Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 10, 2011

The Egyptian Military Left in the Lurch

Today’s misinformation circus in Egypt could further destabilize a precarious situation. One of the casualties of the Mubarak resignation that wasn’t was the credibility of the Egyptian military. It was the military, remember, that first indicated the supposed likelihood of Mubarak’s stepping down, and it did so with a flourish, announcing that it would “safeguard the country” during the transition. This is worrisome because the army is, in the words of Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Pollack, “the most important institution in Egypt, and it is vital to a peaceful transition to a moderate form of government.”

Just as Egypt cannot afford to lose the backbone that is its army, the Egyptian army cannot afford to lose the faith of the people at this moment. Whatever the cause of today’s confusion, it has put new pressure on the army to prove itself a credible protector of Egyptians’ best interests through the upheaval. Making any predictions now is of course a fool’s game, but it should not come as a shock if the Egyptian military begins to take on a more significant and pivotal role in the drama.

Today’s misinformation circus in Egypt could further destabilize a precarious situation. One of the casualties of the Mubarak resignation that wasn’t was the credibility of the Egyptian military. It was the military, remember, that first indicated the supposed likelihood of Mubarak’s stepping down, and it did so with a flourish, announcing that it would “safeguard the country” during the transition. This is worrisome because the army is, in the words of Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Pollack, “the most important institution in Egypt, and it is vital to a peaceful transition to a moderate form of government.”

Just as Egypt cannot afford to lose the backbone that is its army, the Egyptian army cannot afford to lose the faith of the people at this moment. Whatever the cause of today’s confusion, it has put new pressure on the army to prove itself a credible protector of Egyptians’ best interests through the upheaval. Making any predictions now is of course a fool’s game, but it should not come as a shock if the Egyptian military begins to take on a more significant and pivotal role in the drama.

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Mubarak’s Decision to Stay Puts Obama in a Tight Spot

Having confounded those who fully expected him to resign today, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is also saddling those who have opposed the rise of a democracy movement in that country with a terrible dilemma. If the army, which has in recent days made clear it will not allow the country to descend into chaos, now moves to end the protests in Cairo with violence, the odds are it will succeed, though the cost might be frightful. It is unclear whether popular resistance could persist in the face of an armed force that was determined to keep Mubarak and his ruling elite — among which the leaders of the army count themselves — in power.

The consequences of such a confrontation would be awful for Egypt. But they will be no less troubling for other countries that have a great deal invested in the stability of the most populous Arab nation. President Obama has slowly come around to realizing that backing an unpopular dictator and opposing the idea of democracy can be a bad investment. But if the Egyptian military — which is the recipient of much of the $2 billion the United States sends that nation each year — is the instrument by which Mubarak is able to repress his critics, continuing that aid may become politically impossible.

At the same time, a bloodbath or even a largely bloodless crackdown by the Egyptian government would create a situation where radical elements — specifically the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood — might become the focus of the anti-Mubarak resistance, since it will be able sustain itself more easily than the computer- and social-media-savvy youths who have been at the core of the peaceful protests in Cairo.

This would put the United States in a particularly tight spot, as many in the Obama administration seem to find it difficult to think clearly about Islamist movements, as the comments earlier today by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, demonstrated. By failing to adequately support genuine democrats in Egyptian society, the West may have helped bring about a nightmare scenario in which the choice ultimately becomes one between an unsustainable dictatorship and fundamentalist Muslims who present a deadly strategic threat to regional stability. But no one, including those who have a fuzzy understanding of the stakes involved in this conflict (and, yes, I’m talking about those who have been fantasizing about a worldwide caliphate rather than concentrating on the very real dangers of Egypt being torn apart by a civil war pitting a Western-backed military against a popular Islamist movement), should be under the impression that we can, as many in the United States and Israel would like, go back to the status quo that existed before the Cairo demonstrations.

Mubarak’s attempt to hold on has created a crucial moment in which America and its allies in the Arab world must do what it can to prevent Egypt from becoming the new focus of Islamist terror. The possibility of such a terrible choice makes it all the more important for President Obama to use whatever leverage the United States still has in Egypt to influence Mubarak and the army to step back from the precipice.

Having confounded those who fully expected him to resign today, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is also saddling those who have opposed the rise of a democracy movement in that country with a terrible dilemma. If the army, which has in recent days made clear it will not allow the country to descend into chaos, now moves to end the protests in Cairo with violence, the odds are it will succeed, though the cost might be frightful. It is unclear whether popular resistance could persist in the face of an armed force that was determined to keep Mubarak and his ruling elite — among which the leaders of the army count themselves — in power.

The consequences of such a confrontation would be awful for Egypt. But they will be no less troubling for other countries that have a great deal invested in the stability of the most populous Arab nation. President Obama has slowly come around to realizing that backing an unpopular dictator and opposing the idea of democracy can be a bad investment. But if the Egyptian military — which is the recipient of much of the $2 billion the United States sends that nation each year — is the instrument by which Mubarak is able to repress his critics, continuing that aid may become politically impossible.

At the same time, a bloodbath or even a largely bloodless crackdown by the Egyptian government would create a situation where radical elements — specifically the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood — might become the focus of the anti-Mubarak resistance, since it will be able sustain itself more easily than the computer- and social-media-savvy youths who have been at the core of the peaceful protests in Cairo.

This would put the United States in a particularly tight spot, as many in the Obama administration seem to find it difficult to think clearly about Islamist movements, as the comments earlier today by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, demonstrated. By failing to adequately support genuine democrats in Egyptian society, the West may have helped bring about a nightmare scenario in which the choice ultimately becomes one between an unsustainable dictatorship and fundamentalist Muslims who present a deadly strategic threat to regional stability. But no one, including those who have a fuzzy understanding of the stakes involved in this conflict (and, yes, I’m talking about those who have been fantasizing about a worldwide caliphate rather than concentrating on the very real dangers of Egypt being torn apart by a civil war pitting a Western-backed military against a popular Islamist movement), should be under the impression that we can, as many in the United States and Israel would like, go back to the status quo that existed before the Cairo demonstrations.

Mubarak’s attempt to hold on has created a crucial moment in which America and its allies in the Arab world must do what it can to prevent Egypt from becoming the new focus of Islamist terror. The possibility of such a terrible choice makes it all the more important for President Obama to use whatever leverage the United States still has in Egypt to influence Mubarak and the army to step back from the precipice.

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As I Was Saying…

So I made the mistake that John warned against (writing based on media reports in the Middle East, and the words of Lt. General Sami Enan, the chief of the armed forces, rather than on actual events).

Things are certainly murky in Egypt. It’s not clear how much power Mubarak is ceding to his vice president. But for now, apropos my previous post, I would direct readers to this clip, and especially the 1:03 mark.

I’ll have more to say about Mr. Mubarak tomorrow.

So I made the mistake that John warned against (writing based on media reports in the Middle East, and the words of Lt. General Sami Enan, the chief of the armed forces, rather than on actual events).

Things are certainly murky in Egypt. It’s not clear how much power Mubarak is ceding to his vice president. But for now, apropos my previous post, I would direct readers to this clip, and especially the 1:03 mark.

I’ll have more to say about Mr. Mubarak tomorrow.

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Rand Paul Calls for Cuts to Military Spending

Immediately after Donald Trump told CPAC that Ron Paul has “zero chance” of winning the presidency, the congressman’s son Sen. Rand Paul took the stage. While the younger Paul didn’t respond to Trump’s criticism of his father, he did make a strong call for cuts to military spending.

“We’re going to have to look long and hard at the military budget,” said Paul, to a mixture of cheers and boos from the audience.

While he conceded that national defense is “the most important thing our government does,” he added that “you cannot say that the doubling of the military budget in the last 10 years has been spent wisely and that there has not been any waste in it.”

Paul added that a person who disagrees with cutting military spending is “a big-government conservative.”

While Paul has garnered controversy recently for calling for foreign aid to be slashed, he stayed away from this touchy subject during his address.

Immediately after Donald Trump told CPAC that Ron Paul has “zero chance” of winning the presidency, the congressman’s son Sen. Rand Paul took the stage. While the younger Paul didn’t respond to Trump’s criticism of his father, he did make a strong call for cuts to military spending.

“We’re going to have to look long and hard at the military budget,” said Paul, to a mixture of cheers and boos from the audience.

While he conceded that national defense is “the most important thing our government does,” he added that “you cannot say that the doubling of the military budget in the last 10 years has been spent wisely and that there has not been any waste in it.”

Paul added that a person who disagrees with cutting military spending is “a big-government conservative.”

While Paul has garnered controversy recently for calling for foreign aid to be slashed, he stayed away from this touchy subject during his address.

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So Mubarak Isn’t Stepping Down

This four-hour mania about Mubarak’s resignation is a sobering example of what can happen when credulous Western news organizations attempt to report in the rumor-driven culture of the Middle East.

This four-hour mania about Mubarak’s resignation is a sobering example of what can happen when credulous Western news organizations attempt to report in the rumor-driven culture of the Middle East.

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Ron Paul Calls Southern Secessionist as Lead Witness at Fed Hearing

If Rep. Ron Paul wants to be taken more seriously for the 2012 election, this is not the way to go about it. Dana Milbank reports that at a hearing on the Federal Reserve yesterday, Paul called as his main witness Thomas DiLorenzo, a Southern secessionist who has compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler:

DiLorenzo, the congressman told the committee, had called Lincoln “the first dictator” and a “mass murderer” and decreed that “Hitler was a Lincolnite.” Worse, Clay charged, “you worked for a Southern nationalist organization.” “The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second southern secession and a society dominated by European Americans.”

At the witness table, DiLorenzo scoffed and waved his hand dismissively at Clay. But neither he nor Paul attempted to refute Clay’s allegations.

Milbank approached DiLorenzo after the hearing and asked him about the allegations. The witness responded: “I gave a couple of a lectures to a group of college students 15 years ago that are associated with this thing called League of the South.”

But when Milbank looked into DiLorenzo’s story, there turned out to be a few inconsistencies, to say the very least:

As it turns out, “this thing” called the League of the South Institute was listing DiLorenzo on its Web site as recently as 2008 as an “affiliated scholar.” A secessionist Web site, DumpDC, identified DiLorenzo the same way last year when it published an interview with DiLorenzo in which he is quoted as saying “secession is not only possible but necessary if any part of America is ever to be considered ‘the land of the free’ in any meaningful sense.”

This isn’t the first time Paul has come under fire for his controversial associations. They’ve long been an embarrassment for the Republican Party, and if he wants to maintain his new chairmanship position in Congress, this isn’t the type of behavior that can continue.

If Rep. Ron Paul wants to be taken more seriously for the 2012 election, this is not the way to go about it. Dana Milbank reports that at a hearing on the Federal Reserve yesterday, Paul called as his main witness Thomas DiLorenzo, a Southern secessionist who has compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler:

DiLorenzo, the congressman told the committee, had called Lincoln “the first dictator” and a “mass murderer” and decreed that “Hitler was a Lincolnite.” Worse, Clay charged, “you worked for a Southern nationalist organization.” “The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second southern secession and a society dominated by European Americans.”

At the witness table, DiLorenzo scoffed and waved his hand dismissively at Clay. But neither he nor Paul attempted to refute Clay’s allegations.

Milbank approached DiLorenzo after the hearing and asked him about the allegations. The witness responded: “I gave a couple of a lectures to a group of college students 15 years ago that are associated with this thing called League of the South.”

But when Milbank looked into DiLorenzo’s story, there turned out to be a few inconsistencies, to say the very least:

As it turns out, “this thing” called the League of the South Institute was listing DiLorenzo on its Web site as recently as 2008 as an “affiliated scholar.” A secessionist Web site, DumpDC, identified DiLorenzo the same way last year when it published an interview with DiLorenzo in which he is quoted as saying “secession is not only possible but necessary if any part of America is ever to be considered ‘the land of the free’ in any meaningful sense.”

This isn’t the first time Paul has come under fire for his controversial associations. They’ve long been an embarrassment for the Republican Party, and if he wants to maintain his new chairmanship position in Congress, this isn’t the type of behavior that can continue.

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The House of Mubarak Has Fallen

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Media reports were wrong.

What was obvious weeks ago has come to pass: Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule is over, according to media reports. The Egyptian revolution now enters a new phase.

It’s no secret to readers of CONTENTIONS where my sympathies lie, which are with the Egyptian people. Their uprising, from everything I can discern, is animated primarily by anti-Mubarak feelings, which are entirely justified; and by their longing from liberty, which is entirely commendable. Still, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that movements claiming to stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity can end in a Reign of Terror. Modern conservatism, in fact, was born in reaction to a revolution (France, circa 1789) gone bad.

I understand, too, that a healthy political culture is crucial if liberty is to succeed. “Men must have a certain fund of natural moderation to qualify them for Freedom,” Edmund Burke wrote in a letter to Lord Charlemont in August 1789 (among the earliest known comments by Burke on the French Revolution), “else it become noxious to themselves and a perfect Nuisance to everybody else. What will be the Event it is hard I think still to say. To form a solid constitution requires Wisdom as well as spirit, and whether the French have wise heads among them, or if they possess such whether they have authority equal to their wisdom, is to be seen.”

Now it’s Egypt’s turn to show if it has wisdom as well as spirit; and if so, whether it can channel this remarkable moment in a direction that enhances ordered liberty.

Among conservatives, there has been a spirited debate about the direction and pace of events in Egypt. Should the United States have been stronger in its support of the Mubarak regime, or exerted far more pressure on him to reform than we ever did? But this matter is now largely moot. The House of Mubarak has fallen. The Egyptian people have re-entered politics and history. The time for lamentations is over. The job of American policymakers is to help shape events in a wise and prudent manner (see Max Boot’s counsel here), to express solidarity with those who grew weary of living under the lash of the whip, and to assist genuine self-government to take root. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, yet the task could hardly be more important. Starting today, in Egypt, our interests and our ideals are coincident. That is something that all Americans, and all conservatives, should be able to agree on.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Media reports were wrong.

What was obvious weeks ago has come to pass: Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule is over, according to media reports. The Egyptian revolution now enters a new phase.

It’s no secret to readers of CONTENTIONS where my sympathies lie, which are with the Egyptian people. Their uprising, from everything I can discern, is animated primarily by anti-Mubarak feelings, which are entirely justified; and by their longing from liberty, which is entirely commendable. Still, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that movements claiming to stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity can end in a Reign of Terror. Modern conservatism, in fact, was born in reaction to a revolution (France, circa 1789) gone bad.

I understand, too, that a healthy political culture is crucial if liberty is to succeed. “Men must have a certain fund of natural moderation to qualify them for Freedom,” Edmund Burke wrote in a letter to Lord Charlemont in August 1789 (among the earliest known comments by Burke on the French Revolution), “else it become noxious to themselves and a perfect Nuisance to everybody else. What will be the Event it is hard I think still to say. To form a solid constitution requires Wisdom as well as spirit, and whether the French have wise heads among them, or if they possess such whether they have authority equal to their wisdom, is to be seen.”

Now it’s Egypt’s turn to show if it has wisdom as well as spirit; and if so, whether it can channel this remarkable moment in a direction that enhances ordered liberty.

Among conservatives, there has been a spirited debate about the direction and pace of events in Egypt. Should the United States have been stronger in its support of the Mubarak regime, or exerted far more pressure on him to reform than we ever did? But this matter is now largely moot. The House of Mubarak has fallen. The Egyptian people have re-entered politics and history. The time for lamentations is over. The job of American policymakers is to help shape events in a wise and prudent manner (see Max Boot’s counsel here), to express solidarity with those who grew weary of living under the lash of the whip, and to assist genuine self-government to take root. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, yet the task could hardly be more important. Starting today, in Egypt, our interests and our ideals are coincident. That is something that all Americans, and all conservatives, should be able to agree on.

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Obama Should Start Acknowledging Arab Democrats by Name

It’s just a sound bite, but Barack Obama said the right thing about news that Hosni Mubarak will be stepping down today. “We want those young [Egyptian] people and we want all Egyptians to know that America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt,” he said before giving a planned speech in Michigan today.

Because the Obama administration adopted a noticeably passive (if not antagonistic) attitude toward regime change in Egypt until it became a certainty, it will now have a lot of face-saving to do. Presidential statements like the one above are more potent when they have not been retroactively defused by a couple of years of bad policy.

One way Obama can build credibility among Arab democrats — without empowering radicals — is to start talking about missing and jailed democratic Egyptian dissidents by name. If the Egyptian government is being handed over to Vice President Omar Suleiman, then Mubarak’s handpicked successor needs to answer for the missing. For a president who is supposedly modeling himself on Ronald Reagan, this should come naturally to Obama. It is exactly how Reagan let Soviet dissidents know that the leader of the free world was on their side. It also saved lives. Here’s what Natan Sharansky wrote in the Washington Post in 2009:

In 1986, the Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko died in the infamous Chistopol prison after a long and futile hunger strike for improved conditions. Three years earlier, I had gone on a similar hunger strike in the same prison and been subjected to the same tortuous conditions by KGB thugs. But the authorities eventually gave in to my demands.

Why? Because my nine years of imprisonment were accompanied by a relentless worldwide campaign and steady, unambiguous pressure on the communist regime by leaders of the free world. The regime knew that it would pay a heavy price if I were to die. With Marchenko, it was confident that the world did not care enough to do much more than mount a formal protest.

Obama can start by publicly demanding to know the whereabouts of Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer. The young cyber-dissident was recently released from a four-year prison term only to disappear once the Mubarak regime began its post-revolt crackdown.

American power was needed over the course of the past decade to unfreeze democratic sentiment in the Middle East, but it will be needed even more to keep democratic revolutions on course once they take hold. If the Obama administration has gotten off the fence at last, it can start to make up for lost time by talking about the heroic democrats who have been fighting for liberty the whole time the White House dithered.

It’s just a sound bite, but Barack Obama said the right thing about news that Hosni Mubarak will be stepping down today. “We want those young [Egyptian] people and we want all Egyptians to know that America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt,” he said before giving a planned speech in Michigan today.

Because the Obama administration adopted a noticeably passive (if not antagonistic) attitude toward regime change in Egypt until it became a certainty, it will now have a lot of face-saving to do. Presidential statements like the one above are more potent when they have not been retroactively defused by a couple of years of bad policy.

One way Obama can build credibility among Arab democrats — without empowering radicals — is to start talking about missing and jailed democratic Egyptian dissidents by name. If the Egyptian government is being handed over to Vice President Omar Suleiman, then Mubarak’s handpicked successor needs to answer for the missing. For a president who is supposedly modeling himself on Ronald Reagan, this should come naturally to Obama. It is exactly how Reagan let Soviet dissidents know that the leader of the free world was on their side. It also saved lives. Here’s what Natan Sharansky wrote in the Washington Post in 2009:

In 1986, the Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko died in the infamous Chistopol prison after a long and futile hunger strike for improved conditions. Three years earlier, I had gone on a similar hunger strike in the same prison and been subjected to the same tortuous conditions by KGB thugs. But the authorities eventually gave in to my demands.

Why? Because my nine years of imprisonment were accompanied by a relentless worldwide campaign and steady, unambiguous pressure on the communist regime by leaders of the free world. The regime knew that it would pay a heavy price if I were to die. With Marchenko, it was confident that the world did not care enough to do much more than mount a formal protest.

Obama can start by publicly demanding to know the whereabouts of Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer. The young cyber-dissident was recently released from a four-year prison term only to disappear once the Mubarak regime began its post-revolt crackdown.

American power was needed over the course of the past decade to unfreeze democratic sentiment in the Middle East, but it will be needed even more to keep democratic revolutions on course once they take hold. If the Obama administration has gotten off the fence at last, it can start to make up for lost time by talking about the heroic democrats who have been fighting for liberty the whole time the White House dithered.

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Santorum: Obama Doesn’t Believe in Evil

Rick Santorum, widely rumored to be considering a 2012 presidential run, took a shot at President Obama’s foreign policy at CPAC today. He was strongly critical of how the Obama administration has handled the situation in Egypt, saying that it’s “not a policy that’s gonna add to the security of this country.”

Obama, Santorum added, “refused to look at the situation in Iran and Egypt and around to world and do what Ronald Reagan was never afraid to do: to call evil, evil.”

Though it wasn’t quite clear if the “evil” Santorum was referring to was dictator Hosni Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood.

The former Pennsylvania senator also slammed the president for not using the word terrorist to describe the Fort Hood shooter. “[Obama] doesn’t even use the world terrorist,” said Santorum. “He doesn’t say that jihadism is evil. He doesn’t say Sharia law is incompatible with Western civilization and the United States.”

“In last year’s after-action review from the Fort Hood shooting … the words Islam, Muslim, jihadist, al-Qaeda — none of the words were ever mentioned in that report. This is not leadership. This is not moral authority. This is someone who doesn’t believe in evil and truth and America.”

It was a strongly worded speech and an indication that the subject of “Sharia law” will likely play a role in the 2012 elections.

Rick Santorum, widely rumored to be considering a 2012 presidential run, took a shot at President Obama’s foreign policy at CPAC today. He was strongly critical of how the Obama administration has handled the situation in Egypt, saying that it’s “not a policy that’s gonna add to the security of this country.”

Obama, Santorum added, “refused to look at the situation in Iran and Egypt and around to world and do what Ronald Reagan was never afraid to do: to call evil, evil.”

Though it wasn’t quite clear if the “evil” Santorum was referring to was dictator Hosni Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood.

The former Pennsylvania senator also slammed the president for not using the word terrorist to describe the Fort Hood shooter. “[Obama] doesn’t even use the world terrorist,” said Santorum. “He doesn’t say that jihadism is evil. He doesn’t say Sharia law is incompatible with Western civilization and the United States.”

“In last year’s after-action review from the Fort Hood shooting … the words Islam, Muslim, jihadist, al-Qaeda — none of the words were ever mentioned in that report. This is not leadership. This is not moral authority. This is someone who doesn’t believe in evil and truth and America.”

It was a strongly worded speech and an indication that the subject of “Sharia law” will likely play a role in the 2012 elections.

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Time for a New Director of National Intelligence

As I write, the world waits and watches for the astonishing moment when Hosni Mubarak announces he will step down from the presidency of Egypt. Now begins the critical time of testing for Egypt, for democracy, for reason, for Israel, and for the United States. We all know that what is happening here can and might end in disaster, and so this is the point at which the Obama administration is going to have to handle itself with far more care, assurance, and focus than it has thus far.

It is therefore horrifying to discover that hauntingly familiar happy talk is beginning to emanate from the administration’s highest reaches — talk suggesting that the possible disaster might not be a disaster, that the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys, that those who might lead the region into war are actually far more complex and reasonable than is commonly thought. This is the kind of thing that was said by Carter-administration officials in the months before the takeover of Iran by the Ayatollah. And it was said, this morning, by Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper. As Politico’s splendid reporter Josh Gerstein explains:

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular”. …

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera. … In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally”…

Clapper said later in the hearing that the Brotherhood in Egypt runs 29 hospitals “not under the guise of an extremist agenda.” He said the group fills a vacuum cause by the absence of government services, but added, “It is not necessarily with a view to promoting violence or overthrow of the state.

This is one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment. If one of the key figures in the making of the administration’s foreign policy is already making excuses for the Muslim Brotherhood, the president needs to signal immediately that the United States does not view this evil and destructive force with rose-colored glasses. Hard to say how Obama can do that in a way that will be meaningful and still allow Clapper to remain in his office.

As I write, the world waits and watches for the astonishing moment when Hosni Mubarak announces he will step down from the presidency of Egypt. Now begins the critical time of testing for Egypt, for democracy, for reason, for Israel, and for the United States. We all know that what is happening here can and might end in disaster, and so this is the point at which the Obama administration is going to have to handle itself with far more care, assurance, and focus than it has thus far.

It is therefore horrifying to discover that hauntingly familiar happy talk is beginning to emanate from the administration’s highest reaches — talk suggesting that the possible disaster might not be a disaster, that the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys, that those who might lead the region into war are actually far more complex and reasonable than is commonly thought. This is the kind of thing that was said by Carter-administration officials in the months before the takeover of Iran by the Ayatollah. And it was said, this morning, by Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper. As Politico’s splendid reporter Josh Gerstein explains:

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular”. …

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera. … In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally”…

Clapper said later in the hearing that the Brotherhood in Egypt runs 29 hospitals “not under the guise of an extremist agenda.” He said the group fills a vacuum cause by the absence of government services, but added, “It is not necessarily with a view to promoting violence or overthrow of the state.

This is one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment. If one of the key figures in the making of the administration’s foreign policy is already making excuses for the Muslim Brotherhood, the president needs to signal immediately that the United States does not view this evil and destructive force with rose-colored glasses. Hard to say how Obama can do that in a way that will be meaningful and still allow Clapper to remain in his office.

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Mitch McConnell Urges Conservatives to Stick to Principles Over Popularity

Two years ago, the conservative movement looked like it was at the beginning of a long period of unpopularity. Sen. Mitch McConnell, addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference today, could barely hide his excitement at how quickly the movement had accomplished a comeback. “It isn’t always easy, he said. “And that’s why we need to remember this moment.”

The theme of his speech was “popularity” versus “principles.” By sticking to conservative principles, the movement was able to regain popularity, argued McConnell.

“One of the most important lessons of the past two years … never confuse what’s popular with what’s right,” said McConnell. “If our conservative principles are universal, then they’re right for all people, all time, no exceptions. Popular or unpopular, we’ll stand for what we believe in.”

And then: “We didn’t swear an oath to uphold whatever’s popular. We swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.”

For those who still didn’t get the point, McConnell added later: “Our goals should be to uphold our principles not our popularity,” and “We’re not here to be popular, we’re here to advance the conservative cause.”

Message received. The conservative comeback is a prime example of how quickly things change in politics. It’s clear now that conservatives who moved to the left back in 2008 chose the losing side, and the ones who stuck to their principles even when times were uncertain are now back on top.

Two years ago, the conservative movement looked like it was at the beginning of a long period of unpopularity. Sen. Mitch McConnell, addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference today, could barely hide his excitement at how quickly the movement had accomplished a comeback. “It isn’t always easy, he said. “And that’s why we need to remember this moment.”

The theme of his speech was “popularity” versus “principles.” By sticking to conservative principles, the movement was able to regain popularity, argued McConnell.

“One of the most important lessons of the past two years … never confuse what’s popular with what’s right,” said McConnell. “If our conservative principles are universal, then they’re right for all people, all time, no exceptions. Popular or unpopular, we’ll stand for what we believe in.”

And then: “We didn’t swear an oath to uphold whatever’s popular. We swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.”

For those who still didn’t get the point, McConnell added later: “Our goals should be to uphold our principles not our popularity,” and “We’re not here to be popular, we’re here to advance the conservative cause.”

Message received. The conservative comeback is a prime example of how quickly things change in politics. It’s clear now that conservatives who moved to the left back in 2008 chose the losing side, and the ones who stuck to their principles even when times were uncertain are now back on top.

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Mubarak Leaving. What Next?

So it appears — if breaking news reports can be believed — that Hosni Mubarak is bowing to the inevitable by announcing that he will leave office. As recently as a day or two ago, he seemed intent on clinging on by adopting a rope-a-dope strategy, hoping that the energy of the protesters would flag and they would decide to go home.

That didn’t happen. Instead we’ve seen bigger protests than ever. So Mubarak finally understands that his time has passed. But Egypt has not been ruled by a one-man regime. Mubarak has presided over a vast, corrupt, ineffective oligarchy propped up by the army and his National Democratic Party, which should more properly be labeled “undemocratic party.” Omar Suleiman, his chosen successor, has been one of his closest collaborators.

A change at the top may not change much on the ground unless the regime makes a real commitment to lifting the “emergency laws” that have been used to repress all dissent. It is probably a good thing that the army is moving to make an orderly transition, but the U.S. has to make sure that the transition is to democracy, not to another dictator. If Suleiman now tries to rule as Mubarak did, there will surely be a continuation of popular protest that will create an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists.

That does not mean that Egypt should hold snap elections. There has been no time for political parties and a free press to organize. Better to go slow where elections are concerned but to go fast in matters of individual liberty. Open up the public space, let a thousand opinions be hashed out, a thousand parties organize, a thousand media outlets start up — and then go the voting booth. But not before.

So it appears — if breaking news reports can be believed — that Hosni Mubarak is bowing to the inevitable by announcing that he will leave office. As recently as a day or two ago, he seemed intent on clinging on by adopting a rope-a-dope strategy, hoping that the energy of the protesters would flag and they would decide to go home.

That didn’t happen. Instead we’ve seen bigger protests than ever. So Mubarak finally understands that his time has passed. But Egypt has not been ruled by a one-man regime. Mubarak has presided over a vast, corrupt, ineffective oligarchy propped up by the army and his National Democratic Party, which should more properly be labeled “undemocratic party.” Omar Suleiman, his chosen successor, has been one of his closest collaborators.

A change at the top may not change much on the ground unless the regime makes a real commitment to lifting the “emergency laws” that have been used to repress all dissent. It is probably a good thing that the army is moving to make an orderly transition, but the U.S. has to make sure that the transition is to democracy, not to another dictator. If Suleiman now tries to rule as Mubarak did, there will surely be a continuation of popular protest that will create an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists.

That does not mean that Egypt should hold snap elections. There has been no time for political parties and a free press to organize. Better to go slow where elections are concerned but to go fast in matters of individual liberty. Open up the public space, let a thousand opinions be hashed out, a thousand parties organize, a thousand media outlets start up — and then go the voting booth. But not before.

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Why Is the Media Silent on Honor Killings?

Thousands of honor killings are committed each year in Western countries. And yet the press largely remains silent on the issue. In the Washington Times yesterday, Abigail Esman admonished the mainstream media for ignoring honor killings in the West, and claimed that political correctness has prevented many reporters and pundits from connecting these murders to religion:

In the meantime, as conservative journalist Jamie Glazov, recently noted, the liberal left — with all of its calls for equal rights for women, with all of its feminist supporters — maintains an almost conspiratorial silence. Instead of investigating, reporters and editors in the liberal media turn their heads. They insist these events are incidents of “domestic abuse,” not “honor killings” or that there is no difference between the two. Above all, they resist ascribing religious underpinnings to these deaths even as women who manage to escape them – and often, the men and women who commit them — assert quite clearly, the cause is “my religion.”

UN statistics report that 5,000 honor killings are committed each year, and these numbers are seen as an underestimate, according to Esman.

And there seems to be a correlation between “politically correct” European countries and a high rate of honor killings. Esman notes that “In the Netherlands alone, the official number of honor killings per year stands at 13, or more than one every month — and that does not include the growing trend of ‘honor suicides’ — girls and even boys who take their own lives knowing that if they don’t do it, others will, that they’ve been marked for death.” Esman says the number of honor killings in England and Germany is similar.

Hopefully, the trial of Faleh Almeleki — accused of murdering his daughter in an honor killing in Arizona — will prompt the media to give this important issue more coverage.

Thousands of honor killings are committed each year in Western countries. And yet the press largely remains silent on the issue. In the Washington Times yesterday, Abigail Esman admonished the mainstream media for ignoring honor killings in the West, and claimed that political correctness has prevented many reporters and pundits from connecting these murders to religion:

In the meantime, as conservative journalist Jamie Glazov, recently noted, the liberal left — with all of its calls for equal rights for women, with all of its feminist supporters — maintains an almost conspiratorial silence. Instead of investigating, reporters and editors in the liberal media turn their heads. They insist these events are incidents of “domestic abuse,” not “honor killings” or that there is no difference between the two. Above all, they resist ascribing religious underpinnings to these deaths even as women who manage to escape them – and often, the men and women who commit them — assert quite clearly, the cause is “my religion.”

UN statistics report that 5,000 honor killings are committed each year, and these numbers are seen as an underestimate, according to Esman.

And there seems to be a correlation between “politically correct” European countries and a high rate of honor killings. Esman notes that “In the Netherlands alone, the official number of honor killings per year stands at 13, or more than one every month — and that does not include the growing trend of ‘honor suicides’ — girls and even boys who take their own lives knowing that if they don’t do it, others will, that they’ve been marked for death.” Esman says the number of honor killings in England and Germany is similar.

Hopefully, the trial of Faleh Almeleki — accused of murdering his daughter in an honor killing in Arizona — will prompt the media to give this important issue more coverage.

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Race Counters Can’t Keep Up with a Free Society

A front-page feature in today’s New York Times chronicles the difficulties that race counters are encountering in our increasingly multiracial society. According to the Times, government people-counters in agencies such as the Department of Education are frustrated by the fact that citizens who claim more than one ethnic or racial group in their ancestry no longer wish to be pigeonholed but instead prefer a label that takes into account their multiracial identity or no label at all.

The piece chronicles how University of Maryland student Michelle Lopez-Mullins, who describes herself as being of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee descent, is considered to be merely “Hispanic” by the Department of Education because anyone with even partial Hispanic ancestry is categorized as Hispanic. Yet, for their own statistical reasons, the National Center for Health Statistics considers her “Asian.” But Ms. Lopez-Mullins usually fills out forms by putting down “other” when asked about her background. And in response to the demand from such people, government forms have often given them that option.

But government bureaucrats are pushing back. Under the new standards being promulgated by the Department of Education, students like Ms. Lopez-Mullins are no longer given the option to opt out of the race bean-counting but must be considered Hispanic in order to create data about distinct minority groups that the government can measure. Groups like the NAACP have complained that giving citizens the chance to be considered multi-ethnic has diminished the number of those who call themselves African-Americans. As one researcher for a group promoting this sort of racialism is quoted as telling the Times, allowing people to be called multiracial means that “They’re all lumped together — blacks, Asians and Latinos — and they all look the same from the data perspective.” And we can’t have that if we are to continue racialist programs that extend specific benefits and hindrances to specific groups based on past patterns of discrimination that might no longer be relevant to the individuals involved.

But in a country where the sort of rigid divides between the races are no longer relevant and where more or more Americans claim multi-ethnic and racial ancestry, the complaints of the researchers and the government apparatchiks who wish to implement policies based on such numbers are not as important as the right of each citizen to be judged and counted as an individual, not a racial statistic. Instead of seeking to enforce racial categorization as the Department of Education seems to be doing, what the government should be doing is stepping back from counting practices that are not only irrelevant to the lives of contemporary Americans but that also wish to hold in place measures that seek to divide rather than unite Americans.

A front-page feature in today’s New York Times chronicles the difficulties that race counters are encountering in our increasingly multiracial society. According to the Times, government people-counters in agencies such as the Department of Education are frustrated by the fact that citizens who claim more than one ethnic or racial group in their ancestry no longer wish to be pigeonholed but instead prefer a label that takes into account their multiracial identity or no label at all.

The piece chronicles how University of Maryland student Michelle Lopez-Mullins, who describes herself as being of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee descent, is considered to be merely “Hispanic” by the Department of Education because anyone with even partial Hispanic ancestry is categorized as Hispanic. Yet, for their own statistical reasons, the National Center for Health Statistics considers her “Asian.” But Ms. Lopez-Mullins usually fills out forms by putting down “other” when asked about her background. And in response to the demand from such people, government forms have often given them that option.

But government bureaucrats are pushing back. Under the new standards being promulgated by the Department of Education, students like Ms. Lopez-Mullins are no longer given the option to opt out of the race bean-counting but must be considered Hispanic in order to create data about distinct minority groups that the government can measure. Groups like the NAACP have complained that giving citizens the chance to be considered multi-ethnic has diminished the number of those who call themselves African-Americans. As one researcher for a group promoting this sort of racialism is quoted as telling the Times, allowing people to be called multiracial means that “They’re all lumped together — blacks, Asians and Latinos — and they all look the same from the data perspective.” And we can’t have that if we are to continue racialist programs that extend specific benefits and hindrances to specific groups based on past patterns of discrimination that might no longer be relevant to the individuals involved.

But in a country where the sort of rigid divides between the races are no longer relevant and where more or more Americans claim multi-ethnic and racial ancestry, the complaints of the researchers and the government apparatchiks who wish to implement policies based on such numbers are not as important as the right of each citizen to be judged and counted as an individual, not a racial statistic. Instead of seeking to enforce racial categorization as the Department of Education seems to be doing, what the government should be doing is stepping back from counting practices that are not only irrelevant to the lives of contemporary Americans but that also wish to hold in place measures that seek to divide rather than unite Americans.

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Matching Resources to Defense Commitments

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has released a new “National Military Strategy of the United States of America.” There is, in truth, little that is especially new or provocative here — but then, you would not expect that, because, for all the changes in political control at the top, the military strategy of the United States generally remains pretty constant over the years.

Mullen’s document is mainly a list of all the roles and missions the armed forces must carry out, foremost among them protecting “the security of the American people, our territory, and our way of life,” but also including a multitude of related assignments — e.g., “facilitating U.S. government agencies and other organizations’ efforts to advance our Nation’s interests.” There are no shortage of threats to confront, ranging from “non-state actors such as criminal organizations, traffickers, and terrorist groups” to states such as China, North Korea, and Iran. The report notes:

China’s decades-long economic growth is expected to facilitate its continued military modernization and expansion of its interests within and beyond the region…. North Korea’s nuclear capability and potentially unstable transition of power poses a risk to regional stability and international non-proliferation efforts. In the Middle East, a nuclear armed Iran could set off a cascade of states in the region seeking nuclear parity or increased conventional capabilities; that could lead to regional conflict….

States are developing anti-access and area-denial capabilities and strategies to constrain U.S. and international freedom of action. These states are rapidly acquiring technologies, such as missiles and autonomous and remotely-piloted platforms that challenge our ability to project power from the global commons and increase our operational risk. Meanwhile, enabling and war-fighting domains of space and cyberspace are simultaneously more critical for our operations, yet more vulnerable to malicious actions.

All in all, this strikes me as a pretty accurate and comprehensive overview of all the challenges we face in the future. Missing from this document is the $500+ billion question: Where are we going to find the funds to maintain all these commitments? Read More

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has released a new “National Military Strategy of the United States of America.” There is, in truth, little that is especially new or provocative here — but then, you would not expect that, because, for all the changes in political control at the top, the military strategy of the United States generally remains pretty constant over the years.

Mullen’s document is mainly a list of all the roles and missions the armed forces must carry out, foremost among them protecting “the security of the American people, our territory, and our way of life,” but also including a multitude of related assignments — e.g., “facilitating U.S. government agencies and other organizations’ efforts to advance our Nation’s interests.” There are no shortage of threats to confront, ranging from “non-state actors such as criminal organizations, traffickers, and terrorist groups” to states such as China, North Korea, and Iran. The report notes:

China’s decades-long economic growth is expected to facilitate its continued military modernization and expansion of its interests within and beyond the region…. North Korea’s nuclear capability and potentially unstable transition of power poses a risk to regional stability and international non-proliferation efforts. In the Middle East, a nuclear armed Iran could set off a cascade of states in the region seeking nuclear parity or increased conventional capabilities; that could lead to regional conflict….

States are developing anti-access and area-denial capabilities and strategies to constrain U.S. and international freedom of action. These states are rapidly acquiring technologies, such as missiles and autonomous and remotely-piloted platforms that challenge our ability to project power from the global commons and increase our operational risk. Meanwhile, enabling and war-fighting domains of space and cyberspace are simultaneously more critical for our operations, yet more vulnerable to malicious actions.

All in all, this strikes me as a pretty accurate and comprehensive overview of all the challenges we face in the future. Missing from this document is the $500+ billion question: Where are we going to find the funds to maintain all these commitments?

The Obama administration is pushing for a cut of 70,000 in our ground forces, along with the cancellation or scaling back of major weapons systems. Yet there is no suggestion that our responsibilities will shrink. That suggests that the trend of the past couple of decades — ever since the end of the Cold War — will continue: to wit, an overly small military being subjected to a punishing deployment tempo. So far, the armed forces have borne up remarkably well under the strain, but it is not a smart bet to overstress the men and women in uniform indefinitely. Better to give them some breathing space by adding a few more troops, building a few more ships and aircraft, providing some newer equipment so that they can better meet their global responsibilities. But that’s not the way things are drifting in Washington.

The Washington consensus seems to be: Let’s do everything we’re doing now, but do it with fewer people and less money. There is little political will in Washington to adopt the isolationist policies of the Cato Institute, yet there seems to be a good deal of interest in adopting Cato’s penny-pinching approaching to defense. That doesn’t add up. Mullen and his successor (he is due to retire this year) will have no easy task trying to square this circle.

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And Now for Something Completely Difficult…

Here’s a diverting — and pretty amazing — five-minute video. It documents the skills of University of Connecticut’s Johnny McEntee, who now can claim the unofficial title of The Greatest Trick-Shot Quarterback of All Time.

Here’s a diverting — and pretty amazing — five-minute video. It documents the skills of University of Connecticut’s Johnny McEntee, who now can claim the unofficial title of The Greatest Trick-Shot Quarterback of All Time.

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Realism and the ‘Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations’

The distinguished Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami, writing in Newsweek, says this:

From afar, the “realists” tell the Arabs that they are playing with fire, that beyond the prison walls there is danger and chaos. Luckily for them, the Arabs pay no heed to these realists, and can recognize the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that animates them. Arabs have quit railing against powers beyond and infidels and foreign conspiracies. For now they are out making and claiming their own history.

Read the whole thing.

The distinguished Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami, writing in Newsweek, says this:

From afar, the “realists” tell the Arabs that they are playing with fire, that beyond the prison walls there is danger and chaos. Luckily for them, the Arabs pay no heed to these realists, and can recognize the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that animates them. Arabs have quit railing against powers beyond and infidels and foreign conspiracies. For now they are out making and claiming their own history.

Read the whole thing.

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UN Helps Honor Terrorist in Pro-Woman Campaign?

The United Nations Population Fund has teamed up with the Arab Producers Union for TV to release a video campaign supporting women’s issues in the Arab world, according to a report by Palestinian Media Watch.

The video features images of several different Arab women who are touted as “role models” for the community, and was reportedly broadcast on more than 50 Arab TV stations.

The problem? According to PMW, one of the highlighted women was a terrorist famous for killing 37 civilians during an attack on Israel in 1978. And she’s not the only controversial figure featured on the campaign ad:

Entitled The Model Woman, the clip honors different Arab women of the past, assigning to them various virtues and accomplishments. Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 led the most lethal terror attack against Israel, in which 37 civilians were killed, was venerated in the clip as a role model for “Martyrdom” and “victory over enmity.” Al Khansa, a 7th century Arab poet, who celebrated her four sons’ Martyrdom deaths in battle was praised as an example of “resolve” and “Martyrdom and giving.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal to cut UN funding just keeps looking better and better.

The United Nations Population Fund has teamed up with the Arab Producers Union for TV to release a video campaign supporting women’s issues in the Arab world, according to a report by Palestinian Media Watch.

The video features images of several different Arab women who are touted as “role models” for the community, and was reportedly broadcast on more than 50 Arab TV stations.

The problem? According to PMW, one of the highlighted women was a terrorist famous for killing 37 civilians during an attack on Israel in 1978. And she’s not the only controversial figure featured on the campaign ad:

Entitled The Model Woman, the clip honors different Arab women of the past, assigning to them various virtues and accomplishments. Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 led the most lethal terror attack against Israel, in which 37 civilians were killed, was venerated in the clip as a role model for “Martyrdom” and “victory over enmity.” Al Khansa, a 7th century Arab poet, who celebrated her four sons’ Martyrdom deaths in battle was praised as an example of “resolve” and “Martyrdom and giving.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal to cut UN funding just keeps looking better and better.

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Of Course: J Street to Host Pro-BDS Speakers

I hesitate to do a full post on this group — CONTENTIONS contributor Noah Pollak is right to call J Street a very marginal left-wing fringe group — but this latest dispatch is so sophomoric that it kind of begs to be blogged. I’m also genuinely curious about the excuses that J Street leaders trot out for their anti-Israel agitation. I’m never sure whether they have so little self-awareness that they think they’re being clever, or whether they think their cultists are dumb enough to accept barely coherent pretexts as the height of sophistication:

Among the more controversial speakers is Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, which advocates the use of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. BDS has been roundly condemned in the mainstream Jewish community because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel. J Street, too, opposes BDS, noted Ben-Ami, who said he is not concerned that the appearance of Vilkomerson might legitimize BDS. Rather, she was invited to air her views, he explained, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate. (Vilkomerson is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 on a panel along with three opponents of BDS.) [emphasis added]

I assume that land-for-peace critics have also been invited to air their views, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to doubt the wisdom of putting Iranian missiles on hills overlooking Israel’s population centers will think otherwise. Ditto for “demographic time bomb” skeptics who will be debunked in open debate, lest conference attendees be “tempted” to give up talking points about Israel ceasing to be a democracy. And I’m sure there’s a panel with someone who can question the wisdom of the NGO war against Israel, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to oppose leading Goldstone around D.C. will continue to back J Street.

Except, of course, none of that will happen. J Street only “expands debate” in an objectively anti-Israel direction, and the organization only stretches the meaning of “pro-Israel” to include more anti-Israel partisans. Read More

I hesitate to do a full post on this group — CONTENTIONS contributor Noah Pollak is right to call J Street a very marginal left-wing fringe group — but this latest dispatch is so sophomoric that it kind of begs to be blogged. I’m also genuinely curious about the excuses that J Street leaders trot out for their anti-Israel agitation. I’m never sure whether they have so little self-awareness that they think they’re being clever, or whether they think their cultists are dumb enough to accept barely coherent pretexts as the height of sophistication:

Among the more controversial speakers is Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, which advocates the use of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. BDS has been roundly condemned in the mainstream Jewish community because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel. J Street, too, opposes BDS, noted Ben-Ami, who said he is not concerned that the appearance of Vilkomerson might legitimize BDS. Rather, she was invited to air her views, he explained, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate. (Vilkomerson is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 on a panel along with three opponents of BDS.) [emphasis added]

I assume that land-for-peace critics have also been invited to air their views, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to doubt the wisdom of putting Iranian missiles on hills overlooking Israel’s population centers will think otherwise. Ditto for “demographic time bomb” skeptics who will be debunked in open debate, lest conference attendees be “tempted” to give up talking points about Israel ceasing to be a democracy. And I’m sure there’s a panel with someone who can question the wisdom of the NGO war against Israel, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to oppose leading Goldstone around D.C. will continue to back J Street.

Except, of course, none of that will happen. J Street only “expands debate” in an objectively anti-Israel direction, and the organization only stretches the meaning of “pro-Israel” to include more anti-Israel partisans.

Now that might be defensible if we were in an environment where there wasn’t enough criticism of Israel. If we lived in a world where the Israelis silently got away with atrocities that hurt their own cause, then there might be a case for swinging the pendulum in an objectively anti-Israel direction so as to balance things out. It’d require some sophistry and a few informal argumentative fallacies — this one and this one for starters — but it’d at least be close.

Except that’s not this world. In this world, there’s a borderline pathological obsession with Israel that stretches across global media outlets, the United Nations, international NGOs, and the diplomatic corps of dozens of countries. Adding more criticism isn’t balancing things out as much as piling on. In a very precise sense, J Street’s protestations about their criticism being “pro-Israel” begs the question of whether the amount of criticism that already exists is too much or too little, begging the question being another informal argumentative fallacy indulged in by our reality-based betters.

All of which is irrelevant to the question from the beginning: are they so dense they think “we’re just having a debate” is clever, or do they really think that little of their supporters? But it’s a useful reminder that, in addition to the organization’s smug quotidian dishonesty, J Street’s entire condescending raison d’etre is also kind of intellectually insulting.

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Pretending to Teach a Trade: From the Progressive Era to Today

Journalism schools are useless, argues Michael Lewis, but they prosper because they appeal to our worship of professionalism.

That’s a nut graph — a nutshell paragraph — one bit of journalism jargon that Michael Lewis doesn’t grasp in his wildly entertaining piece on the Columbia School of Journalism. Lewis’s piece was republished this week from TNR’s archives, and it’s only fair to point out right away that “J-School Confidential” first appeared in 1993. Perhaps things have changed. Perhaps CSJ today is full to overflowing with well-qualified faculty, satisfied students, gainfully employed alumni journalists, and absolutely no muggers. (Given that a year there now costs over $50,000 — as opposed to 1993′s $18,000 — it had better be.) But you can color me skeptical.

Lewis nails the central fallacy of professional schools that pretend to teach a trade, which is that, while many things in life can be learned, few of them can be taught. As the journalists Lewis interviews attest, journalism schools mark the burial place of journalism, just as government schools are where government goes to die, and as education schools are the burned-out funeral pyre of education. The problem is not that formal study in all things is useless. It is that most things in life can be learned only by doing them. At best, formal study of such things makes you aware of just how tough they are, and how individual success in them is. Read More

Journalism schools are useless, argues Michael Lewis, but they prosper because they appeal to our worship of professionalism.

That’s a nut graph — a nutshell paragraph — one bit of journalism jargon that Michael Lewis doesn’t grasp in his wildly entertaining piece on the Columbia School of Journalism. Lewis’s piece was republished this week from TNR’s archives, and it’s only fair to point out right away that “J-School Confidential” first appeared in 1993. Perhaps things have changed. Perhaps CSJ today is full to overflowing with well-qualified faculty, satisfied students, gainfully employed alumni journalists, and absolutely no muggers. (Given that a year there now costs over $50,000 — as opposed to 1993′s $18,000 — it had better be.) But you can color me skeptical.

Lewis nails the central fallacy of professional schools that pretend to teach a trade, which is that, while many things in life can be learned, few of them can be taught. As the journalists Lewis interviews attest, journalism schools mark the burial place of journalism, just as government schools are where government goes to die, and as education schools are the burned-out funeral pyre of education. The problem is not that formal study in all things is useless. It is that most things in life can be learned only by doing them. At best, formal study of such things makes you aware of just how tough they are, and how individual success in them is.

What Lewis catches wonderfully is the irrelevancy that pervades professional schools. Columbia’s program drives more people out of journalism that it puts into the field. Meanwhile, the unemployable and regularly mugged students at Columbia can think of nothing except demanding “a more culturally sensitive faculty and more awareness about AIDS.”

What he doesn’t quite explain is why so many students apply to programs that cannot prove they offer value for money. And the students do apply: the first duty of any admissions officer at a professional program is to cull the many applicants who have no goals, but who are happy to spend tens of thousands of dollars for the sake of not having to think about getting a job for a few years. But even the most competent admissions officer can’t catch them all.

That simple desire to postpone life explains part of the popularity of professional schools. But running through Lewis’s essay, though never brought into the open, is a deeper explanation. Professional schools are fundamentally creations of the Progressive Era: CSJ was founded in 1904, and Teachers College at Columbia conferred its first Ph.D. in 1899. Schools of government (Harvard 1936, Princeton 1930) are a bit younger, but they are the products of Progressivism’s capture of the Democratic Party and its triumph in the New Deal. As such, professional schools are inherently technocratic, and their culture — which dictates that the solution to any problem is to apply top-down managerial expertise to it — drives the popularity of the programs as it expands into society at large.

Resistance to the claims of expertise usually comes from conservatives, who are therefore labeled unscientific, ignorant, and immoral. Like the academy as a whole — see John Tierney’s wonderful piece about bias in social science — such programs recycle liberal nostrums with such reliability that they are stultifyingly dull. Indeed, the dirty little secret of graduate education is that much of it is more about endurance than education. But since society rewards professional programs by placing steadily greater emphasis on the value of formal credentials, their irrelevancy goes unchallenged, leaving only an aching sense among students that something is not quite as it should be.

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