Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 3, 2011

Savings from an Afghanistan Withdrawal: Trivial

Earlier today I tried to point out that it is cheaper to pay for success in Afghanistan than to draw down precipitously and incur the costs of failure later on. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution expands on the argument in this excellent Washington Post op-ed. Specifically, O’Hanlon observes:

We’re already committed to spending $444 billion; no big savings are feasible this summer regardless of the president’s July decision. Even adopting a “counterterrorism plus” strategy similar to what the vice president purportedly favors would keep an average of perhaps 50,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the coming year, 30,000 the following year and 20,000 in the country thereafter, indefinitely.

In short, any savings from a reduction now would be trivial compared to the size of the investment we have already made in Afghanistan—and trivial too by comparison with our national debt of $14 trillion.

Earlier today I tried to point out that it is cheaper to pay for success in Afghanistan than to draw down precipitously and incur the costs of failure later on. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution expands on the argument in this excellent Washington Post op-ed. Specifically, O’Hanlon observes:

We’re already committed to spending $444 billion; no big savings are feasible this summer regardless of the president’s July decision. Even adopting a “counterterrorism plus” strategy similar to what the vice president purportedly favors would keep an average of perhaps 50,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the coming year, 30,000 the following year and 20,000 in the country thereafter, indefinitely.

In short, any savings from a reduction now would be trivial compared to the size of the investment we have already made in Afghanistan—and trivial too by comparison with our national debt of $14 trillion.

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New White House Website Defends Obama’s Israel Record

Democratic operatives have denied that President Obama’s controversial remarks on Israel will hurt him with pro-Israel voters, but the president’s own actions suggest that he is indeed worried about the fallout.

Earlier, I wrote about Rahm Emanuel’s politically-calculated defense of Obama’s “commitment to Israel” in the Washington Post. And now it appears that the White House has also launched a new section on its website, defending the president’s Israel record.

The website, headlined “President Obama: Advancing Israel’s Security and Supporting Peace,” reiterates the president’s call for a negotiation based on the “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” But it does not say that the U.S. will support Israel’s imperative to incorporate heavily-populated Israel settlements across the green line into its future borders, and he says nothing about the existential threat of the Palestinian “right of return.” He also didn’t comment on the impending Hamas-Fatah unity government.

The website does show that Democrats are concerned about the impact the Israel issue will have on the 2012 election. We’ve already known this to some extent, especially after DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that it should be off-limits to criticize politicians on their Israel policy. It’s also the clearest admission we’ve seen from the White House that it completely bungled Netanyahu’s visit, and now has to backpedal in order to clean up the mess.

Democratic operatives have denied that President Obama’s controversial remarks on Israel will hurt him with pro-Israel voters, but the president’s own actions suggest that he is indeed worried about the fallout.

Earlier, I wrote about Rahm Emanuel’s politically-calculated defense of Obama’s “commitment to Israel” in the Washington Post. And now it appears that the White House has also launched a new section on its website, defending the president’s Israel record.

The website, headlined “President Obama: Advancing Israel’s Security and Supporting Peace,” reiterates the president’s call for a negotiation based on the “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” But it does not say that the U.S. will support Israel’s imperative to incorporate heavily-populated Israel settlements across the green line into its future borders, and he says nothing about the existential threat of the Palestinian “right of return.” He also didn’t comment on the impending Hamas-Fatah unity government.

The website does show that Democrats are concerned about the impact the Israel issue will have on the 2012 election. We’ve already known this to some extent, especially after DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that it should be off-limits to criticize politicians on their Israel policy. It’s also the clearest admission we’ve seen from the White House that it completely bungled Netanyahu’s visit, and now has to backpedal in order to clean up the mess.

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The Shame of the Kucinich Resolution

It’s truly amazing how flexible lawmakers’ principles are—how much they depend on who is in the White House. Few if any Republicans would have thought to challenge the Libya intervention if ordered by President Bush. It’s a different story with a Democrat in the White House. Today 87 House Republicans voted for a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the most left-wing (and downright flaky) members of Congress, calling for the removal of U.S. forces from Libya within 15 days. That’s more than the number of Democratic votes Kucinich picked up—61.

Granted most Republicans voted against the Kucinich resolution, but that was only because they had the option of voting for a milder resolution of censure sponsored by the Speaker, John Boehner, who was worried that even more of his caucus otherwise would support Kucinich. Boehner’s resolution, which passed by 268 to 145, declares that “(1) the president has not asked for congressional authorization, and that the Congress has not granted it; (2) reasserts Congress’ constitutional role on funding; (3) requires the president to provide within 14 days information on the mission that should have been provided from the start; and (4) reaffirms the vote we took last week that says there should be no troops on the ground. “

I can understand why House Republicans are mad. I have my own questions about the Libya intervention. Its admirable goal (Qaddafi’s toppling) has not been matched by suitable military means. And Obama has not helped his own cause by not asking for congressional authorization, as Bush did before intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The time-limit of the War Powers Act, which mandates that the president get authorization from Congress within 60 days for a use of force, has already expired, and Obama hasn’t even bothered to argue that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, as all of his predecessors have done. He’s simply ignored it, by trying to pretend that the U.S. isn’t really at war (it’s a NATO action, you see) without actually repudiating it.

At the end of the day, though, Obama is the commander-in-chief and he is acting well within his rights to commit U.S. forces to stop Qaddafi’s slaughter and even to depose him. No declaration of war on the part of Congress is necessary—presidents have used force hundreds of times since 1789 without it. Moreover, the U.S. does have backing from NATO and the UN from this mission, even if not from Congress. Lawmakers should put aside their personal pique and think of the greater good of the country, which will be served by bringing this war to a speedy and successful conclusion. Their actions today only make the job of American military personnel harder, dishearten the country’s closest allies, and embolden Qaddafi to resist more.

It’s truly amazing how flexible lawmakers’ principles are—how much they depend on who is in the White House. Few if any Republicans would have thought to challenge the Libya intervention if ordered by President Bush. It’s a different story with a Democrat in the White House. Today 87 House Republicans voted for a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the most left-wing (and downright flaky) members of Congress, calling for the removal of U.S. forces from Libya within 15 days. That’s more than the number of Democratic votes Kucinich picked up—61.

Granted most Republicans voted against the Kucinich resolution, but that was only because they had the option of voting for a milder resolution of censure sponsored by the Speaker, John Boehner, who was worried that even more of his caucus otherwise would support Kucinich. Boehner’s resolution, which passed by 268 to 145, declares that “(1) the president has not asked for congressional authorization, and that the Congress has not granted it; (2) reasserts Congress’ constitutional role on funding; (3) requires the president to provide within 14 days information on the mission that should have been provided from the start; and (4) reaffirms the vote we took last week that says there should be no troops on the ground. “

I can understand why House Republicans are mad. I have my own questions about the Libya intervention. Its admirable goal (Qaddafi’s toppling) has not been matched by suitable military means. And Obama has not helped his own cause by not asking for congressional authorization, as Bush did before intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The time-limit of the War Powers Act, which mandates that the president get authorization from Congress within 60 days for a use of force, has already expired, and Obama hasn’t even bothered to argue that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, as all of his predecessors have done. He’s simply ignored it, by trying to pretend that the U.S. isn’t really at war (it’s a NATO action, you see) without actually repudiating it.

At the end of the day, though, Obama is the commander-in-chief and he is acting well within his rights to commit U.S. forces to stop Qaddafi’s slaughter and even to depose him. No declaration of war on the part of Congress is necessary—presidents have used force hundreds of times since 1789 without it. Moreover, the U.S. does have backing from NATO and the UN from this mission, even if not from Congress. Lawmakers should put aside their personal pique and think of the greater good of the country, which will be served by bringing this war to a speedy and successful conclusion. Their actions today only make the job of American military personnel harder, dishearten the country’s closest allies, and embolden Qaddafi to resist more.

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Old Conspiracy Theories Never Die, Part II

A group of left-wing and partisan Middle East advocacy groups has just published a letter urging Congressmen to dismiss a bill that would augment sanctions on Iran. I have not read that bill, and so won’t take a position yet, but this statement with regard to sanctions caught my eye:

We have also learned from past experience that the humanitarian toll of such measures can be massive, as evidenced by the oil embargo on Iraq that was estimated by UNICEF to have contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.

Actually, no they didn’t. First of all, these groups should be ashamed at not knowing the origins of the “half million Iraqi children” figure. Saddam Hussein’s government refused to permit the UN to conduct independent research, and so UNICEFand Saddam came to a compromise. Saddam’s government would supply the figures, which UNICEF uncritically incorporated into its reports. I go into that issue, here.

The nail in the coffin: The following year, the Food and Agriculture Report, written in collaboration with the World Health Organization, found half of the Iraqi adult population to be overweight. Hypertension and diabetes were found to be leading causes of mortality. Last I checked, these are not diseases of the hungry. Regardless, when Iraq was liberated, the UNICEF figures were found to be fiction. That said, Iraqis did die under sanctions. Why? Simply put, the dictatorship killed them. That is all the more reason why it would behoove self-described progressives and peace group to work to end dictatorships, not to adopt their propaganda.

A group of left-wing and partisan Middle East advocacy groups has just published a letter urging Congressmen to dismiss a bill that would augment sanctions on Iran. I have not read that bill, and so won’t take a position yet, but this statement with regard to sanctions caught my eye:

We have also learned from past experience that the humanitarian toll of such measures can be massive, as evidenced by the oil embargo on Iraq that was estimated by UNICEF to have contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.

Actually, no they didn’t. First of all, these groups should be ashamed at not knowing the origins of the “half million Iraqi children” figure. Saddam Hussein’s government refused to permit the UN to conduct independent research, and so UNICEFand Saddam came to a compromise. Saddam’s government would supply the figures, which UNICEF uncritically incorporated into its reports. I go into that issue, here.

The nail in the coffin: The following year, the Food and Agriculture Report, written in collaboration with the World Health Organization, found half of the Iraqi adult population to be overweight. Hypertension and diabetes were found to be leading causes of mortality. Last I checked, these are not diseases of the hungry. Regardless, when Iraq was liberated, the UNICEF figures were found to be fiction. That said, Iraqis did die under sanctions. Why? Simply put, the dictatorship killed them. That is all the more reason why it would behoove self-described progressives and peace group to work to end dictatorships, not to adopt their propaganda.

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Old Conspiracy Theories Never Die, Part I

In 1991, former Ford and Carter administration National Security Council aide Gary Sick wrote a book entitled The October Surprise, which theorized that Reagan had conspired earlier with Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime to undercut the release of the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran until Carter left office. The left seized upon the charge, there were congressional investigations, and Sick’s charge was found to be baseless. Through it all, Sick had neglected also to disclose that he had received a significant sum after peddling his book for movie rights.

Fast forward two-decades. The Atlantic published an interview with former President Jimmy Carter conducted by New America Foundation fellow Brian Till. Here’s one of Till’s questions:

Gary Sick, your national security advisor for the Middle East, and a number of others have written convincingly that Reagan’s campaign staff were conspiring against you to keep the hostages held for fear you’d win reelection if they were released. Do you believe that? Does that resonate with you?

Carter, to his credit, waved off the question. But perhaps Till or his editors might want to explain what they find so convincing in Sick’s conspiracy given how fact-checkers dismissed Sick’s writing and bipartisan Congressional committees deemed it fantasy.

In 1991, former Ford and Carter administration National Security Council aide Gary Sick wrote a book entitled The October Surprise, which theorized that Reagan had conspired earlier with Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime to undercut the release of the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran until Carter left office. The left seized upon the charge, there were congressional investigations, and Sick’s charge was found to be baseless. Through it all, Sick had neglected also to disclose that he had received a significant sum after peddling his book for movie rights.

Fast forward two-decades. The Atlantic published an interview with former President Jimmy Carter conducted by New America Foundation fellow Brian Till. Here’s one of Till’s questions:

Gary Sick, your national security advisor for the Middle East, and a number of others have written convincingly that Reagan’s campaign staff were conspiring against you to keep the hostages held for fear you’d win reelection if they were released. Do you believe that? Does that resonate with you?

Carter, to his credit, waved off the question. But perhaps Till or his editors might want to explain what they find so convincing in Sick’s conspiracy given how fact-checkers dismissed Sick’s writing and bipartisan Congressional committees deemed it fantasy.

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One if By Land, Two if By Sea, Three if By Palin

While on tour in Boston this week, the former Alaska governor was apparently asked about Paul Revere. Her explanation of his famous ride left quite a bit to be desired. You can watch it here.

In Palin’s defense, she wasn’t completely wrong. The point about the British decision to attack Patriot strongholds inland from Boston on April 19, 1775 (the day that dawned after the ride which is still celebrated as “Patriot’s Day” in Massachusetts and Maine) was to seize American munitions. But Revere was warning the Americans, not the British.

I suppose we should put this down as just another example of Palin not allowing herself to be upstaged by Michelle Bachmann who had her own awkward American history moment earlier this year when she said the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire rather than in Massachusetts.

But jokes aside—and Palin should expect an avalanche at her expense in the coming days over this—it is far from unfair to note that this gaffe is exactly what you should expect when a not terribly knowledgeable candidate is allowed to go “rogue” and unscripted. Indeed, since Palin’s tour is intended to be a not-so-subtle reminder of her patriotism, she has put herself in no position to complain about the press treating her harshly when she can’t even give a straight account of something as familiar as “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Which means that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Complete Poems should perhaps be added to the list of books that Palin plans to read to her children:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

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While on tour in Boston this week, the former Alaska governor was apparently asked about Paul Revere. Her explanation of his famous ride left quite a bit to be desired. You can watch it here.

In Palin’s defense, she wasn’t completely wrong. The point about the British decision to attack Patriot strongholds inland from Boston on April 19, 1775 (the day that dawned after the ride which is still celebrated as “Patriot’s Day” in Massachusetts and Maine) was to seize American munitions. But Revere was warning the Americans, not the British.

I suppose we should put this down as just another example of Palin not allowing herself to be upstaged by Michelle Bachmann who had her own awkward American history moment earlier this year when she said the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire rather than in Massachusetts.

But jokes aside—and Palin should expect an avalanche at her expense in the coming days over this—it is far from unfair to note that this gaffe is exactly what you should expect when a not terribly knowledgeable candidate is allowed to go “rogue” and unscripted. Indeed, since Palin’s tour is intended to be a not-so-subtle reminder of her patriotism, she has put herself in no position to complain about the press treating her harshly when she can’t even give a straight account of something as familiar as “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Which means that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Complete Poems should perhaps be added to the list of books that Palin plans to read to her children:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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A Good Reason for American Pessimism

Harvard Professor Economics Greg Mankiw calls attention to the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers, which asks households about their future income prospects. They are asked: “By about what percent do you expect your (family) income to increase during the next 12 months?”  Take a look at the results:

The American people are quite pessimistic; the protracted weakness of the American economy is a good reason why.

Harvard Professor Economics Greg Mankiw calls attention to the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers, which asks households about their future income prospects. They are asked: “By about what percent do you expect your (family) income to increase during the next 12 months?”  Take a look at the results:

The American people are quite pessimistic; the protracted weakness of the American economy is a good reason why.

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Reading the Tea Leaves With Ailes on Palin

I agree with Peter’s analysis of Sarah Palin’s problems. There’s simply no way that a person with those kind of negative ratings can be elected president. The whole country has already made up its mind about Palin with the majority not caring much for her. That is compounded by the fact that nothing that she does and says seems geared toward changing anyone’s mind. But there’s no denying that she has proved this week that she has plenty of star appeal. She’s a magnet for publicity and has had lots of fun messing with the press covering her bizarre tour that either is or is not a prelude to a presidential campaign.

The reviews on her extravaganza have been mixed with her followers and fans reveling in the attention she has gotten as well as in the shabby way she treated the press sent out to follow her. Less positive are the reviews from Republican activists, including some who would have liked to have either seen her (but couldn’t because she refused to post a schedule) or interacted with her (which voters in New Hampshire think is their birthright).

But more and more the reaction from Republicans to her escapades is to merely shrug and predict that in the end she won’t run. Her followers claim, not without justice, that such predictions are merely wishful thinking on the part of people who would never support her anyway. So what are supposed to think? It seems to me the possible scenarios right now are the following:

A. Sarah Palin is going to run and her bus tour is just the start of months of unorthodox campaigning aimed at reinforcing the “rogue” image that her fans adore and everybody else hates.

B. Sarah Palin wants to run but isn’t sure she really wants to put up with the bother of campaigning. The bus tour with its lack of a schedule and deliberate slights to GOP activists is a sign of both her interest and ambivalence about the project.

C. Sarah Palin isn’t going to run but she sees the bus tour as a way of keeping her “brand” and influence alive.

Right now any one of these predictions looks as good as the other since no one outside of Palin’s inner circle has the faintest idea of what she will do. For myself, I’m guessing option C. That’s not because I think the evidence for that is any stronger than the other two but because it appears to be what Fox News head Roger Ailes is thinking. The day Ailes becomes convinced that Palin is running will be the same day that he suspends her as a Fox contributor, the way he did other candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Ailes must be thinking that Palin is more like Mike Huckabee, who chose to keep his Fox News show rather than run. Until events prove him wrong, that’s my bet.

I agree with Peter’s analysis of Sarah Palin’s problems. There’s simply no way that a person with those kind of negative ratings can be elected president. The whole country has already made up its mind about Palin with the majority not caring much for her. That is compounded by the fact that nothing that she does and says seems geared toward changing anyone’s mind. But there’s no denying that she has proved this week that she has plenty of star appeal. She’s a magnet for publicity and has had lots of fun messing with the press covering her bizarre tour that either is or is not a prelude to a presidential campaign.

The reviews on her extravaganza have been mixed with her followers and fans reveling in the attention she has gotten as well as in the shabby way she treated the press sent out to follow her. Less positive are the reviews from Republican activists, including some who would have liked to have either seen her (but couldn’t because she refused to post a schedule) or interacted with her (which voters in New Hampshire think is their birthright).

But more and more the reaction from Republicans to her escapades is to merely shrug and predict that in the end she won’t run. Her followers claim, not without justice, that such predictions are merely wishful thinking on the part of people who would never support her anyway. So what are supposed to think? It seems to me the possible scenarios right now are the following:

A. Sarah Palin is going to run and her bus tour is just the start of months of unorthodox campaigning aimed at reinforcing the “rogue” image that her fans adore and everybody else hates.

B. Sarah Palin wants to run but isn’t sure she really wants to put up with the bother of campaigning. The bus tour with its lack of a schedule and deliberate slights to GOP activists is a sign of both her interest and ambivalence about the project.

C. Sarah Palin isn’t going to run but she sees the bus tour as a way of keeping her “brand” and influence alive.

Right now any one of these predictions looks as good as the other since no one outside of Palin’s inner circle has the faintest idea of what she will do. For myself, I’m guessing option C. That’s not because I think the evidence for that is any stronger than the other two but because it appears to be what Fox News head Roger Ailes is thinking. The day Ailes becomes convinced that Palin is running will be the same day that he suspends her as a Fox contributor, the way he did other candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Ailes must be thinking that Palin is more like Mike Huckabee, who chose to keep his Fox News show rather than run. Until events prove him wrong, that’s my bet.

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Rahm Emanuel Defends Obama on Israel

You know Democrats are getting panicky about President Obama’s alienating the pro-Israel community when they drag out Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to defend the president’s statements. Emanuel wrote a column in the Washington Post today on “Obama’s Commitment to Israel,” in which he addressed the president’s controversial remarks on the 1967 borders:

One sentence that [Obama] uttered received the most attention: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

There, the president stated a concept that has been the basis of every serious attempt at resolution since the negotiations President Bill Clinton held at Camp David in 2000. He reminded us that every president and many Israeli elected leaders have recognized that the borders are one starting point for negotiations, not the end point.

That statement does not mean a return to 1967 borders. No workable solution envisions that. Land swaps offer the flexibility necessary to ensure secure and defensible borders and address the issue of settlements.

Emanuel, unsurprisingly, misses the major point here. The problem with Obama’s speech was that he called for the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations, without reaffirming that Israel would absorb the Israeli-majority settlement blocs across the green line. He also didn’t reject the Palestinian right of return. In other words, he implied that the U.S. would take the Palestinian negotiating position on the issue, putting our ally Israel at a significant disadvantage.

But it’s expected that Emanuel would misrepresent the heart of the problem. His job is to put out the political fires that his former boss started, not to speak honestly to Israel supporters. Emanuel was the administration official who was supposed to calm the concerns of the pro-Israel community after Obama’s election. It will be interesting to see if he still has the same power of persuasion now that he’s left the White House.

You know Democrats are getting panicky about President Obama’s alienating the pro-Israel community when they drag out Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to defend the president’s statements. Emanuel wrote a column in the Washington Post today on “Obama’s Commitment to Israel,” in which he addressed the president’s controversial remarks on the 1967 borders:

One sentence that [Obama] uttered received the most attention: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

There, the president stated a concept that has been the basis of every serious attempt at resolution since the negotiations President Bill Clinton held at Camp David in 2000. He reminded us that every president and many Israeli elected leaders have recognized that the borders are one starting point for negotiations, not the end point.

That statement does not mean a return to 1967 borders. No workable solution envisions that. Land swaps offer the flexibility necessary to ensure secure and defensible borders and address the issue of settlements.

Emanuel, unsurprisingly, misses the major point here. The problem with Obama’s speech was that he called for the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations, without reaffirming that Israel would absorb the Israeli-majority settlement blocs across the green line. He also didn’t reject the Palestinian right of return. In other words, he implied that the U.S. would take the Palestinian negotiating position on the issue, putting our ally Israel at a significant disadvantage.

But it’s expected that Emanuel would misrepresent the heart of the problem. His job is to put out the political fires that his former boss started, not to speak honestly to Israel supporters. Emanuel was the administration official who was supposed to calm the concerns of the pro-Israel community after Obama’s election. It will be interesting to see if he still has the same power of persuasion now that he’s left the White House.

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Glasnost, the Nation, and COMMENTARY

In a great article at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari describes a fascinating episode in the intellectual history of the Cold War and an important COMMENTARY contribution to the shaming of America’s misguided Cold-War left.

The occasion for revisiting all this was a recent tweet by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. Upon hearing that the Polish anti-communist hero Lech Walesa declined to meet with Barack Obama on his recent trip to Poland, vanden Heuvel went into attack mode.

“From Solidarity to hubristic individualism,” she tweeted. “Lech Walesa says he just doesn’t feel like meeting w/ Pres Obama.” Walesa, vanden Heuvel wrote, had gone from political dissent to “political descent.”

Successfully leading an international liberation movement is nice, but it doesn’t compare to the prospect of bowing to Barack the Resetter. That the reset involved reneging on a missile-defense system to protect Walesa’s own democratic homeland, well, no one said change was going to be easy.

As Sohrab details, attacking—indeed jeopardizing—dissidents is a longstanding habit among the Nation crowd.

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In a great article at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari describes a fascinating episode in the intellectual history of the Cold War and an important COMMENTARY contribution to the shaming of America’s misguided Cold-War left.

The occasion for revisiting all this was a recent tweet by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. Upon hearing that the Polish anti-communist hero Lech Walesa declined to meet with Barack Obama on his recent trip to Poland, vanden Heuvel went into attack mode.

“From Solidarity to hubristic individualism,” she tweeted. “Lech Walesa says he just doesn’t feel like meeting w/ Pres Obama.” Walesa, vanden Heuvel wrote, had gone from political dissent to “political descent.”

Successfully leading an international liberation movement is nice, but it doesn’t compare to the prospect of bowing to Barack the Resetter. That the reset involved reneging on a missile-defense system to protect Walesa’s own democratic homeland, well, no one said change was going to be easy.

As Sohrab details, attacking—indeed jeopardizing—dissidents is a longstanding habit among the Nation crowd.

In March 1988, the Nation published an article by vanden Heuvel and Kevin Coogan, accusing a number of important Soviet dissidents and émigrés of conspiring with neoconservatives to “advance the Reagan administration’s foreign policy objectives.” If this were true, it would have been a wonderfully ingenious tactical innovation. But that’s not how the Nation writers saw it, warning, “In this struggle for growing tolerance and openness [in the Soviet Union], any effort … to use Soviet citizens for ulterior purposes can only end badly all around…” Vanden Heuvel and Coogan took special aim at the Soviet journal of dissent Glasnost, for collaborating with “a program that more closely resembled intelligence-gathering than human rights work.” Ahmari describes the most egregious aspect of the Nation’s efforts: “A New York Times investigation conducted less than a month after the appearance of the Nation article revealed that Coogan had discussed their as yet unpublished piece with Iona Andronov, a Soviet journalist with the hard-line Literaturnaya Gazeta, and even provided him with an advance galley.”

In any event, vanden Heuvel and Coogan’s assertions were false. And that’s where COMMENTARY enters the picture. In a June , 1988 COMMENTARY article entitled, “‘Glasnost,’ the KGB, and the ‘Nation,’” Joshua Muravchik meticulously examined how the Nation authors systematically ignored all evidence that countered their outlandish claims.  After the article was published, COMMENTARY ran letters in response from vanden Heuvel and Coogan, a counter-response from Muravchik and, most damning to the Nation’s case, a letter from Glasnost’s publisher Sergei Grigoryants. Here’s the last of these on the damage done by the Nation article: “If there were once 200 copies of the journal circulating in Moscow, today the situation is such that Glasnost is practically the only publication in Moscow which people are afraid to copy and distribute, so great is the threat of persecution and arrest.”

Click here for the Muravchik article and here for the classic Letters section. Together they make a riveting exposé of the left’s unshakeable enthusiasm for the wrong side of history.

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Paul Ryan Rejects Realism in Major Foreign Policy Speech

Rep. Paul Ryan—who may or may not have hinted at a presidential run on Fox’s Your World with Neil Cavuto yesterday evening—addressed the Alexander Hamilton Society last night, and spoke about the “choice” of American decline.

The congressman, who rarely delves into foreign policy issues, outlined his views on American exceptionalism, democracy promotion, and the national security implications of our deficit crisis. “I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America,” Ryan told the audience. Quoting Charles Krauthammer, he asserted that “Decline is a choice.”

Here are some of the highlights of the speech:

On American exceptionalism. “America’s ‘exceptionalism’ is just this—while most nations at most times have claimed their own history or culture to be exclusive, America’s foundations are not our own—they belong equally to every person everywhere. The truth that all human beings are created equal in their natural rights is the most “inclusive” social truth ever discovered as a foundation for a free society. ‘All’ means ‘all’! You can’t get more ‘inclusive’ than that!”

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Rep. Paul Ryan—who may or may not have hinted at a presidential run on Fox’s Your World with Neil Cavuto yesterday evening—addressed the Alexander Hamilton Society last night, and spoke about the “choice” of American decline.

The congressman, who rarely delves into foreign policy issues, outlined his views on American exceptionalism, democracy promotion, and the national security implications of our deficit crisis. “I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America,” Ryan told the audience. Quoting Charles Krauthammer, he asserted that “Decline is a choice.”

Here are some of the highlights of the speech:

On American exceptionalism. “America’s ‘exceptionalism’ is just this—while most nations at most times have claimed their own history or culture to be exclusive, America’s foundations are not our own—they belong equally to every person everywhere. The truth that all human beings are created equal in their natural rights is the most “inclusive” social truth ever discovered as a foundation for a free society. ‘All’ means ‘all’! You can’t get more ‘inclusive’ than that!”

On American leadership. “A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities. Take a moment and imagine a world led by China or by Russia.”

On the trade-off between our values and our interests.“According to some, we will never be able to resolve this tension, and we must occasionally suspend our principles in pursuit of our interests. I don’t see it that way. We have to be consistent and clear in the promotion of our principles, while recognizing that different situations will require different tools for achieving that end.”

On human rights. “Now, if you believe these rights are universal human rights, then that clearly forms the basis of your views on foreign policy. It leads you to reject moral relativism. It causes you to recoil at the idea of persistent moral indifference toward any nation that stifles and denies liberty, no matter how friendly and accommodating its rulers are to American interests. . . .

On the policy of appeasement. “We have a responsibility to speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran.”

On promoting free market values abroad. “An expanding community of nations that shares our economic values as well as our political values would ensure a more prosperous world . . . a world with more opportunity for mutually beneficial trade … and a world with fewer economic disruptions caused by violent conflict.”

On China. “A liberalizing China is not only in the interests of the world, but also in China’s own best interest as it copes with the tremendous challenges it faces over the next couple of decades. Just as America faces an entitlement crisis driven in part by the aging of our population, China faces an even more severe demographic crisis driven by years of coercive population controls.”

On the choice of American decline. “Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.”

Paul’s speech wasn’t just a great introduction to his foreign policy views. It was also important because the congressman gave the national security argument for dealing with our deficit—a line of reasoning that needs to have a more prominent place in the debate.

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The Damage Sarah Palin Could Do

Pollster.com shows Sarah Palin’s favorability rating to be 31.4 percent while her unfavorability rating is 59.9 percent.

These numbers are dreadful. If Palin were to be the GOP nominee, she would lead the ticket to a crushing loss for Republicans at almost every level in a year (2012) when they should win the presidency and make significant down-ballot gains.

It’s certainly true that some of the criticisms of Palin have been unfair and driven by an almost irrational animus toward her. She is not a woman without talents, including the ability to generate media attention and excitement among some elements of the GOP base. But it’s also true that she has brought much of the criticisms on herself (see Kimberly Strassel’s column for more). Palin radiates a sense of grievance that is antithetical to the Reagan style and spirit. And in interviews and on matters of policy, she often comes across as shallow. The problem isn’t that she’s not a public intellectual; it’s that she doesn’t seem able to sustain an argument beyond simply reciting talking points.

Some of her supporters like to say that those on the right who point out Palin’s flaws are part of the inside-the-Beltway ruling class, out of touch, insufficiently conservative, drawn to moderates and RINOs (Republican in Name Only), and so forth. About this I would say several things.

The first is that the concerns about Palin aren’t confined to inside-the-Beltway elites; it’s actually fairly broad and extends throughout much of the nation. Those who admire her shouldn’t manufacture arguments that don’t exist in order to make Palin seem more appealing than she is. Her supporters may think her unpopularity is unmerited, but her unpopularity is also real, undeniable, and problematic.

Second, some of us who have been publicly critical of Sarah Palin for some time now have also publicly praised figures like Paul Ryan (among others), which complicates the argument that Palin’s critics are faux conservatives. Indeed, many of us who have expressed concerns about her have done so precisely because of what we believe would happen to conservatism if Palin were its major spokesperson. If Sarah Palin were the Republican nominee, she would inflict massive damage on conservatism and the GOP. Which is one reason why she won’t be the GOP nominee. (I would be quite surprised if she even entered the contest.)

Now my analysis may be completely wrong-headed, although the data show that it’s probably correct. But to argue, as some do, that Palin’s critics on the right are not authentic conservatives misses the mark by quite some distance.

Pollster.com shows Sarah Palin’s favorability rating to be 31.4 percent while her unfavorability rating is 59.9 percent.

These numbers are dreadful. If Palin were to be the GOP nominee, she would lead the ticket to a crushing loss for Republicans at almost every level in a year (2012) when they should win the presidency and make significant down-ballot gains.

It’s certainly true that some of the criticisms of Palin have been unfair and driven by an almost irrational animus toward her. She is not a woman without talents, including the ability to generate media attention and excitement among some elements of the GOP base. But it’s also true that she has brought much of the criticisms on herself (see Kimberly Strassel’s column for more). Palin radiates a sense of grievance that is antithetical to the Reagan style and spirit. And in interviews and on matters of policy, she often comes across as shallow. The problem isn’t that she’s not a public intellectual; it’s that she doesn’t seem able to sustain an argument beyond simply reciting talking points.

Some of her supporters like to say that those on the right who point out Palin’s flaws are part of the inside-the-Beltway ruling class, out of touch, insufficiently conservative, drawn to moderates and RINOs (Republican in Name Only), and so forth. About this I would say several things.

The first is that the concerns about Palin aren’t confined to inside-the-Beltway elites; it’s actually fairly broad and extends throughout much of the nation. Those who admire her shouldn’t manufacture arguments that don’t exist in order to make Palin seem more appealing than she is. Her supporters may think her unpopularity is unmerited, but her unpopularity is also real, undeniable, and problematic.

Second, some of us who have been publicly critical of Sarah Palin for some time now have also publicly praised figures like Paul Ryan (among others), which complicates the argument that Palin’s critics are faux conservatives. Indeed, many of us who have expressed concerns about her have done so precisely because of what we believe would happen to conservatism if Palin were its major spokesperson. If Sarah Palin were the Republican nominee, she would inflict massive damage on conservatism and the GOP. Which is one reason why she won’t be the GOP nominee. (I would be quite surprised if she even entered the contest.)

Now my analysis may be completely wrong-headed, although the data show that it’s probably correct. But to argue, as some do, that Palin’s critics on the right are not authentic conservatives misses the mark by quite some distance.

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Playing Skittles with Security

The United States is currently involved in three wars—on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in and around the Libyan theater. President Obama has talked about a civilian surge, but alas, his administration has had trouble filling the slots. Here’s one reason: Shortly before I began blogging for Commentary, I wrote a short blog post for the Corner at National Review Online in which I looked at the tremendous inefficiency at the Defense Security Service (DISCO).

While the Office of Personnel Management reports that the average time of security clearances declined from 153 days in 2007 to 47 days in 2010, this is creative accounting. One of the cases I have followed involves a secret clearance. The investigation was straight forward and involved no surprises. Yet it has taken more than nine months after the conclusion of the investigation for an adjudicator to look at the file.

It’s not an issue of borderline security (no criminal history, no financial problems, etc.), but rather one of lazy supervisors. Rather than take 47 days, DISCO is sitting on cases for over a year. In effect they are lying to Congress by massaging their reporting statistics to focus not on their complete job, but one phase. One security professional explained that the DISCO facility involved is moving states, and its employees are conducting a bloated bureaucratic equivalent of the blue flu. So much for being a nation at war.

The United States is currently involved in three wars—on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in and around the Libyan theater. President Obama has talked about a civilian surge, but alas, his administration has had trouble filling the slots. Here’s one reason: Shortly before I began blogging for Commentary, I wrote a short blog post for the Corner at National Review Online in which I looked at the tremendous inefficiency at the Defense Security Service (DISCO).

While the Office of Personnel Management reports that the average time of security clearances declined from 153 days in 2007 to 47 days in 2010, this is creative accounting. One of the cases I have followed involves a secret clearance. The investigation was straight forward and involved no surprises. Yet it has taken more than nine months after the conclusion of the investigation for an adjudicator to look at the file.

It’s not an issue of borderline security (no criminal history, no financial problems, etc.), but rather one of lazy supervisors. Rather than take 47 days, DISCO is sitting on cases for over a year. In effect they are lying to Congress by massaging their reporting statistics to focus not on their complete job, but one phase. One security professional explained that the DISCO facility involved is moving states, and its employees are conducting a bloated bureaucratic equivalent of the blue flu. So much for being a nation at war.

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Palin’s New Hampshire Trip “Coincidentally” Overshadows Romney

Stories like this are why it’s difficult to dismiss Sarah Palin. Her talent for molding media narratives is so brilliant and unforced that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been a national political figure for decades.

Palin’s press-heavy tour across the northeast has now made a stop, as expected, in New Hampshire, just in time to rain on Mitt Romney’s big campaign rollout in the state yesterday. Of course, Palin says that the timing is just a funny coincidence. And she took the opportunity to launch some good-natured barbs at the former Massachusetts governor’s position on health care. As Kasie Hunt reported at Politico:

Appealing to tea party will be “a big challenge for him,” Palin said Thursday. “Tea party activists are pretty strident in a good way,” Palin said, explaining that they will want “to make sure that we’re not going to have any excuses or perceived political reasons to grow government, because we can’t afford it.”

When asked whether her stop in New Hampshire was meant to coincide with Romney’s big announcement, Palin said that this was “never was a consideration at all. In fact, if he personally would be offended by our stepping foot in a state that he is in, I wouldn’t do it. But I don’t believe that Governor Romney is offended at all.”

“Maybe we’ll run into him,” she added.

The situation poses an awkward problem for Romney. While Palin can criticize him as much as she wants, he would risk angering grassroots conservatives if he responds too harshly. And since Palin hasn’t announced her presidential candidacy and is technically still a pundit, she can frame her swipes at Romney as constructive criticism or political analysis.

This is even more of a reason for Palin to avoid entering the race. She will remain a media star even if she isn’t a candidate, although she may fear that once she declines to run the cameras will no longer be focused on her face. She could probably do more for her the causes she believes in by supporting (or opposing) candidates from the sidelines.

Stories like this are why it’s difficult to dismiss Sarah Palin. Her talent for molding media narratives is so brilliant and unforced that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been a national political figure for decades.

Palin’s press-heavy tour across the northeast has now made a stop, as expected, in New Hampshire, just in time to rain on Mitt Romney’s big campaign rollout in the state yesterday. Of course, Palin says that the timing is just a funny coincidence. And she took the opportunity to launch some good-natured barbs at the former Massachusetts governor’s position on health care. As Kasie Hunt reported at Politico:

Appealing to tea party will be “a big challenge for him,” Palin said Thursday. “Tea party activists are pretty strident in a good way,” Palin said, explaining that they will want “to make sure that we’re not going to have any excuses or perceived political reasons to grow government, because we can’t afford it.”

When asked whether her stop in New Hampshire was meant to coincide with Romney’s big announcement, Palin said that this was “never was a consideration at all. In fact, if he personally would be offended by our stepping foot in a state that he is in, I wouldn’t do it. But I don’t believe that Governor Romney is offended at all.”

“Maybe we’ll run into him,” she added.

The situation poses an awkward problem for Romney. While Palin can criticize him as much as she wants, he would risk angering grassroots conservatives if he responds too harshly. And since Palin hasn’t announced her presidential candidacy and is technically still a pundit, she can frame her swipes at Romney as constructive criticism or political analysis.

This is even more of a reason for Palin to avoid entering the race. She will remain a media star even if she isn’t a candidate, although she may fear that once she declines to run the cameras will no longer be focused on her face. She could probably do more for her the causes she believes in by supporting (or opposing) candidates from the sidelines.

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More Bad News for Obama

Earlier this morning the Labor Department released the latest jobs report. The unemployment rate increased to 9.1 percent. The average duration of unemployment went up (from 38.3 weeks to 39.7 weeks). Only 54,000 jobs were added in May. And this comes on the heels of a slew of other bad economic news this week (manufacturing slowed last month, home prices fell, auto sales declined, consumer spending was weaker, and consumer confidence fell).

The American economy is weak and getting weaker. And for reasons I laid out here, so is the Obama presidency.

It’s fair to say, I think, that the economic trends have to improve substantially if the president hopes to win reelection. And if they don’t, Obama is not only looking at a defeat; he may be looking at Jimmy Carter-like repudiation.

Earlier this morning the Labor Department released the latest jobs report. The unemployment rate increased to 9.1 percent. The average duration of unemployment went up (from 38.3 weeks to 39.7 weeks). Only 54,000 jobs were added in May. And this comes on the heels of a slew of other bad economic news this week (manufacturing slowed last month, home prices fell, auto sales declined, consumer spending was weaker, and consumer confidence fell).

The American economy is weak and getting weaker. And for reasons I laid out here, so is the Obama presidency.

It’s fair to say, I think, that the economic trends have to improve substantially if the president hopes to win reelection. And if they don’t, Obama is not only looking at a defeat; he may be looking at Jimmy Carter-like repudiation.

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The Alice Walker Flotilla

Yesterday the New York Times reported that Alice Walker, author of the 1982 novel The Color Purple, would be on the American contingent for the flotilla that plans to sail to Gaza later this month.

It is tempting to dismiss both Walker and the flotilla as tempests in a teapot. Last year’s flotilla, in which nine club-wielding “peace” activists were killed, may have sparked an orgy of media outrage, along with condemnation by even Western leaders like the UK’s David Cameron. Yet in significant ways Israel nevertheless seemed to win the narrative war. IDF videos demonstrating the plainly violent intentions of the blockade-runners successfully entered the Zeitgeist. Even the BBC, in a lengthy special on the incident, largely vindicated Israel’s version of events.

More to the point, many will claim that the importance of these incidents is overblown. Whatever negative attention Israel receives, the main thing is to maintain the blockade, as it is what makes it difficult for Hamas to arm itself though the recent opening of the border between Egypt and Gaza may render the whole point moot. Nevertheless, there will always be haters of Israel, who will provide no shortage of useful-idiots like Walker to help further the aims of genocidal terrorist movements. That in itself is no small reason for the existence of the Jewish state: to provide the Jewish people with the necessary means of self-defense in the face of ineradicable hatred.

Drawing upon deep trends in Zionist thinking, there is some truth to this dismissal.  Mao famously said that power comes from the end of a gun. The fate of the Zionist project has also long been and largely will be determined by the ability of Israel’s citizens to defend themselves physically.

But those who think this way underestimate the ultimate power of the idea. Nations are born and destroyed largely by the conviction on the part of tens or hundreds of millions of people that the idea which governs them is strong and enduring.

So worry a little about Alice Walker—canonized by her Pulitzer Prize and her important movie starring Oprah Winfrey—and her comparison of the Gaza-blockade running boats to the freedom riders of the 1960s. There is power in these efforts. They won’t be defeated by pretending otherwise.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that Alice Walker, author of the 1982 novel The Color Purple, would be on the American contingent for the flotilla that plans to sail to Gaza later this month.

It is tempting to dismiss both Walker and the flotilla as tempests in a teapot. Last year’s flotilla, in which nine club-wielding “peace” activists were killed, may have sparked an orgy of media outrage, along with condemnation by even Western leaders like the UK’s David Cameron. Yet in significant ways Israel nevertheless seemed to win the narrative war. IDF videos demonstrating the plainly violent intentions of the blockade-runners successfully entered the Zeitgeist. Even the BBC, in a lengthy special on the incident, largely vindicated Israel’s version of events.

More to the point, many will claim that the importance of these incidents is overblown. Whatever negative attention Israel receives, the main thing is to maintain the blockade, as it is what makes it difficult for Hamas to arm itself though the recent opening of the border between Egypt and Gaza may render the whole point moot. Nevertheless, there will always be haters of Israel, who will provide no shortage of useful-idiots like Walker to help further the aims of genocidal terrorist movements. That in itself is no small reason for the existence of the Jewish state: to provide the Jewish people with the necessary means of self-defense in the face of ineradicable hatred.

Drawing upon deep trends in Zionist thinking, there is some truth to this dismissal.  Mao famously said that power comes from the end of a gun. The fate of the Zionist project has also long been and largely will be determined by the ability of Israel’s citizens to defend themselves physically.

But those who think this way underestimate the ultimate power of the idea. Nations are born and destroyed largely by the conviction on the part of tens or hundreds of millions of people that the idea which governs them is strong and enduring.

So worry a little about Alice Walker—canonized by her Pulitzer Prize and her important movie starring Oprah Winfrey—and her comparison of the Gaza-blockade running boats to the freedom riders of the 1960s. There is power in these efforts. They won’t be defeated by pretending otherwise.

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Olmert’s Self-Serving Myth Promotes Cause of Palestinian Rejectionism

Testifying at his corruption trial yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asserted that, if only he had not been forced to resign by the multiple police investigations against him, there would already be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

“I know how close we were and what was at stake,” Olmert told the court. “We stood on a brink that could have changed life here. But I also know that such decisions cannot be made when a black cloud is overshadowing your life.”

Olmert has propagated this myth with great success ever since leaving office in March 2009. Indeed, the standard narrative in the international media today, and in parts of Israel’s media as well, is that the sides were near agreement in autumn 2008 when Olmert’s legal woes interrupted the talks.

Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas backed this narrative once Olmert was safely out of office and he was spared the danger of actually having to accept the prime minister’s September 2008 offer—conveniently forgetting that at the time, he never even bothered to respond to it, and later told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that this was because “the gaps were wide.”

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Testifying at his corruption trial yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asserted that, if only he had not been forced to resign by the multiple police investigations against him, there would already be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

“I know how close we were and what was at stake,” Olmert told the court. “We stood on a brink that could have changed life here. But I also know that such decisions cannot be made when a black cloud is overshadowing your life.”

Olmert has propagated this myth with great success ever since leaving office in March 2009. Indeed, the standard narrative in the international media today, and in parts of Israel’s media as well, is that the sides were near agreement in autumn 2008 when Olmert’s legal woes interrupted the talks.

Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas backed this narrative once Olmert was safely out of office and he was spared the danger of actually having to accept the prime minister’s September 2008 offer—conveniently forgetting that at the time, he never even bothered to respond to it, and later told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that this was because “the gaps were wide.”

Those “wide gaps,” incidentally, followed Olmert’s offer of the equivalent (after swaps) of 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem; international Muslim control of Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, even including the Western Wall; and resettlement in Israel of 20,000 Palestinian refugees—the most generous offer any Israeli leader has ever made and one unlikely ever to be bettered. In other words, there never was any chance of an agreement. Yet the myth that the sides were “on the brink” has nevertheless gained wide currency.

Of course, this is merely a new incarnation of the myth’s original version: that if only Yitzhak Rabin hadn’t been assassinated in November 1995, he would have made peace.

In reality, Rabin most likely wouldn’t even have won the following year’s election. Throughout much of 1995, polls showed him “seriously trailing” his rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. And the main reason for this was that his September 1993 Oslo Accord produced not peace, but a wave of terror. In the following two and half years, more Israelis were killed by Palestinian terror than in the entire preceding decade. In response, as Oslo architect Yair Hirschfeld admitted in a 2009 interview with Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, Rabin’s popularity rating plummeted from 90 percent in September 1993 to 22 percent a year later.

But the real problem with these myths is less their historical inaccuracy than the way they distort the future. The delusion that peace would have been achieved if only Rabin hadn’t been killed or Olmert indicted implies that any Israeli prime minister in fact has the power to achieve peace. And if he doesn’t, the fault is clearly Israel’s. This in turn enables its adherents to ignore the true cause of the ongoing failure to reach an agreement: Palestinian rejectionism.

And unless the world stops ignoring this root cause and begins seriously addressing it, peace will never be possible.

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Mamet’s New Book

American Thinker this morning carries my review of David Mamet’s provocative new book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, which was published yesterday. The book reflects his transformation from a liberal to a conservative over the past eight years, after he started reading Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, and Shelby Steele, and particularly Whittaker Chambers’s Witness.

Mamet’s book strikes me as a continuation and broadening of some of the themes Mamet addressed in his earlier book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews—a public letter to his fellow Jews, framed as a fictional epistle from one of the Passover seder’s Four Sons to one of the others.

His new book, in my view, is “an extended letter to his fellow citizens . . . a message not only to American Jews, who in many cases made liberalism their religion and the New York Times their Torah, but to American citizens generally, from their brother.” 

American Thinker this morning carries my review of David Mamet’s provocative new book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, which was published yesterday. The book reflects his transformation from a liberal to a conservative over the past eight years, after he started reading Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, and Shelby Steele, and particularly Whittaker Chambers’s Witness.

Mamet’s book strikes me as a continuation and broadening of some of the themes Mamet addressed in his earlier book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews—a public letter to his fellow Jews, framed as a fictional epistle from one of the Passover seder’s Four Sons to one of the others.

His new book, in my view, is “an extended letter to his fellow citizens . . . a message not only to American Jews, who in many cases made liberalism their religion and the New York Times their Torah, but to American citizens generally, from their brother.” 

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Interesting if True

So French writer Bernard Henri-Levy went to Benghazi and met with Libya’s rebel leaders, and they told him that they’ll establish normal relations with Israel if they come to power. He then relayed that message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he isn’t surprised.

I’ll believe it if and when it happens, but honestly I’d only be a little bit surprised myself if it does. Libya is as far removed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Iraq is, and anti-Israel sentiment is significantly lower there than it is in countries on Israel’s borders.

A small and elite but nevertheless significant percentage of Sunni Arabs have been moving on from that conflict for a while now. Hatred of Israel remains white hot among Palestinians and many Lebanese, and it’s still bad in Egypt despite the peace treaty between the two countries, but it ain’t what it used to be in much of the Arab periphery. And Libya counts as the Arab periphery.

Tunisia, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have had on-again off-again subnormal relations with Israel for years. None of these countries ever participated in the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor are they likely to—ever. It’s not terribly hard to imagine a new regime in Libya that’s neither Islamist nor ideologically Arab Nationalist doing something similar.

Of course it’s also possible that Libya’s rebels were jerking Henri-Levy’s chain, and by extension Netanyahu’s. That sort of thing happens a lot. So we’ll see.

So French writer Bernard Henri-Levy went to Benghazi and met with Libya’s rebel leaders, and they told him that they’ll establish normal relations with Israel if they come to power. He then relayed that message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he isn’t surprised.

I’ll believe it if and when it happens, but honestly I’d only be a little bit surprised myself if it does. Libya is as far removed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Iraq is, and anti-Israel sentiment is significantly lower there than it is in countries on Israel’s borders.

A small and elite but nevertheless significant percentage of Sunni Arabs have been moving on from that conflict for a while now. Hatred of Israel remains white hot among Palestinians and many Lebanese, and it’s still bad in Egypt despite the peace treaty between the two countries, but it ain’t what it used to be in much of the Arab periphery. And Libya counts as the Arab periphery.

Tunisia, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have had on-again off-again subnormal relations with Israel for years. None of these countries ever participated in the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor are they likely to—ever. It’s not terribly hard to imagine a new regime in Libya that’s neither Islamist nor ideologically Arab Nationalist doing something similar.

Of course it’s also possible that Libya’s rebels were jerking Henri-Levy’s chain, and by extension Netanyahu’s. That sort of thing happens a lot. So we’ll see.

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Less Expensive to See Afghanistan Through

There may be good reasons to cut the size of our commitment in Afghanistan. The cost of that commitment shouldn’t be one of them.

After all, next year the Department of Defense plans to spend $107 billion on the war effort—which amounts to all of 0.75 percent of the country’s GDP, which is $14.12 trillion. Or, if you prefer, Afghanistan represents 2.8 percent of Obama’s projected 2012 federal budget of $3.7 trillion. Even if the Afghan spending were eliminated completely, it would hardly close a whopping federal deficit of $1.09 trillion. To reduce that sea of red ink, something needs to be done about mandatory spending—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and others—which will amount to $2.1 trillion this year.

So it is more than a little bizarre to read in the Washington Post that the cost of the war effort could well be the “most influential number” in determining the size of “forthcoming troop reductions,” with “many of the president’s civilian advisers” arguing “that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending.” One “senior administration official” is even quoted as saying: “Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable.”

But in point of fact no one suggests indefinitely spending $100-billion-plus on Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus’s plan there, as in Iraq, is to stabilize the situation, to improve the quality and quantity of local security forces, and then gradually to stage a responsible drawdown with U.S. troops handing over responsibility to their indigenous allies. That will delay significant cost savings for a few years, but will make the reductions, when they do come, sustainable. That is, an Afghanistan will be left behind that can guard its own soil.

The alternative—a premature withdrawal beginning this summer—risks undoing all of the gains that American and allied troops have fought so hard to achieve. And it will surely cost us more money in the end by allowing Afghanistan to fall back into civil war and possibly turn into a major haven of jihadist terrorists once again. Anyone who remembers the cost of 9/11—in both human and financial terms—should understand that it is less expensive in the end to see our current commitment through rather than abort it too soon and risk the deadly consequences.

There may be good reasons to cut the size of our commitment in Afghanistan. The cost of that commitment shouldn’t be one of them.

After all, next year the Department of Defense plans to spend $107 billion on the war effort—which amounts to all of 0.75 percent of the country’s GDP, which is $14.12 trillion. Or, if you prefer, Afghanistan represents 2.8 percent of Obama’s projected 2012 federal budget of $3.7 trillion. Even if the Afghan spending were eliminated completely, it would hardly close a whopping federal deficit of $1.09 trillion. To reduce that sea of red ink, something needs to be done about mandatory spending—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and others—which will amount to $2.1 trillion this year.

So it is more than a little bizarre to read in the Washington Post that the cost of the war effort could well be the “most influential number” in determining the size of “forthcoming troop reductions,” with “many of the president’s civilian advisers” arguing “that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending.” One “senior administration official” is even quoted as saying: “Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable.”

But in point of fact no one suggests indefinitely spending $100-billion-plus on Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus’s plan there, as in Iraq, is to stabilize the situation, to improve the quality and quantity of local security forces, and then gradually to stage a responsible drawdown with U.S. troops handing over responsibility to their indigenous allies. That will delay significant cost savings for a few years, but will make the reductions, when they do come, sustainable. That is, an Afghanistan will be left behind that can guard its own soil.

The alternative—a premature withdrawal beginning this summer—risks undoing all of the gains that American and allied troops have fought so hard to achieve. And it will surely cost us more money in the end by allowing Afghanistan to fall back into civil war and possibly turn into a major haven of jihadist terrorists once again. Anyone who remembers the cost of 9/11—in both human and financial terms—should understand that it is less expensive in the end to see our current commitment through rather than abort it too soon and risk the deadly consequences.

Read Less