimondo, for example?

Whatever the reason, it’s a good move on his part. By framing this as a “conversation,” Norquist can shoot out anti-war talking points while refusing to commit himself to a solid position on the issue. After all, he’s just asking questions, right?

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RE: Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

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Incitement Kills — but Not Always Its Intended Target

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

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Would U.S. Veto of Anti-Israel Security Council Resolution Be ‘Hypocritical’?

Or at least that seems to be the new argument from the anti-Israel left. Some commentators have claimed that because the Obama administration has requested that Israel end settlement construction, the U.S. must therefore support a UN resolution condemning this construction. A draft of this resolution was introduced by Lebanon at the UN Security Council yesterday, but it hasn’t yet gone to a vote.

Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg writes: “The resolution is clearly in line with the stated Obama administration position on the issue; deploying its traditional Israel-defending veto would be tantamount to undermining its own stated policy.”

At Time magazine, Tony Karon makes a similar argument, writing that the proposed resolution “creates an immediate headache for the Obama Administration, over whether to invoke the U.S. veto — as Washington has traditionally done on Council resolutions critical of Israel. The twist this time: the substance of the current resolution largely echoes the Administration’s own stated positions.”

But while the Obama administration might agree with the general gist of the resolution — that Israel should halt settlement construction — the wording of it is completely out of line with anything the U.S. would say to Israel.

The drafted document uses demonizing language, refers to the Jewish state as an “occupying Power,” and calls the settlements “illegal” — something the U.S. has stopped short of saying.

And as a neutral intermediary in the peace negotiations, it could also be seen as inappropriate for the U.S. to sign on to the resolution. The Obama administration has signaled that it will draft a separate statement on the settlements during a Quartet meeting in early February but said the issue can only be resolved through negotiations.

“We … consistently oppose attempts to bring these issues to this council, and we will continue to do so because such action moves us no closer to the goal of negotiated final settlement,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on Wednesday, in a strongly worded opposition to the resolution.

So despite the best efforts of anti-Israel commentators to guilt the Obama administration out of vetoing the resolution, it seems much more likely that the U.S. will do just that.

Or at least that seems to be the new argument from the anti-Israel left. Some commentators have claimed that because the Obama administration has requested that Israel end settlement construction, the U.S. must therefore support a UN resolution condemning this construction. A draft of this resolution was introduced by Lebanon at the UN Security Council yesterday, but it hasn’t yet gone to a vote.

Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg writes: “The resolution is clearly in line with the stated Obama administration position on the issue; deploying its traditional Israel-defending veto would be tantamount to undermining its own stated policy.”

At Time magazine, Tony Karon makes a similar argument, writing that the proposed resolution “creates an immediate headache for the Obama Administration, over whether to invoke the U.S. veto — as Washington has traditionally done on Council resolutions critical of Israel. The twist this time: the substance of the current resolution largely echoes the Administration’s own stated positions.”

But while the Obama administration might agree with the general gist of the resolution — that Israel should halt settlement construction — the wording of it is completely out of line with anything the U.S. would say to Israel.

The drafted document uses demonizing language, refers to the Jewish state as an “occupying Power,” and calls the settlements “illegal” — something the U.S. has stopped short of saying.

And as a neutral intermediary in the peace negotiations, it could also be seen as inappropriate for the U.S. to sign on to the resolution. The Obama administration has signaled that it will draft a separate statement on the settlements during a Quartet meeting in early February but said the issue can only be resolved through negotiations.

“We … consistently oppose attempts to bring these issues to this council, and we will continue to do so because such action moves us no closer to the goal of negotiated final settlement,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on Wednesday, in a strongly worded opposition to the resolution.

So despite the best efforts of anti-Israel commentators to guilt the Obama administration out of vetoing the resolution, it seems much more likely that the U.S. will do just that.

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Replacing the White House Economic Team May Not Be Enough

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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The Culture War Against Israel

In 2010, the hard-core left married pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian organizations and gave birth to an entertainment-boycott campaign aimed at Israel. Cultural-boycott efforts have spilled over into 2011, as American soul singer Macy Gray is now the target of hysterical attacks for her slated Tel Aviv concerts in February. She appears to have defied the Israel-bashers, saying, “I like coming to Israel.”

She used some intemperate and unsavory language, however, when describing Israeli security policies. Gray wrote on Facebook that “I’m getting a lot of letters from activists urging and begging me to boycott by not performing in protest of apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I want to go. I have a lot of fans there that I don’t want to cancel on, and I don’t know how my not going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”

After roughly 4,000 fans responded, she tweeted that she plans to perform in Israel. To her credit, she defied the Arab lobby’s campaign to silence artistic free speech, which appears to be intimidating some. According to a Reuters news item: “Earlier this month, French singer Vanessa Paradis, who is married to actor Johnny Depp, canceled a February 10 concert in Israel. She said it clashed with an important meeting, but the Israeli media have speculated that is was a political decision.”

Last year, Grammy winner Carlos Santana, the alternative band the Pixies, and British singer Elvis Costello pulled the plug on their Israel concerts, a sign of mass artistic cowardice. In sharp contrast, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, and Johnny Rotten of the now-defunct punk band the Sex Pistols all performed last year in Israel.

Rotten, who now goes by his birth name, John Lydon, summed up, in a flash of neoconservative punkism, the misguided Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against the region’s only real democracy: “I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi jews [sic]. If Elvis-f-ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated. ”

The lesson here? Go on the offensive, as did Lydon, when engaged in combating the BDS campaign to block entertainers from performing in Israel.

In 2010, the hard-core left married pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian organizations and gave birth to an entertainment-boycott campaign aimed at Israel. Cultural-boycott efforts have spilled over into 2011, as American soul singer Macy Gray is now the target of hysterical attacks for her slated Tel Aviv concerts in February. She appears to have defied the Israel-bashers, saying, “I like coming to Israel.”

She used some intemperate and unsavory language, however, when describing Israeli security policies. Gray wrote on Facebook that “I’m getting a lot of letters from activists urging and begging me to boycott by not performing in protest of apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I want to go. I have a lot of fans there that I don’t want to cancel on, and I don’t know how my not going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”

After roughly 4,000 fans responded, she tweeted that she plans to perform in Israel. To her credit, she defied the Arab lobby’s campaign to silence artistic free speech, which appears to be intimidating some. According to a Reuters news item: “Earlier this month, French singer Vanessa Paradis, who is married to actor Johnny Depp, canceled a February 10 concert in Israel. She said it clashed with an important meeting, but the Israeli media have speculated that is was a political decision.”

Last year, Grammy winner Carlos Santana, the alternative band the Pixies, and British singer Elvis Costello pulled the plug on their Israel concerts, a sign of mass artistic cowardice. In sharp contrast, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, and Johnny Rotten of the now-defunct punk band the Sex Pistols all performed last year in Israel.

Rotten, who now goes by his birth name, John Lydon, summed up, in a flash of neoconservative punkism, the misguided Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against the region’s only real democracy: “I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi jews [sic]. If Elvis-f-ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated. ”

The lesson here? Go on the offensive, as did Lydon, when engaged in combating the BDS campaign to block entertainers from performing in Israel.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Wife of Chinese Political Prisoner Gao Zhisheng Pleads for His Release

“Mr. Obama, if you still remember the pain of the void you had growing up without your dad, maybe you can help my children reunite with their dad,” said Geng He, the wife of former human-rights attorney and Chinese political prisoner Gao Zhisheng at a press conference in Washington D.C. yesterday.

Obviously, the person she was speaking to wasn’t in the room. But it was a valiant effort to raise media awareness for her husband’s plight, one of many similar attempts over the past few weeks. As Washington prepared for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit, Geng appeared to have embarked on a campaign of her own. She’s given interviews to numerous news outlets, spoken at press conferences, and made appeals to the administration. But even though it’s crucial to speak out for political prisoners like Gao, the venture isn’t without risks. Geng’s husband could potentially bear the brunt of any anger the Chinese government may have over the public descriptions of his imprisonment.

Last week, for the first time, the AP published a 2010 interview with Gao about his previous treatment in prison. It was a story he requested they publish in only two circumstances. One was if he managed to escape from China and reunite with his wife and children in the U.S. The other was if he disappeared.

After eight months of no contact with the former human-rights attorney, AP and Geng decided enough time had gone by to go ahead with the piece. AP released the story to coincide with Hu’s visit. The account of Gao’s suffering is chilling on its own. And he admitted during the interview that there were certain aspects of the torture that he would not even divulge to the reporter.

But even though Hillary Clinton mentioned Gao’s mistreatment in a speech right before Hu’s visit, President Obama hasn’t publicly discussed the political prisoner since the Chinese leader arrived in D.C.

When Obama was pressed on human rights at a joint press conference with Hu yesterday, he offered only excuses for the Chinese government. The country, said Obama, “has a different political system than we do” and is “at a different state of development than we are.”

“We come from two different cultures and different histories,” he added.

Later that night, Obama hosted a lavish state dinner for President Hu. It looked like a beautiful event, at least from the photos. There’s even a picture of the first couple smiling as they post on either side of the Chinese leader (just a diplomatic nicety, of course).

Gao also seems to be someone who believes in the importance of smiling through unpleasant situations. “Even when I was tortured to near-death, the pain was only in the physical body,” he wrote in 2009. “A heart that is filled with God has no room to entertain pain and suffering. I often sing along loudly with my two children, but my wife never joins us. Despite all my efforts, she still feels miserable in her heart.”

Sure, the state dinner was just a matter of maintaining good relations with the Chinese government. Ensuring future stability for the U.S. and the world and all that. But with Hu returning home, and as media interest in Chinese political prisoners wanes, it’s less clear what the future holds for Gao Zhisheng and his family.

“Mr. Obama, if you still remember the pain of the void you had growing up without your dad, maybe you can help my children reunite with their dad,” said Geng He, the wife of former human-rights attorney and Chinese political prisoner Gao Zhisheng at a press conference in Washington D.C. yesterday.

Obviously, the person she was speaking to wasn’t in the room. But it was a valiant effort to raise media awareness for her husband’s plight, one of many similar attempts over the past few weeks. As Washington prepared for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit, Geng appeared to have embarked on a campaign of her own. She’s given interviews to numerous news outlets, spoken at press conferences, and made appeals to the administration. But even though it’s crucial to speak out for political prisoners like Gao, the venture isn’t without risks. Geng’s husband could potentially bear the brunt of any anger the Chinese government may have over the public descriptions of his imprisonment.

Last week, for the first time, the AP published a 2010 interview with Gao about his previous treatment in prison. It was a story he requested they publish in only two circumstances. One was if he managed to escape from China and reunite with his wife and children in the U.S. The other was if he disappeared.

After eight months of no contact with the former human-rights attorney, AP and Geng decided enough time had gone by to go ahead with the piece. AP released the story to coincide with Hu’s visit. The account of Gao’s suffering is chilling on its own. And he admitted during the interview that there were certain aspects of the torture that he would not even divulge to the reporter.

But even though Hillary Clinton mentioned Gao’s mistreatment in a speech right before Hu’s visit, President Obama hasn’t publicly discussed the political prisoner since the Chinese leader arrived in D.C.

When Obama was pressed on human rights at a joint press conference with Hu yesterday, he offered only excuses for the Chinese government. The country, said Obama, “has a different political system than we do” and is “at a different state of development than we are.”

“We come from two different cultures and different histories,” he added.

Later that night, Obama hosted a lavish state dinner for President Hu. It looked like a beautiful event, at least from the photos. There’s even a picture of the first couple smiling as they post on either side of the Chinese leader (just a diplomatic nicety, of course).

Gao also seems to be someone who believes in the importance of smiling through unpleasant situations. “Even when I was tortured to near-death, the pain was only in the physical body,” he wrote in 2009. “A heart that is filled with God has no room to entertain pain and suffering. I often sing along loudly with my two children, but my wife never joins us. Despite all my efforts, she still feels miserable in her heart.”

Sure, the state dinner was just a matter of maintaining good relations with the Chinese government. Ensuring future stability for the U.S. and the world and all that. But with Hu returning home, and as media interest in Chinese political prisoners wanes, it’s less clear what the future holds for Gao Zhisheng and his family.

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President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

Today is the 50th anniversary of the most memorable and most quoted inaugural address of the 20th century. On this day in 1961, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president.

The actual drafting of Kennedy’s speech did not get under way until the week before it was due. According to Theodore Sorenson, the president’s speechwriter, Kennedy was worried that his farewell speech to Massachusetts, in an address to the state legislature, had pre-empted some of his best material.

In reading early drafts of the inaugural address, Kennedy suggested dropping references to domestic matters altogether and toned down the partisanship, saying it sounded too much like the campaign. He also wanted it to be the shortest inaugural address in the 20th century. “It’s more effective that way,” Kennedy said, “and I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag.”

The speech itself is exquisite: eloquent and stirring; compact; beautifully balanced; filled with vivid, memorable lines; an address that perfectly captured the spirit of the postwar generation in politics.

In putting America’s struggle within a larger context, Kennedy, early in the speech, articulated its philosophical underpinning: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago,” JFK said. “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

I was not yet born when Kennedy delivered his address. But as a young man in college in the 1980s, I would journey to the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library and listen to the speech so often that I eventually memorized every word. Like so many other people of my generation and from an earlier generation, the Kennedy presidency — and the Kennedy rhetoric – deepened my interest in both politics and the power and importance of words.

Do yourself a favor today and set aside a few minutes to read one of the most beautifully crafted speeches in American history.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the most memorable and most quoted inaugural address of the 20th century. On this day in 1961, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president.

The actual drafting of Kennedy’s speech did not get under way until the week before it was due. According to Theodore Sorenson, the president’s speechwriter, Kennedy was worried that his farewell speech to Massachusetts, in an address to the state legislature, had pre-empted some of his best material.

In reading early drafts of the inaugural address, Kennedy suggested dropping references to domestic matters altogether and toned down the partisanship, saying it sounded too much like the campaign. He also wanted it to be the shortest inaugural address in the 20th century. “It’s more effective that way,” Kennedy said, “and I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag.”

The speech itself is exquisite: eloquent and stirring; compact; beautifully balanced; filled with vivid, memorable lines; an address that perfectly captured the spirit of the postwar generation in politics.

In putting America’s struggle within a larger context, Kennedy, early in the speech, articulated its philosophical underpinning: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago,” JFK said. “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

I was not yet born when Kennedy delivered his address. But as a young man in college in the 1980s, I would journey to the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library and listen to the speech so often that I eventually memorized every word. Like so many other people of my generation and from an earlier generation, the Kennedy presidency — and the Kennedy rhetoric – deepened my interest in both politics and the power and importance of words.

Do yourself a favor today and set aside a few minutes to read one of the most beautifully crafted speeches in American history.

Read Less

Portraits of the Peace Process in Its 92nd Year

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

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Morning Commentary

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

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