Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 25, 2011

RE: J Street’s Cheering Section at the Times Plays Up Knesset Follies

As Jonathan noted, in their misguided attempt to take down J Street, members of the Knesset have managed to get the organization the best press it’s had in awhile. Here’s how the New York Times described the hearings:

On one side were members of the Israeli Parliament and advocates who argued that there was only one legitimate way to support Israel from abroad — unconditionally. On the other were those who insisted that love and devotion did not mean withholding criticism.

The Times’ also claimed that the Israeli government is undergoing “a turn rightward,” and, according to J Street, these developments are “driving many” young Jews away from Israel. Other news coverage was equally sympathetic to the typical J Street talking points.

This outcome was both completely avoidable and completely predictable. Previous controversial Knesset hearings have also resulted in bad PR for Israel, and good PR for Israel’s enemies. Yet Israeli lawmakers continue to make the same mistakes again and again.

And the Times reports that the Knesset has another hearing planned. This one will apparently examine whether the foreign media is “fair” to Israel, by comparing the coverage of last year’s flotilla with the coverage of the recent Itamar massacre – which is like begging the press to draw an equivalency between the two incidents.

What is the point of this exercise? Of course the foreign media is biased against the Jewish state. And of course J Street’s “pro-Israel” claims are a fraud. These questions don’t require parliamentary inquiries, they just require common sense.

The J Street hearing should be a lesson for the Knesset. And the investigation into media bias has the potential to be an even bigger problem.

As Jonathan noted, in their misguided attempt to take down J Street, members of the Knesset have managed to get the organization the best press it’s had in awhile. Here’s how the New York Times described the hearings:

On one side were members of the Israeli Parliament and advocates who argued that there was only one legitimate way to support Israel from abroad — unconditionally. On the other were those who insisted that love and devotion did not mean withholding criticism.

The Times’ also claimed that the Israeli government is undergoing “a turn rightward,” and, according to J Street, these developments are “driving many” young Jews away from Israel. Other news coverage was equally sympathetic to the typical J Street talking points.

This outcome was both completely avoidable and completely predictable. Previous controversial Knesset hearings have also resulted in bad PR for Israel, and good PR for Israel’s enemies. Yet Israeli lawmakers continue to make the same mistakes again and again.

And the Times reports that the Knesset has another hearing planned. This one will apparently examine whether the foreign media is “fair” to Israel, by comparing the coverage of last year’s flotilla with the coverage of the recent Itamar massacre – which is like begging the press to draw an equivalency between the two incidents.

What is the point of this exercise? Of course the foreign media is biased against the Jewish state. And of course J Street’s “pro-Israel” claims are a fraud. These questions don’t require parliamentary inquiries, they just require common sense.

The J Street hearing should be a lesson for the Knesset. And the investigation into media bias has the potential to be an even bigger problem.

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Traditional Diplomacy Blooming in Moscow

There’s been a revolving door swishing in Moscow this week as Middle Eastern delegations show up to consult with Russia’s leaders. Mahmoud Abbas, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal have all trooped through for separate discussions and photo ops with Dmitry Medvedev. There is nothing sinister or freighted about this; it’s what we would expect when the policy emanating from Washington and the capitals of Europe is in disarray and seems to have no central theme.

But in the meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday, Medvedev was uncharacteristically enthusiastic and chatty. The state-media outlet Russia Today depicted a wide-ranging set of discussion topics and treated Medvedev’s warnings about revitalizing the peace process as almost perfunctory. In a particularly unusual move, Russia Today devoted several lines of respectful text to an Israeli explanation – after the strikes on Gaza this week – that the IDF avoids targeting civilians. Read More

There’s been a revolving door swishing in Moscow this week as Middle Eastern delegations show up to consult with Russia’s leaders. Mahmoud Abbas, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal have all trooped through for separate discussions and photo ops with Dmitry Medvedev. There is nothing sinister or freighted about this; it’s what we would expect when the policy emanating from Washington and the capitals of Europe is in disarray and seems to have no central theme.

But in the meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday, Medvedev was uncharacteristically enthusiastic and chatty. The state-media outlet Russia Today depicted a wide-ranging set of discussion topics and treated Medvedev’s warnings about revitalizing the peace process as almost perfunctory. In a particularly unusual move, Russia Today devoted several lines of respectful text to an Israeli explanation – after the strikes on Gaza this week – that the IDF avoids targeting civilians.

Medvedev’s main message from the meeting illuminates the reason for this friendly tone. His primary concern is Islamist terrorism and the increased likelihood of it in the wake of what he calls “tectonic shifts” in the Middle East.

“We are more than right to hold this meeting, as the terrorists must know that they do not achieve their wicked goals,” the Russian leader said, while also expressing his condolences for the terrorist attack in Jerusalem, “which harmed innocent people.”

Medvedev ended the meeting by urging Netanyahu to fight the terrorists, after both men had spoken of that as their common objective. The most interesting aspect of this is Medvedev’s implied interpretations: that the threat of Islamist terrorism arises separately from the Palestinian issue; that the turmoil in the Middle East could well put Islamists in charge of additional nations (a point he made explicitly in the meeting); and that Israel is not the problem in all this, but rather an ally in the fight against it.

It has taken a profound loss of foreign confidence in the United States to bring about this level of candor and pragmatism. The three delegations that cycled through Moscow this week were from clients of the U.S. who have relied on American power and diplomacy to back their positions. Of equal interest is who has not gone to Moscow (or received a high-level visit from Russia): Iran, Turkey, or Syria. Indeed, with the unrest rising in Syria, Russia’s deployment of supersonic cruise missiles with the Syrian forces may be on indefinite hold.

Bibi will not assign undue value to the diplomatic protestations of Russia; he undoubtedly recognizes Lord Palmerston’s axiom that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” In Russia, he has a partner that is acting unapologetically in its own interest. The predictable pragmatism – even cynicism – of traditional nation-state diplomacy looks oddly like a port in a storm at the moment.

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J Street’s Cheering Section at the Times Plays Up Knesset Follies

As Alana wrote on Wednesday, the Knesset’s hearing on J Street was a joke. Despite J Street’s manifest shortcomings, parliament has no business holding sessions devoted to whether or not the left-wing lobby is sufficiently pro-Israel. Like Israelis, Americans live in a democracy and have the right to back foolish causes and governments have no right to attempt to suppress them. The Jewish state faces grave security, economic, and social problems and its parliamentarians would do well to focus on them. But by making the group appear like a victim being repressed by Knesset bullies, those who convened the hearing did it more good than harm.

They should leave the business of speaking up against J Street to Israel’s friends in the United States, though it must be said that no one has done a better job of discrediting this bogus organization than itself. Lies about funding sources and embarrassing positions such as its opposition to a united Jerusalem, hostility toward Israeli self-defense against Gaza-based terrorism, tepidness on sanctions against Iran, and support for the infamous lies of the Goldstone report have thoroughly marginalized J Street. Even at its height of popularity it could not count on much support from American Jewry or exercise much influence in Congress. But almost all of its Congressional supporters have forsaken it and the notion that it could compete with, let alone replace AIPAC, as the voice of the pro-Israel community is now widely seen as an even bigger joke than the Knesset hearings.

But to read the New York Times account of the hearings you would think that J Street is a mainstream American group with wide support and influence. Ethan Bronner’s account of the event takes J Street at its word as representing a redefined and less supportive relationship between American Jews and Israel. He misses entirely the truth about the group, which has little to do with advocacy for peace and everything to do with the attempt by Jewish leftists to assume a dominant political role in the United States at the expense of the more moderate and bipartisan AIPAC. J Street exists as a support group not for the Israeli left, whose election defeats have left them without influence or even a political pulse, but for the Obama administration, which the left-wing lobby hopes will pressure Israel into concessions that its electorate has rejected at the polls. J Street applauded when Obama picked foolish fights with the Netanyahu government about building housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But when the president was forced to back down by vociferous Jewish criticism of his stands and launched a charm offensive intended to distance his administration from J Street’s ideas, the group was left holding the bag.

With dwindling Jewish support and a cold shoulder from the White House, J Street’s position is more untenable than ever. But so long as it can count on its cheering section at the Times and George Soros’s money—not to mention the clowns in the Knesset—we haven’t heard the last of it.

As Alana wrote on Wednesday, the Knesset’s hearing on J Street was a joke. Despite J Street’s manifest shortcomings, parliament has no business holding sessions devoted to whether or not the left-wing lobby is sufficiently pro-Israel. Like Israelis, Americans live in a democracy and have the right to back foolish causes and governments have no right to attempt to suppress them. The Jewish state faces grave security, economic, and social problems and its parliamentarians would do well to focus on them. But by making the group appear like a victim being repressed by Knesset bullies, those who convened the hearing did it more good than harm.

They should leave the business of speaking up against J Street to Israel’s friends in the United States, though it must be said that no one has done a better job of discrediting this bogus organization than itself. Lies about funding sources and embarrassing positions such as its opposition to a united Jerusalem, hostility toward Israeli self-defense against Gaza-based terrorism, tepidness on sanctions against Iran, and support for the infamous lies of the Goldstone report have thoroughly marginalized J Street. Even at its height of popularity it could not count on much support from American Jewry or exercise much influence in Congress. But almost all of its Congressional supporters have forsaken it and the notion that it could compete with, let alone replace AIPAC, as the voice of the pro-Israel community is now widely seen as an even bigger joke than the Knesset hearings.

But to read the New York Times account of the hearings you would think that J Street is a mainstream American group with wide support and influence. Ethan Bronner’s account of the event takes J Street at its word as representing a redefined and less supportive relationship between American Jews and Israel. He misses entirely the truth about the group, which has little to do with advocacy for peace and everything to do with the attempt by Jewish leftists to assume a dominant political role in the United States at the expense of the more moderate and bipartisan AIPAC. J Street exists as a support group not for the Israeli left, whose election defeats have left them without influence or even a political pulse, but for the Obama administration, which the left-wing lobby hopes will pressure Israel into concessions that its electorate has rejected at the polls. J Street applauded when Obama picked foolish fights with the Netanyahu government about building housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But when the president was forced to back down by vociferous Jewish criticism of his stands and launched a charm offensive intended to distance his administration from J Street’s ideas, the group was left holding the bag.

With dwindling Jewish support and a cold shoulder from the White House, J Street’s position is more untenable than ever. But so long as it can count on its cheering section at the Times and George Soros’s money—not to mention the clowns in the Knesset—we haven’t heard the last of it.

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Syria Overrun with Protests as Violence Escalates

Syrian human rights activist and dissident Ammar Abdulhamid has posted his own update on events in Syria. “Almost every major city and town across Syria is witnessing an anti-Assad protest at this stage,” he writes.

Deraa of course is hosting the largest protest with around 50,000 participants by some reckonings. Not all protests have gone peacefully. In Homs, riots police interfered with tear gas, and there were reports of gunfire in certain neighborhoods and 3 are said to have died, but so far no confirmation.

Al Jazeera reported earlier today that Assad’s forces near Deraa have killed at least 20 protesters. Other cities, including Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and Al-Qamishli are also seeing major demonstrations. According to Abdulhamid, protesters in the larger cities are trying to mount small demonstrations in numerous locations, in order to reduce the chances of the protests turning violent.

“The reasoning behind this is that violence in these major cities could easily assume sectarian overtones if Assad thugs got involved, and that seems a development that Assads would really want to see to justify a major crackdown,” wrote Abdulhamid.

The activist called on the international community to start mounting pressure on the Syrian government through the UN, and begin planning an exit strategy for the Assads, which Abdulhamid said could prevent the things from escalating further.

“The situation will not be contained if left to be managed by the Assads alone,” he wrote. “Now that Lattakia and Homs, Hama and other cities have thrown their lot with the Revolution, and joined Deraa, slow reactions by the international community could allow the situation to spiral out of control.”

Syrian human rights activist and dissident Ammar Abdulhamid has posted his own update on events in Syria. “Almost every major city and town across Syria is witnessing an anti-Assad protest at this stage,” he writes.

Deraa of course is hosting the largest protest with around 50,000 participants by some reckonings. Not all protests have gone peacefully. In Homs, riots police interfered with tear gas, and there were reports of gunfire in certain neighborhoods and 3 are said to have died, but so far no confirmation.

Al Jazeera reported earlier today that Assad’s forces near Deraa have killed at least 20 protesters. Other cities, including Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and Al-Qamishli are also seeing major demonstrations. According to Abdulhamid, protesters in the larger cities are trying to mount small demonstrations in numerous locations, in order to reduce the chances of the protests turning violent.

“The reasoning behind this is that violence in these major cities could easily assume sectarian overtones if Assad thugs got involved, and that seems a development that Assads would really want to see to justify a major crackdown,” wrote Abdulhamid.

The activist called on the international community to start mounting pressure on the Syrian government through the UN, and begin planning an exit strategy for the Assads, which Abdulhamid said could prevent the things from escalating further.

“The situation will not be contained if left to be managed by the Assads alone,” he wrote. “Now that Lattakia and Homs, Hama and other cities have thrown their lot with the Revolution, and joined Deraa, slow reactions by the international community could allow the situation to spiral out of control.”

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The Arab Spring Has Gone Straight to Winter

So much for the revolution. While those of us who believe that democracy and freedom are things that all people value and deserve still believe that promoting those values is always America’s duty, the skeptics about the prospects for genuine change in Egypt appear to be vindicated by recent events. As the New York Times reports today, the post-Mubarak era has created a tacit alliance of sorts between the military and the Islamist extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Egyptian Army is definitely running the country, they have allowed the Brotherhood a great deal of influence. As the Times writes:

In these early stages, there is growing evidence of the Brotherhood’s rise and the overpowering force of Islam. When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.

The young and largely secular protesters whose courage and determination brought down Mubarak are nowhere to be seen in terms of influence on events. The army is even promulgating regulations that will ban public protests, essentially ensuring that there will be no repeat of the demonstrations that undid the old regime.

Even worse is the fact that the army, with support from the Islamists, is pushing for quick elections with a ballot for a parliament that will write a new constitution prior to September, followed almost immediately by a vote for a new president. This race to the polls will gave a huge advantage to the well-organized Brotherhood as well as the establishment New Democracy Party that dominated under Mubarak, and which will probably have the imprimatur of the army. Secular and pro-democracy parties will be put at a severe disadvantage. As the experience of “one man, one vote, one time” has shown time and again in the Third World, the mere holding of an election should not be confused with the promotion of genuine democracy.

The implications of this development are discouraging for democracy advocates but they do reflect the intractable and corrupt power of both the Egyptian armed forces and the Brotherhood. While it would be foolish to think the United States or the West can alter events to suit our own beliefs, this is not a moment for President Obama to be silent about the way things are going. While some in the White House may be comforted by the continuing power of the Egyptian Army, which is certainly a force for stability if not freedom, the promulgation of yet another tyrannical government, this time with a more overt Islamist tinge, is not in America’s interests and will not promote regional stability in the long run. Egypt’s generals need to be warned that by getting in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood they run the danger of losing the massive U.S. aid package that keeps their armies in ready cash and equipment.

So much for the revolution. While those of us who believe that democracy and freedom are things that all people value and deserve still believe that promoting those values is always America’s duty, the skeptics about the prospects for genuine change in Egypt appear to be vindicated by recent events. As the New York Times reports today, the post-Mubarak era has created a tacit alliance of sorts between the military and the Islamist extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Egyptian Army is definitely running the country, they have allowed the Brotherhood a great deal of influence. As the Times writes:

In these early stages, there is growing evidence of the Brotherhood’s rise and the overpowering force of Islam. When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.

The young and largely secular protesters whose courage and determination brought down Mubarak are nowhere to be seen in terms of influence on events. The army is even promulgating regulations that will ban public protests, essentially ensuring that there will be no repeat of the demonstrations that undid the old regime.

Even worse is the fact that the army, with support from the Islamists, is pushing for quick elections with a ballot for a parliament that will write a new constitution prior to September, followed almost immediately by a vote for a new president. This race to the polls will gave a huge advantage to the well-organized Brotherhood as well as the establishment New Democracy Party that dominated under Mubarak, and which will probably have the imprimatur of the army. Secular and pro-democracy parties will be put at a severe disadvantage. As the experience of “one man, one vote, one time” has shown time and again in the Third World, the mere holding of an election should not be confused with the promotion of genuine democracy.

The implications of this development are discouraging for democracy advocates but they do reflect the intractable and corrupt power of both the Egyptian armed forces and the Brotherhood. While it would be foolish to think the United States or the West can alter events to suit our own beliefs, this is not a moment for President Obama to be silent about the way things are going. While some in the White House may be comforted by the continuing power of the Egyptian Army, which is certainly a force for stability if not freedom, the promulgation of yet another tyrannical government, this time with a more overt Islamist tinge, is not in America’s interests and will not promote regional stability in the long run. Egypt’s generals need to be warned that by getting in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood they run the danger of losing the massive U.S. aid package that keeps their armies in ready cash and equipment.

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Barbour Weighs in on Israel

Haley Barbour’s views on military intervention have deviated from most of the potential candidates for the GOP presidential election. The Mississippi governor recently questioned whether the war in Afghanistan was worth the cost, and has also been critical about the mission in Libya.

But today Barbour also weighed in on U.S. foreign policy toward Israel, during an interview with the American Spectator’s Phil Klein:

Barbour said he supports strong ties between the U.S. and Israel. “It is a critical relationship for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Israel is our genuine unfledgling [sic] ally. They don’t flinch as being our ally. They are also a very potent ally militarily but also in terms of technology, economically, morally….[W]e’ve got to be committed to a secure, prosperous, Jewish, democratic Israel.”

Barbour dismissed the allegation – made by some non-interventionists and “realists” – that Israel is a source of too many problems for the U.S. internationally. “I do think they’re an asset to us,” he told Klein. “There are a lot of American foreign policy types who I think consider Israel a burden, that when you weigh the scales that Israel costs more than they’re worth. My view on that’s different, maybe because I was in White House during Reykjavik.”

Unlike long-long-shot presidential hopefuls Ron and Rand Paul – who are currently figuring out which one will run – Barbour also supports military aid to Israel. The fact that every (legitimate) potential GOP presidential candidate is supportive of Israel, at least in their rhetoric, highlights how crucial that one issue is to the Republican base.

Haley Barbour’s views on military intervention have deviated from most of the potential candidates for the GOP presidential election. The Mississippi governor recently questioned whether the war in Afghanistan was worth the cost, and has also been critical about the mission in Libya.

But today Barbour also weighed in on U.S. foreign policy toward Israel, during an interview with the American Spectator’s Phil Klein:

Barbour said he supports strong ties between the U.S. and Israel. “It is a critical relationship for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Israel is our genuine unfledgling [sic] ally. They don’t flinch as being our ally. They are also a very potent ally militarily but also in terms of technology, economically, morally….[W]e’ve got to be committed to a secure, prosperous, Jewish, democratic Israel.”

Barbour dismissed the allegation – made by some non-interventionists and “realists” – that Israel is a source of too many problems for the U.S. internationally. “I do think they’re an asset to us,” he told Klein. “There are a lot of American foreign policy types who I think consider Israel a burden, that when you weigh the scales that Israel costs more than they’re worth. My view on that’s different, maybe because I was in White House during Reykjavik.”

Unlike long-long-shot presidential hopefuls Ron and Rand Paul – who are currently figuring out which one will run – Barbour also supports military aid to Israel. The fact that every (legitimate) potential GOP presidential candidate is supportive of Israel, at least in their rhetoric, highlights how crucial that one issue is to the Republican base.

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RE: Libya, Iraq, and Moral Double Standards

Earlier today I quoted the words of Representative Anthony Weiner, who said, “My view is that there are times in American history … we look back and we see we should use military force to try and defend people who can’t defend themselves. If we are a powerful country one of the ways we use our power is for good. What’s the purpose of being a powerful country if we are not using it to defend people?”

The question Mr. Weiner poses is a good one, but it doesn’t answer itself. There are an almost unlimited number of nations in which we could intervene in order to defend people who can’t defend themselves; alone, that isn’t an argument to intervene. It depends on facts and circumstances, including the degree of humanitarian concern (genocide or not), the nature of the conflict, the nature of the commitment, the efficacy of intervention, and whether there is a national security interest at stake. What’s involved here, then, is a more complicated calculus than many people believe.

On top of that is the fact that most of us are selective in our moral concern and moral outrage. For reasons that are not entirely obvious (and probably involve prejudgments and predispositions separate and apart from facts), we find ourselves attached to some causes but not others, some liberation movements but not others. We find ourselves stirred to act in one country but not another, to stop one act of genocide but not another.

The fact that we’re not fully consistent is part of the human condition. There are more claims on our moral concerns than we can possibly meet. My point is simply that we need to be careful about becoming blind to our double standards or allowing our partisan affiliations to shape our moral concerns (e.g., favoring intervention based on whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican). There are certain situations that rightly lay claim to our gaze and attention; in determining what they are, we need to allow reality and the facts on the ground to shape what we feel and how we act.

Earlier today I quoted the words of Representative Anthony Weiner, who said, “My view is that there are times in American history … we look back and we see we should use military force to try and defend people who can’t defend themselves. If we are a powerful country one of the ways we use our power is for good. What’s the purpose of being a powerful country if we are not using it to defend people?”

The question Mr. Weiner poses is a good one, but it doesn’t answer itself. There are an almost unlimited number of nations in which we could intervene in order to defend people who can’t defend themselves; alone, that isn’t an argument to intervene. It depends on facts and circumstances, including the degree of humanitarian concern (genocide or not), the nature of the conflict, the nature of the commitment, the efficacy of intervention, and whether there is a national security interest at stake. What’s involved here, then, is a more complicated calculus than many people believe.

On top of that is the fact that most of us are selective in our moral concern and moral outrage. For reasons that are not entirely obvious (and probably involve prejudgments and predispositions separate and apart from facts), we find ourselves attached to some causes but not others, some liberation movements but not others. We find ourselves stirred to act in one country but not another, to stop one act of genocide but not another.

The fact that we’re not fully consistent is part of the human condition. There are more claims on our moral concerns than we can possibly meet. My point is simply that we need to be careful about becoming blind to our double standards or allowing our partisan affiliations to shape our moral concerns (e.g., favoring intervention based on whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican). There are certain situations that rightly lay claim to our gaze and attention; in determining what they are, we need to allow reality and the facts on the ground to shape what we feel and how we act.

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Silence From the White House

The White House insists that President Obama just didn’t have the time to hold extensive consultations with Congress before ordering a military mission in Libya. “[Obama] also believes he’s the commander in chief whose leadership requires him to take action when action will save lives and delaying action will cost lives,” Jay Carney told reporters yesterday.

Though it’s also true that the President somehow found time to play soccer in sunny Rio De Janeiro, fill out his NCAA bracket, and get permission for military action from the UN Security Council. But let’s cut him some slack on that. Now that Obama’s no longer pressed for time, what explains his continued silence on the war? Politico reports that the president is doing all he can to avoid making a speech on Libya:

President Barack Obama is resisting pressure to deliver an Oval Office speech explaining his policy on Libya — in part, because he doesn’t want to equate what he regards as a smaller, time-limited mission with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administration officials haven’t ruled out a big speech, but Obama is reluctant to make a major address on Libya until the United States hands over most command and combat duties to its allies.

White House aides say that Obama might possibly discuss Libya over the next few days with the American public, but “he’s not likely to succumb to pressure to deliver a long, explanatory address,” reports Politico.

In light of Obama’s continued silence on Libya, it almost looks like the president was more concerned about making the case for war than about the urgency of the mission.His reason for not giving a speech – he wants to wait until the U.S. hands over its responsibility in Libya – further highlight his lack of a backbone. The left can say what it will about President Bush, but at least he acted on principle. It’s not even clear at this point what Obama’s principles are.

The White House insists that President Obama just didn’t have the time to hold extensive consultations with Congress before ordering a military mission in Libya. “[Obama] also believes he’s the commander in chief whose leadership requires him to take action when action will save lives and delaying action will cost lives,” Jay Carney told reporters yesterday.

Though it’s also true that the President somehow found time to play soccer in sunny Rio De Janeiro, fill out his NCAA bracket, and get permission for military action from the UN Security Council. But let’s cut him some slack on that. Now that Obama’s no longer pressed for time, what explains his continued silence on the war? Politico reports that the president is doing all he can to avoid making a speech on Libya:

President Barack Obama is resisting pressure to deliver an Oval Office speech explaining his policy on Libya — in part, because he doesn’t want to equate what he regards as a smaller, time-limited mission with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administration officials haven’t ruled out a big speech, but Obama is reluctant to make a major address on Libya until the United States hands over most command and combat duties to its allies.

White House aides say that Obama might possibly discuss Libya over the next few days with the American public, but “he’s not likely to succumb to pressure to deliver a long, explanatory address,” reports Politico.

In light of Obama’s continued silence on Libya, it almost looks like the president was more concerned about making the case for war than about the urgency of the mission.His reason for not giving a speech – he wants to wait until the U.S. hands over its responsibility in Libya – further highlight his lack of a backbone. The left can say what it will about President Bush, but at least he acted on principle. It’s not even clear at this point what Obama’s principles are.

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How to Tell that Pro-Palestinian Activists Don’t Care About Palestinians

Do pro-Palestinian activists actually care a whit about ordinary Palestinians? An implicit acknowledgement that the answer is “no” came from a surprising source this week: Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, herself a leading pro-Palestinian crusader.

Hass’s anti-Israel rhetoric is up there with the best of them (she describes Gaza, for instance, as “the world’s largest prison camp” and Israel as “crazy”). But unlike many of her fellow activists, she has actually lived among the Palestinians for years: first in Gaza, and currently in Ramallah. So she sees the results of Palestinian, Israeli and international policy firsthand, and has drawn an unusual conclusion: Even though Palestinians have every right to “defend themselves … by force of arms,” launching Qassam rockets at Israel from Gaza does nothing to further Palestinian independence; it merely supplies Israel with “pretexts” for counterstrikes in which innocent Palestinians are maimed and killed.

After all, the rockets are usually fired from the heart of Palestinian population centers (something Hass neglected to mention, preferring to imply that Israel targets civilians deliberately). That makes civilian casualties from Israeli counterstrikes almost inevitable. Just this week for instance, an errant Israeli shell killed four Palestinian civilians; the target was a group of terrorists launching mortars at Israel “from a grove just beyond our house,” as the brother of one of those killed told the New York Times.

Since the cost of the rocket fire far outweighs its benefits, Hass argued, anyone who cares about real live Palestinians should be denouncing it in an effort to pressure Hamas and other terrorist organizations to stop it. Instead, she charged, pro-Palestinian activists have given it tacit consent:

In the binary thinking of those who oppose the Israeli occupation (Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners), public criticism of the tactics used in the struggle of an occupied and dispossessed people is taboo. It is as if criticism would create symmetry between the attacker and the attacked. To a large extent, this taboo has been broken with regard to the Palestinian Authority: Many opponents of the occupation have no qualms about portraying the PA as a collaborator, or at least as the captive of its senior officials’ private interests. But when it comes to Hamas’ use of arms, silence falls.

She therefore ended her column with a challenge:

So for all those who demonstrated in support of the Gazans when they were trapped under Israeli fire, all those planners of past and future flotillas, this is your moment to raise your voices and say clearly: The Qassams merely feed Israel’s madness. It is not the Qassams that will ensure the Palestinians, both in and out of Gaza, a life of dignity. It is not the Qassams that will topple the Israeli walls around the world’s largest prison camp.

But will other pro-Palestinian activists take her up? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Do pro-Palestinian activists actually care a whit about ordinary Palestinians? An implicit acknowledgement that the answer is “no” came from a surprising source this week: Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, herself a leading pro-Palestinian crusader.

Hass’s anti-Israel rhetoric is up there with the best of them (she describes Gaza, for instance, as “the world’s largest prison camp” and Israel as “crazy”). But unlike many of her fellow activists, she has actually lived among the Palestinians for years: first in Gaza, and currently in Ramallah. So she sees the results of Palestinian, Israeli and international policy firsthand, and has drawn an unusual conclusion: Even though Palestinians have every right to “defend themselves … by force of arms,” launching Qassam rockets at Israel from Gaza does nothing to further Palestinian independence; it merely supplies Israel with “pretexts” for counterstrikes in which innocent Palestinians are maimed and killed.

After all, the rockets are usually fired from the heart of Palestinian population centers (something Hass neglected to mention, preferring to imply that Israel targets civilians deliberately). That makes civilian casualties from Israeli counterstrikes almost inevitable. Just this week for instance, an errant Israeli shell killed four Palestinian civilians; the target was a group of terrorists launching mortars at Israel “from a grove just beyond our house,” as the brother of one of those killed told the New York Times.

Since the cost of the rocket fire far outweighs its benefits, Hass argued, anyone who cares about real live Palestinians should be denouncing it in an effort to pressure Hamas and other terrorist organizations to stop it. Instead, she charged, pro-Palestinian activists have given it tacit consent:

In the binary thinking of those who oppose the Israeli occupation (Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners), public criticism of the tactics used in the struggle of an occupied and dispossessed people is taboo. It is as if criticism would create symmetry between the attacker and the attacked. To a large extent, this taboo has been broken with regard to the Palestinian Authority: Many opponents of the occupation have no qualms about portraying the PA as a collaborator, or at least as the captive of its senior officials’ private interests. But when it comes to Hamas’ use of arms, silence falls.

She therefore ended her column with a challenge:

So for all those who demonstrated in support of the Gazans when they were trapped under Israeli fire, all those planners of past and future flotillas, this is your moment to raise your voices and say clearly: The Qassams merely feed Israel’s madness. It is not the Qassams that will ensure the Palestinians, both in and out of Gaza, a life of dignity. It is not the Qassams that will topple the Israeli walls around the world’s largest prison camp.

But will other pro-Palestinian activists take her up? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Libya, Iraq, and Moral Double Standards

One of the justifications liberals use for intervening in Libya is a humanitarian concern. “My view is that there are times in American history … we look back and we see we should use military force to try and defend people who can’t defend themselves,” is how Representative Anthony Weiner put it. “If we are a powerful country one of the ways we use our power is for good. What’s the purpose of being a powerful country if we are not using it to defend people?”

That’s a legitimate, if incomplete, argument. But what’s worth reflecting on are those on the left who advocate intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds but who were (and remain) fierce critics of the Iraq war. As bad as Colonel Qaddafi is — and he’s a malevolent figure to be sure — his criminal acts belong in a lesser category than Saddam Hussein’s. If one takes his reign in toto, Saddam ranks with Pol Pot and several others as one of the cruelest and most sadistic dictators in the post-World War II era.

Saddam’s atrocious human rights record doesn’t necessarily mean the war against him was wise; it simply means that those arguing for acting against Qaddafi on humanitarian grounds might want to review the former Iraqi leader’s record once again. If the argument for intervening in Libya is at its core humanitarian, then the case for intervention in Iraq was five-fold what it is in Libya. And whether those on the left admit it or not, Iraq ended up being a war of liberation. A dictator of unusual ruthlessness is gone. Iraq is now a functioning (if fragile and imperfect) democracy.

Was the Iraq war worth American blood and treasure? Thoughtful people continue to disagree on that matter. But seen through the prism of human rights and humanitarianism, the case to act against Saddam was, and remains, significantly stronger than the case to act against Qaddafi. If those on the left are going to use a moral standard to judge military interventions then they, like all of us, should apply it in a reasonably consistent way.

One of the justifications liberals use for intervening in Libya is a humanitarian concern. “My view is that there are times in American history … we look back and we see we should use military force to try and defend people who can’t defend themselves,” is how Representative Anthony Weiner put it. “If we are a powerful country one of the ways we use our power is for good. What’s the purpose of being a powerful country if we are not using it to defend people?”

That’s a legitimate, if incomplete, argument. But what’s worth reflecting on are those on the left who advocate intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds but who were (and remain) fierce critics of the Iraq war. As bad as Colonel Qaddafi is — and he’s a malevolent figure to be sure — his criminal acts belong in a lesser category than Saddam Hussein’s. If one takes his reign in toto, Saddam ranks with Pol Pot and several others as one of the cruelest and most sadistic dictators in the post-World War II era.

Saddam’s atrocious human rights record doesn’t necessarily mean the war against him was wise; it simply means that those arguing for acting against Qaddafi on humanitarian grounds might want to review the former Iraqi leader’s record once again. If the argument for intervening in Libya is at its core humanitarian, then the case for intervention in Iraq was five-fold what it is in Libya. And whether those on the left admit it or not, Iraq ended up being a war of liberation. A dictator of unusual ruthlessness is gone. Iraq is now a functioning (if fragile and imperfect) democracy.

Was the Iraq war worth American blood and treasure? Thoughtful people continue to disagree on that matter. But seen through the prism of human rights and humanitarianism, the case to act against Saddam was, and remains, significantly stronger than the case to act against Qaddafi. If those on the left are going to use a moral standard to judge military interventions then they, like all of us, should apply it in a reasonably consistent way.

Read Less




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