Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 22, 2011

New Israel Fund Board Member Tapped to Lead Reform Movement

The Reform movement has always leaned toward the political left, but its decision to tap Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its new leader signals that it might be shifting its focus toward a slightly different form of political activism.

Jacobs, who will replace Rabbi Eric Yoffie as the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, has played a prominent role in the progressive activist community. He’s a long-time board member at the New Israel Fund, a major funder of left-wing causes as well as some that launched the anti-Israel “lawfare” movement. And while NIF says it no longer finances pro-boycott organizations, it previously contributed to Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa.

Jacobs is also listed as a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet, which suggests the controversial lobbying group might become a more influential player in the Reform movement than it’s been in the past.

Yoffie, who led the Reform movement for 16 years, had a notoriously rocky relationship with J Street. Though a longtime dove in terms of his take on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, in 2009, Yoffie’s speech at the J Street conference drew boos from the audience after he declared that UN Justice Richard Goldstone should “be ashamed of himself.” The Rabbi also blasted J Street’s condemnation of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, writing that the group “misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews” in a column in the Forward.

Yoffie wasn’t afraid to call out Israel’s delegitimizers, but will Jacobs be willing to do the same? The delegitimization campaign against Israel is gaining the most traction with left-wing Jews, and it’s crucial for the Reform movement to do all it can to counter this. On that front, Jacobs’s involvement with groups like NIF and J Street is a troubling sign.

The Reform movement has always leaned toward the political left, but its decision to tap Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its new leader signals that it might be shifting its focus toward a slightly different form of political activism.

Jacobs, who will replace Rabbi Eric Yoffie as the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, has played a prominent role in the progressive activist community. He’s a long-time board member at the New Israel Fund, a major funder of left-wing causes as well as some that launched the anti-Israel “lawfare” movement. And while NIF says it no longer finances pro-boycott organizations, it previously contributed to Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa.

Jacobs is also listed as a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet, which suggests the controversial lobbying group might become a more influential player in the Reform movement than it’s been in the past.

Yoffie, who led the Reform movement for 16 years, had a notoriously rocky relationship with J Street. Though a longtime dove in terms of his take on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, in 2009, Yoffie’s speech at the J Street conference drew boos from the audience after he declared that UN Justice Richard Goldstone should “be ashamed of himself.” The Rabbi also blasted J Street’s condemnation of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, writing that the group “misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews” in a column in the Forward.

Yoffie wasn’t afraid to call out Israel’s delegitimizers, but will Jacobs be willing to do the same? The delegitimization campaign against Israel is gaining the most traction with left-wing Jews, and it’s crucial for the Reform movement to do all it can to counter this. On that front, Jacobs’s involvement with groups like NIF and J Street is a troubling sign.

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Abbas’s Choice: Peace With Israel or Hamas

With the United States involved in a shooting war in Libya, the launch of several mortar shells from Gaza into southern Israel last weekend didn’t generate much attention. But close observers of the Middle East understand that this unexceptional event — after all, terrorists in the Islamist-run strip have sent thousands of rockets and other missiles into Israel seeking to kill civilians in the last decade — betrays the tensions that are simmering among the Palestinians.

Fortunately the mortar fire hurt no one but what was interesting was Hamas’s willingness to take responsibility for the incident rather than, as its usual practice, fobbing it off on minor terrorist groups. So why, we must ask, would Hamas, which has kept the level of terror attacks from Gaza low enough to maintain the uneasy cease-fire it has had with Israel since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009, seek to raise the temperature in the region? Read More

With the United States involved in a shooting war in Libya, the launch of several mortar shells from Gaza into southern Israel last weekend didn’t generate much attention. But close observers of the Middle East understand that this unexceptional event — after all, terrorists in the Islamist-run strip have sent thousands of rockets and other missiles into Israel seeking to kill civilians in the last decade — betrays the tensions that are simmering among the Palestinians.

Fortunately the mortar fire hurt no one but what was interesting was Hamas’s willingness to take responsibility for the incident rather than, as its usual practice, fobbing it off on minor terrorist groups. So why, we must ask, would Hamas, which has kept the level of terror attacks from Gaza low enough to maintain the uneasy cease-fire it has had with Israel since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009, seek to raise the temperature in the region?

The answer is to be found in the basic equation of Palestinian politics. In the bizzaro world of Palestinian nationalism, political movements earn their bona fides not by acts of statesmanship or state building but by shedding blood or at least making a show of bloodletting. While the democratic ferment sweeping the Arab world has seemingly had little impact on the Palestinians, it would be wrong to think that they are indifferent to the struggles being waged elsewhere against autocrats and dictators. But so long as either Hamas or its Fatah rivals that run the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank can keep people focused on hatred for Israel, we may assume that Palestinian democracy will remain a theoretical subject. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to manipulate this spirt into a call for Palestinian unity in which Fatah and Hamas will somehow come together. Whether Abbas seriously believes such a thing is possible, and he appears to be smart enough to know it is not, such rumblings represent a threat to Hamas. They will always treat such challenges to their absolute and tyrannical rule in Gaza as a deadly threat. Thus, the firing from Gaza and the counterattack it generated from Israel were probably linked to Abbas’s unity pleas and the demonstrations in support of the idea, which were quickly suppressed by Hamas.

But the question is whether this nasty exchange is the end of this episode. In a speech to the Knesset today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a strong message to Abbas. By declaring that the PA leader must choose between peace with Israel or with Hamas, Netanyahu was doing more than merely reminding him that Israel will never tolerate Islamist control of the West Bank in addition to Gaza. Israelis understand that whenever Palestinians vie for popularity, Jews have a tendency to get killed. The talk of an Abbas visit to Gaza for more talks with Hamas about a unity plan is ominous not so much because there is a real danger that the a coalition between Fatah and its Islamist foes will become a reality (though that possibility cannot be entirely discounted) but because such rumblings may inspire the two movements to prove their worthiness to their constituencies by shedding some Jewish blood. With Hamas engaged in a major arms buildup (the seizure by the Israel Defense Forces of a ship last week laden with Iranian arms intended for Gaza may have been just the tip of the iceberg of this development), the potential for violence and heightened instability is real.

Though the Obama administration is understandably distracted by its involvement in Libya, Washington must second Netanyahu’s warning. Abbas depends on both the United States and Israel for his survival and he must understand that if he foolishly stirs the fires of Palestinian nationalism in order to distract West Bankers from their own lack of democracy, Israelis are not the only ones who will be burnt.

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Obama Continues to Slam Bush on Iraq

You would think President Obama’s recent choice to take military action in Libya would have made him slightly more understanding of President Bush’s decision to intervene in Iraq. Not so, as Gateway Pundit points out. In Chile, Obama took this swipe at Bush while discussing the Libya war: “In the past there have been times when the United States acted unilaterally or did not have full international support, and as a consequence typically it was the United States military that ended up bearing the entire burden.”

Yet, according to Fox Nation, the claim that the U.S. has more international support now than it did when it entered Iraq is inaccurate. According to the news site, the coalition of countries that backed Bush in Iraq was twice as large as the coalition now backing Obama.

It’s unfortunate that Obama hasn’t used the crisis in Libya as an opportunity to rethink his previous harsh criticism of the Bush administration.

The Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso points out that in the 2002 speech that led Obama to stardom, the then-state senator blasted the “arm-chair, weekend warriors” and “political hacks” of the Bush White House for supporting the Iraq intervention.

While Obama conceded in the speech that “the world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without [Saddam Hussein],” he also argued that “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military [is] a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

As Freddoso notes, opponents of the Libya intervention could easily make similar claims about Qaddafi.

It would be nice if Obama would acknowledge that his soaring, anti-war rhetoric was easier to champion when he didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities of the presidency. And one way to start would be by cutting his predecessor some slack.

You would think President Obama’s recent choice to take military action in Libya would have made him slightly more understanding of President Bush’s decision to intervene in Iraq. Not so, as Gateway Pundit points out. In Chile, Obama took this swipe at Bush while discussing the Libya war: “In the past there have been times when the United States acted unilaterally or did not have full international support, and as a consequence typically it was the United States military that ended up bearing the entire burden.”

Yet, according to Fox Nation, the claim that the U.S. has more international support now than it did when it entered Iraq is inaccurate. According to the news site, the coalition of countries that backed Bush in Iraq was twice as large as the coalition now backing Obama.

It’s unfortunate that Obama hasn’t used the crisis in Libya as an opportunity to rethink his previous harsh criticism of the Bush administration.

The Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso points out that in the 2002 speech that led Obama to stardom, the then-state senator blasted the “arm-chair, weekend warriors” and “political hacks” of the Bush White House for supporting the Iraq intervention.

While Obama conceded in the speech that “the world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without [Saddam Hussein],” he also argued that “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military [is] a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

As Freddoso notes, opponents of the Libya intervention could easily make similar claims about Qaddafi.

It would be nice if Obama would acknowledge that his soaring, anti-war rhetoric was easier to champion when he didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities of the presidency. And one way to start would be by cutting his predecessor some slack.

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Shouldn’t Post-Qaddafi Plans Have Been a Given?

In the New York Times today, I suggest that it’s time to start thinking about the possibility of dispatching an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the situation in Libya after Qaddafi’s eventual downfall.

At lunch I happened to be chatting with an expert on peacekeeping who told me that my article was the first public suggestion of the kind. I think she is right. I say that not because I want to pat myself on the back for bringing up a subject whose relevance is blindingly obvious but to express bewilderment that there has not been more done to prepare for the endgame in Libya.

This is an administration that is filled, after all, with critics of the Iraq War where, it is widely conceded, we paid a heavy price for not doing more to prepare for Saddam Hussein’s downfall. Tommy Franks, Donald Rumsfeld, and others later claimed we were wrong-footed by our “catastrophic success,” meaning we were not prepared for the Baathist regime to collapse as quickly or completely as it did. Yet what are we doing to prepare for a similar eventuality in Libya where Qaddafi could be killed in an airstrike tomorrow? Is the coalition now enforcing a no-fly zone prepared to do something on the ground to ease Libya’s transition, or will we just wash our hands of the place and hope for the best?

Some of the usual suspects who oppose the intervention are castigating me for not raising such concerns before the intervention started. But such issues should have been obvious to everyone all along. I only hope that the administration is devoting considerable resources behind the scenes to preparing for post-Qaddafi scenarios because so far I am baffled by the lack of public discussion of this critical issue.

In the New York Times today, I suggest that it’s time to start thinking about the possibility of dispatching an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the situation in Libya after Qaddafi’s eventual downfall.

At lunch I happened to be chatting with an expert on peacekeeping who told me that my article was the first public suggestion of the kind. I think she is right. I say that not because I want to pat myself on the back for bringing up a subject whose relevance is blindingly obvious but to express bewilderment that there has not been more done to prepare for the endgame in Libya.

This is an administration that is filled, after all, with critics of the Iraq War where, it is widely conceded, we paid a heavy price for not doing more to prepare for Saddam Hussein’s downfall. Tommy Franks, Donald Rumsfeld, and others later claimed we were wrong-footed by our “catastrophic success,” meaning we were not prepared for the Baathist regime to collapse as quickly or completely as it did. Yet what are we doing to prepare for a similar eventuality in Libya where Qaddafi could be killed in an airstrike tomorrow? Is the coalition now enforcing a no-fly zone prepared to do something on the ground to ease Libya’s transition, or will we just wash our hands of the place and hope for the best?

Some of the usual suspects who oppose the intervention are castigating me for not raising such concerns before the intervention started. But such issues should have been obvious to everyone all along. I only hope that the administration is devoting considerable resources behind the scenes to preparing for post-Qaddafi scenarios because so far I am baffled by the lack of public discussion of this critical issue.

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What’s Missing From Walzer’s Critique of Libya Intervention? Just War Theory

There was a curious omission from one of the latest critiques of American intervention in the conflict Libya. Scholar Michael Walzer weighed in today at the New Republic with a piece denouncing President Obama’s decision, saying “there are so many things wrong with the Libyan intervention that it is hard to know where to begin.” Walzer is unhappy about the lack of a clear purpose to the U.S. move, the lack of Arab support, and the lack of support from most of the non-Western countries in the United Nations.

These are fair points but neither go to whether or not the intervention is the right thing to do, which is — given Walzer’s deserved reputation as a leading authority on which wars are just and which are unjust — somewhat surprising. Instead, he merely states that the war would be justified if it were “a humanitarian intervention to stop a massacre” on the scale of the genocide in Rwanda or Darfur. But since the situation in Libya is not, according to Walzer, a potential massacre, the decision to intervene is mistaken. Read More

There was a curious omission from one of the latest critiques of American intervention in the conflict Libya. Scholar Michael Walzer weighed in today at the New Republic with a piece denouncing President Obama’s decision, saying “there are so many things wrong with the Libyan intervention that it is hard to know where to begin.” Walzer is unhappy about the lack of a clear purpose to the U.S. move, the lack of Arab support, and the lack of support from most of the non-Western countries in the United Nations.

These are fair points but neither go to whether or not the intervention is the right thing to do, which is — given Walzer’s deserved reputation as a leading authority on which wars are just and which are unjust — somewhat surprising. Instead, he merely states that the war would be justified if it were “a humanitarian intervention to stop a massacre” on the scale of the genocide in Rwanda or Darfur. But since the situation in Libya is not, according to Walzer, a potential massacre, the decision to intervene is mistaken.

But Walzer’s sanguine prediction that a Qaddafi victory would result in “cruel repression” but nothing more than that is hardly authoritative. The need for foreign intervention became manifest not because Qaddafi might hold onto power but because the only way he could do is by employing his air force and other sophisticated weapons against civilians in those areas where the revolt had spread. A failure to ground his air force would have meant a massacre. Indeed, the memory of Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of the Shiites in southern Iraq with helicopter gunships while American troops stood by should have been on everyone’s mind lately.

Walzer is right that it is unlikely a genocidal catastrophe such as Rwanda or Darfur was in the cards. But is he really arguing that several hundred thousands must die before the world should stir? Is the clear potential for tens of thousands of innocents cut down by a mad dictator beneath our attention aside from, as Walzer asserts, the obligation to facilitate the flight of refugees?

There is an argument to be made for the United States to stay out of foreign conflicts. Neo-isolationists on the left and right have criticized Obama on Libya simply because they oppose a strong American presence on the world stage and are uncomfortable with humanitarian interventions under virtually any circumstance. But this is not the sort of tack that we expect from a man who has spent so much of his scholarly and writing life attempting to define both just wars and permissible conduct on the part of those who fight wars.

From an ethical point of view, the question is whether the intervention in Libya constitutes the sort of just war that Walzer has theorized about. It is not so much whether the United States has enough allies in this fight or even whether the president will follow through, as he must, with his demand that Qaddafi step down. Those are, after all, practical questions of how the war should be fought, not whether it should be fought at all.

Given the deadly nature of the Qaddafi regime, its willingness to use massive lethal force against civilians, and its long history of the use of terror (a practice that we might expect to see revived in the event of Qadaffi’s survival), the threshold for a just war has been passed with flying colors in Libya. Michael Walzer may be opposed to intervention in Libya for various reasons. But he owes his readers the acknowledgement that, despite his misgivings about the decision, the United States and its allies are fighting a just war against Qadaffi.

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Responsibility to Protect, Obligation to Shoot

The “Responsibility to Protect” principle, or R2P, hit the blogosphere this weekend after it was incorporated in the UN justification for the resolution against Libya. Omri Ceren’s indispensable discussion is here (I wrote earlier about it here). In brief, the R2P principle, advanced by international activists, posits that there exists a responsibility for foreign governments to intervene under the auspices of the UN when grave harm is being inflicted on the people of a nation.

The horror of vicious attacks on helpless humans cannot fail to move us. Some of the early calls for action on the R2P principle were related to ethnic slaughters in Africa (e.g., the ghastly slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda). This fact makes a point of its own: that R2P envisions intervening in sanguinary inter-tribal campaigns as well as against the exercise of state brutality by a dictator. Read More

The “Responsibility to Protect” principle, or R2P, hit the blogosphere this weekend after it was incorporated in the UN justification for the resolution against Libya. Omri Ceren’s indispensable discussion is here (I wrote earlier about it here). In brief, the R2P principle, advanced by international activists, posits that there exists a responsibility for foreign governments to intervene under the auspices of the UN when grave harm is being inflicted on the people of a nation.

The horror of vicious attacks on helpless humans cannot fail to move us. Some of the early calls for action on the R2P principle were related to ethnic slaughters in Africa (e.g., the ghastly slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda). This fact makes a point of its own: that R2P envisions intervening in sanguinary inter-tribal campaigns as well as against the exercise of state brutality by a dictator.

But as Omri points out, the advocates of R2P have largely sorted themselves into a bloc calling for international action against Israel. Michael Rubin caught a Turkish official complaining this weekend that the UN was quick to act against Qaddafi while giving Israel a pass, proving Evelyn Gordon’s point that there is no dictatorship so brutal that Israel will not be falsely equated with it. Inevitably, the Palestinian Authority on Monday stressed the necessity of providing the Palestinian Arabs international protection against “settler violence.” (H/t: My Right Word)

These elements combine to put R2P under badly needed scrutiny. The flip side of a “responsibility to protect” is an “obligation to shoot.” I’ll call it O2S. Considered in this light, it’s obvious why no such principle should be binding on sovereign nations when invoked by a multilateral body. The world is dangerous enough without automatic triggers in the hands of random foreign governments, the UN, or non-governmental activists.

It is precisely the stewardship of nation-states over armed force that maintains some form of order and relative peace around the globe. The reason we don’t go to war more often is that national governments and peoples have to agree to it. “O2S” cannot be ordered up by the UN and tasked out to member nations, nor should we want it to be. For interventions like the one in Libya, national governments bear all the accountability – particularly if things go badly – and should retain all the discretion.

If it is argued that no one envisions R2P being invoked as an automatic trigger, that merely makes my point. Without a corresponding O2S, R2P is not a principle of international relations; it’s a meaningless mantra. Individual nations will always exercise judgment and discretion in each specific situation: in some situations intervention will be deemed appropriate and feasible, in others it will not. If R2P is not intended to change this, it has no meaning outside of demagoguery. But if it is intended to establish a new and binding criterion for the use of force, it is to be rejected as a mandate for the indiscriminate proliferation of military confrontations.

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Newt Gingrich’s Changing Tune on Libya

It should have been expected that some lawmakers would seize the U.S. intervention in Libya as a way to grandstand and rack up easy political points. But among Republicans nationwide, Newt Gingrich’s posturing on the war may be the most transparent. The prospective 2012 presidential candidate appears to have gone through a remarkable transformation on Libya, in just a few short weeks.

On March 8, Gingrich went on Greta Van Susteren’s show to blast President Obama’s waffling on the crisis. Declaring that the U.S. should institute a no-fly zone over Libya “this evening,” he added that, “This is a moment to get rid of [Gaddafi]. Do it. Get it over with.”

On March 16, Gingrich correctly continued to criticize Obama’s inaction. He said that the president was acting more like the “spectator-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief,” and rightly derided him for wasting time on his NCAA bracket amidst the Libyan unrest.

Shortly after, Gingrich asserted that the way Obama handled the situation in Libya “makes us look weak and uncertain and increases the danger in the Persian Gulf.”

But on March 20, just one day after the president backed a no-fly zone over Libya, Gingrich appeared to change course. He called Obama’s decision to intervene, “opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism.”

In a statement to Politico, Gingrich noted that Iran and North Korea are “vastly bigger threats” to American national security, and argued that there are other countries in Africa that have brutal dictators similar to Qaddafi.

“Mugabe has killed more people, the Sudanese dictatorship has killed more people, there are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things,” Gingrich said.

The reason behind Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya? Publicity, said Newt.

“It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except [in terms of] opportunism and news media publicity,” he said.

Funny, others might say the same thing about Gingrich’s shifting criticism of Obama.

It should have been expected that some lawmakers would seize the U.S. intervention in Libya as a way to grandstand and rack up easy political points. But among Republicans nationwide, Newt Gingrich’s posturing on the war may be the most transparent. The prospective 2012 presidential candidate appears to have gone through a remarkable transformation on Libya, in just a few short weeks.

On March 8, Gingrich went on Greta Van Susteren’s show to blast President Obama’s waffling on the crisis. Declaring that the U.S. should institute a no-fly zone over Libya “this evening,” he added that, “This is a moment to get rid of [Gaddafi]. Do it. Get it over with.”

On March 16, Gingrich correctly continued to criticize Obama’s inaction. He said that the president was acting more like the “spectator-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief,” and rightly derided him for wasting time on his NCAA bracket amidst the Libyan unrest.

Shortly after, Gingrich asserted that the way Obama handled the situation in Libya “makes us look weak and uncertain and increases the danger in the Persian Gulf.”

But on March 20, just one day after the president backed a no-fly zone over Libya, Gingrich appeared to change course. He called Obama’s decision to intervene, “opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism.”

In a statement to Politico, Gingrich noted that Iran and North Korea are “vastly bigger threats” to American national security, and argued that there are other countries in Africa that have brutal dictators similar to Qaddafi.

“Mugabe has killed more people, the Sudanese dictatorship has killed more people, there are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things,” Gingrich said.

The reason behind Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya? Publicity, said Newt.

“It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except [in terms of] opportunism and news media publicity,” he said.

Funny, others might say the same thing about Gingrich’s shifting criticism of Obama.

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On Presidents and Courage

An article in the Economist, on Barack Obama and political courage, essentially argues that he has shown none in the course of his presidency so far. According to Lexington, “Political courage is hard to define. But you know it when you see it. The senior George Bush increased taxes and paid with his job. Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act even though he knew it would cost the Democrats the South. The much-maligned younger Mr Bush showed a moment of true grit, when he defied almost everyone and refused to leave Iraq to chaos in 2007. Maybe Mr Obama will find the same raw courage when at last he thinks it warranted. All one can say is that it has not happened yet. Meanwhile, Libya and Bahrain burn.”

On this subject, several points are worth making, the first of which is that whether an act is judged to be courageous or not very much depends on the outcome. If a president takes a difficult course of action and succeeds, it’s often called courage. If he takes a difficult course of action and fails, it’s called stubbornness.

Second, courage is not (as the Economist acknowledges) the only, or even the most important, virtue in a political leader. Prudence, restraint, and wisdom matter a great deal as well. Courage used to advance a wrong course of action can be disastrous.

That said, courage is a terrifically important virtue, including and often especially in a president. Courage is, Aristotle said, the first of the human virtues; he believed it makes all other ones possible. And however one wants to describe the Obama presidency so far, the Economist is right about this: courage cannot be counted among its chief attributes. It would be a nice virtue for Mr. Obama to cultivate sometime soon.

An article in the Economist, on Barack Obama and political courage, essentially argues that he has shown none in the course of his presidency so far. According to Lexington, “Political courage is hard to define. But you know it when you see it. The senior George Bush increased taxes and paid with his job. Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act even though he knew it would cost the Democrats the South. The much-maligned younger Mr Bush showed a moment of true grit, when he defied almost everyone and refused to leave Iraq to chaos in 2007. Maybe Mr Obama will find the same raw courage when at last he thinks it warranted. All one can say is that it has not happened yet. Meanwhile, Libya and Bahrain burn.”

On this subject, several points are worth making, the first of which is that whether an act is judged to be courageous or not very much depends on the outcome. If a president takes a difficult course of action and succeeds, it’s often called courage. If he takes a difficult course of action and fails, it’s called stubbornness.

Second, courage is not (as the Economist acknowledges) the only, or even the most important, virtue in a political leader. Prudence, restraint, and wisdom matter a great deal as well. Courage used to advance a wrong course of action can be disastrous.

That said, courage is a terrifically important virtue, including and often especially in a president. Courage is, Aristotle said, the first of the human virtues; he believed it makes all other ones possible. And however one wants to describe the Obama presidency so far, the Economist is right about this: courage cannot be counted among its chief attributes. It would be a nice virtue for Mr. Obama to cultivate sometime soon.

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Why Are We Taking Al Qaeda’s Word on Intervention?

Hanging over our intervention in Libya is a dread chimera—at least in the minds of President Obama and his aides: namely the perception that the U.S. is waging “another war against a Muslim nation.” Over and over we hear that this is a perception to be avoided at all costs. It helps to explain why the administration only went in after the Arab League endorsed the intervention and why the administration is so eager to keep the intervention limited even if it risks degenerating into a costly stalemate.

It is odd that the White House is so fixated on what is, after all, the Al Qaeda propaganda line. Osama bin Laden and his ilk have been arguing for years that the West is waging war on Islam, and they have had no trouble twisting the evidence to support their conclusions. They have even turned our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo—in which we were protecting Muslims from Orthodox Christian attackers—into “proof” of America’s supposed “crusade” against Islam. It is understandable that the administration should be concerned about not feeding this propaganda line, but they should also realize we cannot craft our actions to satisfy the radicals. Consider that one of bin Laden’s chief complaints against the U.S. since 1991 was the presence of our troops in Saudi Arabia. Well, after the invasion of Iraq, we pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia. I’m still waiting for the “thank you” from bin Laden’s cave.

The radicals’ criticisms are essentially cynical. They will not be satisfied with anything we do. If we had stayed out of Libya, they would complain that we were colluding with Qaddafi—a godless dictator—to slaughter pious Muslims. Now that we have intervened they will no doubt argue that we are slaughtering pious Muslims ourselves and plotting to steal Libya’s oil. There is no satisfying some people. Instead we should make the best policy decisions we can without being paralyzed by fear of military action in “another Muslim nation.”

Hanging over our intervention in Libya is a dread chimera—at least in the minds of President Obama and his aides: namely the perception that the U.S. is waging “another war against a Muslim nation.” Over and over we hear that this is a perception to be avoided at all costs. It helps to explain why the administration only went in after the Arab League endorsed the intervention and why the administration is so eager to keep the intervention limited even if it risks degenerating into a costly stalemate.

It is odd that the White House is so fixated on what is, after all, the Al Qaeda propaganda line. Osama bin Laden and his ilk have been arguing for years that the West is waging war on Islam, and they have had no trouble twisting the evidence to support their conclusions. They have even turned our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo—in which we were protecting Muslims from Orthodox Christian attackers—into “proof” of America’s supposed “crusade” against Islam. It is understandable that the administration should be concerned about not feeding this propaganda line, but they should also realize we cannot craft our actions to satisfy the radicals. Consider that one of bin Laden’s chief complaints against the U.S. since 1991 was the presence of our troops in Saudi Arabia. Well, after the invasion of Iraq, we pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia. I’m still waiting for the “thank you” from bin Laden’s cave.

The radicals’ criticisms are essentially cynical. They will not be satisfied with anything we do. If we had stayed out of Libya, they would complain that we were colluding with Qaddafi—a godless dictator—to slaughter pious Muslims. Now that we have intervened they will no doubt argue that we are slaughtering pious Muslims ourselves and plotting to steal Libya’s oil. There is no satisfying some people. Instead we should make the best policy decisions we can without being paralyzed by fear of military action in “another Muslim nation.”

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A Different Sort of Conference on Homegrown Radicalization

While Islamic terror attacks have been more problematic recently than, say, urban Asian gangs or the White Power movement, Rep. Peter King’s radicalization hearings have been criticized for only focusing on the Muslim community. Some opponents of the hearings have said that King should have included other religions and races.

And now the Council on Foreign Relations and Google Ideas are teaming up to do just that. The two think tanks are convening a conference to study the roots of radicalization by bringing together 50 former extremists to tell their stories, Josh Rogin reports at The Cable.

According to Rogin, the conference will focus on “troubled youth who have not only left their violent organizations but also speak out against them publicly.”

The conference will feature “formers” from urban African American gangs, rural white power gangs, neo Nazis gangs, Latin American gangs, Asian gangs, and former nationalist extremists from Ireland, Europe, and Asia, as well as Islamist extremists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

The head of Google Ideas Jared Cohen told the Cable that the diversity of the participants is based on a “hypothesis” that the think tank is exploring about the “root causes” of extremism.

Cohen said they’ve seen “anecdotal evidence of similarities across different types of violent organizations, from gangs to right wing extremists to religious extremists. We know they target young people, we know they are comprised largely of young people, and we know they use similar tactics. But there’s a lot of exploring left to be done.”

The conference is an interesting concept, and it’s great to see two major think tanks working on ways to combat the growing problem of radicalization. But while the Google Ideas/CFR event seems to be more focused on the academic, King’s hearings are firmly focused on the practical. Muslim extremism isn’t a theoretical problem in the U.S., it’s a very real problem with deadly consequences. And while its important to investigate the root causes of radicalization, that should come secondary to figuring out ways to protect Americans from the imminent threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism.

While Islamic terror attacks have been more problematic recently than, say, urban Asian gangs or the White Power movement, Rep. Peter King’s radicalization hearings have been criticized for only focusing on the Muslim community. Some opponents of the hearings have said that King should have included other religions and races.

And now the Council on Foreign Relations and Google Ideas are teaming up to do just that. The two think tanks are convening a conference to study the roots of radicalization by bringing together 50 former extremists to tell their stories, Josh Rogin reports at The Cable.

According to Rogin, the conference will focus on “troubled youth who have not only left their violent organizations but also speak out against them publicly.”

The conference will feature “formers” from urban African American gangs, rural white power gangs, neo Nazis gangs, Latin American gangs, Asian gangs, and former nationalist extremists from Ireland, Europe, and Asia, as well as Islamist extremists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

The head of Google Ideas Jared Cohen told the Cable that the diversity of the participants is based on a “hypothesis” that the think tank is exploring about the “root causes” of extremism.

Cohen said they’ve seen “anecdotal evidence of similarities across different types of violent organizations, from gangs to right wing extremists to religious extremists. We know they target young people, we know they are comprised largely of young people, and we know they use similar tactics. But there’s a lot of exploring left to be done.”

The conference is an interesting concept, and it’s great to see two major think tanks working on ways to combat the growing problem of radicalization. But while the Google Ideas/CFR event seems to be more focused on the academic, King’s hearings are firmly focused on the practical. Muslim extremism isn’t a theoretical problem in the U.S., it’s a very real problem with deadly consequences. And while its important to investigate the root causes of radicalization, that should come secondary to figuring out ways to protect Americans from the imminent threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism.

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That was Then, This is Now

A number of people, including Representative Dennis Kucinich, have pointed out the comments made by Senator Barack Obama on December 20, 2007, when asked in what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress. At the time, Obama said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

But in Libya Obama is doing exactly what he preached against, which is why many Members of Congress, including from his own party, are so upset.

They hypocrisy of Obama is obvious, but it doesn’t end there. For all his relentless attacks against his predecessor, President Bush gained Congressional approval for his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Bush also assembled two of the largest international coalitions in history for those efforts.)

It’s also worth noting, isn’t it, that Obama sought the approval of the “international community” before he sought the approval of the United States Congress. As Victor Davis Hanson points out, “At least we can say of our Congress that its members were all elected, which we cannot say of many in the General Assembly and some in the Security Council.”

One possible explanation for this is that Obama seeks the approval of and has a higher regard for the opinion of the “international community,” consisting of countless despotic states, than he does America’s elected representatives. Which would be quite a mindset for an American president to possess.

A number of people, including Representative Dennis Kucinich, have pointed out the comments made by Senator Barack Obama on December 20, 2007, when asked in what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress. At the time, Obama said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

But in Libya Obama is doing exactly what he preached against, which is why many Members of Congress, including from his own party, are so upset.

They hypocrisy of Obama is obvious, but it doesn’t end there. For all his relentless attacks against his predecessor, President Bush gained Congressional approval for his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Bush also assembled two of the largest international coalitions in history for those efforts.)

It’s also worth noting, isn’t it, that Obama sought the approval of the “international community” before he sought the approval of the United States Congress. As Victor Davis Hanson points out, “At least we can say of our Congress that its members were all elected, which we cannot say of many in the General Assembly and some in the Security Council.”

One possible explanation for this is that Obama seeks the approval of and has a higher regard for the opinion of the “international community,” consisting of countless despotic states, than he does America’s elected representatives. Which would be quite a mindset for an American president to possess.

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Time for Close Air Support in Libya

“We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces. We protect civilians.” So says Gen. Carter Ham, head of Africa Command, who is apparently running the war in Libya at least for the moment. My question is: why on earth not? The best bet for toppling Qaddafi is to combine coalition airpower with rebel ground attacks: the same formula that worked in Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001. Why aren’t we doing the same thing in Libya?

Presumably because of the marching orders that Ham has received from his commander in chief who reiterated yesterday that “Qaddafi needs to go” but refuses to make his removal a mission for the military. The Financial Times, in an editorial today, defends this distinction by arguing that “Libya can win its own freedom” once the Qaddafi regime has been weakened by military action. In support of this contention, the FTeditors cite the oft-quoted maxim of T.E. Lawrence: “It is better that the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly.”

I admit to having a neuralgic reaction to that particular quote of Lawrence’s because it was such a favorite of U.S. officers and officials in Iraq who used it as an excuse for their policy of inaction even as the country slid into all-out civil war. Its quotation in the context of Libya today is particularly inapt because no one is suggesting sending a Western invasion force to topple Qaddafi. What I am suggesting is that we need to provide advisers, training, and arms to the rebels—and we need to closely coordinate our use of firepower with them–to help them achieve our common objectives. That is precisely the sort of service that Lawrence provided as an adviser to the Arab Revolt in 1917-1918. It is what our military and intelligence services must do today in Libya to avoid a protracted and costly stalemate.

“We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces. We protect civilians.” So says Gen. Carter Ham, head of Africa Command, who is apparently running the war in Libya at least for the moment. My question is: why on earth not? The best bet for toppling Qaddafi is to combine coalition airpower with rebel ground attacks: the same formula that worked in Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001. Why aren’t we doing the same thing in Libya?

Presumably because of the marching orders that Ham has received from his commander in chief who reiterated yesterday that “Qaddafi needs to go” but refuses to make his removal a mission for the military. The Financial Times, in an editorial today, defends this distinction by arguing that “Libya can win its own freedom” once the Qaddafi regime has been weakened by military action. In support of this contention, the FTeditors cite the oft-quoted maxim of T.E. Lawrence: “It is better that the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly.”

I admit to having a neuralgic reaction to that particular quote of Lawrence’s because it was such a favorite of U.S. officers and officials in Iraq who used it as an excuse for their policy of inaction even as the country slid into all-out civil war. Its quotation in the context of Libya today is particularly inapt because no one is suggesting sending a Western invasion force to topple Qaddafi. What I am suggesting is that we need to provide advisers, training, and arms to the rebels—and we need to closely coordinate our use of firepower with them–to help them achieve our common objectives. That is precisely the sort of service that Lawrence provided as an adviser to the Arab Revolt in 1917-1918. It is what our military and intelligence services must do today in Libya to avoid a protracted and costly stalemate.

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When Everything Is “Genocide” or “Ethnic Cleansing,” Nothing Is

It’s hard to argue with the Israeli diplomat who called Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestinian rights who accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” an “embarrassment to the United Nations” yesterday. But the problem isn’t that Falk lies, or even that he does so with the UN’s imprimatur. The real problem is the larger trend he represents: The self-proclaimed “human rights community” increasingly treats minor issues as indistinguishable from major crimes.

What enraged Aharon Leshno Yaar was Falk’s demonstrably false claim that Israel practices ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem. The Arab population of Jerusalem quadrupled between1967 (when Israel annexed East Jerusalem) and 2008, from 68,600 to 268,600, while the city’s Jewish population rose by a factor of 2.5. Consequently, Arabs now constitute 35 percent of Jerusalem’s population, up from 26 percent in 1967. Since ethnic cleansing is normally meant to reduce the target population, if Israel were actually attempting such cleansing, it is surely the most incompetent ethnic cleanser in human history. Read More

It’s hard to argue with the Israeli diplomat who called Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestinian rights who accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” an “embarrassment to the United Nations” yesterday. But the problem isn’t that Falk lies, or even that he does so with the UN’s imprimatur. The real problem is the larger trend he represents: The self-proclaimed “human rights community” increasingly treats minor issues as indistinguishable from major crimes.

What enraged Aharon Leshno Yaar was Falk’s demonstrably false claim that Israel practices ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem. The Arab population of Jerusalem quadrupled between1967 (when Israel annexed East Jerusalem) and 2008, from 68,600 to 268,600, while the city’s Jewish population rose by a factor of 2.5. Consequently, Arabs now constitute 35 percent of Jerusalem’s population, up from 26 percent in 1967. Since ethnic cleansing is normally meant to reduce the target population, if Israel were actually attempting such cleansing, it is surely the most incompetent ethnic cleanser in human history.

But to Falk, the fact that Jews build houses in East Jerusalem at all, along with evictions of Palestinian tenants of Jewish-owned buildings for nonpayment of rent, also constitutes “ethnic cleansing” — and never mind that the city’s Palestinian population continues to grow in both absolute and proportional terms.

By defining “ethnic cleansing” so broadly as to even include tenant evictions, Falk is essentially equating such evictions to events like the Srebrenica massacre, in which Bosnian Serbs massacred more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, and demanding that the world be equally outraged by both. But humans have a limited capacity for outrage, and the international community has a limited capacity to intervene. Thus demanding international intervention in cases like this actually reduces the likelihood of intervention in genuine cases of ethnic cleansing like Srebrenica — i.e., in precisely those cases where the victims most need help.

Granted, Falk is widely seen as a crackpot outside the UN; even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had to rebuke his promotion of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

But he is far from unique. In 2005, for instance, the International Association of Genocide Scholars split because European scholars objected to the Americans’ insistence that the term “genocide” retain some connection to its original meaning of mass murder. The European breakaways, as the Forward noted last month, define genocide so broadly as to see “genocide victims everywhere, from the Aborigines in Australia to the Albanians uprooted from Kosovo” — including, naturally, “the expulsion and killing of Arabs in Palestine during Israel’s War of Independence.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. Wars, in which both sides fight, always entail casualties, but every war isn’t genocide. Indeed, the Palestinian death toll in 1948 was extremely low — an estimated 2,800-4,000 (compared to Israel’s 6,400). Second, the flight of refugees, or even their expulsion, is not equivalent to murder. Refugees who flee or are expelled are still alive. Genocide victims aren’t.

But this warped definition definitely isn’t harmless. When crimes like genocide or ethnic cleansing are defined too broadly, people lose the ability to distinguish real evil from minor offenses. When everything is “genocide,” nothing is; the world will simply shut its ears to the cacophony of claims arising from all sides, unable to distinguish the important from the trivial. And then, the true victims will be slaughtered with impunity as the world stands idly by.

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Reset Update

Robert Gates is visiting our new friends, the Russians:

Fiery Russian condemnation of the allied air assault on Libya threatened to complicate Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ meetings here Tuesday with leaders who are already at odds with the U.S. over missile defense issues.

Gates met with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov before a scheduled session with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But he was not expected to see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who railed Monday against the strikes on Libya, likening them to “a medieval call for a crusade.”

A reminder: The Obama administration considers its diplomacy with Russia its foreign-policy highpoint.

Robert Gates is visiting our new friends, the Russians:

Fiery Russian condemnation of the allied air assault on Libya threatened to complicate Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ meetings here Tuesday with leaders who are already at odds with the U.S. over missile defense issues.

Gates met with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov before a scheduled session with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But he was not expected to see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who railed Monday against the strikes on Libya, likening them to “a medieval call for a crusade.”

A reminder: The Obama administration considers its diplomacy with Russia its foreign-policy highpoint.

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