Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 20, 2011

How Pro-Israel is Obama? Assessing the Post-Veto Fallout

For the past two years the hottest debate in the pro-Israel community has been over how to assess the Obama administration. Despite the tense relationship with the Israeli government, the fights picked over building in Jerusalem and the pressure for a settlement freeze, there has been a considerable body of opinion that still insisted that Obama had basically changed nothing in the Israel-U.S. relationship.

Even most of those who took this position would concede that the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem were considerably worse than they were during the Bush administration. But they argued that when one looked coldly at the facts about the alliance, nothing had been altered. At the very least, they would contend, Obama was no worse than Bush or any other president, since no American leader had ever fully accepted Israel’s positions on territory, settlements or borders.

Their strongest argument consisted of citing the strong cooperation that has continued to exist between the U.S. Defense Department and the Israel Defense Forces. And on this point they are right, though for that to change it would have taken an overt and gratuitous effort by the White House that Obama has not made. So while he deserves credit for maintaining the close defense ties between the two allies, it is mainly for having the sense (both strategic and political) to have not tried to mess it up.

On the surface, the veto cast by the United States in the UN Security Council on Friday ought to be considered more proof of Obama’s steadfastness as a friend of Israel. When all was said and done, he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and refused to allow the UN body to brand Israel a criminal lawbreaker. That this veto took place after an American effort to head off a vote by proposing a “statement” by the president of Security Council, rather than a formal resolution, was rejected by the Palestinians was testimony to the latter’s intransigence and not to Obama’s loyalty to his Israeli ally. And the unnecessary explanation given after the vote that branded the Jewish state’s position on the issue of settlements as “illegitimate” and went on to claim that they “threatened” peace and “devastate” trust undermined any notion of U.S. support for Israel.

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For the past two years the hottest debate in the pro-Israel community has been over how to assess the Obama administration. Despite the tense relationship with the Israeli government, the fights picked over building in Jerusalem and the pressure for a settlement freeze, there has been a considerable body of opinion that still insisted that Obama had basically changed nothing in the Israel-U.S. relationship.

Even most of those who took this position would concede that the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem were considerably worse than they were during the Bush administration. But they argued that when one looked coldly at the facts about the alliance, nothing had been altered. At the very least, they would contend, Obama was no worse than Bush or any other president, since no American leader had ever fully accepted Israel’s positions on territory, settlements or borders.

Their strongest argument consisted of citing the strong cooperation that has continued to exist between the U.S. Defense Department and the Israel Defense Forces. And on this point they are right, though for that to change it would have taken an overt and gratuitous effort by the White House that Obama has not made. So while he deserves credit for maintaining the close defense ties between the two allies, it is mainly for having the sense (both strategic and political) to have not tried to mess it up.

On the surface, the veto cast by the United States in the UN Security Council on Friday ought to be considered more proof of Obama’s steadfastness as a friend of Israel. When all was said and done, he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and refused to allow the UN body to brand Israel a criminal lawbreaker. That this veto took place after an American effort to head off a vote by proposing a “statement” by the president of Security Council, rather than a formal resolution, was rejected by the Palestinians was testimony to the latter’s intransigence and not to Obama’s loyalty to his Israeli ally. And the unnecessary explanation given after the vote that branded the Jewish state’s position on the issue of settlements as “illegitimate” and went on to claim that they “threatened” peace and “devastate” trust undermined any notion of U.S. support for Israel.

Obama apologists could argue that opposition to settlements isn’t new. But the talk of the “illegitimacy” of the homes of not only the more than quarter million Israelis who live in the West Bank but of the more than 200,000 who live in the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1949 and 1967 is something different. As with the fight that Obama picked in the spring of 2010 over building houses in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, this statement escalates a long-standing disagreement into a more serious dispute. Obama’s attempt to erase the distinction between the remote settlements that Israel has already said it would give up in a peace accord and those that the Bush administration conceded in a 2004 were established facts that must be respected was one thing. But Obama’s willingness to treat 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s ancient capital as illegal settlements was quite another. Agreeing with those who wrongly claim all the settlements are illegal (as opposed to unwise or worthy of surrender for the sake of peace) was bad enough. But the American declaration on Friday (repeated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on ABC News on Sunday) that the Jewish presence there was “illegitimate” again places the issue in a different light.

Things could be worse. Had the U.S. not vetoed the resolution it would have been the final signal that this administration really was determined to cut loose the Israelis. But by showing that the veto was cast reluctantly and with ill will, the effect is not much different. So while relations could still deteriorate further, there is no doubt that Obama’s negative feelings toward Israel are becoming a serious factor in Middle East diplomacy that is making the already poor chances for peace worse and increasing the possibility that Israel’s foes will conclude that the Jewish state cannot count on U.S. support if new fighting breaks out along the border with Gaza or Lebanon. The work of Obama’s pro-Israel apologists has just gotten more difficult. One suspects that by the time he leaves office, it will have gotten harder still.

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Flashback: Anti-Israel Voice Gushes Over “Tripoli Spring”

The death toll in Libya has reportedly risen above 200. In Benghazi, where Qaddafi’s sons Khamis and Saadi are charged with crushing the uprising, police and army forces are picking off demonstrators with sniper and artillery fire. The State Department has gone so far as to express “grave concern,” while the EU is “very worried.” That’s how bad things are.

So this is probably as good a time as any to revisit the sagacity of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson, who in 2009 was granted access to Libya and duly announced the unfolding of a “Tripoli Spring.” HRW had just spent a year in relative silence as Qaddafi’s thugs neglected to death long-imprisoned dissident Fathi al-Jahmi. In the aftermath they neither called for an independent investigation nor held the Libyan regime directly responsible for the death. But lest you think they were totally unmoved by al-Jahmi’s plight, Whitson did namecheck him in the first paragraph of her gushing report on Libya’s burgeoning civil society:

What Fathi al-Jahmi died for is starting to spread in the country. For the first time in memory, change is in the air in Libya. The brittle atmosphere of repression has started to fracture, giving way to expanded space for discussion and debate [and] proposals for legislative reform… I left more than one meeting stunned at the sudden openness of ordinary citizens, who criticized the government and challenged the status quo with newfound frankness. A group of journalists we met with in Tripoli complained about censorship… [b]ut that hadn’t stopped their newspapers… Quryna, one of two new semi private newspapers in Tripoli, features page after page of editorials criticizing bureaucratic misconduct and corruption… The spirit of reform, however slowly, has spread to the bureaucracy as well… the real impetus for the transformation rests squarely with a quasi-governmental organization, the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development.

Of course the entire article was written in a tone of “liberal changes are oh-so fragile” equivocation, the increasingly frayed rhetorical insulation with which Middle East experts coat their apologias for repressive Arab and Muslim regimes. But given the choice between emphasizing the Libyan government’s irredeemably autocratic character or its potential for reform, Whitson emphasized the latter. If Qaddafi falls in an insurrection after murdering hundreds of Libyan citizens, it won’t be because some kind of vaunted public sphere liberalized exploited legislative reforms. It’ll be because the suffocating choke of government control — which Whitson and her ilk insisted was loosening — finally became unbearable, and was met with violence to overthrow entrenched thugs.

Whitson actually made the same move a few months later when she applauded Hamas for promising to investigate its Cast Lead war crimes. Sure the eliminationist Iranian proxies were only lying so they could could enable Western apologists to highlight the Goldstone Report, but at least they were helpfully lying. So they got supportive praise and a gold star.

Unrelatedly, HRW released their libelous White Phosphorous report a few months after Whitson’s article. In any case, this is usually where it’d be appropriate to remind readers that Whitson cut her teeth as an intifada-era pro-Palestinian activist and as an apologist for terrorism, and to gesture toward Alana’s comprehensive roundup of how HRW spent 2010 ignoring terrorist crimes and rogue regimes while demonizing Israel. But insofar as the organization is now hiring actual senior Palestinian terrorists to help campaign against the Jewish State, previous HRW terrorist enabling seems almost quaint.

The death toll in Libya has reportedly risen above 200. In Benghazi, where Qaddafi’s sons Khamis and Saadi are charged with crushing the uprising, police and army forces are picking off demonstrators with sniper and artillery fire. The State Department has gone so far as to express “grave concern,” while the EU is “very worried.” That’s how bad things are.

So this is probably as good a time as any to revisit the sagacity of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson, who in 2009 was granted access to Libya and duly announced the unfolding of a “Tripoli Spring.” HRW had just spent a year in relative silence as Qaddafi’s thugs neglected to death long-imprisoned dissident Fathi al-Jahmi. In the aftermath they neither called for an independent investigation nor held the Libyan regime directly responsible for the death. But lest you think they were totally unmoved by al-Jahmi’s plight, Whitson did namecheck him in the first paragraph of her gushing report on Libya’s burgeoning civil society:

What Fathi al-Jahmi died for is starting to spread in the country. For the first time in memory, change is in the air in Libya. The brittle atmosphere of repression has started to fracture, giving way to expanded space for discussion and debate [and] proposals for legislative reform… I left more than one meeting stunned at the sudden openness of ordinary citizens, who criticized the government and challenged the status quo with newfound frankness. A group of journalists we met with in Tripoli complained about censorship… [b]ut that hadn’t stopped their newspapers… Quryna, one of two new semi private newspapers in Tripoli, features page after page of editorials criticizing bureaucratic misconduct and corruption… The spirit of reform, however slowly, has spread to the bureaucracy as well… the real impetus for the transformation rests squarely with a quasi-governmental organization, the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development.

Of course the entire article was written in a tone of “liberal changes are oh-so fragile” equivocation, the increasingly frayed rhetorical insulation with which Middle East experts coat their apologias for repressive Arab and Muslim regimes. But given the choice between emphasizing the Libyan government’s irredeemably autocratic character or its potential for reform, Whitson emphasized the latter. If Qaddafi falls in an insurrection after murdering hundreds of Libyan citizens, it won’t be because some kind of vaunted public sphere liberalized exploited legislative reforms. It’ll be because the suffocating choke of government control — which Whitson and her ilk insisted was loosening — finally became unbearable, and was met with violence to overthrow entrenched thugs.

Whitson actually made the same move a few months later when she applauded Hamas for promising to investigate its Cast Lead war crimes. Sure the eliminationist Iranian proxies were only lying so they could could enable Western apologists to highlight the Goldstone Report, but at least they were helpfully lying. So they got supportive praise and a gold star.

Unrelatedly, HRW released their libelous White Phosphorous report a few months after Whitson’s article. In any case, this is usually where it’d be appropriate to remind readers that Whitson cut her teeth as an intifada-era pro-Palestinian activist and as an apologist for terrorism, and to gesture toward Alana’s comprehensive roundup of how HRW spent 2010 ignoring terrorist crimes and rogue regimes while demonizing Israel. But insofar as the organization is now hiring actual senior Palestinian terrorists to help campaign against the Jewish State, previous HRW terrorist enabling seems almost quaint.

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Your Sunday Diversion: Bad Rachel Goes All Auden on Obama

Bad Rachel, the neocon id, adapts Auden’s “Funeral Blues” as an Obama peroration:

Stop all the cock-ups, send home the cicerone,

Prevent the lapdog tweeting on his new iPhone,

Silence Arianna, and with muffled Christiane,

Bring out the coffers, let the donors come.

Read the all of it, and not because she’s my sister, but because she’s brilliant.

Bad Rachel, the neocon id, adapts Auden’s “Funeral Blues” as an Obama peroration:

Stop all the cock-ups, send home the cicerone,

Prevent the lapdog tweeting on his new iPhone,

Silence Arianna, and with muffled Christiane,

Bring out the coffers, let the donors come.

Read the all of it, and not because she’s my sister, but because she’s brilliant.

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Liu Xioabo’s Wife Breaks Silence

For nearly five months, Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has suffered under house arrest in China. But last week, she somehow managed to access the Internet and reach out to a friend through an online chat service, the Washington Post is reporting:

“I’m crazy,” Liu Xia wrote in her first known communication since she disappeared from public view more than four months ago. …

I don’t know how I managed to get online,” Liu Xia wrote to the friend in her post. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.”

The friend asked, “Are you at home?”

“Yes,” Liu Xia responded, writing in Pinyin, the Chinese transliteration system. She said she was using an old computer and apparently could not type Chinese characters.

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia said. Later she wrote, “I only saw him once,” apparently referring to her husband, Liu Xiaobo.

“So miserable,” she wrote. “Don’t talk.”

“I’m crying,” she added. “Nobody can help me.”

The friend sent the transcript of the conversation to the Washington Post, which was unable to independently verify its authenticity. However, the Post says that another friend of Liu Xiaobo’s “saw Liu Xia online at the same time, although he was not able to chat with her.”

It’s unclear how she was able to access an online chat service. The Chinese government has been increasing its crackdown on the Internet and known activists recently, out of concern that the uprisings in the Arab world could inspire similar demonstrations in China. On Saturday, a couple of hundred dissidents gathered in Beijing, but were met by a strong police presence that prevented any acts of protest from taking place.

For nearly five months, Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has suffered under house arrest in China. But last week, she somehow managed to access the Internet and reach out to a friend through an online chat service, the Washington Post is reporting:

“I’m crazy,” Liu Xia wrote in her first known communication since she disappeared from public view more than four months ago. …

I don’t know how I managed to get online,” Liu Xia wrote to the friend in her post. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.”

The friend asked, “Are you at home?”

“Yes,” Liu Xia responded, writing in Pinyin, the Chinese transliteration system. She said she was using an old computer and apparently could not type Chinese characters.

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia said. Later she wrote, “I only saw him once,” apparently referring to her husband, Liu Xiaobo.

“So miserable,” she wrote. “Don’t talk.”

“I’m crying,” she added. “Nobody can help me.”

The friend sent the transcript of the conversation to the Washington Post, which was unable to independently verify its authenticity. However, the Post says that another friend of Liu Xiaobo’s “saw Liu Xia online at the same time, although he was not able to chat with her.”

It’s unclear how she was able to access an online chat service. The Chinese government has been increasing its crackdown on the Internet and known activists recently, out of concern that the uprisings in the Arab world could inspire similar demonstrations in China. On Saturday, a couple of hundred dissidents gathered in Beijing, but were met by a strong police presence that prevented any acts of protest from taking place.

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Is a Nazi Memorabilia Collector Overseeing Human Rights Issues at the UN?

Former Human Rights Watch senior military analyst Marc Garlasco, who resigned from the organization after his affinity for collecting Nazi memorabilia was discovered, is now working as a senior human rights officer at the United Nations, Israel Matzav reports.

Garlasco’s Nazi obsession – first reported by Omri Ceren – made the pages of the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post. Garlasco’s hobby seemed particularly relevant, as he had helped write numerous reports for HRW that were perceived as extremely biased against Israel.

In a column for the Huffington Post, Garlasco, whose grandfather served in the German military during World War II, denied that his interest in Nazi memorabilia had any impact on his human rights work :

I’ve never hidden my hobby, because there’s nothing shameful in it, however weird it might seem to those who aren’t fascinated by military history. Precisely because it’s so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realized that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things. Thousands of military history buffs collect war paraphernalia because we want to learn from the past. But I should have realized that images of the Second World War German military are hurtful to many.

Clueless collector or creepy nostalgic, the real issue with Garlasco is his anti-Israel bias, which was clearly displayed at HRW. It remains to be seen what dealings, if any, he has with Israel in his new capacity.

Former Human Rights Watch senior military analyst Marc Garlasco, who resigned from the organization after his affinity for collecting Nazi memorabilia was discovered, is now working as a senior human rights officer at the United Nations, Israel Matzav reports.

Garlasco’s Nazi obsession – first reported by Omri Ceren – made the pages of the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post. Garlasco’s hobby seemed particularly relevant, as he had helped write numerous reports for HRW that were perceived as extremely biased against Israel.

In a column for the Huffington Post, Garlasco, whose grandfather served in the German military during World War II, denied that his interest in Nazi memorabilia had any impact on his human rights work :

I’ve never hidden my hobby, because there’s nothing shameful in it, however weird it might seem to those who aren’t fascinated by military history. Precisely because it’s so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realized that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things. Thousands of military history buffs collect war paraphernalia because we want to learn from the past. But I should have realized that images of the Second World War German military are hurtful to many.

Clueless collector or creepy nostalgic, the real issue with Garlasco is his anti-Israel bias, which was clearly displayed at HRW. It remains to be seen what dealings, if any, he has with Israel in his new capacity.

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Another Reason to Visit Madison, Wisconsin

While attention is centered on the protestors in Madison, Wisconsin, it would be worth taking a little time to admire the magnificent building they are demeaning with their presence.

The State Capitol of Wisconsin is one of the greatest examples of Beaux Arts style architecture in the United States.  It was built between 1906 and 1917, the third capitol building on the site. (The second building burned in 1904. In one of the more ill-timed cost-cutting measures in American political history, the legislature had voted to cancel the fire insurance on the building five weeks earlier.)

The architect was George B. Post (1837-1913), a student of Richard Morris Hunt.  He also designed many early New York City skyscrapers, some the tallest in the world at the time, and the New York Stock Exchange Building on Broad Street.

Cruciform in shape, with four equal wings, the Wisconsin State Capitol has one of the highest domes in the country (only a few feet shorter than the U.S. Capitol) and the only one made of granite (the dome of the Capitol in Washington is cast iron). While grand on the outside, the inside is magnificent, abounding with Beaux Arts exuberance and luxury that never crosses the line into vulgarity.  You can get some idea of this wonderful building by viewing pictures here and here and here. But once the mob clears out and spring creeps into Madison, consider a trip to see it for yourself.

While attention is centered on the protestors in Madison, Wisconsin, it would be worth taking a little time to admire the magnificent building they are demeaning with their presence.

The State Capitol of Wisconsin is one of the greatest examples of Beaux Arts style architecture in the United States.  It was built between 1906 and 1917, the third capitol building on the site. (The second building burned in 1904. In one of the more ill-timed cost-cutting measures in American political history, the legislature had voted to cancel the fire insurance on the building five weeks earlier.)

The architect was George B. Post (1837-1913), a student of Richard Morris Hunt.  He also designed many early New York City skyscrapers, some the tallest in the world at the time, and the New York Stock Exchange Building on Broad Street.

Cruciform in shape, with four equal wings, the Wisconsin State Capitol has one of the highest domes in the country (only a few feet shorter than the U.S. Capitol) and the only one made of granite (the dome of the Capitol in Washington is cast iron). While grand on the outside, the inside is magnificent, abounding with Beaux Arts exuberance and luxury that never crosses the line into vulgarity.  You can get some idea of this wonderful building by viewing pictures here and here and here. But once the mob clears out and spring creeps into Madison, consider a trip to see it for yourself.

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Another Peace Process Trifecta

Elliott Abrams called the Obama administration’s handling of its UN veto a “manifest failure of American diplomacy.” It left virtually everyone angry at the United States — the Palestinians and Arabs because of the veto and Israel’s supporters because of Susan Rice’s intemperate statement on it. It left observers appalled as the administration tried to replace an anti-Israel resolution with an anti-Israel presidential statement and then issued an anti-Israel ambassadorial statement. Abrams called the language in Rice’s statement “amazing” for a diplomat:  “folly,” “illegitimacy,” “devastates,” “corroded,” etc.

It was not necessary for Rice to address the merits of the resolution, since there were multiple procedural reasons to veto it: (a) final status issues are to be negotiated, not resolved at the UN; (b) such issues are to be negotiated together, not individually; and (c) the U.S. traditionally vetoes one-sided UN resolutions without reference to their merits. You don’t single out settlements as an alleged “obstacle to peace” without also mentioning the Palestinian ones: the failure to dismantle terrorist groups (one of them rules Gaza); an unelected “Authority” without the legitimacy to speak for the people; the unwillingness to recognize a Jewish state even in a final agreement; the insistence on indefensible borders; the assertion of a deal-breaking “right of return,” and so on.

Rice not only addressed the merits of the resolution, but sided with the Palestinians – creating the impression the U.S. believed they were right but lacked the courage to raise its hand to support them. It created exactly what Robert Satloff warned against: a mixed message resulting in the “worst of all possible scenarios.” It also reflected extraordinary diplomatic impotence — with the Palestinian rejection of a direct presidential request to withdraw their resolution. It is hard to remember the last time anyone achieved the trifecta of offending each side while embarrassing oneself in the process.

Wait a minute – I do remember. It was when the administration promised Israel a package of benefits to extend its settlement moratorium for 60 or 90 days; then balked at putting the promises in writing; and then withdrew the offer after determining the Palestinians would not come to the table even if Israel extended the moratorium. Before that was the time Obama visited Saudi Arabia to seek a move toward normalizing relations with Israel and came away empty-handed; then sent his secretary of state to the Council on Foreign Relations to plead publicly with Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization — which produced nothing again; and then pressed Israel for unilateral steps that were supposed to have been reciprocal.

Last year the administration erupted against Israel for approving Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the Jewish capital, resulting in a 43-minute call from the secretary of state to Israel’s prime minister demanding “specific action” by Israel to demonstrate it was “committed to this relationship” with the United States. This year, the president himself made a 50-minute call to Mahmoud Abbas, personally requesting withdrawal of the proposed UN resolution; after failing, he sent his ambassador out to mitigate his veto by castigating Israel.

He didn’t join the jackals; he simply put the U.S. on record as endorsing their views, in language he hoped they would appreciate.

Elliott Abrams called the Obama administration’s handling of its UN veto a “manifest failure of American diplomacy.” It left virtually everyone angry at the United States — the Palestinians and Arabs because of the veto and Israel’s supporters because of Susan Rice’s intemperate statement on it. It left observers appalled as the administration tried to replace an anti-Israel resolution with an anti-Israel presidential statement and then issued an anti-Israel ambassadorial statement. Abrams called the language in Rice’s statement “amazing” for a diplomat:  “folly,” “illegitimacy,” “devastates,” “corroded,” etc.

It was not necessary for Rice to address the merits of the resolution, since there were multiple procedural reasons to veto it: (a) final status issues are to be negotiated, not resolved at the UN; (b) such issues are to be negotiated together, not individually; and (c) the U.S. traditionally vetoes one-sided UN resolutions without reference to their merits. You don’t single out settlements as an alleged “obstacle to peace” without also mentioning the Palestinian ones: the failure to dismantle terrorist groups (one of them rules Gaza); an unelected “Authority” without the legitimacy to speak for the people; the unwillingness to recognize a Jewish state even in a final agreement; the insistence on indefensible borders; the assertion of a deal-breaking “right of return,” and so on.

Rice not only addressed the merits of the resolution, but sided with the Palestinians – creating the impression the U.S. believed they were right but lacked the courage to raise its hand to support them. It created exactly what Robert Satloff warned against: a mixed message resulting in the “worst of all possible scenarios.” It also reflected extraordinary diplomatic impotence — with the Palestinian rejection of a direct presidential request to withdraw their resolution. It is hard to remember the last time anyone achieved the trifecta of offending each side while embarrassing oneself in the process.

Wait a minute – I do remember. It was when the administration promised Israel a package of benefits to extend its settlement moratorium for 60 or 90 days; then balked at putting the promises in writing; and then withdrew the offer after determining the Palestinians would not come to the table even if Israel extended the moratorium. Before that was the time Obama visited Saudi Arabia to seek a move toward normalizing relations with Israel and came away empty-handed; then sent his secretary of state to the Council on Foreign Relations to plead publicly with Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization — which produced nothing again; and then pressed Israel for unilateral steps that were supposed to have been reciprocal.

Last year the administration erupted against Israel for approving Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the Jewish capital, resulting in a 43-minute call from the secretary of state to Israel’s prime minister demanding “specific action” by Israel to demonstrate it was “committed to this relationship” with the United States. This year, the president himself made a 50-minute call to Mahmoud Abbas, personally requesting withdrawal of the proposed UN resolution; after failing, he sent his ambassador out to mitigate his veto by castigating Israel.

He didn’t join the jackals; he simply put the U.S. on record as endorsing their views, in language he hoped they would appreciate.

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The American Historical Association and Civics Education

The American Historical Association is propagandizing to save the Teaching American History (TAH) Grant Program and Civic Education funding from the 2011 axe of the House of Representatives. As their e-mail to members puts it:

To help our nation’s schools meet their civic mission to help students understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, Congress should retain the Teaching American History Grants program and maintain federal funding support for civic education, while making the civics grants competitive. The civic education grants should go to non-profits with a demonstrated ability to deliver civic education programs, emphasis should be on programs serving currently under-served student populations.

That mention of “under-served student populations” is a nice, pandering touch. One might think that a program like TAH, which funds training for elementary and secondary school teachers, might not be of much interest to the AHA, which focuses almost exclusively on history at the college and university level. But since TAH requires grantees to work in partnership with colleges and universities and — mirabile dictu – “nonprofit history or humanities organizations” like the AHA itself, it does have some skin in the game. Read More

The American Historical Association is propagandizing to save the Teaching American History (TAH) Grant Program and Civic Education funding from the 2011 axe of the House of Representatives. As their e-mail to members puts it:

To help our nation’s schools meet their civic mission to help students understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, Congress should retain the Teaching American History Grants program and maintain federal funding support for civic education, while making the civics grants competitive. The civic education grants should go to non-profits with a demonstrated ability to deliver civic education programs, emphasis should be on programs serving currently under-served student populations.

That mention of “under-served student populations” is a nice, pandering touch. One might think that a program like TAH, which funds training for elementary and secondary school teachers, might not be of much interest to the AHA, which focuses almost exclusively on history at the college and university level. But since TAH requires grantees to work in partnership with colleges and universities and — mirabile dictu – “nonprofit history or humanities organizations” like the AHA itself, it does have some skin in the game.

But what does the AHA say about civics education when it’s not thinking about the money? Well, last month, Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the AHA, addressed just this subject in a short essay on “Citizenship, History, and Public Culture.” According to him:

humanists in general have been too inclined to let appealing theoretical arguments overshadow the voices of the men and women whose lives we study. In this age of global culture and transnational historical analysis, our scholarship has perhaps been too quick to dismiss the meaning of citizenship to the millions of Americans who over the years have valued not only its material benefits, but its meaning.

Furthermore:

As of September 2010, approximately one-half million people had been naturalized as American citizens in this calendar year. It is not unreasonable to guess that most of these individuals prepared for the test by reading the materials provided by [the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.] Even those of us who have written textbooks, popular biographies, or reference books that look good on a coffee table, have not seen these kinds of numbers. Here is a set of historical publications that reaches 500,000 people in a single year. And few of us have ever even heard of it.

No one supports civics education and learning about American history more than I do. But it is one thing to support these things, and – as my colleague Matt Spalding has pointed out — quite another to advocate federal funding as the best way to advance them.

As Matt puts it, “It is interesting to note that the civic knowledge of young Americans has decreased as federal involvement in education has markedly increased. In fact, one might almost say that civic knowledge appears to have declined in direct proportion to the increase in federal dollars spent on it.”

Perhaps that is because the money flows at least partly at the behest of organizations like the AHA, whose leading officers openly admit that the scholars it represents have dismissed the value of citizenship and have no interest in the processes by which this country awards it. One might therefore conclude that they are not fit recipients of public funds intended to promote the knowledge of civics.

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The Arabian Peninsula’s Deceptive Allure

In the 1970s-80s the United States took over the mission once performed by the British Empire, of serving as protector to the kingdoms of the Arabian peninsula. Under our benign supervision, these states have flourished, turning from sand-blown desert outposts of camel herders and pearl divers into some of the world’s richest states with a Lamborghini in every garage and a Rolex on every wrist. Or so it seemed.

Progress has been especially notable in those states which are swimming in oil and gas. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar has the world’s third-highest per capita income–$74,422; number eight is the United Arab Emirates (which include Abu Dhabi) with $47,406: both ahead of the United States.

Even Bahrain and Dubai (Abu Dhabi’s poorer cousin in the UAE), which lack such natural riches, have done well for themselves–Dubai spectacularly so, with a skyline that has come to resemble Hong Kong’s and enough baubles to make a Gilded Age tycoon blush. Bahrain is not as impressive but it, too, has prospered, with its share of high-rise  hotels and office towers.

Their secret, Bahrain and Dubai, has been freedom, at least relative freedom. Because they have not been as Draconian in enforcing Muslim strictures, Dubai and to a lesser extent Bahrain became the playgrounds of the Gulf–the place where other Arabs could go to drink booze, pick up Eastern European hookers, drive expensive cars recklessly, and generally enjoy the good life. This despite the fact that Bahrain nominally follows a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, just as Saudi Arabia does. Read More

In the 1970s-80s the United States took over the mission once performed by the British Empire, of serving as protector to the kingdoms of the Arabian peninsula. Under our benign supervision, these states have flourished, turning from sand-blown desert outposts of camel herders and pearl divers into some of the world’s richest states with a Lamborghini in every garage and a Rolex on every wrist. Or so it seemed.

Progress has been especially notable in those states which are swimming in oil and gas. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar has the world’s third-highest per capita income–$74,422; number eight is the United Arab Emirates (which include Abu Dhabi) with $47,406: both ahead of the United States.

Even Bahrain and Dubai (Abu Dhabi’s poorer cousin in the UAE), which lack such natural riches, have done well for themselves–Dubai spectacularly so, with a skyline that has come to resemble Hong Kong’s and enough baubles to make a Gilded Age tycoon blush. Bahrain is not as impressive but it, too, has prospered, with its share of high-rise  hotels and office towers.

Their secret, Bahrain and Dubai, has been freedom, at least relative freedom. Because they have not been as Draconian in enforcing Muslim strictures, Dubai and to a lesser extent Bahrain became the playgrounds of the Gulf–the place where other Arabs could go to drink booze, pick up Eastern European hookers, drive expensive cars recklessly, and generally enjoy the good life. This despite the fact that Bahrain nominally follows a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, just as Saudi Arabia does.

Having visited these states many times over the years, I can attest to their allure, at least compared to a stifling totalitarian state such as Saudi Arabia. I recall once, in 2007, flying from Dubai to Riyadh. It felt like going from the twenty-first century to the sixteenth century–from a land of miniskirts to a land of gender apartheid. The princes of the Gulf states tend to be urbane and hospitable, especially to American visitors. They generally speak impeccable English. Many were educated in the U.S., American colleges having taken over the role once performed by Oxford and Cambridge.

Yet the surface shine always masked unpleasant subterranean realities. However Westernized they may appear outwardly, the states of the Arabian Peninsula are still absolute dictatorships run by a small, entrenched, unelected elite. Most of the work is performed by a class of Helots imported from the Levant, South Asia, and East Asia who often outnumber the natives. Manual laborers suffer under miserable, slave-like conditions, and even expatriate professionals are denied the dignity of citizenship. All this to ensure the comfort of a tiny native elite which prefers to play rather than work. In Bahrain the problem has been compounded because of the existence of a Shiite underclass, 70 percent of the population, which has long been deprived of power and riches by a Sunni minority led by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and his relatives.

Bahrain’s long-whispered tensions have burst forth in recent days in the form of protests. In response, the Bahraini royal family has revealed a ruthless determination to stay in power even it if means sending the army into the heart of the capital, Manama, to open fire on peaceful protesters. Beneath the surface softness of all these states is a fist of steel, and in Bahrain it is now smashing protesters’ faces in.

Will it be enough to save the ruling clan? That remains to be seen. But there is little doubt that the recent demonstrations and their ruthless suppression have placed the status quo in serious jeopardy. This is of considerable concern to the United States, because Bahrain is home to our Fifth Fleet and the U.S. Central Command naval component. If the ruling family were to fall we might well be forced to relocate a major military hub. That would not be the end of the world but it would be a blow, especially if Iran were able to exert greater influence in our wake.

The current unrest exposes as never before the shaky foundations on which our relations with all the rich Gulf states are built. In return for oil and gas, we have offered them protection—and advanced military hardware they can barely operate. They have accommodated themselves to our bases as long as we don’t allow our service personnel to swagger through their cities in uniform—or in tank tops. Often it has felt as if they looked upon U.S. soldiers as another class of indentured servants. Like the Bangladeshis who collect their garbage and the Filipinas who raise their babies, we are there to perform a vital if tiresome service that they do not care to provide for themselves.

We have accepted this bargain because it has been very much in our interest to project power in the world’s largest oil-producing region. As part of this implicit contract, we did not lecture any of these states overly much on the issue of civil liberties. Oh sure, we made occasional noises about reform, especially after the Gulf War. Having liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, we were embarrassed to see it revert to feudalism. So we pressed  for elections—but not too hard. When it became clear that Islamists would be a strong voice in parliament, we backed off and returned to business as usual. The same thing happened in Saudi Arabia post-9/11: Under U.S. pressure, the Saudis held municipal elections in 2005, the Islamists did well, and that was the end of the liberal experiment. The Bush administration, its enthusiasm for democracy promotion cooling amid a worsening situation in Iraq, implicitly acquiesced to the status quo when the Saudi elites said it was either them or Al Qaeda.

The rioting in Bahrain shows—as clearly as the earlier protests in Egypt and Tunisia—just how untenable this strategic bargain is. We need to press for greater openness in all of these states, for a gradual transition to real democracy. Otherwise we might wake up one day and find ourselves as badly shocked as we were in 1979 when Iran—one of the “twin pillars” of U.S. policy in the region, along with Saudi Arabia—suddenly fell into the hands of our sworn enemies.

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Times’ Slanted Wisconsin Coverage Contrasts With Their Treatment of Tea Party

In 2009 and 2010 the New York Times covered protests against the Obama administration’s stimulus spending bill and health care plan as the barely legal revolt of an unwashed and uncivil band of reactionaries determined not only to halt what the paper considered progress but also to thwart democracy. But anyone looking at the Times’ front page article on Saturday describing protests against the effort by Wisconsin’s newly elected governor and legislature to balance the state’s books got a very different view of a protest movement.

According to the Times, the activities of the Wisconsin public sector unions — whose expensive benefits have put their state on the brink of bankruptcy — are nothing less than the moral equivalent of the demonstrations in Tunisia that brought down an authoritarian dictatorship. As the headline “Wisconsin Leads the Way as Workers Fight Cuts” indicates, the whole focus of the piece is an effort to portray the unions and their Democratic allies as revolutionaries who are on the cutting edge of a movement that will, in effect, reverse the verdict of last year’s election. Read More

In 2009 and 2010 the New York Times covered protests against the Obama administration’s stimulus spending bill and health care plan as the barely legal revolt of an unwashed and uncivil band of reactionaries determined not only to halt what the paper considered progress but also to thwart democracy. But anyone looking at the Times’ front page article on Saturday describing protests against the effort by Wisconsin’s newly elected governor and legislature to balance the state’s books got a very different view of a protest movement.

According to the Times, the activities of the Wisconsin public sector unions — whose expensive benefits have put their state on the brink of bankruptcy — are nothing less than the moral equivalent of the demonstrations in Tunisia that brought down an authoritarian dictatorship. As the headline “Wisconsin Leads the Way as Workers Fight Cuts” indicates, the whole focus of the piece is an effort to portray the unions and their Democratic allies as revolutionaries who are on the cutting edge of a movement that will, in effect, reverse the verdict of last year’s election.

There are two points to be made about this coverage.

First, the portrayal of the unions and their Democratic Party allies, who have attempted not so much to defeat the Republican program but to prevent the legislature from even meeting to vote, as the progressive movement that represents the will of the people is absurd. This fight is about the will of the people but it is the public sector unions and the Democrats who are trying to thwart that will. As is the case with many other states, Wisconsin is going broke because past governments have let public employee unions have their way in collective bargaining. The result is an extraordinarily generous package of health-care and pension benefits that few, if any, in the private sector (where workers rarely are paid as much as government workers these days) enjoy. Governor Walker wants those public employees to begin contributing to their health-care costs and their pensions the way almost everyone who is not a government employee must. And he wants to curb the ability of these unions to hold the government hostage by ending their right of collective bargaining. That is a setback for unions but the alternative is the budget chaos that is bankrupting state governments around the nation. The unions may use the rhetoric of the workingman but they are actually seeking to retain benefits that enrich their members at the expense of hardworking taxpayers who aren’t as lucky.

Moreover the idea that these unions are fighting oppressive Republicans is a joke. Contrary to the Times, the governor of Wisconsin and the Republicans in the legislature there are not the moral equivalent of Tunisian or Egyptian autocrats. They were voted into office by the people and what they are doing is exactly what they promised the electorate they would do once they gained office. It is the unions and the Democrats who are the reactionary defenders of an untenable and frankly undemocratic status quo, not the Republicans who advocate change.

Second, and just as important for those who watch the media, the Times’ flattering portrait of the protesters ignores the extremist and violent rhetoric that has characterized the union demonstrators. As we noted Friday, unionists and the Democratic Party activists who have been bused in to help them have compared Governor Walker to Adolf Hitler and the Republicans to Nazis, as this video illustrates. Yet the Times has ignored that aspect of the story even though such rhetoric and demonstrators’ signs were the focus of much of their coverage of Tea Party protests. One can only conclude that in the liberal universe of the New York Times, left-wing union protesters are judged by a very different standard than the one they employ to report and editorialize about the conservatives of the Tea Party.

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