Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 23, 2011

Still Confused About Obama’s Foreign Policy Philosophy?

Then perhaps you’re not nuanced enough to grasp it, says Glenn Thrush at Politico. You see, the problem isn’t that Obama is in over his head in Libya, it’s that his foreign policy is far too thoughtful and complex to be summed up in something as simplistic as a “doctrine”:

At a briefing for reporters last Saturday as U.S. Tomahawks missiles slammed into the Libyan coast, a top aide to President Barack Obama was asked to define the “Obama doctrine” to explain why the United States was suddenly pursuing a third conflict in a Muslim nation. …

Yet after 800 words, the eloquent [Ben] Rhodes offered nothing as compact or pithy as the “Bush doctrine” Obama ran against in 2008, a black-and-white commitment to supporting democratic movements and using unilateral American firepower to back them when necessary.

Obama has “often railed against the oversimplified world view he believes led to the war in Iraq, ” writes Thrush. “Republicans, especially the neo-conservatives who gave enthusiastic support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have sought to paint Obama’s nuanced approach as fundamentally weak.”

If that’s the case, Obama certainly didn’t seem to have any problems articulating his “nuanced” views on foreign policy before taking office. And while there’s nothing wrong with complexity, what’s made Obama look weak has been his uncertainty and dithering. It’s been his seeming inability to make a choice until he’s backed up against a wall.

Then perhaps you’re not nuanced enough to grasp it, says Glenn Thrush at Politico. You see, the problem isn’t that Obama is in over his head in Libya, it’s that his foreign policy is far too thoughtful and complex to be summed up in something as simplistic as a “doctrine”:

At a briefing for reporters last Saturday as U.S. Tomahawks missiles slammed into the Libyan coast, a top aide to President Barack Obama was asked to define the “Obama doctrine” to explain why the United States was suddenly pursuing a third conflict in a Muslim nation. …

Yet after 800 words, the eloquent [Ben] Rhodes offered nothing as compact or pithy as the “Bush doctrine” Obama ran against in 2008, a black-and-white commitment to supporting democratic movements and using unilateral American firepower to back them when necessary.

Obama has “often railed against the oversimplified world view he believes led to the war in Iraq, ” writes Thrush. “Republicans, especially the neo-conservatives who gave enthusiastic support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have sought to paint Obama’s nuanced approach as fundamentally weak.”

If that’s the case, Obama certainly didn’t seem to have any problems articulating his “nuanced” views on foreign policy before taking office. And while there’s nothing wrong with complexity, what’s made Obama look weak has been his uncertainty and dithering. It’s been his seeming inability to make a choice until he’s backed up against a wall.

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Will Facebook Remove Page Calling for Third Intifada?

It’s not exactly news that there are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic groups on Facebook, but one of them has the Israeli government particularly concerned. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today, asking for the removal of a page that calls for a third Intifada, because he believes it could incite violence against Jews. He writes, “There is no need to explain what the outrageous incitement on the page in question can cause – from harming innocent Jews and Israelis and through to an armed struggle against Israel.”

According to YNetNews.com, the Facebook group has attracted nearly 250,000 members since it was created less than a month ago. It calls for the launch of a third Intifada on May 15 (Israel’s Independence Day, which is sometimes called Nakba, or “catastrophe” day by the Palestinians).

Edelstein is the most high-profile figure to ask for the page to be taken down, but will Facebook actually remove it? The third Intifada group has also warned the social network that it will launch a Muslim boycott of the site if the page is removed – probably an empty threat, but it could potentially have some ramifications for Facebook.

According to the website’s terms of service, members can’t post content that is “threatening” or “incites violence.” However, Facebook’s decisions about when to enforce this policy have been pretty arbitrary in the past.

The social network removed (and later restored) the official “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” page, after complaints from Muslim groups. And there are countless pages that can be perceived as racist, sexist or violent that are still up on the site.

But not only does the third Intifada group violate the terms of service, it also has the potential to be a dangerous organizing tool. In light of the terrorist attacks in Israel over the past few days, Facebook should take the necessary precaution and remove the page.

It’s not exactly news that there are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic groups on Facebook, but one of them has the Israeli government particularly concerned. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today, asking for the removal of a page that calls for a third Intifada, because he believes it could incite violence against Jews. He writes, “There is no need to explain what the outrageous incitement on the page in question can cause – from harming innocent Jews and Israelis and through to an armed struggle against Israel.”

According to YNetNews.com, the Facebook group has attracted nearly 250,000 members since it was created less than a month ago. It calls for the launch of a third Intifada on May 15 (Israel’s Independence Day, which is sometimes called Nakba, or “catastrophe” day by the Palestinians).

Edelstein is the most high-profile figure to ask for the page to be taken down, but will Facebook actually remove it? The third Intifada group has also warned the social network that it will launch a Muslim boycott of the site if the page is removed – probably an empty threat, but it could potentially have some ramifications for Facebook.

According to the website’s terms of service, members can’t post content that is “threatening” or “incites violence.” However, Facebook’s decisions about when to enforce this policy have been pretty arbitrary in the past.

The social network removed (and later restored) the official “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” page, after complaints from Muslim groups. And there are countless pages that can be perceived as racist, sexist or violent that are still up on the site.

But not only does the third Intifada group violate the terms of service, it also has the potential to be a dangerous organizing tool. In light of the terrorist attacks in Israel over the past few days, Facebook should take the necessary precaution and remove the page.

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Happy Birthday ObamaCare

According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, on the one year anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — aka ObamaCare — only 37 percent of Americans support the measure, with 59 percent opposed. This is a staggering margin for the president’s signature legislative achievement. The numbers haven’t budged despite Obama’s best efforts to portray this law as a tremendous social advancement. And since the law is itself fundamentally defective, the more time we live under it, the more unpopular it will become. Virtually every aspect related to health care will be made worse by what Obama did and what Congress passed. And unlike Bill Clinton with HillaryCare, this White House is stuck with it. There’s no place to run, no place to hide.

According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, on the one year anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — aka ObamaCare — only 37 percent of Americans support the measure, with 59 percent opposed. This is a staggering margin for the president’s signature legislative achievement. The numbers haven’t budged despite Obama’s best efforts to portray this law as a tremendous social advancement. And since the law is itself fundamentally defective, the more time we live under it, the more unpopular it will become. Virtually every aspect related to health care will be made worse by what Obama did and what Congress passed. And unlike Bill Clinton with HillaryCare, this White House is stuck with it. There’s no place to run, no place to hide.

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RE: The Morality of Military Force

Peter Wehner’s post on this posits, in effect, a form of moral reasoning for Obama’s odd public profile since the coalition attacks in Libya began on Saturday. The president’s apparent disengagement from U.S. military operations has come off as intentional, as if someone is staging his activities to put armed force in its place as a focus of political attention.

The American people are accustomed to seeing the president announce new military operations from the Oval Office. We are also accustomed to seeing the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the early Pentagon briefings, even if someone else does most of the talking. These things are arranged by conscious choice, not because the schedules of top officials happen to allow them. When American forces go into combat, schedules change. Read More

Peter Wehner’s post on this posits, in effect, a form of moral reasoning for Obama’s odd public profile since the coalition attacks in Libya began on Saturday. The president’s apparent disengagement from U.S. military operations has come off as intentional, as if someone is staging his activities to put armed force in its place as a focus of political attention.

The American people are accustomed to seeing the president announce new military operations from the Oval Office. We are also accustomed to seeing the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the early Pentagon briefings, even if someone else does most of the talking. These things are arranged by conscious choice, not because the schedules of top officials happen to allow them. When American forces go into combat, schedules change.

But Obama’s didn’t – and oddly enough, although Secretary Gates’s trip to Moscow was delayed because of the operations in Libya, he was not present for the Pentagon briefings over the weekend. Admiral William Gortney was there by himself, without Admiral Mullen or so much as an undersecretary of defense to give him “top cover.”

Washington politicians are acutely and continuously aware of the “messages” being sent by their actions. It would be absurd to suggest that Obama’s advisers didn’t realize how this would look. No one is that hapless. The appearance, rather, is of a point being made about the inferior significance of military operations. They are not the big deal that Republicans, neocons, and traditionalists make of them. They have their place as a tool of national power, but they can be executed as routine business. Their inauguration need not be attended by any pious observance.

It appears that it was particularly important to Obama to be seen kicking a soccer ball with Brazilian children and clinking glasses with Latin American leaders while the military he commands was entering combat over Libya. This echoes a theme in community organizing: that schmoozing the political establishment and “relating with the people” will ultimately trump the organized backbone of the middle-class authority structure. For community organizers, the military is like homeowners, landlords, retailers, bankers, parents, policemen, or city councilmen: occasionally useful, perhaps, but still a part of the authority structure relied on by the existing middle-class order.

Americans expect certain observances when it comes to military operations because we have a more traditional view of war, society, and the military. But Obama is again behaving as if he is, first and foremost, an ideologue. He is the first president we’ve had who downplayed the point of military operations, in explicit speech and attitude, while undertaking them.

I’m optimistic that the military itself will withstand this depressing development; if it prompts more public commentary like Peter’s post, America may even derive some good from it. We haven’t had a thorough public debate on the nature and purpose of war for a very long time. Obama may not change course, but observing the failure of the radical-left principles driving his policies may help Americans to fully understand both the bankruptcy of those principles and their invulnerability to political domestication.

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Media Coverage of Bus Bombing Emphasizes Settlements, “Palestinian Victims”

International media outlets seem determined to blame the Israeli victims of today’s Palestinian bus bombing. They can’t quite bring themselves to own their bias — that’ll be a task for op-ed pages — so they’re relying on insinuations and hackneyed journalist tricks.

Le Monde‘s frontpage currently reads, “L’explosion a eu lieu près de la principale gare routière de la ville. Le bus visé se dirigeait vers une colonie juive,” which translates to “The explosion occurred in a place near the main entrance to the city. The targeted bus was headed for a Jewish colony (settlement).” Implicitly blaming the victim is always a strong play, but in this case there are two other factors that make the headline especially elegant.

First, it’s misleading to the point of being borderline wrong. The bus actually serves several lines. Second, you’d have to be particularly credulous to believe that a bomb left on the side of a road picked out a bus based on its destination. Palestinian suicide bombers never made those calculations when they walked aboard buses, but suddenly bags of explosives are supposed to be highly discriminating? Le Monde just really wanted to work in a mention of the settlements — as if that somehow makes this atrocity into an act of glorious resistance — and that’s the best they could come up with.

Nonetheless, the Associated Press probably did even better. They posted funeral pictures of “Palestinian victims of an Israeli airstrike” beneath their headline about the bus bombing. The second paragraph helpfully explains that the bombing “comes amid rising tensions between Hamas militants and Israel.” It’s the same move that Le Monde is making, where they leave it up to readers to implicitly infer that a true but irrelevant fact was the motivation for the attack. But it adds a misleading death-porn picture, so it’s that much more shameless.

I suppose credit should go to Reuters for merely making things up out of whole cloth. They claimed that Israeli officials branded the attack a suicide bombing and then retracted the claim, which more or less didn’t happen. But they get points off for using the line “police said it was a ‘terrorist attack’ — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.” Too forced. They would have been must better off with something like “police said the Palestinian strike was a ‘terrorist attack.'” But the sloppy fact-checking and lack of craftsmanship are still better than sliming terror victims.

That we’re expected to pretend these people are objective — just because they have press cards — is kind of insulting.

International media outlets seem determined to blame the Israeli victims of today’s Palestinian bus bombing. They can’t quite bring themselves to own their bias — that’ll be a task for op-ed pages — so they’re relying on insinuations and hackneyed journalist tricks.

Le Monde‘s frontpage currently reads, “L’explosion a eu lieu près de la principale gare routière de la ville. Le bus visé se dirigeait vers une colonie juive,” which translates to “The explosion occurred in a place near the main entrance to the city. The targeted bus was headed for a Jewish colony (settlement).” Implicitly blaming the victim is always a strong play, but in this case there are two other factors that make the headline especially elegant.

First, it’s misleading to the point of being borderline wrong. The bus actually serves several lines. Second, you’d have to be particularly credulous to believe that a bomb left on the side of a road picked out a bus based on its destination. Palestinian suicide bombers never made those calculations when they walked aboard buses, but suddenly bags of explosives are supposed to be highly discriminating? Le Monde just really wanted to work in a mention of the settlements — as if that somehow makes this atrocity into an act of glorious resistance — and that’s the best they could come up with.

Nonetheless, the Associated Press probably did even better. They posted funeral pictures of “Palestinian victims of an Israeli airstrike” beneath their headline about the bus bombing. The second paragraph helpfully explains that the bombing “comes amid rising tensions between Hamas militants and Israel.” It’s the same move that Le Monde is making, where they leave it up to readers to implicitly infer that a true but irrelevant fact was the motivation for the attack. But it adds a misleading death-porn picture, so it’s that much more shameless.

I suppose credit should go to Reuters for merely making things up out of whole cloth. They claimed that Israeli officials branded the attack a suicide bombing and then retracted the claim, which more or less didn’t happen. But they get points off for using the line “police said it was a ‘terrorist attack’ — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.” Too forced. They would have been must better off with something like “police said the Palestinian strike was a ‘terrorist attack.'” But the sloppy fact-checking and lack of craftsmanship are still better than sliming terror victims.

That we’re expected to pretend these people are objective — just because they have press cards — is kind of insulting.

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Qaddafi Exile Unlikely

Hillary Clinton claims that Moammar Qaddafi may be exploring exit options. Count me as skeptical. The problem is that we don’t have a whole lot to offer a dictator in exile.

Once upon a time, an autocrat could step down and live out his days securely in the south of France or some other plush locale. That option still exists for some; for instance Tunisia’s deposed strongman, Ben Ali, is now in Saudi Arabia. Maybe he’s even taken over Idi Amin’s old villa.

But Qaddafi is a special case because he has committed war crimes such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He knows that if he leaves power he could wind up in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

The ability of the international coalition or the Libyan opposition to make a deal for his abdication has been complicated by the Charles Taylor precedent. Taylor was the former president of Liberia who left office in 2003 as part of an agreement that allowed him to escape into exile in Nigeria. But Interpol promptly issued an arrest warrant for him and in 2006 Nigeria handed him over to the UN’s Special Court for Sierre Leone. Eventually he wound up in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Hague where his trial continues to drag on.

I have generally been supportive of the ICC as a tool for holding war criminals to account but incidents such as this are clearly an example of proceduralism run amok: in return for getting Taylor into court, we are making it more difficult to depose other dictators. Qaddafi has every incentive to fight to the death and take a lot of people down with him.

There should be a procedure whereby the UN Security Council could grant immunity for prosecution to someone like Qaddafi as part of a deal for him to leave power. I am all for justice being done but I think the prime imperative in this case is to oust a brutal dictator; he will be held to account in any case by his Maker.

Hillary Clinton claims that Moammar Qaddafi may be exploring exit options. Count me as skeptical. The problem is that we don’t have a whole lot to offer a dictator in exile.

Once upon a time, an autocrat could step down and live out his days securely in the south of France or some other plush locale. That option still exists for some; for instance Tunisia’s deposed strongman, Ben Ali, is now in Saudi Arabia. Maybe he’s even taken over Idi Amin’s old villa.

But Qaddafi is a special case because he has committed war crimes such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He knows that if he leaves power he could wind up in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

The ability of the international coalition or the Libyan opposition to make a deal for his abdication has been complicated by the Charles Taylor precedent. Taylor was the former president of Liberia who left office in 2003 as part of an agreement that allowed him to escape into exile in Nigeria. But Interpol promptly issued an arrest warrant for him and in 2006 Nigeria handed him over to the UN’s Special Court for Sierre Leone. Eventually he wound up in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Hague where his trial continues to drag on.

I have generally been supportive of the ICC as a tool for holding war criminals to account but incidents such as this are clearly an example of proceduralism run amok: in return for getting Taylor into court, we are making it more difficult to depose other dictators. Qaddafi has every incentive to fight to the death and take a lot of people down with him.

There should be a procedure whereby the UN Security Council could grant immunity for prosecution to someone like Qaddafi as part of a deal for him to leave power. I am all for justice being done but I think the prime imperative in this case is to oust a brutal dictator; he will be held to account in any case by his Maker.

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Intervention Nihilism

There’s an argument that seems to resurface from non-interventionists whenever the U.S. takes military action for humanitarian reasons. The line of reasoning goes something like this: (a.) The U.S. can’t intervene against all oppressive autocrats, so (b.) the U.S. shouldn’t intervene against any oppressive autocrats.

“[W]hy is this humanitarian emergency the one that needs urgent action?” asks Matt Yglesias at Think Progress. “What about Saudi and Bahraini forces firing on demonstrators? What about the ongoing civil war in Ivory Coast where the health care system has completely collapsed?”

Rep. Jerry Nadler makes a similar point. “If we’re intervening for humanitarian reasons, why not the Ivory Coast or Darfur? Why here?” he asks. “We cannot intervene at every situation.”

Let’s apply this logic to some other humanitarian policies. U.S. international food aid programs? There are a lot of starving kids out there, but we can’t feed all of them, so why bother? And how can we justify spending billions on an AIDS relief program in Africa when there are also epidemics in India, Russia, and China?

This concern over “hypocrisy” doesn’t obstruct our other humanitarian efforts. So why should it impact our military interventions?

At World Affairs, Jamie Kirchick tears down a similar anti-interventionist argument made by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “The unpleasant reality of being a superpower is that one must deal with these realities, not curl into a ball and do nothing because the world is a scary and difficult place,” writes Kirchick. “So, intervention in Libya? Yes. Tolerating but pressuring in Bahrain and Yemen? Yes as well. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but tolerable if we consciously hew to the goal of freedom.”

It’s true that we can’t do everything at once, but that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing at all.

There’s an argument that seems to resurface from non-interventionists whenever the U.S. takes military action for humanitarian reasons. The line of reasoning goes something like this: (a.) The U.S. can’t intervene against all oppressive autocrats, so (b.) the U.S. shouldn’t intervene against any oppressive autocrats.

“[W]hy is this humanitarian emergency the one that needs urgent action?” asks Matt Yglesias at Think Progress. “What about Saudi and Bahraini forces firing on demonstrators? What about the ongoing civil war in Ivory Coast where the health care system has completely collapsed?”

Rep. Jerry Nadler makes a similar point. “If we’re intervening for humanitarian reasons, why not the Ivory Coast or Darfur? Why here?” he asks. “We cannot intervene at every situation.”

Let’s apply this logic to some other humanitarian policies. U.S. international food aid programs? There are a lot of starving kids out there, but we can’t feed all of them, so why bother? And how can we justify spending billions on an AIDS relief program in Africa when there are also epidemics in India, Russia, and China?

This concern over “hypocrisy” doesn’t obstruct our other humanitarian efforts. So why should it impact our military interventions?

At World Affairs, Jamie Kirchick tears down a similar anti-interventionist argument made by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “The unpleasant reality of being a superpower is that one must deal with these realities, not curl into a ball and do nothing because the world is a scary and difficult place,” writes Kirchick. “So, intervention in Libya? Yes. Tolerating but pressuring in Bahrain and Yemen? Yes as well. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but tolerable if we consciously hew to the goal of freedom.”

It’s true that we can’t do everything at once, but that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing at all.

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Update: Jerusalem Bus Bombing – 1 Dead; More Rocket Attacks on Southern Israel

Contrary to initial reports, one person has been reported dead in the bomb left at a bus stop in central Jerusalem. Thirty-nine people have been reported as injured from the initial blast or from shrapnel.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad terror group took responsibility for the firing of mortars and rockets at southern Israel on Tuesday. Two Katyusha rockets landed in residential areas of the city of Beersheba wounding one person and damaging buildings including a synagogue. A number of mortar shells were also fired at other parts of the region.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the nation would not tolerate these attacks, but apart from air strikes aimed at silencing the rockets it’s not clear what Israel can do to halt the escalation in violence. If Hamas has decided that the only way to re-focus the world’s attention on their war against Israel is to start another round of terror, then there is no reason to think that it can be dissuaded from this course of action short of an all-out Israeli counter-attack which no one believes is being contemplated yet.

The attack in Jerusalem is especially disconcerting since it had been four years since the last terror explosion in the capital. The security fence, reviled by the Palestinians and their cheering section abroad, had largely ended the threat of suicide bombing. But if the Palestinian terror groups have decided to launch another terror offensive, purely defensive counter-measures are not going to be enough.

We can expect that if the violence continues, there will, as in the past, be calls for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians to appease them. But this violence, like the last intifada, is not an attempt to redress grievances. It is merely the latest installment in a decades-long war whose goal is not the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but the destruction of the Jewish state.

Contrary to initial reports, one person has been reported dead in the bomb left at a bus stop in central Jerusalem. Thirty-nine people have been reported as injured from the initial blast or from shrapnel.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad terror group took responsibility for the firing of mortars and rockets at southern Israel on Tuesday. Two Katyusha rockets landed in residential areas of the city of Beersheba wounding one person and damaging buildings including a synagogue. A number of mortar shells were also fired at other parts of the region.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the nation would not tolerate these attacks, but apart from air strikes aimed at silencing the rockets it’s not clear what Israel can do to halt the escalation in violence. If Hamas has decided that the only way to re-focus the world’s attention on their war against Israel is to start another round of terror, then there is no reason to think that it can be dissuaded from this course of action short of an all-out Israeli counter-attack which no one believes is being contemplated yet.

The attack in Jerusalem is especially disconcerting since it had been four years since the last terror explosion in the capital. The security fence, reviled by the Palestinians and their cheering section abroad, had largely ended the threat of suicide bombing. But if the Palestinian terror groups have decided to launch another terror offensive, purely defensive counter-measures are not going to be enough.

We can expect that if the violence continues, there will, as in the past, be calls for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians to appease them. But this violence, like the last intifada, is not an attempt to redress grievances. It is merely the latest installment in a decades-long war whose goal is not the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but the destruction of the Jewish state.

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Anti-Muslim Backlash? Justice Says 3-Week Vacation for Hadj is a Constitutional Right

The overheated response to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the threat from Islamist extremism has now officially gone over the top. In an astonishing decision, the Justice Department has decided to argue that a Muslim school teacher had the right to demand a 3-week vacation in the middle of a school year in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s difficult to figure the reasoning behind the federal government’s move to treat an individual’s decision to make the hadj a constitutional right but, as an article in today’s Washington Post points out, this may have more to do with the Obama administration’s campaign to reach out to Muslims than it does with the law.

The facts of the case as presented make Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision hard to understand. The teacher, a woman named Safoorah Kahn, who taught math at a middle school in Berkley, Illinois, had only been on the job for nine months when she presented her supervisors with a demand for three weeks off in order to go to Mecca. The right to take this kind of leave during the time the school was in session was not part of her employment agreement or the teachers-union contract. While making the pilgrimage is a requirement of the Muslim faith, it is one that can be fulfilled by going once during one’s lifetime. Had Ms. Kahn been willing to wait eight years until the time for the annual hadj set by the Muslim religious calendar fell during school vacation there would have been no problem. But she was not willing to wait. She demanded the time off immediately and when the school refused her unprecedented request, she went anyway and was, not surprisingly, dismissed. Read More

The overheated response to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the threat from Islamist extremism has now officially gone over the top. In an astonishing decision, the Justice Department has decided to argue that a Muslim school teacher had the right to demand a 3-week vacation in the middle of a school year in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s difficult to figure the reasoning behind the federal government’s move to treat an individual’s decision to make the hadj a constitutional right but, as an article in today’s Washington Post points out, this may have more to do with the Obama administration’s campaign to reach out to Muslims than it does with the law.

The facts of the case as presented make Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision hard to understand. The teacher, a woman named Safoorah Kahn, who taught math at a middle school in Berkley, Illinois, had only been on the job for nine months when she presented her supervisors with a demand for three weeks off in order to go to Mecca. The right to take this kind of leave during the time the school was in session was not part of her employment agreement or the teachers-union contract. While making the pilgrimage is a requirement of the Muslim faith, it is one that can be fulfilled by going once during one’s lifetime. Had Ms. Kahn been willing to wait eight years until the time for the annual hadj set by the Muslim religious calendar fell during school vacation there would have been no problem. But she was not willing to wait. She demanded the time off immediately and when the school refused her unprecedented request, she went anyway and was, not surprisingly, dismissed.

While the law requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for their employees’ religious observances, there was nothing reasonable about Kahn’s demand. This is not a case of an employee being denied the right to take off from work on a religious holiday, or the Sabbath, or of wanting to wear religiously required distinctive clothing or headgear. The refusal to give a new employee this sort of lengthy leave of absence was not a matter of religious discrimination because what she was asking was not the right to observe her faith but the satisfaction of a whim that would have put her school and her students at a disadvantage.

Nevertheless, Kahn lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and, last year, the commission found cause for discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department. Justice lawyers filed a suit on behalf of Kahn in federal court in December.

But as Hans von Spakovsky, a Justice Department civil rights official in the Bush administration, told the Post, “No jury anywhere would think that a teacher leaving for three weeks during a crucial time at the end of a semester is reasonable. This is a political lawsuit to placate Muslims.”

Indeed, the effort to re-interpret the law in this manner seems to be about the administration sending a message that Muslims will be defended by the government, even when, as in this case, they are not being subjected to discrimination.

Since the 9/11 attacks, American Muslim groups have been desperate to sell the country on the idea that they are being persecuted even though there is no evidence that they were subjected to a backlash. Part of this campaign has been an effort to suppress government investigations into Muslim involvement in terror cases. But, as was the case with plans to build an Islamic center and mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero in Manhattan, what seems to be going on is not so much an effort to fight bias as to assert the Muslim community’s political power.

Far from being another milestone in the battle against religious discrimination, the Kahn case is a signal that the administration is willing to do battle on behalf of American Muslims, even when there is no compelling legal rationale for them to do so.

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The Morality of Military Force

In his press conference in Chile, President Obama said, “I think it’s very easy to square our military actions and our stated policies. Our military action is in support of a[n] international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Qaddafi to his people…. Now, I also have stated that it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go. And we got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts to support that policy… But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973, which specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.”

The president believes that military intervention for humanitarian ends is fine but military intervention to depose Colonel Qaddafi is not. But what if Qaddafi can only be decapitated by military intervention? What will Obama do if his ends (Qaddafi must go) can’t be achieved by his means (strict limits on military intervention)? Which one would give way to the other?

On a more fundamental level, it’s worth asking how sound the moral logic is that underlies the Obama position. His premise is that military action is justified for humanitarian reasons but not for achieving our stated policy — even though our stated policy (removing the jackal Qaddafi from power) would undoubtedly advance humanitarian goals. For the sake of the argument, assume that keeping Qaddafi in power created far more human misery than would using the military to depose the Libyan regime. Wouldn’t the moral weight of the argument shift strongly in favor of using the military to remove Qaddafi from power?

There are some people who believe achieving a noble humanitarian goal would be tainted by or even discredited by the use of force. But if force is used as an instrument of liberation instead of oppression — if it ends up advancing the cause of human dignity and mitigating human suffering — then force becomes a moral good, and in some cases even a moral necessity.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that force is always a moral good or that humanitarian ends can only be achieved with military force. But in those circumstances when using the military to depose a despot is the sine qua non for a humane and just end to a conflict, it should not be ruled out — especially if, as is the case in Libya, the war has commenced. Perhaps Qaddafi will be overthrown with the current (limited) mandate in place. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1973 may be locking us into a position that will prolong the agony for a land of torment and stained by tears.

In his press conference in Chile, President Obama said, “I think it’s very easy to square our military actions and our stated policies. Our military action is in support of a[n] international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Qaddafi to his people…. Now, I also have stated that it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go. And we got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts to support that policy… But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973, which specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.”

The president believes that military intervention for humanitarian ends is fine but military intervention to depose Colonel Qaddafi is not. But what if Qaddafi can only be decapitated by military intervention? What will Obama do if his ends (Qaddafi must go) can’t be achieved by his means (strict limits on military intervention)? Which one would give way to the other?

On a more fundamental level, it’s worth asking how sound the moral logic is that underlies the Obama position. His premise is that military action is justified for humanitarian reasons but not for achieving our stated policy — even though our stated policy (removing the jackal Qaddafi from power) would undoubtedly advance humanitarian goals. For the sake of the argument, assume that keeping Qaddafi in power created far more human misery than would using the military to depose the Libyan regime. Wouldn’t the moral weight of the argument shift strongly in favor of using the military to remove Qaddafi from power?

There are some people who believe achieving a noble humanitarian goal would be tainted by or even discredited by the use of force. But if force is used as an instrument of liberation instead of oppression — if it ends up advancing the cause of human dignity and mitigating human suffering — then force becomes a moral good, and in some cases even a moral necessity.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that force is always a moral good or that humanitarian ends can only be achieved with military force. But in those circumstances when using the military to depose a despot is the sine qua non for a humane and just end to a conflict, it should not be ruled out — especially if, as is the case in Libya, the war has commenced. Perhaps Qaddafi will be overthrown with the current (limited) mandate in place. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1973 may be locking us into a position that will prolong the agony for a land of torment and stained by tears.

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Knesset Hearing on J Street a Joke

What exactly was the Knesset trying to accomplish with its half-baked “hearing” on J Street today? If the MKs were trying to shamelessly pander for media attention while wasting time and making themselves look like clowns, then it sounds like they probably succeeded:

The American Jewish lobby organization J Street was harshly criticized at a meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Wednesday. Committee members denied J Street’s self-characterization as a pro-Israel group, claiming that it is only a pro-Palestinian group that does not care about Israel.

While right-wing party members uniformly condemned J Street, members of the center-right party Kadima were split over the organization, with some stating that although one might not agree with the positions taken by the group, it cannot be ignored just because it represents Jewish Americans who “think differently.”

Ha’aretz called the hearings “raucous,” and reported numerous heated exchanges between J Street opponents and supporters.

“You are not Zionists and you do not look out for Israel’s interests. While 50 rockets a day are fired upon Israel, you fight against the American veto to condemn Israel,” Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said to J Streeter David Gila.

Gila shot back that “You cannot ignore the voices of a group of American Jews — and we believe that we are the majority. We are Zionists and we care for Israel.”

Another Kadima MK, J Street supporter Shlomo Molla, accused his fellow party members of “besmirch[ing] the names” of the Israeli politicians who attended the J Street conference earlier this month.

Not only does it sound like the session was completely unsubstantial, it may have even succeeded at painting J Street in a semi-sympathetic light, which is never a good thing. The hearing will likely turn out to be an excellent fundraiser and rallying cry for the group, and it’s sure to anger both its hard-left and moderately progressive supporters.

What exactly was the Knesset trying to accomplish with its half-baked “hearing” on J Street today? If the MKs were trying to shamelessly pander for media attention while wasting time and making themselves look like clowns, then it sounds like they probably succeeded:

The American Jewish lobby organization J Street was harshly criticized at a meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Wednesday. Committee members denied J Street’s self-characterization as a pro-Israel group, claiming that it is only a pro-Palestinian group that does not care about Israel.

While right-wing party members uniformly condemned J Street, members of the center-right party Kadima were split over the organization, with some stating that although one might not agree with the positions taken by the group, it cannot be ignored just because it represents Jewish Americans who “think differently.”

Ha’aretz called the hearings “raucous,” and reported numerous heated exchanges between J Street opponents and supporters.

“You are not Zionists and you do not look out for Israel’s interests. While 50 rockets a day are fired upon Israel, you fight against the American veto to condemn Israel,” Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said to J Streeter David Gila.

Gila shot back that “You cannot ignore the voices of a group of American Jews — and we believe that we are the majority. We are Zionists and we care for Israel.”

Another Kadima MK, J Street supporter Shlomo Molla, accused his fellow party members of “besmirch[ing] the names” of the Israeli politicians who attended the J Street conference earlier this month.

Not only does it sound like the session was completely unsubstantial, it may have even succeeded at painting J Street in a semi-sympathetic light, which is never a good thing. The hearing will likely turn out to be an excellent fundraiser and rallying cry for the group, and it’s sure to anger both its hard-left and moderately progressive supporters.

Read Less

Jerusalem Bus Bombing May Be Another Palestinian Attempt to Ramp Up Tensions

As of this moment we don’t know who set off a bomb next to a bus in central Jerusalem this morning. Fortunately, no one was killed in the explosion that wounded over 30 at a bus stop in front of the Biyanei Ha’uma, the national convention center. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the blood spilled today is a result of the maneuvering between Hamas and its Fatah rivals that control the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership and the terror groups at its disposal can’t be happy over the fact that events in Egypt, Libya, and all around the Middle East have distracted the world from the issue that was supposedly at the center of all strife in the region: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In recent weeks, it has become painfully obvious that the grievances of the Palestinians were not the source of all strife. Indeed, despite the occasional and seemingly obligatory anti-Semitic comments heard in countries in revolt, the supposedly all-consuming concern about the Palestinians has been completely absent in the Arab world. Since neither Fatah nor Hamas want any part of a genuine democracy movement in their own fiefdoms it is to be expected that they will continue to try to distract their people from wondering about the way they are governed and to get them back focusing on hatred for Israel and Jews.

Hamas’s mortar fire at southern Israel this past weekend seemed to be part of this pattern, since it was bound to draw return fire. It may be that today’s bombing is also another Palestinian attempt to ramp up tensions and get the attention of the Obama administration and the rest of the West, even though the PA still won’t negotiate directly with Israel. The only thing that is certain about any of this is that such efforts will result in more violence and bloodshed on both sides and that actual peace talks are the last thing either Hamas or Fatah desire.

As of this moment we don’t know who set off a bomb next to a bus in central Jerusalem this morning. Fortunately, no one was killed in the explosion that wounded over 30 at a bus stop in front of the Biyanei Ha’uma, the national convention center. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the blood spilled today is a result of the maneuvering between Hamas and its Fatah rivals that control the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership and the terror groups at its disposal can’t be happy over the fact that events in Egypt, Libya, and all around the Middle East have distracted the world from the issue that was supposedly at the center of all strife in the region: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In recent weeks, it has become painfully obvious that the grievances of the Palestinians were not the source of all strife. Indeed, despite the occasional and seemingly obligatory anti-Semitic comments heard in countries in revolt, the supposedly all-consuming concern about the Palestinians has been completely absent in the Arab world. Since neither Fatah nor Hamas want any part of a genuine democracy movement in their own fiefdoms it is to be expected that they will continue to try to distract their people from wondering about the way they are governed and to get them back focusing on hatred for Israel and Jews.

Hamas’s mortar fire at southern Israel this past weekend seemed to be part of this pattern, since it was bound to draw return fire. It may be that today’s bombing is also another Palestinian attempt to ramp up tensions and get the attention of the Obama administration and the rest of the West, even though the PA still won’t negotiate directly with Israel. The only thing that is certain about any of this is that such efforts will result in more violence and bloodshed on both sides and that actual peace talks are the last thing either Hamas or Fatah desire.

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This is the Way the Coalition Crumbles

Live by consensus, die by consensus:

Deep divisions between allied forces currently bombing Libya worsened today as the German military announced it was pulling forces out of NATO over continued disagreement on who will lead the campaign…. The infighting comes as a heated meeting of NATO ambassadors yesterday failed to resolve whether the 28-nation alliance should run the operation to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, diplomats said. Yesterday a war of words erupted between the U.S. and Britain after the U.K. government claimed Muammar Gaddafi is a legitimate target for assassination.

This is where the fetishization of multilateralism has led. The Coalition of Babel stands to deify the mad dog of the Middle East by granting him the unearned ability to confound the great military powers of the West and live to tell the tale. The intervention is noble and necessary, but without unapologetic American leadership it will crumble beneath the weight of its own good intentions.

Live by consensus, die by consensus:

Deep divisions between allied forces currently bombing Libya worsened today as the German military announced it was pulling forces out of NATO over continued disagreement on who will lead the campaign…. The infighting comes as a heated meeting of NATO ambassadors yesterday failed to resolve whether the 28-nation alliance should run the operation to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, diplomats said. Yesterday a war of words erupted between the U.S. and Britain after the U.K. government claimed Muammar Gaddafi is a legitimate target for assassination.

This is where the fetishization of multilateralism has led. The Coalition of Babel stands to deify the mad dog of the Middle East by granting him the unearned ability to confound the great military powers of the West and live to tell the tale. The intervention is noble and necessary, but without unapologetic American leadership it will crumble beneath the weight of its own good intentions.

Read Less




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