Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 22, 2011

Re: Re: Reflections on Good Friday

I’m about as nonreligious as it is possible to be (my family is nominally Episcopalian—not a demanding faith, to put it mildly—and I was never even confirmed), but I was struck by a sentence in David’s post below. He wrote, “What provokes reflection—at least for this Jew—is the overlapping of the Christian Holy Week with the Jewish Passover.”

There is, of course, a reason for the overlap. The Last Supper was a Seder, so at the Council of Nicea in 325 it was decided that, as Passover falls exactly on the first full moon of spring, Easter would fall on the Sunday following that moon. And so Easter usually falls shortly after Passover. (Because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, what is called an intercalary month is sometimes inserted to bring the calendar back into conformity with astronomical reality. When that happens, Passover can fall after Easter, as it did a few years ago.) So Passover usually falls in Holy Week, the week that precedes Easter.

This all reminds me of a story Oscar Hammerstein told one Easter lunch. Holy Week was notoriously a bad week for box office on Broadway. One year when Passover fell in it, two brothers who were Broadway writers (I forget their names, but they wrote some of the screenplays of the Marx Brothers movies) decided to go to shul. When they walked in, however, they found very few people waiting for the service to begin.

One brother turned to the other and said, “Boy, not much of a house tonight.”

The other brother shrugged his shoulders in a what-do-you-expect? sort of way and said, “Holy Week!”

I’m about as nonreligious as it is possible to be (my family is nominally Episcopalian—not a demanding faith, to put it mildly—and I was never even confirmed), but I was struck by a sentence in David’s post below. He wrote, “What provokes reflection—at least for this Jew—is the overlapping of the Christian Holy Week with the Jewish Passover.”

There is, of course, a reason for the overlap. The Last Supper was a Seder, so at the Council of Nicea in 325 it was decided that, as Passover falls exactly on the first full moon of spring, Easter would fall on the Sunday following that moon. And so Easter usually falls shortly after Passover. (Because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, what is called an intercalary month is sometimes inserted to bring the calendar back into conformity with astronomical reality. When that happens, Passover can fall after Easter, as it did a few years ago.) So Passover usually falls in Holy Week, the week that precedes Easter.

This all reminds me of a story Oscar Hammerstein told one Easter lunch. Holy Week was notoriously a bad week for box office on Broadway. One year when Passover fell in it, two brothers who were Broadway writers (I forget their names, but they wrote some of the screenplays of the Marx Brothers movies) decided to go to shul. When they walked in, however, they found very few people waiting for the service to begin.

One brother turned to the other and said, “Boy, not much of a house tonight.”

The other brother shrugged his shoulders in a what-do-you-expect? sort of way and said, “Holy Week!”

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Re: Reflections on Good Friday

Peter’s reflections on this day, which is holy to Christians, are deeply moving. They are, in fact, a Mere Christianity in fewer than four hundred words.

But of course the Christian meaning of this day cannot be the Jews’. What provokes reflection—at least for this Jew—is the overlapping of the Christian Holy Week with the Jewish Passover. Although it is a welcome relief to know that the “proximity” of the holidays no longer “routinely spark[s] violent anti-Jewish riots and pogroms,” as Diane Cole observed in the Wall Street Journal last week, there is more to the overlap than that. And not even the Christianizing Passover seders held in some churches, rightly characterized by a Methodist pastor quoted by Cole as “replac[ing] the Jewish celebration with a Christian one,” are reason enough to feel apprehensive about the overlap.

Old supersessionist habits die hard. And yet the truth is that much of Christendom has explicitly renounced and condemned its ancient yearning to replace Judaism. Inspired and guided by two monumentally great popes—John Paul II and Benedict XVI—the Church of Rome has officially repudiated anti-Judaism and sought to fashion a new relationship with the Jewish people founded (in John Paul’s words) upon “the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews.”

And not just Rome. The Protestant churches, especially the Evangelical Protestant churches, are increasingly home to dispensationalism, a theology which teaches that God has not revoked his promises to Israel and indeed could not revoke them (“God is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change his mind” [Num 23.19]). For many Evangelical Christians—perhaps most—the “old” covenant remains in effect, now and for all time. Christianity does not supersede Judaism, but adds to it.

For this Jew at least, then, the coincidence of Passover and Holy Week is occasion to celebrate the abandonment of old claims, the discarding of old grievances, the growing closeness between Christians and Jews. The significance of the holidays may differ (Christians are reminded this week, in Peter’s words, that “there is truth and hope beyond this world,” while Jews celebrate, as Michael Medved put it in his article in COMMENTARY this month, not so much the “freedom from slavery” as the “freedom to serve God and to follow his law”), but the holidays embody a common spiritual heritage.

What might also be recognized at this season is that Christians and Jews are no longer enemies, but the intended victims of a new enemy who is common to both.

Peter’s reflections on this day, which is holy to Christians, are deeply moving. They are, in fact, a Mere Christianity in fewer than four hundred words.

But of course the Christian meaning of this day cannot be the Jews’. What provokes reflection—at least for this Jew—is the overlapping of the Christian Holy Week with the Jewish Passover. Although it is a welcome relief to know that the “proximity” of the holidays no longer “routinely spark[s] violent anti-Jewish riots and pogroms,” as Diane Cole observed in the Wall Street Journal last week, there is more to the overlap than that. And not even the Christianizing Passover seders held in some churches, rightly characterized by a Methodist pastor quoted by Cole as “replac[ing] the Jewish celebration with a Christian one,” are reason enough to feel apprehensive about the overlap.

Old supersessionist habits die hard. And yet the truth is that much of Christendom has explicitly renounced and condemned its ancient yearning to replace Judaism. Inspired and guided by two monumentally great popes—John Paul II and Benedict XVI—the Church of Rome has officially repudiated anti-Judaism and sought to fashion a new relationship with the Jewish people founded (in John Paul’s words) upon “the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews.”

And not just Rome. The Protestant churches, especially the Evangelical Protestant churches, are increasingly home to dispensationalism, a theology which teaches that God has not revoked his promises to Israel and indeed could not revoke them (“God is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change his mind” [Num 23.19]). For many Evangelical Christians—perhaps most—the “old” covenant remains in effect, now and for all time. Christianity does not supersede Judaism, but adds to it.

For this Jew at least, then, the coincidence of Passover and Holy Week is occasion to celebrate the abandonment of old claims, the discarding of old grievances, the growing closeness between Christians and Jews. The significance of the holidays may differ (Christians are reminded this week, in Peter’s words, that “there is truth and hope beyond this world,” while Jews celebrate, as Michael Medved put it in his article in COMMENTARY this month, not so much the “freedom from slavery” as the “freedom to serve God and to follow his law”), but the holidays embody a common spiritual heritage.

What might also be recognized at this season is that Christians and Jews are no longer enemies, but the intended victims of a new enemy who is common to both.

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The President Will Visit Libyan Rebel Stronghold

That would be the president of France:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed in principle with Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council to travel to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a top presidential aide said Friday.

Although Sarkozy has informed the opposition group, the timing of the visit and other details need to be worked out and the trip is not imminent, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

France has become the free world’s boldest pro-democracy intervention force and the U.S. now stands as the only advanced Western country to reject austerity in favor of the Euro-style entitlement state. What amazes me are the people who continue to criticize Barack Obama for not being serious about change.

That would be the president of France:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed in principle with Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council to travel to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a top presidential aide said Friday.

Although Sarkozy has informed the opposition group, the timing of the visit and other details need to be worked out and the trip is not imminent, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

France has become the free world’s boldest pro-democracy intervention force and the U.S. now stands as the only advanced Western country to reject austerity in favor of the Euro-style entitlement state. What amazes me are the people who continue to criticize Barack Obama for not being serious about change.

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A Bloody Day in Syria

As expected, the lifting of the emergency law in Syria hasn’t deterred government crackdowns on protesters. Today was the bloodiest day since the uprisings began in Syria, with probably dozens killed after Bashar al-Assad’s forces opened fire on crowds of demonstrators. The Guardian reported:

Although firm information was difficult to obtain, at least 49 people were reported killed, including two in Douma, at least one in Homs, at least six in the southern town of Izraa, and others in Moudamiya, outside Damascus, the activists said. With more casualties being reported by the hour, there were fears the final toll may be significantly higher.

As Max wrote yesterday, the Obama administration’s response to the violence in Syria has been curiously demure. Such coyness can’t continue, not after this latest clash. At the very least we should be thinking about recalling the ambassador we sent to Syria, since his presence there obviously hasn’t done any good. But there are many other steps we can take, short of military intervention, that would help encourage the protesters and put more pressure on Assad. Sitting on our hands is no longer an option.

Update: Quoting Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah, Reuters is now reporting that the death toll in Syrian demonstrations today has risen to 70.

As expected, the lifting of the emergency law in Syria hasn’t deterred government crackdowns on protesters. Today was the bloodiest day since the uprisings began in Syria, with probably dozens killed after Bashar al-Assad’s forces opened fire on crowds of demonstrators. The Guardian reported:

Although firm information was difficult to obtain, at least 49 people were reported killed, including two in Douma, at least one in Homs, at least six in the southern town of Izraa, and others in Moudamiya, outside Damascus, the activists said. With more casualties being reported by the hour, there were fears the final toll may be significantly higher.

As Max wrote yesterday, the Obama administration’s response to the violence in Syria has been curiously demure. Such coyness can’t continue, not after this latest clash. At the very least we should be thinking about recalling the ambassador we sent to Syria, since his presence there obviously hasn’t done any good. But there are many other steps we can take, short of military intervention, that would help encourage the protesters and put more pressure on Assad. Sitting on our hands is no longer an option.

Update: Quoting Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah, Reuters is now reporting that the death toll in Syrian demonstrations today has risen to 70.

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Reflections on Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. It is, in many respects, quite an odd event to commemorate: the agonizing death of one whom people of the Christian faith believe to be the Son of God. But this turns out to be consistent with a thread within Christianity that has captured my imagination ever since I embraced it.

In many respects the Christian faith is an inversion of much of what the world celebrates. The last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Love rather than hate your enemies. Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth. A great persecutor of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus, became his greatest defender (Paul). And then there is Jesus, who was born not to high privilege in Rome but in a manger in Bethlehem, who sweat drops of blood at Gethsemane, and who died on a cross on Golgotha after being disowned by his disciples. He came not to rule but to serve. Among his last words were “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”

And yet this story, which runs against the grain of so much of what the world bestows worth on, has touched the hearts of people for two thousand years—in part, I think, because many of us believe there is truth and hope beyond this world, which is disordered in so many ways; in part because the idea of the perfect sacrificing for the imperfect isn’t offensive but a sublime demonstration of love; and in part because the road that leads through suffering ends in glory.

There is a terrific and never-ending power in the drama of this story, in the incarnation, and in being citizens of a City of God which human beings did not build and cannot destroy and which is everlasting.

So much of what we deal with in life are mere shadows; for many of us this day, and the Sunday that follows, is about reality, about grace and mercy, and about the reconciliation of God and man. That is why it has such a hold on our hearts.

Today is Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. It is, in many respects, quite an odd event to commemorate: the agonizing death of one whom people of the Christian faith believe to be the Son of God. But this turns out to be consistent with a thread within Christianity that has captured my imagination ever since I embraced it.

In many respects the Christian faith is an inversion of much of what the world celebrates. The last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Love rather than hate your enemies. Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth. A great persecutor of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus, became his greatest defender (Paul). And then there is Jesus, who was born not to high privilege in Rome but in a manger in Bethlehem, who sweat drops of blood at Gethsemane, and who died on a cross on Golgotha after being disowned by his disciples. He came not to rule but to serve. Among his last words were “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”

And yet this story, which runs against the grain of so much of what the world bestows worth on, has touched the hearts of people for two thousand years—in part, I think, because many of us believe there is truth and hope beyond this world, which is disordered in so many ways; in part because the idea of the perfect sacrificing for the imperfect isn’t offensive but a sublime demonstration of love; and in part because the road that leads through suffering ends in glory.

There is a terrific and never-ending power in the drama of this story, in the incarnation, and in being citizens of a City of God which human beings did not build and cannot destroy and which is everlasting.

So much of what we deal with in life are mere shadows; for many of us this day, and the Sunday that follows, is about reality, about grace and mercy, and about the reconciliation of God and man. That is why it has such a hold on our hearts.

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The Reality of Campus Anti-Semitism

Should the federal government intervene when an American university permits its campus to become unsafe for Jews? When the prevailing atmosphere on campus is hatred against Israel and all things associated with the Jewish people?

After a long and involved debate, the Obama administration finally did the right thing last October and stated definitively that such conduct is impermissible at institutions that receive federal funding. While that ruling, which was prompted by an epidemic of anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine, ought to have been welcomed by both academia and the organized Jewish world, it has now been challenged by the American Association of University Professors. In a newsletter on the AAUP website, Cary Nelson (the association’s president) and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee contend that recent events on American university campuses—at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Rutgers in addition to Irvine—do not rise to the level of a “working definition” of anti-Semitism. Calls for redress by Jewish students and professors are nothing more, they conclude, than an unscrupulous effort to “censor anti-Israel remarks.”

But Nelson and Stern are wrong both about the situation on campus. And they are wrong about the motivations of those whose activism led the U.S. Department of Education to issue its ruling.

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Should the federal government intervene when an American university permits its campus to become unsafe for Jews? When the prevailing atmosphere on campus is hatred against Israel and all things associated with the Jewish people?

After a long and involved debate, the Obama administration finally did the right thing last October and stated definitively that such conduct is impermissible at institutions that receive federal funding. While that ruling, which was prompted by an epidemic of anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine, ought to have been welcomed by both academia and the organized Jewish world, it has now been challenged by the American Association of University Professors. In a newsletter on the AAUP website, Cary Nelson (the association’s president) and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee contend that recent events on American university campuses—at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Rutgers in addition to Irvine—do not rise to the level of a “working definition” of anti-Semitism. Calls for redress by Jewish students and professors are nothing more, they conclude, than an unscrupulous effort to “censor anti-Israel remarks.”

But Nelson and Stern are wrong both about the situation on campus. And they are wrong about the motivations of those whose activism led the U.S. Department of Education to issue its ruling.

Last September, one month before the ruling was issued, COMMENTARY published Kenneth L. Marcus’s essay “A Blind Eye to Anti-Semitism,” a thoughtful examination of the sordid goings on at the Cal-Irvine and the halting steps taken toward combating the epidemic of anti-Semitic acts that had taken place there. The former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Marcus detailed not only the unhappy story of how the university had failed to protect Jewish students, but also set forth the legal rationale for the federal government ’s intervention. He pointed out that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally funded universities and public schools. Although it has been argued that laws banning racism do not apply to Jews (who are not a race but a people), Marcus rejoined persuasively that, in addition to being a religion, Judaism is a group identity that involves more than adherence to a faith.

Contrary to Nelson and Stern, what is happening on campus isn’t merely the free exchange of ideas about Israeli policies. As Marcus wrote:

There, on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, and targeted by rock-throwing groups and individuals. Jewish property was defaced with swastikas, and a Holocaust memorial was vandalized. Signs were posted on campus showing a Star of David dripping with blood. Jews were chastised for arrogance by public speakers whose appearance at the institution was subsidized by the university. They were called “dirty Jew” and “fucking Jew,” told to “go back to Russia” and “burn in hell,” and heard other students and visitors to the campus urge one another to “slaughter the Jews.” One Jewish student who wore a pin bearing the flags of the United States and Israel was told to “take off that pin or we’ll beat your ass.” Another was told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind” and “Jews should be finished off in the ovens.”

The result of these incidents was that Jewish students rightly feared the consequences of speaking up in opposition to this spirit of intolerance. While it may be held that the university should have been able to handle this problem without federal intervention, the truth is that the school did nothing. Cal-Irvine officials reacted to complaints with indifference or without urgency. The Jewish community was left with little choice but to resort to legal complaints seeking to compel the government to enforce the law against discrimination. It is very much to the credit of the Zionist Organization of America that it championed this cause.

Although Nelson and Stern wrongly treat the students complaints as if they were trivial, they also claim that the resort to the law harms the cause of fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Government intervention shifts the discussion, they believe, from opposing bigotry to protecting free speech.

Anti-Semites will howl that they are being repressed if they are prevented from spreading hatred for Jews on university campuses. No question about it. But those who preach hatred for African-Americans could make the same argument. Even to ask whether Nelson or Stern would be okay with the Ku Klux Klan’s holding officially sanctioned forums at federally-funded schools, however, is to answer the question.

Nelson and Stern go on to compare the warnings about campus anti-Semitism to the debate over immigration laws. But the comparison is just as specious. There is, after all, a clear distinction between advocating enforcement of existing laws against illegal immigration and broadcasting anti-Hispanic hate, even if the distinction is often erased in the heat of debate. No one is calling for Israel’s critics to be barred from campus. Harassing Jews in classrooms and public spaces as well as holding authorized campus events whose purpose is to promote the delegitimization of the Jewish people, however, crosses the line from unpleasant speech to an illegal promotion of violence.

The atmosphere of hatred created at Cal-Irvine in 2003 and 2004 and now being duplicated at other American universities stands as a watershed event in the history of the movement to defame Zionism and the Jews. At a time when this pernicious movement tries to flood into America through the classroom door, it is more important than ever that decent people speak out against the rising tide of international anti-Semitism. When universities fail to restrain the haters, it is up to the government to treat Jew-hatred no differently than it would bigotry against any other minority group. No matter what the AAUP says.

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Most Inept Protest Chant of All Time

Many have noted that the anti-war movement has pretty much evaporated under President Obama, but this takes it to a whole new level of pathetic. At a fundraising dinner in San Francisco, protesters decried the administration’s alleged “mistreatment” of Bradley Manning, but quickly reassured Obama that there would be no political fallout for Democrats. Here is the actual protest chant:

Alone in a six-by-12 cell sits Bradley; 23 hours a day is night; the fifth and eights Amendments say this kind of thing ain’t right. . . . I paid my dues, where’s our change? . . . We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true; look at the Republicans—what else can we do?

Even the most ardent national security hawks are probably shaking their heads in disgust at the anti-war crowd’s lack of backbone. And this took place in San Francisco, no less. Remember the kind of reception President Bush used to get in San Francisco?

This is further evidence (if further evidence is needed) that the anti-war movement was little more than a partisan anti-Bush movement. Obama has continued most of Bush’s counterterrorism tactics, increased AfPak drone strikes, kept open Guantanamo Bay, sent the U.S. into a war in Libya and tinkered with Miranda rights for terrorists. And yet no massive anti-war protests greet him in California, nobody burns him in effigy, nobody chants that he’s “the real terrorist.” Expect the anti-war movement to wake up shortly after a Republican president takes office again. Perhaps even in January 2013.

Many have noted that the anti-war movement has pretty much evaporated under President Obama, but this takes it to a whole new level of pathetic. At a fundraising dinner in San Francisco, protesters decried the administration’s alleged “mistreatment” of Bradley Manning, but quickly reassured Obama that there would be no political fallout for Democrats. Here is the actual protest chant:

Alone in a six-by-12 cell sits Bradley; 23 hours a day is night; the fifth and eights Amendments say this kind of thing ain’t right. . . . I paid my dues, where’s our change? . . . We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true; look at the Republicans—what else can we do?

Even the most ardent national security hawks are probably shaking their heads in disgust at the anti-war crowd’s lack of backbone. And this took place in San Francisco, no less. Remember the kind of reception President Bush used to get in San Francisco?

This is further evidence (if further evidence is needed) that the anti-war movement was little more than a partisan anti-Bush movement. Obama has continued most of Bush’s counterterrorism tactics, increased AfPak drone strikes, kept open Guantanamo Bay, sent the U.S. into a war in Libya and tinkered with Miranda rights for terrorists. And yet no massive anti-war protests greet him in California, nobody burns him in effigy, nobody chants that he’s “the real terrorist.” Expect the anti-war movement to wake up shortly after a Republican president takes office again. Perhaps even in January 2013.

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Who Is Radical on the Budget, Who Is Not

The economist John Taylor offers several useful empirical points in today’s Wall Street Journal:

(1) In 2000 spending was 18.2 percent of GDP. In 2007 it was 19.6 percent. And in the three years since 2009 it’s jumped to an average of 24.4 percent.

(2) President Obama’s budget, submitted in February, would lock in this unsustainable spending (it would be more than 24 percent of GDP at the end of the budget window in 2021).

(3) The House budget plan proposed by Representative Paul Ryan simply removes the Obama spending binge, gradually returning spending as a share of GDP back to a level seen only three years ago.

The reason this data is important is because they reveal, when it comes to the budget debate, just who is radical (President Obama) and who is not (House Republicans). The point the GOP needs to make again and again is that it is looking only to restore things to their fiscal norm after the dangerous and anomalous Obama years.

The economist John Taylor offers several useful empirical points in today’s Wall Street Journal:

(1) In 2000 spending was 18.2 percent of GDP. In 2007 it was 19.6 percent. And in the three years since 2009 it’s jumped to an average of 24.4 percent.

(2) President Obama’s budget, submitted in February, would lock in this unsustainable spending (it would be more than 24 percent of GDP at the end of the budget window in 2021).

(3) The House budget plan proposed by Representative Paul Ryan simply removes the Obama spending binge, gradually returning spending as a share of GDP back to a level seen only three years ago.

The reason this data is important is because they reveal, when it comes to the budget debate, just who is radical (President Obama) and who is not (House Republicans). The point the GOP needs to make again and again is that it is looking only to restore things to their fiscal norm after the dangerous and anomalous Obama years.

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After Qaddafi

Michael Chertoff and Michael Hayden—a former secretary of homeland security and a former CIA and NSA director, respectively—raise an important point in this Washington Post op-ed. It’s a question I’ve also been harping on: what happens in Libya after Qaddafi’s eventual downfall?

Much of the attention now is focused, understandably enough, on how to get rid of the good colonel. But Chertoff and Hayden rightly caution us to think through post-Qaddafi scenarios, including some that are not so pretty:

We must acknowledge the real possibility that Gaddafi’s departure will be followed by continued violent resistance carried out by his supporters or bloody score-settling by the victorious rebels. The staying power of Gaddafi’s forces a month after the NATO intervention began suggests that the current fight, largely seen as democrat vs. oppressor, might have a darker tribal underlay. And with arms now generally available because of the weapons caches that both sides have accessed, a tribal-based round two could be dark indeed.

Their conclusion is incontestable: “Whatever one’s view about the wisdom of embarking on our coalition effort in Libya, prudence suggests we begin serious planning about what happens when we win—including what effort and resources and time will be required.”

I would go even further than this. First, we need to do more to train the rebels so that they can take over security after Qaddafi is gone. And second, we need to start preparing to send in a peacekeeping force, preferably under the joint auspices of the UN, NATO, the African Union, and the Arab League, to ensure that Libya’s transition is orderly and stable. Those suggestions may seem too ambitious given the minimalist approach in Washington towards the Libyan intervention. But we need to take those ideas seriously or else we run the risk of another Somalia or Iraq emerging after the eventual downfall of the current dictator.

Michael Chertoff and Michael Hayden—a former secretary of homeland security and a former CIA and NSA director, respectively—raise an important point in this Washington Post op-ed. It’s a question I’ve also been harping on: what happens in Libya after Qaddafi’s eventual downfall?

Much of the attention now is focused, understandably enough, on how to get rid of the good colonel. But Chertoff and Hayden rightly caution us to think through post-Qaddafi scenarios, including some that are not so pretty:

We must acknowledge the real possibility that Gaddafi’s departure will be followed by continued violent resistance carried out by his supporters or bloody score-settling by the victorious rebels. The staying power of Gaddafi’s forces a month after the NATO intervention began suggests that the current fight, largely seen as democrat vs. oppressor, might have a darker tribal underlay. And with arms now generally available because of the weapons caches that both sides have accessed, a tribal-based round two could be dark indeed.

Their conclusion is incontestable: “Whatever one’s view about the wisdom of embarking on our coalition effort in Libya, prudence suggests we begin serious planning about what happens when we win—including what effort and resources and time will be required.”

I would go even further than this. First, we need to do more to train the rebels so that they can take over security after Qaddafi is gone. And second, we need to start preparing to send in a peacekeeping force, preferably under the joint auspices of the UN, NATO, the African Union, and the Arab League, to ensure that Libya’s transition is orderly and stable. Those suggestions may seem too ambitious given the minimalist approach in Washington towards the Libyan intervention. But we need to take those ideas seriously or else we run the risk of another Somalia or Iraq emerging after the eventual downfall of the current dictator.

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More Ethics Revelations for Ensign?

Sen. John Ensign has announced his resignation from office, in the face of an ethics probe. Dean Heller, a Republican, is likely to be appointed to his seat, but after repeated assertions from Ensign that he’d finish out his term, many are wondering what prompted the change of heart.

There’s been a lot of speculation that the Ethics committee has uncovered more embarrassing information about Ensign’s possibly illegal political activities in the wake of an extramarital affair with a former staffer’s wife. And while many are saying that Ensign’s resignation will ensure that these potential revelations don’t go public, the New York Times Caucus blog is reporting that the information may still be released:

Technically, once Mr. Ensign formally resigns — which is scheduled to take place on May 3—the Senate Ethics Committee can no longer take disciplinary action against him, and it must wrap up its investigation. But nothing prevents the committee from deciding to release a statement of some kind that details what it has found. It also could still refer the matter to the Department of Justice.

The slightly cryptic statement released from the ethics committee yesterday also indicates that it isn’t ready to drop the case yet.

“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion,” the statement said. “Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.”

The ethics committee has recently increased the intensity of its investigation, reportedly hiring new outside counsel.

“[E]xpect to hear a bit more — and it could be soon — about just what the Senate Ethics Committee discovered,” writes the Caucus blog.

The good news for Senate Republicans is that they probably won’t have to worry about the political ramifications of this information, now that Ensign will be stepping down.

Sen. John Ensign has announced his resignation from office, in the face of an ethics probe. Dean Heller, a Republican, is likely to be appointed to his seat, but after repeated assertions from Ensign that he’d finish out his term, many are wondering what prompted the change of heart.

There’s been a lot of speculation that the Ethics committee has uncovered more embarrassing information about Ensign’s possibly illegal political activities in the wake of an extramarital affair with a former staffer’s wife. And while many are saying that Ensign’s resignation will ensure that these potential revelations don’t go public, the New York Times Caucus blog is reporting that the information may still be released:

Technically, once Mr. Ensign formally resigns — which is scheduled to take place on May 3—the Senate Ethics Committee can no longer take disciplinary action against him, and it must wrap up its investigation. But nothing prevents the committee from deciding to release a statement of some kind that details what it has found. It also could still refer the matter to the Department of Justice.

The slightly cryptic statement released from the ethics committee yesterday also indicates that it isn’t ready to drop the case yet.

“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion,” the statement said. “Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.”

The ethics committee has recently increased the intensity of its investigation, reportedly hiring new outside counsel.

“[E]xpect to hear a bit more — and it could be soon — about just what the Senate Ethics Committee discovered,” writes the Caucus blog.

The good news for Senate Republicans is that they probably won’t have to worry about the political ramifications of this information, now that Ensign will be stepping down.

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If the UN Recognizes Palestine’s Independence, What Next?

The intellectual and diplomatic community that embraces UN resolutions as the end-all and be-all of international law often applauds the UN’s pronouncements on popular issues, but ignores the downside of precedent.

For example, so-called proponents of international law decried that the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal absent a second Security Council resolution. Yet, by articulating that argument despite the open-ended Security Council Resolutions from 1990 and 1991, they in effect created a precedent that Security Council Resolutions expire after 13 years.

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The intellectual and diplomatic community that embraces UN resolutions as the end-all and be-all of international law often applauds the UN’s pronouncements on popular issues, but ignores the downside of precedent.

For example, so-called proponents of international law decried that the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal absent a second Security Council resolution. Yet, by articulating that argument despite the open-ended Security Council Resolutions from 1990 and 1991, they in effect created a precedent that Security Council Resolutions expire after 13 years.

Likewise, when Mary Robinson and her cohorts on the Human Right Commission voted on April 15, 2002, to condone suicide bombings as a legitimate means to establish Palestinian statehood, they created a precedent that legitimized suicide terrorism everywhere, from the Tamil jungles to Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Now, it looks like the United Nations might not only recognize Palestinian statehood in September, but also recognize an imposed solution not only on the West Bank and Gaza, but on very much disputed land in and around Jerusalem. Never mind that there has never before been a Palestinian state and that such a unilateral decision will simply encourage resolution of disputes by terrorism and not by a diplomatic process. The question for the international community should be where will this precedent lead?

Certainly, the Kurds throughout southeastern Turkey see parallels. Perhaps the European Union will finally embrace Turkey, but only after dismantling much of its territory. Maybe at some point, the Islamic bloc—upset at Canada’s embrace of free speech against the Organization of Islamic Conference’s efforts to criminalize criticism of Islamist extremism—will team up with Quebecois separatists and vote to recognize Quebec. Islamists upset with Denmark over cartoons?  Time to agitate for Greenland’s independence.  Forget the Dayton Accords and Bosnia’s stability: It’s time for the Republic Srpska to go its own way and if Europeans don’t see the Bosnian Serbs’ logic, perhaps they can be convinced by some bombs in cafes and train stations.  Iran will certainly vote for Palestine, but is it prepared for Saudi Arabia to recognize Sistan va Balochestan?  Had this precedent already been established during the Iran-Iraq War, perhaps the Arab bloc would have recognized Khuzistan as “Arabistan,” just as Saddam Hussein had wanted.

Bernard Lewis once pointed out that if the UN applied the same definition of refugees upon those uprooted by India’s partition that it does to Palestinians, there would be 140 million refugees in South Asia. Time for unilateral recognition of Kashmir or its award to Pakistan? As India grows more prosperous, many countries seeking to weaken the new economic superpower will have interest in instigating separatist movements in the world’s largest democracy and, with a UN majority, these retrograde countries could theoretically be victorious.

The United Nations – with quiet European encouragement and not-so quiet Islamic bloc encouragement – is about to unleash an avalanche. The only question is how many will die in the terrorism they will unleash and conflicts they will spark.

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More Polls, More Bad News for Obama

According to the most recent New York Times/CBS poll, Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession. The poll “presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.”

No kidding. The survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped a staggering 13 percentage points in just one month.

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According to the most recent New York Times/CBS poll, Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession. The poll “presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.”

No kidding. The survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped a staggering 13 percentage points in just one month.

As for President Obama, disapproval of his handling of the economy is at an all-time high for a New York Times/CBS poll (57 percent), while a similar percentage disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling the federal budget deficit. And support for Obama’s handling of the military campaign in Libya is collapsing; only 39 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. (In a CBS poll in March, 50 percent approved and 29 percent disapproved.

Displeasure with Congress is even higher than it is for Obama (75 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job). It needs to be said that it isn’t unusual for Congress as an institution to be much lower than the presidency.

When you combine this poll with other recent ones, it’s clear that the nation is deeply uneasy about the direction of the nation and quite unhappy with our political class. Call it a malaise of sorts. This isn’t good news for anyone — but the news is most threatening to Mr. Obama. As president, the public will judge him, more than any other figure, for the condition of the country. Fairly or not, what happens on the president’s watch is credited (or discredited) to him.

The other danger for Obama is that the news on the economy has been awful to mediocre for the entire Obama presidency; it’s the “new normal” of the Obama era. That means, I think, that the negative impressions of Obama on the economy will harden sooner than they would if his presidency had some encouraging moments to point to. For the most part it doesn’t.

Mr. Obama hasn’t run out of time yet — but he has less time than he thinks to reshape the public’s increasingly negative impression of him and his stewardship.

Right now he’s viewed largely as a failure, often inept and not up to the job, and the American people tend not to grant second terms to presidents they view as failures.


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The Two-Year Strategy

President Obama has not yet found his voice on Syria; he has not articulated a consistent goal in Libya; he is so quiet about Iran you can almost hear the centrifuges spin. But he is apparently preparing to offer a Middle East peace plan—a move reportedly opposed by his Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross. 

Aaron David Miller writes that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are ready for a peace agreement and that Washington cannot do much about it. So why lay out American views on final status issues when “there is no chance of actual negotiations”? Miller says the “gambit isn’t about getting the two sides to the table soon; it’s about regime change in Israel”—that’s the “unstated goal.”

If there is a coherent Middle East strategy in there somewhere, it is hard to discern.

Earlier this year, the president reportedly told Mahmoud Abbas there would be “repercussions” if the Palestinians did not withdraw their draft UN resolution on Israeli settlements. The Palestinians proceeded anyway and the administration turned around to deliver the harshest U.S. condemnation of Israeli settlements ever made at the UN. The Palestinians are now planning another UN resolution and the “repercussion” may be a U.S. peace plan designed to pressure Israel.

The day before his first meeting with President Obama in 2009, Abbas disclosed his strategy to the Washington Post: he planned to make no concessions at all but sit back and watch the U.S. squeeze Benjamin Netanyahu from office—a process one of his officials thought would “take a couple of years.” If Miller’s analysis is correct, the coming U.S. peace plan would appear to be the strategy’s reward.  

President Obama has not yet found his voice on Syria; he has not articulated a consistent goal in Libya; he is so quiet about Iran you can almost hear the centrifuges spin. But he is apparently preparing to offer a Middle East peace plan—a move reportedly opposed by his Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross. 

Aaron David Miller writes that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are ready for a peace agreement and that Washington cannot do much about it. So why lay out American views on final status issues when “there is no chance of actual negotiations”? Miller says the “gambit isn’t about getting the two sides to the table soon; it’s about regime change in Israel”—that’s the “unstated goal.”

If there is a coherent Middle East strategy in there somewhere, it is hard to discern.

Earlier this year, the president reportedly told Mahmoud Abbas there would be “repercussions” if the Palestinians did not withdraw their draft UN resolution on Israeli settlements. The Palestinians proceeded anyway and the administration turned around to deliver the harshest U.S. condemnation of Israeli settlements ever made at the UN. The Palestinians are now planning another UN resolution and the “repercussion” may be a U.S. peace plan designed to pressure Israel.

The day before his first meeting with President Obama in 2009, Abbas disclosed his strategy to the Washington Post: he planned to make no concessions at all but sit back and watch the U.S. squeeze Benjamin Netanyahu from office—a process one of his officials thought would “take a couple of years.” If Miller’s analysis is correct, the coming U.S. peace plan would appear to be the strategy’s reward.  

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What’s Wrong with Armenia?

Every year, efforts by the Armenian Diaspora in the United States to win formal Congressional and Presidential recognition of the Armenian Genocide culminate on April 24, the date Armenians mark as their Genocide Remembrance Day. It’s a hot-button issue which historians still debate. Genocide scholars and Armenian historians declare that deliberate genocide occurred, while many Turkish historians and Ottoman specialists question argue that Ottoman officials did not conduct premeditated genocide, but rather that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in the fog of war. Regardless, the deaths of so many are a tragedy, and one that should not be forgotten. Still, questions and aspersions of denial and negation will only be settled when both the Turks and Armenians open their archives to everyone without regard to nationality or ethnicity.

I do not deny the sensitivity of the genocide issue, but Armenian American organizations are doing both themselves and U.S. national security a disservice by making the genocide issue the community’s marquee issue. History must be respected, but the future is as important as the past—if not more so. To the present day, Turkey and Armenia remain adversaries. Traditionally, the American alliance with Turkey has driven a wedge between Washington and Yerevan. Sadly, Armenia remains largely antagonistic to the United States. In 2009, Armenia voted with the United States on important issues at the United Nations less than half the time; In contrast, Israel voted with the United States 100% of the time.

Armenia has also embraced Iran to the detriment of U.S. interests and security. Armenia has even reportedly supplied Iran with weapons, which the Islamic Republic used to kill Americans.

It is long past time for Armenian organizations in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them to demand change in Armenian behavior. By ignoring Armenia’s orientation, the Armenian American community squanders an unprecedented opportunity to build a true partnership. Turkey has transformed from an ally into an adversary. From a strictly realist perspective, never before have the constellations oriented in such a favorable way to make the United States receptive to Armenia, should Armenia seize the opportunity. Yet the Armenian community in the United States appears asleep at the switch. It need not drop its interest in the genocide resolution, but it might nevertheless prioritize strengthening the diplomatic and strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan. That partnership, however, will not develop if the Armenian Diaspora cannot convince its cousins in the Armenian homeland that a successful Armenian state could be a military, security, economic, and diplomatic partner to the United States—not a proxy for Iran or a puppet to Russia. Perhaps it’s time for the good Congressmen and Congresswomen from California and New Jersey to push back the next time Armenian lobbyists come knocking on their doors.

Every year, efforts by the Armenian Diaspora in the United States to win formal Congressional and Presidential recognition of the Armenian Genocide culminate on April 24, the date Armenians mark as their Genocide Remembrance Day. It’s a hot-button issue which historians still debate. Genocide scholars and Armenian historians declare that deliberate genocide occurred, while many Turkish historians and Ottoman specialists question argue that Ottoman officials did not conduct premeditated genocide, but rather that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in the fog of war. Regardless, the deaths of so many are a tragedy, and one that should not be forgotten. Still, questions and aspersions of denial and negation will only be settled when both the Turks and Armenians open their archives to everyone without regard to nationality or ethnicity.

I do not deny the sensitivity of the genocide issue, but Armenian American organizations are doing both themselves and U.S. national security a disservice by making the genocide issue the community’s marquee issue. History must be respected, but the future is as important as the past—if not more so. To the present day, Turkey and Armenia remain adversaries. Traditionally, the American alliance with Turkey has driven a wedge between Washington and Yerevan. Sadly, Armenia remains largely antagonistic to the United States. In 2009, Armenia voted with the United States on important issues at the United Nations less than half the time; In contrast, Israel voted with the United States 100% of the time.

Armenia has also embraced Iran to the detriment of U.S. interests and security. Armenia has even reportedly supplied Iran with weapons, which the Islamic Republic used to kill Americans.

It is long past time for Armenian organizations in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them to demand change in Armenian behavior. By ignoring Armenia’s orientation, the Armenian American community squanders an unprecedented opportunity to build a true partnership. Turkey has transformed from an ally into an adversary. From a strictly realist perspective, never before have the constellations oriented in such a favorable way to make the United States receptive to Armenia, should Armenia seize the opportunity. Yet the Armenian community in the United States appears asleep at the switch. It need not drop its interest in the genocide resolution, but it might nevertheless prioritize strengthening the diplomatic and strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan. That partnership, however, will not develop if the Armenian Diaspora cannot convince its cousins in the Armenian homeland that a successful Armenian state could be a military, security, economic, and diplomatic partner to the United States—not a proxy for Iran or a puppet to Russia. Perhaps it’s time for the good Congressmen and Congresswomen from California and New Jersey to push back the next time Armenian lobbyists come knocking on their doors.

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