Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 12, 2011

Frontrunner? There’s No Real Top Tier of GOP Candidates

As I anticipated yesterday, Mitt Romney doubled down on RomneyCare in his speech this afternoon in Michigan. The former governor and his staff clearly came to the conclusion that retreat from the legislation he pushed through the Massachusetts legislature was impossible. The only way he thought he could deal with the dilemma of having backed a bill that bears a close resemblance to the Obamacare that Republicans hate was to pretend that it was different and to insist that all he had done was in the best interests of his state. To declare otherwise, “wouldn’t be honest.”

This stance may reflect his sincere belief, but as the overwhelming body of conservative opinion had already declared even before his speech that it wouldn’t fly. Rather than confronting a problem and getting it out of the way early in the campaign, Romney compounded his troubles. He may have more money than other candidates, but despite his many fine qualities, the cash in his bank account will only serve to create comparisons with other well-financed fiascos such as the campaigns of John Connally and Phil Gramm. Despite his alleged first tier status, at this point Romney has as much chance to be elected president as some of the lesser participants in last week’s dreadful first GOP presidential debate.

This means that despite the insistence of some observers that there is a first and second rank of Republican hopefuls the distinction is imaginary. Among the declared candidates, Tim Pawlenty may think he deserves to be seen in a different light from Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. But Pawlenty’s lack of name recognition and his lackluster style mean that he seems as unready for prime time as the others.

This realization will give hope to the marginal candidates and probably encourage those considering whether to run to take their chances and jump into the weak field. But until any of those would be contenders declare themselves and show whether they can stand up to even the low intensity scrutiny that is part of the early stages of the campaign, none of them can be classified as being in the front rank, let alone ahead. Perhaps Mitch Daniels will change this equation. Maybe by next February we’ll be recognizing Michelle Bachmann as the c0mpletlely unlikely dark horse who broke out from the pack to make a serious run at the nomination. Or maybe Pawlenty or Mike Huckabee will surge to the front once the caucuses and primaries begin. But until any of this happens, there is only one real frontrunner in the GOP presidential sweepstakes: none of the above.

As I anticipated yesterday, Mitt Romney doubled down on RomneyCare in his speech this afternoon in Michigan. The former governor and his staff clearly came to the conclusion that retreat from the legislation he pushed through the Massachusetts legislature was impossible. The only way he thought he could deal with the dilemma of having backed a bill that bears a close resemblance to the Obamacare that Republicans hate was to pretend that it was different and to insist that all he had done was in the best interests of his state. To declare otherwise, “wouldn’t be honest.”

This stance may reflect his sincere belief, but as the overwhelming body of conservative opinion had already declared even before his speech that it wouldn’t fly. Rather than confronting a problem and getting it out of the way early in the campaign, Romney compounded his troubles. He may have more money than other candidates, but despite his many fine qualities, the cash in his bank account will only serve to create comparisons with other well-financed fiascos such as the campaigns of John Connally and Phil Gramm. Despite his alleged first tier status, at this point Romney has as much chance to be elected president as some of the lesser participants in last week’s dreadful first GOP presidential debate.

This means that despite the insistence of some observers that there is a first and second rank of Republican hopefuls the distinction is imaginary. Among the declared candidates, Tim Pawlenty may think he deserves to be seen in a different light from Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. But Pawlenty’s lack of name recognition and his lackluster style mean that he seems as unready for prime time as the others.

This realization will give hope to the marginal candidates and probably encourage those considering whether to run to take their chances and jump into the weak field. But until any of those would be contenders declare themselves and show whether they can stand up to even the low intensity scrutiny that is part of the early stages of the campaign, none of them can be classified as being in the front rank, let alone ahead. Perhaps Mitch Daniels will change this equation. Maybe by next February we’ll be recognizing Michelle Bachmann as the c0mpletlely unlikely dark horse who broke out from the pack to make a serious run at the nomination. Or maybe Pawlenty or Mike Huckabee will surge to the front once the caucuses and primaries begin. But until any of this happens, there is only one real frontrunner in the GOP presidential sweepstakes: none of the above.

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Adultery and Double Standards

On my drive out to McLean earlier today, I was tuning in to The Mike Gallagher Show. I haven’t listened to Gallagher all that much, but the times I’ve heard him he comes across as a reasonable person. Among the topics that arose was Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelity. I felt like I was in a time warp, with Gallagher and his callers arguing that (a) we’re all flawed and imperfect; (b) it’s important to forgive people who slip up; (c) isn’t it unfair to keep people like Gingrich from serving in public life because of past failures; and (d) many impressive political figures, including past presidents, have committed adultery. Surely that shouldn’t be a disqualifier.

Those were exactly the arguments that liberals were making in defense of Bill Clinton’s various indiscretions 13 years ago, and many conservatives didn’t find them to be terribly persuasive at the time. Now, it seems, some of them do.

I’ve written before on the matter of adultery as it bears on lawmakers and presidents. My own view is that it’s a factor to take into account, but how much of a factor depends on facts and circumstances—how long ago it occurred, how often it’s happened, whether there was evidence of cruelty or abuse, whether it signals a dangerous degree of recklessness and self-indulgence, whether genuine repentance has taken place, etc. I will say that when it comes to Gingrich the element of cruelty in his actions (see David Frum’s post here) is troubling and probably should count more against him than marital infidelity might count against some others.

In any event, my point is a rather different one, which is how easy it is to employ different standards based on our political affiliations and ideological predilections. We take similar facts and interpret them in very different ways, depending on how well they reflect on those whom we’re inclined to like or support as opposed to those whom we’re inclined to dislike or not support.

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On my drive out to McLean earlier today, I was tuning in to The Mike Gallagher Show. I haven’t listened to Gallagher all that much, but the times I’ve heard him he comes across as a reasonable person. Among the topics that arose was Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelity. I felt like I was in a time warp, with Gallagher and his callers arguing that (a) we’re all flawed and imperfect; (b) it’s important to forgive people who slip up; (c) isn’t it unfair to keep people like Gingrich from serving in public life because of past failures; and (d) many impressive political figures, including past presidents, have committed adultery. Surely that shouldn’t be a disqualifier.

Those were exactly the arguments that liberals were making in defense of Bill Clinton’s various indiscretions 13 years ago, and many conservatives didn’t find them to be terribly persuasive at the time. Now, it seems, some of them do.

I’ve written before on the matter of adultery as it bears on lawmakers and presidents. My own view is that it’s a factor to take into account, but how much of a factor depends on facts and circumstances—how long ago it occurred, how often it’s happened, whether there was evidence of cruelty or abuse, whether it signals a dangerous degree of recklessness and self-indulgence, whether genuine repentance has taken place, etc. I will say that when it comes to Gingrich the element of cruelty in his actions (see David Frum’s post here) is troubling and probably should count more against him than marital infidelity might count against some others.

In any event, my point is a rather different one, which is how easy it is to employ different standards based on our political affiliations and ideological predilections. We take similar facts and interpret them in very different ways, depending on how well they reflect on those whom we’re inclined to like or support as opposed to those whom we’re inclined to dislike or not support.

Thus infidelity in the case of Bill Clinton is a huge strike against him, but for Newt Gingrich the verses from John 8:7 (“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her”) and Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not lest you be judged”) are the order of the day. When Sarah Palin talked about “death panels” it was considered an outrage, but when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claims that under the GOP Medicare plan people with cancer will “die sooner” it goes almost unnoticed. Rendition under President Bush was considered to be a violation of basic human rights, but rendition under Barack Obama is justified. Special prosecutors are constitutional and a great way to pursue criminal wrongdoing when they’re used against the other side, but they’re extra-constitutional and a terrible misuse of power when they’re used against our side.

The examples of sanctimonious hypocrisy are almost endless. And truth be told, we all engage in it to one degree or another. None of us come at these things from a position of perfect objectivity. Our personal histories, dispositions, and preferences in all kinds of areas—from politics to faith to our favorite foods and athletic teams—cause us to view the same set of facts through different lenses. The question isn’t whether hypocrisy occurs; the question, I think, is how much we strive to minimize it. Do we even try to employ a single standard, or are facts and events simply tools to be used in a larger ideological battle?

It’s easy enough to see double standards and the failure of intellectual integrity in others; the harder question, I suppose, is whether we see them in ourselves.

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Stop Running for President if You Want to Fight ObamaCare

Mitt Romney’s objective in Ann Arbor today may have been to alleviate conservative concerns over his Massachusetts health care plan, but he ended up doing just the opposite. The former governor wasn’t expected to apologize for RomneyCare, but by refusing to back away from it he ended up solidifying concerns about his candidacy.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein skewered Romney’s “desperate attempt to distance himself from ObamaCare,” and pointed out five “failed defenses of RomneyCare” that Romney employed during the speech. Klein’s analysis is well worth reading in its entirety, but the most devastating line is at the end:

Even worse, because the plans are so similar in structure, every time Romney defends his Massachusetts law, it is a de facto defense of the national health care law. If Romney really is interested in repealing and replacing ObamaCare, the best thing he could do to help the cause is to stop running for president.

More and more conservatives are reaching this conclusion. With economic issues as a top concern for Americans, and Rep. Paul Ryan’s exceptional budget plan, Republicans have the rare opportunity to make this upcoming election a referendum on conservative small-government philosophy. By selecting Romney as the candidate, they could risk losing this chance.

That’s not to say there wasn’t an encouraging side to Romney’s speech, at least from a stylistic perspective. In the 2008 election, he often came off as stiff and insincere. He’s clearly trying a new tactic for this campaign, and he appeared honest, accessible, and much more likable today. This new approach will probably help him with the Republican moderates, even if his continued defense of RomneyCare will doom his chances with conservatives during the primaries.

Mitt Romney’s objective in Ann Arbor today may have been to alleviate conservative concerns over his Massachusetts health care plan, but he ended up doing just the opposite. The former governor wasn’t expected to apologize for RomneyCare, but by refusing to back away from it he ended up solidifying concerns about his candidacy.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein skewered Romney’s “desperate attempt to distance himself from ObamaCare,” and pointed out five “failed defenses of RomneyCare” that Romney employed during the speech. Klein’s analysis is well worth reading in its entirety, but the most devastating line is at the end:

Even worse, because the plans are so similar in structure, every time Romney defends his Massachusetts law, it is a de facto defense of the national health care law. If Romney really is interested in repealing and replacing ObamaCare, the best thing he could do to help the cause is to stop running for president.

More and more conservatives are reaching this conclusion. With economic issues as a top concern for Americans, and Rep. Paul Ryan’s exceptional budget plan, Republicans have the rare opportunity to make this upcoming election a referendum on conservative small-government philosophy. By selecting Romney as the candidate, they could risk losing this chance.

That’s not to say there wasn’t an encouraging side to Romney’s speech, at least from a stylistic perspective. In the 2008 election, he often came off as stiff and insincere. He’s clearly trying a new tactic for this campaign, and he appeared honest, accessible, and much more likable today. This new approach will probably help him with the Republican moderates, even if his continued defense of RomneyCare will doom his chances with conservatives during the primaries.

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Justice Delayed Was Justice Denied for Demjanjuk’s Victims

The verdict delivered today by a German court in the case of John Demjanjuk is being hailed in some quarters as proof that neither time nor age is a barrier to tracking down war criminals. Indeed, after so long a pursuit of the 91-year-old former SS concentration camp guard, there is something to be said for a decision that finally settles the question of whether or not he was part of the Nazi death machine. However welcome this decision may be, though, it is no cause for celebration. The Demjanjuk case says more about what was wrong with the hunt for those who tortured and killed Jews during the Holocaust that what was right about it.

A Ukrainian conscript in Stalin’s army, Demjanjuk was captured by the Germans and then volunteered to join the SS. He served as a guard at the Sobibor, Majdanek, and Flossenburg camps, and may well have taken part in atrocities elsewhere as well. After the war, he evaded prosecution and emigrated to America where, after lying about his past, he became a U.S. citizen. But his deceit was eventually uncovered and he was stripped of his citizenship and deported to Israel, which tried and then convicted him of being the infamous “Ivan the Terrible” guard of Treblinka, who took an active and vicious role in mass murder and torture. That conviction was overruled. While there was no doubt that he had been an SS guard, a majority of judges of Israel’s Supreme Court believed there was reasonable doubt as to whether he was “Ivan” or just another SS murderer. Whether or not they were right, Demjanjuk was clearly a monster in his own right. After his return to the United States, further legal proceedings in Germany led to another deportation and finally today’s conviction. He was sentenced to five years in jail for taking part in the murders of 28,000 persons. But it is doubtful that he will serve much time in jail not only because of his age and health but because his long detentions awaiting trials may be credited to his sentence.

Thus, after exhausting every possible legal strategy for delay, not to mention becoming a rallying point for Holocaust deniers and their fellow travelers (and by that I am referring specifically to people like commentator Pat Buchanan who championed Demjanjuk’s cause for years), all that remains is an old man being given what a common felon would consider a slap on the wrist for mass murder.

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The verdict delivered today by a German court in the case of John Demjanjuk is being hailed in some quarters as proof that neither time nor age is a barrier to tracking down war criminals. Indeed, after so long a pursuit of the 91-year-old former SS concentration camp guard, there is something to be said for a decision that finally settles the question of whether or not he was part of the Nazi death machine. However welcome this decision may be, though, it is no cause for celebration. The Demjanjuk case says more about what was wrong with the hunt for those who tortured and killed Jews during the Holocaust that what was right about it.

A Ukrainian conscript in Stalin’s army, Demjanjuk was captured by the Germans and then volunteered to join the SS. He served as a guard at the Sobibor, Majdanek, and Flossenburg camps, and may well have taken part in atrocities elsewhere as well. After the war, he evaded prosecution and emigrated to America where, after lying about his past, he became a U.S. citizen. But his deceit was eventually uncovered and he was stripped of his citizenship and deported to Israel, which tried and then convicted him of being the infamous “Ivan the Terrible” guard of Treblinka, who took an active and vicious role in mass murder and torture. That conviction was overruled. While there was no doubt that he had been an SS guard, a majority of judges of Israel’s Supreme Court believed there was reasonable doubt as to whether he was “Ivan” or just another SS murderer. Whether or not they were right, Demjanjuk was clearly a monster in his own right. After his return to the United States, further legal proceedings in Germany led to another deportation and finally today’s conviction. He was sentenced to five years in jail for taking part in the murders of 28,000 persons. But it is doubtful that he will serve much time in jail not only because of his age and health but because his long detentions awaiting trials may be credited to his sentence.

Thus, after exhausting every possible legal strategy for delay, not to mention becoming a rallying point for Holocaust deniers and their fellow travelers (and by that I am referring specifically to people like commentator Pat Buchanan who championed Demjanjuk’s cause for years), all that remains is an old man being given what a common felon would consider a slap on the wrist for mass murder.

The reasons for this unhappy conclusion are many: the sloppy pursuit of war criminals in the immediate aftermath of World War Two; the United States’ willingness to ask no questions of those who claimed to be victims of the Soviets even if they were Nazis; and a justice system that was ill-equipped to handle this sort of criminal.

Even a symbolic conviction of Demjanjuk is better than none at all and those who helped track him down deserve great credit. But this case must serve as a reminder that many of the vast numbers who took part in the Nazi genocide were never run to ground or tried, let alone punished. The six million Jewish men, women, and children that Demjanjuk and his comrades slaughtered deserved more than they got from the post-war generation that was tasked with bringing their murderers to justice. And most of the criminals who were caught, like Demjanjuk, deserved far worse than they got from the courts.

Some justice is better than none at all but a Jewish people that continues to be singled out for threats of new Holocausts by the leaders of Iran and their Hamas ally cannot place their trust in international human rights law. The only answer to future Hitlers and their Demjanjuks is the capacity of the Jewish people to defend itself from genocide, not the sorry spectacle that was the long pursuit of one SS guard.

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Obama Refuses to Get Libya Right

Mahmoud Jibril, prime minister of Libya’s Transitional National Council,  has a good point when he calls on the United States to recognize his government as the legitimate leaders of Libya. This is more than a symbolic point, since official recognition will make it easier for the rebel group to get its hands on $34 billion in frozen Libyan assets—money it needs to overthrow Qaddafi and form a new government.

Jibril is now in the U.S. getting meetings with senior administration officials and lawmakers, but there is no sign yet that the Obama administration is prepared to recognize the Transitional National Council as France and Italy have already done. That President Obama hasn’t done so yet, even as American forces are fighting as de-facto allies of the rebels only shows how incoherent the current U.S. policy is. Obama has called for Qaddafi’s overthrow, but has refused to make it a goal of our military action. He has even refused to recognize the alternative government-in-waiting.

This shouldn’t be so hard. Compared to Pakistan—the problem from hell—figuring out the right thing to do in Libya shouldn’t be so difficult. Which is why it’s all the more puzzling that the administration refuses to get it right.

Mahmoud Jibril, prime minister of Libya’s Transitional National Council,  has a good point when he calls on the United States to recognize his government as the legitimate leaders of Libya. This is more than a symbolic point, since official recognition will make it easier for the rebel group to get its hands on $34 billion in frozen Libyan assets—money it needs to overthrow Qaddafi and form a new government.

Jibril is now in the U.S. getting meetings with senior administration officials and lawmakers, but there is no sign yet that the Obama administration is prepared to recognize the Transitional National Council as France and Italy have already done. That President Obama hasn’t done so yet, even as American forces are fighting as de-facto allies of the rebels only shows how incoherent the current U.S. policy is. Obama has called for Qaddafi’s overthrow, but has refused to make it a goal of our military action. He has even refused to recognize the alternative government-in-waiting.

This shouldn’t be so hard. Compared to Pakistan—the problem from hell—figuring out the right thing to do in Libya shouldn’t be so difficult. Which is why it’s all the more puzzling that the administration refuses to get it right.

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Why the Times Can’t Abide Newt

John’s column in the New York Post sums up Newt Gingrich’s shortcomings about as well as any piece I’ve seen. I agree that Gingrich has virtually no chance of being elected president. But if you read today’s New York Times editorial denouncing Gingrich, you may walk away feeling a mite more sympathetic to the former speaker.

Because Gingrich has no critical sensibility, as John points out, the stupid things he’s said during his career tend to outweigh the smart things he’s said and tried to do. He’s also a hopeless flip-flopper, changing his mind about a host of issues such as global warming and intervention in Libya, at a moment’s notice.

But for the Times it’s not just that Gingrich shouldn’t be president but that he is more or less evil incarnate and a font of “intolerance and divisiveness.” Which is just another way of saying that they really, really disagree with him and can’t stand the fact that he has continued to mouth off in ways that particularly annoy the liberals who run the paper’s editorial page. There are many other people, in American politics, including liberals, who have said as many foolish things as Gingrich. His opinions about Islamism, the Ground Zero mosque, even the more dubious cause of stopping sharia law in the United States are all things about which reasonable people can disagree. But there is nothing in this world that the Times finds harder to tolerate than people who loudly disagree with them.

Not content with noting their anger at some of his statements, the paper crowed about the fact that Gingrich’s moral failings were probably a greater obstacle to his election than his other shortcomings. They may be right about that, but it ill behooves a newspaper that once counseled Americans to get over Bill Clinton’s similar misdeeds (which were compounded by perjury) now to say that we should never forget those committed by Gingrich. He isn’t the only hypocrite in our public life, but he is the only politician who overturned 40 years of one-party rule in the House of Representatives, transforming American politics in the process. One suspects that victory, and not his presidential run or his many goofy pronouncements, will be what Gingrich will be remembered for. It’s also the one thing for which liberals will never forgive him.

John’s column in the New York Post sums up Newt Gingrich’s shortcomings about as well as any piece I’ve seen. I agree that Gingrich has virtually no chance of being elected president. But if you read today’s New York Times editorial denouncing Gingrich, you may walk away feeling a mite more sympathetic to the former speaker.

Because Gingrich has no critical sensibility, as John points out, the stupid things he’s said during his career tend to outweigh the smart things he’s said and tried to do. He’s also a hopeless flip-flopper, changing his mind about a host of issues such as global warming and intervention in Libya, at a moment’s notice.

But for the Times it’s not just that Gingrich shouldn’t be president but that he is more or less evil incarnate and a font of “intolerance and divisiveness.” Which is just another way of saying that they really, really disagree with him and can’t stand the fact that he has continued to mouth off in ways that particularly annoy the liberals who run the paper’s editorial page. There are many other people, in American politics, including liberals, who have said as many foolish things as Gingrich. His opinions about Islamism, the Ground Zero mosque, even the more dubious cause of stopping sharia law in the United States are all things about which reasonable people can disagree. But there is nothing in this world that the Times finds harder to tolerate than people who loudly disagree with them.

Not content with noting their anger at some of his statements, the paper crowed about the fact that Gingrich’s moral failings were probably a greater obstacle to his election than his other shortcomings. They may be right about that, but it ill behooves a newspaper that once counseled Americans to get over Bill Clinton’s similar misdeeds (which were compounded by perjury) now to say that we should never forget those committed by Gingrich. He isn’t the only hypocrite in our public life, but he is the only politician who overturned 40 years of one-party rule in the House of Representatives, transforming American politics in the process. One suspects that victory, and not his presidential run or his many goofy pronouncements, will be what Gingrich will be remembered for. It’s also the one thing for which liberals will never forgive him.

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Family Visits for Gitmo Detainees?

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are already allowed video chats with relatives, but now the International Committee of the Red Cross is pushing for in-person family visits as well. And the Pentagon seems to be taking the possibility seriously, the Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon is considering allowing the families of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to visit them, an unprecedented step to ease the isolation of inmates who in some cases have been held at the U.S. facility for close to a decade, according to congressional aides.

If the Obama administration is considering family visits then it isn’t planning to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay any time soon, as Ed Morrisey points out. But it’s hard to not be wary of the administration’s motives. Some have blamed public opinion for obstructing Obama’s plans to shutter Gitmo. This might sound cynical, but it’s easy to see relatives of detainees exploiting these visits for propaganda purposes, to garner sympathy for the prisoners. To some extent, this has already happened with letters and phone conversations.

Republicans are already pushing back against the proposal. Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R–Calif.) has included a ban on any funding for Gauntanamo Bay family visits in the latest Defense Department authorization legislation.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are already allowed video chats with relatives, but now the International Committee of the Red Cross is pushing for in-person family visits as well. And the Pentagon seems to be taking the possibility seriously, the Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon is considering allowing the families of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to visit them, an unprecedented step to ease the isolation of inmates who in some cases have been held at the U.S. facility for close to a decade, according to congressional aides.

If the Obama administration is considering family visits then it isn’t planning to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay any time soon, as Ed Morrisey points out. But it’s hard to not be wary of the administration’s motives. Some have blamed public opinion for obstructing Obama’s plans to shutter Gitmo. This might sound cynical, but it’s easy to see relatives of detainees exploiting these visits for propaganda purposes, to garner sympathy for the prisoners. To some extent, this has already happened with letters and phone conversations.

Republicans are already pushing back against the proposal. Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R–Calif.) has included a ban on any funding for Gauntanamo Bay family visits in the latest Defense Department authorization legislation.

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The Monomania of an Anti-American Prophet

The world is full of anti-American prophets. Yet none is quite so influential, and maddeningly odd, as Noam Chomsky. On one hand, no other living scholar is cited as often or widely. On the other hand, his commentaries on public issues are so twisted and offensive that they appear in publications such as Guernica, the self-described “magazine of art & politics” that no one had never heard of before Chomsky used it as a forum for his now-infamous May 6 essay, “My reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death.”

The most jaw-dropping statement in that article was that “we might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.” But Chomsky said some other bizarre things too.

Notably, the MIT linguist emphasized that bin Laden was only a “suspect” in the 9/11 attacks, and then, after some historical meandering, added: “There is much talk of bin Laden’s ‘confession,’ but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.” These words have appalled just about every sensible person, including Alan Dershowitz, who wrote on Wednesday: “Noam Chomsky has shown his true colors. . . . He apparently thinks Osama Bin Laden is the innocent victim of a cold-blooded murder. . . . If Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were not responsible for 9/11, who was?”

It so happens that I asked Noam Chomsky exactly this question two years ago, when I was doing research for my recently published book about 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Among The Truthers.

Chomsky-haters might assume that their bête noire is a hero within the “9/11 Truth Movement” (as the Bush-did-it crowd call themselves). In fact, the exact opposite is true.

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The world is full of anti-American prophets. Yet none is quite so influential, and maddeningly odd, as Noam Chomsky. On one hand, no other living scholar is cited as often or widely. On the other hand, his commentaries on public issues are so twisted and offensive that they appear in publications such as Guernica, the self-described “magazine of art & politics” that no one had never heard of before Chomsky used it as a forum for his now-infamous May 6 essay, “My reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death.”

The most jaw-dropping statement in that article was that “we might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.” But Chomsky said some other bizarre things too.

Notably, the MIT linguist emphasized that bin Laden was only a “suspect” in the 9/11 attacks, and then, after some historical meandering, added: “There is much talk of bin Laden’s ‘confession,’ but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.” These words have appalled just about every sensible person, including Alan Dershowitz, who wrote on Wednesday: “Noam Chomsky has shown his true colors. . . . He apparently thinks Osama Bin Laden is the innocent victim of a cold-blooded murder. . . . If Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were not responsible for 9/11, who was?”

It so happens that I asked Noam Chomsky exactly this question two years ago, when I was doing research for my recently published book about 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Among The Truthers.

Chomsky-haters might assume that their bête noire is a hero within the “9/11 Truth Movement” (as the Bush-did-it crowd call themselves). In fact, the exact opposite is true.

I learned this the hard way at a 911 Truther event in Montreal in early 2009. (The speaker that night was Richard Gage, the head of a group called “Architects & Engineers for 911 Truth.”) When a fellow in the crowd mentioned Chomsky’s name during the Q&A, the cascade of catcalls was extraordinary. I later found out that Chomsky is reviled by conspiracy theorists because he refuses to use his intellectual fame to back their cause. They call Chomsky the dean of the “Left Gatekeepers”—and some have written lengthy tracts arguing that he is secretly an agent of right-wing corporate agents seeking to suppress the “truth” about 9/11. In at least one case that I have confirmed, a leading 9/11 Truther called Chomsky’s personal residence at 2:00 in the morning to challenge him on his views.

None of this serves to excuse the vile nonsense that Chomsky wrote in his Guernica essay. But it does put his views about 9/11 into context. He is not some garden-variety conspiracy theorist. Rather, he might better be described as a hard-boiled anti-American monomaniac who simply refuses to believe anything that any American leader says, whether on the subject of 9/11 or anything else.

When I asked Chomsky in 2009 about what he believes actually happened on September 11, 2001, he told me what he tells every Truther who’s come calling. He doesn’t realty think about the issue much, and he finds the obsessions of 9/11 Truthers to be a distraction from American crimes (as he describes them) that are far more serious than the destruction of the World Trade Center.

This is how Chomsky put it to a relentless 9/11 Truther who engaged him in a lengthy email debate on the issue:

Suppose that the government demolished WTC and lied about it. That would rank so low among [official American lies] that it would take some work even to go down the list to find it. Consider the lies that led to the massacre of perhaps 4-million people in Indochina and the destruction of three countries (not to speak of creating the Khmer Rouge). Or the lies that led to acquiescence in Reaganite terror, leaving some 200,000 tortured and mutilated bodies in Central America and four countries ruined, perhaps forever; along with 1.5 million corpses in the countries subjected to Reagan-backed South African depredations; and on, and on. Or … consider one of the very minor peccadilloes and lies of leaders, [Bill] Clinton’s destruction of most of the pharmaceutical industry in a poor African (mostly Muslim) country, with an estimated tens of thousands dead—small by our standards.

Noam Chomsky understandably drives his critics crazy. Yet he himself never seems to get angry, perhaps because he is so absolutely sure of his position. Even in his online email debates with conspiracy theorists—including one exchange I’ve seen that extends to 15,000-words—he exhibits the patience of Job, going back to his main thesis over and over again, long after ordinary souls would have thrown their hands up in exasperation and put their Truther correspondents on auto-delete.

And what is his main thesis? As the catalogue above indicates, it is this. In every historical episode in which the Americans have projected state power, the overall death toll must be laid at Washington’s door; and, moreover, should be treated as an intended (or at least predictable) consequence of American leaders who are either full-blown murderers or so recklessly indifferent to human life as to be morally indistinguishable from them. Chomsky’s entire career as a commentator on foreign affairs consists of building this catalogue in his mind—a catalogue that he rattles off with an idiot savant’s precision at the drop of a hat, and to which, apparently, Osama bin Laden’s death now has been added. Nowhere is there any indication that this list-maker pays much attention to the opposite side of the ledger—the millions upon millions of lives saved, either from death or slavery at the hands of totalitarian forces, in the fight against the Soviet Union and the more modern Islamist threat.

Nor does he seem to pay any regard to the freedom won in these struggles—freedom that allows people like him, and crackpot conspiracy theorists as well, to shout bloody murder at their government without any fear that SEAL Team 6 will invade the MIT campus and carry his body away.

Chomsky’s reaction to bin Laden’s death isn’t something new. It follows a pattern of monomania he has traced for decades. The only surprise is that anyone is still surprised.

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Mr. President, Tear Up This Executive Order

Two more Democrats have broken with President Obama on his plan to institute an executive order that would force contracting companies seeking federal contracts to reveal any political contributions made by the firm’s executives. Not only would the order likely have a chilling effect on protected political speech, but it could also create an atmosphere in which federal contracts are rewarded based on the politics of the contracting firm, as opposed to the firm’s merits.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Sen. Claire McCaskill are the two latest Democratic defectors. They joined Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Susan Collins in signing a letter to President Obama objecting to the plan.

Sen. Portman, who spearheaded the letter, asked the president to “abandon this ill-conceived Executive Order immediately.”

“Politics has no place in the award of federal contracts, and this order risks suppressing disfavored political speech,” he said in a press statement today.

Another prominent Democrat, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, has also spoken out strongly against Obama’s proposal. “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue. The issue on contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractors’ application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer said.

The public criticism from fellow Democrats will no doubt be a headache for Obama. But the fact that this opposition is coming from the two Democrats in the Senate with jurisdiction on this issue will make it much more difficult for the president to go ahead with his plan. Lieberman is the chair of the Homeland Security committee, and McCaskill the chair of its contracting subcommittee, which gives them leverage on this issue.

Two more Democrats have broken with President Obama on his plan to institute an executive order that would force contracting companies seeking federal contracts to reveal any political contributions made by the firm’s executives. Not only would the order likely have a chilling effect on protected political speech, but it could also create an atmosphere in which federal contracts are rewarded based on the politics of the contracting firm, as opposed to the firm’s merits.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Sen. Claire McCaskill are the two latest Democratic defectors. They joined Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Susan Collins in signing a letter to President Obama objecting to the plan.

Sen. Portman, who spearheaded the letter, asked the president to “abandon this ill-conceived Executive Order immediately.”

“Politics has no place in the award of federal contracts, and this order risks suppressing disfavored political speech,” he said in a press statement today.

Another prominent Democrat, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, has also spoken out strongly against Obama’s proposal. “I’m not in agreement with the administration on that issue. The issue on contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractors’ application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer said.

The public criticism from fellow Democrats will no doubt be a headache for Obama. But the fact that this opposition is coming from the two Democrats in the Senate with jurisdiction on this issue will make it much more difficult for the president to go ahead with his plan. Lieberman is the chair of the Homeland Security committee, and McCaskill the chair of its contracting subcommittee, which gives them leverage on this issue.

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False Flag “Tea Party” Candidate Flips House Race

The nation’s attention will be increasingly riveted on the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, in the next two weeks as a close race for an open seat in the House of Representatives has become a surrogate for the debate about Medicare reform and the national deficit. As I wrote earlier this week, with polls showing Democrat Kathy Hochul overtaking Republican Jane Corwin, the national GOP is sending in reinforcements to try and hold onto a district where they have a huge advantage in registration and they haven’t lost in decades.

But contrary to the spin that liberal newspapers like the New York Times put on this election last week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a backlash against the Medicare reform proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t the decisive factor here. What is decisive is the role being played by a longtime Democrat who usurped the nomination of the insurgent Tea Party and is creating major problems for the Republicans.

As the Washington Post reports today, Tom Davis, the Tea Party candidate in the special election doesn’t fit the usual conservative pattern of the national movement of that name. In fact he was the Democrats’ candidate for this seat in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. His decision to stop being the Democrats’ perennial standard-bearer was apparently strictly a tactical move to help him gain election in a district where Democrats are in a minority. And far from being associated with the national Tea Party movement, the Tea Party line on which he is running was his own invention. His stands on the issues have little to do with what are considered Tea Party concerns; his main concern is opposing free trade.

By any reasonable definition of the term, the independently wealthy Davis is what ought to be considered a false flag candidate. Although his party label positions him as a conservative true believer seeking to overturn an establishment Republican, he is in fact nothing of the kind—even though most of those who say they will vote for him are Republicans. With Davis polling in the range of 20 percent or more, the Democrats have been presented with a great chance to win even if their candidate doesn’t break 40 percent of the vote. No matter what the outcome of the May 24 vote, then, there is no reasonable way that it should be interpreted as a referendum on the Ryan budget proposal.

The nation’s attention will be increasingly riveted on the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, in the next two weeks as a close race for an open seat in the House of Representatives has become a surrogate for the debate about Medicare reform and the national deficit. As I wrote earlier this week, with polls showing Democrat Kathy Hochul overtaking Republican Jane Corwin, the national GOP is sending in reinforcements to try and hold onto a district where they have a huge advantage in registration and they haven’t lost in decades.

But contrary to the spin that liberal newspapers like the New York Times put on this election last week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a backlash against the Medicare reform proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t the decisive factor here. What is decisive is the role being played by a longtime Democrat who usurped the nomination of the insurgent Tea Party and is creating major problems for the Republicans.

As the Washington Post reports today, Tom Davis, the Tea Party candidate in the special election doesn’t fit the usual conservative pattern of the national movement of that name. In fact he was the Democrats’ candidate for this seat in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. His decision to stop being the Democrats’ perennial standard-bearer was apparently strictly a tactical move to help him gain election in a district where Democrats are in a minority. And far from being associated with the national Tea Party movement, the Tea Party line on which he is running was his own invention. His stands on the issues have little to do with what are considered Tea Party concerns; his main concern is opposing free trade.

By any reasonable definition of the term, the independently wealthy Davis is what ought to be considered a false flag candidate. Although his party label positions him as a conservative true believer seeking to overturn an establishment Republican, he is in fact nothing of the kind—even though most of those who say they will vote for him are Republicans. With Davis polling in the range of 20 percent or more, the Democrats have been presented with a great chance to win even if their candidate doesn’t break 40 percent of the vote. No matter what the outcome of the May 24 vote, then, there is no reasonable way that it should be interpreted as a referendum on the Ryan budget proposal.

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The Conservatives’ Able and Winning Advocate

Hugh Hewitt is one of the best interviewers in America. His conversation with Representative Paul Ryan is more evidence of that. In the course of the interview, Ryan said this:

[Bill Gross of Pimco] and all the bond traders and the economists tell us we’ve got maybe two to five years before we have a serious debt crisis in this country like Europe is facing. The more we cut, the better we can delay that crisis. But fundamentally, you’ve got to pass something like the budget we’re proposing. You’ve got to reform these entitlement program. You’ve got to get this economy growing. That means don’t raise taxes. That means cut spending and reform spending.

And you’ve got to have economic growth. That’s what prevents a debt crisis from ever happening in this country. And right now, with the kind of divided government we have, with the kind of government health care that they’ve got this train on the tracks to head toward, we want to get as much spending cuts as possible to prevent this debt crisis. We can defeat and preempt a debt crisis and do it on our terms.

And the whole point we’re arguing with this budget is do it now, and you don’t have to pull the rug out from current seniors. Do it now, and it’s not austerity, where you’re cutting people indiscriminately across the board and raising taxes. Do it now, and we can have prosperity, job creation, and we can get government to reorient its policies so that people don’t have to violently reorganize their lives.

That’s what we’re trying to offer. I think that’s conservative. I think that’s smart. It’s doing it on our terms. And unfortunately, those who are trying to cling to the status quo, which really is the President, if you look at his budget, and you look at the Senate Democrats, they’re the ones who are encouraging a debt crisis, which is going to hurt everybody more. And that’s the whole point we’re trying to make.

The point Ryan is making is crucial: the House GOP’s budget plan is not only fiscally responsible but it will provide people, and especially the elderly, with security and ensure America’s social safety net doesn’t unravel. It is President Obama’s governing agenda, his budget, that is not only risky but destined for fiscal ruin. And it will leave a great deal of human suffering in its wake.

To have this argument prevail won’t be easy, given the fact that (a) Obama commands the nation’s greatest bully pulpit and (b) much of the reporting on Ryan’s plan has been uninformed or intentionally dishonest. The good news for conservatives is that they have a tremendously able and winning advocate for their case and their cause. Listen to the Hewitt interview with Ryan and see whether you don’t agree.

Hugh Hewitt is one of the best interviewers in America. His conversation with Representative Paul Ryan is more evidence of that. In the course of the interview, Ryan said this:

[Bill Gross of Pimco] and all the bond traders and the economists tell us we’ve got maybe two to five years before we have a serious debt crisis in this country like Europe is facing. The more we cut, the better we can delay that crisis. But fundamentally, you’ve got to pass something like the budget we’re proposing. You’ve got to reform these entitlement program. You’ve got to get this economy growing. That means don’t raise taxes. That means cut spending and reform spending.

And you’ve got to have economic growth. That’s what prevents a debt crisis from ever happening in this country. And right now, with the kind of divided government we have, with the kind of government health care that they’ve got this train on the tracks to head toward, we want to get as much spending cuts as possible to prevent this debt crisis. We can defeat and preempt a debt crisis and do it on our terms.

And the whole point we’re arguing with this budget is do it now, and you don’t have to pull the rug out from current seniors. Do it now, and it’s not austerity, where you’re cutting people indiscriminately across the board and raising taxes. Do it now, and we can have prosperity, job creation, and we can get government to reorient its policies so that people don’t have to violently reorganize their lives.

That’s what we’re trying to offer. I think that’s conservative. I think that’s smart. It’s doing it on our terms. And unfortunately, those who are trying to cling to the status quo, which really is the President, if you look at his budget, and you look at the Senate Democrats, they’re the ones who are encouraging a debt crisis, which is going to hurt everybody more. And that’s the whole point we’re trying to make.

The point Ryan is making is crucial: the House GOP’s budget plan is not only fiscally responsible but it will provide people, and especially the elderly, with security and ensure America’s social safety net doesn’t unravel. It is President Obama’s governing agenda, his budget, that is not only risky but destined for fiscal ruin. And it will leave a great deal of human suffering in its wake.

To have this argument prevail won’t be easy, given the fact that (a) Obama commands the nation’s greatest bully pulpit and (b) much of the reporting on Ryan’s plan has been uninformed or intentionally dishonest. The good news for conservatives is that they have a tremendously able and winning advocate for their case and their cause. Listen to the Hewitt interview with Ryan and see whether you don’t agree.

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The Newt Show

Today in the New York Post, I explore nearly 30 years of Newt-watching and come to the conclusion that he will never be president:

Gingrich said something unusual for a self-proclaimed educator-historian-PhD. The thinker who meant the most to him, he declared, was Alvin Toffler, author of the 1970 pop bestseller “Future Shock.”

Not Aristotle; not Plato; not Edward Gibbon, the greatest historian in the English language; not Shakespeare or Tolstoy or John Locke. Alvin Toffler.

Newt Gingrich has a restless and outsized intelligence that is tragically unleavened by any kind of critical sensibility.

Self-discipline is the one thing all successful presidential candidacies have in common. It’s not, to put it mildly, an aspect of Gingrich’s character.

Today in the New York Post, I explore nearly 30 years of Newt-watching and come to the conclusion that he will never be president:

Gingrich said something unusual for a self-proclaimed educator-historian-PhD. The thinker who meant the most to him, he declared, was Alvin Toffler, author of the 1970 pop bestseller “Future Shock.”

Not Aristotle; not Plato; not Edward Gibbon, the greatest historian in the English language; not Shakespeare or Tolstoy or John Locke. Alvin Toffler.

Newt Gingrich has a restless and outsized intelligence that is tragically unleavened by any kind of critical sensibility.

Self-discipline is the one thing all successful presidential candidacies have in common. It’s not, to put it mildly, an aspect of Gingrich’s character.

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Will Israel Pay the Price for Obama’s Mideast “Reset”?

If there was just one thing that everyone agreed on when discussing the Arab Spring that has convulsed the Middle East this year, it was that they uprisings had nothing whatever to do with Israel or its conflict with the Palestinians. Everyone, that is, except President Barack Obama.

According to the New York Times, the president has been considering whether to give a major address in which he would present a “unified theory” of the Middle East linking the Arab revolts to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The good news coming in the Times article is that, contrary to other reports, Obama is not apparently planning to present a new American Middle East peace plan. The Hamas-Fatah unity pact that could transform the “moderate” Palestinian Authority into a terrorist coalition may have convinced even the credulous Obama that the Palestinians are not really interested in making peace. So the officials insist that the big speech that Obama is planning will concentrate more on what is going on in the Arab world than on a final solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

There is an opening here for Obama to sound a clarion call for democracy and transparency throughout the Arab and Islamic world, especially in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Obama is reportedly conflicted about whether to sound an idealistic tone or a more “realistic” one. That has been reflected in the inconsistent and inept manner he has adopted throughout the period of the Arab spring. But since his instinct is to think of America’s role in the world in negative rather than positive terms, he just isn’t comfortable advocating a freedom agenda. The president is still looking for a way out of this conundrum. But the people he is said to be listening to, according to the Times—CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Times’s own Thomas Friedman—are both lightweight thinkers who are always ready to peddle the latest conventional wisdom, whatever it might be.

The main thing the Times feature conveys is the studied confusion that afflicts the president and paralyzes his decision-making on foreign policy. With such advisers, it may well be that in spite of his avoidance of a specific Middle East peace plan, that the president may seek to sell his “reset” of America’s relations with the Arab world by further distancing the United States from Israel, even though that would not address any internal Arab problem. If so, he will be squandering the political capital he thinks he acquired via the bin Laden death and spending it pointlessly.

If there was just one thing that everyone agreed on when discussing the Arab Spring that has convulsed the Middle East this year, it was that they uprisings had nothing whatever to do with Israel or its conflict with the Palestinians. Everyone, that is, except President Barack Obama.

According to the New York Times, the president has been considering whether to give a major address in which he would present a “unified theory” of the Middle East linking the Arab revolts to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The good news coming in the Times article is that, contrary to other reports, Obama is not apparently planning to present a new American Middle East peace plan. The Hamas-Fatah unity pact that could transform the “moderate” Palestinian Authority into a terrorist coalition may have convinced even the credulous Obama that the Palestinians are not really interested in making peace. So the officials insist that the big speech that Obama is planning will concentrate more on what is going on in the Arab world than on a final solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

There is an opening here for Obama to sound a clarion call for democracy and transparency throughout the Arab and Islamic world, especially in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Obama is reportedly conflicted about whether to sound an idealistic tone or a more “realistic” one. That has been reflected in the inconsistent and inept manner he has adopted throughout the period of the Arab spring. But since his instinct is to think of America’s role in the world in negative rather than positive terms, he just isn’t comfortable advocating a freedom agenda. The president is still looking for a way out of this conundrum. But the people he is said to be listening to, according to the Times—CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Times’s own Thomas Friedman—are both lightweight thinkers who are always ready to peddle the latest conventional wisdom, whatever it might be.

The main thing the Times feature conveys is the studied confusion that afflicts the president and paralyzes his decision-making on foreign policy. With such advisers, it may well be that in spite of his avoidance of a specific Middle East peace plan, that the president may seek to sell his “reset” of America’s relations with the Arab world by further distancing the United States from Israel, even though that would not address any internal Arab problem. If so, he will be squandering the political capital he thinks he acquired via the bin Laden death and spending it pointlessly.

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The Flawed Theology of N. T. Wright

One of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, N. T. Wright is a man from whom a great deal can be learned about church history and Christian theology. When he ventures from his specialty into areas he does not know very well—international affairs, for example—Bishop Wright is unfortunately prone to silly statements motivated by a brittle political ideology.

In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Wright criticized the United States for practicing a “form of vigilantism” and providing “ ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.” America acts as the world’s “undercover policeman,” according to Wright, and he doesn’t much like it. And then he added this:

And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?

Wright is falling into a common error, which is to assume the Sermon on the Mount was intended to articulate a political philosophy and blueprint for how the state must conduct itself. In plain fact, the moral duties placed on persons are, in important respects, different from those placed on the state. Indeed, within Judaism and Christianity the state has invested in it powers and responsibilities that are different from, and sometimes denied to, persons.

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One of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, N. T. Wright is a man from whom a great deal can be learned about church history and Christian theology. When he ventures from his specialty into areas he does not know very well—international affairs, for example—Bishop Wright is unfortunately prone to silly statements motivated by a brittle political ideology.

In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Wright criticized the United States for practicing a “form of vigilantism” and providing “ ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.” America acts as the world’s “undercover policeman,” according to Wright, and he doesn’t much like it. And then he added this:

And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?

Wright is falling into a common error, which is to assume the Sermon on the Mount was intended to articulate a political philosophy and blueprint for how the state must conduct itself. In plain fact, the moral duties placed on persons are, in important respects, different from those placed on the state. Indeed, within Judaism and Christianity the state has invested in it powers and responsibilities that are different from, and sometimes denied to, persons.

In Romans 13, for example, St. Paul—to whom Wright has devoted several books—makes it clear that human government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order. If the standards of the person are simplistically applied to the practices of the state, it would follow that, because persons are called to “turn the other cheek,” the state must do the same—thereby making the criminal-justice system unworkable and invasions by foreign powers inevitable.

Collapsing the distinction between person and state represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government, which has granted to it powers of life, death, and coercion denied to individual persons. And these powers can be used to defend innocent lives and establish social order. They can also create the conditions that allow the church to exist, Christians to minister, and good works to be done. For this reason, the callings of soldier, policeman, and president are not merely permissible for Christians, but honorable.

By the logic of Wright’s argument—Jesus told us to love our enemies and those who take up the sword will perish by the sword—we should never retaliate under any circumstances: not against bin Laden, Mugabe, Pol Pot, Saddam, Hirohito, Hitler, or anyone. Proportionate and discriminate force would never be justified. What kind of moral world does Bishop Wright conclude would emerge from his political theology? And would he, who attended Oxford and now teaches at St. Andrews, be willing to live (or to ask his children and grandchildren live) in it?

The Christian response to tyranny is not nearly so simple-minded. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian during the time of Hitler’s rise to power. His American friends helped him escape in 1939, but he believed that he had to return to Germany to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians there. “I shall have no right . . . to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people,” Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Reinhold Niebuhr.

Once an avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer joined an organization that was at the heart of the anti-Hitler resistance, became an advocate for the assassination of the Nazi dictator, and was eventually executed for his role in the plot. The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote:

I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer . . . kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this unusually lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of the execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brace and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

Bonhoeffer’s decision reflected “the finest logic of Christian martyrdom,” Niebuhr declared, and belongs “to the modern Acts of the Apostles.”

Quite apart from his obvious valor, Bonhoeffer displayed tremendous integrity, sophistication, and deep understanding when it came to Christian ethics. It would be beneficial for N. T. Wright to reflect upon, and to learn from, Bonhoeffer’s example.

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Members of Congress Urge Turkey to Stop Gaza Flotilla

A bipartisan group of 36 U.S. Congressmen have called upon Turkey to prevent another “humanitarian” flotilla from departing for the Gaza strip. The latest flotilla, sponsored by the terrorist-linked IHH, is expected to leave Turkey in June. It will likely attempt to recreate the violent incident one year ago, when flotilla members attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and bats.

“We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel,” the letter says. “As members of the United States House of Representatives we ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza.”

Rep. Steve Israel (D–N.Y.), who organized the letter along with Rep. Tom Cole (R–Okla.), pointed out that there are plenty of non-violent and non-provocative ways to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza, if that is Turkey’s goal.

“Another so-called aid flotilla to Gaza is nothing but an attempt to provoke Israel,” Rep. Israel said. “The Turkish government can help prevent violence by saying ‘no.’ We are urging Prime Minister Erdogan to actively work to put a stop to this and join with Israel in providing real humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”

Will this letter actually persuade the Turkish government to speak out against the flotilla? Probably not. But if another incident erupts that’s similar to the violence of last May, it’s important to get the message out preemptively that the flotilla, not the state of Israel, is the real aggressor. Members of congress should continue to speak out on this issue, so that another communications problem can be avoided this time around.

A bipartisan group of 36 U.S. Congressmen have called upon Turkey to prevent another “humanitarian” flotilla from departing for the Gaza strip. The latest flotilla, sponsored by the terrorist-linked IHH, is expected to leave Turkey in June. It will likely attempt to recreate the violent incident one year ago, when flotilla members attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and bats.

“We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel,” the letter says. “As members of the United States House of Representatives we ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza.”

Rep. Steve Israel (D–N.Y.), who organized the letter along with Rep. Tom Cole (R–Okla.), pointed out that there are plenty of non-violent and non-provocative ways to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza, if that is Turkey’s goal.

“Another so-called aid flotilla to Gaza is nothing but an attempt to provoke Israel,” Rep. Israel said. “The Turkish government can help prevent violence by saying ‘no.’ We are urging Prime Minister Erdogan to actively work to put a stop to this and join with Israel in providing real humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”

Will this letter actually persuade the Turkish government to speak out against the flotilla? Probably not. But if another incident erupts that’s similar to the violence of last May, it’s important to get the message out preemptively that the flotilla, not the state of Israel, is the real aggressor. Members of congress should continue to speak out on this issue, so that another communications problem can be avoided this time around.

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The GOP Wives’ Primary Heats Up

Tonight the first lady of Indiana is set to deliver the keynote speech at the state’s annual Republican Party dinner. Political observers across the nation will be watching Cheri Daniels, the notably non-political wife of Governor Mitch Daniels, for signs of her readiness to accompany her husband in a run for the presidency.

This has been a week for the press to obsess about Republican wives. Newt Gingrich’s declaration of his candidacy yesterday necessarily involves scrutiny of his wife, because their relationship began as an extramarital romance while he was speaker of the house and she worked on Capitol Hill. Gingrich’s ability to sell himself as changed, even redeemed, is essential to his chances of winning. Callista Gingrich, his third wife, is crucial to that pitch.

The focus on Mrs. Daniels is of a different sort. There have been signs that Daniels is leaning toward running. But the reluctance of his wife, who did not take part in either of his campaigns for governor, is thought to be a major sticking point. The fact that Mrs. Daniels has chosen to speak at the party dinner tonight is being viewed, rightly or wrongly, as another indication that he will seek his party’s nomination.

By all accounts, Mrs. Daniels has been an exemplary first lady of Indiana during her husband’s seven years in the state house. But she is unlike most politicians’ wives; Cheri Daniels has never served as a prop in her husband’s political career. In fact, they have treated their private life as private in spite their unusual story. Married in 1978, they divorced in 1993. But after a brief marriage to another man, she returned to her first husband and they remarried in 1997. The couple has always refused to discuss this chapter of their lives. All Daniels will say publicly is that “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.” The prospect that this episode might become fodder for attacks on Daniels is highly distasteful but the Washington Post reports today that, “In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels.”

It is far from clear whether exploiting this story would hurt Daniels. In past campaigns, Daniels has been attacked for being arrested on a drug charge when he was a college student and his past role as a drug company executive, but not because he married the same woman twice.

Presidential candidate’s wives are often used as surrogates for their husbands. Yet if past comments about her interest in politics are any indication, Cheri Daniels may take a pass on such activities. If that is the path she chooses, then it is possible that a Daniels candidacy or presidency might operate along the lines that prevailed in American politics before the second half of the 20th century. Families were not always props for presidential hopefuls or even for presidents. And though it might disappoint the press, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the country to have a first family that eschewed the Camelot model adopted first by John Kennedy and now by Barack Obama, in which the widely distributed images of wives and children are included in a president’s political arsenal.

Tonight the first lady of Indiana is set to deliver the keynote speech at the state’s annual Republican Party dinner. Political observers across the nation will be watching Cheri Daniels, the notably non-political wife of Governor Mitch Daniels, for signs of her readiness to accompany her husband in a run for the presidency.

This has been a week for the press to obsess about Republican wives. Newt Gingrich’s declaration of his candidacy yesterday necessarily involves scrutiny of his wife, because their relationship began as an extramarital romance while he was speaker of the house and she worked on Capitol Hill. Gingrich’s ability to sell himself as changed, even redeemed, is essential to his chances of winning. Callista Gingrich, his third wife, is crucial to that pitch.

The focus on Mrs. Daniels is of a different sort. There have been signs that Daniels is leaning toward running. But the reluctance of his wife, who did not take part in either of his campaigns for governor, is thought to be a major sticking point. The fact that Mrs. Daniels has chosen to speak at the party dinner tonight is being viewed, rightly or wrongly, as another indication that he will seek his party’s nomination.

By all accounts, Mrs. Daniels has been an exemplary first lady of Indiana during her husband’s seven years in the state house. But she is unlike most politicians’ wives; Cheri Daniels has never served as a prop in her husband’s political career. In fact, they have treated their private life as private in spite their unusual story. Married in 1978, they divorced in 1993. But after a brief marriage to another man, she returned to her first husband and they remarried in 1997. The couple has always refused to discuss this chapter of their lives. All Daniels will say publicly is that “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.” The prospect that this episode might become fodder for attacks on Daniels is highly distasteful but the Washington Post reports today that, “In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels.”

It is far from clear whether exploiting this story would hurt Daniels. In past campaigns, Daniels has been attacked for being arrested on a drug charge when he was a college student and his past role as a drug company executive, but not because he married the same woman twice.

Presidential candidate’s wives are often used as surrogates for their husbands. Yet if past comments about her interest in politics are any indication, Cheri Daniels may take a pass on such activities. If that is the path she chooses, then it is possible that a Daniels candidacy or presidency might operate along the lines that prevailed in American politics before the second half of the 20th century. Families were not always props for presidential hopefuls or even for presidents. And though it might disappoint the press, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the country to have a first family that eschewed the Camelot model adopted first by John Kennedy and now by Barack Obama, in which the widely distributed images of wives and children are included in a president’s political arsenal.

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Ending Aid to Pakistan Is Not the Answer

Fareed Zakaria makes some excellent points regarding Pakistan in this Washington Post op-ed. He argues, correctly, that the Pakistani military is up to its old tricks:

Having been caught in a situation that suggests either complicity with al-Qaeda or gross incompetence—and the reality is probably a bit of both—it is furiously trying to change the subject. Senior generals angrily denounce America for entering the country. “It’s like a person, caught in bed with another man’s wife, who is indignant that someone entered his house,” one Pakistani scholar, who preferred not to be named for fear of repercussions, told me.

More than that, the Pakistani military is also once again manipulating and cowing the civilian government. “According to Pakistani sources,” Zakaria writes, “the speech that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani gave at a recent news conference was drafted by the military. President Asif Ali Zardari continues to appease the military rather than confront the generals. Having come to power hoping to clip the military’s wings, Pakistan’s democratically elected government has been reduced to mouthing talking points written for it by the intelligence services.”

All of this analysis is crystal clear to anyone who is not on Pakistan’s payroll. The question is what to do about it. Zakaria argues that “the United States has considerable leverage with Islamabad,” because “the Pakistanis need American aid, arms and training to sustain their army.” Thus he believes the U.S. should condition its aid on major reforms including a “major national commission in Pakistan” to investigate the circumstances behind Osama bin Laden finding sanctuary in that country, the development and implementation of a “plan to go after the major untouched terror networks in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani faction, the Quetta Shura [Taliban], and Lashkar-i-Taiba,” and an increase in civilian control of the military.

But what if the Pakistanis pay lip service to these demands while continuing to play footsie with terrorists—as they have been doing since 9/11? What then? That is the hard question which Zakaria doesn’t grapple with. It is a question that I myself struggle with. Is the U.S. really prepared to cut off the Pakistanis? Ending aid has been tried that in the past. The Pressler Amendment in 1990 broke off U.S. aid to the Pakistani military in an attempt to pressure Pakistan to come clean about its nuclear program. Instead, Pakistan went fully nuclear and Islamists made greater inroads into the officer corps. It is now generally agreed that the Pressler approach was a disaster. It is doubtful that Congress will go down this road again especially at a time when the U.S. needs Pakistan’s cooperation on such issues as allowing supplies to move into Afghanistan and allowing drone strikes in its own territory.

So if not a total aid cut off, then what? Perhaps at least some of our aid—which, according to the Financial Times, has totaled more than $20 billion since 2001—should be conditioned on more progress on fighting terrorism and restoring civilian control. And that should be true civilian control, not the sham that exists today. As I have argued before, our current approach of unconditional support for Pakistan hasn’t worked and we need to try something else. But I am also cognizant of the risks of a new approach, as policymakers must be. There is no easy or obvious policy to take with a “frenemy”—a country like Pakistan that is neither friend nor enemy but somewhere in between (although closer to the latter than the former). It is truly the problem from hell.

Fareed Zakaria makes some excellent points regarding Pakistan in this Washington Post op-ed. He argues, correctly, that the Pakistani military is up to its old tricks:

Having been caught in a situation that suggests either complicity with al-Qaeda or gross incompetence—and the reality is probably a bit of both—it is furiously trying to change the subject. Senior generals angrily denounce America for entering the country. “It’s like a person, caught in bed with another man’s wife, who is indignant that someone entered his house,” one Pakistani scholar, who preferred not to be named for fear of repercussions, told me.

More than that, the Pakistani military is also once again manipulating and cowing the civilian government. “According to Pakistani sources,” Zakaria writes, “the speech that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani gave at a recent news conference was drafted by the military. President Asif Ali Zardari continues to appease the military rather than confront the generals. Having come to power hoping to clip the military’s wings, Pakistan’s democratically elected government has been reduced to mouthing talking points written for it by the intelligence services.”

All of this analysis is crystal clear to anyone who is not on Pakistan’s payroll. The question is what to do about it. Zakaria argues that “the United States has considerable leverage with Islamabad,” because “the Pakistanis need American aid, arms and training to sustain their army.” Thus he believes the U.S. should condition its aid on major reforms including a “major national commission in Pakistan” to investigate the circumstances behind Osama bin Laden finding sanctuary in that country, the development and implementation of a “plan to go after the major untouched terror networks in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani faction, the Quetta Shura [Taliban], and Lashkar-i-Taiba,” and an increase in civilian control of the military.

But what if the Pakistanis pay lip service to these demands while continuing to play footsie with terrorists—as they have been doing since 9/11? What then? That is the hard question which Zakaria doesn’t grapple with. It is a question that I myself struggle with. Is the U.S. really prepared to cut off the Pakistanis? Ending aid has been tried that in the past. The Pressler Amendment in 1990 broke off U.S. aid to the Pakistani military in an attempt to pressure Pakistan to come clean about its nuclear program. Instead, Pakistan went fully nuclear and Islamists made greater inroads into the officer corps. It is now generally agreed that the Pressler approach was a disaster. It is doubtful that Congress will go down this road again especially at a time when the U.S. needs Pakistan’s cooperation on such issues as allowing supplies to move into Afghanistan and allowing drone strikes in its own territory.

So if not a total aid cut off, then what? Perhaps at least some of our aid—which, according to the Financial Times, has totaled more than $20 billion since 2001—should be conditioned on more progress on fighting terrorism and restoring civilian control. And that should be true civilian control, not the sham that exists today. As I have argued before, our current approach of unconditional support for Pakistan hasn’t worked and we need to try something else. But I am also cognizant of the risks of a new approach, as policymakers must be. There is no easy or obvious policy to take with a “frenemy”—a country like Pakistan that is neither friend nor enemy but somewhere in between (although closer to the latter than the former). It is truly the problem from hell.

Read Less




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