Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 26, 2011

Who Is Najib Miqati?

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

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Irrelevance Is a Choice

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

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ObamaCare Continues to Unravel

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

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After the Happy Talk: A $1.5 Trillion Deficit

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

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RE: Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment…

Ted Bromund’s reaction to the new Obama theme is much like mine. The only serious connection between America’s original “Sputnik moment” and President Obama’s SOTU analogy is the touting of a pretext for spending public money.

But there is another, more ironic aspect of Obama’s Sputnik theme. Perhaps you had to be in college when I was — a little more than 20 years after Sputnik — to pick up on it automatically. The late 1970s and early 1980s were years when academia was beginning to proclaim the Cold War “over.” The argument was ongoing, but for more and more academic analysts, it was received wisdom that American leaders had exaggerated the threat represented by the Soviet Union. The central symbol of that career of exaggeration was Sputnik.

I must have had at least half a dozen professors who argued that the Sputnik dynamic was a big irony, because it gave us both the moon-shot program and the unwarranted fear of a Soviet “missile gap.” The Sputnik-missile gap theme has been flogged relentlessly in academic studies (extended excerpt; full access requires a fee) and the opinion pages of popular media for the past 20 years or more. Plug “Sputnik” and “overblown fear” into any search engine and you will instantly be presented with hundreds of websites — including the left’s flagship new-media outlets — where it is argued that the WMD-intelligence debacle, or America’s supposed overreaction to 9/11, was our new “Sputnik moment.” The message has been quite clear: the space program was good, but beware presidents demanding urgent national responses on the Sputnik model.

Obama is of my vintage; we grew up hearing it argued that the U.S. had overreacted to Sputnik — partly because the act of arguing the point seemed at the time like a blow against the establishment. But there is a generation of adults behind us that grew up learning about this “overreaction” to Sputnik as simple fact. The people who were here to incarnate “Sputnik, the Original Terror Theme” are now in their 70s, at the very least. The demographic for which the word Sputnik sounds an unqualified alarm has been shrinking for decades.

Obama’s off-target Sputnik allusion seems symptomatic of his peculiar disengagement from American mainstream culture. This Chicago pol who once spoke of “Kaminsky Field” has often seemed to be invoking wholesale the alien battle cries of the 1960s-era radical left. And the flip side of that is that he still invokes, for modern purposes, the shibboleths of the culture the old leftists railed against — as if those shibboleths have not long since been tarnished, defaced, or completely torn down.

Ted Bromund’s reaction to the new Obama theme is much like mine. The only serious connection between America’s original “Sputnik moment” and President Obama’s SOTU analogy is the touting of a pretext for spending public money.

But there is another, more ironic aspect of Obama’s Sputnik theme. Perhaps you had to be in college when I was — a little more than 20 years after Sputnik — to pick up on it automatically. The late 1970s and early 1980s were years when academia was beginning to proclaim the Cold War “over.” The argument was ongoing, but for more and more academic analysts, it was received wisdom that American leaders had exaggerated the threat represented by the Soviet Union. The central symbol of that career of exaggeration was Sputnik.

I must have had at least half a dozen professors who argued that the Sputnik dynamic was a big irony, because it gave us both the moon-shot program and the unwarranted fear of a Soviet “missile gap.” The Sputnik-missile gap theme has been flogged relentlessly in academic studies (extended excerpt; full access requires a fee) and the opinion pages of popular media for the past 20 years or more. Plug “Sputnik” and “overblown fear” into any search engine and you will instantly be presented with hundreds of websites — including the left’s flagship new-media outlets — where it is argued that the WMD-intelligence debacle, or America’s supposed overreaction to 9/11, was our new “Sputnik moment.” The message has been quite clear: the space program was good, but beware presidents demanding urgent national responses on the Sputnik model.

Obama is of my vintage; we grew up hearing it argued that the U.S. had overreacted to Sputnik — partly because the act of arguing the point seemed at the time like a blow against the establishment. But there is a generation of adults behind us that grew up learning about this “overreaction” to Sputnik as simple fact. The people who were here to incarnate “Sputnik, the Original Terror Theme” are now in their 70s, at the very least. The demographic for which the word Sputnik sounds an unqualified alarm has been shrinking for decades.

Obama’s off-target Sputnik allusion seems symptomatic of his peculiar disengagement from American mainstream culture. This Chicago pol who once spoke of “Kaminsky Field” has often seemed to be invoking wholesale the alien battle cries of the 1960s-era radical left. And the flip side of that is that he still invokes, for modern purposes, the shibboleths of the culture the old leftists railed against — as if those shibboleths have not long since been tarnished, defaced, or completely torn down.

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Churchill, Edward VIII, and ‘Arms and the Covenant’

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others. Read More

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others.

And then there’s Churchill. Hitchens’s main charge is that Churchill was unreasonably (even intoxicatedly) loyal to Edward, at the expense of the “Arms and the Covenant” lobby he was building “against Neville Chamberlain’s collusion with European fascism.” It’s a minor point, but at the time of the abdication crisis, Stanley Baldwin, not Neville Chamberlain, was prime minister. More important, Hitchens overrates “Arms and the Covenant” and (strangely for a man who detests the “Churchill cult”) relies on the almost hagiographic Churchill biographer William Manchester for his evidence.

But as Graham Stewart points out in his massive Burying Caesar: The Churchill-Chamberlain Rivalry, while the abdication crisis did hurt Churchill, the potential of “Arms and the Covenant” was limited. To succeed, it had to win substantial support among Tory MPs — and given the traditional loyalty of the Conservative Party to its leaders, and Churchill’s long battle against the Government of India Act, there was almost no chance of this. The left and right were soon divided by their reactions to the Spanish Civil War, and the entire movement faded when quiet seemed to return to most of the continent in early 1937. In short, there is not much reason to believe that Hitler would have been stopped in 1936-37 if only Churchill had dumped Edward.

And what of Churchill’s attitude toward Edward? He was, as Stewart puts it, “emotional and sentimental” about the monarchy. But Stewart also approvingly quotes the New Statesman’s assertion that Churchill’s advice to the king “will be found to have been impeccable from every constitutional point of view.” Churchill’s monarchism did not spring only from sentiment. It sprang also from his belief that constitutional monarchies were a force for stability and democracy. He regarded the end of the German monarchy with regret and argued that, if the German people had been allowed to keep a kaiser — not Wilhelm — as a focus for loyalty, Hitler might never have won power.

Such views are, of course, not subject to proof. But as Churchill said at the time, they are worthy of reflection. It may not be a coincidence that, in spite of the errors of those who occupied the throne, it was the British people who believed in their constitutional monarchy who stood up to Hitler, and the monarchist Churchill who led the fight. Hitchens likes the fight. What he doesn’t like is the stubborn traditionalism that made it possible.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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The Peepless SOTU Address

Judith Levy at Ricochet is surprised Obama said not a peep about the peace process (“I could have sworn it was a fairly high priority for the administration”). She understands the lack of a peep about Egypt (“Hey, it’s fresh; it’s complicated. Cut the guy some slack.”). But she is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot incredulous about the peepless issue of Lebanon:

How do you not mention Lebanon after what happened this week? A US-friendly prime minister — a guy you just hosted in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Mr. President; remember him? — was overthrown by an Iran- and Syria-backed terrorist organization that assassinated his pro-Western father and has handpicked his successor. Hello?

In last year’s SOTU address, Obama extolled America’s “engagement” around the world:

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.  But we also do it because it is right. … That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.)

Last night, the only peeps on this subject were his praise for the vote in south Sudan and “that same desire to be free in Tunisia.” At least Tunisia got the coveted let-me-be-clear moment, in a sentence that perhaps technically also covered Egypt and Lebanon:

And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

Judith Levy at Ricochet is surprised Obama said not a peep about the peace process (“I could have sworn it was a fairly high priority for the administration”). She understands the lack of a peep about Egypt (“Hey, it’s fresh; it’s complicated. Cut the guy some slack.”). But she is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot incredulous about the peepless issue of Lebanon:

How do you not mention Lebanon after what happened this week? A US-friendly prime minister — a guy you just hosted in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Mr. President; remember him? — was overthrown by an Iran- and Syria-backed terrorist organization that assassinated his pro-Western father and has handpicked his successor. Hello?

In last year’s SOTU address, Obama extolled America’s “engagement” around the world:

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.  But we also do it because it is right. … That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.)

Last night, the only peeps on this subject were his praise for the vote in south Sudan and “that same desire to be free in Tunisia.” At least Tunisia got the coveted let-me-be-clear moment, in a sentence that perhaps technically also covered Egypt and Lebanon:

And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

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The Guardian Wants Its Two-State Solution Back. Beware.

When the Guardian launched its “Palestine Papers” on Sunday, the sensational leak was accompanied by an editorial, which was sensationally titled “Pleading for a fig leaf” and just as sensationally subtitled “The secret notes suggest one requires Panglossian optimism to believe that these negotiations can one day be resurrected.”

The editorial went on to accuse the Palestinian leadership of being a bunch of collaborators — it described them as “weak” and “craven” — a mixture of poodles and quislings. It decried their humiliating readiness “to flog the family silver” in order to get “a puppet state.” It then proclaimed: “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

So, on January 23, the peace process is dead, unless you are a “Panglossian optimist.”

This was not just an isolated 0pinion piece — this was an opening salvo from the editor. Somehow, it looks like someone may have regretted going so far, because just two days later, a new editorial with a contrary headline appeared — “Despair. But we still need a deal” — with a subtitle that was also the opposite of that of the January 23 editorial: “A two-state solution remains the only show in town.” Read More

When the Guardian launched its “Palestine Papers” on Sunday, the sensational leak was accompanied by an editorial, which was sensationally titled “Pleading for a fig leaf” and just as sensationally subtitled “The secret notes suggest one requires Panglossian optimism to believe that these negotiations can one day be resurrected.”

The editorial went on to accuse the Palestinian leadership of being a bunch of collaborators — it described them as “weak” and “craven” — a mixture of poodles and quislings. It decried their humiliating readiness “to flog the family silver” in order to get “a puppet state.” It then proclaimed: “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

So, on January 23, the peace process is dead, unless you are a “Panglossian optimist.”

This was not just an isolated 0pinion piece — this was an opening salvo from the editor. Somehow, it looks like someone may have regretted going so far, because just two days later, a new editorial with a contrary headline appeared — “Despair. But we still need a deal” — with a subtitle that was also the opposite of that of the January 23 editorial: “A two-state solution remains the only show in town.”

The Guardian now says it wants the two-state solution back — two days after it inaugurated the latest effort to sabotage it and a day before the head of Hamas’s international-relations department was given a prominent platform in the paper.

Nice try, but this does not in any way match the impact of the avalanche of op-eds, news coverage, and profiles the Guardian provided and continues to provide in order to support the perception that the Palestinian leadership betrayed their people.

In other words, the Guardian believes in the two-state solution, just not the one that could be realistically negotiated, because that constitutes a betrayal of the Palestinian cause; and not one under U.S. auspices, because the Americans are not honest brokers; and not one where Israel gets its way on settlements, Jerusalem, or refugees, because that is “craven.”

In short, the Guardian is for a two-state solution where Israel, not the Palestinians, surrenders.

The Guardian has always taken the Palestinian narrative as the truth. The leaks, accompanied by an accusing finger pointed at the Palestinian negotiators, is a cry of “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause. They are more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.

Just consider the Guardian’s wise counsel on how successfully negotiate:

[T]alks succeed only when each side can put itself in the shoes of the other. To imagine that Abu Mazen could put to a referendum a deal in which Israel got its way on all the core issues – settlements, Jerusalem, the return of refugees – and to imagine that such a deal would be durable, is the ultimate failure of a negotiator’s imagination.

There. The Guardian can only put itself in the shoes of the Palestinians — but no word of Israeli and Jewish pain, when Israel’s leaders would have to relinquish Hebron, the second holiest place for Judaism; or Bethlehem, where one of four matriarchs of Israel, Rachel, is buried; or Nablus, where Jacob’s son Joseph is buried; or the entire biblical heartland, which, more than Tel Aviv and the entire coastline of Israel, is filled with longing and memories of Jewish identity.

No pain is registered, because the Guardian, in its cravenness, sees Israel as the Palestinians see it — a colonialist, European implant, based on a racist and imperialist ideology that crafted an imagined past fed by religious superstition and devoid of the authenticity of the indigenous culture.

Their leaks may be a treasure trove for the impatient historian who won’t need to wait 30 years to access classified material. It may be a golden opportunity to undermine the Palestinian Authority and poke Israel in the eye in the process. And it is no doubt great for Internet traffic. But it has no value whatsoever in terms of advancing the cause the Guardian pretends to support.

That plea for a two-state solution is just their fig leaf — a convenient cover before they charge ahead.

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Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House. Read More

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.

Third, and most basically, I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.

Leaving all this aside, I have to ask — does the proclamation of a new “Sputnik moment” work even as rhetoric? It certainly leaves me cold. The reason for that is, partly, because it’s not great history. But, more fundamentally, it’s because it’s so obviously instrumental. The president wants to look like he’s cutting the budget but also wants to spend more money. So he grabs at the NASA argument, the Sputnik analogy, the Internet analogy, and anything else that comes to hand. Rhetoric that’s shaped by this kind of desperation comes across as insincere. It might be more effective for the president to simply state his belief that we need to spend more money on education. He’d be wrong on the merits, but at least he wouldn’t be compounding the error with dubious grab-bag analogies.

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The President’s Speech: An Irresponsible Performance

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

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Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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The Logic Behind Israel’s Parliamentary Inquiry on NGO Funding

Israel’s much-discussed parliamentary inquiry into nongovernmental organizations’ funding seems set to go ahead, after the ruling Likud Party’s Knesset faction voted yesterday to support it. The inquiry carries real risks, as it could easily degenerate into McCarthyism. But if done right, it could serve the same valuable purpose many previous parliamentary inquiries have: providing the Knesset with the information needed to craft sensible legislation.

The inquiry’s opponents charge that since it will focus on leftist NGOs specifically, it can’t be anything but a political witch hunt. Yet there’s a valid reason for this focus that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of NGO funding in Israel.

Almost all Israeli NGOs receive funding from foreign individuals or foundations, and most would likely collapse without it. That widely known fact makes an inquiry into foreign donations in general unnecessary, because no MK would even consider curbing them: it would destroy Israel’s nonprofit sector. At most, the Knesset may (and should) promulgate regulations to increase transparency.

Hence the inquiry is focusing on one specific subset of foreign funding that gained prominence due to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war: funding by foreign governments.

Set up by the virulently anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Committee was never intended to be anything but a tool to bludgeon Israel. Thus the fact that certain Israeli NGOs collaborated with it made many Israelis question their hitherto widely accepted claim to have Israel’s best interests at heart — especially when it later emerged that many of the anti-Israel allegations they supplied were false. Even Hamas, for instance, now admits that Israel’s army was right and Israeli NGOs wrong about the combatant-to-civilian casualty ratio.

When it also emerged that many of these groups receive funding from foreign governments, Israelis concluded that this issue needed to be addressed. But right now, that is impossible, because too much crucial information is unknown.

How many groups are funded by foreign governments? Are foreign governments a major or marginal source of these groups’ funding? Are government donations mainly made directly or channeled through foreign foundations? Without answers to such questions, it’s impossible even to decide whether legislation is really needed, much less craft sensible regulations.

One thing, however, is known: foreign governments fund left-wing NGOs exclusively. They don’t fund groups that, for instance, build Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Hence, to investigate this issue, the Knesset has to focus on left-wing groups.

Previous parliamentary inquiries have successfully amassed information that led to legislation. A five-year inquiry into Holocaust-era assets in Israel, for instance, recently resulted in the establishment of a government company to restitute such assets. And while NGO funding is clearly a more controversial topic, legislatures elsewhere often hold inquiries on equally controversial subjects — for example, Rep. Peter King’s planned congressional hearings on radical Islam in America — for the same reason: to find out what the scope of a problem really is.

The NGO inquiry could easily go wrong. But in principle, it’s a legitimate use of legislative powers for legislative ends. And it deserves to be treated as such.

Israel’s much-discussed parliamentary inquiry into nongovernmental organizations’ funding seems set to go ahead, after the ruling Likud Party’s Knesset faction voted yesterday to support it. The inquiry carries real risks, as it could easily degenerate into McCarthyism. But if done right, it could serve the same valuable purpose many previous parliamentary inquiries have: providing the Knesset with the information needed to craft sensible legislation.

The inquiry’s opponents charge that since it will focus on leftist NGOs specifically, it can’t be anything but a political witch hunt. Yet there’s a valid reason for this focus that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of NGO funding in Israel.

Almost all Israeli NGOs receive funding from foreign individuals or foundations, and most would likely collapse without it. That widely known fact makes an inquiry into foreign donations in general unnecessary, because no MK would even consider curbing them: it would destroy Israel’s nonprofit sector. At most, the Knesset may (and should) promulgate regulations to increase transparency.

Hence the inquiry is focusing on one specific subset of foreign funding that gained prominence due to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war: funding by foreign governments.

Set up by the virulently anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Committee was never intended to be anything but a tool to bludgeon Israel. Thus the fact that certain Israeli NGOs collaborated with it made many Israelis question their hitherto widely accepted claim to have Israel’s best interests at heart — especially when it later emerged that many of the anti-Israel allegations they supplied were false. Even Hamas, for instance, now admits that Israel’s army was right and Israeli NGOs wrong about the combatant-to-civilian casualty ratio.

When it also emerged that many of these groups receive funding from foreign governments, Israelis concluded that this issue needed to be addressed. But right now, that is impossible, because too much crucial information is unknown.

How many groups are funded by foreign governments? Are foreign governments a major or marginal source of these groups’ funding? Are government donations mainly made directly or channeled through foreign foundations? Without answers to such questions, it’s impossible even to decide whether legislation is really needed, much less craft sensible regulations.

One thing, however, is known: foreign governments fund left-wing NGOs exclusively. They don’t fund groups that, for instance, build Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Hence, to investigate this issue, the Knesset has to focus on left-wing groups.

Previous parliamentary inquiries have successfully amassed information that led to legislation. A five-year inquiry into Holocaust-era assets in Israel, for instance, recently resulted in the establishment of a government company to restitute such assets. And while NGO funding is clearly a more controversial topic, legislatures elsewhere often hold inquiries on equally controversial subjects — for example, Rep. Peter King’s planned congressional hearings on radical Islam in America — for the same reason: to find out what the scope of a problem really is.

The NGO inquiry could easily go wrong. But in principle, it’s a legitimate use of legislative powers for legislative ends. And it deserves to be treated as such.

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A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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