Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 16, 2011

Re: U.S. Offering to Join in Israel Condemnation at UN

Omri, I have no doubt the Foreign Policy story that says the U.S. will cast a vote hostile to Israel later this week in the UN Security Council is genuine. And horrifying. For, of course, the U.S. has absolute veto power over any Security Council action, and so any action that is not a veto is prima facie hostile to Israel, which really is, right now, our only viable ally in the Middle East.

But given the delicacy of the matter, why has it gone public? There are two possible reasons.

The first would be to create a fait accompli in which the U.S. has no choice but to join in the condemnation of Israel. That’s what’s suggested by the spin in the Foreign Policy story attempting to establish the ludicrous premise that it is only acting in this manner to forestall a worse Security Council resolution.

It’s a preposterous plan, but diplomats with no political understanding of American public opinion and leftist tunnel vision might think it a good one. That could include U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose own instincts are none too good in this direction.

The second would be to kill it by making it public. That seems unlikely, given the way Colum Lynch’s piece was written, but who knows? The last thing Obama needs is a domestic political firestorm over Israel-Palestine policy when that specific can of worms couldn’t be any less significant.

And a firestorm there will be. Word of this leaked during the same week that Gallup reported a favorability rating for Israel in the United States of 69 percent, compared to 17 percent for the Palestinians (who have the second-lowest standing among Americans when it comes to these matters, higher only than Iran).

Forget for a moment what such a vote suggests about the worldview of the Obama administration at a time of potentially historic peril for Israel, not only from Iran but also from what might happen as a result of the uprisings in Arab countries. An anti-Israel vote at the U.N. with these kinds of numbers would be would be a demented political act for the Obama administration, which spent much of 2010 trying to undo the damage caused by the president’s bizarrely counterproductive temper tantrum against Bibi Netanyahu—which scuttled a year’s worth of diplomatic efforts by his own negotiator, George Mitchell.

Has Obama learned nothing, really? We’ll see. Oh, we shall see.

Omri, I have no doubt the Foreign Policy story that says the U.S. will cast a vote hostile to Israel later this week in the UN Security Council is genuine. And horrifying. For, of course, the U.S. has absolute veto power over any Security Council action, and so any action that is not a veto is prima facie hostile to Israel, which really is, right now, our only viable ally in the Middle East.

But given the delicacy of the matter, why has it gone public? There are two possible reasons.

The first would be to create a fait accompli in which the U.S. has no choice but to join in the condemnation of Israel. That’s what’s suggested by the spin in the Foreign Policy story attempting to establish the ludicrous premise that it is only acting in this manner to forestall a worse Security Council resolution.

It’s a preposterous plan, but diplomats with no political understanding of American public opinion and leftist tunnel vision might think it a good one. That could include U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose own instincts are none too good in this direction.

The second would be to kill it by making it public. That seems unlikely, given the way Colum Lynch’s piece was written, but who knows? The last thing Obama needs is a domestic political firestorm over Israel-Palestine policy when that specific can of worms couldn’t be any less significant.

And a firestorm there will be. Word of this leaked during the same week that Gallup reported a favorability rating for Israel in the United States of 69 percent, compared to 17 percent for the Palestinians (who have the second-lowest standing among Americans when it comes to these matters, higher only than Iran).

Forget for a moment what such a vote suggests about the worldview of the Obama administration at a time of potentially historic peril for Israel, not only from Iran but also from what might happen as a result of the uprisings in Arab countries. An anti-Israel vote at the U.N. with these kinds of numbers would be would be a demented political act for the Obama administration, which spent much of 2010 trying to undo the damage caused by the president’s bizarrely counterproductive temper tantrum against Bibi Netanyahu—which scuttled a year’s worth of diplomatic efforts by his own negotiator, George Mitchell.

Has Obama learned nothing, really? We’ll see. Oh, we shall see.

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U.S. Offering to Join in Security Council Condemnation of Israel

Reports on this started leaking last night, with Bloomberg reporting that U.S. diplomats were shopping around an offer to Arab governments to get them to withdraw their UN resolution condemning Israel for settlement activity. Those reports had the U.S. trading increased pressure on Israel for a withdrawal of the Arab-backed resolution.

Apparently, that didn’t work out, or the initial reports were wrong. This just-posted Foreign Policy article says that Ambassador Susan Rice came back with an even bigger bus under which they could throw Israel, this one carrying the imprimatur of a formal UN Security Council condemnation plus an assortment of other international anti-Israel measures. That offer was, naturally, declined:

The U.S. informed Arab governments Friday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal. But the Palestinian’s rejected the American offer. … [Rice] outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group. … [I]n exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.

In a way, this is a natural follow-up to the administration’s bumbling in Egypt, where they managed to alienate all parties in the Middle East except the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Iran’s assorted proxies. This gesture won’t win us any lasting goodwill from Arab elites. WikiLeaks showed that they care far more about geopolitical stability than they do about the settlements, such that the spectacle of the White House abandoning a second ally for the second week in a row would be met with worried chagrin, regardless of what they say out loud. Read More

Reports on this started leaking last night, with Bloomberg reporting that U.S. diplomats were shopping around an offer to Arab governments to get them to withdraw their UN resolution condemning Israel for settlement activity. Those reports had the U.S. trading increased pressure on Israel for a withdrawal of the Arab-backed resolution.

Apparently, that didn’t work out, or the initial reports were wrong. This just-posted Foreign Policy article says that Ambassador Susan Rice came back with an even bigger bus under which they could throw Israel, this one carrying the imprimatur of a formal UN Security Council condemnation plus an assortment of other international anti-Israel measures. That offer was, naturally, declined:

The U.S. informed Arab governments Friday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal. But the Palestinian’s rejected the American offer. … [Rice] outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group. … [I]n exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.

In a way, this is a natural follow-up to the administration’s bumbling in Egypt, where they managed to alienate all parties in the Middle East except the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Iran’s assorted proxies. This gesture won’t win us any lasting goodwill from Arab elites. WikiLeaks showed that they care far more about geopolitical stability than they do about the settlements, such that the spectacle of the White House abandoning a second ally for the second week in a row would be met with worried chagrin, regardless of what they say out loud.

More to the point, and by now out of genuine curiosity: who exactly does the Obama administration envision having as a Middle East ally, say, six months from now? Strategic administration leaks about the Egypt crisis have already signaled a renewed chill in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. U.S. backing for a UN resolution wouldn’t detonate the alliance — military-to-military ties are too strong for that — but it would be the end of cooperation between this White House and this Israeli government, a government that a militarily and now diplomatically besieged Israeli public would rally behind.

And that’s before we get to how our UN mission, representing the world’s only hyperpower, seems to believe that “bargaining” means “getting progressively closer to the other side’s position.” We’re negotiating with the likes of Libya and the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon over whether we should protect one of our last Middle East allies against a biased UN lynch mob. It’s almost difficult to believe that the Iranians, per J.E. Dyer’s must-read post, are at this very moment literally sailing their way into regional hegemony.

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Mitch Daniels at CPAC

If you haven’t read the CPAC speech by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, you should. It has won praise from various quarters (including here and here).

As a statement on the major domestic threats we face — our fiscal crisis more narrowly and the efforts to undermine self-government more broadly — the speech is superb. So is its tone. Civility and outreach are signs of strength rather than weakness. And the peroration reminds us that, in the words from the diary of John Adams, “Great things are wanted to be done.”

Some on the right have criticized the speech, arguing (a) it struck only one note and (b) “it makes no sense to sound disrespectful to political warriors like Rush Limbaugh who kept conservatism inspired during the last two years in the Obama/Reid/Pelosi wilderness.”

The speech itself was focused on the economy. But, of course, some speeches are devoted to a single topic, while others cover the landscape. Daniels used this speech to address our fiscal imbalance in depth rather than with banal talking points. That is, I think, a strength rather than a weakness.

As for the second charge, here is what Daniels said: “We must be the vanguard of recovery, but we cannot do it alone. We have learned in Indiana, big change requires big majorities. We will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean. Who surf past C-SPAN to get to SportsCenter. Who, if they’d ever heard of CPAC, would assume it was a cruise ship accessory.”

This hardly qualifies as disrespectful toward conservative talk radio, C-SPAN, or CPAC. Daniels’s point is that Republicans need to appeal to their base and reach beyond it, which has been the formula for political victory pretty much since the beginning of time.

I have no idea whether Daniels will run; and if he does, whether he would be the best nominee. But his CPAC speech, as a matter of substance and tone, was masterful.

If you haven’t read the CPAC speech by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, you should. It has won praise from various quarters (including here and here).

As a statement on the major domestic threats we face — our fiscal crisis more narrowly and the efforts to undermine self-government more broadly — the speech is superb. So is its tone. Civility and outreach are signs of strength rather than weakness. And the peroration reminds us that, in the words from the diary of John Adams, “Great things are wanted to be done.”

Some on the right have criticized the speech, arguing (a) it struck only one note and (b) “it makes no sense to sound disrespectful to political warriors like Rush Limbaugh who kept conservatism inspired during the last two years in the Obama/Reid/Pelosi wilderness.”

The speech itself was focused on the economy. But, of course, some speeches are devoted to a single topic, while others cover the landscape. Daniels used this speech to address our fiscal imbalance in depth rather than with banal talking points. That is, I think, a strength rather than a weakness.

As for the second charge, here is what Daniels said: “We must be the vanguard of recovery, but we cannot do it alone. We have learned in Indiana, big change requires big majorities. We will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean. Who surf past C-SPAN to get to SportsCenter. Who, if they’d ever heard of CPAC, would assume it was a cruise ship accessory.”

This hardly qualifies as disrespectful toward conservative talk radio, C-SPAN, or CPAC. Daniels’s point is that Republicans need to appeal to their base and reach beyond it, which has been the formula for political victory pretty much since the beginning of time.

I have no idea whether Daniels will run; and if he does, whether he would be the best nominee. But his CPAC speech, as a matter of substance and tone, was masterful.

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Arguing for What Was Previously Self-Evident

When Benjamin Netanyahu gave his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, becoming the fourth Israeli prime minister in a row to support a two-state solution, he set forth two conditions: that a Palestinian state be demilitarized and that it recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

In one sense, Netanyahu’s position simply expressed an obvious condition for a two-state solution: it makes no sense to create a state for the Palestinian people if it will not recognize Israel as the state for the Jewish one. But Netanyahu’s position was viewed by many as introducing a new condition not demanded in prior negotiations — perhaps brought forward precisely to preclude new negotiations or as an obstacle to the success of such negotiations if they got started.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has released a comprehensive paper by Tal Becker, a former Israeli lead negotiator in the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, entitled “The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State: A Reassessment.” It is an extraordinarily thoughtful discussion of the historical, political, and strategic considerations in the recognition claim.

One of the points the study makes clear is that Netanyahu’s position was new only because it was responding to something that was also new: the rising level of criticism of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, which was previously so obvious that no explicit assertion was necessary:

Israeli leaders and the mainstream Israeli public perceive calls for a binational state, criticism of Israel as a “racist” or an “apartheid” entity, the demand for a right of return for Palestinian refugees, and demographic trends a direct threat to the Zionist enterprise … The Israeli establishment has responded by seeking renewed public recognition and international legitimacy for Jewish statehood, if not in isolation, then at least in the context of establishing a Palestinian state. …

This is not a new demand. It is a reaction to the sense that what was once largely self-evident is now under threat. … In this context, bolstering support for the continuing moral, legal, and political validity of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination has acquired significance with Israel not merely as an aspiration, but as a component of the national defense.

Here is how self-evident Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state once was: the 1947 UN Resolution endorsing the partition of Palestine mentioned the term “Jewish state” no fewer than 30 times. More than 63 years later, even the “peace partner” is willing only to let Israel call itself whatever it wants but not to recognize its legitimacy as a Jewish state — not even as part of a “peace agreement” that would give its own people a state.

When Benjamin Netanyahu gave his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, becoming the fourth Israeli prime minister in a row to support a two-state solution, he set forth two conditions: that a Palestinian state be demilitarized and that it recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

In one sense, Netanyahu’s position simply expressed an obvious condition for a two-state solution: it makes no sense to create a state for the Palestinian people if it will not recognize Israel as the state for the Jewish one. But Netanyahu’s position was viewed by many as introducing a new condition not demanded in prior negotiations — perhaps brought forward precisely to preclude new negotiations or as an obstacle to the success of such negotiations if they got started.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has released a comprehensive paper by Tal Becker, a former Israeli lead negotiator in the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, entitled “The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State: A Reassessment.” It is an extraordinarily thoughtful discussion of the historical, political, and strategic considerations in the recognition claim.

One of the points the study makes clear is that Netanyahu’s position was new only because it was responding to something that was also new: the rising level of criticism of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, which was previously so obvious that no explicit assertion was necessary:

Israeli leaders and the mainstream Israeli public perceive calls for a binational state, criticism of Israel as a “racist” or an “apartheid” entity, the demand for a right of return for Palestinian refugees, and demographic trends a direct threat to the Zionist enterprise … The Israeli establishment has responded by seeking renewed public recognition and international legitimacy for Jewish statehood, if not in isolation, then at least in the context of establishing a Palestinian state. …

This is not a new demand. It is a reaction to the sense that what was once largely self-evident is now under threat. … In this context, bolstering support for the continuing moral, legal, and political validity of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination has acquired significance with Israel not merely as an aspiration, but as a component of the national defense.

Here is how self-evident Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state once was: the 1947 UN Resolution endorsing the partition of Palestine mentioned the term “Jewish state” no fewer than 30 times. More than 63 years later, even the “peace partner” is willing only to let Israel call itself whatever it wants but not to recognize its legitimacy as a Jewish state — not even as part of a “peace agreement” that would give its own people a state.

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Iranian Warships Having an Outsize Impact

The Wall Street Journal reports that investors pulled back Wednesday following the news that the Iranian warship flotilla was transiting the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. (For those keeping score, the transit means that my original thinking on this task force – that Egypt’s interim government might reject its proposed movement through the canal – was wrong.) Apparently, the shekel took a brief dive with currency traders as well. Gold and crude have risen in the wake of the warship news; the dollar has fallen.

Avigdor Lieberman announced that the Iranian task force is headed to Syria. Assuming this bears out, the Assad regime will get to have the best of both worlds: a brand-new American ambassador — dispatched in January with vows of “engagement” — and a historic visit from the warships of revolutionanary Iran. As Israeli authorities point out, moreover, Iran stated earlier that the naval task force would spend up to a year in the Mediterranean. Its base of operations is likely to be Syria, but triumphal port visits to Beirut are undoubtedly on Tehran’s to-do list. Read More

The Wall Street Journal reports that investors pulled back Wednesday following the news that the Iranian warship flotilla was transiting the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. (For those keeping score, the transit means that my original thinking on this task force – that Egypt’s interim government might reject its proposed movement through the canal – was wrong.) Apparently, the shekel took a brief dive with currency traders as well. Gold and crude have risen in the wake of the warship news; the dollar has fallen.

Avigdor Lieberman announced that the Iranian task force is headed to Syria. Assuming this bears out, the Assad regime will get to have the best of both worlds: a brand-new American ambassador — dispatched in January with vows of “engagement” — and a historic visit from the warships of revolutionanary Iran. As Israeli authorities point out, moreover, Iran stated earlier that the naval task force would spend up to a year in the Mediterranean. Its base of operations is likely to be Syria, but triumphal port visits to Beirut are undoubtedly on Tehran’s to-do list.

The ships themselves are hardly impressive: one frigate with old anti-ship missiles and one barely armed replenishment ship. From that perspective, the reactions of global markets might seem excessive. These ships can’t fight a war. But the reactions are actually quite rational. The big shift here is in political perceptions of power. The important facts are that revolutionary, terror-sponsoring Iran — under U.S., EU, and UN sanctions — feels free to conduct this deployment, and Syria feels free to cooperate in it. Egypt’s interim rulers apparently saw no reason to block the Suez transit, in spite of the Egyptians’ very recent concern over Iranian-backed terrorists and insurgents operating on their territory. Saudi Arabia, for its part, considered it prudent to host the Iranian warships last week — in spite of the Saudis’ own conviction that Iran has been aiding rebel groups that threaten Saudi territory.

The cooperation from the Arab nations should not be misread, however. The Arabs have no desire to see Iran in a position of regional hegemony. The threat of that prospect will raise the stakes for the governmental turmoil in the Arab world. The view is likely to gain momentum that Arabs need to organize as much to counter Iran as to address their own domestic issues. That factor — so inimical to the unforced development of political liberalism — was never going to be dismissible; the Iranian warship deployment makes it inevitable.

In information-speak, Iran is “inside our OODA-loop” right now: acting faster than we have prepared to react. Complacent assumptions about inertia in the status quo will not be borne out. Iran’s proximate strategic objective is consolidating the rule of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Former prime minister Saad Hariri declared his opposition to the Hezbollah-backed government in a speech on Monday; Hassan Nasrallah is promising that Hezbollah fighters will occupy Galilee; Ehud Barak warned on Wednesday that Israel might have to enter Lebanon again to counter Hezbollah. With the battle lines being drawn, Iran’s posture is hardening: the Islamic revolutionary regime is “all in.”

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Why Didn’t NYU Cut Nir Rosen Loose a Long Time Ago?

It took a Twitter joke about Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt to finally push NYU’s Center for Law and Security to revoke Nir Rosen’s fellowship today. The question is, what took so long?

As Jeffrey Goldberg reports at the Atlantic, Rosen has been making disturbing and violent comments on Twitter for quite awhile. Of course, the difference was that these remarks took aim at politically correct targets — America and Israel — while his Tweet mocking Logan’s sexual assault was decidedly un-PC.

Much of Rosen’s most vitriol appears to be focused on Israel, and his Tweets run the gamut from unvarnished hatred of the Jewish state to outright anti-Semitism:

Many of his tweets are given over to expressions of hatred of Israel, and wishes for its destruction. He openly advocates for violence against Israel: “Yes to a 3rd Intifada. This time hopefully with the support of the Palestinians citizens of ‘Israel,’” and he states that “Israel’s existence is a blight unto the nations.” …

The creepiest tweet of Rosen’s is this one, I think, from December 3rd, 2010: “On Hannuka, Just think, if only the Greeks had been better at counterinsurgency we wouldn’t have these problems today. Where was Petraeus?” The meaning of this is fairly obvious: Hannukah marks the defeat of a Syrian-Greek empire by a Jewish insurgency. If the Greeks had won, the Jews would have been slaughtered. He also wrote that same day, “genocide is modern concept (except when jews are doing it on god’s orders in the old testament) greeks were just hellenizing.”

Based on the content of Rosen’s Tweets, the statement from NYU on his resignation couldn’t have been more tone-deaf:

“Nir Rosen is always provocative, but he crossed the line with his comments about Lara Logan. I am deeply distressed by what he wrote about Ms. Logan and strongly denounce his comments,” said Karen J. Greenberg, the executive director of NYU’s Center for Law and Security.

So publicly wishing that the Jewish people had been exterminated thousands of years ago so that “we wouldn’t have these problems today” doesn’t cross a line? Calling for a third intifada and the violent destruction of the Jewish state doesn’t cross a line? Apparently, NYU believes that’s just being “provocative.”

The university stayed silent as Rosen repeatedly glorified violence against the Jewish people. And the sad truth is that if not for his celebration of the sexual assault of a journalist, he would still have his job today.

It took a Twitter joke about Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt to finally push NYU’s Center for Law and Security to revoke Nir Rosen’s fellowship today. The question is, what took so long?

As Jeffrey Goldberg reports at the Atlantic, Rosen has been making disturbing and violent comments on Twitter for quite awhile. Of course, the difference was that these remarks took aim at politically correct targets — America and Israel — while his Tweet mocking Logan’s sexual assault was decidedly un-PC.

Much of Rosen’s most vitriol appears to be focused on Israel, and his Tweets run the gamut from unvarnished hatred of the Jewish state to outright anti-Semitism:

Many of his tweets are given over to expressions of hatred of Israel, and wishes for its destruction. He openly advocates for violence against Israel: “Yes to a 3rd Intifada. This time hopefully with the support of the Palestinians citizens of ‘Israel,’” and he states that “Israel’s existence is a blight unto the nations.” …

The creepiest tweet of Rosen’s is this one, I think, from December 3rd, 2010: “On Hannuka, Just think, if only the Greeks had been better at counterinsurgency we wouldn’t have these problems today. Where was Petraeus?” The meaning of this is fairly obvious: Hannukah marks the defeat of a Syrian-Greek empire by a Jewish insurgency. If the Greeks had won, the Jews would have been slaughtered. He also wrote that same day, “genocide is modern concept (except when jews are doing it on god’s orders in the old testament) greeks were just hellenizing.”

Based on the content of Rosen’s Tweets, the statement from NYU on his resignation couldn’t have been more tone-deaf:

“Nir Rosen is always provocative, but he crossed the line with his comments about Lara Logan. I am deeply distressed by what he wrote about Ms. Logan and strongly denounce his comments,” said Karen J. Greenberg, the executive director of NYU’s Center for Law and Security.

So publicly wishing that the Jewish people had been exterminated thousands of years ago so that “we wouldn’t have these problems today” doesn’t cross a line? Calling for a third intifada and the violent destruction of the Jewish state doesn’t cross a line? Apparently, NYU believes that’s just being “provocative.”

The university stayed silent as Rosen repeatedly glorified violence against the Jewish people. And the sad truth is that if not for his celebration of the sexual assault of a journalist, he would still have his job today.

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Arthur and Elmo Are Not a Rationale for Government Broadcasting

Whenever conservatives have sought to end the gravy train for PBS and NPR, supporters of the government broadcasting networks have an answer that they think ends all argument: Big Bird. The iconic Sesame Street character was trotted out again today along with Arthur the Aardvark, the star of another PBS show, to illustrate how essential the flow of taxpayer dollars to the television and radio networks were to American democracy.

Which is to say, they really had no argument at all.

Back in the 1960s, when there were few television channels to choose from, there might have been an argument for “educational television,” as PBS was generally known. But in an era when the vast majority of Americans have access to literally hundreds of channels of every possible variety of programming, there is no need for Washington to fund a privileged liberal-leaning network. Where once a local PBS station was the only place where a quality kids’ TV show like Sesame Street could be found, there are now a number of such alternatives on basic and premium cable. Indeed, popular shows like Sesame Street and Arthur are successful commercial enterprises on their own and require no subsidization.

Just as important, most local PBS stations no longer devote themselves to the sort of laudable but often boring programming that was the hallmark of the early era of “educational” TV. It’s true that you can find interesting documentaries and quality (usually British) dramas like those of Masterpiece Theater. But the free market has already provided other stations on the cable spectrum that show the same sort of material on a more regular basis. And anyone tuning in to PBS stations ought to ask: What public purpose does it serve to have taxpayers fund Antique Road Show or reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show? Read More

Whenever conservatives have sought to end the gravy train for PBS and NPR, supporters of the government broadcasting networks have an answer that they think ends all argument: Big Bird. The iconic Sesame Street character was trotted out again today along with Arthur the Aardvark, the star of another PBS show, to illustrate how essential the flow of taxpayer dollars to the television and radio networks were to American democracy.

Which is to say, they really had no argument at all.

Back in the 1960s, when there were few television channels to choose from, there might have been an argument for “educational television,” as PBS was generally known. But in an era when the vast majority of Americans have access to literally hundreds of channels of every possible variety of programming, there is no need for Washington to fund a privileged liberal-leaning network. Where once a local PBS station was the only place where a quality kids’ TV show like Sesame Street could be found, there are now a number of such alternatives on basic and premium cable. Indeed, popular shows like Sesame Street and Arthur are successful commercial enterprises on their own and require no subsidization.

Just as important, most local PBS stations no longer devote themselves to the sort of laudable but often boring programming that was the hallmark of the early era of “educational” TV. It’s true that you can find interesting documentaries and quality (usually British) dramas like those of Masterpiece Theater. But the free market has already provided other stations on the cable spectrum that show the same sort of material on a more regular basis. And anyone tuning in to PBS stations ought to ask: What public purpose does it serve to have taxpayers fund Antique Road Show or reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show?

Despite the claim that they are non-commercial (and thus, somehow holier than openly commercial stations), these TV and radio channels already sell advertising in the form of “sponsorship.” If they want to survive, they can sell more of them and compete like any other station.

As for National Public Radio, its liberal political slant is no longer even a matter of much debate, with the embarrassing recent firing of pundit Juan Williams merely being the most egregious example of their blatant bias. While NPR claims to be an essential element of democracy, it is a publicly subsidized version of an animal that the market has already produced: partisan networks such as MSNBC and FOX News.

Unlike most government-sponsored broadcasting companies around the world, neither PBS nor NPR can dominate the airwaves in order to force its agenda down the throats of a captive audience. But both are actually an affront to the spirit of democracy, as they treat one point of view as privileged. America may not have a state religion, but so long as PBS and NPR continue to feed at the public trough, we do have a form of state journalism.

While the House GOP effort to defund these networks will almost certainly fail this year, the effort is a warning that the campaign to end this absurd anomaly has begun in earnest. In an era of 900 television channels on everyone’s TV, it is only a matter of time before state-funded liberal broadcasting is ended once and for all.

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J Street Gets Its Student Trip to Israel After All

Birthright may have publicly rebuffed J Street’s proposal to sponsor a trip to Israel, but according to the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, there is still a large segment of young American Jews who are too “uncomfortable” to participate in the traditional Birthright program (i.e., a program that fosters Zionism and a positive connection to the Jewish state). So now J Street has decided to reach out to this under-served mass of young and nuance-driven Jews by sponsoring its own trip to Israel.

“We know that many students are hesitant to participate in traditional Birthright trips,” J Street said in a mailer today. “We know that many avoid a relationship with Israel out of a discomfort with traditional models of Israel education and engagement.”

Of course, while only 10-15 students are participating in the J Street trip next summer, nearly half the Diaspora Jewish population between the ages of 18 and 26 will have taken a Birthright trip by 2013:

The goal of the funding increase is to bring 51,000 participants a year on the trip by 2013, which would mean, according to Birthright officials, “that one in every two young Jewish adults worldwide will have gone to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip.”

Seventy-five percent of the participants come from North America.

Last year, 30,000 young Jews went on the trips but another 30,000 were wait-listed because of lack of funding.

J Street can say what it wants about the Birthright program. But with 30,000 anxious young people on the waiting list last year, it sure doesn’t sound like Birthright has a problem with lack of participation.

Birthright may have publicly rebuffed J Street’s proposal to sponsor a trip to Israel, but according to the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, there is still a large segment of young American Jews who are too “uncomfortable” to participate in the traditional Birthright program (i.e., a program that fosters Zionism and a positive connection to the Jewish state). So now J Street has decided to reach out to this under-served mass of young and nuance-driven Jews by sponsoring its own trip to Israel.

“We know that many students are hesitant to participate in traditional Birthright trips,” J Street said in a mailer today. “We know that many avoid a relationship with Israel out of a discomfort with traditional models of Israel education and engagement.”

Of course, while only 10-15 students are participating in the J Street trip next summer, nearly half the Diaspora Jewish population between the ages of 18 and 26 will have taken a Birthright trip by 2013:

The goal of the funding increase is to bring 51,000 participants a year on the trip by 2013, which would mean, according to Birthright officials, “that one in every two young Jewish adults worldwide will have gone to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip.”

Seventy-five percent of the participants come from North America.

Last year, 30,000 young Jews went on the trips but another 30,000 were wait-listed because of lack of funding.

J Street can say what it wants about the Birthright program. But with 30,000 anxious young people on the waiting list last year, it sure doesn’t sound like Birthright has a problem with lack of participation.

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Conservatives in Academia

John Tierney’s piece about bias in social science, to which I referred last week, has provoked a revival of the debate on the problem of liberal bias in the academy. My colleagues have offered their thoughts on this problem, as has Megan McArdle, which comes down to the argument that liberals are discriminating in a variety of ways — some of them, she implies, pretty blatantly — against conservatives.

But I think McArdle gives short shrift to the problem of the hiring pool. She posits that conservatives self-select out of the pool and/or are pushed out by institutional liberal bias. But the problem of the hiring pool is deeper — so to speak — than that. There are so few conservative professors in large part because there are so few conservative grad students. Read More

John Tierney’s piece about bias in social science, to which I referred last week, has provoked a revival of the debate on the problem of liberal bias in the academy. My colleagues have offered their thoughts on this problem, as has Megan McArdle, which comes down to the argument that liberals are discriminating in a variety of ways — some of them, she implies, pretty blatantly — against conservatives.

But I think McArdle gives short shrift to the problem of the hiring pool. She posits that conservatives self-select out of the pool and/or are pushed out by institutional liberal bias. But the problem of the hiring pool is deeper — so to speak — than that. There are so few conservative professors in large part because there are so few conservative grad students.

Becoming a tenured professor responsible for training grad students is a process, not an event. Students who go to Harvard (and similar institutions) tend to be more liberal than the norm, not because Harvard discriminates politically, but because it’s an institution for an elite who understand how to get their kids into it. Harvard alums, in turn, get into the best grad schools, which also skew liberal for the same reason. Their graduates then have an advantage in the job market, especially at the elite schools, and on the spiral goes.

In short, the entire system, like a series of jumps for spawning salmon, eliminates a larger share of conservatives than it does liberals at every step. (Perhaps this is what McArdle means by her speculation that conservatives have different kinds of social capital.) The end result is the 80/20 disparity, one that, as she observes, is widest at the elite institutions and becoming worse as successive generations are more thoroughly winnowed by the system.

Frankly, I wish the disparity was simply the result of discrimination: exposing the gap might then achieve something. The problem is subtler than that. Let me be clear: I believe that discrimination contributes to the disparity. But explanations that start with bias are suspect: there is no great need to discriminate against conservatives at the hiring stage, because so few make it there in the first place.

The reason there are so few conservative faculty members is that the academy has always employed the elite. The cultural and social elites in this country are now liberal, and have been for more than two generations. The elite understand the academic system better than anyone (often because they were the ones who created its admissions criteria: the number of faculty kids at elite universities is remarkable), so it is not surprising that they are over-represented in it. In other words, if you want more conservatives in academia, you can’t focus on the hiring stage: it’s from little acorns that mighty oaks (or at least tenured nuts) do grow.

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Iranian Recovery from Stuxnet Means Nuclear Threat Is Back on Front Burner

The evidence compiled by surveillance cameras installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the nuclear plant in Natanz, Iran, appears to tell the story of how the Stuxnet computer virus played havoc with that country’s nuclear ambitions. Records of the IAEA obtained by the Washington Post document the damage done to the equipment at Natanz. According to the Post, 10 percent of the plant’s 9,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium had to be dismantled. Stuxnet’s success has caused a great many people who had been deeply concerned about the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear project to relax. The harm done to Iran’s equipment combined with the economic sanctions imposed by the international community ought to have dealt Tehran’s hopes for a nuclear weapon a terrible blow and put off for the foreseeable future the need for the West to act to stop the project before it was too late.

But the IAEA cameras tell a slightly different story. While the evidence compiled by the nuclear-watchdog agency proves that the Stuxnet attack was successful, it also shows that the damage was quickly repaired. Somehow, despite the sanctions and the ban on selling nuclear equipment to Iran, the damaged centrifuges were replaced almost as quickly as they were taken offline. That means the Iranians were able to continue using their centrifuges to produce low-enriched uranium, the material used to make fuel for nuclear power plants. After more processing, the machines can produce the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs. While Stuxnet attacks in 2009 and 2010 briefly caused the shutdown of Natanz for repairs, it was back online before long.

While these attacks may have, as the Post reports, shaken the confidence of the Iranians in their ability to defend their nuclear plants, the notion that the virus had solved the West’s Iranian problem was always a delusion. At best, it has delayed them a bit, but the IAEA evidence makes it clear that the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime’s commitment to their goal of a nuke is such that cyberattacks won’t be enough to derail them. Read More

The evidence compiled by surveillance cameras installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the nuclear plant in Natanz, Iran, appears to tell the story of how the Stuxnet computer virus played havoc with that country’s nuclear ambitions. Records of the IAEA obtained by the Washington Post document the damage done to the equipment at Natanz. According to the Post, 10 percent of the plant’s 9,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium had to be dismantled. Stuxnet’s success has caused a great many people who had been deeply concerned about the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear project to relax. The harm done to Iran’s equipment combined with the economic sanctions imposed by the international community ought to have dealt Tehran’s hopes for a nuclear weapon a terrible blow and put off for the foreseeable future the need for the West to act to stop the project before it was too late.

But the IAEA cameras tell a slightly different story. While the evidence compiled by the nuclear-watchdog agency proves that the Stuxnet attack was successful, it also shows that the damage was quickly repaired. Somehow, despite the sanctions and the ban on selling nuclear equipment to Iran, the damaged centrifuges were replaced almost as quickly as they were taken offline. That means the Iranians were able to continue using their centrifuges to produce low-enriched uranium, the material used to make fuel for nuclear power plants. After more processing, the machines can produce the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs. While Stuxnet attacks in 2009 and 2010 briefly caused the shutdown of Natanz for repairs, it was back online before long.

While these attacks may have, as the Post reports, shaken the confidence of the Iranians in their ability to defend their nuclear plants, the notion that the virus had solved the West’s Iranian problem was always a delusion. At best, it has delayed them a bit, but the IAEA evidence makes it clear that the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime’s commitment to their goal of a nuke is such that cyberattacks won’t be enough to derail them.

This is a crucial point because the assumption in Washington and even in Jerusalem lately has been that Stuxnet has given the world some real breathing room before an Iranian nuke becomes imminent. That belief lessened the pressure on the Obama administration to press for the sort of draconian international sanctions that might actually bring Iran to heel. It also reduced the chances that Israel might feel forced to act unilaterally to spike the existential threat that an Iranian nuke would pose to the Jewish state. But if, as we have now learned, Stuxnet is nothing more than a delaying tactic that will win us months rather than years before this threat is realized, then the West must re-evaluate the optimistic forecasts of no Iranian nukes before 2015 that we have been hearing lately.

From his first moment in office, Barack Obama has sought to avoid confrontation with Iran. He wasted 2009 on a feckless attempt at “engagement” of the Iranians and 2010 on a campaign for sanctions that resulted in a mild program of restrictions that, despite U.S. claims, the Iranians have openly mocked as ineffective. Had Stuxnet’s impact been enough to put the Iranian program on hold, it might have brought an end to the whole issue as a matter of concern, at least for the next couple of years. But if the IAEA evidence is correct, then the optimistic forecasts about Tehran’s prospects must be thrown out and replaced with an evaluation that puts the need for either serious sanctions or the use of force back on Washington’s front burner. Far from allaying our fears and ending the discussion about drastic action, Stuxnet may have made it clearer than ever that neither the United States nor Israel can afford to sit back and wait until Iran has obtained the ultimate weapon.

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Obama Gets an ‘Incomplete’ on Egypt

Many are critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the Egypt crisis — although for contradictory reasons.  Some believe Obama went too far, too fast in disassociating himself from Mubarak; others argue he didn’t do enough.

I agree with many of the specific criticisms made of the administration: that it should have been better prepared for the crisis and that it should have projected a more consistent message instead of seemingly letting the State Department and the White House run separate foreign policies — the former pro-Mubarak, the latter anti-Mubarak. But I also have a lot of sympathy for Pete Wehner’s view — informed by Pete’s own service in the White House — that we should cut a little slack to officials faced with a fast-moving crisis in which every response carries considerable risk.

Sure, the administration response left something to be desired — but it wasn’t that bad. Obama did finally get behind the Egyptian people and he did make a clean break with Mubarak while preserving our relations with the Egyptian army, which remains the most powerful force in the country. The outcome so far has been pretty decent, with a discredited dictator gone but the Muslim Brotherhood firmly kept out of power.

Problem is, it’s still early days. We still don’t know how this will turn out. The Egyptian military could decide to hang on to power as it has done since 1952, trying to preserve an unpopular and corrupt regime. That would be a bad outcome. Or — less likely but in the realm of possibility — there could be further disturbances that would allow the extremists to gain power. The post-Mubarak situation remains very much in flux, and the U.S. will have to continue to play a major role in guiding Egypt toward liberal democracy. Ellen Bork has some valuable ideas at the Foreign Policy Initiative website about how we can remold our aid programs to help achieve this important objective.

For now I would give Obama an “incomplete” on Egypt. The report card won’t come out for at least a year, and maybe later.

Many are critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the Egypt crisis — although for contradictory reasons.  Some believe Obama went too far, too fast in disassociating himself from Mubarak; others argue he didn’t do enough.

I agree with many of the specific criticisms made of the administration: that it should have been better prepared for the crisis and that it should have projected a more consistent message instead of seemingly letting the State Department and the White House run separate foreign policies — the former pro-Mubarak, the latter anti-Mubarak. But I also have a lot of sympathy for Pete Wehner’s view — informed by Pete’s own service in the White House — that we should cut a little slack to officials faced with a fast-moving crisis in which every response carries considerable risk.

Sure, the administration response left something to be desired — but it wasn’t that bad. Obama did finally get behind the Egyptian people and he did make a clean break with Mubarak while preserving our relations with the Egyptian army, which remains the most powerful force in the country. The outcome so far has been pretty decent, with a discredited dictator gone but the Muslim Brotherhood firmly kept out of power.

Problem is, it’s still early days. We still don’t know how this will turn out. The Egyptian military could decide to hang on to power as it has done since 1952, trying to preserve an unpopular and corrupt regime. That would be a bad outcome. Or — less likely but in the realm of possibility — there could be further disturbances that would allow the extremists to gain power. The post-Mubarak situation remains very much in flux, and the U.S. will have to continue to play a major role in guiding Egypt toward liberal democracy. Ellen Bork has some valuable ideas at the Foreign Policy Initiative website about how we can remold our aid programs to help achieve this important objective.

For now I would give Obama an “incomplete” on Egypt. The report card won’t come out for at least a year, and maybe later.

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What Did the White House Know About Egypt and When Did It Know It?

The Wall Street Journal has an article that obliterates the myth that “no one knew” that the events in Egypt were about to unfold.

“Early last year, a group of U.S.-based human-rights activists, neoconservative policy makers and Mideast experts told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that what passed for calm in Egypt was an illusion,” the Journal reports. It quotes from the Egypt Working Group’s April 2010 letter: “If the opportunity to reform is missed, prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt.”

Read the whole story. It’s both a damning indictment of the lack of preparedness on the part of the Obama administration and a tribute to the prescience of the Egyptian Working Group. If things turn out well in Egypt, it won’t be because of the foresight and planning of Mr. Obama and his team.

The Wall Street Journal has an article that obliterates the myth that “no one knew” that the events in Egypt were about to unfold.

“Early last year, a group of U.S.-based human-rights activists, neoconservative policy makers and Mideast experts told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that what passed for calm in Egypt was an illusion,” the Journal reports. It quotes from the Egypt Working Group’s April 2010 letter: “If the opportunity to reform is missed, prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt.”

Read the whole story. It’s both a damning indictment of the lack of preparedness on the part of the Obama administration and a tribute to the prescience of the Egyptian Working Group. If things turn out well in Egypt, it won’t be because of the foresight and planning of Mr. Obama and his team.

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Signals Crossed

Herein lies the difference between the U.S. and Europe: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% of Likely U.S. Voters say, generally speaking, that the president’s budget proposal cuts government spending too little. Ten percent (10%) say it cuts too much, while 26% say his budget cuts about the right amount.”

While Americans actually want their government to stop spending, Greeks continue to protest the government austerity that they need more than we do. From the Financial Times, yesterday: “Greece plunged deeper into recession in the fourth quarter as household spending slumped and workers stepped up anti-austerity strikes and street protests. … Bus, metro, tram and trolley services shut down in a co-ordinated protest by unions seeking to wrest last-minute concessions from the socialist government.”

But in these topsy-turvy times, the American president offers a budget that answers the Europeans’ wish for extended spending, and European leaders are acting as if their constituents were Tea Partiers.

Herein lies the difference between the U.S. and Europe: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% of Likely U.S. Voters say, generally speaking, that the president’s budget proposal cuts government spending too little. Ten percent (10%) say it cuts too much, while 26% say his budget cuts about the right amount.”

While Americans actually want their government to stop spending, Greeks continue to protest the government austerity that they need more than we do. From the Financial Times, yesterday: “Greece plunged deeper into recession in the fourth quarter as household spending slumped and workers stepped up anti-austerity strikes and street protests. … Bus, metro, tram and trolley services shut down in a co-ordinated protest by unions seeking to wrest last-minute concessions from the socialist government.”

But in these topsy-turvy times, the American president offers a budget that answers the Europeans’ wish for extended spending, and European leaders are acting as if their constituents were Tea Partiers.

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The Blog Is Slow Today Because We Had a Roast Last Night

Last night, COMMENTARY hosted our second annual Roast — this year of the prominent philanthropist, capitalist, and glorious nudnik Roger Hertog. About 300 people joined us at the Plaza Hotel in New York for an evening of great merriment, featuring sharp barbs from COMMENTARY’s former editors Neal Kozodoy and Norman Podhoretz, Hertog’s business colleagues Marilyn Fedak and Lew Sanders, and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard (who wrote a poem!). Not to mention, in a tour de force, Roger’s Bronx-born steel magnolia of a better half, Susan Hertog, also known as the peerless biographer of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

There were surprise appearances as well from The Maccabeats, Abraham Lincoln (on tape from heaven), and the very moderate Republican T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, former editor of the National Topsider and the co-founder of No Labels, who called for civility despite describing the attendees as “simian idiots” and then inviting Hertog to join the East Hampton Philanthropist’s Club. He even coerced me into singing the club’s fight song with him, accompanied by ukulele:

Fight fiercely Philanthropists! Give until it hurts!
Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Like the Mongols in their yurts.

There’s never been such a noble occupation
For a man to elevate his social station.
So fight fiercely philanthropists,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Endow those worthy chairs!
Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Make your marks on world affairs.

No ordinary Tom or Dick or Harry
Could hope to be so eleemosynary,
So fight fiercely philanthropists,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

Five-oh-one-cee, de-duct-a-bi-li-ty,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

T. Cod is a character invented by the great Internet humorist Iowahawk (if you’re smart you’ll follow him on Twitter), who wrote the bit and played the ukulele. He was inhabited (as was Abe Lincoln) by the comic writer and performer Brian Sack. I thank them both for a wonderful evening, which was also the most successful fundraising event in our history. That is a tribute to Roger and his selflessness in allowing us to make a pin cushion of him all night for a good cause, and to all those who were so generous with their support.

For my sins, Roger likened me to both Michael and Fredo Corleone. I told him it wasn’t personal. It was business.

Last night, COMMENTARY hosted our second annual Roast — this year of the prominent philanthropist, capitalist, and glorious nudnik Roger Hertog. About 300 people joined us at the Plaza Hotel in New York for an evening of great merriment, featuring sharp barbs from COMMENTARY’s former editors Neal Kozodoy and Norman Podhoretz, Hertog’s business colleagues Marilyn Fedak and Lew Sanders, and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard (who wrote a poem!). Not to mention, in a tour de force, Roger’s Bronx-born steel magnolia of a better half, Susan Hertog, also known as the peerless biographer of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

There were surprise appearances as well from The Maccabeats, Abraham Lincoln (on tape from heaven), and the very moderate Republican T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, former editor of the National Topsider and the co-founder of No Labels, who called for civility despite describing the attendees as “simian idiots” and then inviting Hertog to join the East Hampton Philanthropist’s Club. He even coerced me into singing the club’s fight song with him, accompanied by ukulele:

Fight fiercely Philanthropists! Give until it hurts!
Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Like the Mongols in their yurts.

There’s never been such a noble occupation
For a man to elevate his social station.
So fight fiercely philanthropists,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Endow those worthy chairs!
Fight fiercely Philanthropists!
Make your marks on world affairs.

No ordinary Tom or Dick or Harry
Could hope to be so eleemosynary,
So fight fiercely philanthropists,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

Five-oh-one-cee, de-duct-a-bi-li-ty,
Fight! Fight! Fight!

T. Cod is a character invented by the great Internet humorist Iowahawk (if you’re smart you’ll follow him on Twitter), who wrote the bit and played the ukulele. He was inhabited (as was Abe Lincoln) by the comic writer and performer Brian Sack. I thank them both for a wonderful evening, which was also the most successful fundraising event in our history. That is a tribute to Roger and his selflessness in allowing us to make a pin cushion of him all night for a good cause, and to all those who were so generous with their support.

For my sins, Roger likened me to both Michael and Fredo Corleone. I told him it wasn’t personal. It was business.

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The Other Thing Containment Requires

Thanks to J.E. Dyer for her kind remarks on my paper with James Phillips on the difficulties of containing a nuclear Iran. Her summary of its implications is spot-on: containment may look good, but it leads to a nuclear Iran. Since a nuclear Iran means that our policy — at least our declared policy — of stopping Iran’s nuclear program will have failed, it will be even tougher for us to contain it in the future.

Jennifer goes on to point out that the regional support for a policy of containment looks weak, and I agree. But containment’s not just about the Middle East. In fact, much of what has appeared on CONTENTIONS yesterday has a bearing on it. The policy of containment during the Cold War rested on a fundamental reality: the free U.S. system was stronger than the totalitarian Soviet one, and the West would gain strength as the Communist bloc lost it.

Of course, that assumed that the West remained free, politically and economically. If it lost its economic freedom, it would lose the vibrancy that gave it an edge over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower wasn’t the only one concerned about this. As Princeton historian (and COMMENTARY contributor and former Cheney staffer) Aaron Friedberg asserted in his study In the Shadow of the Garrison State, it was a central part of U.S. Cold War grand strategy.

So where do we stand on this today? As Pete Wehner points out, the president’s budget projects trillion-dollar deficits and a rising debt-to-GDP ratio as far as the eye can see. After that, as our entitlement bill really kicks in, things get worse. Max Boot notes the squeeze this spending is already putting on our defense budget, which will make containing Iran even more difficult.

But it’s worse than that. Excessive taxation and borrowing hands over an ever-increasing portion of our economy to government control. This is incompatible with the strategy that won the Cold War, and completely incompatible with any future U.S. use of that strategy. We are not just borrowing the next generation into oblivion, as Pete points out. Our lack of restraint is reducing our ability to play future foreign-policy problems long: playing it long only makes sense if you’re gaining in relative economic strength.

True, playing it long is not always the right approach. But the day when America decides that it has no option but to play a problem short will be the day that America realizes it is poorer, weaker, and also less free.

Thanks to J.E. Dyer for her kind remarks on my paper with James Phillips on the difficulties of containing a nuclear Iran. Her summary of its implications is spot-on: containment may look good, but it leads to a nuclear Iran. Since a nuclear Iran means that our policy — at least our declared policy — of stopping Iran’s nuclear program will have failed, it will be even tougher for us to contain it in the future.

Jennifer goes on to point out that the regional support for a policy of containment looks weak, and I agree. But containment’s not just about the Middle East. In fact, much of what has appeared on CONTENTIONS yesterday has a bearing on it. The policy of containment during the Cold War rested on a fundamental reality: the free U.S. system was stronger than the totalitarian Soviet one, and the West would gain strength as the Communist bloc lost it.

Of course, that assumed that the West remained free, politically and economically. If it lost its economic freedom, it would lose the vibrancy that gave it an edge over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower wasn’t the only one concerned about this. As Princeton historian (and COMMENTARY contributor and former Cheney staffer) Aaron Friedberg asserted in his study In the Shadow of the Garrison State, it was a central part of U.S. Cold War grand strategy.

So where do we stand on this today? As Pete Wehner points out, the president’s budget projects trillion-dollar deficits and a rising debt-to-GDP ratio as far as the eye can see. After that, as our entitlement bill really kicks in, things get worse. Max Boot notes the squeeze this spending is already putting on our defense budget, which will make containing Iran even more difficult.

But it’s worse than that. Excessive taxation and borrowing hands over an ever-increasing portion of our economy to government control. This is incompatible with the strategy that won the Cold War, and completely incompatible with any future U.S. use of that strategy. We are not just borrowing the next generation into oblivion, as Pete points out. Our lack of restraint is reducing our ability to play future foreign-policy problems long: playing it long only makes sense if you’re gaining in relative economic strength.

True, playing it long is not always the right approach. But the day when America decides that it has no option but to play a problem short will be the day that America realizes it is poorer, weaker, and also less free.

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