Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 17, 2011

The Gingrich Psychodrama

Newt Gingrich apologized to Rep. Paul Ryan today, and that apology itself revealed why Gingrich is not a positive but rather a destructive force in the GOP presidential primary. There is nothing wrong in itself with Gingrich saying he opposes aspects of Ryan’s budget plan. That plan is not the flag; it does not need to be saluted. It’s a set of proposals and, as Gingrich noted, the proposal involving Medicare isn’t popular taken in isolation. Debating the issues is perfectly fine. It’s the way Gingrich talks about things that is so awful. He is incapable of disagreeing on any matter about anything without creating a whirlpool of negativity that ends up sucking in his own confreres while leaving his partisan and ideological antagonists amazingly untouched. In the end, then, no matter the issue, Gingrich somehow manages to turn the conversation away from the topic at hand and focuses it squarely on him—what he said, what he meant, what he was doing, why he did it, what’s the matter with him. The Ryan apology just added to the psychodrama of the last few days with Gingrich. The havoc generated by his narcissism will not abate. It can’t. Alas.

Newt Gingrich apologized to Rep. Paul Ryan today, and that apology itself revealed why Gingrich is not a positive but rather a destructive force in the GOP presidential primary. There is nothing wrong in itself with Gingrich saying he opposes aspects of Ryan’s budget plan. That plan is not the flag; it does not need to be saluted. It’s a set of proposals and, as Gingrich noted, the proposal involving Medicare isn’t popular taken in isolation. Debating the issues is perfectly fine. It’s the way Gingrich talks about things that is so awful. He is incapable of disagreeing on any matter about anything without creating a whirlpool of negativity that ends up sucking in his own confreres while leaving his partisan and ideological antagonists amazingly untouched. In the end, then, no matter the issue, Gingrich somehow manages to turn the conversation away from the topic at hand and focuses it squarely on him—what he said, what he meant, what he was doing, why he did it, what’s the matter with him. The Ryan apology just added to the psychodrama of the last few days with Gingrich. The havoc generated by his narcissism will not abate. It can’t. Alas.

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A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Amateurishness

In a Washington Examiner article entitled, “Obama’s dilemma: Why Libya and not Syria?” Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations is quoted as saying: “It has mystified me and others as to why the administration has been so slow-footed [in Syria]. The administration certainly set a precedent in what it did in Libya . . . and now [it] seems to be passing up a tremendous strategic opportunity.” Cook went on to add, “No matter how hard they try to say Libya doesn’t reflect a precedent, there’s no doubt that it does. I think [administration officials] are confused and caught by a precedent they hoped they would never have to address.”

That seems like a reasonable surmise. For weeks the administration has attempted to answer why they have involved the United States in Libya but not Syria. And it has yet to offer a coherent explanation (the argument that Assad is a reform is ludicrous).

What we’re seeing are the (severe) limitations of an administration that prides itself on defying traditional categories and ideologies. In 2006 Barack Obama, shortly before he announced his bid for the presidency, said he thought America should pursue a ”strategy no longer driven by ideology and politics but one that is based on a realistic assessment of the sobering facts on the ground and our interests in the region.” He would deal with countries on a case-by-case basis. Obama had convinced himself he was empirical and pragmatic rather than rigid and ideological.

“This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine,” Ryan Lizza wrote in the New Yorker. “One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: ‘Events, dear boy, events.’ ”

Lizza went on to write: “Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. ‘When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,’ he said in a recent interview with NBC News.”

What we’re seeing now instead is a president who has, with rare exceptions, shown startling ineptness and confusion in approach foreign policy as if it were case law. In one country after another, we’re seeing amateurishness in both conception and execution. The Obama administration does not seem capable of theorizing, of geopolitical sophistication, of thinking beyond tactics—and even then, its tactics are often wrong, slow, and/or weak.

The president and his team have not shown evidence of any strategic design. At the outset of the administration they took pride in ad hocery. What they’ve succeeded in doing is giving improvised and makeshift reasoning a bad name.

In a Washington Examiner article entitled, “Obama’s dilemma: Why Libya and not Syria?” Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations is quoted as saying: “It has mystified me and others as to why the administration has been so slow-footed [in Syria]. The administration certainly set a precedent in what it did in Libya . . . and now [it] seems to be passing up a tremendous strategic opportunity.” Cook went on to add, “No matter how hard they try to say Libya doesn’t reflect a precedent, there’s no doubt that it does. I think [administration officials] are confused and caught by a precedent they hoped they would never have to address.”

That seems like a reasonable surmise. For weeks the administration has attempted to answer why they have involved the United States in Libya but not Syria. And it has yet to offer a coherent explanation (the argument that Assad is a reform is ludicrous).

What we’re seeing are the (severe) limitations of an administration that prides itself on defying traditional categories and ideologies. In 2006 Barack Obama, shortly before he announced his bid for the presidency, said he thought America should pursue a ”strategy no longer driven by ideology and politics but one that is based on a realistic assessment of the sobering facts on the ground and our interests in the region.” He would deal with countries on a case-by-case basis. Obama had convinced himself he was empirical and pragmatic rather than rigid and ideological.

“This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine,” Ryan Lizza wrote in the New Yorker. “One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: ‘Events, dear boy, events.’ ”

Lizza went on to write: “Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. ‘When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,’ he said in a recent interview with NBC News.”

What we’re seeing now instead is a president who has, with rare exceptions, shown startling ineptness and confusion in approach foreign policy as if it were case law. In one country after another, we’re seeing amateurishness in both conception and execution. The Obama administration does not seem capable of theorizing, of geopolitical sophistication, of thinking beyond tactics—and even then, its tactics are often wrong, slow, and/or weak.

The president and his team have not shown evidence of any strategic design. At the outset of the administration they took pride in ad hocery. What they’ve succeeded in doing is giving improvised and makeshift reasoning a bad name.

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Fatah Agrees With Hamas: Palestinian State Will Be At War With Israel

If anyone doubted whether there was real substance to the Hamas-Fatah “unity government,” Mahmoud Abbas’s New York Times op-ed provides the proverbial teachable moment.

Don’t be distracted by Abbas’s fable of expulsion from Safed or his lies about the history of the conflict. The key passage is this one:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Obviously, the precondition Abbas has flogged on an almost daily basis over the past two years to justify his refusal to negotiate — “we must have a settlement freeze” — is instantly rendered ancient history, and itself another lie. Now he has a bold new precondition: Palestinian statehood itself.

After statehood, he dismisses even the pretense of working toward peace. Instead, he openly promises that Palestine would assault Israel relentlessly in international legal, political, and diplomatic fora. This is where Fatah and Hamas now join together in substance as well as appearance.

Until today, Fatah had convinced the world that it had submitted to the linkage of peace with statehood: a Palestinian state would only arise through negotiations with Israel that, at their completion, would require the Palestinians to cease their claims against the Jewish State and declare the conflict over. Hamas, on the other hand, has been perfectly happy to give its blessing (as Khaled Mashaal did last week) to the creation of a Palestinian state — just so long as the continuation of terrorism and the quest for the ultimate destruction of Israel, diplomatically and otherwise, is preserved.

Today, Abbas has brought Fatah and Hamas together in this goal. It is an important moment. Both factions now agree on a strategy of statehood without peace. Despite the ugliness of it all, we should applaud Abbas for writing such a clear and forthright statement, in English, to a western audience, that explains with perfect sobriety what his intentions are. Mahmoud Abbas wants a state not so he can pursue peace; he wants a state so he can pursue war against Israel.

If anyone doubted whether there was real substance to the Hamas-Fatah “unity government,” Mahmoud Abbas’s New York Times op-ed provides the proverbial teachable moment.

Don’t be distracted by Abbas’s fable of expulsion from Safed or his lies about the history of the conflict. The key passage is this one:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Obviously, the precondition Abbas has flogged on an almost daily basis over the past two years to justify his refusal to negotiate — “we must have a settlement freeze” — is instantly rendered ancient history, and itself another lie. Now he has a bold new precondition: Palestinian statehood itself.

After statehood, he dismisses even the pretense of working toward peace. Instead, he openly promises that Palestine would assault Israel relentlessly in international legal, political, and diplomatic fora. This is where Fatah and Hamas now join together in substance as well as appearance.

Until today, Fatah had convinced the world that it had submitted to the linkage of peace with statehood: a Palestinian state would only arise through negotiations with Israel that, at their completion, would require the Palestinians to cease their claims against the Jewish State and declare the conflict over. Hamas, on the other hand, has been perfectly happy to give its blessing (as Khaled Mashaal did last week) to the creation of a Palestinian state — just so long as the continuation of terrorism and the quest for the ultimate destruction of Israel, diplomatically and otherwise, is preserved.

Today, Abbas has brought Fatah and Hamas together in this goal. It is an important moment. Both factions now agree on a strategy of statehood without peace. Despite the ugliness of it all, we should applaud Abbas for writing such a clear and forthright statement, in English, to a western audience, that explains with perfect sobriety what his intentions are. Mahmoud Abbas wants a state not so he can pursue peace; he wants a state so he can pursue war against Israel.

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GM Sponsors Chi-Com Propaganda Film

The American taxpayers own 33 percent of General Motors, but that hasn’t stopped the company from cozying up to the Chinese Communist Party. According to the Washington Times’s Kerry Picket, GM is sponsoring a propaganda film produced by the Chinese government:

In late 2010, General Motors agreed to sponsor a propaganda film celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP made film titled (translated to English) “The Birth of a Party” or “The Great Achievement of Founding the Party” is set to premiere all over the Communist nation on June 15.


Here is the appallingly fawning statement about the film that was reportedly posted on the Shanghai GM website (translation via the Epoch Times):

“Cadillac and the China Film Group grandly announced an elevation in their joint cooperation strategy, part of which includes Cadillac’s complete support for ‘The Great Achievement of Founding the Party’ blockbuster film. They also began the ‘Young Director Program’ cooperative strategy series. This indicates that Cadillac and China Film Group will deepen and diversify their cooperation into the future.”

The scary part is that GM implies that this Communist propaganda movie is just the beginning of the relationship. China is kicking off a propaganda push this summer that is expected to include numerous films. GM needs to distance itself from this quickly, and ensure the American public that no support – financial or otherwise—will go toward these movies.

The American taxpayers own 33 percent of General Motors, but that hasn’t stopped the company from cozying up to the Chinese Communist Party. According to the Washington Times’s Kerry Picket, GM is sponsoring a propaganda film produced by the Chinese government:

In late 2010, General Motors agreed to sponsor a propaganda film celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP made film titled (translated to English) “The Birth of a Party” or “The Great Achievement of Founding the Party” is set to premiere all over the Communist nation on June 15.


Here is the appallingly fawning statement about the film that was reportedly posted on the Shanghai GM website (translation via the Epoch Times):

“Cadillac and the China Film Group grandly announced an elevation in their joint cooperation strategy, part of which includes Cadillac’s complete support for ‘The Great Achievement of Founding the Party’ blockbuster film. They also began the ‘Young Director Program’ cooperative strategy series. This indicates that Cadillac and China Film Group will deepen and diversify their cooperation into the future.”

The scary part is that GM implies that this Communist propaganda movie is just the beginning of the relationship. China is kicking off a propaganda push this summer that is expected to include numerous films. GM needs to distance itself from this quickly, and ensure the American public that no support – financial or otherwise—will go toward these movies.

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Why Daniels Needs to Announce 2012 Decision Soon

There’s been Twitter speculation recently that Mitch Daniels would be entering the race soon, but he told reporters that he’s still mulling over the decision—although the announcement will come shortly.

“I’m not going to take much longer with it,” Daniels said.

Now that the 2012 field is starting to take shape, with Huckabee and Trump dropping out and Gingrich basically handicapping himself, Daniels’s decision will be one of the biggest definers of the race.

Which is why it’s in his best interest to announce his decision quickly. Daniels has already generated sufficient buzz by playing coy about his decision, but there’s only so long he can go with this.

There just isn’t much of a benefit for staying out of the race much longer. Continuing to wait will only give Mitt Romney more time to attempt to position himself as the frontrunner. Romney’s announcement that he raised $10.25 million last night was aimed at giving this impression. And Romney’s campaign contribution disclosures on June 30 will likely be even more impressive, with some sources placing his target around $40 million. Daniels has an excellent fundraising network himself, but he can’t afford to give Romney too much of a head start on this.

There’s been Twitter speculation recently that Mitch Daniels would be entering the race soon, but he told reporters that he’s still mulling over the decision—although the announcement will come shortly.

“I’m not going to take much longer with it,” Daniels said.

Now that the 2012 field is starting to take shape, with Huckabee and Trump dropping out and Gingrich basically handicapping himself, Daniels’s decision will be one of the biggest definers of the race.

Which is why it’s in his best interest to announce his decision quickly. Daniels has already generated sufficient buzz by playing coy about his decision, but there’s only so long he can go with this.

There just isn’t much of a benefit for staying out of the race much longer. Continuing to wait will only give Mitt Romney more time to attempt to position himself as the frontrunner. Romney’s announcement that he raised $10.25 million last night was aimed at giving this impression. And Romney’s campaign contribution disclosures on June 30 will likely be even more impressive, with some sources placing his target around $40 million. Daniels has an excellent fundraising network himself, but he can’t afford to give Romney too much of a head start on this.

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The Thrice-Offered Palestinian State

The New York Times op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas is entitled “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” but you would not learn from it that he turned one down in 2008; that the Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2001; and that they rejected the offer of a state at Camp David in 2000. Each of those offers consisted of a state on substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in Jerusalem and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state. Three rejections in eight years.

Even more importantly, you would not learn why the Palestinians are not celebrating this year the 64th anniversary of the Long Overdue Palestinian State, which would have happened had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution proposing a two state solution. Here is the “narrative” Abbas offers:

In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation [that Palestine should be partitioned into two states]. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.

Here is what actually happened: every Arab state voted against the resolution, joined by every Muslim state (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey). In his monumental 700-page volume, Israel: A History, Martin Gilbert describes what came next:

From the moment of the United Nations vote, Arab terrorists and armed bands attacked Jewish men, women and children all over the country, killing eighty Jews in the twelve days following the vote, looting Jewish shops, and attacking Jewish civilian buses on all the highways. For the Arabs outside Palestine, a similar wave of anti-Jewish hatred led to violence against Jews in almost every Arab city. . . . There followed, in Palestine, five and a half months of terrorism and violence.

Israel’s May 14, 1948 Declaration of Independence urged Arab residents to stay, and provided full citizenship for them. The Arab states responded by invading a UN-approved state, seeking to destroy it. The resulting refugees and successive generations of their descendants have resided in those states, most of them all their lives, without ever having been offered citizenship there, or other basic rights.

The 1947 UN resolution used the phrase “Jewish state” no less than 30 times. It was the unwillingness then to accept a Jewish state that led to the stateless Palestinians and their refugees. It is an unwillingness that persists to this day—epitomized by the effort to seek UN recognition in September of a Palestinian state without the need to recognize a Jewish one, much less defensible borders for it.

The New York Times op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas is entitled “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” but you would not learn from it that he turned one down in 2008; that the Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2001; and that they rejected the offer of a state at Camp David in 2000. Each of those offers consisted of a state on substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in Jerusalem and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state. Three rejections in eight years.

Even more importantly, you would not learn why the Palestinians are not celebrating this year the 64th anniversary of the Long Overdue Palestinian State, which would have happened had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution proposing a two state solution. Here is the “narrative” Abbas offers:

In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation [that Palestine should be partitioned into two states]. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.

Here is what actually happened: every Arab state voted against the resolution, joined by every Muslim state (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey). In his monumental 700-page volume, Israel: A History, Martin Gilbert describes what came next:

From the moment of the United Nations vote, Arab terrorists and armed bands attacked Jewish men, women and children all over the country, killing eighty Jews in the twelve days following the vote, looting Jewish shops, and attacking Jewish civilian buses on all the highways. For the Arabs outside Palestine, a similar wave of anti-Jewish hatred led to violence against Jews in almost every Arab city. . . . There followed, in Palestine, five and a half months of terrorism and violence.

Israel’s May 14, 1948 Declaration of Independence urged Arab residents to stay, and provided full citizenship for them. The Arab states responded by invading a UN-approved state, seeking to destroy it. The resulting refugees and successive generations of their descendants have resided in those states, most of them all their lives, without ever having been offered citizenship there, or other basic rights.

The 1947 UN resolution used the phrase “Jewish state” no less than 30 times. It was the unwillingness then to accept a Jewish state that led to the stateless Palestinians and their refugees. It is an unwillingness that persists to this day—epitomized by the effort to seek UN recognition in September of a Palestinian state without the need to recognize a Jewish one, much less defensible borders for it.

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O Beloved Belgium, Sacred Land of Anti-Semitism

Not a big deal in any grand sense. Just a small window into the unseemly insanity that is Europe’s official capital, as Haaretz reports:

Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck shocked the country’s Jewish community by recently voicing support for an initiative to provide amnesty to Nazi collaborators during WWII, and for his suggestion that it may behoove the government to “forget” its Nazi past. During a television debate, De Clerck said that the country should not focus on the crimes it committed as it was already in the past.

In fairness there are plenty of crimes being committed now against Belgium’s Jews. The country’s anti-Semitism is partly why the safety of European Jews is at its lowest since the Second World War, with anti-Jewish attacks at postwar highs. So maybe De Clerck was saying that Belgians should focus on their present anti-Semitism rather than on their past anti-Semitism. But it doesn’t really seem like that’s what he was saying.

A recent study surveyed Brussels high schoolers and found “a very high rate” of anti-Jewish bigotry: 28% of students agreed with the statement that “Jews agitate for war and blame others” and 31% agreed with the statement “Jews want to dominate everything.” The study’s authors, knowing that multiculturalists would leap to insist that “root causes” were responsible for the violence-tinged ignorance, took pains to explain why that’s demonstrably false. Sociologist Mark Elchardus of Vrije Universiteit Brussel explained:

Worse, [in Brussels] anti-Jewish sentiments are unrelated to the level of education or poor social living conditions. . . . Antisemitism is theologically inspired. There is a direct link between being Muslim and anti-Semitic feelings. Catholics, too, are negative toward Jews too, but their sentiments are by far not as strong.”

Belgian politicians are following the theologically-grounded but nonetheless very real anti-Semitism of the Muslim voters who make up 30% of the Brussels electorate. That apparently extends to minimizing the Holocaust in deference to Muslim sensibilities, a trend that their British counterparts trailblazed by dropping the Holocaust from history lessons and reconsidering Holocaust Memorial Day on a national level.

But when Belgium serves as a base for anti-Israel agitation—as in when Belgian judges invoking Belgian laws indict former Israeli Prime Ministers—that’s supposed to be mere disagreement with Israeli policy. All the rest of Belgium’s weird sentiments about Jews are driven either by identifiable anti-Semitism or by political adherence to identifiable anti-Semitism. But when it comes to hostility toward Israeli Jews, Belgian and European pathologies are suddenly transformed into principled disagreement with another government. Nobody ever said that anti-Semites weren’t adept at dissembling their real views.

Not a big deal in any grand sense. Just a small window into the unseemly insanity that is Europe’s official capital, as Haaretz reports:

Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck shocked the country’s Jewish community by recently voicing support for an initiative to provide amnesty to Nazi collaborators during WWII, and for his suggestion that it may behoove the government to “forget” its Nazi past. During a television debate, De Clerck said that the country should not focus on the crimes it committed as it was already in the past.

In fairness there are plenty of crimes being committed now against Belgium’s Jews. The country’s anti-Semitism is partly why the safety of European Jews is at its lowest since the Second World War, with anti-Jewish attacks at postwar highs. So maybe De Clerck was saying that Belgians should focus on their present anti-Semitism rather than on their past anti-Semitism. But it doesn’t really seem like that’s what he was saying.

A recent study surveyed Brussels high schoolers and found “a very high rate” of anti-Jewish bigotry: 28% of students agreed with the statement that “Jews agitate for war and blame others” and 31% agreed with the statement “Jews want to dominate everything.” The study’s authors, knowing that multiculturalists would leap to insist that “root causes” were responsible for the violence-tinged ignorance, took pains to explain why that’s demonstrably false. Sociologist Mark Elchardus of Vrije Universiteit Brussel explained:

Worse, [in Brussels] anti-Jewish sentiments are unrelated to the level of education or poor social living conditions. . . . Antisemitism is theologically inspired. There is a direct link between being Muslim and anti-Semitic feelings. Catholics, too, are negative toward Jews too, but their sentiments are by far not as strong.”

Belgian politicians are following the theologically-grounded but nonetheless very real anti-Semitism of the Muslim voters who make up 30% of the Brussels electorate. That apparently extends to minimizing the Holocaust in deference to Muslim sensibilities, a trend that their British counterparts trailblazed by dropping the Holocaust from history lessons and reconsidering Holocaust Memorial Day on a national level.

But when Belgium serves as a base for anti-Israel agitation—as in when Belgian judges invoking Belgian laws indict former Israeli Prime Ministers—that’s supposed to be mere disagreement with Israeli policy. All the rest of Belgium’s weird sentiments about Jews are driven either by identifiable anti-Semitism or by political adherence to identifiable anti-Semitism. But when it comes to hostility toward Israeli Jews, Belgian and European pathologies are suddenly transformed into principled disagreement with another government. Nobody ever said that anti-Semites weren’t adept at dissembling their real views.

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Did the Climate Just Get Chillier for Huntsman?

It is a given that if Jon Huntsman is going to win the Republican presidential nomination he’s going to have to prove that the “moderate” label that many in the media have hung on him isn’t accurate. But the question of just how moderate Huntsman actually is may have gotten a little stickier after the publication of an interview with the former Utah governor published in Time magazine that’s going viral in the political blogosphere.

After a discussion of his support for civil unions (but not gay marriage), Time’s Melinda Henneberger asked Huntsman if he believed in climate change. She received this reply:

This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community—though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.

The followup to that exchange established that Huntsman had previously supported carbon cap and trade schemes but no longer did so solely because he felt that after the 2008 economic downturn, they were no longer feasible. So does that make Huntsman an Al Gore clone that has no chance to become the Republican nominee? Not exactly.

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It is a given that if Jon Huntsman is going to win the Republican presidential nomination he’s going to have to prove that the “moderate” label that many in the media have hung on him isn’t accurate. But the question of just how moderate Huntsman actually is may have gotten a little stickier after the publication of an interview with the former Utah governor published in Time magazine that’s going viral in the political blogosphere.

After a discussion of his support for civil unions (but not gay marriage), Time’s Melinda Henneberger asked Huntsman if he believed in climate change. She received this reply:

This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community—though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.

The followup to that exchange established that Huntsman had previously supported carbon cap and trade schemes but no longer did so solely because he felt that after the 2008 economic downturn, they were no longer feasible. So does that make Huntsman an Al Gore clone that has no chance to become the Republican nominee? Not exactly.

There is nothing that controversial about saying the climate is changing. Over the course of recorded history, we know that climates have shifted, sometimes in extreme fashion. After all, in Leif Erickson’s time, Greenland was actually green though pre-industrial human activity almost certainly had nothing to do with it. The question is, do you, like Gore, accept as a matter of faith, alarmist warming predictions and that, also as a matter of faith, humans are the ones who are responsible for the problem? Those who do so are more likely than not to support, at least in principle, the sort of radical cut backs in emissions that would cripple the global economy and place restrictions on economic freedom as well as personal liberty.

So it’s possible for Huntsman to talk his way out of this with conservatives without being completely Gored in their eyes. But Huntsman’s past support for cap and trade and his unwillingness to see the question as one of economic freedom versus top-down overregulation makes him a hard sell for the GOP core. His response was also a far cry from the full-scale mea culpa that Tim Pawlenty has adopted to apologize for his past support of such schemes.

It’s true that John McCain was a supporter of global warming prevention measures and still won the nomination in 2008. But McCain had a resume line that appealed strongly to conservatives—the one that said “war hero”—that Huntsman and other so-called moderates running now lack.

Voters in Republican primaries and caucuses are overwhelmingly conservative and will not nominate what in an earlier time we might have termed a “country club” Republican whose stands on social issues and global warming fit in better with NPR listeners than Fox News watchers. If Huntsman is serious about wanting to be the GOP nominee, he is going to have to start thinking and talking like a conservative. Otherwise, he might as well have stayed in Beijing.

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The Queen Visits Michael Collins’s Ireland

It isn’t getting much press here in the States, but in Britain and Ireland the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic is very big news indeed. And justifiably so: it is the first visit by a British monarch to southern Ireland since 1911, when it was still a British colony. Within ten years Ireland had become independent, the first colony to do so since the 13 American colonies won their freedom in 1782. The Irish victory in their War of Independence shook imperial self-confidence and presaged further revolts that within a few decades would lead to the sun’s setting on an empire that once spanned the globe.

The man who more than any other was responsible for this outcome was Michael Collins, the IRA’s director of intelligence and its de-facto commanding general. Terrorists have gotten a bad name, and rightly so, but if ever there was a good terrorist it was the fun-loving, hard-living “Mick.” Unlike so many of those who have practiced terrorism in more recent years, Collins avoided indiscriminate attacks on civilians.  He vetoed schemes such as the proposed truck-bombing of the House of Commons. Instead he directed most of his energies to targeting British agents and their Irish collaborators.

Like any other civil war—including the American Revolution—the Irish War of Independence had its share of atrocities. IRA operatives killed civilians accused of being informants, and British officers sometimes tortured IRA prisoners to extract information. But on the whole, it was far more humanely conducted on both sides than most civil wars before or since.

This was a tribute to Britain’s institutions—free press, independent judiciary, parliamentary oversight. While there were abuses by the occupying authorities (most notoriously the killing of 12 spectators at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium in 1920), they were far removed from the type of horrors being perpetrated today in, say, Syria. Collins and his comrades, for all their contempt for their colonial overlords, were also raised in the spirit of English “fair play,” and though they could be ruthless on occasion (most notably when Collins’s personal hit-squad assassinated 14 suspected British intelligence operatives in their beds: the event which precipitated the “Bloody Sunday” massacre at Croke Park), they did not succumb to the kind of indiscriminate bloodletting which has become all too common today from the Congo to Iraq.

Michael Collins was an inspiration in another way: he was willing to settle for a negotiated peace that excluded northern Ireland from the new Irish Free State, and he was willing to fight a bloody civil war against his former IRA comrades to enforce that treaty with Britain. It was the latter battle which cost him his life in 1922. But while Collins died young, his legacy has proved enduring.

The state which he helped create has become a durable democracy, and in more recent years a prosperous place too. It is fitting that the Queen is burying historic animosities with a visit that reaffirms Anglo-Irish friendship and could serve as a model for other post-conflict situations.

It isn’t getting much press here in the States, but in Britain and Ireland the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic is very big news indeed. And justifiably so: it is the first visit by a British monarch to southern Ireland since 1911, when it was still a British colony. Within ten years Ireland had become independent, the first colony to do so since the 13 American colonies won their freedom in 1782. The Irish victory in their War of Independence shook imperial self-confidence and presaged further revolts that within a few decades would lead to the sun’s setting on an empire that once spanned the globe.

The man who more than any other was responsible for this outcome was Michael Collins, the IRA’s director of intelligence and its de-facto commanding general. Terrorists have gotten a bad name, and rightly so, but if ever there was a good terrorist it was the fun-loving, hard-living “Mick.” Unlike so many of those who have practiced terrorism in more recent years, Collins avoided indiscriminate attacks on civilians.  He vetoed schemes such as the proposed truck-bombing of the House of Commons. Instead he directed most of his energies to targeting British agents and their Irish collaborators.

Like any other civil war—including the American Revolution—the Irish War of Independence had its share of atrocities. IRA operatives killed civilians accused of being informants, and British officers sometimes tortured IRA prisoners to extract information. But on the whole, it was far more humanely conducted on both sides than most civil wars before or since.

This was a tribute to Britain’s institutions—free press, independent judiciary, parliamentary oversight. While there were abuses by the occupying authorities (most notoriously the killing of 12 spectators at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium in 1920), they were far removed from the type of horrors being perpetrated today in, say, Syria. Collins and his comrades, for all their contempt for their colonial overlords, were also raised in the spirit of English “fair play,” and though they could be ruthless on occasion (most notably when Collins’s personal hit-squad assassinated 14 suspected British intelligence operatives in their beds: the event which precipitated the “Bloody Sunday” massacre at Croke Park), they did not succumb to the kind of indiscriminate bloodletting which has become all too common today from the Congo to Iraq.

Michael Collins was an inspiration in another way: he was willing to settle for a negotiated peace that excluded northern Ireland from the new Irish Free State, and he was willing to fight a bloody civil war against his former IRA comrades to enforce that treaty with Britain. It was the latter battle which cost him his life in 1922. But while Collins died young, his legacy has proved enduring.

The state which he helped create has become a durable democracy, and in more recent years a prosperous place too. It is fitting that the Queen is burying historic animosities with a visit that reaffirms Anglo-Irish friendship and could serve as a model for other post-conflict situations.

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Abbas Rewrites History, Including His Own

Mahmoud Abbas, Falastin a-Thaura (official PLO journal), March 1976:

The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which Jews used to live.

Mahmoud Abbas, New York Times, May 16 2011:

In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative [regarding partition]. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.

Abbas opens his New York Times op-ed by poignantly recalling how as a young boy he and his family were “forced to leave” their Galilean village of Safed during the tumult. That too, per a 2009 interview that he gave to Al-Palestinia TV, is a lie. According to a historical witness who is himself, Abbas and his “well-off” family left their village preemptively, based on feverish conspiracy theories predicting Jewish retribution for the anti-Jewish massacres committed by Arabs during the 1920s. He might have added that Safed’s Arabs very enthusiastically participated in those 1920s massacres, continuing to indulge in pogroms through the 1930s. Of course, those facts would not have made a retribution campaign in Safed any less a fantasy. Arabs weren’t “forced to leave” the village by Jews, except maybe by the Jews who had taken up residence in their minds.

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Mahmoud Abbas, Falastin a-Thaura (official PLO journal), March 1976:

The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which Jews used to live.

Mahmoud Abbas, New York Times, May 16 2011:

In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative [regarding partition]. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.

Abbas opens his New York Times op-ed by poignantly recalling how as a young boy he and his family were “forced to leave” their Galilean village of Safed during the tumult. That too, per a 2009 interview that he gave to Al-Palestinia TV, is a lie. According to a historical witness who is himself, Abbas and his “well-off” family left their village preemptively, based on feverish conspiracy theories predicting Jewish retribution for the anti-Jewish massacres committed by Arabs during the 1920s. He might have added that Safed’s Arabs very enthusiastically participated in those 1920s massacres, continuing to indulge in pogroms through the 1930s. Of course, those facts would not have made a retribution campaign in Safed any less a fantasy. Arabs weren’t “forced to leave” the village by Jews, except maybe by the Jews who had taken up residence in their minds.

Abbas tells these little fibs are in addition to laying out an eyeroll-inducing timeline, where “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.” What a quick intervention that was. Some might almost say it was nearly instantaneous, in that it happened within a few hours of Israel’s creation.

Now, no one really expects the Palestinians not to peddle historical reveries in which they up and left in the face of a Jewish onslaught and not at the exhortation of invading Arab armies. In theory Jews had an incentive to keep their Arab neighbors from fleeing, in as far as they feared indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Arab forces. Arab forces had the opposite incentive, in as far as they intended to shell civilian areas indiscriminately. (By way of illustration, see this Jordanian Colonel’s gleeful account of how the Arab Legion shelled Jerusalem’s “densely populated” Jewish Quarter with mortars until it was ethnically cleansed.)

And so unsurprisingly there are accounts—this one by British Port Office H. C. Stebbens, for example—of how the Arab invasion “was preceded by extensive broadcasts from Cairo, Damascus, Amman, and Beirut to the effect that any Arabs who stayed would be hanged as collaborators with the Jews.” Why collaborators? Because they would have been serving as de-facto human shields.

But again, no amount of historical documentation is going to keep people honest about the Palestinians’ self-inflicted Nakba. Those are just the terms of the debate. Anti-Israel partisans lie casually, they lie consistently, and they lie even when they’re contradicting their own previous lies. Which is a problem, because when arguments are premised on falsehoods there can’t be any genuine debate.

As a small example, the real importance of his op-ed is that Abbas seems to set an entirely new precondition for peace talks, which is the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state—a violation of all the Palestinians’ previous Oslo I and II commitments. But no one can get to that because it takes hours to untangle how, no, the Israelis haven’t been spending the last 60 years wiping out Arabs, and yes, until recently even Abbas was willing to admit that.

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Heaven May Be a Fairy Tale, but Who Said Fairy Tales Aren’t Real?

Stephen Hawking is among the greatest scientific minds since Einstein. But he is a better theoretical physicist than he is a theologian. In an interview, Hawking declared, “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers [Hawking regards the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail]; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Another exquisitely intelligent person spoke about heaven in a much more sophisticated manner than Hawking.

C. S. Lewis believed, with J. R. R. Tolkien, that Christianity was “true myth.” The Gospel story, they believed, had what one commentator called “the emotional and imaginative power of a myth.” They also believed that understanding myth was part of understanding truth, that myths foreshadowed the drama of the incarnation. “If you take the sacrificial idea out of Christianity you deprive both Judaism and Paganism of all significance,” Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1932. “Can one believe that there was just nothing in that persistent motif of blood, death, and resurrection, which runs like a black and scarlet cord through all the greater myths—thro’ Balder & Dionysus & Adonis & the Graal too? Surely the history of the human mind hangs together better if you supposed that all this was the first shadowy approach of something whose reality came with Christ—even if we can’t at present fully understand that something.”

What Hawking said about fairy tales, then, may be closer to the mark than he intended or understands. A fairy tale, as Lewis pointed out, is merely a story about the world of the spirit, “the only real ‘other world’ that we know.” Where Hawking and Lewis really differ is over the question whether the human spirit is real.

Whether Hawking or Lewis is right is impossible for us, the living here on earth, to know with certainty. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” Jesus told Thomas (John 20:29). Being an empirical sort of fellow I have long sympathized with Thomas and wondered why exactly it is more blessed to believe having not seen than having seen. Why is arguably the most important commitment of our life based on convictions that can’t be fully tested or proven? Why are we asked to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see? Perhaps part of the answer has to do with the fact that if all doubt were cleared away, the investment of trust in a person (or object) would somehow mean less. In any event, I know enough to know that faith by definition transcends (but does not necessarily contradict) reason and evidence.

Stephen Hawking is a terrifically bright person. But in this instance I’m betting C. S. Lewis was right: Hawking’s myth prefigures something true, something real, something glorious.

Stephen Hawking is among the greatest scientific minds since Einstein. But he is a better theoretical physicist than he is a theologian. In an interview, Hawking declared, “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers [Hawking regards the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail]; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Another exquisitely intelligent person spoke about heaven in a much more sophisticated manner than Hawking.

C. S. Lewis believed, with J. R. R. Tolkien, that Christianity was “true myth.” The Gospel story, they believed, had what one commentator called “the emotional and imaginative power of a myth.” They also believed that understanding myth was part of understanding truth, that myths foreshadowed the drama of the incarnation. “If you take the sacrificial idea out of Christianity you deprive both Judaism and Paganism of all significance,” Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1932. “Can one believe that there was just nothing in that persistent motif of blood, death, and resurrection, which runs like a black and scarlet cord through all the greater myths—thro’ Balder & Dionysus & Adonis & the Graal too? Surely the history of the human mind hangs together better if you supposed that all this was the first shadowy approach of something whose reality came with Christ—even if we can’t at present fully understand that something.”

What Hawking said about fairy tales, then, may be closer to the mark than he intended or understands. A fairy tale, as Lewis pointed out, is merely a story about the world of the spirit, “the only real ‘other world’ that we know.” Where Hawking and Lewis really differ is over the question whether the human spirit is real.

Whether Hawking or Lewis is right is impossible for us, the living here on earth, to know with certainty. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” Jesus told Thomas (John 20:29). Being an empirical sort of fellow I have long sympathized with Thomas and wondered why exactly it is more blessed to believe having not seen than having seen. Why is arguably the most important commitment of our life based on convictions that can’t be fully tested or proven? Why are we asked to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see? Perhaps part of the answer has to do with the fact that if all doubt were cleared away, the investment of trust in a person (or object) would somehow mean less. In any event, I know enough to know that faith by definition transcends (but does not necessarily contradict) reason and evidence.

Stephen Hawking is a terrifically bright person. But in this instance I’m betting C. S. Lewis was right: Hawking’s myth prefigures something true, something real, something glorious.

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Pakistanis Mourn Bin Laden, Kerry Pushes “Reset”

Sen. John Kerry is telling Pakistani civilian and military leaders that Washington wants to press the “reset button” on relations, even though it’s unclear whether the Pakistanis—or many in Washington, for that matter—have any interest in doing so. According to the Wall Street Journal:

To get that clarity, Sen. Kerry said he had agreed with Pakistan’s leaders to a “road map” of actions both sides will follow over the next few months. Two senior U.S. officials will arrive later this week to further detail those steps, before a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, Sen. Kerry said.

It hasn’t been clear what the Obama administration wants to do in terms of a reset—not to mention, it’s currently tied up in an investigation of bin Laden’s “support network,” which President Obama said might include members of the Pakistani government. And even if the Obama administration is on board with the reset, numerous members of congress are not. There have already been bipartisan efforts to cut U.S. aid to Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis also seem uninterested in a reset. While the civilian government, and even the head of the military, have been working with Kerry on the roadmap plan, a new poll shows that about half of all Pakistanis say they are sad about Osama bin Laden’s death and 44 percent “consider him a martyr.”

That’s not to say repairing relations with a nuclear power bordering both Iran and Afghanistan isn’t important, but it’s going to be a longer and more difficult process than Kerry suggests. And without knowing who in the Pakistani government and military was involved in aiding bin Laden, talk about hitting a reset button may be premature.

Sen. John Kerry is telling Pakistani civilian and military leaders that Washington wants to press the “reset button” on relations, even though it’s unclear whether the Pakistanis—or many in Washington, for that matter—have any interest in doing so. According to the Wall Street Journal:

To get that clarity, Sen. Kerry said he had agreed with Pakistan’s leaders to a “road map” of actions both sides will follow over the next few months. Two senior U.S. officials will arrive later this week to further detail those steps, before a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, Sen. Kerry said.

It hasn’t been clear what the Obama administration wants to do in terms of a reset—not to mention, it’s currently tied up in an investigation of bin Laden’s “support network,” which President Obama said might include members of the Pakistani government. And even if the Obama administration is on board with the reset, numerous members of congress are not. There have already been bipartisan efforts to cut U.S. aid to Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis also seem uninterested in a reset. While the civilian government, and even the head of the military, have been working with Kerry on the roadmap plan, a new poll shows that about half of all Pakistanis say they are sad about Osama bin Laden’s death and 44 percent “consider him a martyr.”

That’s not to say repairing relations with a nuclear power bordering both Iran and Afghanistan isn’t important, but it’s going to be a longer and more difficult process than Kerry suggests. And without knowing who in the Pakistani government and military was involved in aiding bin Laden, talk about hitting a reset button may be premature.

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“He’s Done, It’s Over”

Newt Gingrich tried to stop the fallout from his Meet the Press statements by backing away from them yesterday, but it looks as if this controversy is going to be a fatal blow to his campaign.

“This is a big deal. He’s done. He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over,” Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News’s Special Report last night. “Calling the Republican plan, which all but the four Republican members of the House endorsed and will be running on, and now will be running on, calling it radical and right-wing social engineering is deadly.”

Krauthammer predicted Gingrich’s comments would be used in attack ads against GOP House members. “I mean, I think every one of these Republican candidates running for the House is going to have a Democratic opponent that is going to have an ad that you can write today. It’s going to start, ‘Even conservative Newt Gingrich, the former leader of the republicans in the house says, “It’s radical,” “It’s social engineering.” ’ ”

As always, Krauthammer goes right to the heart of the matter. In the unlikely event that Gingrich were to recover and appear to have a shot at the nomination, it would only serve to heighten the attacks on House conservatives. Democrats would love nothing more than to play up a divide between Republican members of congress and the GOP presidential field.

Other prominent conservatives also slammed Gingrich yesterday. “First off, it cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show. “It supports the Obama administration in the lawsuits that 26 states have filed over the mandate. I guess, what? Back in 1993, Newt supported an individual mandate, everybody should buy insurance. I am as befuddled as anyone else is what I’m telling you.”

When both Krauthammer and Limbaugh denounce you, that’s a sign your campaign may be on life support. This may not be the end for Gingrich, but only a week after he launched his bid it sounds like it’s getting pretty close. If there’s a lesson here for other Republican presidential hopefuls, it’s this: avoid attacks on the Paul Ryan budget at all costs.

Newt Gingrich tried to stop the fallout from his Meet the Press statements by backing away from them yesterday, but it looks as if this controversy is going to be a fatal blow to his campaign.

“This is a big deal. He’s done. He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over,” Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News’s Special Report last night. “Calling the Republican plan, which all but the four Republican members of the House endorsed and will be running on, and now will be running on, calling it radical and right-wing social engineering is deadly.”

Krauthammer predicted Gingrich’s comments would be used in attack ads against GOP House members. “I mean, I think every one of these Republican candidates running for the House is going to have a Democratic opponent that is going to have an ad that you can write today. It’s going to start, ‘Even conservative Newt Gingrich, the former leader of the republicans in the house says, “It’s radical,” “It’s social engineering.” ’ ”

As always, Krauthammer goes right to the heart of the matter. In the unlikely event that Gingrich were to recover and appear to have a shot at the nomination, it would only serve to heighten the attacks on House conservatives. Democrats would love nothing more than to play up a divide between Republican members of congress and the GOP presidential field.

Other prominent conservatives also slammed Gingrich yesterday. “First off, it cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show. “It supports the Obama administration in the lawsuits that 26 states have filed over the mandate. I guess, what? Back in 1993, Newt supported an individual mandate, everybody should buy insurance. I am as befuddled as anyone else is what I’m telling you.”

When both Krauthammer and Limbaugh denounce you, that’s a sign your campaign may be on life support. This may not be the end for Gingrich, but only a week after he launched his bid it sounds like it’s getting pretty close. If there’s a lesson here for other Republican presidential hopefuls, it’s this: avoid attacks on the Paul Ryan budget at all costs.

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Iran’s Profitable War on Drugs

Responding to criticism of Iran’s abysmal record in death sentences (including the highest number of child executions in the world), Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, threatened to flood European markets with heroin: “Westerners have to either be Iran’s partner in the fight against drug traffickers or we must think otherwise and, for instance, allow the transit” of drugs across Iranian territory, according to an Associated Press report. Larijani suggested that 74 percent of those hanged in Iran every year are executed on drug-related charges and, therefore, if the West helped Iran more, death sentences would drop by 74 percent!

If Iran’s record were not so gruesome, Larijani’s suggestion would be laughable. Leaving aside the fact that the remaining 26 per cent of executions not only involve common criminals but also an abundant and ever-growing list of political dissidents and members of ethnic and religious minorities, the complete lack of due process and the most basic principles of judicial fairness in Iran’s judicial system ensure that even in those cases where truly heinous crimes are being punished by the death penalty, judgment is passed without justice.

Besides, the figure Larijani offers is bogus—many dissidents have been executed on trumped up charges—as it was the case with Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami. She was sentenced to death for drug-related crimes, but she had originally been arrested for participating in anti-regime demonstrations in 2009, while on a visit to relatives in Iran. Her crime, then, was to have joined millions of other Iranians in protesting peacefully against their oppressive regime. Drug-crimes were a pretext, which make her, and many others, fall into the bizarrely inflated estimate Larijani cited.

Sadly, Larijani knows his threats will be taken seriously. Iranians complain routinely that they fight drug traffickers without recognition, having done everything to convince Europeans that an alliance with Iran in the war on drugs is possible. Some European leaders have gone so far as to give the Iranian claim an undeserved aura of respectability. In 2009, for example, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, speaking in Brussels about a proposed June G-8 conference on Afghanistan, announced to a stunned audience that “We also want to explore with our allies the possibility of inviting Iran: Iran can be part of the solution, particularly in the fight against narco-traffic which feeds the insurgence.” Fortunately, someone talked Frattini out of this idea, but the distorted perception that Iran is a partner in the war on drugs remains.

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Responding to criticism of Iran’s abysmal record in death sentences (including the highest number of child executions in the world), Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, threatened to flood European markets with heroin: “Westerners have to either be Iran’s partner in the fight against drug traffickers or we must think otherwise and, for instance, allow the transit” of drugs across Iranian territory, according to an Associated Press report. Larijani suggested that 74 percent of those hanged in Iran every year are executed on drug-related charges and, therefore, if the West helped Iran more, death sentences would drop by 74 percent!

If Iran’s record were not so gruesome, Larijani’s suggestion would be laughable. Leaving aside the fact that the remaining 26 per cent of executions not only involve common criminals but also an abundant and ever-growing list of political dissidents and members of ethnic and religious minorities, the complete lack of due process and the most basic principles of judicial fairness in Iran’s judicial system ensure that even in those cases where truly heinous crimes are being punished by the death penalty, judgment is passed without justice.

Besides, the figure Larijani offers is bogus—many dissidents have been executed on trumped up charges—as it was the case with Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami. She was sentenced to death for drug-related crimes, but she had originally been arrested for participating in anti-regime demonstrations in 2009, while on a visit to relatives in Iran. Her crime, then, was to have joined millions of other Iranians in protesting peacefully against their oppressive regime. Drug-crimes were a pretext, which make her, and many others, fall into the bizarrely inflated estimate Larijani cited.

Sadly, Larijani knows his threats will be taken seriously. Iranians complain routinely that they fight drug traffickers without recognition, having done everything to convince Europeans that an alliance with Iran in the war on drugs is possible. Some European leaders have gone so far as to give the Iranian claim an undeserved aura of respectability. In 2009, for example, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, speaking in Brussels about a proposed June G-8 conference on Afghanistan, announced to a stunned audience that “We also want to explore with our allies the possibility of inviting Iran: Iran can be part of the solution, particularly in the fight against narco-traffic which feeds the insurgence.” Fortunately, someone talked Frattini out of this idea, but the distorted perception that Iran is a partner in the war on drugs remains.

As a consequence, Iran benefited repeatedly from Western aid in the fight against drugs’ trafficking. That aid included the supply of advanced military equipment the sale of which was authorized, despite existing embargoes, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In 2005, for example, Austrian arms manufacturer, Steyr Mannlicher, sold 800 sniper rifles under license. Iran was also supplied with British-made bullet proof vests and night vision equipment for the same purpose.

If there is a proven track record of European willingness to buy into its argument that Iran is fighting a war against drug traffickers on behalf of Europe, there is also abundant evidence that the Iranian regime is taking the mickey out of its naïve European interlocutors.

It is not just that the aforementioned arms supplies were not used to fight drug traffickers but served other, less noble purposes—the Austrian guns were reverse-engineered by Iran’s military industry, as I have documented elsewhere—and their replicas ended up being supplied to Iraqi Shi’a militias fighting Western forces, while the night vision equipment made its way to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The reality is far worse. Not only has the Iranian regime exploited Western assistance in the war against drugs to acquire sophisticated technology that ended up benefiting Iran’s supported terrorists in the region. What’s worse, Iran is actually making a profit from the drug trade, which, according to Wikileaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in Baku, is in fact run by the regime. In 2009, U.S. diplomats noted the dramatic increase in heroin exports from Iran into Azerbaijan and added that in all likelihood Iran was responsible for the increased flow of drugs transiting through the Caspian region on their way to European markets. The cables referred to evidence of “active Iranian security personnel collaboration in transit traffic and in the operation of heroin processing laboratories in Tabriz and elsewhere in Iran.” So much, then, for Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi’s recent claim that “Iran has never been appreciated for its efforts in the fight against drugs trafficking, although it has incurred heavy costs,” or Larijani’s lamenting that the West is not doing enough to help Iran fight drug traffickers.

The main culprit of heroin transits (and, it appears, a main beneficiary of its revenues) turns out to be the Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime that acts like a crime syndicate in how it runs its foreign policy while winning all the prizes for worst human-rights records in the world.

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A Letter From Sarah

In politics, as with show business, the proverbial wisdom is out of sight, out of mind. Sarah Palin has been out of the national conversation for a few months while those Republicans who are actively preparing to run for president have been desperately trying to get into it. As I wrote yesterday, this dead silence has convinced those who are not her acolytes that she has no plans to run for president. And with every day that passes the chances of her making a bid decreases.

Thus any sign of life from Palin’s camp is news of a sort. The Washington Post reports that her political action committee recently sent out a direct mail letter to over 400,000 homes. The letter, entitled “2012 Can’t Come Fast Enough,” was enough to encourage some of her supporters who eagerly shared the news with the world in the hope that it would fuel interest in a Palin presidential run. But Sarah Pac’s fundraising appeal said nothing about her presidential prospects. It was merely a general solicitation for money that would be used to help the GOP win both Congress and the White House next year.

The mailing is proof that Palin intends to remain a force within the Republican Party, doling out cash to candidates she favors. Palin’s record in 2010 was mixed at best. Helping Nikki Haley to win the South Carolina governorship was the high point. But her role in promoting Christine O’Donnell’s disastrous bid for a Delaware Senate seat is a reminder that the former Alaska governor’s judgment can be seriously out of whack at times.

From now until she finally announces her 2012 plans, every obscure piece of evidence will be closely examined for signs of her intentions. But if this mailing is the most convincing proof her fans can produce as a sign that she will run, they’d do better to start thinking about which actual candidate they plan on supporting.

In politics, as with show business, the proverbial wisdom is out of sight, out of mind. Sarah Palin has been out of the national conversation for a few months while those Republicans who are actively preparing to run for president have been desperately trying to get into it. As I wrote yesterday, this dead silence has convinced those who are not her acolytes that she has no plans to run for president. And with every day that passes the chances of her making a bid decreases.

Thus any sign of life from Palin’s camp is news of a sort. The Washington Post reports that her political action committee recently sent out a direct mail letter to over 400,000 homes. The letter, entitled “2012 Can’t Come Fast Enough,” was enough to encourage some of her supporters who eagerly shared the news with the world in the hope that it would fuel interest in a Palin presidential run. But Sarah Pac’s fundraising appeal said nothing about her presidential prospects. It was merely a general solicitation for money that would be used to help the GOP win both Congress and the White House next year.

The mailing is proof that Palin intends to remain a force within the Republican Party, doling out cash to candidates she favors. Palin’s record in 2010 was mixed at best. Helping Nikki Haley to win the South Carolina governorship was the high point. But her role in promoting Christine O’Donnell’s disastrous bid for a Delaware Senate seat is a reminder that the former Alaska governor’s judgment can be seriously out of whack at times.

From now until she finally announces her 2012 plans, every obscure piece of evidence will be closely examined for signs of her intentions. But if this mailing is the most convincing proof her fans can produce as a sign that she will run, they’d do better to start thinking about which actual candidate they plan on supporting.

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Ground to Dust in 24 Hours

In the wake of his highly critical comments about the House GOP budget, and in particular the Medicare reform it proposes, Newt Gingrich has been pounded by the likes of Charles Krauthammer (see here), Rush Limbaugh (see here), Bill Bennett (see here), Brit Hume (see here), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page (see here), among many others. And this interesting exchange took place yesterday with a voter in Iowa, who advised Gingrich to “Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

The criticism from so many different quarters suggests the degree to which Representative Paul Ryan, in only a matter of months, has shifted the political and philosophical debate within conservatism. Although he himself is quite a large figure in the history of the modern GOP, Gingrich thought it would be a good idea to launch a withering attack on the Ryan plan—and for his pains he found himself ground to dust in fewer than 24 hours. Other Republican presidential candidates must have taken notice.

For decades reforming entitlement programs along the lines Ryan has proposed was considered insane, a political death wish. Now it has become a key part of the GOP agenda, and most conservatives, including intellectual conservatives, believe it merits support and defense. That may change over time, of course, depending on how events unfold. But for now, reckless attacks against what Ryan has proposed will be met by powerful criticism from a spectrum of influential figures within conservatism. And it’ll have an effect. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

In the wake of his highly critical comments about the House GOP budget, and in particular the Medicare reform it proposes, Newt Gingrich has been pounded by the likes of Charles Krauthammer (see here), Rush Limbaugh (see here), Bill Bennett (see here), Brit Hume (see here), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page (see here), among many others. And this interesting exchange took place yesterday with a voter in Iowa, who advised Gingrich to “Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

The criticism from so many different quarters suggests the degree to which Representative Paul Ryan, in only a matter of months, has shifted the political and philosophical debate within conservatism. Although he himself is quite a large figure in the history of the modern GOP, Gingrich thought it would be a good idea to launch a withering attack on the Ryan plan—and for his pains he found himself ground to dust in fewer than 24 hours. Other Republican presidential candidates must have taken notice.

For decades reforming entitlement programs along the lines Ryan has proposed was considered insane, a political death wish. Now it has become a key part of the GOP agenda, and most conservatives, including intellectual conservatives, believe it merits support and defense. That may change over time, of course, depending on how events unfold. But for now, reckless attacks against what Ryan has proposed will be met by powerful criticism from a spectrum of influential figures within conservatism. And it’ll have an effect. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

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Mitt’s Money Won’t Scare Anyone Out of the Race

By raising $10.25 million on Monday, Mitt Romney got his official campaign off to a lucrative official start. The one-day event surpassed the results of a similar fundraising kickoff that garnered him over $7 million back in 2007 for his disappointing 2008 presidential run. But it’s doubtful that an extra $3 million or far more than that will produce a happier ending for the former Massachusetts governor.

The strategic thrust of Romney’s 2012 campaign is that he has more cash, name recognition, and mainstream support than anyone else. By demonstrating credibility early on and amassing a huge lead in fundraising, he believes he can either scare potential opponents out of the race or swamp lesser-known rivals for the affections of the party establishment. Romney would then square off against whoever emerged from the second tier of marginal candidates and squash them in the primaries, because he would be seen as the only possible president left standing.

It might just have worked—if only Barack Obama not convulsed the nation by pushing through a national health care plan that bore a strong resemblance to the program that Romney signed in Massachusetts. But Obama did what he did, and all the king’s horses and all the cash in Las Vegas, where Romney gathered his big donors yesterday, can’t put his prospects back together again. Romney won’t be able to buy the affections of a Republican electorate that views opposition to government mandated health care plans as the focal point of their effort to defeat Obama’s reelection bid.

Romney has spent most of 2011 concentrating on putting together a war chest with help from his friends and admirers on Wall Street. But as the overwhelmingly negative reaction to his health care speech last week in which he doubled down on his RomneyCare record showed, all his cash can’t make up for the damage the issue has done to him. Right now rather than being intimidated by Romney’s supposed huge head start, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, and the even more obscure Jon Huntsman are all convinced they could beat Romney. Even more daunting is the fact that even an outlier like Michele Bachmann is probably thinking the same thing. They are all convinced that he is nothing but a well-financed paper tiger with no more chance of getting the nomination than Herman Cain or Rick Santorum and are going ahead on the assumption that Romney’s campaign will sink swiftly as soon as we start counting votes rather than money.

By raising $10.25 million on Monday, Mitt Romney got his official campaign off to a lucrative official start. The one-day event surpassed the results of a similar fundraising kickoff that garnered him over $7 million back in 2007 for his disappointing 2008 presidential run. But it’s doubtful that an extra $3 million or far more than that will produce a happier ending for the former Massachusetts governor.

The strategic thrust of Romney’s 2012 campaign is that he has more cash, name recognition, and mainstream support than anyone else. By demonstrating credibility early on and amassing a huge lead in fundraising, he believes he can either scare potential opponents out of the race or swamp lesser-known rivals for the affections of the party establishment. Romney would then square off against whoever emerged from the second tier of marginal candidates and squash them in the primaries, because he would be seen as the only possible president left standing.

It might just have worked—if only Barack Obama not convulsed the nation by pushing through a national health care plan that bore a strong resemblance to the program that Romney signed in Massachusetts. But Obama did what he did, and all the king’s horses and all the cash in Las Vegas, where Romney gathered his big donors yesterday, can’t put his prospects back together again. Romney won’t be able to buy the affections of a Republican electorate that views opposition to government mandated health care plans as the focal point of their effort to defeat Obama’s reelection bid.

Romney has spent most of 2011 concentrating on putting together a war chest with help from his friends and admirers on Wall Street. But as the overwhelmingly negative reaction to his health care speech last week in which he doubled down on his RomneyCare record showed, all his cash can’t make up for the damage the issue has done to him. Right now rather than being intimidated by Romney’s supposed huge head start, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, and the even more obscure Jon Huntsman are all convinced they could beat Romney. Even more daunting is the fact that even an outlier like Michele Bachmann is probably thinking the same thing. They are all convinced that he is nothing but a well-financed paper tiger with no more chance of getting the nomination than Herman Cain or Rick Santorum and are going ahead on the assumption that Romney’s campaign will sink swiftly as soon as we start counting votes rather than money.

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Don’t Even Try Defecting to Lebanon

Three Syrian soldiers tried to defect to Lebanon after shielding fleeing refugees from Bashar al-Assad’s violent Shahiba miltia, but they were promptly arrested by Lebanese army officers and will most likely be sent back to Damascus. “Defecting” from Syria to Lebanon in 2011 is as useless as fleeing Moscow to East Berlin during the Soviet era. Anyone who tries is all but guaranteed to be arrested, will most likely be tortured, and faces the real possibility of being executed.

It’s sad, really. Lebanon, when left to its own devices, is a fairly open place and has acted as a refuge of sorts for writers and dissidents who can’t survive in the Arab world’s closed societies and despotic political systems. The country very nearly recovered its sovereignty and reverted to its old sectarian-democratic self after the Cedar Revolution in 2005, but today it’s firmly back in the Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc.

No one rules Lebanon in the usual way Middle Eastern countries are ruled. Those who live in, say, the Christian city of Jounieh aren’t affected at all by Syrian, Iranian, or Hezbollah politics as they go about their daily lives. They can say whatever they want, and they can do whatever they want.

Syria and Iran, though, via Hezbollah and their bribed and bullied proxies in the government and armed forces, are firmly in charge of Lebanon’s foreign and internal security policies. The three decent Syrian soldiers seeking refuge are probably doomed.

Three Syrian soldiers tried to defect to Lebanon after shielding fleeing refugees from Bashar al-Assad’s violent Shahiba miltia, but they were promptly arrested by Lebanese army officers and will most likely be sent back to Damascus. “Defecting” from Syria to Lebanon in 2011 is as useless as fleeing Moscow to East Berlin during the Soviet era. Anyone who tries is all but guaranteed to be arrested, will most likely be tortured, and faces the real possibility of being executed.

It’s sad, really. Lebanon, when left to its own devices, is a fairly open place and has acted as a refuge of sorts for writers and dissidents who can’t survive in the Arab world’s closed societies and despotic political systems. The country very nearly recovered its sovereignty and reverted to its old sectarian-democratic self after the Cedar Revolution in 2005, but today it’s firmly back in the Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc.

No one rules Lebanon in the usual way Middle Eastern countries are ruled. Those who live in, say, the Christian city of Jounieh aren’t affected at all by Syrian, Iranian, or Hezbollah politics as they go about their daily lives. They can say whatever they want, and they can do whatever they want.

Syria and Iran, though, via Hezbollah and their bribed and bullied proxies in the government and armed forces, are firmly in charge of Lebanon’s foreign and internal security policies. The three decent Syrian soldiers seeking refuge are probably doomed.

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Defending Demagogy and Deceit on Medicare

To call the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new ad campaign (“Vote Republican, End Medicare”) misleading is to say only the most obvious thing about it, but when Politico’s Mike Allen said so he sent Matthew Yglesias into a tirade that was even more deceitful than usual:

There is nothing even slightly misleading about that slogan. “Medicare” refers to a single-payer universal health insurance program instituted by the Social Security Act of 1965. If a political movement committed to having that program “wither on the vine” and die puts forward a bill to abolish that program and replace it with a system of private vouchers, then it doesn’t matter whether or not the voucher program is still called Medicare.

Yglesias is being literal-minded to score political points. Medicare may technically “refer” to a “single-payer” program, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear the term. Medicare’s purpose is to serve as a provider of health coverage to people over the age of 65 or the disabled. Indeed, if you google Medicare that’s the definition that pops up most regularly: “A federal program that pays for certain health care expenses for people aged 65 or older,” “A federally funded system of health and hospital insurance for persons aged 65 and older and for disabled persons,” etc. The DCCC slogan is misleading is because it insinuates that the GOP wants to abolish the health care safety net for the elderly and the incapacitated.

In reality, the Republicans are working to ensure that the program won’t go bankrupt. What will actually destroy the health care safety net is if we make no changes to the current system.

Maybe the DCCC and Yglesias believe that the most essential characteristic of Medicare is the single-payer part. But the biggest concern for most Americans is whether Medicare will continue to provide health coverage. To imply that this would end under the GOP is deliberately deceitful and inaccurate.

To call the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new ad campaign (“Vote Republican, End Medicare”) misleading is to say only the most obvious thing about it, but when Politico’s Mike Allen said so he sent Matthew Yglesias into a tirade that was even more deceitful than usual:

There is nothing even slightly misleading about that slogan. “Medicare” refers to a single-payer universal health insurance program instituted by the Social Security Act of 1965. If a political movement committed to having that program “wither on the vine” and die puts forward a bill to abolish that program and replace it with a system of private vouchers, then it doesn’t matter whether or not the voucher program is still called Medicare.

Yglesias is being literal-minded to score political points. Medicare may technically “refer” to a “single-payer” program, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear the term. Medicare’s purpose is to serve as a provider of health coverage to people over the age of 65 or the disabled. Indeed, if you google Medicare that’s the definition that pops up most regularly: “A federal program that pays for certain health care expenses for people aged 65 or older,” “A federally funded system of health and hospital insurance for persons aged 65 and older and for disabled persons,” etc. The DCCC slogan is misleading is because it insinuates that the GOP wants to abolish the health care safety net for the elderly and the incapacitated.

In reality, the Republicans are working to ensure that the program won’t go bankrupt. What will actually destroy the health care safety net is if we make no changes to the current system.

Maybe the DCCC and Yglesias believe that the most essential characteristic of Medicare is the single-payer part. But the biggest concern for most Americans is whether Medicare will continue to provide health coverage. To imply that this would end under the GOP is deliberately deceitful and inaccurate.

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