Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 6, 2011

What Justice Goldstone Knew and When He Knew It

On April 1—the same day Justice Richard Goldstone confessed in the Washington Post that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”—Peter Berkowitz released “The Goldstone Mess,” an article in Policy Review that persuasively debunks the report.

To begin with, Berkowitz’s essay shows decisively that the Goldstone Report was inherently invalid, based on what Goldstone knew at the time.

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On April 1—the same day Justice Richard Goldstone confessed in the Washington Post that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”—Peter Berkowitz released “The Goldstone Mess,” an article in Policy Review that persuasively debunks the report.

To begin with, Berkowitz’s essay shows decisively that the Goldstone Report was inherently invalid, based on what Goldstone knew at the time.

Goldstone misapplied the key principles of “distinction” and “proportionality.” The principle of “distinction” requires combatants to target only military personnel and assets and to distinguish themselves by wearing uniforms, carrying weapons openly, and not conducting military operations from civilian areas:

Israeli commanders and soldiers faced extremely difficult targeting decisions because Hamas fighters, in violation of the law of armed conflict, dressed as civilians; hid ammunition, rockets, and missiles in civilian buildings, including schools, hospitals, and mosques; and booby-trapped neighborhoods. The [Goldstone] report concludes that much of the damage caused by Israeli military operations to civilians and ostensibly civilian objects in Gaza involved criminal conduct on Israel’s part, but it does not apply the proper legal test. The proper legal test asks whether a reasonable commander in the actual circumstances under scrutiny would believe that the target is being used to make an effective contribution to military actions. (Italics added)

The principle of “proportionality” recognizes that civilian casualties and damage are not inherently illegal, but must be weighed in light of the military situation:

[A] determination of whether the exercise of force was proportional depends on factual findings about what the commander and his soldiers knew and intended, on complex calculations about tactics and strategy, on the care with which decisions were made, on the prudential steps and precautions taken, and on the propriety of sometimes instant judgments in life and death situations. Suffice it to say that the Goldstone Report routinely ignores such legally essential considerations, which vitiates its sensational legal findings. (Italics added)

In other words, since he did not investigate Hamas’s systematic use of civilian dress, civilian shields, and civilian buildings, Goldstone could not possibly draw any conclusions about what a reasonable Israeli commander would do, and his legal findings were thus inherently invalid. Based upon what he knew, he had no basis whatever to indict Israel.

On the other hand, Hamas made no secret of its “policy.” It had fired thousands of rockets from Judenrein Gaza into Israel—each rocket a war crime. Israel’s Gaza operation was a defensive war—a response to provocation undertaken long after any other state would have responded, using less force than any other state would have used. The Goldstone Report’s call upon Hamas to investigate itself was ludicrous not simply because the Islamist terrorists would never do so, and had no judiciary or free press to pressure or compel them to do so, but also because they unashamedly pleaded guilty. Hamas’s military efforts did not simply neglect the quaint concept of “distinction.” They were founded upon a defiance of it.

Goldstone presumed Israel guilty until it proved itself innocent, which Israel did with lengthy reports prepared before, during, and after the issuance of his report. But even before he learned “what I know now,” Goldstone should have known his report grossly misapplied the proper legal test.

What makes Berkowitz’s demolition of the report even more interesting—perhaps of historical importance—is that he and Avi Bell participated in a Stanford debate on March 28 with Goldstone in the audience, and “The Goldstone Mess” is an expanded version of Berkowitz’s opening statement that night. After the debate, as both Ron Radosh and Stanley Kurtz have suggested, Goldstone may have known what he had to do.

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RE: Wisconsin Judge Election

The election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ended in a dead heat. When John described it as a “photo finish” earlier this morning, Prosser was up by 835. By the time all of the precincts from Milwaukee County belatedly reported later in the day, Kloppenburg had taken a lead of 311 votes out of 1.5 million cast (a huge turnout for such an election). A recount is virtually certain.

The Wisconsin Republicans had better get some very high-powered election lawyers at work on the case and do it now if they hope to win.

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The election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ended in a dead heat. When John described it as a “photo finish” earlier this morning, Prosser was up by 835. By the time all of the precincts from Milwaukee County belatedly reported later in the day, Kloppenburg had taken a lead of 311 votes out of 1.5 million cast (a huge turnout for such an election). A recount is virtually certain.

The Wisconsin Republicans had better get some very high-powered election lawyers at work on the case and do it now if they hope to win.

Doing so enabled George Bush to win in Florida in 2000. Not doing so handed the Washington governorship to the Democrats in 2004. The Republican Dino Rossi was ahead on election night and in the automatic recount that followed. But a hand count, and some very conveniently discovered absentee ballots in heavily Democratic King County (Seattle), gave the race to the Democrat Christine Gregoire. And not doing so handed the Minnesota senate seat to Al Franken in 2008. Again the Republican was ahead after election night, but the lead vanished in the recounts and dubious absentee ballots.

In both cases, the Republicans were outlawyered. Unfortunately Wisconsin election law practically begs people to commit election fraud. It has same-day registration, which allows people to show up at the polls, register with minimal ID requirements, and then vote. Don’t have ID? No problem! All you need is someone who is registered in the same city to vouch for you. According to John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, perhaps the country’s leading expert on voter fraud,

A 67-page 2008 report by investigators for the Milwaukee Police Department blew the whistle on what it called an “illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of [the 2004] election in the state of Wisconsin”—a swing state where recent presidential elections have often been very close. The report found that in 2004 between 4,600 and 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once. The report found that in 2004 a total of 1,305 “same day” voters gave information that was declared “un-enterable” or invalid by election officials.

The long-term solution, of course, is to curb absentee balloting and require as much ID to vote as you need to get into airplanes and many office buildings these days.

But the short-term solution in this election, sad to say, is to lawyer up—to hire a Dobermann, if need be—before uncounted absentee ballots start appearing in the front seat of election officials’ cars as they did in Christine Gregoire’s Washington in 2004.

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Glenn Beck and the Wonderful, Beautiful, Not Bad, Very Good Day

Yesterday Representative Paul Ryan put forth a policy blueprint that is intellectually serious and extremely ambitious. Today we learned that Glenn Beck, about whom I’ve had several things to say in the past (see here and here), will be leaving Fox News before the end of the year. Let’s call it a very good 24 hours for conservatism.

Yesterday Representative Paul Ryan put forth a policy blueprint that is intellectually serious and extremely ambitious. Today we learned that Glenn Beck, about whom I’ve had several things to say in the past (see here and here), will be leaving Fox News before the end of the year. Let’s call it a very good 24 hours for conservatism.

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Not Everyone Is as Shallow as Dana Milbank

Having taken Dana Milbank to task, I must call attention to those who have shown intellectual honesty regarding Representative Paul Ryan’s FY2012 budget, including Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein, both of whom I have crossed swords with over the years.

Both Sullivan and Klein clearly have their differences with Ryan’s plan. But to their credit they’re dealing with it in a serious, mature manner. If the debate is conducted on this level by people on both sides of the divide—in a way that’s measured, empirical, honest, and when warranted, assumes good will—we’ll all be better off for it.

Having taken Dana Milbank to task, I must call attention to those who have shown intellectual honesty regarding Representative Paul Ryan’s FY2012 budget, including Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein, both of whom I have crossed swords with over the years.

Both Sullivan and Klein clearly have their differences with Ryan’s plan. But to their credit they’re dealing with it in a serious, mature manner. If the debate is conducted on this level by people on both sides of the divide—in a way that’s measured, empirical, honest, and when warranted, assumes good will—we’ll all be better off for it.

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The Liberal Parrot Squawks

Well, that didn’t take long. I expected the liberal response to Paul Ryan’s budget proposal to be essentially demagogic. And that has proven to be the case. Peter has already pointed out that Dana Milbank is outraged over the fact that Republicans are doing now what he was outraged they were not doing two months ago—reforming entitlements. Or consider the editorial in today’s New York Times:

The plan would condemn millions to the ranks of the uninsured, raise health costs for seniors and renege on the obligation to keep poor children fed. It envisions lower taxes for the wealthy than even George W. Bush imagined: a permanent extension for his tax cuts, plus large permanent estate-tax cuts, a new business tax cut and a lower top income tax rate for the richest taxpayers.

The Times doesn’t analyze Ryan’s proposal, or even lay out its specific ideas; it merely anathematizes them. You can practically see the editorial board hauling out their garlic and crucifixes to ward off the dreaded conservative vampire that wants—run for your lives!—to reduce marginal rates on the rich. The Times, of course, doesn’t have the intellectual honesty to tell its readers that the reduced rates would be balanced by closing the loopholes that allow the rich and corporations to evade the higher marginal rates the Times would so love to impose.

The New York Times editorial page, once by far the most influential in the country, is now, when it comes to fiscal matters, nothing more than the primary branch from which the liberal parrot endlessly squawks, “Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Arrrrrk! Tax the rich!”

Well, that didn’t take long. I expected the liberal response to Paul Ryan’s budget proposal to be essentially demagogic. And that has proven to be the case. Peter has already pointed out that Dana Milbank is outraged over the fact that Republicans are doing now what he was outraged they were not doing two months ago—reforming entitlements. Or consider the editorial in today’s New York Times:

The plan would condemn millions to the ranks of the uninsured, raise health costs for seniors and renege on the obligation to keep poor children fed. It envisions lower taxes for the wealthy than even George W. Bush imagined: a permanent extension for his tax cuts, plus large permanent estate-tax cuts, a new business tax cut and a lower top income tax rate for the richest taxpayers.

The Times doesn’t analyze Ryan’s proposal, or even lay out its specific ideas; it merely anathematizes them. You can practically see the editorial board hauling out their garlic and crucifixes to ward off the dreaded conservative vampire that wants—run for your lives!—to reduce marginal rates on the rich. The Times, of course, doesn’t have the intellectual honesty to tell its readers that the reduced rates would be balanced by closing the loopholes that allow the rich and corporations to evade the higher marginal rates the Times would so love to impose.

The New York Times editorial page, once by far the most influential in the country, is now, when it comes to fiscal matters, nothing more than the primary branch from which the liberal parrot endlessly squawks, “Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Arrrrrk! Tax the rich!”

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Obama to Skip Town during Shutdown

Just a few days ago, the White House griped to Politico that the war in Libya was preventing President Obama from tackling domestic problems, ruining his image as an “economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery.” But now that Obama’s domestic leadership is actually needed, the president apparently can’t get out of D.C. fast enough:

Despite the impasse in Washington over federal spending, the president as of early Wednesday was scheduled to give two speeches outside of Washington: one on energy in the Philadelphia suburbs, then another Wednesday evening to a group of black political activists in New York.

What is it with Obama’s inability to focus on the important issues of the moment? He was absent for the first nine days of the Libya war, and eager to shrink the U.S. role in the mission as quickly as possible. And now he may disappear during a major government crisis in order to hobnob with the Rev. Al Sharpton and friends at a gala in New York. The president often speaks of himself as a leader, but when it comes time to do the actual leading he’s nowhere to be found.

Just a few days ago, the White House griped to Politico that the war in Libya was preventing President Obama from tackling domestic problems, ruining his image as an “economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery.” But now that Obama’s domestic leadership is actually needed, the president apparently can’t get out of D.C. fast enough:

Despite the impasse in Washington over federal spending, the president as of early Wednesday was scheduled to give two speeches outside of Washington: one on energy in the Philadelphia suburbs, then another Wednesday evening to a group of black political activists in New York.

What is it with Obama’s inability to focus on the important issues of the moment? He was absent for the first nine days of the Libya war, and eager to shrink the U.S. role in the mission as quickly as possible. And now he may disappear during a major government crisis in order to hobnob with the Rev. Al Sharpton and friends at a gala in New York. The president often speaks of himself as a leader, but when it comes time to do the actual leading he’s nowhere to be found.

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Beck to Leave Fox

Glenn Beck will transition off his daily show at Fox News, the network announced today. The left is already Tweeting its credit for this “coup,” but Beck’s plummeting ratings probably had more to do with it.

While The Glenn Beck Show remains one of the top-rated shows on cable news, it has been sinking fast. Dave Weigel reports on Beck’s loss of nearly a million viewers over the past year:

Beck’s ratings had been collapsing, even as he remained one of the most popular hosts on TV. In January 2010 he had 2.9 million viewers; in January 2011 he’d fallen to 1.8 million. James Downie wrote a smart piece about why this might have been happening, figuring that Beck’s utility was as the host who will go further in explaining the liberal-socialist conspiracy that was wrecking America, and the need for TV like that fell when the GOP took over the House.

According to a press release on Beck’s website The Blaze, the host will continue to produce shows and content for Fox—a smart move by the network. Beck still has extremely loyal fans, and Fox will need to handle this transition carefully in order to avoid alienating them.

Glenn Beck will transition off his daily show at Fox News, the network announced today. The left is already Tweeting its credit for this “coup,” but Beck’s plummeting ratings probably had more to do with it.

While The Glenn Beck Show remains one of the top-rated shows on cable news, it has been sinking fast. Dave Weigel reports on Beck’s loss of nearly a million viewers over the past year:

Beck’s ratings had been collapsing, even as he remained one of the most popular hosts on TV. In January 2010 he had 2.9 million viewers; in January 2011 he’d fallen to 1.8 million. James Downie wrote a smart piece about why this might have been happening, figuring that Beck’s utility was as the host who will go further in explaining the liberal-socialist conspiracy that was wrecking America, and the need for TV like that fell when the GOP took over the House.

According to a press release on Beck’s website The Blaze, the host will continue to produce shows and content for Fox—a smart move by the network. Beck still has extremely loyal fans, and Fox will need to handle this transition carefully in order to avoid alienating them.

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The Cynicism and Shallowness of Dana Milbank

Now comes a test for liberals.

For months it has been their standard fare to attack Republicans for being fiscally unserious. The basis of the charge? The GOP was going after domestic discretionary spending rather than entitlements, which is the real cause of our fiscal crisis. Liberals leveled these charges even after Representative Paul Ryan and Speaker Boehner indicated their FY2012 budget would include entitlement reforms. No matter; the liberals had their talking points and they were sticking to them.

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Now comes a test for liberals.

For months it has been their standard fare to attack Republicans for being fiscally unserious. The basis of the charge? The GOP was going after domestic discretionary spending rather than entitlements, which is the real cause of our fiscal crisis. Liberals leveled these charges even after Representative Paul Ryan and Speaker Boehner indicated their FY2012 budget would include entitlement reforms. No matter; the liberals had their talking points and they were sticking to them.

Frank Rich, then of the New York Times, accused Republicans of “slashing federal spending as long as the cuts are quarantined to the small percentage of the budget covering discretionary safety-net programs, education and Big Bird.”

Fareed Zakaria sniffed that the GOP is “fixated by a budget-cutting mentality but refuses to propose entitlement,” preferring a “sledgehammer . . . to a scalpel.”

And in February Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote , “The nation’s debt problem is enormous, but so far President Obama and the lawmakers have tiptoed around the real problems, particularly Medicare. Instead, they’re haggling over the 36 percent of the budget called ‘discretionary spending,’ and particularly the 13 percent known as ‘non-defense discretionary spending.’ ” Most of Milbank’s targets in the column were Republicans. He added, “With Medicare and the other drivers of the debt crisis out of consideration, the lawmakers’ task amounted to sweating the small stuff.”

Now that Republicans have released a budget that tackles entitlements head on, including Medicare and Medicaid, perhaps these commentators and dozens of others like them will work their pens and voices to praise the GOP for doing what they themselves called for doing. If so, good for them. No one should hold his breath, though.

Milbank, for example—a particularly cynical (and shallow) pundit—is already shifting his line of attack. He now complains that Republicans are doing what, a few months ago, he chided them for not doing: curbing entitlements. Here is Milbank today: “Democrats could also argue, as the Congressional Budget Office does, that the proposal to turn Medicare into a private program using voucher-like payments would lead to higher out-of-pocket costs. This would inevitably force more elderly into nursing homes, but Ryan also takes $771 billion over 10 years from Medicaid, about half of which pays for nursing-home care of the elderly. . . . Does Ryan want to see Democrats’ ads on TV saying Republicans would cast poor seniors into the streets?”

Among the many virtues of the Ryan budget is that it will reveal, in fairly stark terms, just how partisan and intellectually dishonest Milbank and other political commentators like him are.

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Goldstone Won’t Nullify Report

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post reported that Justice Richard Goldstone would ask to UN to nullify his September 2009 report on Israel’s war in Gaza. The promise was reportedly made during a conversation with Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai. Well, less than 24 hours later, Goldstone is denying that he told Yishai anything of the sort. What is more, he now says the report never even entered their discussion.

Goldstone now claims that Yishai had merely phoned to thank him for his op-ed last Friday in the Washington Post. The two never discussed the report itself, he says. He responded to Yishai by saying that his primary concern remains “truth, justice, and human rights.” Not one part of the report needs reconsideration at the present time, Goldstone maintains.

Did Yishai misinterpret Goldstone’s comments? Or was the interior minister misquoted in the press? Whatever the reason, Yishai needs to clarify why his account is the opposite of Goldstone’s.

Apparently the interior minister was already facing criticism from other members of the Israeli government yesterday, even before Goldstone contradicted him.

“The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office have been working on plans to address Goldstone’s recent retraction of war crimes accusations against Israel,” Ynet reported. “Yishai did not coordinate his invitation with any political element dealing with the Goldstone issue and has not discussed the matter with the prime minister or foreign minister.”

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post reported that Justice Richard Goldstone would ask to UN to nullify his September 2009 report on Israel’s war in Gaza. The promise was reportedly made during a conversation with Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai. Well, less than 24 hours later, Goldstone is denying that he told Yishai anything of the sort. What is more, he now says the report never even entered their discussion.

Goldstone now claims that Yishai had merely phoned to thank him for his op-ed last Friday in the Washington Post. The two never discussed the report itself, he says. He responded to Yishai by saying that his primary concern remains “truth, justice, and human rights.” Not one part of the report needs reconsideration at the present time, Goldstone maintains.

Did Yishai misinterpret Goldstone’s comments? Or was the interior minister misquoted in the press? Whatever the reason, Yishai needs to clarify why his account is the opposite of Goldstone’s.

Apparently the interior minister was already facing criticism from other members of the Israeli government yesterday, even before Goldstone contradicted him.

“The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office have been working on plans to address Goldstone’s recent retraction of war crimes accusations against Israel,” Ynet reported. “Yishai did not coordinate his invitation with any political element dealing with the Goldstone issue and has not discussed the matter with the prime minister or foreign minister.”

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Libyan Rebels Confused by NATO Strategy

Many Americans are mystified by the Libya war strategy, and apparently the Libyan rebels feel the same way. Forced into retreat by Qadaffi’s forces yesterday, the top opposition general lashed out at NATO during a press conference.

“I would like to say to you people that NATO did not provide to us what we need,” said Abdul Fatah Younis. “NATO should be with us or we will ask the [Transitional National Council, the rebel government] to raise this to the Security Council. This is a dangerous situation.”

Younis seemed frustrated about what he sees as a lack of support from the allied forces. NATO takes up to eight hours to respond to calls for help from the ground, the rebels said.

“If NATO wanted to remove the siege on Misurata, they would have done so days ago,” Younis said. “And they’re using the excuse that ‘we don’t want to kill civilians.’ Every day, women, children and seniors are being killed. This crime will be hanging from the necks of the international community until the end of days.”

The rebels’ complaints appear to confirm concerns that the NATO handover could slow down the mission. NATO’s leadership structure reportedly makes it difficult to reach a cohesive decision. Adding to the problem, U.S. warplanes were pulled from the combat mission earlier this week.

Many Americans are mystified by the Libya war strategy, and apparently the Libyan rebels feel the same way. Forced into retreat by Qadaffi’s forces yesterday, the top opposition general lashed out at NATO during a press conference.

“I would like to say to you people that NATO did not provide to us what we need,” said Abdul Fatah Younis. “NATO should be with us or we will ask the [Transitional National Council, the rebel government] to raise this to the Security Council. This is a dangerous situation.”

Younis seemed frustrated about what he sees as a lack of support from the allied forces. NATO takes up to eight hours to respond to calls for help from the ground, the rebels said.

“If NATO wanted to remove the siege on Misurata, they would have done so days ago,” Younis said. “And they’re using the excuse that ‘we don’t want to kill civilians.’ Every day, women, children and seniors are being killed. This crime will be hanging from the necks of the international community until the end of days.”

The rebels’ complaints appear to confirm concerns that the NATO handover could slow down the mission. NATO’s leadership structure reportedly makes it difficult to reach a cohesive decision. Adding to the problem, U.S. warplanes were pulled from the combat mission earlier this week.

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The Wisconsin Judge Election: Scott Brown It Ain’t

Oddly timed off-year elections have become, in the past 20 years, the American version of local by-elections in European parliamentary systems—a glimpse into the national political future. In 1991, a little-known Pennsylvania Democrat named Harris Wofford scored a shocking upset in a special Senate election over the state’s wildly popular former Republican governor, Richard Thornburgh—a harbinger of the the Clinton victory in 1992 (not least because it was the race that put James Carville, who ran Wofford’s campaign, on the map). And, of course, in early 2010, came the early sign of the coming Democratic debacle when Republican Scott Brown came out of nowhere to win Teddy Kennedy’s Senate seat by 5 percentage points.

No one could have expected, however, that a state-level race for a judicial post with a 10-year term with an election in the first week of April 2011 would become the first battleground of 2012. But with the political explosion in Wisconsin following its newly elected Republican governor’s effort to end collective-bargaining privileges for state employees, that is exactly what happened. Nobody in America should have any idea who David Prosser and Joanne Klopperberg are; indeed, no political wonk outside of Madison ought to have any idea who they are. But the race between them for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, held yesterday, has turned them into canaries in the 2012 coal mine. More money was spent on this race, surely, than on any judicial election outside California in American history, with more outside agitation than any judicial race in American history.

So who shall live, and who shall die?

The photo finish—as this writing, 835 votes separate the Republican Prosser and the Democrat Klopperberg out of nearly 1.5 million cast—is very telling precisely because it is a photo finish. Both ideological camps revved up for this one; they raised comparable amounts of money; they succeeded in generating a turnout that has to be judged spectacular given the fact that the election was held on a Tuesday in April; and they basically tied. If there is any lesson to be drawn as we look ahead to 2012, and I suspect there is, it is that after Obama’s amazing victory in 2008 with a margin of nearly 7 points and the Republican comeback of 2010 with the GOP winning nationally by 6, the parties are naturally at parity.

Oddly timed off-year elections have become, in the past 20 years, the American version of local by-elections in European parliamentary systems—a glimpse into the national political future. In 1991, a little-known Pennsylvania Democrat named Harris Wofford scored a shocking upset in a special Senate election over the state’s wildly popular former Republican governor, Richard Thornburgh—a harbinger of the the Clinton victory in 1992 (not least because it was the race that put James Carville, who ran Wofford’s campaign, on the map). And, of course, in early 2010, came the early sign of the coming Democratic debacle when Republican Scott Brown came out of nowhere to win Teddy Kennedy’s Senate seat by 5 percentage points.

No one could have expected, however, that a state-level race for a judicial post with a 10-year term with an election in the first week of April 2011 would become the first battleground of 2012. But with the political explosion in Wisconsin following its newly elected Republican governor’s effort to end collective-bargaining privileges for state employees, that is exactly what happened. Nobody in America should have any idea who David Prosser and Joanne Klopperberg are; indeed, no political wonk outside of Madison ought to have any idea who they are. But the race between them for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, held yesterday, has turned them into canaries in the 2012 coal mine. More money was spent on this race, surely, than on any judicial election outside California in American history, with more outside agitation than any judicial race in American history.

So who shall live, and who shall die?

The photo finish—as this writing, 835 votes separate the Republican Prosser and the Democrat Klopperberg out of nearly 1.5 million cast—is very telling precisely because it is a photo finish. Both ideological camps revved up for this one; they raised comparable amounts of money; they succeeded in generating a turnout that has to be judged spectacular given the fact that the election was held on a Tuesday in April; and they basically tied. If there is any lesson to be drawn as we look ahead to 2012, and I suspect there is, it is that after Obama’s amazing victory in 2008 with a margin of nearly 7 points and the Republican comeback of 2010 with the GOP winning nationally by 6, the parties are naturally at parity.

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Give the UN Some Credit

Something pretty extraordinary is happening in Africa. Libya may get all the headlines, but with little notice, another U.N.-backed intervention is taking place in the Ivory Coast, with French aircraft bombing the presidential palace to force out strongman Laurent Gbagbo who insisted on staying in power despite losing the 2010 election. In both cases international intervention has been explicitly premised on the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P)—the notion, which arose after the massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, that the international community has a right, indeed a responsibility, to intervene in other nations’ internal affairs to stop the most egregious human rights abuses.

The doctrine has raised understandable concern among some American conservatives, and no doubt, like any other doctrine, it is subject to abuse. On the whole, though, it is a salutary step forward for individual rights and human dignity. No longer can dictators claim the privilege to abuse their populations any way they see fit; now there is at least a chance that outside powers will intervene to stop the bloodshed and bring the perpetrators to justice.

True, the rule is hardly universal.

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Something pretty extraordinary is happening in Africa. Libya may get all the headlines, but with little notice, another U.N.-backed intervention is taking place in the Ivory Coast, with French aircraft bombing the presidential palace to force out strongman Laurent Gbagbo who insisted on staying in power despite losing the 2010 election. In both cases international intervention has been explicitly premised on the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P)—the notion, which arose after the massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, that the international community has a right, indeed a responsibility, to intervene in other nations’ internal affairs to stop the most egregious human rights abuses.

The doctrine has raised understandable concern among some American conservatives, and no doubt, like any other doctrine, it is subject to abuse. On the whole, though, it is a salutary step forward for individual rights and human dignity. No longer can dictators claim the privilege to abuse their populations any way they see fit; now there is at least a chance that outside powers will intervene to stop the bloodshed and bring the perpetrators to justice.

True, the rule is hardly universal.

It is possible to point to numerous countries, from Iran and Syria, to Burma and North Korea, where war criminals remain free to do their worst. But Nick Kristof of the New York Times (with whom I do not usually agree), offered exactly the right rejoinder to the charge of inconsistency:

[J]ust because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?

Perhaps the best lodestar when it comes to evaluating most public policies is: Does it or does it not advance the cause of individual liberty? I am convinced that R2P meets this test even if it reins in unfettered notions of national sovereignty. Some conservatives fret that this will limit America’s freedom of action and lead to the imposition of international rules by unelected bureaucrats on our own shores. While problematic applications of international law can be imagined, the reality is that it is nearly impossible to coerce the strongest states—Russia, China, or the U.S.—by means of international organizations. If only we could do more to bring Russia and China to abide by international norms! But we can’t; they have veto power at the U.N. Since we too have veto power, we enjoy protection from overly intrusive international interventions—and we can use our power to shield friends like Israel from such interventions too.

The prospect of Israeli generals or American statesmen being arrested and brought to trial in the Hague is deeply troubling. But that hasn’t happened yet, and odds are it won’t—at least not any time soon. What has happened is that the international community, with France in the lead, has used its might to protect innocent people in Libya and the Ivory Coast from being slaughtered by bloodthirsty dictators. That is undeniably a positive step, and it should not detract from well-justified criticisms of the U.N. to give that organization credit for providing cover for such Western-led action which in the days of old would have been known as “liberal imperialism.”

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Why the Afghanistan Campaign Is Vital to National Security

It is often said, by those who oppose the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, that we have nothing to fear from a Taliban takeover—this time the Taliban will be smart enough to sever all links with al-Qaeda and to prevent their country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. The evidence suggests otherwise. This morning the Wall Street Journal reports that al-Qaeda had managed to establish a base in a remote region of Afghanistan—the Korengal Valley—which had been evacuated by U.S. troops. Reporters Matthew Rosenberg and Julian Barnes interviewed “several Taliban commanders” who

say the al Qaeda facilities in northeastern Afghanistan are tightly tied to the Afghan Taliban leadership. “In these bases, fighters from around the world get training. We are training suicide bombers, [improvised explosive device] experts and guerrilla fighters,” said an insurgent commander in Nuristan who goes by the nom de guerre Agha Saib and who was reached by telephone.

So is the heavy expenditure of American blood and treasure in Afghanistan useless if al-Qaeda is able to establish bases under our noses?

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It is often said, by those who oppose the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, that we have nothing to fear from a Taliban takeover—this time the Taliban will be smart enough to sever all links with al-Qaeda and to prevent their country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. The evidence suggests otherwise. This morning the Wall Street Journal reports that al-Qaeda had managed to establish a base in a remote region of Afghanistan—the Korengal Valley—which had been evacuated by U.S. troops. Reporters Matthew Rosenberg and Julian Barnes interviewed “several Taliban commanders” who

say the al Qaeda facilities in northeastern Afghanistan are tightly tied to the Afghan Taliban leadership. “In these bases, fighters from around the world get training. We are training suicide bombers, [improvised explosive device] experts and guerrilla fighters,” said an insurgent commander in Nuristan who goes by the nom de guerre Agha Saib and who was reached by telephone.

So is the heavy expenditure of American blood and treasure in Afghanistan useless if al-Qaeda is able to establish bases under our noses?

Not at all. The al-Qaeda encampment which was identified last year was bombed in September. The Journal again: “Among the dozens of Arabs killed that day, the U.S.-led coalition said, were two senior al-Qaeda members, one Saudi and the other Kuwaiti. Another casualty of the bombing, according to Saudi media and jihadi websites, was one of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted militants.”

Such successful strikes are possible because U.S. forces are operating in large numbers in Afghanistan. They are able to generate actionable intelligence and act on it quickly—something that could not have occurred prior to the fall of 2001. Back in those days, you may recall, strikes on al-Qaeda camps were mounted using Tomahawk missiles from Navy warships in the Arabian sea. The long delay needed to arm and fire those missiles–whose flight time was at least half an hour—gave the militants time to scatter. Now, by contrast, U.S. forces can swoop down on terrorists with little notice.

Indeed, the Journal article notes that even after leaving the Korengal and some remote areas, U.S. troops, especially from the elite Joint Special Operations Command, have been able to keep militants off balance. It quotes U.S. officials as saying that the number of al-Qaeda and associated militants still in Afghanistan

remain small enough to manage and that camps are, at worst, few and far between and largely temporary. And almost all U.S. and Afghan officials caution that al Qaeda isn’t yet secure enough in northeastern Afghanistan to use the area as a staging ground for attacks overseas. . . . The officials said many of al Qaeda’s fighters are fearful of establishing too big or permanent a presence in Afghanistan because of the threat posed by U.S. and allied forces.

Remove “the threat posed by U.S. and allied forces” operating from secure bases in Afghanistan and you will surely see a resurgence of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Which is why, for all its costs, the current counterinsurgency campaign remains vital to safeguarding our national interests.

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