Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 7, 2011

The IMF and the Terror State

The Palestinian Authority’s campaign to bypass negotiations and gain recognition for an independent state received an important boost yesterday from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF issued a report about the economy in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be formally presented an international donors conference for the Palestinians next week in Brussels.

The report is a resounding endorsement of the policies enacted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The PA is “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas,” the IMF says. Fayyad’s efforts to transform the PA from the corrupt terror state created by Yasir Arafat after the Oslo Accords has been widely praised by both Americans and Israelis. But even those who vouch for the good intentions and skill of the American-educated technocrat would have to acknowledge that he has only just begun to change the mafia-style political culture of the PA.

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The Palestinian Authority’s campaign to bypass negotiations and gain recognition for an independent state received an important boost yesterday from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF issued a report about the economy in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be formally presented an international donors conference for the Palestinians next week in Brussels.

The report is a resounding endorsement of the policies enacted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The PA is “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas,” the IMF says. Fayyad’s efforts to transform the PA from the corrupt terror state created by Yasir Arafat after the Oslo Accords has been widely praised by both Americans and Israelis. But even those who vouch for the good intentions and skill of the American-educated technocrat would have to acknowledge that he has only just begun to change the mafia-style political culture of the PA.

The IMF report makes it clear that the West Bank, run by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah—Fayyad was appointed by Fatah—is still mainly dependent on foreign aid. As for Gaza, which is governed by the Islamist terrorists of Hamas, it remains an economic basket case. But the report, which rightly predicates future growth on the emergence of vibrant Palestinian private-sector economy, says that is “unlikely to emerge while Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets remain in place, and as long as investors are deterred by the increased cost of business associated with the closure regime [in Gaza].”

The real question, though, is not whether Israel can be pressured to lift its blockade of Gaza or what security measures it employs in the West Bank, but why those policies are still necessary.

The answer comes in the form of the Palestinian missile fire from Gaza that was once again launched at southern Israel today. This morning an Israeli school bus was hit by an anti-tank missile, leaving a 16-year-old critically injured and wounding the driver. Another rocket aimed at Israel was intercepted by an anti-missile battery. These were just the latest of over 100 rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel from Gaza in less than a week. Israeli President Shimon Peres called attention to the Gaza missile attacks today during a visit to New York. For all intents and purposes Gaza is an independent self-governing entity since Israel withdrew all troops and civilians from the strip in 2005. Since then it has been transformed, Peres said, into a “terror state.”

For all of the optimism heard from the IMF about the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, the brute fact is that one of its two prospective governing parties is carrying on a war to extinguish the Jewish state and to kill as many Jews as possible in the mean time. Even in the West Bank, which has made great strides under the leadership of Fayyad (support for whom remains tiny when compared to the belligerents of the main Palestinian movements), the terror threat against Israel is palpable. Should the current autonomy of the PA be expanded to complete independence without an Israeli security presence, there is ample reason to worry that either Hamas operatives or Fatah’s own terrorists will be able to replicate the terror state in Gaza.

Right now the Palestinians appear to be counting on a United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestinian statehood in all of the territory of the former Palestine Mandate that was illegally occupied by Egypt and Jordan from 1949 to 1967. It is not clear how strongly this attempt to evade negotiations will be resisted by the United States and the diplomatic quartet, or whether they will oppose it all. No doubt reports like the one issued by the IMF will be cited as a reason to drop back and permit the Palestinians to have their own way.

A two-state solution to the conflict is the worst possible idea—except for all the others. There should be no doubt that any Palestinian state endorsed by the UN will not be a liberal democracy. It will not have the free economy that Fayyad and the IMF envision. It will be a two-headed terrorist monster whose political culture will remain dedicated to pursuing the decades-old Arab war on Israel. Unless the PA agrees to negotiate a peace that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and guarantees its security, there should never be recognition of a Palestinian state.

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Will Obama’s 2008 Popularity Work against Him?

Although polls show President Obama falling out of favor with the general public, he still has a 55 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds. Clearly a lot of young people like him. But will that be enough to win their campaign support?

Obviously there will be plenty of young Democratic and liberal activists who will hit the campaign trail for him. But back in 2007 and 2008, Obama wasn’t just promoted by partisans, but also by the popular culture. That, along with his last campaign’s highly distinctive branding, could end up working against him.

Students didn’t just wear Obama tees during the last election because they liked his politics. They wore them because the shirts were wildly popular. Obama picked up countless celebrity endorsements, music videos and tabloid magazine covers–all free publicity, and most of it unhesitatingly positive.

The problem with the Obama-craze of 2008 is that trends go out of style. Looking back, Obama’s extreme popularity now comes off as dated, even a bit corny. He’ll probably still win the youth vote. But it seems far less likely that ordinary, non-political college students will walk around looking like a free billboard for the Obama reelection bid. It will be up to his campaign to make up for the loss of cheap publicity.

Although polls show President Obama falling out of favor with the general public, he still has a 55 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds. Clearly a lot of young people like him. But will that be enough to win their campaign support?

Obviously there will be plenty of young Democratic and liberal activists who will hit the campaign trail for him. But back in 2007 and 2008, Obama wasn’t just promoted by partisans, but also by the popular culture. That, along with his last campaign’s highly distinctive branding, could end up working against him.

Students didn’t just wear Obama tees during the last election because they liked his politics. They wore them because the shirts were wildly popular. Obama picked up countless celebrity endorsements, music videos and tabloid magazine covers–all free publicity, and most of it unhesitatingly positive.

The problem with the Obama-craze of 2008 is that trends go out of style. Looking back, Obama’s extreme popularity now comes off as dated, even a bit corny. He’ll probably still win the youth vote. But it seems far less likely that ordinary, non-political college students will walk around looking like a free billboard for the Obama reelection bid. It will be up to his campaign to make up for the loss of cheap publicity.

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Dana Milbank, Rodeo Clown

Yesterday I plumbed the shallowness of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank in a short piece that my former White House colleague Karl Rove sent around on his Twitter account. Milbank was not pleased. “Is this the same Karl Rove and Pete Wehner who were ‘architects’ of a $6 trillion rise in federal debt? Welcome to the cause!” Milbank Tweeted back.

Since Milbank seems eager to keep a dialogue going, let’s accommodate him, shall we?

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Yesterday I plumbed the shallowness of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank in a short piece that my former White House colleague Karl Rove sent around on his Twitter account. Milbank was not pleased. “Is this the same Karl Rove and Pete Wehner who were ‘architects’ of a $6 trillion rise in federal debt? Welcome to the cause!” Milbank Tweeted back.

Since Milbank seems eager to keep a dialogue going, let’s accommodate him, shall we?

Let’s begin by pointing out that Milbank’s facts are wildly (if predictably) inaccurate. During the Bush presidency the debt held by the public grew by less than half the amount Milbank claims. But why let a few trillions get in the way of a tendentious man with a Twitter account?

As for President Bush’s fiscal record, it’s worth consulting this analysis, which observes:

George W. Bush, a wartime President, had a smaller federal government and lower taxes relative to the economy than each of his three predecessors, historically small deficits, no tax increases, and 5.3% average unemployment. . . . He proposed structural and incremental reforms to Social Security and Medicare that set up the current entitlement reform debate.

And since Milbank wants to engage in the game of what-happened-on-your-watch-is-all-your-fault, it’s worth pointing out that in roughly 20 months, President Obama added as much debt as President Bush ran up in eight years.

I don’t doubt that Milbank is unfamiliar with these (or many other) tiresome facts. When he was covering the Bush White House he was not—let me put this as gently as I can—known for his interest in or command of substance (although his Post successors were). He was thought of more like, say, a rodeo clown. Now if that judgment seems overly harsh, take a look at this picture, in which Milbank appeared on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann in a blaze orange hunting outfit, worn in order to mock Vice President Cheney after his accidental hunting trip shooting.

No serious journalist would do such a thing. But Glenn Beck might. And Dana Milbank did.

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What Justice Goldstone Heard

As a follow-up to “What Justice Goldstone Knew and When He Knew It,” I have posted at Jewish Current Issues the texts of the opening statements (as prepared for delivery) of Peter Berkowitz and Abraham Bell at the March 28 Stanford Law School debate, as well as the rebuttal that Berkowitz prepared for delivery. Stanford has posted a video of the debate, which includes the statements made by Goldstone at the event.

Taken together, the Berkowitz/Bell statements are a concise and powerful indictment of the Goldstone Report—one that Justice Goldstone heard firsthand at Stanford three days before he published his now-famous Washington Post op-ed, in which he stated the Report would have been different if he had known what he knows now.

A lot has been written about the Goldstone Report; these two statements, precisely because they are short and were delivered orally, communicate the fundamental problems with the Goldstone Report in a manner that even its author could not ignore.

As a follow-up to “What Justice Goldstone Knew and When He Knew It,” I have posted at Jewish Current Issues the texts of the opening statements (as prepared for delivery) of Peter Berkowitz and Abraham Bell at the March 28 Stanford Law School debate, as well as the rebuttal that Berkowitz prepared for delivery. Stanford has posted a video of the debate, which includes the statements made by Goldstone at the event.

Taken together, the Berkowitz/Bell statements are a concise and powerful indictment of the Goldstone Report—one that Justice Goldstone heard firsthand at Stanford three days before he published his now-famous Washington Post op-ed, in which he stated the Report would have been different if he had known what he knows now.

A lot has been written about the Goldstone Report; these two statements, precisely because they are short and were delivered orally, communicate the fundamental problems with the Goldstone Report in a manner that even its author could not ignore.

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Egyptians Support Peace with Israel, Liberalization

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams notices some good news from Egypt. According to a new poll from the International Peace Institute, 63 percent of Egyptians are in favor of the peace treaty with Israel, while only 14 percent oppose it. In addition, a whopping 82 percent support continued liberalization of the country and the economy, while only 10 percent have a favorable opinion of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The one downside is the wide support for Amre Moussa, with 80 percent of Egyptians favoring him. But for the most part, the poll is a great sign for supporters of Egyptian democratization.

Abrams observes that “the data in this poll suggest that fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt may be overblown. Egyptians may be susceptible to demagogic appeals from politicians, but at least for now the poll indicates that many have a sensible view of their country’s economic and political situation.”

The poll should at least dispel fears that the pro-democracy movement was simply a small anomaly. In fact, the data show that it’s the pro-Islamist movement that is out of touch with mainstream views. But this popular sentiment doesn’t mean that the road to democratization in Egypt will be easy. As Max wrote earlier, one of the major obstacles will now be organizing liberal political parties that can compete with the Brotherhood.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams notices some good news from Egypt. According to a new poll from the International Peace Institute, 63 percent of Egyptians are in favor of the peace treaty with Israel, while only 14 percent oppose it. In addition, a whopping 82 percent support continued liberalization of the country and the economy, while only 10 percent have a favorable opinion of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The one downside is the wide support for Amre Moussa, with 80 percent of Egyptians favoring him. But for the most part, the poll is a great sign for supporters of Egyptian democratization.

Abrams observes that “the data in this poll suggest that fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt may be overblown. Egyptians may be susceptible to demagogic appeals from politicians, but at least for now the poll indicates that many have a sensible view of their country’s economic and political situation.”

The poll should at least dispel fears that the pro-democracy movement was simply a small anomaly. In fact, the data show that it’s the pro-Islamist movement that is out of touch with mainstream views. But this popular sentiment doesn’t mean that the road to democratization in Egypt will be easy. As Max wrote earlier, one of the major obstacles will now be organizing liberal political parties that can compete with the Brotherhood.

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Running on Change Again

If President Obama’s speech at the National Action Network gala last night is a preview of his reelection campaign, we can expect it to be dismayingly similar to 2008–a lot of vague promises and a few mentions of substantial achievements.

Even though this was the first address to his political base since announcing his candidacy for reelection, Obama spent little time discussing what he has accomplished in office. The president glancingly alluded to Wall Street reform, health care, and Race to the Top, but then told the audience to go to his website for a “long list” of other successes.

Instead, most of his speech consisted of talk about the problems facing America, and reminders that change “comes slowly.”

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If President Obama’s speech at the National Action Network gala last night is a preview of his reelection campaign, we can expect it to be dismayingly similar to 2008–a lot of vague promises and a few mentions of substantial achievements.

Even though this was the first address to his political base since announcing his candidacy for reelection, Obama spent little time discussing what he has accomplished in office. The president glancingly alluded to Wall Street reform, health care, and Race to the Top, but then told the audience to go to his website for a “long list” of other successes.

Instead, most of his speech consisted of talk about the problems facing America, and reminders that change “comes slowly.”

“[T]oo many of our schools are failing our children, too many of our kids are dropping out of school, that’s not a black or white or brown problem—that is an American problem,” said Obama. “We’re going to have to solve that problem.”

America has to “rebuild our crumbling transportation networks with high-speed rail, upgrade our communications networks with high-speed Internet,” he said later.

And how will these problems be tackled, when Obama has yet to keep many of his campaign promises from 2008? Well, the president says we all just need to bear down or work harder or something.

“If we’re serious about opening up opportunity and making sure America prospers in the 21st century, we’re going to have to up our game as a nation,” he said. “Well, we have to do that in classrooms, we have to do that in the workplaces, we’ve got to do that in our communities and our neighborhoods.  Our fathers got to up their games.”

Obama also spent a lot of time trying to rationalize the disconnection between his soaring campaign rhetoric of 2008 and his lack of concrete accomplishments in office.

“So we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet,” he said at one point.  He argued that “some folks have amnesia” about how bad the problems were when he was running for office.

“I told you at the time I wasn’t a perfect person, I wouldn’t be a perfect President, but what I could commit to was always telling you the truth even when it was hard, and I would spend each and every day thinking about you,” said Obama. Americans may be flattered to learn that the president is thinking about them, but most probably expect a little more out of him than that.

Obama concluded by asking the audience to keep hoping for change—and look to him as an example. “I am asking you to draw inspiration from the fact that we know change is possible,” he said. “I am living testament that change is possible.”

While Obama may yearn to recapture the magic of his 2008 campaign, running on “change” is obviously a flawed strategy for such an unaccomplished incumbent.

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The Hilarious and Twisted Politics of the Budget Showdown

This morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, went before the microphones to discuss the negotiations over the budget. He said that he and the Democrats represented by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House had been closer to agreement last night on a measure to forestall the government’s running out of money on Friday than they were this morning

Of course things were better last night. Doubtless polling came in this morning that confirmed the polling that’s already been showing this debate moving in the direction of the Democrats. Though in point of fact the government will only be shut down if Democrats refuse to agree to legislation voted by the Republican House, apparently the American people will be inclined to blame the shutdown on the Republicans. And Democrats know that the activist base of the Republican party already believes the budget cuts Boehner is aiming for—$40 billion—are too low.

It’s a sweet spot for Democrats, in other words. They get to shut down the government and convince the American people that it’s actually the Republicans who are shutting down the government; or they will force the Republicans to move in their direction. The only problem is the government shutdown itself.

This morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, went before the microphones to discuss the negotiations over the budget. He said that he and the Democrats represented by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House had been closer to agreement last night on a measure to forestall the government’s running out of money on Friday than they were this morning

Of course things were better last night. Doubtless polling came in this morning that confirmed the polling that’s already been showing this debate moving in the direction of the Democrats. Though in point of fact the government will only be shut down if Democrats refuse to agree to legislation voted by the Republican House, apparently the American people will be inclined to blame the shutdown on the Republicans. And Democrats know that the activist base of the Republican party already believes the budget cuts Boehner is aiming for—$40 billion—are too low.

It’s a sweet spot for Democrats, in other words. They get to shut down the government and convince the American people that it’s actually the Republicans who are shutting down the government; or they will force the Republicans to move in their direction. The only problem is the government shutdown itself.

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On Not Getting the Concept

The State Department has apparently gotten around to condemning Terry Jones for “the burning of the Holy Koran that occurred several days ago.” Alana has already covered this controversy in a domestic context, especially as regards the spectacle of U.S. lawmakers threatening to hold hearings and pretending that they don’t know the First Amendment exists. Unless they find a “Muslim mob” exception somewhere toward the back of the Constitution, it’s going to be pretty difficult to hold anything but pro forma hearings.

As far as misunderstanding free speech goes, though, U.S. government officials are simply outmatched by our vaunted international partners. For unreflexive sophistry, this statement is almost impossible to beat. On a tour of Mazar-e Sharif, where seven UN workers were killed in rioting last weekend, UN Afghan Mission head Staffan de Mistura told the BBC that the murders

should not deter the UN presence, activities in this country in this delicate and particularly crucial period. . . . I don’t think we should blaming any Afghan for the news, we should blaming the person who has produced the news, in other words the one who burnt the Koran. . . . Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I am pretty sure freedom of speech means exactly the freedom to offend culture, religion, or traditions. It’s difficult to imagine what use it might have except telling someone that his culture, religion, or traditions need to be reevaluated, abandoned, or at the very least excluded as the basis for public policy. Such “offensive” speech is the first step toward prying closely held beliefs away from the institutions that shelter them, which is the prerequisite for a liberal democracy.

There’s an argument to be made that our multinational, transnational, and international allies can’t really make any sense of liberal democracy—and maybe we ought to consider that before we ask for their help in future nation-building projects.

The State Department has apparently gotten around to condemning Terry Jones for “the burning of the Holy Koran that occurred several days ago.” Alana has already covered this controversy in a domestic context, especially as regards the spectacle of U.S. lawmakers threatening to hold hearings and pretending that they don’t know the First Amendment exists. Unless they find a “Muslim mob” exception somewhere toward the back of the Constitution, it’s going to be pretty difficult to hold anything but pro forma hearings.

As far as misunderstanding free speech goes, though, U.S. government officials are simply outmatched by our vaunted international partners. For unreflexive sophistry, this statement is almost impossible to beat. On a tour of Mazar-e Sharif, where seven UN workers were killed in rioting last weekend, UN Afghan Mission head Staffan de Mistura told the BBC that the murders

should not deter the UN presence, activities in this country in this delicate and particularly crucial period. . . . I don’t think we should blaming any Afghan for the news, we should blaming the person who has produced the news, in other words the one who burnt the Koran. . . . Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I am pretty sure freedom of speech means exactly the freedom to offend culture, religion, or traditions. It’s difficult to imagine what use it might have except telling someone that his culture, religion, or traditions need to be reevaluated, abandoned, or at the very least excluded as the basis for public policy. Such “offensive” speech is the first step toward prying closely held beliefs away from the institutions that shelter them, which is the prerequisite for a liberal democracy.

There’s an argument to be made that our multinational, transnational, and international allies can’t really make any sense of liberal democracy—and maybe we ought to consider that before we ask for their help in future nation-building projects.

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Troops May Stay in Iraq Past Deadline, Says Gates

The same week that President Obama broke one major campaign promise, he reminds his base about a previous one he reneged on. Though the president pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of taking office, 47,000 troops still remain in the country, and many will likely stay past the Dec. 31, 2011 final withdrawal date:

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] said…

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

There’s no doubt that the Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay, especially in places like Kirkuk with high ethnic tensions. But more than that, they need the troops to stay. The Iraqi military has purchased American equipment that entails U.S. training and maintenance assistance – and some of that equipment won’t even be delivered until past the withdrawal deadline.

The same week that President Obama broke one major campaign promise, he reminds his base about a previous one he reneged on. Though the president pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of taking office, 47,000 troops still remain in the country, and many will likely stay past the Dec. 31, 2011 final withdrawal date:

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] said…

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

There’s no doubt that the Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay, especially in places like Kirkuk with high ethnic tensions. But more than that, they need the troops to stay. The Iraqi military has purchased American equipment that entails U.S. training and maintenance assistance – and some of that equipment won’t even be delivered until past the withdrawal deadline.

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Keeping the “Greens” Out of Power in Egypt

In the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has the latest report on how the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take advantage of political flux in Egypt to grab power for itself. All indications are that most Egyptians do not want its fundamentalist rule; certainly the primary impetus behind the Tahrir Square protests was not a desire to remake Egypt in Iran’s image.

But the Brotherhood has long been the best-organized non-governmental force in the country and now it is flexing its organizational muscle on behalf of its candidates in upcoming elections which have been scheduled so soon, thanks to a recent referendum on constitutional change, that more liberal leaders will have a hard time organizing their forces.

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In the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has the latest report on how the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take advantage of political flux in Egypt to grab power for itself. All indications are that most Egyptians do not want its fundamentalist rule; certainly the primary impetus behind the Tahrir Square protests was not a desire to remake Egypt in Iran’s image.

But the Brotherhood has long been the best-organized non-governmental force in the country and now it is flexing its organizational muscle on behalf of its candidates in upcoming elections which have been scheduled so soon, thanks to a recent referendum on constitutional change, that more liberal leaders will have a hard time organizing their forces.

Nevertheless, Ignatius notes that “in the weeks since the referendum, the [liberal] activists seem to have gotten a second wind and started forming new parties to compete with the Brotherhood. There’s the Social Democratic Party, which includes pro-democracy organizer Amr Hamzawy; the Egyptian Liberal Party, formed by Naguib Sawiris, the head of the telecommunications giant Orascom; and a leftist group called the Popular Alliance. Many more parties,” Ignatius concludes, “are on the way.”

Those parties need help to compete with the Brotherhood. The question is who will provide it. In recent years American administration have taken the attitude, at least publicly, that it favors elections but will not play favorites in the election process. In Iraq this abdication gave the Iranians and other malign actors free reign to push their favored candidates, leading to a dangerous polarization of politics. It would be tragic to repeat that mistake in Egypt, the biggest and most important Arab state of all.

After World War II, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations did not take the position that they would be happy with Communist Parties coming to power in Western Europe or Japan as long as they did so via the ballot box. Instead they directed the CIA to direct millions of dollars into the coffers of anti-communist parties to allow them to keep the “Reds” out of power. We need a similar policy in Egypt to keep the “Greens” (the Islamists) out of power.

Obviously there are real risks involved. If U.S. financing were uncovered it could lead liberal candidates to be labeled American stooges. But no doubt they will face that charge anyway, whether or not they receive any U.S. support. And there are ways that a competent intelligence organization could use third-party cut-outs (e.g., the Jordanians, Emiratis, or Moroccans) to funnel support without leaving American fingerprints.

The battle for the new Middle East is ongoing. We must not lose out because of our unwillingness to play the game the way our enemies do.

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How to Ramp Up the Pressure on Qaddafi

Chris Chivers is a former Marine officer and an experienced combat correspondent. So his take on the Libyan opposition forces is worth paying attention to. He writes in the New York Times that

by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.

With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in.

Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.

It is no surprise that such ill-organized, badly armed, and undisciplined forces have been unable to drive the Qaddafi loyalists out of most of the cities they have occupied.

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Chris Chivers is a former Marine officer and an experienced combat correspondent. So his take on the Libyan opposition forces is worth paying attention to. He writes in the New York Times that

by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.

With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in.

Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.

It is no surprise that such ill-organized, badly armed, and undisciplined forces have been unable to drive the Qaddafi loyalists out of most of the cities they have occupied.

At the same time the Qaddafi forces are getting savvier about dealing with air bombardment. As another report in the Times notes, “Qaddafi forces are now hiding their troops and weaponry among urban populations and traveling in pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s rather than military vehicles, making them extremely difficult targets.”

All this is fairly predictable and shows the difficulties of trying to dislodge any regime from the air. It is still possible that Qaddafi will accept some kind of deal to leave power, but barring that, we could be in a for a long, costly stalemate.

There are, however, ways to ramp up the pressure. As Fred Kagan argues in the Weekly Standard, airpower could systematically target Qaddafi’s heavy weapons whether or not they are being used in offensive operations. The flow of infantry arms to the rebels could be increased—especially anti-tank weapons. And more of an effort could be made to train the rebel forces and turn them into a more effective army.

CIA officers and British Special Forces are reportedly already on the ground, and no doubt they are already engaged in some of these tasks. But clearly a larger commitment needs to be made—not only to overthrowing the Qaddafi regime but also to ensuring that there will be an organized security force that will be capable afterward of keeping order and warding off the kind of chaos that gripped Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Some will no doubt argue that there is not enough time to train the rebels. At the pace things are going, alas, time may not be in short supply.

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Sullivan: Goldstone Needed Telepathy to Know his Report Was a Blood Libel

Most people, most of the time, reserve their sarcasm for when they’re on fairly solid argumentative ground. Being wrong is one thing. It happens. But strutting around insufferably and then being wrong and then getting called out for it—well, that’s kind of embarrassing. So most writers develop something of a rhetorical sliding scale, from circumspection in domains of uncertainty to confidence in regions of knowledge.

And then there’s Andrew Sullivan. Struggling to cope with Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his September 2009 report on the war in Gaza, he’s taken to inveighing against the “vile neocon media machine” and sneering at opponents. Since he appears to know little about the Report or its background, however, a little stylistic caution might be more appropriate.

A recent Sullivan post examines Goldstone’s “I couldn’t have known” excuse, repeating the familiar complaint that the Israeli government declined to participate in its own lynching. Instead of having a mix of Israeli and Palestinian witnesses, the argument goes, the Goldstone Mission had to take fantastical Palestinian tales at face value. That’s not persuasive to anyone who has studied the Report and its background—more on that in a bit—but Sullivan apparently finds the reasoning impressive and wishes to pass it on to his readers.

Fair enough.

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Most people, most of the time, reserve their sarcasm for when they’re on fairly solid argumentative ground. Being wrong is one thing. It happens. But strutting around insufferably and then being wrong and then getting called out for it—well, that’s kind of embarrassing. So most writers develop something of a rhetorical sliding scale, from circumspection in domains of uncertainty to confidence in regions of knowledge.

And then there’s Andrew Sullivan. Struggling to cope with Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his September 2009 report on the war in Gaza, he’s taken to inveighing against the “vile neocon media machine” and sneering at opponents. Since he appears to know little about the Report or its background, however, a little stylistic caution might be more appropriate.

A recent Sullivan post examines Goldstone’s “I couldn’t have known” excuse, repeating the familiar complaint that the Israeli government declined to participate in its own lynching. Instead of having a mix of Israeli and Palestinian witnesses, the argument goes, the Goldstone Mission had to take fantastical Palestinian tales at face value. That’s not persuasive to anyone who has studied the Report and its background—more on that in a bit—but Sullivan apparently finds the reasoning impressive and wishes to pass it on to his readers.

Fair enough.

But Andrew Sullivan has to know that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t really know anything about the Goldstone Report. He has to know that he’s cribbing from shallow anti-Israel propaganda outlets, since he’s the one who’s doing the cribbing. Shouldn’t his post reflect those limitations, as opposed to whatever this is?

I don’t know how Goldstone could have known these exculpatory details without Israeli cooperation. Telepathy? . . . Beneath the extreme rhetoric, the implication is that Goldstone should have presumed that the awful human toll of the Gaza war—almost entirely on one side—was not a deliberate targeting of civilians to put pressure on Hamas. But his job was to find facts and precisely not to presume anything.

You’d have to be an idiot, in other words, not to recognize that Goldstone couldn’t have known he was peddling a blood libel. How could he have known anything about any incident without the Israeli government’s telling him, after all? Telepathy?

It turns out that there are answers to that question. Sullivan is specifically writing about the Samouni Clan incident, so let’s take that as an example. This one is a favorite of the anti-Israel crowd, covered in paragraphs 704–42 of the Report. Somewhere around 20 members of a family were killed when an Israeli bomb hit the house in which they had taken shelter.

The incident was classified by the Goldstone Report as a “deliberate attack on civilian populations,” and described by Goldstone as “the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on.” The conclusion is premised upon the testimony of Palestinian witnesses who swore there was no fighting in the area; ergo, the Israeli attack must have been deliberate. No attack on civilians, no war crime. The Palestinian witnesses were found to be “credible and reliable.” How could Goldstone possibly have known otherwise, short of telepathy?

Here’s how.

• Goldstone could have looked at reports from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which identified numerous armed clashes around the neighborhood.

• Goldstone could have examined freely accessible Palestinian sources showing that members of the family entering and leaving the house were Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives who were active in the nearby fighting. The PIJ issued statements and posters to that effect.

• Goldstone could have noted that Palestinian testimony was riddled with contradictions about who was attacked, when they were attacked, and where they were attacked—to say nothing of how they were attacked, since the Israelis are at various times supposed to have used shortrange weapons, RPGs, helicopters, and mortars.

• Goldstone could have suspected that Palestinian testimony was on its face too theatrical and staged to be taken seriously. Palestinian witnesses insisted that inter alia IDF soldiers: ordered bleeding Palestinians to “go back to death”; hissed at women that they were “bad Arabs”; riddled a man with bullets as he was docilely handing over his ID; sprayed gunfire into a living room of children; and made “white stuff” come out of a poisoned baby’s mouth. Since Israeli soldiers aren’t comic-book villians, none of that seems especially tenable.

The same dynamic plays out across all the incidents in the Goldstone Report. Anti-Israel partisans usually pretend that there have been no substantive answers to the contents of the Report, ignoring thousands of pages of Israeli pushbacks and the incident-by-incident debunkings that bloggers and activists have compiled at Understanding the Goldstone Report (full disclosure: I’m involved in that project).

Now those partisans have moved on to pretending that Goldstone couldn’t have known that the refutations would forthcoming, since the Israelis didn’t cooperate during the investigation. The new pretense is different than the “no substantive answers” line, but what lacks in unblinking shamelessness Sullivan and his class are trying to make up for with grating condescension. Ambitious.

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Yes, the Boycott of Israel Is Anti-Semitic

There were those who wondered about the wisdom of President Obama’s appointment of Hannah Rosenthal as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Some feared that a person who served as a member of the leftist lobby J Street’s advisory board was ill-equipped to confront the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping through both Europe and the Arab and Islamic world since the focus of most contemporary Jew-haters is the state of Israel.

But while Rosenthal’s speech this past weekend at the launch of a new Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Indiana University fell short of a clear statement that the movement for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, she still enunciated a definition of the term that leaves little room for doubt that it applies to such anti-Israel agitation.

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There were those who wondered about the wisdom of President Obama’s appointment of Hannah Rosenthal as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Some feared that a person who served as a member of the leftist lobby J Street’s advisory board was ill-equipped to confront the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping through both Europe and the Arab and Islamic world since the focus of most contemporary Jew-haters is the state of Israel.

But while Rosenthal’s speech this past weekend at the launch of a new Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Indiana University fell short of a clear statement that the movement for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, she still enunciated a definition of the term that leaves little room for doubt that it applies to such anti-Israel agitation.

Rosenthal acknowledged that it is harder for some to identify anti-Semitism when it exhibits itself as a criticism of Israel which is not anti-Semitic per se. But she took the next logical step, rightly pointing out that “opposition to a policy by the State of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism easily and often.” She then endorsed the framework for identifying anti-Jewish hatred that has been articulated by Natan Sharansky:

When Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is anti-Semitism

Rosenthal explicitly stated that boycotts of Israeli academics are anti-Semitic. But she did not go on to mention BDS, a movement that is widely supported in Europe and is struggling to gain a foothold on university campuses in this country .

However, if the BDS movement is examined dispassionately, according to the criteria laid out by Rosenthal, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is inherently anti-Semitic.

BDS activists regularly demonize Israel as an apartheid state, even though the analogy between an Israel where Arabs exercise full citizenship rights and apartheid South Africa is utterly specious. BDS supporters single out Israel as a human rights violator that must be isolated even though the generally exaggerated and often untrue charges lodged against it are piddling when compared to monstrous crimes being carried out elsewhere in the world in places like Iran, North Korea, and even China. The scale of human rights violations throughout the Arab and Islamic world and in various African and Asian nations are appalling, yet no country but Israel is seen by the anti-Israel left as worthy of their protests—only the world’s one Jewish state. Zionism is the sole national liberation movement in the world to be considered racist. The BDS campaign against Israel is a clear form of delegitimization; it is textbook anti-Semitism.

At Indiana, Rosenthal spoke of American outreach and diplomacy to combat anti-Semitism. And though there was a whiff of political correctness about her remarks, her office’s work is undeniably effective and important. Yet while her activism against all forms of hatred is commendable, it is not enough at this moment in history.

As it happens, the director of the new institute at Indiana University is Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, a distinguished scholar who was widely criticized by liberals for his essential study “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” published in 2006 by the American Jewish Committee. Rosenfeld shined a spotlight on the nexus between the intellectual left and traditional anti-Semitism that has manifested itself as anti-Zionism. The BDS movement is the creature of this unholy alliance.

While generalized condemnations of Jew-hatred are welcome, what is needed most of all is a direct attack on the BDS movement—along the lines set down by Hannah Rosenthal. The propaganda campaign against Israel on university campuses and elsewhere by BDS activists and their leftist allies must be labeled for what it is: the cutting edge of new wave of anti-Semitic incitement.

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