Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 4, 2011

What Jerry Brown Does Not Propose to Cut, Realign, or Reform

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

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Moynihan on Democracy

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

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Rand Paul Repeats Calls to End Aid to Israel

Sen. Rand Paul has doubled down on his call to cut foreign aid to Israel, despite the complete lack of political support for the proposal on the Hill:

I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” he said. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”

And, he said, giving money to the country is especially unwise considering Israel’s relative wealth. “I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” he said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Pro-Israel conservative leaders disagree — and some are already disputing Paul’s claim that the Tea Party supports cutting aid to Israel.

“I do not believe that the Senator’s comments are representative of the Tea Party or the wider American public. [Christians United for Israel's] members and leaders have met on several occasions with Tea Party leaders and elected officials; throughout our meetings, Tea Party leaders consistently expressed their commitment to supporting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East,” said Christians United for Israel’s Rev. John Hagee in a press statement.

CUFI said its supporters have sent more than 22,500 e-mails criticizing the proposal to Paul’s office.

Like his father, Rand Paul seems to relish being a lone dissenter. But while the elder Paul is easy to ignore, the younger Paul is shaping up to be more of a force to be reckoned with. For one, the Kentucky senator is a much more convincing speaker than his father. He also doesn’t have to deal with past charges of racism and anti-Semitism.

So while there’s almost no chance that Paul’s position on Israeli aid will win political support at the moment, his proposal should still be a concern for Israel supporters.

Sen. Rand Paul has doubled down on his call to cut foreign aid to Israel, despite the complete lack of political support for the proposal on the Hill:

I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” he said. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”

And, he said, giving money to the country is especially unwise considering Israel’s relative wealth. “I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” he said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Pro-Israel conservative leaders disagree — and some are already disputing Paul’s claim that the Tea Party supports cutting aid to Israel.

“I do not believe that the Senator’s comments are representative of the Tea Party or the wider American public. [Christians United for Israel's] members and leaders have met on several occasions with Tea Party leaders and elected officials; throughout our meetings, Tea Party leaders consistently expressed their commitment to supporting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East,” said Christians United for Israel’s Rev. John Hagee in a press statement.

CUFI said its supporters have sent more than 22,500 e-mails criticizing the proposal to Paul’s office.

Like his father, Rand Paul seems to relish being a lone dissenter. But while the elder Paul is easy to ignore, the younger Paul is shaping up to be more of a force to be reckoned with. For one, the Kentucky senator is a much more convincing speaker than his father. He also doesn’t have to deal with past charges of racism and anti-Semitism.

So while there’s almost no chance that Paul’s position on Israeli aid will win political support at the moment, his proposal should still be a concern for Israel supporters.

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With Brothers Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

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Muslim Brotherhood Wants to End Israel Peace Treaty

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

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Pro-Mubarak Rioters Go After ‘Jew’ Journalists

JTA is reporting that the pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt are targeting foreign journalists, who they believe are supported by Jews. The Egyptian state-run media has been reporting recently that Israel is behind the anti-government protests, and this message is obviously beginning to resonate with the pro-Mubarak crowd:

Pro-Egyptian government counter-protesters in Cairo are screaming “Jew!” at foreign journalists, apparently spurred by Egyptian state TV accusations that Israeli spies are behind the protests.

“Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that ‘Israeli spies’ on the unrest have infiltrated the city, which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout ‘yehudi!,’” Al Jazeera said in a report on its website Thursday.

Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculous this is? Israel has consistently supported Mubarak, even going so far as to direct its overseas diplomats to avoid saying anything negative about his regime. The Israeli government has an interest in maintaining the status quo in the region, which means keeping Mubarak in place.

Of course, that means little to the Egyptians, who are programmed to view Israel as the default boogeyman in all situations. Mubarak has supported a culture of anti-Semitism, and now his state-run media is directing this hatred of Jews toward foreign reporters and other enemies of the regime.

JTA is reporting that the pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt are targeting foreign journalists, who they believe are supported by Jews. The Egyptian state-run media has been reporting recently that Israel is behind the anti-government protests, and this message is obviously beginning to resonate with the pro-Mubarak crowd:

Pro-Egyptian government counter-protesters in Cairo are screaming “Jew!” at foreign journalists, apparently spurred by Egyptian state TV accusations that Israeli spies are behind the protests.

“Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that ‘Israeli spies’ on the unrest have infiltrated the city, which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout ‘yehudi!,’” Al Jazeera said in a report on its website Thursday.

Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculous this is? Israel has consistently supported Mubarak, even going so far as to direct its overseas diplomats to avoid saying anything negative about his regime. The Israeli government has an interest in maintaining the status quo in the region, which means keeping Mubarak in place.

Of course, that means little to the Egyptians, who are programmed to view Israel as the default boogeyman in all situations. Mubarak has supported a culture of anti-Semitism, and now his state-run media is directing this hatred of Jews toward foreign reporters and other enemies of the regime.

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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Koch Protesters Call for Clarence Thomas’s Lynching

Ed Morrissey has an excellent roundup of the increasing incivility at the Koch protests. CONTENTIONS previously reported on the use of swastikas at the demonstration, and yesterday a video surfaced of protesters calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to be lynched.

The cameraman in the video asks attendees at the rally what should be done with Thomas after he’s impeached. Here are some of their answers:

Send him “back to the fields.” “String him up.” “Hang him.” “Torture.” One older woman wants his wife Ginny Thomas strung up as well. A younger and more creative woman wants Justice Thomas’ toes chopped off and forced-fed to him. Thomas isn’t the only one to get the necktie treatment; one protester wants Fox News executive Roger Ailes to get hung as well.

Common Cause has released a statement condemning the comments, asserting that the protesters who made them were outliers:

We condemn bigotry and hate speech in every form, even when it comes from those who fancy themselves as our friends.

Anyone who has attended a public event has encountered people whose ideas or acts misrepresented, even embarrassed, the gathering. Every sporting event has its share of “fans” whose boorish behavior on the sidelines makes a mockery of good sportsmanship; every political gathering has a crude sign-painter or epithet-spewing heckler.

Morrissey notes that “this is the exact same point that Tea Party organizers made when the media focused on the outliers (and usually provocateurs) that showed up at their rallies.”

Of course, the one difference is that the mainstream media has barely even touched this story. Can you imagine if this had been a Tea Party rally and protesters were making these same comments about President Obama?

Ed Morrissey has an excellent roundup of the increasing incivility at the Koch protests. CONTENTIONS previously reported on the use of swastikas at the demonstration, and yesterday a video surfaced of protesters calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to be lynched.

The cameraman in the video asks attendees at the rally what should be done with Thomas after he’s impeached. Here are some of their answers:

Send him “back to the fields.” “String him up.” “Hang him.” “Torture.” One older woman wants his wife Ginny Thomas strung up as well. A younger and more creative woman wants Justice Thomas’ toes chopped off and forced-fed to him. Thomas isn’t the only one to get the necktie treatment; one protester wants Fox News executive Roger Ailes to get hung as well.

Common Cause has released a statement condemning the comments, asserting that the protesters who made them were outliers:

We condemn bigotry and hate speech in every form, even when it comes from those who fancy themselves as our friends.

Anyone who has attended a public event has encountered people whose ideas or acts misrepresented, even embarrassed, the gathering. Every sporting event has its share of “fans” whose boorish behavior on the sidelines makes a mockery of good sportsmanship; every political gathering has a crude sign-painter or epithet-spewing heckler.

Morrissey notes that “this is the exact same point that Tea Party organizers made when the media focused on the outliers (and usually provocateurs) that showed up at their rallies.”

Of course, the one difference is that the mainstream media has barely even touched this story. Can you imagine if this had been a Tea Party rally and protesters were making these same comments about President Obama?

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Obama Registers Most Polarized Poll Results Yet

According to Gallup, President Obama’s job-approval ratings were even more polarized during his second year in office than during his first, when he registered the most polarized ratings for a first-year president. An average of 81 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans approved of the job Obama was doing as president during his second year. That 68-point gap in party ratings is up from 65 points in his first year and is easily the most polarized second year for a president in more than a half-century.

Mr. Obama’s promise to “heal the divide,” to reach across the political aisle to win the trust of those who didn’t vote for him, has been a colossal failure, at least during the first half of Obama’s term.

According to Gallup, President Obama’s job-approval ratings were even more polarized during his second year in office than during his first, when he registered the most polarized ratings for a first-year president. An average of 81 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans approved of the job Obama was doing as president during his second year. That 68-point gap in party ratings is up from 65 points in his first year and is easily the most polarized second year for a president in more than a half-century.

Mr. Obama’s promise to “heal the divide,” to reach across the political aisle to win the trust of those who didn’t vote for him, has been a colossal failure, at least during the first half of Obama’s term.

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Hamas and History

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

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Food Now Being Smuggled Out of Gaza

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

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Reagan as Draftsman

Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday falls on Sunday, February 6. As Steven Hayward pointed out several years ago, Reagan is not only starting to feature in histories — a development that, given the passage of time, was inevitable — but he’s also getting a serious examination, and often a positive one. Historians don’t exist to serve as an applause squad, but when leaders get something right — or even when they have coherent and sensible reasons for doing something that turns out wrong — that deserves to be acknowledged.

Taking decisions under great pressure is an art. While never easy, it is easier to do well if you’ve given thought to the dilemmas beforehand. And Reagan left a remarkable body of evidence that he had, indeed, done that thinking. Kiron Skinner, with Annelise and Martin Anderson, did a great service by publishing Reagan in His Own Hand a decade ago. Years before Reagan’s diaries appeared, the collection revealed that the 40th president had given sustained thought to every aspect of foreign and domestic policy, and, like Eisenhower, had a unity of strategic vision that comes only with intelligence, hard work, and regular reading, speaking, and writing. Understanding Reagan is not the same thing as understanding his administration, or his era, but there is no excuse for saying that Reagan hadn’t prepared to lead.

Of course, Reagan had speechwriters, and remarkably skillful ones at that. But presidents get the speechwriters they deserve. Writing speeches is an art form akin to a Vulcan mind-meld: if the contents of the speaker’s mind are confused, cloudy, or vague, the speech is likely to suffer from the same defects. Reagan knew how to deliver a speech. (Being a former actor does have its advantages!) But he also knew how to write one. His famous “A Time for Choosing” address for Goldwater in 1964 launched his career. His “Goodbye Letter,” written three decades later, is just as clear and eloquent. In his farewell address, in 1989, Reagan explained why he thought he had the gift:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Perhaps it’s not in keeping with Reagan’s legacy to lose hope. But I can’t help wondering if Reagan will be our last president who had the ability — even if none of them can be expected to have the time — to write his own speeches. If so, we will have lost something important. A president who cannot write clearly cannot be expected to think clearly either.

Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday falls on Sunday, February 6. As Steven Hayward pointed out several years ago, Reagan is not only starting to feature in histories — a development that, given the passage of time, was inevitable — but he’s also getting a serious examination, and often a positive one. Historians don’t exist to serve as an applause squad, but when leaders get something right — or even when they have coherent and sensible reasons for doing something that turns out wrong — that deserves to be acknowledged.

Taking decisions under great pressure is an art. While never easy, it is easier to do well if you’ve given thought to the dilemmas beforehand. And Reagan left a remarkable body of evidence that he had, indeed, done that thinking. Kiron Skinner, with Annelise and Martin Anderson, did a great service by publishing Reagan in His Own Hand a decade ago. Years before Reagan’s diaries appeared, the collection revealed that the 40th president had given sustained thought to every aspect of foreign and domestic policy, and, like Eisenhower, had a unity of strategic vision that comes only with intelligence, hard work, and regular reading, speaking, and writing. Understanding Reagan is not the same thing as understanding his administration, or his era, but there is no excuse for saying that Reagan hadn’t prepared to lead.

Of course, Reagan had speechwriters, and remarkably skillful ones at that. But presidents get the speechwriters they deserve. Writing speeches is an art form akin to a Vulcan mind-meld: if the contents of the speaker’s mind are confused, cloudy, or vague, the speech is likely to suffer from the same defects. Reagan knew how to deliver a speech. (Being a former actor does have its advantages!) But he also knew how to write one. His famous “A Time for Choosing” address for Goldwater in 1964 launched his career. His “Goodbye Letter,” written three decades later, is just as clear and eloquent. In his farewell address, in 1989, Reagan explained why he thought he had the gift:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Perhaps it’s not in keeping with Reagan’s legacy to lose hope. But I can’t help wondering if Reagan will be our last president who had the ability — even if none of them can be expected to have the time — to write his own speeches. If so, we will have lost something important. A president who cannot write clearly cannot be expected to think clearly either.

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