Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 18, 2011

Credit and Concern Due on Libya

I have been critical in recent days of President Obama for lack of leadership on Libya but I part company with some of my colleagues on this blog in that I sense this is changing. True, he waited for the UN Security Council to come together before acting in Libya, thereby losing vital time. But the legitimacy the UN confers should not be underestimated—much as it may pain me (and other critics of the UN) to admit it. Having the Arab League on board is also a plus. There is even talk that Qatar, UAE, and Jordan may participate in a military campaign against Qaddafi—good news if true, although, as autocracies (if relatively benign ones), they are hardly shining exemplars of the “new Middle East.” Most important of all, France and Britain appear prepared to take on a major part of the military burden.

All in all, I give Obama credit for assembling an impressive coalition, and avoiding a Russian or Chinese veto at the Security Council. The question is what he does with the authority of Resolution 1973.

In his public statement today Obama sounded resolute—but he also set out fairly narrow goals and did not reiterate his previous call for Qaddafi’s ouster. Qaddafi has said he is imposing a ceasefire. What if his forces pull back from eastern Libya? Does that mean we won’t impose a no-fly zone or mount air strikes? If so that would leave Qaddafi in control of a substantial part of the country where he could continue the human rights abuses that are rightly condemned by the United Nations—and could force the U.S. to undertake a lengthy and costly military involvement to make sure that Qaddafi stands by his promises not to march into Benghazi. Much simpler and surer to do everything possible, short of dispatching ground troops, to topple Qaddafi. I have previously noted that such steps would include a no-fly zone combined with air strikes on Qaddafi’s ground forces and also training and arms for the rebel forces.

That represents a substantial commitment on our part, and comes with attendant risks. No doubt there is still a faction in the administration hoping that a few symbolic moves will be enough to get Qaddafi to cease and desist. But our goal should not be simply a temporary cessation of the violence. A lasting solution requires Gaddafi to be gone, and that won’t be easy to achieve. We may have a real fight on our hands. I only hope that the administration is ready for that.

I have been critical in recent days of President Obama for lack of leadership on Libya but I part company with some of my colleagues on this blog in that I sense this is changing. True, he waited for the UN Security Council to come together before acting in Libya, thereby losing vital time. But the legitimacy the UN confers should not be underestimated—much as it may pain me (and other critics of the UN) to admit it. Having the Arab League on board is also a plus. There is even talk that Qatar, UAE, and Jordan may participate in a military campaign against Qaddafi—good news if true, although, as autocracies (if relatively benign ones), they are hardly shining exemplars of the “new Middle East.” Most important of all, France and Britain appear prepared to take on a major part of the military burden.

All in all, I give Obama credit for assembling an impressive coalition, and avoiding a Russian or Chinese veto at the Security Council. The question is what he does with the authority of Resolution 1973.

In his public statement today Obama sounded resolute—but he also set out fairly narrow goals and did not reiterate his previous call for Qaddafi’s ouster. Qaddafi has said he is imposing a ceasefire. What if his forces pull back from eastern Libya? Does that mean we won’t impose a no-fly zone or mount air strikes? If so that would leave Qaddafi in control of a substantial part of the country where he could continue the human rights abuses that are rightly condemned by the United Nations—and could force the U.S. to undertake a lengthy and costly military involvement to make sure that Qaddafi stands by his promises not to march into Benghazi. Much simpler and surer to do everything possible, short of dispatching ground troops, to topple Qaddafi. I have previously noted that such steps would include a no-fly zone combined with air strikes on Qaddafi’s ground forces and also training and arms for the rebel forces.

That represents a substantial commitment on our part, and comes with attendant risks. No doubt there is still a faction in the administration hoping that a few symbolic moves will be enough to get Qaddafi to cease and desist. But our goal should not be simply a temporary cessation of the violence. A lasting solution requires Gaddafi to be gone, and that won’t be easy to achieve. We may have a real fight on our hands. I only hope that the administration is ready for that.

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Kerry’s Hypocritical Syria Engagement Continues Despite Democracy Posturing

Senator John Kerry has been enjoying his post as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee so much that many in Washington are speculating that he is auditioning to replace Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s next secretary of state. Whether that ambition pans out remains to be seen but there’s little doubt that he is trying to stake out ground as one of the Democrats’ leaders on foreign policy. To that end, he has been speaking out, to his credit, urging action on Libya. Indeed, he went much further than that earlier this week in a Washington speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, urging a complete reassessment of American policy in the Middle East and an end to our sometimes all too cozy relations with Arab dictators. “We can no longer view the Middle East solely through the lens of Sept. 11,” said Kerry. “Now, we must view it through the lens of 2011.”

Though he seemed to be framing his stand as one that would wrongly seek to downplay security threats from Islamist terrorism, there was certainly a good deal of truth in his belief that America cannot base its relations with the Arab and Islamic worlds solely on a policy of supporting dictators, authoritarians, and despotic monarchs. However, it appears that Kerry’s pursuit of another of his foreign policy obsessions contradicts the good advice he’s been giving about not getting into bed with Arab tyrants. Though he has spent the past few months urging the United States to rethink the “realist” policy that led to close alliances with authoritarian governments in the region, Kerry seems to think there ought to be an exception to this rule: Syria.

Even as he urged us to think about “2011,” Kerry is using the bully pulpit that his committee provides to engage in free-lance diplomacy with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, the head of one of the most repressive and unrepresentative regimes in the world. Just last month, Kerry was in Syria seeking to revive a deal whereby Israel would surrender the strategic Golan Heights to Assad in return for a promise of peace. Kerry’s coziness with Assad (replacing Arlen Specter as the Syrians’ contact in the Senate) is no secret and he has been using his influence with Obama to push for more pressure on Israel to engage with Syria in spite of the fact that this initiative has virtually no chance of success.

As most serious observers of Syria have long pointed out, the last thing a dictator like Assad (and his father before him), who is from an unpopular minority group and who continues to use the most vicious forms of oppression to keep his people in line, needs is the removal of a convenient external enemy in the form of Israel. Peace with the Jewish state would certainly be in Syria’s best interests but it would also be a profound threat to the Assad police state. Moreover, the likelihood of Assad ditching his Iranian allies in order to embrace America and Israel at a time when Arab moderates are reeling is practically non-existent. In the meantime, as Amir Taheri reports today in the New York Post, the repression of dissent going on Syria rivals anything happening elsewhere in the region.

The point here is not just that Kerry’s Syrian peace gambit is a pathetic waste of time, though it certainly is that. It is that engaging in this futile endeavor while playing footsy with one of the worst and bloodiest Arab autocrats and simultaneously posing as an advocate of new thinking about the Middle East exposes Kerry as a world-class hypocrite and liar. There is no doubt that this initiative will fail, as all previous attempts at appeasing the Assad gangster clan have failed in the past. But it is outrageous that the Washington press corps has allowed Kerry’s new foreign policy posturing to go unchallenged. What this proves is that while new thinking is sometimes welcomed by the capital’s foreign policy and media establishment, old patent nostrums like Kerry’s engagement with Syria get recycled regularly simply because they involve something the chattering classes always approve of: pressure on Israel to make concessions to violent Arab foes.

Senator John Kerry has been enjoying his post as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee so much that many in Washington are speculating that he is auditioning to replace Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s next secretary of state. Whether that ambition pans out remains to be seen but there’s little doubt that he is trying to stake out ground as one of the Democrats’ leaders on foreign policy. To that end, he has been speaking out, to his credit, urging action on Libya. Indeed, he went much further than that earlier this week in a Washington speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, urging a complete reassessment of American policy in the Middle East and an end to our sometimes all too cozy relations with Arab dictators. “We can no longer view the Middle East solely through the lens of Sept. 11,” said Kerry. “Now, we must view it through the lens of 2011.”

Though he seemed to be framing his stand as one that would wrongly seek to downplay security threats from Islamist terrorism, there was certainly a good deal of truth in his belief that America cannot base its relations with the Arab and Islamic worlds solely on a policy of supporting dictators, authoritarians, and despotic monarchs. However, it appears that Kerry’s pursuit of another of his foreign policy obsessions contradicts the good advice he’s been giving about not getting into bed with Arab tyrants. Though he has spent the past few months urging the United States to rethink the “realist” policy that led to close alliances with authoritarian governments in the region, Kerry seems to think there ought to be an exception to this rule: Syria.

Even as he urged us to think about “2011,” Kerry is using the bully pulpit that his committee provides to engage in free-lance diplomacy with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, the head of one of the most repressive and unrepresentative regimes in the world. Just last month, Kerry was in Syria seeking to revive a deal whereby Israel would surrender the strategic Golan Heights to Assad in return for a promise of peace. Kerry’s coziness with Assad (replacing Arlen Specter as the Syrians’ contact in the Senate) is no secret and he has been using his influence with Obama to push for more pressure on Israel to engage with Syria in spite of the fact that this initiative has virtually no chance of success.

As most serious observers of Syria have long pointed out, the last thing a dictator like Assad (and his father before him), who is from an unpopular minority group and who continues to use the most vicious forms of oppression to keep his people in line, needs is the removal of a convenient external enemy in the form of Israel. Peace with the Jewish state would certainly be in Syria’s best interests but it would also be a profound threat to the Assad police state. Moreover, the likelihood of Assad ditching his Iranian allies in order to embrace America and Israel at a time when Arab moderates are reeling is practically non-existent. In the meantime, as Amir Taheri reports today in the New York Post, the repression of dissent going on Syria rivals anything happening elsewhere in the region.

The point here is not just that Kerry’s Syrian peace gambit is a pathetic waste of time, though it certainly is that. It is that engaging in this futile endeavor while playing footsy with one of the worst and bloodiest Arab autocrats and simultaneously posing as an advocate of new thinking about the Middle East exposes Kerry as a world-class hypocrite and liar. There is no doubt that this initiative will fail, as all previous attempts at appeasing the Assad gangster clan have failed in the past. But it is outrageous that the Washington press corps has allowed Kerry’s new foreign policy posturing to go unchallenged. What this proves is that while new thinking is sometimes welcomed by the capital’s foreign policy and media establishment, old patent nostrums like Kerry’s engagement with Syria get recycled regularly simply because they involve something the chattering classes always approve of: pressure on Israel to make concessions to violent Arab foes.

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‘The United States Did Not Seek This Outcome’

Listening to the president’s statement on U.S. interest in the no-fly zone over Libya, I am principally struck by how well Abe’s assessment (and mine) holds up: Obama has declined a leadership role.

Obama’s language was descriptive, not active or leaderly. He applauded our NATO allies and the Arab League for their leadership and endorsed the points in the UN resolution, but declined to state a U.S. determination to secure any positive objective.

The line quoted above — “The United States did not seek this outcome” — is not a statesman’s comment. It’s whining. Regrettably, with his statement this morning, the president has not clarified or strengthened the U.S. position on executing this military task.

Listening to the president’s statement on U.S. interest in the no-fly zone over Libya, I am principally struck by how well Abe’s assessment (and mine) holds up: Obama has declined a leadership role.

Obama’s language was descriptive, not active or leaderly. He applauded our NATO allies and the Arab League for their leadership and endorsed the points in the UN resolution, but declined to state a U.S. determination to secure any positive objective.

The line quoted above — “The United States did not seek this outcome” — is not a statesman’s comment. It’s whining. Regrettably, with his statement this morning, the president has not clarified or strengthened the U.S. position on executing this military task.

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Other People’s No-Fly Zones

It will be a great learning opportunity to observe what happens in the next few days. This week marks the first time a no-fly zone has been authorized without explicit U.S. leadership and a U.S.-led plan for implementation. When earlier no-fly zones were imposed in the Balkans and Iraq, the U.S. was already in the lead: the UN and the enforcement coalitions moved forward with the strategic vision of the U.S. as the common proposition.

That is not the case for Libya. I agree with Max Boot that there are effective ways to employ military force in Libya, but the emerging conditions are not favorable. For one thing, the basic situation has changed overnight. As satisfying as it is to see the threat of a no-fly zone force a strategic adjustment on Qaddafi, his cease-fire declaration may serve to spike Britain’s and France’s guns. The next move for the coalition forming against him is not what it seemed to be 12 hours ago.

It is not clear which direction the coalition will go. Britain is reportedly interested in coming out of this with regime change; other partners regard that as overreach. Hillary Clinton said this morning that the U.S. “will not be impressed by words” from Qaddafi and “must see action on the ground” — but it’s not obvious that Qaddafi has been informed of what action would be satisfactory, or even what the threat is if he fails to take it. Read More

It will be a great learning opportunity to observe what happens in the next few days. This week marks the first time a no-fly zone has been authorized without explicit U.S. leadership and a U.S.-led plan for implementation. When earlier no-fly zones were imposed in the Balkans and Iraq, the U.S. was already in the lead: the UN and the enforcement coalitions moved forward with the strategic vision of the U.S. as the common proposition.

That is not the case for Libya. I agree with Max Boot that there are effective ways to employ military force in Libya, but the emerging conditions are not favorable. For one thing, the basic situation has changed overnight. As satisfying as it is to see the threat of a no-fly zone force a strategic adjustment on Qaddafi, his cease-fire declaration may serve to spike Britain’s and France’s guns. The next move for the coalition forming against him is not what it seemed to be 12 hours ago.

It is not clear which direction the coalition will go. Britain is reportedly interested in coming out of this with regime change; other partners regard that as overreach. Hillary Clinton said this morning that the U.S. “will not be impressed by words” from Qaddafi and “must see action on the ground” — but it’s not obvious that Qaddafi has been informed of what action would be satisfactory, or even what the threat is if he fails to take it.

Americans have been accustomed to a very specific regime of national decision-making and public communication when we are enforcing no-fly zones. In each case, from the very first day, there has traditionally been a set of policy objectives to refer to — something for media outlets to frame in an information “box” — and a military chain of command lined up to explain events and be held accountable. None of that exists for this no-fly zone, and it bears emphasizing that that is unprecedented.

France, Britain, Canada, and Denmark have committed forces to the enterprise, and we are justified in having the highest regard for their military professionalism. The no-fly zone will apparently be a NATO operation, which is another positive sign. But a no-fly zone by itself is not enough to produce a resolution for Libya’s crisis. Going beyond mere enforcement, on the other hand, may be too much for this coalition’s unity. The U.S. military learned from Vietnam — and to a lesser extent from Somalia — that it is imprudent to commit arms where these conditions obtain.  Military force is a tool of strategy and will, not a substitute for them.

A little more time may obviate this entire debate; with his cease-fire announcement, Qaddafi has transformed the strategic problem in a way that cannot be countered without initiative from the coalition, as opposed to the reactive measure represented by a no-fly zone. If it does come down to U.S. forces being committed in Libya, Congress and the people should remember the lessons of previous poorly defined interventions. We should demand a coherent statement of U.S. interests and objectives, and subject it to the most exacting analysis and criticism.

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Dumbing Down the SATs?

The New York Times reports on a controversy that’s recently erupted over one of the essay prompts on the latest SAT. Some test-takers have grumbled that the question, which asks students to weigh in on the “authenticity” of reality TV shows, rewards high schoolers who watch the shows and leaves more studious high schoolers at a disadvantage:

On the online forum College Confidential, a debate over the essay “stretched across nearly 40 pages,” as of Wednesday, reported the Times.

Here’s the SAT prompt in full:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

The test goes on to ask students whether “people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.”

The question may be vapid, but then again, so are a lot of SAT essay prompts. The point of the section is to test for writing organization, coherency, logic, and proper use of grammar and spelling. The prompt is pretty much there to make sure students didn’t formulate and memorize an essay beforehand.

And it’s not necessary for test-takers to have detailed knowledge about reality shows in order to write a cultural critique of them. The question doesn’t ask for a synopsis of Jersey Shore; it asks whether “such forms of entertainment [are] harmful.” The students complaining that they were too busy focusing on academics to waste time on junk TV might have been better off making that argument in their SAT essay, rather than on message boards.

The New York Times reports on a controversy that’s recently erupted over one of the essay prompts on the latest SAT. Some test-takers have grumbled that the question, which asks students to weigh in on the “authenticity” of reality TV shows, rewards high schoolers who watch the shows and leaves more studious high schoolers at a disadvantage:

On the online forum College Confidential, a debate over the essay “stretched across nearly 40 pages,” as of Wednesday, reported the Times.

Here’s the SAT prompt in full:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

The test goes on to ask students whether “people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.”

The question may be vapid, but then again, so are a lot of SAT essay prompts. The point of the section is to test for writing organization, coherency, logic, and proper use of grammar and spelling. The prompt is pretty much there to make sure students didn’t formulate and memorize an essay beforehand.

And it’s not necessary for test-takers to have detailed knowledge about reality shows in order to write a cultural critique of them. The question doesn’t ask for a synopsis of Jersey Shore; it asks whether “such forms of entertainment [are] harmful.” The students complaining that they were too busy focusing on academics to waste time on junk TV might have been better off making that argument in their SAT essay, rather than on message boards.

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America’s Democratic Allies Shine

The 3 a.m. phone call finally came, and who was there to pick it up, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? The answer: Nicolas Sarkozy. A headline in today’s New York Times says it all: “Libya Calls Cease-Fire After Britain and France Vow Action ‘Soon.’” Well, almost all. The teaser gives some important color: “America’s role was unclear.”

Libyans rang up Washington mid-slaughter to find call-forwarding had been activated. In Paris, President Sarkozy took the lead with courage and purpose. He became the first international head of state to recognize the legitimacy of the Libyan opposition. Then he rallied international support for military intervention in hopes of halting a dictator who had turned his war apparatus against his human property.

The U.S. response to this noble effort? In Sec. Clinton’s words, “There are difficulties.” Exactly which administration doctrine does that brave and thoughtful declaration represent? Smart Power? Winning the Future? I know — it must be Restoring America’s Standing in the World. The G8 foreign ministers who heard it left the meeting in Paris this week “completely puzzled” about American intentions and priorities. Read More

The 3 a.m. phone call finally came, and who was there to pick it up, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? The answer: Nicolas Sarkozy. A headline in today’s New York Times says it all: “Libya Calls Cease-Fire After Britain and France Vow Action ‘Soon.’” Well, almost all. The teaser gives some important color: “America’s role was unclear.”

Libyans rang up Washington mid-slaughter to find call-forwarding had been activated. In Paris, President Sarkozy took the lead with courage and purpose. He became the first international head of state to recognize the legitimacy of the Libyan opposition. Then he rallied international support for military intervention in hopes of halting a dictator who had turned his war apparatus against his human property.

The U.S. response to this noble effort? In Sec. Clinton’s words, “There are difficulties.” Exactly which administration doctrine does that brave and thoughtful declaration represent? Smart Power? Winning the Future? I know — it must be Restoring America’s Standing in the World. The G8 foreign ministers who heard it left the meeting in Paris this week “completely puzzled” about American intentions and priorities.

But what was so puzzling? The world hardly needs any more evidence that Barack Obama believes in the virtue of a disinterested and semi-retired American superpower. Fortunately, however, Hillary Clinton believes in Hillary Clinton. Finding herself attached to a calamitous and indefensible policy, she needed out. Instead of going down with the ship, she went rogue. First, “Clinton insiders” leaked against the White House. Then Hillary went full-hawk, saying that Muammar Qaddafi’s irrational and violent nature left the U.S. no choice but to support potential military action against him. “There are some creatures that are like that.”

Indeed there are, which seems to come as a shock to the Obama administration. America has a global responsibility, and it’s not to enforce the undergraduate code of political correctness and cultural relativism. It is doubtful that the world’s Muslims sleep more soundly knowing that the American president can approvingly cite a few Arab and Persian poets. That didn’t seem to matter to the young Egyptian democrats who snubbed Clinton in Cairo last month “based on her negative position from the beginning of the revolution and the position of the US administration in the Middle East,” or to the Libyan rebels who said Qaddafi’s triumph “will be on the international community’s conscience,” or to the Iranian protesters who in June of 2009 asked of Barack Obama, “Are you with us or with the regime?” America’s global responsibility is to act, when it can, to safeguard human rights against “creatures” like Qaddafi.

Thanks to France and Britain, the UN Security Council has approved military action in pursuit of that goal. Getting the UN to agree to act concretely against a dictator is no small feat, and the credit will not go to the American president who had vowed to make more effective use of multilateral institutions. He spent weeks pontificating on the inevitably just “arc of history,” while European leaders understood that history doesn’t bend of its own will. America will now contribute to any effort that is undertaken, and that is as it should be.

Is the cease-fire real? Doubtful. Is it too late to move against Qaddafi? Let us hope not. For if his reign somehow continues on the other side of this episode, the U.S. will have lost a generation’s worth of Muslim goodwill and a critical battle in the fight for liberty in the Middle East. There is another recent New York Times headline that seems rather dispositive at the moment: “Bullets Stall Youthful Push for Arab Spring.” Arab youths were stalled by bullets. What’s our excuse?

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The Genocide-Prevention Holiday

The world was understandably obsessed this week with the disaster in Japan and the civil war in Libya. That’s part of the reason why two other news stories in the Middle East were largely ignored. One was the bloody massacre of five members of a Jewish family in a West Bank settlement. The other was Israel’s capture of a ship with a cargo of Iranian arms intended for the Hamas terrorists who govern Gaza. While the world’s attention is currently diverted from Israel and its dispute with the Palestinians, no matter what happens elsewhere, we know that sooner or later the narrative that depicts the Jewish state as being unwilling to make peace will return to the top of the international media’s agenda. And when it does, we will again be treated to more distorted stories about heartless Jews and Palestinian victims that will reinforce the false impression that the lack of peace is due to Israeli and not Arab intransigence. When that happens, observers would do well to recall the slaughtered Jewish family and the Iranian arms shipment.

Yet the juxtaposition of these two events with the holiday that Jews celebrate this weekend is a coincidence worth noting. The Jewish calendar is littered with dates that mourn tragedy and celebrate triumph. But Purim, which begins at sundown on Saturday night, is special in that it highlights the perils of weakness in the face of hate and the importance of taking timely action to head off mass murder. Indeed, the symbolism of this festival is such that, earlier this year, the Iranian government, which is led by men who seek to emulate Haman — the ancient Persian villain whose failed attempt to slaughter the Jews is chronicled in the Book of Esther — announced plans to turn the site in that country that is traditionally known as the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai into a museum commemorating those killed by Jews defending themselves against Haman’s attempted genocide.

The willingness of Palestinians to descend to the bestiality required to slit the throat of a sleeping Jewish infant (a feat reportedly commemorated in Gaza by the distribution of sweets) and the determination of Iran to pursue its own genocidal plans for the Jews by both sending arms to Hamas terrorists and proceeding with their nuclear project illustrates the horrific nature of the ongoing siege of Israel. Though Israel’s critics, as well as some in the Obama administration, sometimes speak as if all that was needed to end this conflict were but a few more concessions from Prime Minister Netanyahu, this week’s buried stories demonstrate the intractable nature of this conflict and the necessity of Israeli strength and military daring in the face of such threats.

The message of Purim is that if you really want to stop genocide, you need to do two things: speak up and then act decisively. That’s what Esther and Mordechai did, and what Israel and its friends must continue to do to head off the desire of latter-day Hamans to wipe out the Jewish people. That is a lesson that applies to more than threats to the Jews, an important point to remember when cynics urge inaction rather than intervention to topple tyrants and to forestall mass murder around the globe.

The world was understandably obsessed this week with the disaster in Japan and the civil war in Libya. That’s part of the reason why two other news stories in the Middle East were largely ignored. One was the bloody massacre of five members of a Jewish family in a West Bank settlement. The other was Israel’s capture of a ship with a cargo of Iranian arms intended for the Hamas terrorists who govern Gaza. While the world’s attention is currently diverted from Israel and its dispute with the Palestinians, no matter what happens elsewhere, we know that sooner or later the narrative that depicts the Jewish state as being unwilling to make peace will return to the top of the international media’s agenda. And when it does, we will again be treated to more distorted stories about heartless Jews and Palestinian victims that will reinforce the false impression that the lack of peace is due to Israeli and not Arab intransigence. When that happens, observers would do well to recall the slaughtered Jewish family and the Iranian arms shipment.

Yet the juxtaposition of these two events with the holiday that Jews celebrate this weekend is a coincidence worth noting. The Jewish calendar is littered with dates that mourn tragedy and celebrate triumph. But Purim, which begins at sundown on Saturday night, is special in that it highlights the perils of weakness in the face of hate and the importance of taking timely action to head off mass murder. Indeed, the symbolism of this festival is such that, earlier this year, the Iranian government, which is led by men who seek to emulate Haman — the ancient Persian villain whose failed attempt to slaughter the Jews is chronicled in the Book of Esther — announced plans to turn the site in that country that is traditionally known as the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai into a museum commemorating those killed by Jews defending themselves against Haman’s attempted genocide.

The willingness of Palestinians to descend to the bestiality required to slit the throat of a sleeping Jewish infant (a feat reportedly commemorated in Gaza by the distribution of sweets) and the determination of Iran to pursue its own genocidal plans for the Jews by both sending arms to Hamas terrorists and proceeding with their nuclear project illustrates the horrific nature of the ongoing siege of Israel. Though Israel’s critics, as well as some in the Obama administration, sometimes speak as if all that was needed to end this conflict were but a few more concessions from Prime Minister Netanyahu, this week’s buried stories demonstrate the intractable nature of this conflict and the necessity of Israeli strength and military daring in the face of such threats.

The message of Purim is that if you really want to stop genocide, you need to do two things: speak up and then act decisively. That’s what Esther and Mordechai did, and what Israel and its friends must continue to do to head off the desire of latter-day Hamans to wipe out the Jewish people. That is a lesson that applies to more than threats to the Jews, an important point to remember when cynics urge inaction rather than intervention to topple tyrants and to forestall mass murder around the globe.

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Buck-Passing and Score-Settling with Donald Rumsfeld

Yesterday the New Republic posted my review of Donald Rumsfeld’s execrable memoir, Known and Unknown, which I describe as a “masterpiece of buck-passing and score-settling.” I have had a large number of reactions, mostly positive (Rumsfeld doesn’t have a lot of fans left, even on the right). Among the criticisms, there was the standard leftist line (echoed oddly enough by Rumsfeld’s own aide, Keith Urbahn) that in criticizing Rumsfeld I was trying to absolve the dread “neocons,” including myself, of responsibility for what happened in Iraq.

I admit to having supported the liberation of Iraq; indeed, I support it still. So if that implicates me in all that happened after 2003, I guess I have to accept some share of blame. But I do think this is obviated to some extent by the fact that, while I remained supportive of the war effort, I also did not hesitate to point out problems. I first called for Rumsfeld’s ouster in 2004, after the Abu Ghraib scandal; and by the summer of 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war for lack of troop strength — something that Rumsfeld is not willing to concede even now.

I made my share of mistakes, to be sure, as does anyone who analyzes current events; I was too optimistic, in particular, in the war’s early days because I placed too much stock in the competence and ability of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. to manage the post-invasion phase. But at least I did not make the cardinal mistake Rumsfeld made — which was to stick with a “small footprint” strategy long after its failure had become apparent. Nor did I make the mistake that so many Democrats, including those who had supported the initial invasion, made — namely to call for a premature pullout, which would have led to a catastrophe that would have made the terrible events of 2003-2006 seem benign by comparison.

A more telling criticism of my review, I think, is that made by a couple of friends who pointed out that by focusing on Rumsfeld’s culpability, I gave a pass to his boss, George W. Bush.  I think that’s a fair point, although it was certainly not my intention. No question, the buck stops in the Oval Office — and its occupant must accept blame for major failures, such as those that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush was far too hands-off a chief executive, one who allowed incompetent subordinates to run out of control because he didn’t want to micromanage the war in LBJ style. But at least Bush changed course at the end of 2006 and ordered a surge that saved the situation in Iraq. The surge may well wind up saving his historical reputation; no such salvation is likely for Rumsfeld, who opposed the surge.

Yesterday the New Republic posted my review of Donald Rumsfeld’s execrable memoir, Known and Unknown, which I describe as a “masterpiece of buck-passing and score-settling.” I have had a large number of reactions, mostly positive (Rumsfeld doesn’t have a lot of fans left, even on the right). Among the criticisms, there was the standard leftist line (echoed oddly enough by Rumsfeld’s own aide, Keith Urbahn) that in criticizing Rumsfeld I was trying to absolve the dread “neocons,” including myself, of responsibility for what happened in Iraq.

I admit to having supported the liberation of Iraq; indeed, I support it still. So if that implicates me in all that happened after 2003, I guess I have to accept some share of blame. But I do think this is obviated to some extent by the fact that, while I remained supportive of the war effort, I also did not hesitate to point out problems. I first called for Rumsfeld’s ouster in 2004, after the Abu Ghraib scandal; and by the summer of 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war for lack of troop strength — something that Rumsfeld is not willing to concede even now.

I made my share of mistakes, to be sure, as does anyone who analyzes current events; I was too optimistic, in particular, in the war’s early days because I placed too much stock in the competence and ability of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. to manage the post-invasion phase. But at least I did not make the cardinal mistake Rumsfeld made — which was to stick with a “small footprint” strategy long after its failure had become apparent. Nor did I make the mistake that so many Democrats, including those who had supported the initial invasion, made — namely to call for a premature pullout, which would have led to a catastrophe that would have made the terrible events of 2003-2006 seem benign by comparison.

A more telling criticism of my review, I think, is that made by a couple of friends who pointed out that by focusing on Rumsfeld’s culpability, I gave a pass to his boss, George W. Bush.  I think that’s a fair point, although it was certainly not my intention. No question, the buck stops in the Oval Office — and its occupant must accept blame for major failures, such as those that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush was far too hands-off a chief executive, one who allowed incompetent subordinates to run out of control because he didn’t want to micromanage the war in LBJ style. But at least Bush changed course at the end of 2006 and ordered a surge that saved the situation in Iraq. The surge may well wind up saving his historical reputation; no such salvation is likely for Rumsfeld, who opposed the surge.

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JCPA, IAN Respond to Jewish Week ‘Boycott Consensus’ Story

Ben Suarato, a spokesperson for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, e-mailed me in response to my post yesterday on the Israel Action Network’s position on targeted boycotts.

“I’m afraid that you may have missed the point, and would like to reiterate our and Martin’s passionate opposition to boycotts,” wrote Suarato. “His comments were not on the acceptability of the boycotts, but on whether the groups who call for them still have a place in the Jewish community writ large.”

But the real issue isn’t whether these groups are a part of the Jewish community. It’s whether Jewish communal funds and support should be funneled toward organizations that promote delegitimization efforts, including targeted boycotts of areas deemed to be settlements.

Presuming that the JCPA and the IAN haven’t suddenly been given the ability to decide who is or is not a Jew, when they say a group has a “place in the Jewish community writ large,” they seem to be suggesting that it’s acceptable to fund these groups or give them other backing.

IAN project director Martin Raffel, whose comments to the Jewish Week about the acceptability of targeted boycotts set off this controversy earlier in the week, has also issued a response. According to Raffel, the debate over the targeted-boycott issue is a “distraction.”

“I hope our community refocuses the energy being expended on the communal tent debate toward fighting serious challenges we face, from UN-based assaults on Israel’s legitimacy to unambiguously strident anti-Israel initiatives occurring within civil society,” he wrote.

Raffel seems to be referring to the recent UN resolution that sought to condemn the Israeli settlements. But if it’s objectionable to criticize the settlements at the UN, why isn’t it objectionable for Jewish organizations to call for boycotts of these areas?

These vague positions only serve to muddle the debate. Unless the IAN clarifies its definition of delegitimization, it’s hard to believe it will be able to recognize the problem, let alone combat it.

Ben Suarato, a spokesperson for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, e-mailed me in response to my post yesterday on the Israel Action Network’s position on targeted boycotts.

“I’m afraid that you may have missed the point, and would like to reiterate our and Martin’s passionate opposition to boycotts,” wrote Suarato. “His comments were not on the acceptability of the boycotts, but on whether the groups who call for them still have a place in the Jewish community writ large.”

But the real issue isn’t whether these groups are a part of the Jewish community. It’s whether Jewish communal funds and support should be funneled toward organizations that promote delegitimization efforts, including targeted boycotts of areas deemed to be settlements.

Presuming that the JCPA and the IAN haven’t suddenly been given the ability to decide who is or is not a Jew, when they say a group has a “place in the Jewish community writ large,” they seem to be suggesting that it’s acceptable to fund these groups or give them other backing.

IAN project director Martin Raffel, whose comments to the Jewish Week about the acceptability of targeted boycotts set off this controversy earlier in the week, has also issued a response. According to Raffel, the debate over the targeted-boycott issue is a “distraction.”

“I hope our community refocuses the energy being expended on the communal tent debate toward fighting serious challenges we face, from UN-based assaults on Israel’s legitimacy to unambiguously strident anti-Israel initiatives occurring within civil society,” he wrote.

Raffel seems to be referring to the recent UN resolution that sought to condemn the Israeli settlements. But if it’s objectionable to criticize the settlements at the UN, why isn’t it objectionable for Jewish organizations to call for boycotts of these areas?

These vague positions only serve to muddle the debate. Unless the IAN clarifies its definition of delegitimization, it’s hard to believe it will be able to recognize the problem, let alone combat it.

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Helen Thomas Defends Palestinian Suicide Bombers in Playboy Magazine

Veteran reporter Helen Thomas turned up in Playboy magazine this month (fully clothed, don’t worry) as part of her ongoing anti-Semitic publicity tour.

The former “dean” of the White House Press Corps sat down for an interview (link is to the Sun Herald’s summary) about her recent controversy. First she weighed in on the aftermath of her remarks about Israel last May (“I went into self-imposed house arrest”) and her views on the situation in the Palestinian territories (“the Palestinians have been shortchanged in every way”). But then the interview took an uglier turn.

“Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone,” said Thomas, when asked about Palestinian terrorism against the Israelis. “But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation.”

Thomas also took a shot at Holocaust-remembrance programs, insisting that Jews exploited the memory in order to persecute Palestinians. “There’s nothing wrong with remembering [the Holocaust], but why do we have to constantly remember? We’re not at fault,” said Thomas, adding, “Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That’s true, but they shouldn’t use that to dominate.”

And in case there’s anyone out there who’s still unsure about Thomas’s true feelings toward the Jewish people, she clarified them later in the interview.

“[The Jews are] using their power, and they have power in every direction,” she said. “Power over the White House, power over Congress. … Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood.  Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.”

Thomas then looked at the interviewer and asked, “You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?”

The 90-year-old reporter’s worldview, in fact, seems to be clouded with an obsession over who is a Jew. When asked about her views on Congress, Thomas simply listed off the names of Jewish lawmakers and intoned that they would be anti-Arab. “Do you think [Chuck] Schumer and [Rep. Ileana Ros-] Lehtinen — whatever her name is — in Florida are going to be pro-Arab?” she asked. “No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing.”

Thomas’s comments are indicative of an extremely disturbed and damaged person. But even as she shoots off textbook anti-Semitic canards, she vigorously denies that she’s anti-Jewish.

“I think they’re wonderful people,” she says of the Jews. “They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights. They’ve always had the heart for others but not for Arabs, for some reason. I’m not anti-Jewish; I’m anti-Zionist.”

Not everyone who calls himself an anti-Zionist is anti-Semitic. But there are many, many anti-Semites, like Thomas, who hide behind the façade of anti-Zionism. And the fact that she was able to do this while in the spotlight for so many years makes one worry for the state of the media.

Veteran reporter Helen Thomas turned up in Playboy magazine this month (fully clothed, don’t worry) as part of her ongoing anti-Semitic publicity tour.

The former “dean” of the White House Press Corps sat down for an interview (link is to the Sun Herald’s summary) about her recent controversy. First she weighed in on the aftermath of her remarks about Israel last May (“I went into self-imposed house arrest”) and her views on the situation in the Palestinian territories (“the Palestinians have been shortchanged in every way”). But then the interview took an uglier turn.

“Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone,” said Thomas, when asked about Palestinian terrorism against the Israelis. “But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation.”

Thomas also took a shot at Holocaust-remembrance programs, insisting that Jews exploited the memory in order to persecute Palestinians. “There’s nothing wrong with remembering [the Holocaust], but why do we have to constantly remember? We’re not at fault,” said Thomas, adding, “Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That’s true, but they shouldn’t use that to dominate.”

And in case there’s anyone out there who’s still unsure about Thomas’s true feelings toward the Jewish people, she clarified them later in the interview.

“[The Jews are] using their power, and they have power in every direction,” she said. “Power over the White House, power over Congress. … Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood.  Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.”

Thomas then looked at the interviewer and asked, “You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?”

The 90-year-old reporter’s worldview, in fact, seems to be clouded with an obsession over who is a Jew. When asked about her views on Congress, Thomas simply listed off the names of Jewish lawmakers and intoned that they would be anti-Arab. “Do you think [Chuck] Schumer and [Rep. Ileana Ros-] Lehtinen — whatever her name is — in Florida are going to be pro-Arab?” she asked. “No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing.”

Thomas’s comments are indicative of an extremely disturbed and damaged person. But even as she shoots off textbook anti-Semitic canards, she vigorously denies that she’s anti-Jewish.

“I think they’re wonderful people,” she says of the Jews. “They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights. They’ve always had the heart for others but not for Arabs, for some reason. I’m not anti-Jewish; I’m anti-Zionist.”

Not everyone who calls himself an anti-Zionist is anti-Semitic. But there are many, many anti-Semites, like Thomas, who hide behind the façade of anti-Zionism. And the fact that she was able to do this while in the spotlight for so many years makes one worry for the state of the media.

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Qaddafi Backs Down in Face of UN Resolution

Amazing what a little show of international resolve can achieve. For days, Muammar Qaddafi has been making blood-curdling threats against Libyan opposition groups, vowing to wipe them out to a man. Then last night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to stop his offensive. Now, this morning, his regime is announcing an “immediate cease-fire” and cessation of offensive operations. It is also releasing four New York Times journalists captured a few days ago.

This is not to suggest by any means that the work of the international coalition is done or that it will all be as easy as this. Clearly, Qaddafi will not give up his grip on power without a fight, and having been able to push back the opposition, he is still in a strong position. But he is canny enough to understand that the odds are now shifting against him, and for the time being at least, he seems eager not to provoke the international coalition that is gathering with overwhelming force. Now it is up to the U.S. and our allies to buttress the opposition and allow them to make up lost ground.

Amazing what a little show of international resolve can achieve. For days, Muammar Qaddafi has been making blood-curdling threats against Libyan opposition groups, vowing to wipe them out to a man. Then last night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to stop his offensive. Now, this morning, his regime is announcing an “immediate cease-fire” and cessation of offensive operations. It is also releasing four New York Times journalists captured a few days ago.

This is not to suggest by any means that the work of the international coalition is done or that it will all be as easy as this. Clearly, Qaddafi will not give up his grip on power without a fight, and having been able to push back the opposition, he is still in a strong position. But he is canny enough to understand that the odds are now shifting against him, and for the time being at least, he seems eager not to provoke the international coalition that is gathering with overwhelming force. Now it is up to the U.S. and our allies to buttress the opposition and allow them to make up lost ground.

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The Luck of the Irish

I confess to a fascination with highly unlikely coincidences. Two of the greatest men of the 19th century — Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin — were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. The town of Codell, Kansas, had never been hit by a tornado until it was struck on May 20, 1916. It was hit again on May 20, 1917, and a third time on May 20, 1918. It has never been hit again (although I imagine a lot of residents arranged to be out of town on  May 20, 1919). In the 1940s, two of the mightiest corporations in the world, General Motors and General Electric, were each headed by a man named Charles E. Wilson (who were unrelated). They were known as Engine Charlie and Electric Charlie to keep them straight.

Probably the most famous coincidence in American history is the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only two presidents to have signed the Declaration of Independence, which one had written at the suggestion of the other,  died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of its adoption. (President James Monroe also died on July 4, but in 1831.)

Yesterday, March 17, was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, a day of great, if in recent years more orderly, celebration in the New York area. And what should come up for the midday drawing of the Numbers Lotto but 317. The odds against that happening are 1000-to-1, so it was unlikely but not extraordinary. But it brings to mind another, similar, coincidence. On September 15, 1958, there was a terrible train accident in Bayonne, New Jersey, when an engineer, for reasons unknown, did not see that a drawbridge he was about to cross was in the raised position. The result was 41 people killed. The next day, every newspaper in the area had a picture of one of the railroad cars dangling off the bridge, its number, 932, clearly visible.

The next day, the number (determined by the last three digits in the daily U.S. Treasury balance) that came up in the numbers racket was 932. In those days, of course, the numbers game was run by the Mafia, and many mafiosi skipped town rather than pay off the many, many winning tickets. In these enlightened times, the numbers racket is run by the State of New York, so winners can rest assured they will collect. But in 1958, the numbers racket paid $600 for a $1 bet. Now that it’s run by the state, the payout is only $500. Ahh, progress.

I confess to a fascination with highly unlikely coincidences. Two of the greatest men of the 19th century — Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin — were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. The town of Codell, Kansas, had never been hit by a tornado until it was struck on May 20, 1916. It was hit again on May 20, 1917, and a third time on May 20, 1918. It has never been hit again (although I imagine a lot of residents arranged to be out of town on  May 20, 1919). In the 1940s, two of the mightiest corporations in the world, General Motors and General Electric, were each headed by a man named Charles E. Wilson (who were unrelated). They were known as Engine Charlie and Electric Charlie to keep them straight.

Probably the most famous coincidence in American history is the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only two presidents to have signed the Declaration of Independence, which one had written at the suggestion of the other,  died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of its adoption. (President James Monroe also died on July 4, but in 1831.)

Yesterday, March 17, was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, a day of great, if in recent years more orderly, celebration in the New York area. And what should come up for the midday drawing of the Numbers Lotto but 317. The odds against that happening are 1000-to-1, so it was unlikely but not extraordinary. But it brings to mind another, similar, coincidence. On September 15, 1958, there was a terrible train accident in Bayonne, New Jersey, when an engineer, for reasons unknown, did not see that a drawbridge he was about to cross was in the raised position. The result was 41 people killed. The next day, every newspaper in the area had a picture of one of the railroad cars dangling off the bridge, its number, 932, clearly visible.

The next day, the number (determined by the last three digits in the daily U.S. Treasury balance) that came up in the numbers racket was 932. In those days, of course, the numbers game was run by the Mafia, and many mafiosi skipped town rather than pay off the many, many winning tickets. In these enlightened times, the numbers racket is run by the State of New York, so winners can rest assured they will collect. But in 1958, the numbers racket paid $600 for a $1 bet. Now that it’s run by the state, the payout is only $500. Ahh, progress.

Read Less




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