Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2, 2011

Republicans a No-Show at J Street Gala

J Street doesn’t like to describe itself as a “left-wing” organization, but its gala dinner last night failed to attract a single Republican member of Congress. The only two GOP lawmakers listed as attendees at the gala — Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Jeffrey Fortenberry — have both clarified today that they didn’t actually go to the event.

The Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo published a list earlier today of 56 members of Congress who attended the J Street gala. Shortly after, Fortenberry’s office called him to make it clear he had not been at the dinner or had RSVP’d.

“Soon after posting this list, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s office called me up to clarify his inclusion. They say he neither RSVP’d for nor attended J Street’s conference,” wrote Kredo. “Amy Spitalnick, J Street’s spokesperson, maintains that Fortenberry’s office said he’d attend.”

I contacted Blackburn’s office and was also told by her communications director that she never showed up at the dinner. Spitalnick told me over e-mail that the list contained only the names of those who RSVP’d and that certain members were unable to make the event at the last minute.

J Street may not want to view itself as a group with partisan leanings, but when 100 percent of its dinner guests are Democratic members of Congress, what other conclusions can be drawn from that?

J Street doesn’t like to describe itself as a “left-wing” organization, but its gala dinner last night failed to attract a single Republican member of Congress. The only two GOP lawmakers listed as attendees at the gala — Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Jeffrey Fortenberry — have both clarified today that they didn’t actually go to the event.

The Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo published a list earlier today of 56 members of Congress who attended the J Street gala. Shortly after, Fortenberry’s office called him to make it clear he had not been at the dinner or had RSVP’d.

“Soon after posting this list, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s office called me up to clarify his inclusion. They say he neither RSVP’d for nor attended J Street’s conference,” wrote Kredo. “Amy Spitalnick, J Street’s spokesperson, maintains that Fortenberry’s office said he’d attend.”

I contacted Blackburn’s office and was also told by her communications director that she never showed up at the dinner. Spitalnick told me over e-mail that the list contained only the names of those who RSVP’d and that certain members were unable to make the event at the last minute.

J Street may not want to view itself as a group with partisan leanings, but when 100 percent of its dinner guests are Democratic members of Congress, what other conclusions can be drawn from that?

Read Less

The Nation-State Comes Through Again

There has been a hierarchy of speed and effectiveness in the world’s response to the crisis in Libya. While no response to date is likely to win awards for excellence, the prize for actually doing something has to go to the nations of Europe. France, Britain, Turkey, and other European governments evacuated their own citizens relatively quickly (if not without mishap), obviating the “hostages” excuse lately deployed by the Obama administration. Unlike the U.S., they used military assets to do it. Italy set up a naval “picket” to keep its waters orderly, deployed aircraft to its southerly airfields, and organized its agencies to deal with the growing influx of refugees from North Africa. In response to Italy’s request, the EU called in late February for a group plan to address the refugee crisis; the individual nations ponied up the military and administrative resources.

In the last few days, it has again been the individual nations that have taken concrete action. Britain has been unabashedly categorical about the potential for enforcing a no-fly zone. The British reportedly plan to go in and secure Qaddafi’s mustard gas. London has also taken the lead in contacting the leaders of the Libyan opposition; Foreign Secretary William Hague reportedly spoke to a key figure in the opposition’s interim government on Wednesday. Now Britain, France, and Italy are preparing to help evacuate from Libya the thousands of Egyptian workers stranded there.

That’s an effort the U.S. might have been expected to be prominent in, given our long ties to Egypt and our military assets in Europe. But President Obama has been behaving more like a post-nationalist ideologue than the leader of a nation-state. His first thought was to seek UN sanctions and a referral of Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court. Those measures, whatever else they may achieve, will not have any effect on the rapidly developing humanitarian crisis in North Africa. The sanctions will affect the Libyan civil war only if it continues for months. Read More

There has been a hierarchy of speed and effectiveness in the world’s response to the crisis in Libya. While no response to date is likely to win awards for excellence, the prize for actually doing something has to go to the nations of Europe. France, Britain, Turkey, and other European governments evacuated their own citizens relatively quickly (if not without mishap), obviating the “hostages” excuse lately deployed by the Obama administration. Unlike the U.S., they used military assets to do it. Italy set up a naval “picket” to keep its waters orderly, deployed aircraft to its southerly airfields, and organized its agencies to deal with the growing influx of refugees from North Africa. In response to Italy’s request, the EU called in late February for a group plan to address the refugee crisis; the individual nations ponied up the military and administrative resources.

In the last few days, it has again been the individual nations that have taken concrete action. Britain has been unabashedly categorical about the potential for enforcing a no-fly zone. The British reportedly plan to go in and secure Qaddafi’s mustard gas. London has also taken the lead in contacting the leaders of the Libyan opposition; Foreign Secretary William Hague reportedly spoke to a key figure in the opposition’s interim government on Wednesday. Now Britain, France, and Italy are preparing to help evacuate from Libya the thousands of Egyptian workers stranded there.

That’s an effort the U.S. might have been expected to be prominent in, given our long ties to Egypt and our military assets in Europe. But President Obama has been behaving more like a post-nationalist ideologue than the leader of a nation-state. His first thought was to seek UN sanctions and a referral of Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court. Those measures, whatever else they may achieve, will not have any effect on the rapidly developing humanitarian crisis in North Africa. The sanctions will affect the Libyan civil war only if it continues for months.

The EU — at the behest of France — plans to convene an extraordinary summit on Libya and North Africa on March 11, nine days from now. “Jaw, jaw” may be, in Churchill’s memorable formulation, better than “war, war,” but it is not necessarily better than other kinds of action. According to some estimates, refugees from Libya now number in the hundreds of thousands at the borders with Egypt and Tunisia; the total number of displaced persons losing their access to food and shelter is assessed to be over 2 million.

The U.S. humanitarian-aid commitment will surely increase soon; Hillary Clinton’s $10 million figure from Monday seems clearly inadequate. But the needs in this situation are multidimensional, going well beyond food and temporary shelter for the refugees. The UN and EU are doing what they are able to, but their nature is to be unified and proactive only on narrow matters of aid distribution — for which they rely on the resources of member states. On more contentious issues like how to intervene in Libya, or how much, they fall back on jaw, jaw. In the absence of U.S. political leadership, Britain, France, and Italy have stepped up to the plate. The state has yet to wither away.

Read Less

Southern Poverty Law Center Ignores Muslim Anti-Gay Groups

Many conservatives cried foul when the Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed organizations that oppose gay marriage, like the Family Research Council, “hate groups.” And now some are pointing out that the SPLC added Christian anti-gay organizations to its hate-group list, while ignoring Muslim ones:

The SPLC says an anti-gay hate group is one which states homosexuality is corrupting society and defames the gay community by disseminating information that the SPLC considers to be unfounded. …

Among the Muslim groups that escaped being named in the report as an anti-gay hate group, like the conservative FRC, is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which is outspoken in its condemnation of homosexual lifestyles. Its website calls same-sex relationships a “deviation” from Allah’s laws and refers to homosexuality as “ignorance.”

According to the Daily Caller, the Islamic Society of North America has also made anti-gay statements, with its former president once calling homosexuality “a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption. … No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.”

But, strangely enough, none of these organizations has been labeled a “hate group” by the SPLC. This seems to be a trend for the SPLC, which focuses most of its energy compiling fear-mongering reports about the threat of right-wing terrorism, while curiously avoiding any mention of Islamic terrorism.

Many conservatives cried foul when the Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed organizations that oppose gay marriage, like the Family Research Council, “hate groups.” And now some are pointing out that the SPLC added Christian anti-gay organizations to its hate-group list, while ignoring Muslim ones:

The SPLC says an anti-gay hate group is one which states homosexuality is corrupting society and defames the gay community by disseminating information that the SPLC considers to be unfounded. …

Among the Muslim groups that escaped being named in the report as an anti-gay hate group, like the conservative FRC, is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which is outspoken in its condemnation of homosexual lifestyles. Its website calls same-sex relationships a “deviation” from Allah’s laws and refers to homosexuality as “ignorance.”

According to the Daily Caller, the Islamic Society of North America has also made anti-gay statements, with its former president once calling homosexuality “a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption. … No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.”

But, strangely enough, none of these organizations has been labeled a “hate group” by the SPLC. This seems to be a trend for the SPLC, which focuses most of its energy compiling fear-mongering reports about the threat of right-wing terrorism, while curiously avoiding any mention of Islamic terrorism.

Read Less

Don’t Ask

At the Weekly Standard’s blog, Cheryl Miller has a great post about Harvard’s dragging its feet on restoring ROTC to campus now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed:

Harvard president Drew Faust’s response is disappointing. While she confirmed that the university is in discussion with the military, she noted that those discussions were focused on “the gay and lesbian issue” and that the transgender issue still has to be sorted through:

“The issues that are being voiced now by transgender students are ones that I think the military hasn’t entirely sorted through because it has been posed to them over the last two decades in terms of gays and lesbians,” Faust said.

“These are voices that have become much more forceful and much more vocal in recent years.”

Harvard is not allowing ROTC on campus because the movement to repeal DADT was largely not a pro-civil-liberties campaign. It was part of an ongoing anti-military one. Sure, it had its pro-military individuals, but among university and activist types, it was not about improving a beloved institution; it was about attacking a despised one. This is not to say that DADT should not have been thrown out. But the political theater created around the question was intended to discredit the U.S. military as a cruel and biased organization — a stand-in, if you will, for the bigoted imperialistic United States of America.

From this perspective, the end of DADT should not be seen as heralding a more robust left-wing embrace of the military. It merely means that the left is on to its next phase of the attack — Operation Transgender. Which should at least be more entertaining.

At the Weekly Standard’s blog, Cheryl Miller has a great post about Harvard’s dragging its feet on restoring ROTC to campus now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed:

Harvard president Drew Faust’s response is disappointing. While she confirmed that the university is in discussion with the military, she noted that those discussions were focused on “the gay and lesbian issue” and that the transgender issue still has to be sorted through:

“The issues that are being voiced now by transgender students are ones that I think the military hasn’t entirely sorted through because it has been posed to them over the last two decades in terms of gays and lesbians,” Faust said.

“These are voices that have become much more forceful and much more vocal in recent years.”

Harvard is not allowing ROTC on campus because the movement to repeal DADT was largely not a pro-civil-liberties campaign. It was part of an ongoing anti-military one. Sure, it had its pro-military individuals, but among university and activist types, it was not about improving a beloved institution; it was about attacking a despised one. This is not to say that DADT should not have been thrown out. But the political theater created around the question was intended to discredit the U.S. military as a cruel and biased organization — a stand-in, if you will, for the bigoted imperialistic United States of America.

From this perspective, the end of DADT should not be seen as heralding a more robust left-wing embrace of the military. It merely means that the left is on to its next phase of the attack — Operation Transgender. Which should at least be more entertaining.

Read Less

No Matter Who Rules in Cairo or Tripoli, Israelis Are Living in the Same Middle East

Evelyn is quite right that Israelis have good reason to be fearful about the future. This is not the first time that they have been promised a “New Middle East,” and given the entrenched anti-Semitism that has become an integral part of Arab political culture, worries about new governments that might seek to curry favor with their populations by inflating hostility toward Israel are based on more than unthinking fear or cynicism.

That said, as many of us, including Evelyn, have written, the only real hope for long-term peace in the region would be an Arab world whose governments were neither Islamist nor authoritarian, since if those are the only choices, then there really is no hope. Arab governments that, even if they weren’t fully functioning Jeffersonian democracies, were sufficiently stable and focused on internal development and the creation of responsible institutions and the rule of law would not need to whip up hatred against Jews and Israel in order to survive the way even a relatively friendly dictator such as Mubarak did.

But the debate about whether or not Israelis and friends of Israel should support the principle of Arab democracy is largely pointless. No one in the Arab world is asking Israel’s permission to democratize, just as they didn’t — and don’t — care about the Jewish view of any other form of Arab government. It cannot be stated often enough that the current ferment in the Middle East has nothing to do with Israel or its policies.

That is a lesson that even generally fair-minded observers can’t seem to grasp. One example is the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote a column yesterday that admirably highlighted the problem of Arab Jew-hatred and poured cold water on the notion that Islamists like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are changing for the better simply because their authoritarian antagonist has been deposed. Read More

Evelyn is quite right that Israelis have good reason to be fearful about the future. This is not the first time that they have been promised a “New Middle East,” and given the entrenched anti-Semitism that has become an integral part of Arab political culture, worries about new governments that might seek to curry favor with their populations by inflating hostility toward Israel are based on more than unthinking fear or cynicism.

That said, as many of us, including Evelyn, have written, the only real hope for long-term peace in the region would be an Arab world whose governments were neither Islamist nor authoritarian, since if those are the only choices, then there really is no hope. Arab governments that, even if they weren’t fully functioning Jeffersonian democracies, were sufficiently stable and focused on internal development and the creation of responsible institutions and the rule of law would not need to whip up hatred against Jews and Israel in order to survive the way even a relatively friendly dictator such as Mubarak did.

But the debate about whether or not Israelis and friends of Israel should support the principle of Arab democracy is largely pointless. No one in the Arab world is asking Israel’s permission to democratize, just as they didn’t — and don’t — care about the Jewish view of any other form of Arab government. It cannot be stated often enough that the current ferment in the Middle East has nothing to do with Israel or its policies.

That is a lesson that even generally fair-minded observers can’t seem to grasp. One example is the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote a column yesterday that admirably highlighted the problem of Arab Jew-hatred and poured cold water on the notion that Islamists like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are changing for the better simply because their authoritarian antagonist has been deposed.

But as much as his analysis of this unfortunate reality was on target, Cohen concluded that all this made it a propitious time for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, as the creation of a Palestinian state would undermine the Islamists. To which one can only reply, well, yes, if Israel could persuade the Palestinians to accept a peace, even on the terms that they claim they want (such as the Israeli offers of statehood in territory that roughly approximated the 1967 borders, which were made in 2000 and 2008), then that would be something most Israelis would welcome. But the problem is, we already know that they won’t, and merely saying that it should be done won’t make it so. Cohen accurately portrayed the hold of anti-Semitism on Arab culture in general, but he failed to connect the dots that link a historic tradition of Jew-hatred to contemporary Palestinian intransigence, not to mention the nuclear threat from Iran.

The problem today for Israelis is not so much that it is foolish for them to publicly lament the fall of Mubarak and oppose the revolutionary fervor sweeping the Arab world. They should not do that; but no matter what they say about these events, most Israelis understand that, for all the changes in the air, they are living in the same Middle East that they have inhabited for the past 63 years. The rest of us should realize this too and resist the temptation to indulge in magical thinking about Israel’s ability to appease either the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world.

Read Less

J Street’s Lobbying Days May Soon Be Over

J Street was founded on the premise that it would be a left-wing lobby to rival AIPAC, but the biggest take-away from its second conference was that the group no longer seems to be pursuing that goal. While J Street has become something of an institution on the Jewish anti-Israel left, it appears to be embracing the identity of an activist group. Here are some of the indications that its days as a lobby are nearing an end:

1. Its relationship with the Obama administration is in a shambles:

The chilly relations between the Obama administration and J Street were perhaps the most notable part of the conference. Dennis Ross attended on behalf of the administration but barely mentioned Israel in his speech — a snub that did not go unnoticed by J Street staffers. The message to the group could not have been clearer: the administration was not interested in discussing J Street’s issues.

But the antipathy went both ways. The atmosphere at the conference was perceptibly unfriendly to Ross, and other speakers criticized and ridiculed him openly after his speech. J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami also repeatedly noted to reporters that Ross’s attendance was the administration’s decision, not the organization’s.

2. The mainstream media have lost interest:

Of the journalists who showed up to cover the conference, many were left-wing reporters, students, or D.C. correspondents from Jewish publications. While J Street’s conference last year was covered by the New York Times, the Guardian, the Economist, CNN, NPR, and UPI, none of these outlets appear to have written about the conference this year. In other words, J Street is still of interest to the Jewish community and to partisans, but not so much to the general public. Read More

J Street was founded on the premise that it would be a left-wing lobby to rival AIPAC, but the biggest take-away from its second conference was that the group no longer seems to be pursuing that goal. While J Street has become something of an institution on the Jewish anti-Israel left, it appears to be embracing the identity of an activist group. Here are some of the indications that its days as a lobby are nearing an end:

1. Its relationship with the Obama administration is in a shambles:

The chilly relations between the Obama administration and J Street were perhaps the most notable part of the conference. Dennis Ross attended on behalf of the administration but barely mentioned Israel in his speech — a snub that did not go unnoticed by J Street staffers. The message to the group could not have been clearer: the administration was not interested in discussing J Street’s issues.

But the antipathy went both ways. The atmosphere at the conference was perceptibly unfriendly to Ross, and other speakers criticized and ridiculed him openly after his speech. J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami also repeatedly noted to reporters that Ross’s attendance was the administration’s decision, not the organization’s.

2. The mainstream media have lost interest:

Of the journalists who showed up to cover the conference, many were left-wing reporters, students, or D.C. correspondents from Jewish publications. While J Street’s conference last year was covered by the New York Times, the Guardian, the Economist, CNN, NPR, and UPI, none of these outlets appear to have written about the conference this year. In other words, J Street is still of interest to the Jewish community and to partisans, but not so much to the general public.

3. The makeup of the attendees has become limited to activists:

The crowd at the event was split between students and middle-age activist types. While AIPAC conferences tend to draw a lot of policy wonks, there were few suits walking around at J Street.

4. Its relationship with the Israeli Embassy is nonexistent:

It’s tough to be an Israel-focused lobbying group without having a direct channel to the Israeli Embassy. J Street recently had a falling-out with the embassy, and no representatives were sent to the conference.

5. J Street is now embracing the controversy:

Instead of shying away from touchy issues like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, J Street prominently featured a debate on the subject at the conference. Since many politicians may be hesitant to align themselves with an organization that gives credence to such a cause, this indicates that J Street isn’t focused on being a persuasive lobby on the Hill.

J Street has a strong and recognizable brand and will likely continue as an activist group. In fact, it’s already taken strides in that direction by focusing more on its campus organizations and regularly weighing in on current issues through press releases.

The truth is, J Street has had to grapple with its identity as an activist group and a lobby since its creation, and it was only a matter of time until one side won out. If the organization was aiming to be a successful lobby, it was going to have to moderate its message in order to have more of an appeal to lawmakers. Doing that, however, would have meant losing many of the members who wanted the group to be vocal in its criticism of Israel.

J Street boasted that it drew more attendees to its conference this year than it did in 2009. That’s probably true. As the group moves further to the left, the left-wing community will continue to embrace it. And it will continue to morph into more of a “Peace Now” than an AIPAC.

Read Less

Sorry, but Israelis Have Good Reason to Be Fearful

Max finds it incomprehensible that many Israelis are fearful, even unhappy, over the changes sweeping our region. So as an Israeli, let me explain.

Over the past two decades, Israelis have lived through numerous regional changes, each of which, we were confidently assured — by both our own leaders and the West — would benefit us greatly. And in every single case, the change only made things worse.

We were told that the 1993 Oslo Accords would bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought our international position to an unprecedented low and terrorism to an unprecedented high: the first four years of the second intifada alone produced more Israeli victims of terror than the entire preceding 53 years.

We were told that withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 would eliminate Beirut’s casus belli and hence bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it allowed Hezbollah to take over southern Lebanon, build an arsenal far superior to anything it had before Israel left Lebanon, and launch cross-border attacks. One of those sparked the Second Lebanon War, which caused unprecedented destruction to northern Israel, more casualties than Israel averaged in six years pre-withdrawal, and massive international condemnation — of Israel, naturally.

We were told leaving Gaza in 2005 would bring peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought a Hamas takeover and incessant rocket fire on southern Israel. And when Israel finally struck back, in December 2008, international condemnation hit new heights, culminating in the infamous Goldstone report. Read More

Max finds it incomprehensible that many Israelis are fearful, even unhappy, over the changes sweeping our region. So as an Israeli, let me explain.

Over the past two decades, Israelis have lived through numerous regional changes, each of which, we were confidently assured — by both our own leaders and the West — would benefit us greatly. And in every single case, the change only made things worse.

We were told that the 1993 Oslo Accords would bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought our international position to an unprecedented low and terrorism to an unprecedented high: the first four years of the second intifada alone produced more Israeli victims of terror than the entire preceding 53 years.

We were told that withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 would eliminate Beirut’s casus belli and hence bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it allowed Hezbollah to take over southern Lebanon, build an arsenal far superior to anything it had before Israel left Lebanon, and launch cross-border attacks. One of those sparked the Second Lebanon War, which caused unprecedented destruction to northern Israel, more casualties than Israel averaged in six years pre-withdrawal, and massive international condemnation — of Israel, naturally.

We were told leaving Gaza in 2005 would bring peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought a Hamas takeover and incessant rocket fire on southern Israel. And when Israel finally struck back, in December 2008, international condemnation hit new heights, culminating in the infamous Goldstone report.

We were told Saddam Hussein’s ouster would make Israel safer. And while I fully agree with Max that nobody could lament Saddam’s demise from a moral standpoint, from a security standpoint it’s far from clear that Israel is safer with Iran as the uncontested regional power than it was with Iran and Iraq containing each other. With Iran racing toward nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map, it’s a bit naïve to expect Israel to deem Iran’s new status as regional superpower unimportant in the broader scheme of things.

We were told Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution would benefit Israel — and indeed, most Israelis cheered as Lebanese demonstrators drove Syria from their country. Like today’s demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, they seemed like an Israeli dream come true: people more interested in building their own country than in destroying ours. But it took Hezbollah only a few years to seize power. And now, instead of a peaceful, democratic Lebanon on our northern border, we have an Iranian-backed terrorist state.

Yet because the signs look “pretty positive” a mere two months into the current revolutions, Max thinks Israelis shouldn’t worry that Islamists won’t ultimately succeed in pulling a Hezbollah-style takeover? When Islamists are the best-organized opposition in all these countries, and, as Bret Stephens noted, there’s a leadership vacuum among the democratic forces? And when one of the countries in play is Egypt — the one country whose shift from cold peace to war would devastate Israel’s security?

I’ve written elsewhere that Arab democracy is Israel’s only hope for long-term peace. And if the current revolutions indeed succeed in producing it, most Israelis will cheer. But our experience is that, in this region, change can always be for the worse, and usually is. Right now, nobody can promise that this particular change won’t be the same.

Read Less

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Westboro Baptist Church

The Supreme Court sided with one of the most universally despised groups in America, ruling 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church has the First Amendment right to engage in vulgar protests at military funerals. The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

“What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote, “and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is loathsome, but the court’s decision is correct. The price of free speech is that we have to put up with the worst of it. A picketing law that requires protesters to keep a certain distance from funerals is already being proposed in several states. In the meantime, counter-protesters have begun drowning out Westboro Baptist’s rantings at memorial services with patriotic songs and chants, which is also a constitutional way to fight the church’s message.

The Supreme Court sided with one of the most universally despised groups in America, ruling 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church has the First Amendment right to engage in vulgar protests at military funerals. The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

“What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote, “and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is loathsome, but the court’s decision is correct. The price of free speech is that we have to put up with the worst of it. A picketing law that requires protesters to keep a certain distance from funerals is already being proposed in several states. In the meantime, counter-protesters have begun drowning out Westboro Baptist’s rantings at memorial services with patriotic songs and chants, which is also a constitutional way to fight the church’s message.

Read Less

The Dangers of Demonization and the Conspiracy Temptation

Good grief. Former governor Mike Huckabee said in an interview that President Obama grew up in Kenya. His press spokesman clarified that Huckabee meant to say Indonesia. One problem, of course, is that, in the interview, Huckabee mentioned the Mau Mau revolution, which occurred in Kenya, not Indonesia. For another, Huckabee was asked, “How come we don’t have a health record, we don’t have a college record, we don’t have a birth cer — why Mr. Obama did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. … Don’t you think we deserve to know more about this man?” Huckabee’s response was, “I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American” (h/t: Andrew Sullivan).

This is not encouraging.

How about starting today, Republicans and conservatives accept the following two propositions: Barack Obama was born in the United States and he’s a Christian. He may be wrong on a vast array of public policy issues, as I believe he is; and his animating philosophy (contemporary liberalism) may be defective in all sorts of ways. But he not an alien, nor is he a Muslim, nor can his views be explained by Kenyan anti-colonialism. To argue otherwise, or even to hint otherwise, is irresponsible. It’s also politically discrediting.

We live in an era in which it is fashionable in some quarters not simply to question the policies of an Obama, a Bush, or a Clinton; one has to call into question their very legitimacy. It is a cast of mind that allows one’s grievances to find refuge in conspiracy theories (Bush knew in advance about 9/11 and purposely lied about WMDs in Iraq; Bill Clinton was behind the “murder” of Vince Foster and a drug-smuggling operation at the Mena Airport; Barack Obama is a Muslim who was born in Africa).

Entertaining these myths and giving them wings is dangerous stuff. The reason is obvious: our nation depends on its citizens accepting the legitimacy of democratic outcomes, including ones that don’t go our way. If people believe without supporting evidence that our president is not just wrong but illegitimate, that he’s not simply misguided but malevolent, essential bonds of trust are ripped apart. Read More

Good grief. Former governor Mike Huckabee said in an interview that President Obama grew up in Kenya. His press spokesman clarified that Huckabee meant to say Indonesia. One problem, of course, is that, in the interview, Huckabee mentioned the Mau Mau revolution, which occurred in Kenya, not Indonesia. For another, Huckabee was asked, “How come we don’t have a health record, we don’t have a college record, we don’t have a birth cer — why Mr. Obama did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. … Don’t you think we deserve to know more about this man?” Huckabee’s response was, “I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American” (h/t: Andrew Sullivan).

This is not encouraging.

How about starting today, Republicans and conservatives accept the following two propositions: Barack Obama was born in the United States and he’s a Christian. He may be wrong on a vast array of public policy issues, as I believe he is; and his animating philosophy (contemporary liberalism) may be defective in all sorts of ways. But he not an alien, nor is he a Muslim, nor can his views be explained by Kenyan anti-colonialism. To argue otherwise, or even to hint otherwise, is irresponsible. It’s also politically discrediting.

We live in an era in which it is fashionable in some quarters not simply to question the policies of an Obama, a Bush, or a Clinton; one has to call into question their very legitimacy. It is a cast of mind that allows one’s grievances to find refuge in conspiracy theories (Bush knew in advance about 9/11 and purposely lied about WMDs in Iraq; Bill Clinton was behind the “murder” of Vince Foster and a drug-smuggling operation at the Mena Airport; Barack Obama is a Muslim who was born in Africa).

Entertaining these myths and giving them wings is dangerous stuff. The reason is obvious: our nation depends on its citizens accepting the legitimacy of democratic outcomes, including ones that don’t go our way. If people believe without supporting evidence that our president is not just wrong but illegitimate, that he’s not simply misguided but malevolent, essential bonds of trust are ripped apart.

This is not to say that presidents should be immune to tough, even fierce criticisms. That is perfectly appropriate, and sometimes it’s even necessary. But criticism is one thing; demonization and embracing wild conspiracy theories is quite another. If we get to the point where we assume that our political differences can be explained only by some deeper, hidden evil in our opponents, then self-government itself is trouble.

It’s worth bearing in mind something else as well: America’s greatest political leaders — including Washington, Lincoln, King, and Reagan — showed a tenacious commitment to certain ideals and a generosity of spirit toward others. Holding on to both things at once isn’t easy. But it is at least worth striving for.

Read Less

Second Pakistani Politician Assassinated for Opposing Blasphemy Laws

In yet another disaster for Pakistani moderates, a second politician has been gunned down for opposing the country’s blasphemy laws. As Giulio Meotti has noted, this assassination comes just two months after the killing of outspoken reformer Salman Taseer:

[Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz] Bhatti, a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was killed by a small team of gunmen that surrounded and fired dozens of shots at his Toyota sedan as he left home for work Wednesday morning. The attackers drove off shortly after the ambush and remained at large in the hours after the killing, police said.

Though there was no claim of responsibility for the killing, fliers found scattered on the road near the scene bore the names of what appeared to be two Islamist militant groups – the Al-Qaeda Organization and the Pakistani Taliban Punjab. The fliers condemned Bhatti as an “infidel, a cursed one” and said others who demonstrate “support of blasphemers” would meet the same fate.

Obviously the biggest concern about this is how it will impact the country’s moderates, who were already uneasy about speaking out. “When Taseer’s killer — one of his police guards — was lionized as a hero even by mainstream Muslims, most of the few Pakistani officials who shared Taseer’s views stopped voicing them out of fear,” reports the Washington Post.

According to the Post, Bhatti was one of the only government officials who continued to call for reform. His assassination will be a major setback for Pakistan’s Christians and opponents of the blasphemy laws, especially if his killers aren’t brought to justice.

In yet another disaster for Pakistani moderates, a second politician has been gunned down for opposing the country’s blasphemy laws. As Giulio Meotti has noted, this assassination comes just two months after the killing of outspoken reformer Salman Taseer:

[Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz] Bhatti, a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was killed by a small team of gunmen that surrounded and fired dozens of shots at his Toyota sedan as he left home for work Wednesday morning. The attackers drove off shortly after the ambush and remained at large in the hours after the killing, police said.

Though there was no claim of responsibility for the killing, fliers found scattered on the road near the scene bore the names of what appeared to be two Islamist militant groups – the Al-Qaeda Organization and the Pakistani Taliban Punjab. The fliers condemned Bhatti as an “infidel, a cursed one” and said others who demonstrate “support of blasphemers” would meet the same fate.

Obviously the biggest concern about this is how it will impact the country’s moderates, who were already uneasy about speaking out. “When Taseer’s killer — one of his police guards — was lionized as a hero even by mainstream Muslims, most of the few Pakistani officials who shared Taseer’s views stopped voicing them out of fear,” reports the Washington Post.

According to the Post, Bhatti was one of the only government officials who continued to call for reform. His assassination will be a major setback for Pakistan’s Christians and opponents of the blasphemy laws, especially if his killers aren’t brought to justice.

Read Less

Preventing Civil War in Libya May Require American and Allied Airpower

Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and Central Command boss Gen. Jim Mattis are right to warn that imposing a no-fly zone in Libya would not be cost-free. It would indeed be, as Mattis told Congress, a serious military undertaking that would require taking out Libyan air defenses. This is not a step we should take easily or lightly; we need to think through all the repercussions. But there is a powerful case for action that goes beyond the humanitarian imperative to stop a dictator totally divorced from reality who is using brutal force against his own people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns that as things now stand, Libya could face a “protracted civil war.” If she’s right, that is the worst possible news, because civil wars tend to be polarizing events that allow radicals and demagogues to come to the fore. We have seen in the past how civil wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq unleashed pent-up sectarian tensions and empowered the worst extremists — from Slobodan Milosevic to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Moqtada al-Sadr.

When there is no strong central government to safeguard order, people tend to look for protection to militias of their own tribe or ethnicity. The result can be terrible violence, and it can last for years, making it hard to reimpose central control. Somalia is the worst-case example. Libya has the advantage of not being divided by religion — pretty much all Libyans are Sunni Muslims — but it is divided between Arabs and Berbers and, more important, among numerous tribes. Before it was unified by Italian invaders in the 1920s-30s, Libya was not even a single state; it was comprised of three Ottoman provinces (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan). Qaddafi, who has ruled since 1969, has not created strong governmental institutions. The potential for chaos and radicalization is great if the present fighting continues indefinitely — and al-Qaeda stands by, licking its chops, ready to take advantage.

If such an outcome can be prevented by a relatively modest commitment of American and allied airpower — and especially if we can act in cooperation with NATO as we did in Kosovo — the case for action becomes compelling. I would certainly not favor sending any ground troops unless something changes radically for the worse, but they should not be needed. As in Kosovo, there is a substantial force of rebels on the ground that can do the hard and dangerous work of finishing off the existing regime; we could help at a relatively safe remove. The key for the opposition is to decide what it wants. We should only help the rebels if they publicly ask for our help. But if they do, and we come to their aid, we could help to establish that America is on the side of the forces of freedom in the region — something that can rightly be called into question by our decades of support for various despots, including, most recently, the mad bomber of Tripoli, Qaddafi himself.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and Central Command boss Gen. Jim Mattis are right to warn that imposing a no-fly zone in Libya would not be cost-free. It would indeed be, as Mattis told Congress, a serious military undertaking that would require taking out Libyan air defenses. This is not a step we should take easily or lightly; we need to think through all the repercussions. But there is a powerful case for action that goes beyond the humanitarian imperative to stop a dictator totally divorced from reality who is using brutal force against his own people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns that as things now stand, Libya could face a “protracted civil war.” If she’s right, that is the worst possible news, because civil wars tend to be polarizing events that allow radicals and demagogues to come to the fore. We have seen in the past how civil wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq unleashed pent-up sectarian tensions and empowered the worst extremists — from Slobodan Milosevic to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Moqtada al-Sadr.

When there is no strong central government to safeguard order, people tend to look for protection to militias of their own tribe or ethnicity. The result can be terrible violence, and it can last for years, making it hard to reimpose central control. Somalia is the worst-case example. Libya has the advantage of not being divided by religion — pretty much all Libyans are Sunni Muslims — but it is divided between Arabs and Berbers and, more important, among numerous tribes. Before it was unified by Italian invaders in the 1920s-30s, Libya was not even a single state; it was comprised of three Ottoman provinces (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan). Qaddafi, who has ruled since 1969, has not created strong governmental institutions. The potential for chaos and radicalization is great if the present fighting continues indefinitely — and al-Qaeda stands by, licking its chops, ready to take advantage.

If such an outcome can be prevented by a relatively modest commitment of American and allied airpower — and especially if we can act in cooperation with NATO as we did in Kosovo — the case for action becomes compelling. I would certainly not favor sending any ground troops unless something changes radically for the worse, but they should not be needed. As in Kosovo, there is a substantial force of rebels on the ground that can do the hard and dangerous work of finishing off the existing regime; we could help at a relatively safe remove. The key for the opposition is to decide what it wants. We should only help the rebels if they publicly ask for our help. But if they do, and we come to their aid, we could help to establish that America is on the side of the forces of freedom in the region — something that can rightly be called into question by our decades of support for various despots, including, most recently, the mad bomber of Tripoli, Qaddafi himself.

Read Less

Another Murder in Pakistan

Pakistan’s government minister for religious minorities, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, has just been shot dead. It’s the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure who had urged reforming harsh “blasphemy laws” that impose the death penalty for “insulting” Islam.

Mr. Bhatti’s murder follows the killing two months ago of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, who was murdered for criticizing the blasphemy law. A new movie by the filmmaker Syed Noor, titled One More Holy Warrior, is indicative of the growing acceptability of extrajudicial killing in the name of Islam. The killing of Taseer is the hallmark of a radical attempt to destroy the Christian Pakistani community and to silence the few secular voices that struggled to protect it.

Taseer was killed by a police bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because he dared vote in favor of a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother put to death under the blasphemy law. Even the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Barelvi preachers, the ministers of Pakistan’s “moderate Islam,” praised Taseer’s murderer “for the courage, bravery, honor and integrity.” In court, two imams who inspired this crime justified the killing of the “apostate” governor.

Islamic fundamentalists have threatened judges in order to obtain the release of Qadri, and 800 of lawyers have been striving for the release of the killer. Qadri was showered with rose petals by lawyers and spectators as he made an appearance in the courtroom to face murder charges. A crowd of hundreds of people applauded him, sang songs in his honor, then tried to kiss him. Students have brought Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to Qadri in prison. Fan groups of Qadri can even be found on Facebook.

Taseer was a secular and modern Muslim in an increasingly dark nation. The most tragic aspect of the story is the euphoric manner in which hundreds of thousands of people have praised the killer. In fact, Taseer’s coffin arrived at the cemetery by helicopter, because a funeral procession was too risky.

The son of a Pakistani poet and an English mother, Taseer drank wine, made holidays in Europe, and loved to swim and dance. For this, too, the hyenas wanted him dead. The question now is, did the same pack want Bhatti dead as well? And what of Sherry Rehman, a secular Muslim who has filed a motion to repeal the blasphemy law? She has been called wajib-ul-qatl, “worthy of being killed,” by the Islamic fundamentalists. Rehman is now in hiding. A ghost. Will we be reading about her murder too?

Pakistan’s government minister for religious minorities, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, has just been shot dead. It’s the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure who had urged reforming harsh “blasphemy laws” that impose the death penalty for “insulting” Islam.

Mr. Bhatti’s murder follows the killing two months ago of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, who was murdered for criticizing the blasphemy law. A new movie by the filmmaker Syed Noor, titled One More Holy Warrior, is indicative of the growing acceptability of extrajudicial killing in the name of Islam. The killing of Taseer is the hallmark of a radical attempt to destroy the Christian Pakistani community and to silence the few secular voices that struggled to protect it.

Taseer was killed by a police bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because he dared vote in favor of a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother put to death under the blasphemy law. Even the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Barelvi preachers, the ministers of Pakistan’s “moderate Islam,” praised Taseer’s murderer “for the courage, bravery, honor and integrity.” In court, two imams who inspired this crime justified the killing of the “apostate” governor.

Islamic fundamentalists have threatened judges in order to obtain the release of Qadri, and 800 of lawyers have been striving for the release of the killer. Qadri was showered with rose petals by lawyers and spectators as he made an appearance in the courtroom to face murder charges. A crowd of hundreds of people applauded him, sang songs in his honor, then tried to kiss him. Students have brought Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to Qadri in prison. Fan groups of Qadri can even be found on Facebook.

Taseer was a secular and modern Muslim in an increasingly dark nation. The most tragic aspect of the story is the euphoric manner in which hundreds of thousands of people have praised the killer. In fact, Taseer’s coffin arrived at the cemetery by helicopter, because a funeral procession was too risky.

The son of a Pakistani poet and an English mother, Taseer drank wine, made holidays in Europe, and loved to swim and dance. For this, too, the hyenas wanted him dead. The question now is, did the same pack want Bhatti dead as well? And what of Sherry Rehman, a secular Muslim who has filed a motion to repeal the blasphemy law? She has been called wajib-ul-qatl, “worthy of being killed,” by the Islamic fundamentalists. Rehman is now in hiding. A ghost. Will we be reading about her murder too?

Read Less

Israeli Trophy Technology May Prove of Great Value to U.S.

It’s not getting a lot of notice in the U.S., but it’s big news in Israel: an Israeli Merkava tank patrolling near the Gaza Strip yesterday was targeted by a Palestinian rocket — but the rocket was deflected by the tank’s active-protection system, known as Trophy. The Trophy system, manufactured by Israel’s Rafael Defense Systems, uses radar to detect a missile launch and automatically fires small projectiles to stop the incoming rocket.

Israel decided to develop this defensive system after the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah was able to knock out dozens of its tanks. Just last month, Hamas used a Kornet anti-tank rocket to hit another Israeli tank. More testing in field conditions needs to be done before one can draw any definitive conclusions, but if yesterday’s attack was anything to go by, the Trophy will tilt the balance back to armored forces — at least for the time being. In and of itself, that is not going to be decisive in any war, but it will give Israeli forces greater confidence when they next have to go back into Lebanon or Gaza — and, unfortunately, there will be a next time because Hezbollah and Hamas continue to arm at an alarming rate.

This is a development that will also be of interest to the U.S. armed forces. So far, our forces have not confronted much of a missile threat in Afghanistan or Iraq; most of our vehicles have been lost to IEDs, not missiles. But given how cheap and plentiful various sorts of man-launched rockets are, it is inevitable that before long they will be used by our enemies. When that happens, we may find ourselves grateful once again for our alliance with Israel, which has developed technology — and not for the first time — that can be of such great benefit to the U.S. armed forces.

It’s not getting a lot of notice in the U.S., but it’s big news in Israel: an Israeli Merkava tank patrolling near the Gaza Strip yesterday was targeted by a Palestinian rocket — but the rocket was deflected by the tank’s active-protection system, known as Trophy. The Trophy system, manufactured by Israel’s Rafael Defense Systems, uses radar to detect a missile launch and automatically fires small projectiles to stop the incoming rocket.

Israel decided to develop this defensive system after the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah was able to knock out dozens of its tanks. Just last month, Hamas used a Kornet anti-tank rocket to hit another Israeli tank. More testing in field conditions needs to be done before one can draw any definitive conclusions, but if yesterday’s attack was anything to go by, the Trophy will tilt the balance back to armored forces — at least for the time being. In and of itself, that is not going to be decisive in any war, but it will give Israeli forces greater confidence when they next have to go back into Lebanon or Gaza — and, unfortunately, there will be a next time because Hezbollah and Hamas continue to arm at an alarming rate.

This is a development that will also be of interest to the U.S. armed forces. So far, our forces have not confronted much of a missile threat in Afghanistan or Iraq; most of our vehicles have been lost to IEDs, not missiles. But given how cheap and plentiful various sorts of man-launched rockets are, it is inevitable that before long they will be used by our enemies. When that happens, we may find ourselves grateful once again for our alliance with Israel, which has developed technology — and not for the first time — that can be of such great benefit to the U.S. armed forces.

Read Less

Democrats Have Tough Time Ahead Holding On to the Senate

National Journal’s Charlie Cook is always worth listening to, including in this interview.

Cook points out that Democrats, who now control 53 seats in the Senate vs. 47 seats for Republicans, face a “really tough challenge” in holding on to their majority in 2012. The reason, in part, is simple math. Twenty-three Democratic seats are up for election in two years, while only 10 Republican seats are. But Cook goes on to point out that in 2014, there will be 20 Democratic seats up for election vs. only 13 Republican seats. In other words, in the next two election cycles, Democrats have 43 seats up for election against only 23 GOP seats. This means, according to Cook, that Democrats face “back to back really ugly, ugly years for the U.S. Senate.”

It’s possible to overcome obstacles such as these — but it’s not easy, particularly when the nation is trending in a conservative direction.

Right now, the odds are better than even that regardless of what happens in the presidential election in 2012, Republicans will control both chambers of Congress. That isn’t everything. But as the outcome of the 2010 midterm election showed (when Republicans retook control of the House), it’s not nothing, either.

National Journal’s Charlie Cook is always worth listening to, including in this interview.

Cook points out that Democrats, who now control 53 seats in the Senate vs. 47 seats for Republicans, face a “really tough challenge” in holding on to their majority in 2012. The reason, in part, is simple math. Twenty-three Democratic seats are up for election in two years, while only 10 Republican seats are. But Cook goes on to point out that in 2014, there will be 20 Democratic seats up for election vs. only 13 Republican seats. In other words, in the next two election cycles, Democrats have 43 seats up for election against only 23 GOP seats. This means, according to Cook, that Democrats face “back to back really ugly, ugly years for the U.S. Senate.”

It’s possible to overcome obstacles such as these — but it’s not easy, particularly when the nation is trending in a conservative direction.

Right now, the odds are better than even that regardless of what happens in the presidential election in 2012, Republicans will control both chambers of Congress. That isn’t everything. But as the outcome of the 2010 midterm election showed (when Republicans retook control of the House), it’s not nothing, either.

Read Less

Shed No Tears for the Dying Ancien Regimes

I have been spending the past two weeks in Israel and, although it’s not the primary (or even the secondary) purpose of my visit, the subject of the revolutions sweeping the Arab world inevitably comes up. Some Israelis I have spoken to have been hopeful about what is happening; most have not been. Their view is that they have learned to live with despotic regimes and now they fear the consequences of their overthrow. That’s an understandable impulse for a small nation in a rough neighborhood, but it can be carried too far; I had one professor tell me, for instance, that it would be have been much better to have left Saddam Hussein in power because he was a “stabilizing” influence on the region. This would be the same Saddam who invaded Kuwait and Iran, who massacred the Kurds and Shiites, who tried to get weapons of mass destruction — and who, lest anyone forget, fired missiles at Israel. I’m sorry, but whatever your view of whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, it’s bizarre to lament Saddam’s demise.

More broadly, I find it a little bit odd that Israelis lament the passing of the ancien régimes in such a dysfunctional region. Yes, it’s possible that succeeding regimes could be worse, but the previous ones were bad enough. Hosni Mubarak may have maintained diplomatic relations with Israel, but he did nothing to create amity between the Israeli and Egyptian people; instead, he allowed Egypt’s state-run media, mosques, and schools to spew nonstop anti-Semitic bile. Moreover, the very dysfunctionality of his regime fostered resentment that made Egypt a breeding ground for Islamist fundamentalism. And Mubarak’s Egypt was a sterling showcase of liberty compared with Libya, whose megalomaniacal ruler spent decades supporting terrorism and spreading his malign influence throughout Africa and the Middle East. No sane person should lament the inevitable end of the Qaddafi regime. We can only hope that a similar fate is suffered by dictators in Damascus and Tehran.

Again, it’s always possible that what will come next will be worse, but the signs so far have been pretty positive. Numerous Egyptians may have turned out to hear the Islamist firebrand Yusuf Qaradawi preach in Tahrir Square, but the demonstrators who brought down Mubarak were not chanting pro-Islamist or anti-Western slogans. Instead, they were talking the language of civil rights and representative government. As Pete noted, even Daniel Pipes, who can hardly be accused of viewing the Arab world through a rose-colored lens, writes that he is optimistic about the results of these convulsions — an optimism shared by few Israelis. Read More

I have been spending the past two weeks in Israel and, although it’s not the primary (or even the secondary) purpose of my visit, the subject of the revolutions sweeping the Arab world inevitably comes up. Some Israelis I have spoken to have been hopeful about what is happening; most have not been. Their view is that they have learned to live with despotic regimes and now they fear the consequences of their overthrow. That’s an understandable impulse for a small nation in a rough neighborhood, but it can be carried too far; I had one professor tell me, for instance, that it would be have been much better to have left Saddam Hussein in power because he was a “stabilizing” influence on the region. This would be the same Saddam who invaded Kuwait and Iran, who massacred the Kurds and Shiites, who tried to get weapons of mass destruction — and who, lest anyone forget, fired missiles at Israel. I’m sorry, but whatever your view of whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, it’s bizarre to lament Saddam’s demise.

More broadly, I find it a little bit odd that Israelis lament the passing of the ancien régimes in such a dysfunctional region. Yes, it’s possible that succeeding regimes could be worse, but the previous ones were bad enough. Hosni Mubarak may have maintained diplomatic relations with Israel, but he did nothing to create amity between the Israeli and Egyptian people; instead, he allowed Egypt’s state-run media, mosques, and schools to spew nonstop anti-Semitic bile. Moreover, the very dysfunctionality of his regime fostered resentment that made Egypt a breeding ground for Islamist fundamentalism. And Mubarak’s Egypt was a sterling showcase of liberty compared with Libya, whose megalomaniacal ruler spent decades supporting terrorism and spreading his malign influence throughout Africa and the Middle East. No sane person should lament the inevitable end of the Qaddafi regime. We can only hope that a similar fate is suffered by dictators in Damascus and Tehran.

Again, it’s always possible that what will come next will be worse, but the signs so far have been pretty positive. Numerous Egyptians may have turned out to hear the Islamist firebrand Yusuf Qaradawi preach in Tahrir Square, but the demonstrators who brought down Mubarak were not chanting pro-Islamist or anti-Western slogans. Instead, they were talking the language of civil rights and representative government. As Pete noted, even Daniel Pipes, who can hardly be accused of viewing the Arab world through a rose-colored lens, writes that he is optimistic about the results of these convulsions — an optimism shared by few Israelis.

What I find most odd in my conversations with Israelis is the suggestion that somehow the U.S. engineered everything that is happening. This is a common misconception about American omnipotence; wherever I have gone in the world, I have heard the U.S. — and especially the often hapless CIA — blamed for whatever local political developments my interlocutor objected to. But it is especially startling to hear such talk from sophisticated Israelis who have spent considerable time in the U.S. One such Israeli — a professor of great learning and wisdom — actually asked me if the U.S. was backing the Arab revolts in the hopes that they would spread to China. Now there’s a thought that I bet has never entered the head of any policymaker in Washington.

Israelis demand to know why Washington is allowing its allies to fall. Similar questions are being asked in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other pro-American dictatorships. The answer is that — believe it or not — events are largely outside our control. U.S. policymakers are far from driving these convulsions; they are often far behind the curve. It is doubtful that the U.S. could have made much of a difference to the outcome in Tunisia or Egypt, and it is almost inconceivable that the U.S. would have given carte blanche to Mubarak or other dictators to fire on their own people as Qaddafi is now doing.

I am by no means suggesting that the U.S. is an impotent giant; in Libya, we have an opportunity to affect the course of events by intervening to administer the coup de grace to Qaddafi’s discredited dictatorship. But it is the height of unrealism to imagine (as Israelis and Saudis seem to) that the U.S. today could or should play the role of Habsburg Austria and Romanoff Russia in repressing the revolutions of 1848. Our best bet, as I have argued before, is to support the revolutions and work hard to ensure that secular democrats come out on top. Indeed, given our historical DNA, that’s our only real option.

Read Less

Yes, Libyan Rebels Do Want Help

Nineteen paragraphs into a New York Times story headlined “Libyan Rebels Said to Debate Seeking U.N. Airstrikes” we read, in fact, that the debate has already been resolved. “The leader said the council [of opposition figures] had reached a consensus to request the airstrikes,” report Kareem Fahim and David D. Kirkpatrick.

So much for all that talk about the need for Arabs to “own” these revolts and make them happen without outside help.

But such considerations are moot anyway. The UN will not, in a billion years, fire off so much as a water pistol to help dislodge Qaddafi. Among UN Security Council members are China and Russia — autocracies with every reason to see popular liberation movements suffocate. When liberty is on the march, the United Nation Security Council goes on high-alert to protect its sordid assets. It doesn’t transform into the Hall of Justice.

Undertaking Western military action in the spiraling melee that is Libya has the potential to suck up resources and risks protracted entanglement. There are arguments against instituting a no-fly zone (all ultimately short-sighted, in my opinion). But let us not pretend that ensuring native “ownership” of what could become an irreversible massacre is one of them.

Nineteen paragraphs into a New York Times story headlined “Libyan Rebels Said to Debate Seeking U.N. Airstrikes” we read, in fact, that the debate has already been resolved. “The leader said the council [of opposition figures] had reached a consensus to request the airstrikes,” report Kareem Fahim and David D. Kirkpatrick.

So much for all that talk about the need for Arabs to “own” these revolts and make them happen without outside help.

But such considerations are moot anyway. The UN will not, in a billion years, fire off so much as a water pistol to help dislodge Qaddafi. Among UN Security Council members are China and Russia — autocracies with every reason to see popular liberation movements suffocate. When liberty is on the march, the United Nation Security Council goes on high-alert to protect its sordid assets. It doesn’t transform into the Hall of Justice.

Undertaking Western military action in the spiraling melee that is Libya has the potential to suck up resources and risks protracted entanglement. There are arguments against instituting a no-fly zone (all ultimately short-sighted, in my opinion). But let us not pretend that ensuring native “ownership” of what could become an irreversible massacre is one of them.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.