Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 14, 2011

Iran: The Narrowing of Options Continues

In a superb article posted today at the Heritage Foundation website, CONTENTIONS regular Ted Bromund and James Phillips outline the costs and difficulties of containing a nuclear Iran. An alternate title for their piece might be “The Unlikelihood of Containing a Nuclear Iran.” Their analysis suggests this conclusion: if we accept the containment course because it looks easier and more convenient, there will be little difference between the approach we’re using now to keep Iran denuclearized and what we would do to contain an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. The success of our strategy to date is a good indicator of how well containment would work.

The timing of the article is excellent. One of the key factors in our strategy for either of the two objectives — discouraging nuclearization or containing Iran if that doesn’t work — is maintaining a web of alliances that encircles Iran and enables us to execute options like sanctions or military action. In that regard, facts on the ground have had a negative trend in the past year. The Persian Gulf nations from which the U.S. might operate strike aircraft have been hedging their bets with Iran and announcing their policies against such U.S. operations. Regional assistance with sanctions enforcement has been selective, intermittent, and alibi-filled; there is little sentiment among Iran’s nearest neighbors for good-faith efforts beyond the letter of the UN resolutions.

As change permeates the Arab world, the geographic posture from which to execute tougher policies against Iran is likely to erode further. This needn’t be inevitable, but given the trend of U.S. policy, it’s probable. Last week, the Saudis accepted a remarkably timed and unprecedented port visit by Iranian warships in the Red Sea, a move that followed the earlier — equally unprecedented — visit of Chinese warships to Jeddah in late November 2010.

The Saudis’ new ecumenism in naval relations has yet to result in a resumption of the U.S. port visits that were once relatively common, before the attacks on the U.S. barracks in Dhahran in 1996 and on USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The shift in the Saudi posture, meanwhile, adds a new wrinkle to the narrowing of America’s options against Iran. Israel’s options are being narrowed as well. In the past month, the Saudi cost-benefit calculation for allowing Israel to use Saudi air space has tilted toward the cost side.

The IDF’s option to send ships and submarines through the Suez Canal has also taken a hit with Mubarak’s ouster. Three years ago, Israel might reasonably have anticipated coordinating a sea-based campaign with air routes through Jordan and Saudi Arabia or through Turkey. Today all three approaches have been rendered either impossible or much less probable due to the political shifts in the intervening years. Conventional attack options are being squeezed out for both the U.S. and Israel — which should focus our thinking wonderfully on the benefits of popular regime-change in Iran.

In a superb article posted today at the Heritage Foundation website, CONTENTIONS regular Ted Bromund and James Phillips outline the costs and difficulties of containing a nuclear Iran. An alternate title for their piece might be “The Unlikelihood of Containing a Nuclear Iran.” Their analysis suggests this conclusion: if we accept the containment course because it looks easier and more convenient, there will be little difference between the approach we’re using now to keep Iran denuclearized and what we would do to contain an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. The success of our strategy to date is a good indicator of how well containment would work.

The timing of the article is excellent. One of the key factors in our strategy for either of the two objectives — discouraging nuclearization or containing Iran if that doesn’t work — is maintaining a web of alliances that encircles Iran and enables us to execute options like sanctions or military action. In that regard, facts on the ground have had a negative trend in the past year. The Persian Gulf nations from which the U.S. might operate strike aircraft have been hedging their bets with Iran and announcing their policies against such U.S. operations. Regional assistance with sanctions enforcement has been selective, intermittent, and alibi-filled; there is little sentiment among Iran’s nearest neighbors for good-faith efforts beyond the letter of the UN resolutions.

As change permeates the Arab world, the geographic posture from which to execute tougher policies against Iran is likely to erode further. This needn’t be inevitable, but given the trend of U.S. policy, it’s probable. Last week, the Saudis accepted a remarkably timed and unprecedented port visit by Iranian warships in the Red Sea, a move that followed the earlier — equally unprecedented — visit of Chinese warships to Jeddah in late November 2010.

The Saudis’ new ecumenism in naval relations has yet to result in a resumption of the U.S. port visits that were once relatively common, before the attacks on the U.S. barracks in Dhahran in 1996 and on USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The shift in the Saudi posture, meanwhile, adds a new wrinkle to the narrowing of America’s options against Iran. Israel’s options are being narrowed as well. In the past month, the Saudi cost-benefit calculation for allowing Israel to use Saudi air space has tilted toward the cost side.

The IDF’s option to send ships and submarines through the Suez Canal has also taken a hit with Mubarak’s ouster. Three years ago, Israel might reasonably have anticipated coordinating a sea-based campaign with air routes through Jordan and Saudi Arabia or through Turkey. Today all three approaches have been rendered either impossible or much less probable due to the political shifts in the intervening years. Conventional attack options are being squeezed out for both the U.S. and Israel — which should focus our thinking wonderfully on the benefits of popular regime-change in Iran.

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Jasser Responds to Bloggers’ Attacks

American Islamic Forum for Democracy president M. Zhudi Jasser has responded to attacks from bloggers who are opposing his potential involvement in Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Islamic radicalization. But these critics of Jasser — a moderate Muslim leader — aren’t Islamists but, instead, activists who say they oppose Islamism:

Witnesses have yet to be called and King’s mere mention of me as a possible witness to Politico incited a vicious attack, published right here at American Thinker on January 20 by blogger Pamela Geller. That attack was later amplified and perpetuated by among others Robert Spencer at Frontpage Magazine.

While I appreciate the fact that honest disagreements are par for the course in this intensely difficult and controversial issue, Geller’s attacks go far beyond ideology, employing a mixture of fabrications and libelous character assassination.

In a column for the American Thinker, Geller wrote that “Jasser’s Islam does not exist. He does not have a theological leg to stand on. His mosque threw him out. Whatever he is practicing, it’s not Islam, and he speaks for no one but himself.”

She also said that Jasser tried to prevent Geert Wilders from attending a meeting on Capitol Hill, referred to Israel as “occupied territory,” and denied the existence of Islamic anti-Semitism — allegations that Jasser denies.

The argument that Jasser’s Islam “does not exist” is similar to the one used by terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki — that there is no alternative to violent political Islam. This argument is also used to radicalize Muslim youth and encourage acts of terrorism.

Even more problematic is what happens when this idea is taken to its logical end. As Jasser writes, this “genre is headed in only one direction — declaring an ideological war against one-fourth of the world’s population and expecting to neutralize the Islamist threat by asking Muslims to renounce their faith.”

Muslims like Jasser and the Abadiyya community are crucial allies in the fight against radical Islam. Their voices will be a powerful addition to the King hearings, and it’s important that those truly concerned with radicalization support them.

American Islamic Forum for Democracy president M. Zhudi Jasser has responded to attacks from bloggers who are opposing his potential involvement in Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Islamic radicalization. But these critics of Jasser — a moderate Muslim leader — aren’t Islamists but, instead, activists who say they oppose Islamism:

Witnesses have yet to be called and King’s mere mention of me as a possible witness to Politico incited a vicious attack, published right here at American Thinker on January 20 by blogger Pamela Geller. That attack was later amplified and perpetuated by among others Robert Spencer at Frontpage Magazine.

While I appreciate the fact that honest disagreements are par for the course in this intensely difficult and controversial issue, Geller’s attacks go far beyond ideology, employing a mixture of fabrications and libelous character assassination.

In a column for the American Thinker, Geller wrote that “Jasser’s Islam does not exist. He does not have a theological leg to stand on. His mosque threw him out. Whatever he is practicing, it’s not Islam, and he speaks for no one but himself.”

She also said that Jasser tried to prevent Geert Wilders from attending a meeting on Capitol Hill, referred to Israel as “occupied territory,” and denied the existence of Islamic anti-Semitism — allegations that Jasser denies.

The argument that Jasser’s Islam “does not exist” is similar to the one used by terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki — that there is no alternative to violent political Islam. This argument is also used to radicalize Muslim youth and encourage acts of terrorism.

Even more problematic is what happens when this idea is taken to its logical end. As Jasser writes, this “genre is headed in only one direction — declaring an ideological war against one-fourth of the world’s population and expecting to neutralize the Islamist threat by asking Muslims to renounce their faith.”

Muslims like Jasser and the Abadiyya community are crucial allies in the fight against radical Islam. Their voices will be a powerful addition to the King hearings, and it’s important that those truly concerned with radicalization support them.

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As Far as That Budget Deficit Goes, They Have a Plan

According to the Washington Times, the White House budget director predicts that the national debt will equal 100 percent of GDP by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The last time it was that high was 64 years ago. He further predicts that it will top out at 106 percent in 2013. But — have no fear! Everything is under control. As Jacob “Jack” Lew, the budget director, explained on MSNBC this morning:

When we came into office, when President Obama took office, the deficit was climbing to over 10 percent of the economy. We have a plan that would bring it down to 3 percent. That is the most rapid reduction in the deficit in history. It is what we have to do to be able to say we’re paying our bills and we’re not adding to the debt.

If the deficit is a mere 3 percent of GDP, then we’re not adding to the debt? At 3 percent of a GDP of $15 trillion, the debt would be rising at the rate of $450 billion a year. Even in Washington, that’s real money.

But that pales in comparison to the idea that reducing the deficit from over 10 percent in 2008 down to 3 percent in some pie-in-the-sky year in the future would be “the most rapid reduction in the deficit in history.” That, to be charitable, is nonsense. In 1945, we had a deficit of $48 billion, roughly 21 percent of GDP. In 1946, it was $17 billion, or 7.6 percent. In 1947, we had a budget surplus of 1.8 percent of GDP. We didn’t have a budget deficit again until 1953, despite the Korean War, which began in 1950.

Of course, ending a great war makes it easy to cut the deficit (at least if you won the war). But in peaceful 1994, the deficit was 2.8 percent of GDP, and in equally peaceful 2000, there was a surplus of 2.3 percent. That’s a 5.1 percent turnaround in six years, which beats a 7 percent reduction in who knows how many years.

Too bad Wilkins Micawber can’t join the Obama budget team. He’d fit right in.

According to the Washington Times, the White House budget director predicts that the national debt will equal 100 percent of GDP by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The last time it was that high was 64 years ago. He further predicts that it will top out at 106 percent in 2013. But — have no fear! Everything is under control. As Jacob “Jack” Lew, the budget director, explained on MSNBC this morning:

When we came into office, when President Obama took office, the deficit was climbing to over 10 percent of the economy. We have a plan that would bring it down to 3 percent. That is the most rapid reduction in the deficit in history. It is what we have to do to be able to say we’re paying our bills and we’re not adding to the debt.

If the deficit is a mere 3 percent of GDP, then we’re not adding to the debt? At 3 percent of a GDP of $15 trillion, the debt would be rising at the rate of $450 billion a year. Even in Washington, that’s real money.

But that pales in comparison to the idea that reducing the deficit from over 10 percent in 2008 down to 3 percent in some pie-in-the-sky year in the future would be “the most rapid reduction in the deficit in history.” That, to be charitable, is nonsense. In 1945, we had a deficit of $48 billion, roughly 21 percent of GDP. In 1946, it was $17 billion, or 7.6 percent. In 1947, we had a budget surplus of 1.8 percent of GDP. We didn’t have a budget deficit again until 1953, despite the Korean War, which began in 1950.

Of course, ending a great war makes it easy to cut the deficit (at least if you won the war). But in peaceful 1994, the deficit was 2.8 percent of GDP, and in equally peaceful 2000, there was a surplus of 2.3 percent. That’s a 5.1 percent turnaround in six years, which beats a 7 percent reduction in who knows how many years.

Too bad Wilkins Micawber can’t join the Obama budget team. He’d fit right in.

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Take Me to Your Tweeter

When Hillary Clinton was asked to comment, in June 2009, on Twitter’s role in the street protests then sweeping through Tehran, she said, “I wouldn’t know a Twitter from a tweeter.” Credit where it’s due, the State Department has gotten a bit more technologically savvy since then. With today’s fresh round of protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities, the U.S. has gone ahead and sent out tweets in support of the protesters. Now Lebanon reports:

The Twitter feeds in the Iranian language began Sunday as U.S. officials accused Iran of hypocrisy by supporting the anti-government revolt in Egypt but seeking to prevent anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

On the Twitter account, USAdarFarsi, the State Department said it “recognizes historic role of social media among Iranians We want to join in your conversations.”

Apart from sounding like soulless sky-god aliens from the television drama V, the State Department is on the right track here. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of social media’s contributions to democracy movements. It is too easy to let a supportive mouse click stand as one’s sole contribution to a just cause. But the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated that Twitter and Facebook can function as more than digital bumper-sticker machines. So, now that the medium has proved itself, it’s time to hone the message. Would it kill the State Department to sound a little … human?

When Hillary Clinton was asked to comment, in June 2009, on Twitter’s role in the street protests then sweeping through Tehran, she said, “I wouldn’t know a Twitter from a tweeter.” Credit where it’s due, the State Department has gotten a bit more technologically savvy since then. With today’s fresh round of protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities, the U.S. has gone ahead and sent out tweets in support of the protesters. Now Lebanon reports:

The Twitter feeds in the Iranian language began Sunday as U.S. officials accused Iran of hypocrisy by supporting the anti-government revolt in Egypt but seeking to prevent anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

On the Twitter account, USAdarFarsi, the State Department said it “recognizes historic role of social media among Iranians We want to join in your conversations.”

Apart from sounding like soulless sky-god aliens from the television drama V, the State Department is on the right track here. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of social media’s contributions to democracy movements. It is too easy to let a supportive mouse click stand as one’s sole contribution to a just cause. But the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated that Twitter and Facebook can function as more than digital bumper-sticker machines. So, now that the medium has proved itself, it’s time to hone the message. Would it kill the State Department to sound a little … human?

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Is the White House Choosing Now to Launch a Public Relations Broadside Against Israel?

Early in the Egypt crisis, Alana wrote a post citing Walter Russell Mead, who suggested that the loss of reliable Arab allies might bring the United States closer to Israel. That makes intuitive sense, including from within a kind of lay realist approach, where it’s better to have allies in a resource-critical region than to not have allies in a resource-critical region. It’s the natural direction for a foreign policy oriented toward preserving American influence to take.

Apparently, certain elements of the Obama administration are embracing a different approach. Shmuel Rosner picks up on an article by Thomas Friedman, where Friedman channels White House “disgust” at Israel for — ostensibly — “telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh” and “using the opportunity to score propaganda points.” If the statements hold up, the inevitable result will be a chill in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, since it will appear to the Israelis that the White House is trying to damage American public opinion of the Jewish state:

I didn’t hear anyone that’s “disgusted” with Israeli interlocutors. Maybe I’ve been talking to the wrong people — maybe those “disgusted” with Israel feel more comfortable talking to Friedman (he also has more readers, and is more handsome). I can tell you this: There are quite a few Israelis thinking that Friedman is the spokesperson for the Obama administration. If his words will not meet denials from the WH, this impression will become even stronger. I can also tell you that there were quite a few Israeli officials “disgusted” with Friedman’s article’s hysterical tone.

The turmoil in Egypt has already endangered key military and intelligence assets, and we still don’t know when and if a democratically elected government will take power, or how it will relate to the West. Meanwhile the Obama administration has alienated both sides of the Egyptian uprising, Biden’s unblinking declarations about the U.S. “speaking with one voice” notwithstanding. Things were going to be complicated anyway, since Obama had cut pro-democracy aid in 2009 because it felt good to be the anti-Bush, before he went all-in on democracy in 2011. But the White House’s fumbling indecision and poor intelligence throughout the crisis burned whatever bridges we still might have had. The only faction we’ve more or less consistently sucked up to is the Muslim Brotherhood, from State’s 2010 engagement with Tariq Ramadan through the White House’s crisis-time flirtation with the group, ending, of course, with Clapper’s idiotic comment about the Muslim Brotherhood being secular. But the Brotherhood doesn’t seem interested in helping us maintain our Middle East presence — that’s just not the vibe it gives off — so it’s doubtful that our gambits there will really help.

UAE? Unhappy. Jordan? Pretty annoyed. Saudi Arabia? So angry that the last phone call between Obama and Abdullah triggered rumors that the king had suffered a fatal heart attack out of sheer fury, with the Kingdom having already expressed a similar sentiment through Foreign Minister Al-Faisal.

Our list of allies, in other words, is growing dangerously short.

So naturally, someone in the White House thinks the time is ripe to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. Smart power!

Early in the Egypt crisis, Alana wrote a post citing Walter Russell Mead, who suggested that the loss of reliable Arab allies might bring the United States closer to Israel. That makes intuitive sense, including from within a kind of lay realist approach, where it’s better to have allies in a resource-critical region than to not have allies in a resource-critical region. It’s the natural direction for a foreign policy oriented toward preserving American influence to take.

Apparently, certain elements of the Obama administration are embracing a different approach. Shmuel Rosner picks up on an article by Thomas Friedman, where Friedman channels White House “disgust” at Israel for — ostensibly — “telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh” and “using the opportunity to score propaganda points.” If the statements hold up, the inevitable result will be a chill in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, since it will appear to the Israelis that the White House is trying to damage American public opinion of the Jewish state:

I didn’t hear anyone that’s “disgusted” with Israeli interlocutors. Maybe I’ve been talking to the wrong people — maybe those “disgusted” with Israel feel more comfortable talking to Friedman (he also has more readers, and is more handsome). I can tell you this: There are quite a few Israelis thinking that Friedman is the spokesperson for the Obama administration. If his words will not meet denials from the WH, this impression will become even stronger. I can also tell you that there were quite a few Israeli officials “disgusted” with Friedman’s article’s hysterical tone.

The turmoil in Egypt has already endangered key military and intelligence assets, and we still don’t know when and if a democratically elected government will take power, or how it will relate to the West. Meanwhile the Obama administration has alienated both sides of the Egyptian uprising, Biden’s unblinking declarations about the U.S. “speaking with one voice” notwithstanding. Things were going to be complicated anyway, since Obama had cut pro-democracy aid in 2009 because it felt good to be the anti-Bush, before he went all-in on democracy in 2011. But the White House’s fumbling indecision and poor intelligence throughout the crisis burned whatever bridges we still might have had. The only faction we’ve more or less consistently sucked up to is the Muslim Brotherhood, from State’s 2010 engagement with Tariq Ramadan through the White House’s crisis-time flirtation with the group, ending, of course, with Clapper’s idiotic comment about the Muslim Brotherhood being secular. But the Brotherhood doesn’t seem interested in helping us maintain our Middle East presence — that’s just not the vibe it gives off — so it’s doubtful that our gambits there will really help.

UAE? Unhappy. Jordan? Pretty annoyed. Saudi Arabia? So angry that the last phone call between Obama and Abdullah triggered rumors that the king had suffered a fatal heart attack out of sheer fury, with the Kingdom having already expressed a similar sentiment through Foreign Minister Al-Faisal.

Our list of allies, in other words, is growing dangerously short.

So naturally, someone in the White House thinks the time is ripe to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. Smart power!

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In Light of an International Crisis, Hindsight Is Always 20/20

The Egyptian revolution, even for those who believe the Obama administration mishandled key elements of it, provides a useful case study of why governing through a crisis is more challenging that commentating on one.

Consider the options the administration faced during the 18 days that shook the Arab world.

Early on in the uprising, the administration faced this decision: Should the U.S. send signals of support for Mubarak in the hope that his regime would not fall and, assuming it did not, help ensure that we retain strong relations with Mubarak? Or should the U.S. express solidarity with a movement that was aligned with American ideals and that was growing more powerful by the day?

Some people, like the estimable George Shultz, believe we should have practiced quiet diplomacy toward the Mubarak regime as it was weakening. Whatever tough message we wanted to send the Egyptian president should have been done sotto voce, through back channels. The reason, Shultz told Newt Gingrich, is that American allies would be alienated by our turning on a regime we had supported for decades.

On the other side of the ledger is the argument that for America to remain silent was a de facto endorsement of the Mubarak regime, which would alienate the pro-democracy forces that were sweeping Egypt and with whom we would eventually need to align.

Should President Obama have offered real-time commentary on events in the hope of shaping them? Or should the president have remained silent in order to protect him from saying things that, once events settle down, might compromise the standing of the United States? Should the president speak out in order to show leadership — or remain mute in order to show prudence?

Should our posture toward the Egyptian military have been one of strong encouragement and support — or should our words have contained threats of a cut-off of aid if the army turned on its own people? Is the threat of a cut-off of military aid more inclined to move the Egyptian military in our direction or more inclined to alienate it?

These decisions and many more were faced by the Obama administration during the past few weeks. Some judgments may seem more obvious than others. But none of them are easy, particularly when events are fluid, when powerful crosscurrents are colliding, when allies offer competing counsel, and when information is incomplete and often wrong.

Such is life in the White House during a crisis. Sometimes you make the right decision and things turn out badly; sometimes you make the wrong decision and things turn out fine. In the end, the degree of difficulty doesn’t really matter. Results do.

The Egyptian revolution, even for those who believe the Obama administration mishandled key elements of it, provides a useful case study of why governing through a crisis is more challenging that commentating on one.

Consider the options the administration faced during the 18 days that shook the Arab world.

Early on in the uprising, the administration faced this decision: Should the U.S. send signals of support for Mubarak in the hope that his regime would not fall and, assuming it did not, help ensure that we retain strong relations with Mubarak? Or should the U.S. express solidarity with a movement that was aligned with American ideals and that was growing more powerful by the day?

Some people, like the estimable George Shultz, believe we should have practiced quiet diplomacy toward the Mubarak regime as it was weakening. Whatever tough message we wanted to send the Egyptian president should have been done sotto voce, through back channels. The reason, Shultz told Newt Gingrich, is that American allies would be alienated by our turning on a regime we had supported for decades.

On the other side of the ledger is the argument that for America to remain silent was a de facto endorsement of the Mubarak regime, which would alienate the pro-democracy forces that were sweeping Egypt and with whom we would eventually need to align.

Should President Obama have offered real-time commentary on events in the hope of shaping them? Or should the president have remained silent in order to protect him from saying things that, once events settle down, might compromise the standing of the United States? Should the president speak out in order to show leadership — or remain mute in order to show prudence?

Should our posture toward the Egyptian military have been one of strong encouragement and support — or should our words have contained threats of a cut-off of aid if the army turned on its own people? Is the threat of a cut-off of military aid more inclined to move the Egyptian military in our direction or more inclined to alienate it?

These decisions and many more were faced by the Obama administration during the past few weeks. Some judgments may seem more obvious than others. But none of them are easy, particularly when events are fluid, when powerful crosscurrents are colliding, when allies offer competing counsel, and when information is incomplete and often wrong.

Such is life in the White House during a crisis. Sometimes you make the right decision and things turn out badly; sometimes you make the wrong decision and things turn out fine. In the end, the degree of difficulty doesn’t really matter. Results do.

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The Ugly Side of Egyptian Political Culture

How would a secular, liberal political party seek to gain the affection of ordinary Egyptians in an election in which it would be forced to compete against Islamists? The obvious answer is that it would have to in some way pander to the animus against Israel and Jews that has become such an important part of Egyptian culture in the past 30 years. It is in this context that we must interpret the news that Ayman Nour, head of the avowedly liberal and secular Egyptian opposition party, has said that the 1978 Camp David Accords that paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt are irrelevant and must be redrawn.

Nour’s position seemingly echoes the stand of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which earlier this month restated its desire to abrogate the peace with Israel. But seen in the context of Egyptian politics, we have to suppose that Nour’s call for new negotiations over the terms agreed to in 1978 by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (and then formalized in the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries), rather than an abrupt cutoff, must be considered a more moderate stance than that of the Brotherhood, an organization linked by ideology and longstanding ties to Hamas.

Nour is, after all, a genuine democrat and a man who has suffered for his principles. Mubarak imprisoned him for four years after he had the chutzpah to challenge him in the 2005 presidential elections. Nour got a reported 7 percent of the votes cast in a sham ballot whose purpose was to rubber-stamp Mubarak’s continued hold on power; many observers estimate that Nour probably got twice as many votes as were credited to him. Nour was also a prominent member of the recent Cairo protests against Mubarak and was wounded when he was hit in the head by a rock.

The problem here is that while Mubarak’s government kept the peace with Israel, albeit coldly, it compensated for this by allowing anti-Semitism and incitement against Israel to become deeply entrenched within Egyptian popular culture. Under the circumstances, there is simply no way that a secular party committed to democracy can stand up against the Islamists without paying lip service to the Jew-hatred that is the lingua franca of so much of that country’s political discourse.

Acknowledging this fact does not mean that we should scorn the idea of democracy for Egypt, since the creation of a democratic legal order in which tyrants or demagogues will not need recourse to exploiting anti-Semitism is the only hope for a peaceful future for the region. But Nour’s statement illustrates the challenges that any sort of democratic process faces in Egypt. It is understandable that after having always being denied a voice in their country’s government, Egyptians would demand elections for a new one. But the predicate for genuine democracy remains the creation of institutions that will protect individual rights and the rule of law in Egypt, not a vote in which either the army or violent Islamists will use their muscle to wipe out opposition in much the same way that Mubarak has done.

How would a secular, liberal political party seek to gain the affection of ordinary Egyptians in an election in which it would be forced to compete against Islamists? The obvious answer is that it would have to in some way pander to the animus against Israel and Jews that has become such an important part of Egyptian culture in the past 30 years. It is in this context that we must interpret the news that Ayman Nour, head of the avowedly liberal and secular Egyptian opposition party, has said that the 1978 Camp David Accords that paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt are irrelevant and must be redrawn.

Nour’s position seemingly echoes the stand of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which earlier this month restated its desire to abrogate the peace with Israel. But seen in the context of Egyptian politics, we have to suppose that Nour’s call for new negotiations over the terms agreed to in 1978 by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (and then formalized in the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries), rather than an abrupt cutoff, must be considered a more moderate stance than that of the Brotherhood, an organization linked by ideology and longstanding ties to Hamas.

Nour is, after all, a genuine democrat and a man who has suffered for his principles. Mubarak imprisoned him for four years after he had the chutzpah to challenge him in the 2005 presidential elections. Nour got a reported 7 percent of the votes cast in a sham ballot whose purpose was to rubber-stamp Mubarak’s continued hold on power; many observers estimate that Nour probably got twice as many votes as were credited to him. Nour was also a prominent member of the recent Cairo protests against Mubarak and was wounded when he was hit in the head by a rock.

The problem here is that while Mubarak’s government kept the peace with Israel, albeit coldly, it compensated for this by allowing anti-Semitism and incitement against Israel to become deeply entrenched within Egyptian popular culture. Under the circumstances, there is simply no way that a secular party committed to democracy can stand up against the Islamists without paying lip service to the Jew-hatred that is the lingua franca of so much of that country’s political discourse.

Acknowledging this fact does not mean that we should scorn the idea of democracy for Egypt, since the creation of a democratic legal order in which tyrants or demagogues will not need recourse to exploiting anti-Semitism is the only hope for a peaceful future for the region. But Nour’s statement illustrates the challenges that any sort of democratic process faces in Egypt. It is understandable that after having always being denied a voice in their country’s government, Egyptians would demand elections for a new one. But the predicate for genuine democracy remains the creation of institutions that will protect individual rights and the rule of law in Egypt, not a vote in which either the army or violent Islamists will use their muscle to wipe out opposition in much the same way that Mubarak has done.

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Child Abuse, Bigotry Rampant in Britain’s Muslim Schools

At one elementary school, children as young as six are hit, slapped, and kicked by a teacher up to 10 times in a three-hour period. At another, students are taught that Hindus drink cow urine and have “no intellect.” These are just two instances of disturbing classroom behavior caught on camera by a Channel 4 investigation into Britain’s Islamic schools:

Filming intermittently over a period of four months, the camera recorded children being taught a hardline, intolerant and highly anti-social version of Islam. …

In just two days of filming in December 2010, the camera recorded the teacher hitting children as young as six or seven at least ten times, in less than three hours of lessons.

From what we could see, every single blow was pretty much unprovoked. We soon realised that the beatings were routine. The behaviour of the boys, the way they flinched and backed away when he approached, indicated that they were long-accustomed to being hit and kicked as they studied.

This is only the most recent probe into Britain’s Muslim education system. Another report from last November found that anti-Semitism was widespread in the classrooms and textbooks, and that many of the schools followed the Saudi Arabian curriculum.

Due to the prevalent political correctness in Britain, the government has been sluggish in combating the bigotry preached at these schools. But in light of these new revelations, will they silently allow acts of child abuse to continue in the name of “multiculturalism”?

At one elementary school, children as young as six are hit, slapped, and kicked by a teacher up to 10 times in a three-hour period. At another, students are taught that Hindus drink cow urine and have “no intellect.” These are just two instances of disturbing classroom behavior caught on camera by a Channel 4 investigation into Britain’s Islamic schools:

Filming intermittently over a period of four months, the camera recorded children being taught a hardline, intolerant and highly anti-social version of Islam. …

In just two days of filming in December 2010, the camera recorded the teacher hitting children as young as six or seven at least ten times, in less than three hours of lessons.

From what we could see, every single blow was pretty much unprovoked. We soon realised that the beatings were routine. The behaviour of the boys, the way they flinched and backed away when he approached, indicated that they were long-accustomed to being hit and kicked as they studied.

This is only the most recent probe into Britain’s Muslim education system. Another report from last November found that anti-Semitism was widespread in the classrooms and textbooks, and that many of the schools followed the Saudi Arabian curriculum.

Due to the prevalent political correctness in Britain, the government has been sluggish in combating the bigotry preached at these schools. But in light of these new revelations, will they silently allow acts of child abuse to continue in the name of “multiculturalism”?

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Don’t Let Iraq Fall Down the Memory Hole

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, I had an op-ed warning that if we’re not careful, we could still lose the Iraq war through sheer inattention. I am deeply concerned about the Obama administration’s hands-off attitude toward Iraq. We are on auto-pilot now to pull out all 50,000 of our troops by the end of the year. There has been no serious effort made to negotiate a new agreement with the Iraqi government that would allow us to maintain a small but substantial commitment of troops who could act as peacekeepers. Given the explosions that continue to go off all too regularly in Iraq — and given the underlying sectarian and political tensions — this would seem to be the prudent thing to do. But it hasn’t been done, which means that, unless things change fast, Iraq could be on its own next year, with deeply worrisome implications not only for that country’s future but also for the future of U.S. interests in the region.

The biggest problem right now is that almost no one in the U.S. is paying attention to Iraq anymore — they’re certainly not focusing on it in the White House. There are, however, a few honorable exceptions, including Ken Pollack of Brookings and Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. They are two of the co-authors of an important report that came out from Brookings late last year: “Unfinished Business: An American Strategy for Iraq Moving Forward.” The report offers an expert survey of the current state of play, lays out core U.S. interests, and suggests how we need to go about addressing them. This is the best way-forward blueprint I’ve read. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. I fear, however, that it won’t, as we allow Iraq to slip down the memory hole. I also fear that we will be reminded of its importance only when something terrible occurs.

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, I had an op-ed warning that if we’re not careful, we could still lose the Iraq war through sheer inattention. I am deeply concerned about the Obama administration’s hands-off attitude toward Iraq. We are on auto-pilot now to pull out all 50,000 of our troops by the end of the year. There has been no serious effort made to negotiate a new agreement with the Iraqi government that would allow us to maintain a small but substantial commitment of troops who could act as peacekeepers. Given the explosions that continue to go off all too regularly in Iraq — and given the underlying sectarian and political tensions — this would seem to be the prudent thing to do. But it hasn’t been done, which means that, unless things change fast, Iraq could be on its own next year, with deeply worrisome implications not only for that country’s future but also for the future of U.S. interests in the region.

The biggest problem right now is that almost no one in the U.S. is paying attention to Iraq anymore — they’re certainly not focusing on it in the White House. There are, however, a few honorable exceptions, including Ken Pollack of Brookings and Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. They are two of the co-authors of an important report that came out from Brookings late last year: “Unfinished Business: An American Strategy for Iraq Moving Forward.” The report offers an expert survey of the current state of play, lays out core U.S. interests, and suggests how we need to go about addressing them. This is the best way-forward blueprint I’ve read. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. I fear, however, that it won’t, as we allow Iraq to slip down the memory hole. I also fear that we will be reminded of its importance only when something terrible occurs.

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New America Foundation Director Says It’s Time to Consider a One-State Solution

Question: Will J Street still be inviting the director of the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force to its conference later this month, now that he’s said we should begin to consider a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

NAF’s Amjad Atallah made the comment to 927 Magazine after he was asked whether he thought it was time to start discussing possible ‘One-State solutions’ for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Atallah responded that, “Without the possibility of real partition, Palestinians in Israel and in the Diaspora can be expected to reassert their interests and may find willing allies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Non-partition solutions have now become a necessary part of the discourse.”

J Street has made support of a two-state solution the centerpiece of its organization’s philosophy, but Atallah is still listed as confirmed to speak at J Street’s conference on February 26.

“The two-state solution represents the best way to ensure that Israel remains a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people,” J Street says on its website. In fact, during the 2008 presidential election, J Street attacked John McCain for not being “clear” enough about his support for a two-state solution.

“We have good reason to be concerned about John McCain’s views on Israel,” wrote J Street. “He has actively pursued the support of those who oppose a two-state solution on the evangelical right like Pastor John Hagee and notorious right-wing Jewish financier Sheldon Adelson, who has committed to raising up to $250,000 for McCain’s campaign.”

Of course, while McCain hasn’t indicated support for a one-state solution, Atallah now has. Let’s see if J Street gives Atallah the same treatment.

Question: Will J Street still be inviting the director of the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force to its conference later this month, now that he’s said we should begin to consider a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

NAF’s Amjad Atallah made the comment to 927 Magazine after he was asked whether he thought it was time to start discussing possible ‘One-State solutions’ for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Atallah responded that, “Without the possibility of real partition, Palestinians in Israel and in the Diaspora can be expected to reassert their interests and may find willing allies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Non-partition solutions have now become a necessary part of the discourse.”

J Street has made support of a two-state solution the centerpiece of its organization’s philosophy, but Atallah is still listed as confirmed to speak at J Street’s conference on February 26.

“The two-state solution represents the best way to ensure that Israel remains a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people,” J Street says on its website. In fact, during the 2008 presidential election, J Street attacked John McCain for not being “clear” enough about his support for a two-state solution.

“We have good reason to be concerned about John McCain’s views on Israel,” wrote J Street. “He has actively pursued the support of those who oppose a two-state solution on the evangelical right like Pastor John Hagee and notorious right-wing Jewish financier Sheldon Adelson, who has committed to raising up to $250,000 for McCain’s campaign.”

Of course, while McCain hasn’t indicated support for a one-state solution, Atallah now has. Let’s see if J Street gives Atallah the same treatment.

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Eyes on Iran

It is not easy to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in Iran today, but reports are trickling out through traditional media and on Twitter. It seems that police have put opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest. Apparently “thousands” are protesting in Tehran and other major cities. Reuters reports that Iranian forces have fired tear gas at protesters, and Twitter is abuzz with news of protesters showing up at hospitals with blunt-trauma injuries. Most significantly, the protest crowds are apparently swelling as darkness falls in Iran. This was, not to get too far ahead of things, the pattern in the protests in Egypt.

It’s worth remembering that most protests come and go, and it’s the extremely rare historical moment that turns demonstration into revolution. But what could make revolution a possibility in Iran is if the regime were to wildly overreact in its crackdown. Eliciting such overreaction is often the tactical goal of the revolutionary. Fence-sitters are not eager to give up a modicum of stability and a barely tolerable existence; but when there’s a bloodbath, they too take to the streets in disgust. Given the regional political temperature, the Iranian regime’s historical inclination to absolute security, and the new suspicion that Washington is content to be a witness to atrocity, there could be a perfect paranoid storm brewing in the minds of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad.

It is not easy to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in Iran today, but reports are trickling out through traditional media and on Twitter. It seems that police have put opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest. Apparently “thousands” are protesting in Tehran and other major cities. Reuters reports that Iranian forces have fired tear gas at protesters, and Twitter is abuzz with news of protesters showing up at hospitals with blunt-trauma injuries. Most significantly, the protest crowds are apparently swelling as darkness falls in Iran. This was, not to get too far ahead of things, the pattern in the protests in Egypt.

It’s worth remembering that most protests come and go, and it’s the extremely rare historical moment that turns demonstration into revolution. But what could make revolution a possibility in Iran is if the regime were to wildly overreact in its crackdown. Eliciting such overreaction is often the tactical goal of the revolutionary. Fence-sitters are not eager to give up a modicum of stability and a barely tolerable existence; but when there’s a bloodbath, they too take to the streets in disgust. Given the regional political temperature, the Iranian regime’s historical inclination to absolute security, and the new suspicion that Washington is content to be a witness to atrocity, there could be a perfect paranoid storm brewing in the minds of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad.

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Peace with Jordan Gets a Bit Colder

Relations between Israel and Jordan have always been quite a bit warmer than the ice-cold peace that existed between the Jewish state and Egypt. But that is not the same thing as genuine warmth or even a widespread acceptance of the legitimacy and the permanence of Israel. Hostility for Israel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is actually quite virulent, though it was overshadowed for so long by the exemplary behavior of the late King Hussein.

Hussein’s image as a genuine peacemaker was solidified in the aftermath of an incident along the border with Israel in 1997, when a Jordanian soldier went on a shooting spree, killing seven Jewish girls who were there on a school outing at a spot called the Peace Island. Hussein went to the homes of the bereaved parents and personally asked for forgiveness. His humility and decency under these circumstances were so praiseworthy that his behavior seemed to overshadow the original crime.

While Hussein’s successor, King Abdullah, has kept the peace with Israel, the sins of Jew-hatred that were so much a part of the cold peace with Egypt have become unmistakable in that country as well. Ironically, an incident connected to the actions of the king’s late father reminds us that this strain of hate is not only alive and well in Jordan but is also championed by an influential member of the king’s government.

The Associated Press reports today that Jordan’s minister of justice, Hussein Mjali, joined a rally in Amman calling for the release of Ahmed Daqamseh, the Jordanian soldier who was sentenced to life in prison by a military court for the murder of those seven Israeli girls whose deaths King Hussein publicly mourned. This is partly explained by the fact that Mjali was the killer’s defense lawyer at his trial. But as far back as 2009, the MEMRI.org media-monitoring group noted that Jordanian “human rights” groups were taking up Daqamseh’s case and treating his crime as a matter of an understandable instance of “patriotic rage.”

While there doesn’t appear to be any real movement toward the murderer’s release, let alone a Jordanian repudiation of the peace treaty with Israel, the justice minister’s decision to join this demonstration may give us an indication of just how deep anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments run even in this most “moderate” of Arab countries.

Relations between Israel and Jordan have always been quite a bit warmer than the ice-cold peace that existed between the Jewish state and Egypt. But that is not the same thing as genuine warmth or even a widespread acceptance of the legitimacy and the permanence of Israel. Hostility for Israel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is actually quite virulent, though it was overshadowed for so long by the exemplary behavior of the late King Hussein.

Hussein’s image as a genuine peacemaker was solidified in the aftermath of an incident along the border with Israel in 1997, when a Jordanian soldier went on a shooting spree, killing seven Jewish girls who were there on a school outing at a spot called the Peace Island. Hussein went to the homes of the bereaved parents and personally asked for forgiveness. His humility and decency under these circumstances were so praiseworthy that his behavior seemed to overshadow the original crime.

While Hussein’s successor, King Abdullah, has kept the peace with Israel, the sins of Jew-hatred that were so much a part of the cold peace with Egypt have become unmistakable in that country as well. Ironically, an incident connected to the actions of the king’s late father reminds us that this strain of hate is not only alive and well in Jordan but is also championed by an influential member of the king’s government.

The Associated Press reports today that Jordan’s minister of justice, Hussein Mjali, joined a rally in Amman calling for the release of Ahmed Daqamseh, the Jordanian soldier who was sentenced to life in prison by a military court for the murder of those seven Israeli girls whose deaths King Hussein publicly mourned. This is partly explained by the fact that Mjali was the killer’s defense lawyer at his trial. But as far back as 2009, the MEMRI.org media-monitoring group noted that Jordanian “human rights” groups were taking up Daqamseh’s case and treating his crime as a matter of an understandable instance of “patriotic rage.”

While there doesn’t appear to be any real movement toward the murderer’s release, let alone a Jordanian repudiation of the peace treaty with Israel, the justice minister’s decision to join this demonstration may give us an indication of just how deep anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments run even in this most “moderate” of Arab countries.

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The Guardian Admits to Doctoring ‘Palestinian Papers’ Quote

The Guardian wants so badly to portray the Israelis as land-thieves uninterested in peace that apparently the paper will even stoop to doctoring quotes in order to make this point.

Just Journalism is reporting that the Guardian has issued a correction for taking a Tzipi Livni quote from the Palestinian Papers so wildly out of context that the meaning was completely distorted.

Here is the Livni quote as the newspaper originally printed it on January 24:

‘The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

And here is the actual quote (with the Guardian’s original excerpt in bold):

“I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that Israel takes more land, that the Palestinian state will be impossible, the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

The Guardian acknowledged over the weekend that the quote “was cut in a way that may have given a misleading impression.” But that’s an understatement. As Just Journalism wrote, “By cutting the quote to exclude the first part of Tzipi Livni’s sentence, The Guardian portrayed the Israeli politician as brazenly admitting a policy of making a Palestinian state impossible.”

And maybe that’s exactly why the Palestinian Papers were leaked to the Guardian in the first place — because the leaker knew the newspaper could be counted on to spin and misreport the information to conform to its anti-Israel, pro-Hamas views.

The Guardian wants so badly to portray the Israelis as land-thieves uninterested in peace that apparently the paper will even stoop to doctoring quotes in order to make this point.

Just Journalism is reporting that the Guardian has issued a correction for taking a Tzipi Livni quote from the Palestinian Papers so wildly out of context that the meaning was completely distorted.

Here is the Livni quote as the newspaper originally printed it on January 24:

‘The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

And here is the actual quote (with the Guardian’s original excerpt in bold):

“I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that Israel takes more land, that the Palestinian state will be impossible, the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

The Guardian acknowledged over the weekend that the quote “was cut in a way that may have given a misleading impression.” But that’s an understatement. As Just Journalism wrote, “By cutting the quote to exclude the first part of Tzipi Livni’s sentence, The Guardian portrayed the Israeli politician as brazenly admitting a policy of making a Palestinian state impossible.”

And maybe that’s exactly why the Palestinian Papers were leaked to the Guardian in the first place — because the leaker knew the newspaper could be counted on to spin and misreport the information to conform to its anti-Israel, pro-Hamas views.

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Optimism and the Egyptian Revolution

Paul Wolfowitz, who has been on the forefront of several successful democratic transitions in the world, was interviewed by Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal this weekend. Wolfowitz was asked how he felt about the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime.

“I think it’s a terrific vindication for the Egyptian people,” Wolfowitz said.

And the people who said for years that somehow Arabs didn’t care about freedom are just dead wrong. The Tunisians were out there making human shapes that could be photographed on Google Maps. It was Arabic letters for the word “freedom,” horreya. In Egypt, they were carrying signs that said, “This isn’t about bread, it’s about freedom.”  This wasn’t a bread riot. This was a freedom demonstration. And that’s a huge step forward. I have to say, also, that I had optimism, and I retain it, that Arabs are capable of freedom. But that’s the next chapter here, and it hasn’t been written yet.

When asked what the U.S. can do now to nurture this transition and make sure it goes in the right direction, he answered: “Well, for one thing, I think enthusiasm is in order. … Look, when the tide of freedom is sweeping, we should love it. And when it’s headed in the wrong direction, then we’ll have a lot more credibility to say, ‘Whoa, this isn’t freedom anymore.’”

Any conservative even remotely acquainted with our Burkean roots should be cautious about revolutions, which can go awry. But as we have seen countless times, particularly since the 1980s, they can also succeed. And within some conservative precincts, there has been reluctance even to share in the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 can still go bad — but the animating spirit behind it was stirring. Recognizing both things at once shouldn’t be asking too much.

Paul Wolfowitz, who has been on the forefront of several successful democratic transitions in the world, was interviewed by Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal this weekend. Wolfowitz was asked how he felt about the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime.

“I think it’s a terrific vindication for the Egyptian people,” Wolfowitz said.

And the people who said for years that somehow Arabs didn’t care about freedom are just dead wrong. The Tunisians were out there making human shapes that could be photographed on Google Maps. It was Arabic letters for the word “freedom,” horreya. In Egypt, they were carrying signs that said, “This isn’t about bread, it’s about freedom.”  This wasn’t a bread riot. This was a freedom demonstration. And that’s a huge step forward. I have to say, also, that I had optimism, and I retain it, that Arabs are capable of freedom. But that’s the next chapter here, and it hasn’t been written yet.

When asked what the U.S. can do now to nurture this transition and make sure it goes in the right direction, he answered: “Well, for one thing, I think enthusiasm is in order. … Look, when the tide of freedom is sweeping, we should love it. And when it’s headed in the wrong direction, then we’ll have a lot more credibility to say, ‘Whoa, this isn’t freedom anymore.’”

Any conservative even remotely acquainted with our Burkean roots should be cautious about revolutions, which can go awry. But as we have seen countless times, particularly since the 1980s, they can also succeed. And within some conservative precincts, there has been reluctance even to share in the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 can still go bad — but the animating spirit behind it was stirring. Recognizing both things at once shouldn’t be asking too much.

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Here Come de (Uncorrupted) Judge

The New York Times is reporting this morning that elected judges in New York State will soon be barred from hearing cases in which one of the parties is represented by a lawyer who contributed more than $2,500 within the past two years to the judge’s election campaign. Other states have been moving in this direction, but New York’s new rule will be tougher and give the judges no leeway in deciding whether to recuse themselves.

It’s about time. To be sure, things haven’t been as corrupt as they were in the mid-19th century, when the English Fraser’s Magazine wrote that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer. … It was absolutely essential to each party to have some magistrate in whom they could place implicit confidence in an hour of sudden emergency.”

But hearing cases where the lawyers have made large contributions fails the standard set by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when he wrote: “It is not enough for a judge to be above impropriety. He must be above the appearance of impropriety.” There is considerable evidence that money does indeed influence judicial decision making.

Electing judges is a peculiarly American idea that has not spread elsewhere, powerful evidence that it’s a lousy idea. But Americans have proved very reluctant to give up this aspect of “Jacksonian democracy.” William Howard Taft, a great lawyer if not a great president, vetoed the Arizona statehood bill because the state constitution called for the election of judges. Taft argued that that was not “a Republican Form of Government,” which Article 4 of the Constitution requires the United States to guarantee to each state. Arizona then called a constitutional convention and removed the election-of-judges provision. Taft then agreed to statehood. Once a state, Arizona promptly convened a new convention, put the election of judges back in its constitution, and there was nothing Taft could do about it.

But if we have to have elected judges, restricting them to hearing cases where the lawyers did not give them a lot of money would seem an idea whose time has long since come. It might also bring down the amount of money spent on judicial campaigns, as lawyers aren’t likely to donate more than $2,500 every two years. There’s not much point to bribing (sorry, contributing to a campaign fund for) a judge who would then be barred from hearing the lawyer’s cases.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that elected judges in New York State will soon be barred from hearing cases in which one of the parties is represented by a lawyer who contributed more than $2,500 within the past two years to the judge’s election campaign. Other states have been moving in this direction, but New York’s new rule will be tougher and give the judges no leeway in deciding whether to recuse themselves.

It’s about time. To be sure, things haven’t been as corrupt as they were in the mid-19th century, when the English Fraser’s Magazine wrote that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer. … It was absolutely essential to each party to have some magistrate in whom they could place implicit confidence in an hour of sudden emergency.”

But hearing cases where the lawyers have made large contributions fails the standard set by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when he wrote: “It is not enough for a judge to be above impropriety. He must be above the appearance of impropriety.” There is considerable evidence that money does indeed influence judicial decision making.

Electing judges is a peculiarly American idea that has not spread elsewhere, powerful evidence that it’s a lousy idea. But Americans have proved very reluctant to give up this aspect of “Jacksonian democracy.” William Howard Taft, a great lawyer if not a great president, vetoed the Arizona statehood bill because the state constitution called for the election of judges. Taft argued that that was not “a Republican Form of Government,” which Article 4 of the Constitution requires the United States to guarantee to each state. Arizona then called a constitutional convention and removed the election-of-judges provision. Taft then agreed to statehood. Once a state, Arizona promptly convened a new convention, put the election of judges back in its constitution, and there was nothing Taft could do about it.

But if we have to have elected judges, restricting them to hearing cases where the lawyers did not give them a lot of money would seem an idea whose time has long since come. It might also bring down the amount of money spent on judicial campaigns, as lawyers aren’t likely to donate more than $2,500 every two years. There’s not much point to bribing (sorry, contributing to a campaign fund for) a judge who would then be barred from hearing the lawyer’s cases.

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