Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 15, 2011

D.C. Vouchers Revival Gives Obama a Chance to Show Willingness to Compromise

Among the most disgraceful actions of the Democratic-run Congress that ran the government during President Obama’s first two years in office was the decision to kill the experimental school-choice program that allowed 1,700 children in the District of Columbia a chance to get out of the failed public-school system and attend a quality private or religious school. Bowing to the demands of their teachers’-union allies and their own predilection to destroy anything that competes with a government-run system, the Democrats axed school choice, effectively closing the only escape route available for many needy inner-city kids.

As we noted at the time, the atrocious hypocrisy of liberal congressional Democrats, who like to pose as the champions of the underprivileged, was exceeded only by that of the president, whose own children attend a posh private school.

But with a new Congress has come a chance to revive this vital program. To his credit, House Speaker John Boehner has signaled his determination to fund the school-choice option for children in the District with an allocation of $2.3 million in the House’s spending bill for 2011. The Speaker has also submitted a bill that would authorize another $20 million per year over the next five years. As the Washington Post reports, that bill, which happens to be the only one that bears Boehner’s name this year, was approved by a House committee last week. Read More

Among the most disgraceful actions of the Democratic-run Congress that ran the government during President Obama’s first two years in office was the decision to kill the experimental school-choice program that allowed 1,700 children in the District of Columbia a chance to get out of the failed public-school system and attend a quality private or religious school. Bowing to the demands of their teachers’-union allies and their own predilection to destroy anything that competes with a government-run system, the Democrats axed school choice, effectively closing the only escape route available for many needy inner-city kids.

As we noted at the time, the atrocious hypocrisy of liberal congressional Democrats, who like to pose as the champions of the underprivileged, was exceeded only by that of the president, whose own children attend a posh private school.

But with a new Congress has come a chance to revive this vital program. To his credit, House Speaker John Boehner has signaled his determination to fund the school-choice option for children in the District with an allocation of $2.3 million in the House’s spending bill for 2011. The Speaker has also submitted a bill that would authorize another $20 million per year over the next five years. As the Washington Post reports, that bill, which happens to be the only one that bears Boehner’s name this year, was approved by a House committee last week.

This is a clear victory for the District’s kids, albeit one not welcomed by their non-voting representative in the House, Democratic delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who predictably bashed Boehner’s initiative. As is usual for liberal opponents of school choice, Norton claims the money is being taken away from the public system. But the point here is that pouring more money into failed schools is not likely to achieve anything, while the school-choice experiment is a precious opportunity for poor children to get the sort of quality education that the progeny of presidents and liberal members of Congress take for granted.

But the revival of school choice in the District is also an opportunity for President Obama, who has been vocal about his support for education as well as his willingness to compromise with the GOP victors of last year’s congressional elections. The school-choice measure, which is co-sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman, is a chance for Obama to demonstrate his bona fides on both counts. Indeed, the D.C. bill, whose cost is a mere trifle compared with the massive entitlements that are the usual fare in past budget battles, would be a cheap win for Obama that would allow him to parade his sympathy for poor kids seeking a better education. It would also mean a lot to Boehner, whose devotion to this cause is well known. Indeed, the only thing that would seem to be an obstacle would be the teachers’ unions and Obama’s own hard-core liberal hostility to school choice. If the president fails to make common cause with Boehner on this small but important education-reform initiative, it will be hard to escape the conclusion that Obama’s rhetoric about both children and bipartisanship is just so much hot air.

Read Less

Rep. King’s Next Hearing May Focus on Radicalization in Prison

Rep. Peter King is pushing ahead with his Homeland Security Committee hearings on Islamic radicalization, and the focus of his next hearing may be radicalization in prison, Politico’s Byron Tau reports.

“There will be more hearings on radicalization,” said Kevin Fogarty, spokesman for the Long Island congressman. “Right now Chairman King is considering prison radicalization as the focus of the next hearing — but that is not yet definite.”

The trumped-up left-wing outrage over the hearings is also moving full-speed ahead. At Vanity Fair, Henry Rollins writes:

Republicans never ceases [sic] to amaze me. I should be used to it by now. Their demonization of gay people doesn’t pack a big enough punch. They can’t touch abortion too often because it’s too much of a good fund-raiser, and by “winning” they would lose. So it’s back to another depressing excersise [sic] in Muslim bashmatics.

If the president didn’t have a name so strange and had been born somewhere like Nebraska or Ohio, to parents of African-American descent—had he not been schooled for a time at a madrasa—Representative King wouldn’t even attempt something this pathetic and destructive. Things being what they are, some Republicans and Tea Party members really think they have something here and they are going for it.

Rollins seemingly can’t imagine why a member of Congress would propose a hearing on Islamic radicalization, other than as a backlash against President Obama’s name. Interesting theory, except that it doesn’t explain all those Senate Homeland Security committee hearings on Islamic extremism that took place when President Bush was still in office.

The left-wing panic is sure to increase, as Rep. King’s next hearing gets closer. But critics may have a hard time explaining why a Senate hearing on the topic of Islamic radicalization in prison failed to garner the same outrage back in 2006.

Rep. Peter King is pushing ahead with his Homeland Security Committee hearings on Islamic radicalization, and the focus of his next hearing may be radicalization in prison, Politico’s Byron Tau reports.

“There will be more hearings on radicalization,” said Kevin Fogarty, spokesman for the Long Island congressman. “Right now Chairman King is considering prison radicalization as the focus of the next hearing — but that is not yet definite.”

The trumped-up left-wing outrage over the hearings is also moving full-speed ahead. At Vanity Fair, Henry Rollins writes:

Republicans never ceases [sic] to amaze me. I should be used to it by now. Their demonization of gay people doesn’t pack a big enough punch. They can’t touch abortion too often because it’s too much of a good fund-raiser, and by “winning” they would lose. So it’s back to another depressing excersise [sic] in Muslim bashmatics.

If the president didn’t have a name so strange and had been born somewhere like Nebraska or Ohio, to parents of African-American descent—had he not been schooled for a time at a madrasa—Representative King wouldn’t even attempt something this pathetic and destructive. Things being what they are, some Republicans and Tea Party members really think they have something here and they are going for it.

Rollins seemingly can’t imagine why a member of Congress would propose a hearing on Islamic radicalization, other than as a backlash against President Obama’s name. Interesting theory, except that it doesn’t explain all those Senate Homeland Security committee hearings on Islamic extremism that took place when President Bush was still in office.

The left-wing panic is sure to increase, as Rep. King’s next hearing gets closer. But critics may have a hard time explaining why a Senate hearing on the topic of Islamic radicalization in prison failed to garner the same outrage back in 2006.

Read Less

Federations Face Tough Questions About Ties to Left-Wing Groups

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has come under fire recently for its funding of Theater J, a playhouse that has put on anti-Israel productions. And now it looks like a similar controversy may be heating up in New York.

A group called JCC Watch has accused the Federation-funded Jewish Community Center of New York’s Upper West Side of partnering with organizations that support the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In a news conference held Sunday afternoon in front of the JCC offices, JCC Watch reported that the organization is partnering with a number of pro-BDS organizations. JCC Watch founder Richard Allen called on the JCC board of directors to establish public and transparent guidelines regarding BDS.

“It’s time that the board of directors of the JCC in Manhattan take action. It’s simple: all they have to do is stop supporting groups that partner with, fund, or support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel,” Allen said.

According to JCC Watch, the problematic groups that the Upper West Side JCC has partnered with include the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and J Street. While none of these are flat-out BDS groups, per se, some have been supportive of BDS.

In a recent report on Israel, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. and European countries to withhold Israeli aid that went to the settlements. B’Tselem has reportedly accepted money from an outspoken BDS group called Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace. New Israel Fund has given financial support to boycott organizations, and J Street gave boycott-promoters a prominent platform at its recent conference. Read More

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has come under fire recently for its funding of Theater J, a playhouse that has put on anti-Israel productions. And now it looks like a similar controversy may be heating up in New York.

A group called JCC Watch has accused the Federation-funded Jewish Community Center of New York’s Upper West Side of partnering with organizations that support the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In a news conference held Sunday afternoon in front of the JCC offices, JCC Watch reported that the organization is partnering with a number of pro-BDS organizations. JCC Watch founder Richard Allen called on the JCC board of directors to establish public and transparent guidelines regarding BDS.

“It’s time that the board of directors of the JCC in Manhattan take action. It’s simple: all they have to do is stop supporting groups that partner with, fund, or support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel,” Allen said.

According to JCC Watch, the problematic groups that the Upper West Side JCC has partnered with include the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and J Street. While none of these are flat-out BDS groups, per se, some have been supportive of BDS.

In a recent report on Israel, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. and European countries to withhold Israeli aid that went to the settlements. B’Tselem has reportedly accepted money from an outspoken BDS group called Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace. New Israel Fund has given financial support to boycott organizations, and J Street gave boycott-promoters a prominent platform at its recent conference.

However, it must also be pointed out that there is a difference between dovish or even leftist sentiments about Israel and support for BDS, which is a form of economic warfare aimed at the destruction of the Jewish state. Despite its many faults, J Street is actually an open opponent of BDS. And even Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and New Israel Fund don’t support the BDS movement. What they are guilty of is engaging in activities that often seemed aimed at delegitimizing Israel, which is one of the goals of BDS.

While JCC Watch may be painting with a rather broad brush here, it must be noted that this controversy did not arise in a vacuum. Having antagonized many friends of Israel with its “Other Israel Film Festival,” which promoted movies deeply critical of the country and tend to give aid and comfort to its foes, it is understandable that some in the community are not prepared to give the JCC of the Upper West Side the benefit of the doubt when it comes to other issues. That is especially true about the seemingly cozy relationship that the JCC has developed with these left-wing groups.

If New York and Washington, D.C., are having these issues, there are sure to be similar concerns about Federation-funded organizations across the country. Though the Jewish community is by no means monolithic in its opinions about Israeli politics and policies, Jewish leaders need to draw a clear line between legitimate criticism of Israel and the delegitimization movement.

Read Less

Re: The Importance of Blockading Gaza

I endorse Jonathan Tobin’s points on the need to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and would like to add another one. Americans, situated on the other side of the globe, have rarely considered it, but in light of the growing instability in the Middle East, it’s time we did.

Israel’s interdiction of arms shipments to terrorists is not just a boon to Israel. It’s a boon to regional stability. Gaza is not the only destination for smuggled arms; Lebanon is the other principal one. When the IDF intercepted M/V Francop in November 2009, the arms disguised as commercial cargo were bound for Beirut.

Israel cannot intercept arms shipments on every axis — e.g., at the Syrian border with Lebanon — but denying particular arms shipments to terrorists is not necessarily the most important effect of the Israeli policy. That effect is, rather, the imposition of boundaries on the scope and character of the instability created by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Without Israel’s enforcement of those effective boundaries, the impact of the terror regimes in Gaza and southern Lebanon would be considerably greater on Egypt and Jordan, at a minimum. If an Iranian-sponsored arms pipeline through Sudan to Gaza had been allowed to prosper, it would have further destabilized and polarized that already war-torn nation. Saudi Arabia, opposing Iran’s busy career on two sides of Israel, would consider it even more urgent to arm and cultivate Sunni Arab factions, hoping to organize Egypt and Jordan against the Iran-Syria coalition.

Israeli enforcement of the Gaza blockade, and Jerusalem’s policy of interdicting arms shipments to Hezbollah, are some of the key measures preventing Iran from consolidating advantage in Gaza and Lebanon. They also serve to discourage the widening of the terrorists’ operating theater and logistics range. That range can only be widened into the territory of neighboring nations, forcing those nations into overt policy choices — choices about whom to side with and what armed efforts to support or actively oppose — that they can address today with ambivalence.

It’s a good mental exercise to imagine the state of regional stability if there were no arms blockade of Gaza and no Israeli vigilance over southern Lebanon. Only Iran and the terrorists would derive advantage from the proliferation of arms and the potential for chaos. Certainly the Gazan and Lebanese civilians would not. And no regional nation would be immune to the reverberations outward from the Levant.

I endorse Jonathan Tobin’s points on the need to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and would like to add another one. Americans, situated on the other side of the globe, have rarely considered it, but in light of the growing instability in the Middle East, it’s time we did.

Israel’s interdiction of arms shipments to terrorists is not just a boon to Israel. It’s a boon to regional stability. Gaza is not the only destination for smuggled arms; Lebanon is the other principal one. When the IDF intercepted M/V Francop in November 2009, the arms disguised as commercial cargo were bound for Beirut.

Israel cannot intercept arms shipments on every axis — e.g., at the Syrian border with Lebanon — but denying particular arms shipments to terrorists is not necessarily the most important effect of the Israeli policy. That effect is, rather, the imposition of boundaries on the scope and character of the instability created by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Without Israel’s enforcement of those effective boundaries, the impact of the terror regimes in Gaza and southern Lebanon would be considerably greater on Egypt and Jordan, at a minimum. If an Iranian-sponsored arms pipeline through Sudan to Gaza had been allowed to prosper, it would have further destabilized and polarized that already war-torn nation. Saudi Arabia, opposing Iran’s busy career on two sides of Israel, would consider it even more urgent to arm and cultivate Sunni Arab factions, hoping to organize Egypt and Jordan against the Iran-Syria coalition.

Israeli enforcement of the Gaza blockade, and Jerusalem’s policy of interdicting arms shipments to Hezbollah, are some of the key measures preventing Iran from consolidating advantage in Gaza and Lebanon. They also serve to discourage the widening of the terrorists’ operating theater and logistics range. That range can only be widened into the territory of neighboring nations, forcing those nations into overt policy choices — choices about whom to side with and what armed efforts to support or actively oppose — that they can address today with ambivalence.

It’s a good mental exercise to imagine the state of regional stability if there were no arms blockade of Gaza and no Israeli vigilance over southern Lebanon. Only Iran and the terrorists would derive advantage from the proliferation of arms and the potential for chaos. Certainly the Gazan and Lebanese civilians would not. And no regional nation would be immune to the reverberations outward from the Levant.

Read Less

Rebels Fight for Democratic Ideals in Libya as America Sits on Its Hands

In his story about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting in Paris with the leadership of Libya’s rebels, the Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan reports that the National Transitional Council (the rebel’s government-in-waiting) is made up of lawyers and intellectuals who profess ambitions of creating a Libya governed by democratic ideals, “possibly altering the face of the Arab world and inspiring more autocratic regimes to fall.”

Raghavan goes on to note that Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, a prominent lawyer who has been the public face of the council, said that

the council unanimously wants to put in place a democratic, civilian government with a constitution, separation of powers, freedom of the press and assembly, and multiparty elections. ”We want a Libya where no one is above the law,” Ghoga said.

The rebel leaders envision a parliamentary rather than a presidential system … rebel officials stressed that while Islam would be the official religion, a post-Gaddafi government would be secular. “It will never be an Islamic regime,” Daghili [a constitutional law professor who is a member of the rebel national council] said. “The revolution seeks advancement for both men and women. The women here are well educated. It is far from a Taliban-like state.”

What is striking about the goals of the leadership of the Libyan uprising is how (classically) liberal and democratic they are — and therefore how representative they are of the broader revolution sweeping the Middle East and North Africa right now. In country after country, we don’t hear demands for an Iranian-style theocracy; what we hear instead are appeals to American and British forms of government. This kind of thing was almost unheard of in the Middle East and North Africa not long ago; today it is almost the coin of the realm. This is a staggering thing to witness.

Whether these democratic impulses will prevail has yet to be determined. The situation is extremely fluid, and the forces arrayed against liberty are ruthless and powerful. Which is why the role of America matters. Which brings us to Barack Obama and his deep ambivalence and passivity in the midst of this unfolding drama. One might have thought that the president of the United States would place his country squarely on the side of those fighting and dying for democracy and a liberal, modern Middle East. But sadly, one would be wrong.

In his story about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting in Paris with the leadership of Libya’s rebels, the Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan reports that the National Transitional Council (the rebel’s government-in-waiting) is made up of lawyers and intellectuals who profess ambitions of creating a Libya governed by democratic ideals, “possibly altering the face of the Arab world and inspiring more autocratic regimes to fall.”

Raghavan goes on to note that Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, a prominent lawyer who has been the public face of the council, said that

the council unanimously wants to put in place a democratic, civilian government with a constitution, separation of powers, freedom of the press and assembly, and multiparty elections. ”We want a Libya where no one is above the law,” Ghoga said.

The rebel leaders envision a parliamentary rather than a presidential system … rebel officials stressed that while Islam would be the official religion, a post-Gaddafi government would be secular. “It will never be an Islamic regime,” Daghili [a constitutional law professor who is a member of the rebel national council] said. “The revolution seeks advancement for both men and women. The women here are well educated. It is far from a Taliban-like state.”

What is striking about the goals of the leadership of the Libyan uprising is how (classically) liberal and democratic they are — and therefore how representative they are of the broader revolution sweeping the Middle East and North Africa right now. In country after country, we don’t hear demands for an Iranian-style theocracy; what we hear instead are appeals to American and British forms of government. This kind of thing was almost unheard of in the Middle East and North Africa not long ago; today it is almost the coin of the realm. This is a staggering thing to witness.

Whether these democratic impulses will prevail has yet to be determined. The situation is extremely fluid, and the forces arrayed against liberty are ruthless and powerful. Which is why the role of America matters. Which brings us to Barack Obama and his deep ambivalence and passivity in the midst of this unfolding drama. One might have thought that the president of the United States would place his country squarely on the side of those fighting and dying for democracy and a liberal, modern Middle East. But sadly, one would be wrong.

Read Less

Media Meltdown

The nuclear incident at Fukushima is a serious event to put it mildly, the third of the great triad of disasters to strike Japan over the past few days, and one that will have far reaching consequences.

But to listen to the media, especially television, one would think the next Chernobyl is at hand, if not the next Hiroshima.  In fact, it is not yet a Chernobyl and in all probability won’t become one. Chernobyl had no containment vessel. Once it went haywire (thanks to very bad design and very incompetent management), there was nothing to prevent a catastrophic release of radiation. And it can’t be a Hiroshima. Nuclear plants cannot turn into nuclear bombs no matter what happens. It is probably a Three Mile Island. No one died as a result of Three Mile Island.

The news media, of course, are in the business of selling news, so the greater the disaster, the better it is for them, as far as business is concerned. This induces a predilection to be Chicken Little. When you have a problem with scary but often not-really-understood words such as radiation, meltdown, and Roentgen, and spectacular footage of explosions, that goes double. Then you add in time constraints and the need to get “experts” on the air quickly. Unfortunately, many of the “nuclear experts” in TV producers’ iPhones are, in fact, anti-nuclear activists, only too happy to exploit the situation to push their agenda.

The best non–Chicken Little explanation of the situation at Fukushima that I’ve read can be found here. It is reassuring and a good antidote to the near hysteria I’ve seen on television the past few days.

The nuclear incident at Fukushima is a serious event to put it mildly, the third of the great triad of disasters to strike Japan over the past few days, and one that will have far reaching consequences.

But to listen to the media, especially television, one would think the next Chernobyl is at hand, if not the next Hiroshima.  In fact, it is not yet a Chernobyl and in all probability won’t become one. Chernobyl had no containment vessel. Once it went haywire (thanks to very bad design and very incompetent management), there was nothing to prevent a catastrophic release of radiation. And it can’t be a Hiroshima. Nuclear plants cannot turn into nuclear bombs no matter what happens. It is probably a Three Mile Island. No one died as a result of Three Mile Island.

The news media, of course, are in the business of selling news, so the greater the disaster, the better it is for them, as far as business is concerned. This induces a predilection to be Chicken Little. When you have a problem with scary but often not-really-understood words such as radiation, meltdown, and Roentgen, and spectacular footage of explosions, that goes double. Then you add in time constraints and the need to get “experts” on the air quickly. Unfortunately, many of the “nuclear experts” in TV producers’ iPhones are, in fact, anti-nuclear activists, only too happy to exploit the situation to push their agenda.

The best non–Chicken Little explanation of the situation at Fukushima that I’ve read can be found here. It is reassuring and a good antidote to the near hysteria I’ve seen on television the past few days.

Read Less

Petraeus’s Testimony: A Clear and Sober Assessment on Afghanistan

Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today contains a clear-eyed assessment of what has already been accomplished in Afghanistan — and what more needs to be done. He noted that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas.” However, he also pointed out that progress so far is “fragile and reversible” and that “much difficult work lies ahead.”

That is a more sober, and more accurate, assessment than some of the happy talk we once heard on Afghanistan — or the overly gloom talk we hear too often today. And it certainly tallies with my own observations during my most recent trip to Afghanistan last week.

In December, I visited Arghandab district north of Kandahar, once a hotbed of the Taliban, which has now been occupied by U.S. and Afghan troops. Last week I visited Zharay, west of Kandahar, another district where the Taliban once held sway but no longer do so. There are other such examples across Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where the coalition is putting the bulk of its efforts. As Petraeus told the Senate committee, “Marjah, the one-time hub of the Taliban and the illegal narcotics industry in central Helmand Province, held an election for a community council  on March 1st during which 75 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. And as a result of improvements in the security situation there, the markets, which once sold weapons, explosives, and illegal narcotics, now feature over 1,500 shops selling food, clothes, and household goods.”

Such progress is in part the result of the coalition’s success in carrying out what Petraeus described as “precise, intelligence-driven operations to capture or kill insurgent leaders.” Most impressive of all, as Petraeus noted, “a recently released UN study observed that civilian casualties due to ISAF [NATO] and Afghan force operations decreased by just over 20% in 2010, even as our total forces increased by over 100,000 and significant offensive operations were launched.” The coalition’s ability to increase kinetic operations while decreasing civilian casualties is an impressive feat that makes it easier to win over skeptical Afghans. Read More

Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today contains a clear-eyed assessment of what has already been accomplished in Afghanistan — and what more needs to be done. He noted that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas.” However, he also pointed out that progress so far is “fragile and reversible” and that “much difficult work lies ahead.”

That is a more sober, and more accurate, assessment than some of the happy talk we once heard on Afghanistan — or the overly gloom talk we hear too often today. And it certainly tallies with my own observations during my most recent trip to Afghanistan last week.

In December, I visited Arghandab district north of Kandahar, once a hotbed of the Taliban, which has now been occupied by U.S. and Afghan troops. Last week I visited Zharay, west of Kandahar, another district where the Taliban once held sway but no longer do so. There are other such examples across Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where the coalition is putting the bulk of its efforts. As Petraeus told the Senate committee, “Marjah, the one-time hub of the Taliban and the illegal narcotics industry in central Helmand Province, held an election for a community council  on March 1st during which 75 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. And as a result of improvements in the security situation there, the markets, which once sold weapons, explosives, and illegal narcotics, now feature over 1,500 shops selling food, clothes, and household goods.”

Such progress is in part the result of the coalition’s success in carrying out what Petraeus described as “precise, intelligence-driven operations to capture or kill insurgent leaders.” Most impressive of all, as Petraeus noted, “a recently released UN study observed that civilian casualties due to ISAF [NATO] and Afghan force operations decreased by just over 20% in 2010, even as our total forces increased by over 100,000 and significant offensive operations were launched.” The coalition’s ability to increase kinetic operations while decreasing civilian casualties is an impressive feat that makes it easier to win over skeptical Afghans.

Another positive development is the growth in size and effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces, especially the army. As Petraeus noted, “[T]he past year alone has seen Afghan forces grow by over one-third, adding some 70,000 soldiers and police.” That’s due to the hard work of Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his staff at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, notwithstanding the contemptible efforts to undermine Caldwell by an antiwar Rolling Stone reporter.

But big challenges still remain, even if Petraeus had to be circumspect about them in the context of an open hearing. He referred to “insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan” and said “we are coordinating closely with the Pakistani army to … provide the ‘anvil’ on the Afghan side of the Duran Line against which Pakistani Taliban elements can be driven by Pakistani operations in the border areas.”  It’s true that Pakistan does cooperate with some coalition operations — but it also turns a blind eye to much Taliban activity and actively sponsors many elements of the insurgency. During my trip, I heard about ammonium nitrate factories in Pakistan that churn out much of the explosives that are killing and maiming our troops every day. Pakistan could easily close such factories but refuses to do so, leading to legitimate questions about where its allegiances lie. Actually, it may not be possible to speak about Pakistan’s having any coherent policy at all, since its military intelligence service, the ISI, remains a power onto itself.

The other issue that could still cripple our efforts is the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan. This is a problem that Petraeus has begun to address by setting up an anti-corruption task force under the formidable Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Already McMaster has scored some small but significant victories in the fight against corrupt patronage networks whose reach extends all the way to the top of Afghan politics. But much  more needs to be done, and it would help if McMaster got more support than he has received to date from the U.S. Embassy and the State Department.

The real test of how far we have come in Afghanistan is how the coalition weathers the expected spring-summer Taliban offensive. If Petraeus is able to prevent any reductions in combat forces in the south, the Taliban should find themselves unable to fight their way back into their old strongholds. They are already adjusting to this difficulty by placing increasing emphasis on high-profile terrorist attacks such as the suicide bombing of an army-recruiting center in northern Afghanistan that killed 35 people yesterday. But such attacks may actually undermine the Taliban’s cause by inflicting so many civilian casualties that they could make it harder for the insurgency to win the people’s “hearts and minds.”

Overall, despite inevitable setbacks and continuing challenges, I’d say that the counterinsurgency campaign — which began in earnest only in the fall of 2010 — is going about as well as can be expected right now.

Read Less

Outsourcing to Autocracies

According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “there is ‘no U.S. support’ from the State Department for a no-fly zone over Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instead saying that the proposal must go to the United Nations, where it is expected to face opposition from Russia and China.”

You never know. Sometimes Russia and China can surprise you on these things. Just kidding.

The file on support for Libyan rebels is now closed. The failed revolution belongs to history. But make no mistake about this: in outsourcing global leadership to the UN Security Council, the Obama administration did not allow the Libyans to be masters of their own destiny, as Fareed Zakaria or Tom Friedman would have it. It made Russia and China the masters of Libyans’ destiny. If the UNSC were to vote yes on a no-fly zone, the U.S. would spring into action and give them one. But when the Libyans asked, the U.S. shot them down and added that Muammar Qaddafi would triumph anyway.

Simply put, rebels were breaking free from a dictator when Washington placed their lives in the hands of two other dictators. During the Bush years, we only rendered guilty parties to foreign dictatorships, and that was just for interrogation. But this is what it means to defer to the UNSC in all matters of global security, to have a “humble” foreign policy. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the free world is at the mercy of autocracies in Moscow and Beijing.

According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “there is ‘no U.S. support’ from the State Department for a no-fly zone over Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instead saying that the proposal must go to the United Nations, where it is expected to face opposition from Russia and China.”

You never know. Sometimes Russia and China can surprise you on these things. Just kidding.

The file on support for Libyan rebels is now closed. The failed revolution belongs to history. But make no mistake about this: in outsourcing global leadership to the UN Security Council, the Obama administration did not allow the Libyans to be masters of their own destiny, as Fareed Zakaria or Tom Friedman would have it. It made Russia and China the masters of Libyans’ destiny. If the UNSC were to vote yes on a no-fly zone, the U.S. would spring into action and give them one. But when the Libyans asked, the U.S. shot them down and added that Muammar Qaddafi would triumph anyway.

Simply put, rebels were breaking free from a dictator when Washington placed their lives in the hands of two other dictators. During the Bush years, we only rendered guilty parties to foreign dictatorships, and that was just for interrogation. But this is what it means to defer to the UNSC in all matters of global security, to have a “humble” foreign policy. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the free world is at the mercy of autocracies in Moscow and Beijing.

Read Less

NIAC Pushes State Department to Focus on Iranian ‘Human Rights’ Instead of Sanctions

At a National Iranian-American Council conference today, the lobbying group’s founder, Trita Parsi, told Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Suzanne Nossel that U.S. policy toward Iran has been “very much focused on the nuclear issue and there is a need for a greater balance.”

“Are we seeing a shift in which the approach going forward is going to have a much greater focus on human rights? Will it address some of the effects that some of the U.S. sanctions have had?” asked Parsi, adding that Iranian sanctions have “inhibited [the] communication” of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

Nossel said that while the State Department’s policy is “multifaceted and it will continue to be so,” the department would also look into Parsi’s claims that the sanctions are suppressing communications.

“As far as the kind of concerns you’re raising, of course we have an interest in ensuring freedom of expression,” she said. “So that is something that we would certainly take seriously and look at.”

Nossel was at the conference to discuss the State Department’s efforts to create a UN monitor of Iran’s human-rights violations and appoint a Rapporteur to investigate the issue.

“We will need the help of civil society to help choose a Rapporteur,” she told NIAC. “The UN will be open to nominations from states and non-governmental organizations.”

NIAC has been campaigning recently for a greater U.S. emphasis on UN criticism of Iran’s human-rights situation instead of sanctions, which it opposes. Of course, while a UN monitor of Iran would be welcome, it has far less teeth than sanctions, which Nossel made clear at the conference.

When asked by an audience member what the “price” would be if Iran rejected the suggestions of a Rapporteur, Nossel pointed to the recent actions taken against Libya. “We established a commission of inquiry [on Libya],” she said. “That’s something action-oriented that the council did recently. We’re now having a discussion about another commission of inquiry. But we really need to look at every stage about how measures are working … and over time, how we can expand the tool-box, because it’s not as broad ranging as we’d like it to be.”

A commission of inquiry? That must have the Iranian regime quaking in their boots. It was clear from the conference why NIAC — which has lobbied for policies that are supportive of the Iranian regime — is eager to change the U.S.’s focus from sanctions to a UN human-rights monitor. While a negative statement on Iran at the UN would certainly be an annoyance to the regime, it’s certainly preferable to crippling economic sanctions.

NIAC is right to raise concerns about human rights in Iran, and right to push for this issue to get more exposure on the international stage. But there’s no doubt that promoting this policy is also a way for NIAC to save face as it continues to lobby against Iranian sanctions.

At a National Iranian-American Council conference today, the lobbying group’s founder, Trita Parsi, told Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Suzanne Nossel that U.S. policy toward Iran has been “very much focused on the nuclear issue and there is a need for a greater balance.”

“Are we seeing a shift in which the approach going forward is going to have a much greater focus on human rights? Will it address some of the effects that some of the U.S. sanctions have had?” asked Parsi, adding that Iranian sanctions have “inhibited [the] communication” of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

Nossel said that while the State Department’s policy is “multifaceted and it will continue to be so,” the department would also look into Parsi’s claims that the sanctions are suppressing communications.

“As far as the kind of concerns you’re raising, of course we have an interest in ensuring freedom of expression,” she said. “So that is something that we would certainly take seriously and look at.”

Nossel was at the conference to discuss the State Department’s efforts to create a UN monitor of Iran’s human-rights violations and appoint a Rapporteur to investigate the issue.

“We will need the help of civil society to help choose a Rapporteur,” she told NIAC. “The UN will be open to nominations from states and non-governmental organizations.”

NIAC has been campaigning recently for a greater U.S. emphasis on UN criticism of Iran’s human-rights situation instead of sanctions, which it opposes. Of course, while a UN monitor of Iran would be welcome, it has far less teeth than sanctions, which Nossel made clear at the conference.

When asked by an audience member what the “price” would be if Iran rejected the suggestions of a Rapporteur, Nossel pointed to the recent actions taken against Libya. “We established a commission of inquiry [on Libya],” she said. “That’s something action-oriented that the council did recently. We’re now having a discussion about another commission of inquiry. But we really need to look at every stage about how measures are working … and over time, how we can expand the tool-box, because it’s not as broad ranging as we’d like it to be.”

A commission of inquiry? That must have the Iranian regime quaking in their boots. It was clear from the conference why NIAC — which has lobbied for policies that are supportive of the Iranian regime — is eager to change the U.S.’s focus from sanctions to a UN human-rights monitor. While a negative statement on Iran at the UN would certainly be an annoyance to the regime, it’s certainly preferable to crippling economic sanctions.

NIAC is right to raise concerns about human rights in Iran, and right to push for this issue to get more exposure on the international stage. But there’s no doubt that promoting this policy is also a way for NIAC to save face as it continues to lobby against Iranian sanctions.

Read Less

Turkey Vetoes NATO No-Fly Over Libya

While not in the English-language press yet, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister, has announced that under no circumstance would Turkey allow NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Erdoğan has traditionally been a fan of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi and just a few months ago accepted the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Erdoğan’s actions now suggest that his selection was $250,000 well spent by the Libyan strongman.

Given Turkey’s secret war games with China, its nuclear defense of Iran, the fact that perhaps as many Turks are fighting against us in Afghanistan as are fighting for us, and now Erdoğan’s funny business with Qaddafi, it may be time to cast aside the increasingly surreal discussion about whether Turkey belongs in the European Union and focus instead on whether Turkey belongs in NATO.

While not in the English-language press yet, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister, has announced that under no circumstance would Turkey allow NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Erdoğan has traditionally been a fan of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi and just a few months ago accepted the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Erdoğan’s actions now suggest that his selection was $250,000 well spent by the Libyan strongman.

Given Turkey’s secret war games with China, its nuclear defense of Iran, the fact that perhaps as many Turks are fighting against us in Afghanistan as are fighting for us, and now Erdoğan’s funny business with Qaddafi, it may be time to cast aside the increasingly surreal discussion about whether Turkey belongs in the European Union and focus instead on whether Turkey belongs in NATO.

Read Less

The Importance of Blockading Gaza

In the aftermath of last summer’s flotilla fiasco in which several Islamist activists were killed during the seizure of ships bound for Gaza, Israel was roundly criticized for its enforcement of the blockade of the Hamas-run area. Though the pretense that the people of Gaza were suffering a humanitarian catastrophe was such a transparent fraud that even Hamas officials no longer bothered to claim that there were shortages of food and medicine in Gaza, “human rights” groups still denounced Israel’s efforts to ensure that no arms or materials that could be used for fortifications got through. Despite the façade of sympathy for Gazans, opposition to the blockade was then and remains now nothing less than an expression of political support for Hamas’s Islamist dictatorship, which seized power in Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007.

The importance of the blockade was reinforced today by the news that the same Israel Defense Forces navy that was bashed for incompetence or worse in the flotilla incident has seized a ship laden with tons of arms intended for Hamas. The German-owned Victoria, sailing under Liberian registry, set sail from the Syrian port of Lattakai and then stopped in Mersin, Turkey. The Victoria’s destination was Alexandria, Egypt, from which the weapons were to be transported to Gaza by land. The Jerusalem Post notes that Lattakai was the same port visited last month by two Iranian war ships on their way to the Suez Canal. While it is not clear whether arms were transferred from those ships for eventual transport to Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli Ministry of Defense indicated that the arms originated in Iran, which is the principal supplier of munitions to both Hamas and its Hezbollah terrorist allies in Lebanon.

This is not the first Iranian-arms transfer interdicted by the IDF, but this latest incident again highlights the clear danger that the Iranian regime and its terrorist allies pose to the region. With arms flowing from Tehran to Gaza and Lebanon, the ability of the Iranians to foment violence against Israel and the West is considerable. Read More

In the aftermath of last summer’s flotilla fiasco in which several Islamist activists were killed during the seizure of ships bound for Gaza, Israel was roundly criticized for its enforcement of the blockade of the Hamas-run area. Though the pretense that the people of Gaza were suffering a humanitarian catastrophe was such a transparent fraud that even Hamas officials no longer bothered to claim that there were shortages of food and medicine in Gaza, “human rights” groups still denounced Israel’s efforts to ensure that no arms or materials that could be used for fortifications got through. Despite the façade of sympathy for Gazans, opposition to the blockade was then and remains now nothing less than an expression of political support for Hamas’s Islamist dictatorship, which seized power in Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007.

The importance of the blockade was reinforced today by the news that the same Israel Defense Forces navy that was bashed for incompetence or worse in the flotilla incident has seized a ship laden with tons of arms intended for Hamas. The German-owned Victoria, sailing under Liberian registry, set sail from the Syrian port of Lattakai and then stopped in Mersin, Turkey. The Victoria’s destination was Alexandria, Egypt, from which the weapons were to be transported to Gaza by land. The Jerusalem Post notes that Lattakai was the same port visited last month by two Iranian war ships on their way to the Suez Canal. While it is not clear whether arms were transferred from those ships for eventual transport to Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli Ministry of Defense indicated that the arms originated in Iran, which is the principal supplier of munitions to both Hamas and its Hezbollah terrorist allies in Lebanon.

This is not the first Iranian-arms transfer interdicted by the IDF, but this latest incident again highlights the clear danger that the Iranian regime and its terrorist allies pose to the region. With arms flowing from Tehran to Gaza and Lebanon, the ability of the Iranians to foment violence against Israel and the West is considerable.

Just as important, this story exposes the hypocrisy of those who continue to oppose Israel’s blockade. Far from bringing humanitarian supplies to a Gazan population that faces no shortages of food or medicine, what the blockade-runners are trying to do is to buttress the military capabilities of Hamas’s terrorists. While it appears that the arms did not originate in Turkey, the deadly nature of the Victoria’s cargo nevertheless puts the Turkish protests over last summer’s flotilla seizure in a very different light. The Israeli government is being careful to do or say nothing that will turn this seizure into fodder for a dispute with either Turkey or Egypt, yet the fact remains that, at the very least, the Turks were negligent about preventing arms smuggling.

Though Israel’s critics may have believed that the negative feedback from the casualties that resulted from last summer’s flotilla seizure would eventually force Israel to abandon the blockade, the Netanyahu government rightly held its position on the issue. The result of this tenacity has not only been the interception of an Iranian arms shipment but also the exposure of the true nature of the opposition to the enforcement of the blockade.

Read Less

Entitlement Reforms and Historical Revisionism

In Mike Allen’s much-read Politico Playbook this morning, this item appears:

House Republican leaders say that by taking on entitlements, they hope to send an ADULTS IN CHARGE message, and hope the party’s presidential candidates will support them rather than flee (see Bush, George W., 1999). Leaders believe they’ll get credit for being HONEST WITH THE PEOPLE, and that their INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY will be challenged if they shy away now after building the case that hard changes are necessary.

I applaud what House Republicans are doing, but the reference to George W. Bush is a curious one. He not only campaigned on entitlement reform but he actually made a serious effort as president to implement entitlement reform — most specifically on Social Security. This is something that no previous president, including Ronald Reagan, did. Bush failed in his 2005 effort, in part because congressional Republicans ran from the issue like scared rabbits.

I understand that efforts to revise history aren’t uncommon. But to revise it in such a way as to be exactly the opposite of the truth is rare. George W. Bush showed impressive political courage on entitlement reforms, which can’t be said of congressional Republicans

In Mike Allen’s much-read Politico Playbook this morning, this item appears:

House Republican leaders say that by taking on entitlements, they hope to send an ADULTS IN CHARGE message, and hope the party’s presidential candidates will support them rather than flee (see Bush, George W., 1999). Leaders believe they’ll get credit for being HONEST WITH THE PEOPLE, and that their INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY will be challenged if they shy away now after building the case that hard changes are necessary.

I applaud what House Republicans are doing, but the reference to George W. Bush is a curious one. He not only campaigned on entitlement reform but he actually made a serious effort as president to implement entitlement reform — most specifically on Social Security. This is something that no previous president, including Ronald Reagan, did. Bush failed in his 2005 effort, in part because congressional Republicans ran from the issue like scared rabbits.

I understand that efforts to revise history aren’t uncommon. But to revise it in such a way as to be exactly the opposite of the truth is rare. George W. Bush showed impressive political courage on entitlement reforms, which can’t be said of congressional Republicans

Read Less

U.S. Office of Civil Rights to Investigate Anti-Semitism at UC Santa Cruz

Just weeks after a former student sued the University of California at Berkeley for ignoring campus violence against Jewish students, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation into anti-Semitism at the University of California at Santa Cruz, according to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR):

The [Office of Civil Rights] complaint describes a campus environment in which Jewish students feel harassed and intimidated. University-sponsored events vilify Israel while professors openly express hostility toward the Jewish state and its supporters. Rossman-Benjamin adds that “no other … group on campus has been subjected … to such hostile and demonizing criticism.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, a former OCR chief who now runs the anti-Semitism initiative at the IJCR (and a COMMENTARY contributor), said that the case is significant for a number of reasons. “First, it is opened just as International Apartheid Week activities are being held around the world and illustrates the potential ramifications of extremist protest activities. Second, it follows right on the heels of a federal lawsuit alleging similar problems at the University of California Berkeley just a few days before and may illustrate a broad trend,” he said, according to the organization’s press release.

He also noted that it’s “only the second major systemic anti-Semitism case that OCR has opened” and is “the first major case to follow OCR’s new campus anti-Semitism policy and may demonstrate whether OCR means what it says about its commitment to addressing hate and bias in federally funded higher education programs.”

Another University of California chapter, at Irvine, is also dealing with a related case. Eleven members of the Muslim Student Association are being charged with unlawfully disrupting a speech after they attempted to shout down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last February.

In addition to addressing the hostile atmosphere against Jewish students within the University of California system, these cases will hopefully also expose the connection between anti-Semitism and certain forms of anti-Zionism.

Just weeks after a former student sued the University of California at Berkeley for ignoring campus violence against Jewish students, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation into anti-Semitism at the University of California at Santa Cruz, according to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR):

The [Office of Civil Rights] complaint describes a campus environment in which Jewish students feel harassed and intimidated. University-sponsored events vilify Israel while professors openly express hostility toward the Jewish state and its supporters. Rossman-Benjamin adds that “no other … group on campus has been subjected … to such hostile and demonizing criticism.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, a former OCR chief who now runs the anti-Semitism initiative at the IJCR (and a COMMENTARY contributor), said that the case is significant for a number of reasons. “First, it is opened just as International Apartheid Week activities are being held around the world and illustrates the potential ramifications of extremist protest activities. Second, it follows right on the heels of a federal lawsuit alleging similar problems at the University of California Berkeley just a few days before and may illustrate a broad trend,” he said, according to the organization’s press release.

He also noted that it’s “only the second major systemic anti-Semitism case that OCR has opened” and is “the first major case to follow OCR’s new campus anti-Semitism policy and may demonstrate whether OCR means what it says about its commitment to addressing hate and bias in federally funded higher education programs.”

Another University of California chapter, at Irvine, is also dealing with a related case. Eleven members of the Muslim Student Association are being charged with unlawfully disrupting a speech after they attempted to shout down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last February.

In addition to addressing the hostile atmosphere against Jewish students within the University of California system, these cases will hopefully also expose the connection between anti-Semitism and certain forms of anti-Zionism.

Read Less

Check Google First, Then Your Cynicism

Along with George Will, Heather Mac Donald, and Matt Labash, I made some comments to Politico that were critical of Sarah Palin. The story bounced around the political world a bit. And among the criticisms directed at me is this one by Daniel Larison of the American Conservative:

As long as she was useful prior to the midterms, the institutions, magazines, and leaders of the movement not only tolerated her, but actively promoted her and gave her typically glowing coverage. Those that couldn’t bring themselves to praise her went out of their way not to criticize her. Now that Palin may represent a political threat to Republican chances of regaining the White House, they are suddenly very concerned about her impact on the quality of conservative argument. Their concern would be interesting if it weren’t so belated and narrowly focused on Palin.

Just for the fun of it, I checked a piece I wrote for the New York Times on July 9, 2009. And lo and behold, here’s what I wrote:

[Palin] has done enormous damage to herself since her single shining moment: her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in early September. In interviews she has come across as unable to offer up more than a sound bite argument on virtually any issue (with the exception of energy). She seems to have memorized answers rather than thought through issues. She doesn’t seem able to articulate a core philosophy. And her announcement that she would not complete her term as governor was rambling and at times incoherent. She strikes me as terribly out of sync with the needs of this moment. Read More

Along with George Will, Heather Mac Donald, and Matt Labash, I made some comments to Politico that were critical of Sarah Palin. The story bounced around the political world a bit. And among the criticisms directed at me is this one by Daniel Larison of the American Conservative:

As long as she was useful prior to the midterms, the institutions, magazines, and leaders of the movement not only tolerated her, but actively promoted her and gave her typically glowing coverage. Those that couldn’t bring themselves to praise her went out of their way not to criticize her. Now that Palin may represent a political threat to Republican chances of regaining the White House, they are suddenly very concerned about her impact on the quality of conservative argument. Their concern would be interesting if it weren’t so belated and narrowly focused on Palin.

Just for the fun of it, I checked a piece I wrote for the New York Times on July 9, 2009. And lo and behold, here’s what I wrote:

[Palin] has done enormous damage to herself since her single shining moment: her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in early September. In interviews she has come across as unable to offer up more than a sound bite argument on virtually any issue (with the exception of energy). She seems to have memorized answers rather than thought through issues. She doesn’t seem able to articulate a core philosophy. And her announcement that she would not complete her term as governor was rambling and at times incoherent. She strikes me as terribly out of sync with the needs of this moment.

The G.O.P. is at low ebb; rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose, who come across as irenic rather than agitated, competent and reliable rather than erratic and uneven … even those of us who were disposed to like her cannot deny that her public appearances have generally ranged from mediocre to awful. She’s had more than a handful of chances to show her stuff; what we’ve seen has not been reassuring, and at times alarming. If Sarah Palin becomes the face and future of the G.O.P., it would take a huge step toward securing its position as a minority party for many years to come.

This post — written 16 months before the 2010 midterm election — probably didn’t strike Ms. Palin or her supporters as “glowing praise” or an attempt to actively promote her.

What Larison is doing is standard fare for our political culture — ascribing cynical motivations to those whom he doesn’t especially like. It’s a trivial example of those who habitually turn every political difference into a referendum on character. This is an easy if somewhat petty game to play. But if you do decide to play it, it helps if your core argument isn’t demolished by a Google search.

Read Less

Obama’s Presidency Hangs by a Thread

Japan may be on the verge of an unprecedented catastrophe. Saudi Arabia is all but colonizing Bahrain. Qaddafi is close to retaking Libya, with bloodbath to follow. And, as Jim Geraghty notes, the president of the United States is going on ESPN to talk about the NCAA and delivering speeches today on his rather dull plan to replace No Child Left Behind with No Teenager Left Behind, or something like that.

It’s hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises — and I don’t even mean how he’s doing substantively, which is a scandal in itself. I mean how he’s doing politically. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read My Pet Goat for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck.

We’re going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.

He is largely notable by his absence, which is itself the result not only of not knowing what to do but also apparently believing it is better for the world if he remains a minor player as a bloodbath approaches in the Middle East and something more ominous seems to be approaching in Japan. When he talks, as he did in Friday’s press conference, he only makes matters more confusing; there is little reassurance that there is a hand anywhere near the tiller. Read More

Japan may be on the verge of an unprecedented catastrophe. Saudi Arabia is all but colonizing Bahrain. Qaddafi is close to retaking Libya, with bloodbath to follow. And, as Jim Geraghty notes, the president of the United States is going on ESPN to talk about the NCAA and delivering speeches today on his rather dull plan to replace No Child Left Behind with No Teenager Left Behind, or something like that.

It’s hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises — and I don’t even mean how he’s doing substantively, which is a scandal in itself. I mean how he’s doing politically. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read My Pet Goat for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck.

We’re going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.

He is largely notable by his absence, which is itself the result not only of not knowing what to do but also apparently believing it is better for the world if he remains a minor player as a bloodbath approaches in the Middle East and something more ominous seems to be approaching in Japan. When he talks, as he did in Friday’s press conference, he only makes matters more confusing; there is little reassurance that there is a hand anywhere near the tiller.

Obama’s defiant unwillingness to take the measure of the world’s multiple crises and to act as a world leader in response to them in the eyes of the public indicates a fundamental disconnect in the Oval Office. We’ve heard all kinds of talk about how his new team in the White House is so much better than the old, but at least the old team recognized there was a crisis underway in the United States in 2009. It reacted too gleefully, and with wild overreach. But it acted.

Conservatives love to say that Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Liberals are taking comfort, as this analysis of a meaningless and silly all-adults-not-voters poll in the Washington Post today reveals, in the thought that Obama is Bill Clinton circa 1995. But I’m now thinking he’s beginning to resemble George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War in 1991, with his obstinate refusal to take sides in democratization efforts and a general preference for the pretense that his job is largely managerial.

Oddly enough, the best model for Obama to follow, perhaps, would be Richard Nixon’s in his first term. Nixon faced an unimaginable number of worldwide disasters throughout that first term. And what he did, primarily, was attempt to get a hold of  them (as a reading of Henry Kissinger’s magisterial White House Years reveals) and have a developed American response for all of them.

By the time 1972 rolled around, the man who had gotten 43 percent of the vote in 1968 managed to score the second most lopsided electoral victory in American history. There were many reasons for it, but one of the key reasons was that he seemed to have demonstrated that he understood, accepted, and was trying to live up to the demands of his job. It was not necessary that he succeed at everything; it was necessary that he wear the mantle of power in pursuit of the American national interest.

Nixon was elevated by his handling of the presidency. Obama is diminishing himself, and Americans and the world will know this.

Read Less

Miral: A Review

“I love the state of Israel,” the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel has been quoted as saying, though his latest film, Miral, feels more like a love-hate relationship between Schnabel and Israel. Minus the love.

Schnabel, the painter who received an Oscar nomination for directing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly left his wife a few years ago for the East Jerusalem–born Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal, whose memoir-ish novel is the source of his latest movie. Though politically engaged films, even heavily slanted ones, can be fun, Miral is a slog, a huffy, term-papery vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which all evils are Israel’s fault and any minor moral missteps by the Palestinians (such as planting a bomb in a movie theater full of Jews) can easily be traced back to Israeli outrages.

Schnabel spuriously dedicates the picture to all “on both sides” who are dedicated to the cause of peace, but the film is suffused with false moral equivalence. The film, which the awards-hungry Weinstein Co. apparently (and absurdly) believed to be Oscar bait when it scheduled a release date for last December, was instead put off and will now be dumped without fanfare into a few underpopulated theaters on March 25.

A hint of what Schnabel, an American Jew whose mother was president of Hadassah in Brooklyn in 1948, is up to can be detected in the opening moments, in which notorious Yasser Arafat fan Vanessa Redgrave (“Zionism is a brutal, racist ideology,” she once said) has a cameo as a peace-loving soul in then–Mandate Palestine in 1947. As the film goes on, it approvingly shows a Palestinian nurse helping wounded soldiers disguise themselves as civilians and escape from a hospital in order to disappear back into the general population, as well as an attack in which a Palestinian places a bomb in a crowded movie theater (showing Polanski’s film Repulsion) and blows up a number of Jews. It is to Schnabel’s immense discredit that he cuts away from this carnage before it happens and proceeds directly to the sentencing of the bomber, a woman who is given two life sentences by an Israeli judge, plus a third for being disrespectful by not standing in the dark. The sense of injustice is thus neatly deflected from innocent lives being snuffed out to the alleged cruelty of a judge’s whim.

Freida Pinto, the Slumdog Millionaire beauty, plays the title character, and Jebreal figure, a young Palestinian woman who becomes increasingly radicalized by her terrorist boyfriend. She is merely shown getting thoroughly beaten with a rod by an Israeli woman cop for no reason and is innocently reading to Palestinian refugee children when the Israeli army bursts in and announces that it is razing the building, which it does in minutes. No reason or context is shown for this act; we are meant to see it, like the judge’s sentencing, as an act of random nonsensical Israeli viciousness.

“Every story told in my book and in this movie is true,” Jebreal announces in notes released to the media, adding the usual admission to the contrary when she says, “I merged different personalities and characters — but everything I have seen with my own eyes” because “there is no space for imagination in the Middle East.” That she could not possibly have seen everything in the film with her own eyes (it begins before she was born, and no character is present in every scene) proves there is a great deal of space for imaginary acts, and imaginary moral equivalence, in the Middle East.

“I love the state of Israel,” the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel has been quoted as saying, though his latest film, Miral, feels more like a love-hate relationship between Schnabel and Israel. Minus the love.

Schnabel, the painter who received an Oscar nomination for directing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly left his wife a few years ago for the East Jerusalem–born Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal, whose memoir-ish novel is the source of his latest movie. Though politically engaged films, even heavily slanted ones, can be fun, Miral is a slog, a huffy, term-papery vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which all evils are Israel’s fault and any minor moral missteps by the Palestinians (such as planting a bomb in a movie theater full of Jews) can easily be traced back to Israeli outrages.

Schnabel spuriously dedicates the picture to all “on both sides” who are dedicated to the cause of peace, but the film is suffused with false moral equivalence. The film, which the awards-hungry Weinstein Co. apparently (and absurdly) believed to be Oscar bait when it scheduled a release date for last December, was instead put off and will now be dumped without fanfare into a few underpopulated theaters on March 25.

A hint of what Schnabel, an American Jew whose mother was president of Hadassah in Brooklyn in 1948, is up to can be detected in the opening moments, in which notorious Yasser Arafat fan Vanessa Redgrave (“Zionism is a brutal, racist ideology,” she once said) has a cameo as a peace-loving soul in then–Mandate Palestine in 1947. As the film goes on, it approvingly shows a Palestinian nurse helping wounded soldiers disguise themselves as civilians and escape from a hospital in order to disappear back into the general population, as well as an attack in which a Palestinian places a bomb in a crowded movie theater (showing Polanski’s film Repulsion) and blows up a number of Jews. It is to Schnabel’s immense discredit that he cuts away from this carnage before it happens and proceeds directly to the sentencing of the bomber, a woman who is given two life sentences by an Israeli judge, plus a third for being disrespectful by not standing in the dark. The sense of injustice is thus neatly deflected from innocent lives being snuffed out to the alleged cruelty of a judge’s whim.

Freida Pinto, the Slumdog Millionaire beauty, plays the title character, and Jebreal figure, a young Palestinian woman who becomes increasingly radicalized by her terrorist boyfriend. She is merely shown getting thoroughly beaten with a rod by an Israeli woman cop for no reason and is innocently reading to Palestinian refugee children when the Israeli army bursts in and announces that it is razing the building, which it does in minutes. No reason or context is shown for this act; we are meant to see it, like the judge’s sentencing, as an act of random nonsensical Israeli viciousness.

“Every story told in my book and in this movie is true,” Jebreal announces in notes released to the media, adding the usual admission to the contrary when she says, “I merged different personalities and characters — but everything I have seen with my own eyes” because “there is no space for imagination in the Middle East.” That she could not possibly have seen everything in the film with her own eyes (it begins before she was born, and no character is present in every scene) proves there is a great deal of space for imaginary acts, and imaginary moral equivalence, in the Middle East.

Read Less

Libya’s Looming Refugee Crisis

Although it’s in German, the Wadi blog is one of the best Middle East–issue blogs out there. Yesterday, it raised the question of Libyan refugees should Qaddafi reconsolidate control over eastern Libya. Many would flee to Egypt. Is Egypt prepared for upward of half a million armed Libyans flooding across the border? In Pakistan, Jordan, and Lebanon, armed, unsettled refugees became engines of radicalization and destabilization. In 1991, the United States, Great Britain, and France supported creation of a safe-haven and no-fly zone in order to avert a refugee crisis in Turkey. Had the elder President Bush not stood by passively as Saddam massacred Iraqi rebels, the United States might have saved billions of dollars in no-fly-zone operations alone.

As time passes, the choices open to the White House and potential outcomes in Libya become less attractive. Had President Obama been decisive two weeks ago, the United States and Europe might have eradicated radicalism and dictatorship from the Mediterranean’s southern rim. That outcome is becoming less likely by the hour. Had President Obama ordered a no-fly zone, there would be a good chance that Qaddafi would now be cooling his heels in Caracas or Istanbul. Today it’s not certain that a no-fly zone will do the trick.

Alas, it was refugee crises in Rwanda and Kosovo that finally spurred the United States and the West into action. Alas, it seems that the only way Libyans may win European or American support is if hundreds of thousands depart for Egypt, and tens of thousands embark on anything that floats for Crete.

Although it’s in German, the Wadi blog is one of the best Middle East–issue blogs out there. Yesterday, it raised the question of Libyan refugees should Qaddafi reconsolidate control over eastern Libya. Many would flee to Egypt. Is Egypt prepared for upward of half a million armed Libyans flooding across the border? In Pakistan, Jordan, and Lebanon, armed, unsettled refugees became engines of radicalization and destabilization. In 1991, the United States, Great Britain, and France supported creation of a safe-haven and no-fly zone in order to avert a refugee crisis in Turkey. Had the elder President Bush not stood by passively as Saddam massacred Iraqi rebels, the United States might have saved billions of dollars in no-fly-zone operations alone.

As time passes, the choices open to the White House and potential outcomes in Libya become less attractive. Had President Obama been decisive two weeks ago, the United States and Europe might have eradicated radicalism and dictatorship from the Mediterranean’s southern rim. That outcome is becoming less likely by the hour. Had President Obama ordered a no-fly zone, there would be a good chance that Qaddafi would now be cooling his heels in Caracas or Istanbul. Today it’s not certain that a no-fly zone will do the trick.

Alas, it was refugee crises in Rwanda and Kosovo that finally spurred the United States and the West into action. Alas, it seems that the only way Libyans may win European or American support is if hundreds of thousands depart for Egypt, and tens of thousands embark on anything that floats for Crete.

Read Less