Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 21, 2011

Polling Prejudice Against Mormons: Democrats Worse Than GOP

With two members of the Mormon faith running for the Republican presidential nomination, the results of a Gallup poll about religious prejudice are particularly timely. According to Gallup, 22 percent of Americans polled said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.

Some may fear the publicity attending either Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman’s campaigns or the attention given the satirical Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” or the recently concluded HBO polygamy drama “Big Love” has exacerbated prejudice against Mormons. But Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who admitted to this prejudice has remained virtually unchanged since it first started asking the question in 1967.

That’s the good news for Mormons. The bad news is this result outstrips every other religious faith included in the survey. Only nine percent say they would not vote for a Jew while seven percent own up to being unwilling to cast a ballot for either a Baptist or a Catholic. Indeed, the last time the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jew or a Catholic was as high as 22 percent, was 1959 for Catholics and 1961 for Jews. The last time many said they would not vote for a black or a woman was, respectively, 1971 and 1975.

Given the fact more than three quarters of Americans eschew such bias should mean their faith would not necessarily cost either Romney or Huntsman the election. After all, as the article accompanying the poll points out, 25 percent of the country said they would not vote for a Catholic in 1959 a year before John F. Kennedy was elected president.

Still, it is worth pondering why prejudice against Mormons is so persistent when anti-Catholic sentiments as well as anti-Semitic beliefs, which have deeper roots in our culture than the prejudice against Latter Day Saints, have diminished. Indeed, the poll showed the only groups that generate a higher negative response are gays/lesbians and atheists.

The Mormon religion was intensely controversial in its first half century because of the practice of polygamy and the fact this church was viewed as a political as well as spiritual threat to the existing order. After much strife as well as persecution, the Mormons re-entered the American mainstream in the late 19th century after the LDS church renounced polygamy, and Utah finally won statehood.

Still, in an era when religious pluralism is an unquestioned element of American culture, it is somewhat baffling that Mormons remain the object of hate. Some may put it down to the rigid beliefs of conservative evangelicals who think Mormons are not Christians, but considering the rude treatment the Mormons have gotten on both Broadway and HBO, it must be considered that some sophisticated liberals may be among the prejudiced 22 percent Gallup has discovered. Indeed, the survey says 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon as opposed to only 18 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Independents. All of which goes to show when it comes to religious bias, so-called liberals may turn out to be less tolerant than conservatives.

With two members of the Mormon faith running for the Republican presidential nomination, the results of a Gallup poll about religious prejudice are particularly timely. According to Gallup, 22 percent of Americans polled said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.

Some may fear the publicity attending either Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman’s campaigns or the attention given the satirical Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” or the recently concluded HBO polygamy drama “Big Love” has exacerbated prejudice against Mormons. But Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who admitted to this prejudice has remained virtually unchanged since it first started asking the question in 1967.

That’s the good news for Mormons. The bad news is this result outstrips every other religious faith included in the survey. Only nine percent say they would not vote for a Jew while seven percent own up to being unwilling to cast a ballot for either a Baptist or a Catholic. Indeed, the last time the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jew or a Catholic was as high as 22 percent, was 1959 for Catholics and 1961 for Jews. The last time many said they would not vote for a black or a woman was, respectively, 1971 and 1975.

Given the fact more than three quarters of Americans eschew such bias should mean their faith would not necessarily cost either Romney or Huntsman the election. After all, as the article accompanying the poll points out, 25 percent of the country said they would not vote for a Catholic in 1959 a year before John F. Kennedy was elected president.

Still, it is worth pondering why prejudice against Mormons is so persistent when anti-Catholic sentiments as well as anti-Semitic beliefs, which have deeper roots in our culture than the prejudice against Latter Day Saints, have diminished. Indeed, the poll showed the only groups that generate a higher negative response are gays/lesbians and atheists.

The Mormon religion was intensely controversial in its first half century because of the practice of polygamy and the fact this church was viewed as a political as well as spiritual threat to the existing order. After much strife as well as persecution, the Mormons re-entered the American mainstream in the late 19th century after the LDS church renounced polygamy, and Utah finally won statehood.

Still, in an era when religious pluralism is an unquestioned element of American culture, it is somewhat baffling that Mormons remain the object of hate. Some may put it down to the rigid beliefs of conservative evangelicals who think Mormons are not Christians, but considering the rude treatment the Mormons have gotten on both Broadway and HBO, it must be considered that some sophisticated liberals may be among the prejudiced 22 percent Gallup has discovered. Indeed, the survey says 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon as opposed to only 18 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Independents. All of which goes to show when it comes to religious bias, so-called liberals may turn out to be less tolerant than conservatives.

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Digging for Jerusalem’s Jewish Roots

One of the consistent themes sounded by Palestinian political leaders and their official media is their contention that Jewish roots in Jerusalem and throughout the historic land of Israel is a myth. They think denying the reality of Jewish history authenticates their efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the modern-day state of Israel.

It is this disturbing trend that gives any new archeological finds in Jerusalem a political angle that is in many respects unfortunate. It is for that reason the solid scholarly work of archeologists in the city have often been attacked by Arabs and anti-Israel activists elsewhere. These activists care little about the truth but are primarily motivated by a desire to weave a fictitious historical narrative in which the Jewish presence in the country and Jerusalem is minimized if not altogether expunged.

It is in this light the unveiling of a new site showcasing the most complete excavations from the First Temple Period in Jerusalem ought to be celebrated. The site, which was inaugurated today in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, includes the area thought to be the “Water Gate” mentioned in the Bible. The site includes a watchtower, royal buildings and multiple mikvot, or ritual baths. It was discovered by the brilliant Israeli archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who also has had significant finds in the City of David. It was announced the site will soon be open to the public as part of the Davidson Center Archeological Garden.

The significance of these finds ought not to be underestimated. If this is, as Mazar believes, the area of the Water Gate mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, then what she has found are the remnants of the walls built by King Solomon. Indeed, some of the large clay pots that were unearthed were still blackened by the fires started by the Babylonians when they destroyed the Temple.

The excavations were made possible by a gift by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, who have also supported Mazar’s excavations in the City of David, where she uncovered other amazing sites such as what may have been a royal palace dating to the era of David and Solomon.

All of this undermines the argument made not only by the Palestinians but also by some left-wing scholars that the Davidic monarchy never existed. While these findings have inestimable scholarly worth, they are also a standing rebuke to those who refer to parts of Israel’s capital as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab East Jerusalem.” And that is precisely why supporters of the Palestinians have attacked Mazar’s work.

Those who seek to destroy Israel understand denying the historic legacy of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem is integral to their efforts. But as Mazar has again proved, all you need to confirm Jerusalem’s Jewish roots is to start digging.

One of the consistent themes sounded by Palestinian political leaders and their official media is their contention that Jewish roots in Jerusalem and throughout the historic land of Israel is a myth. They think denying the reality of Jewish history authenticates their efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the modern-day state of Israel.

It is this disturbing trend that gives any new archeological finds in Jerusalem a political angle that is in many respects unfortunate. It is for that reason the solid scholarly work of archeologists in the city have often been attacked by Arabs and anti-Israel activists elsewhere. These activists care little about the truth but are primarily motivated by a desire to weave a fictitious historical narrative in which the Jewish presence in the country and Jerusalem is minimized if not altogether expunged.

It is in this light the unveiling of a new site showcasing the most complete excavations from the First Temple Period in Jerusalem ought to be celebrated. The site, which was inaugurated today in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, includes the area thought to be the “Water Gate” mentioned in the Bible. The site includes a watchtower, royal buildings and multiple mikvot, or ritual baths. It was discovered by the brilliant Israeli archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who also has had significant finds in the City of David. It was announced the site will soon be open to the public as part of the Davidson Center Archeological Garden.

The significance of these finds ought not to be underestimated. If this is, as Mazar believes, the area of the Water Gate mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, then what she has found are the remnants of the walls built by King Solomon. Indeed, some of the large clay pots that were unearthed were still blackened by the fires started by the Babylonians when they destroyed the Temple.

The excavations were made possible by a gift by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, who have also supported Mazar’s excavations in the City of David, where she uncovered other amazing sites such as what may have been a royal palace dating to the era of David and Solomon.

All of this undermines the argument made not only by the Palestinians but also by some left-wing scholars that the Davidic monarchy never existed. While these findings have inestimable scholarly worth, they are also a standing rebuke to those who refer to parts of Israel’s capital as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab East Jerusalem.” And that is precisely why supporters of the Palestinians have attacked Mazar’s work.

Those who seek to destroy Israel understand denying the historic legacy of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem is integral to their efforts. But as Mazar has again proved, all you need to confirm Jerusalem’s Jewish roots is to start digging.

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Jon Stewart’s Claim About Fox Viewers is False

During his much-commented interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, Jon Stewart asked Wallace, “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

As someone who occasionally appears on Fox, I was interested to learn Politifact.com decided to look into this claim. The result? “The way Stewart phrased the comment, it’s not enough to show a sliver of evidence that Fox News’ audience is ill-informed. The evidence needs to support the view that the data shows they are ‘consistently’ misinformed — a term he used not once but three times. It’s simply not true that ‘every poll’ shows that result. So we rate his claim False.”

I happen to think Stewart, who is quite liberal, is a fantastic comedian. He’s also quite an able advocate for his views and usually well-informed. But in this case, he was simply wrong. It would be impressive, and I think surprising, if he admitted it.

During his much-commented interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, Jon Stewart asked Wallace, “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

As someone who occasionally appears on Fox, I was interested to learn Politifact.com decided to look into this claim. The result? “The way Stewart phrased the comment, it’s not enough to show a sliver of evidence that Fox News’ audience is ill-informed. The evidence needs to support the view that the data shows they are ‘consistently’ misinformed — a term he used not once but three times. It’s simply not true that ‘every poll’ shows that result. So we rate his claim False.”

I happen to think Stewart, who is quite liberal, is a fantastic comedian. He’s also quite an able advocate for his views and usually well-informed. But in this case, he was simply wrong. It would be impressive, and I think surprising, if he admitted it.

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Obama May Be Only One Proud of Economic Record

Having arrived at the half-way point of President Obama’s third year in office, things are continuing to look quite bad for his presidency and for the country.

For example, the Associated Press  is reporting fewer people bought previously occupied homes in May, lowering sales to their weakest point of the year. Home sales decreased 3.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said today — far below the roughly 6 million annual sales rate typical in healthy housing markets. Last year, home sales reached only 4.91 million, the worst showing in 13 years.

According to Gallup, the president’s approval rating dropped four points in a single day while his disapproval ratings increased five points (the split is now 45 percent approve v. 48 percent disapprove).

And to add insult to injury, in a speech before a DNC audience last night, those in attendance laughed at Obama’s claim that “over the last 15 months we’ve created over 2.1 million private sector jobs.”

In his remarks, Obama went on to say, “I’m extraordinarily proud of the economic record that we were able to produce over the first two and a half years.”

I wonder why. The president has presided over an economy that has lost 2.5 million jobs since he was sworn in and has created only 600,000 jobs during the two years since the recovery began (the summer of 2009). The unemployment rate is up 25 percent since Obama took office and has been above 8 percent for almost 30 months (after the Obama administration promised it would not exceed 8 percent if his stimulus package was passed in early 2009). The debt has increased 35 percent during the Obama presidency. Gas prices have more than doubled. The housing crisis has recently entered a double dip and is now worse than the Great Depression. For the nine economic quarters Obama has been in office, real annual growth in GDP has been just 1.5 percent, just barely above  what it was during the decade of the Great Depression (1.3 percent). And chronic unemployment is worse than the Great Depression.

If Obama is extraordinarily proud of his economic record, he may be the only one.

Having arrived at the half-way point of President Obama’s third year in office, things are continuing to look quite bad for his presidency and for the country.

For example, the Associated Press  is reporting fewer people bought previously occupied homes in May, lowering sales to their weakest point of the year. Home sales decreased 3.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said today — far below the roughly 6 million annual sales rate typical in healthy housing markets. Last year, home sales reached only 4.91 million, the worst showing in 13 years.

According to Gallup, the president’s approval rating dropped four points in a single day while his disapproval ratings increased five points (the split is now 45 percent approve v. 48 percent disapprove).

And to add insult to injury, in a speech before a DNC audience last night, those in attendance laughed at Obama’s claim that “over the last 15 months we’ve created over 2.1 million private sector jobs.”

In his remarks, Obama went on to say, “I’m extraordinarily proud of the economic record that we were able to produce over the first two and a half years.”

I wonder why. The president has presided over an economy that has lost 2.5 million jobs since he was sworn in and has created only 600,000 jobs during the two years since the recovery began (the summer of 2009). The unemployment rate is up 25 percent since Obama took office and has been above 8 percent for almost 30 months (after the Obama administration promised it would not exceed 8 percent if his stimulus package was passed in early 2009). The debt has increased 35 percent during the Obama presidency. Gas prices have more than doubled. The housing crisis has recently entered a double dip and is now worse than the Great Depression. For the nine economic quarters Obama has been in office, real annual growth in GDP has been just 1.5 percent, just barely above  what it was during the decade of the Great Depression (1.3 percent). And chronic unemployment is worse than the Great Depression.

If Obama is extraordinarily proud of his economic record, he may be the only one.

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NY Times, CNN to Travel Aboard Flotilla

Journalists from a variety of news outlets – including the New York Times and full camera crews from CNN, CBS – will be covering the anti-Israel flotilla from aboard one of the ships, according to The Nation correspondent Joseph Dana (who will also report from the flotilla).

While it’s hard to blame reporters for seeking out a colorful story, they should realize by joining the activists on the boat they are actually making themselves a part of the story. They will be with the flotilla when it attempts to violate international law by trying to break Israel’s legally-established naval blockade. And they could potentially interfere with the Israeli military’s ability to do its job if IDF soldiers are forced to board the ships.

The one upside of this development is at least now flotilla activists will have a more difficult time attacking IDF soldiers with knives once the network news cameras are rolling. But the unfortunate downside is these reporters are giving the flotilla activists exactly what they’re aiming for – media attention. Seeing as there’s no humanitarian reason for the flotilla (which is even more obvious now that the Egyptian border with Gaza has been opened), its only point is to generate publicity. The activists are sure to receive a lot of media coverage this time around – and they won’t even have to resort to stabbing soldiers to get it.

Journalists from a variety of news outlets – including the New York Times and full camera crews from CNN, CBS – will be covering the anti-Israel flotilla from aboard one of the ships, according to The Nation correspondent Joseph Dana (who will also report from the flotilla).

While it’s hard to blame reporters for seeking out a colorful story, they should realize by joining the activists on the boat they are actually making themselves a part of the story. They will be with the flotilla when it attempts to violate international law by trying to break Israel’s legally-established naval blockade. And they could potentially interfere with the Israeli military’s ability to do its job if IDF soldiers are forced to board the ships.

The one upside of this development is at least now flotilla activists will have a more difficult time attacking IDF soldiers with knives once the network news cameras are rolling. But the unfortunate downside is these reporters are giving the flotilla activists exactly what they’re aiming for – media attention. Seeing as there’s no humanitarian reason for the flotilla (which is even more obvious now that the Egyptian border with Gaza has been opened), its only point is to generate publicity. The activists are sure to receive a lot of media coverage this time around – and they won’t even have to resort to stabbing soldiers to get it.

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The Madcap Adventures of the Obama Presidency

Is it me or is this presidency beginning to feel like one of those preposterously beset undertakings destined to live on in popular culture as a legendary illustration of Murphy’s Law? Here’s the AP with the latest mishap:

President Barack Obama’s health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed…. Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster says the situation keeps him up at night.. “I don’t generally comment on the pros or cons of policy, but that just doesn’t make sense,” Foster said during a question-and-answer session at a recent professional society meeting. It’s almost like allowing middle-class people to qualify for food stamps, he suggested.

Spiderman on Broadway can always cut its losses, close up shop, and leave the world no worse off. The same cannot be said of a continuously bedeviled presidential administration.

Is it me or is this presidency beginning to feel like one of those preposterously beset undertakings destined to live on in popular culture as a legendary illustration of Murphy’s Law? Here’s the AP with the latest mishap:

President Barack Obama’s health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed…. Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster says the situation keeps him up at night.. “I don’t generally comment on the pros or cons of policy, but that just doesn’t make sense,” Foster said during a question-and-answer session at a recent professional society meeting. It’s almost like allowing middle-class people to qualify for food stamps, he suggested.

Spiderman on Broadway can always cut its losses, close up shop, and leave the world no worse off. The same cannot be said of a continuously bedeviled presidential administration.

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Administration Trashes Survey About Future of Obamacare

The White House is attacking a survey that shows nearly a third of all employers may drop their company’s health care coverage after Obamacare takes effect in 2014.  The McKinsey & Company study of employer attitudes shows 30 percent of all companies will “definitely” or “probably” drop their coverage in response to the implementation of the president’s signature government health care program.

That’s consistent with the opinions of many small business owners who believe the impact of the law will drive up their costs and force employees into the state-sponsored insurance exchanges that will be created by the legislation. But it’s not what the White House and Democrats want to hear, so they are doing their best to discredit the survey that disagrees with other studies which have produced different results. Read More

The White House is attacking a survey that shows nearly a third of all employers may drop their company’s health care coverage after Obamacare takes effect in 2014.  The McKinsey & Company study of employer attitudes shows 30 percent of all companies will “definitely” or “probably” drop their coverage in response to the implementation of the president’s signature government health care program.

That’s consistent with the opinions of many small business owners who believe the impact of the law will drive up their costs and force employees into the state-sponsored insurance exchanges that will be created by the legislation. But it’s not what the White House and Democrats want to hear, so they are doing their best to discredit the survey that disagrees with other studies which have produced different results.

The administration’s defenders say the McKinsey survey did not give respondents enough information about the law and used slanted questions. But that point about this survey, which the company admits was not produced as an economic model but a snapshot of current opinion, is it doesn’t attempt to frame the question in a way that favors the law.

This mini-controversy seems more a measure of the way the White House has sought to silence dissent than a genuine disagreement about the future of health care. It is not exactly a secret the introduction of a massive government program such as Obamacare is bound to negatively impact small business medical plans. The only real question is how bad the carnage will be. We won’t know the answer until the law is put into effect, and then it will be too late to ward off any problems.

But instead of listening to those pointing out the potential crisis awaiting us, and what will happen to the millions of Americans who will lose their existing coverage and be forced into government exchanges, the administration’s only answer is to tell dissenters to shut up.

While some Republicans act as if arguing about Obamacare is last year’s discussion topic rather than a key to the 2012 presidential race, this story makes it clear health care is far from over as a hot election issue.

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Huntsman Is Not Exactly Reaganesque

Jon Huntsman’s launch of his presidential campaign in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a not-so-subtle attempt to invoke the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He sees himself as following in the Gipper’s footsteps in that he believes he can rescue the country in much the same manner and style as Reagan did in 1980. But any connection between Huntsman’s shallow ambition and the career of the great communicator is purely coincidental.

The link between Huntsman’s candidacy and Reagan rests on two points.

One is the sunny optimism emanating from Huntsman’s campaign. All of Huntsman’s pre-announcement speeches centered on his love of country and his happy vision of its future rather than on a critique of the Obama administration. Indeed, he has refused to even criticize the president by name.

Huntsman may be as optimistic in his view of the world as Reagan was, but the analogy here is forced. For all of his belief in America as the last best hope of mankind on earth and a city on the hill, Reagan was a stern and consistent critic of liberalism. His legendary standard stump speech wasn’t all Mom and apple pie, as Huntsman’s appears to be. It was also a scathing evisceration of what liberalism had done to America at home and how it had disarmed us abroad. Huntsman may have the same temperament as Reagan had and that’s good thing since, as we have seen with conservatives who adopt the surly, snide Richard Nixon approach to dealing with the press (we’re talking about you, Sarah Palin) the results aren’t pretty. But that didn’t stop Reagan from taking on liberals in a way the mild-mannered and non-ideological Huntsman seems incapable of doing. Read More

Jon Huntsman’s launch of his presidential campaign in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a not-so-subtle attempt to invoke the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He sees himself as following in the Gipper’s footsteps in that he believes he can rescue the country in much the same manner and style as Reagan did in 1980. But any connection between Huntsman’s shallow ambition and the career of the great communicator is purely coincidental.

The link between Huntsman’s candidacy and Reagan rests on two points.

One is the sunny optimism emanating from Huntsman’s campaign. All of Huntsman’s pre-announcement speeches centered on his love of country and his happy vision of its future rather than on a critique of the Obama administration. Indeed, he has refused to even criticize the president by name.

Huntsman may be as optimistic in his view of the world as Reagan was, but the analogy here is forced. For all of his belief in America as the last best hope of mankind on earth and a city on the hill, Reagan was a stern and consistent critic of liberalism. His legendary standard stump speech wasn’t all Mom and apple pie, as Huntsman’s appears to be. It was also a scathing evisceration of what liberalism had done to America at home and how it had disarmed us abroad. Huntsman may have the same temperament as Reagan had and that’s good thing since, as we have seen with conservatives who adopt the surly, snide Richard Nixon approach to dealing with the press (we’re talking about you, Sarah Palin) the results aren’t pretty. But that didn’t stop Reagan from taking on liberals in a way the mild-mannered and non-ideological Huntsman seems incapable of doing.

Huntsman also appears to be channeling Reagan when he refuses to attack Obama or other Republicans. There’s something to be said for obeying Reagan’s “11th Commandment” about not attacking fellow members of his party and believing you don’t have to be disagreeable when you disagree with your opponents.

But unlike Reagan, a man who loved ideas and was loyal to them, Huntsman is presenting himself to the country as someone who is above ideology. Moreover, he has a “realist” vision of an American foreign policy in retreat that has more in common with Reagan’s opponents than the 40th president’s belief in America’s right and duty to project power and oppose tyranny.

Republicans want their potential candidates to offer a genuine alternative to Obama rather than a civil opponent with a different party label. Huntsman’s campaign guru John Weaver has consciously sought to position Huntsman as a moderate in much the same way John McCain did when he ran for president in 2000. But just as Huntsman is nothing like Reagan, he has just as little in common with a genuine hero like McCain. The former Utah governor seems like a nice guy, but he’s an empty suit when compared with either former Republican leader.

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The Unintended Consequences of a Retreat

In his appearance on “This Week,” while arguing that it is “folly” to prolong our mistake in Libya, George Will used a historical comparison. “When Ronald Reagan, the much-quoted saint of the Republican Party, made a mistake, as he did in Lebanon, he quickly liquidated it,” according to Will.

It’s actually a bit more complicated than Will suggests, something Will himself understood at the time. (In his December 31, 1984 column, in a paragraph critical of Reagan’s weakness on national security, Will wrote, “Under Carter one embassy was seized. Under Reagan embassies are blown to smithereens and Americans are methodically beaten and shot in televised terrorism…. Reagan said the United States is back and standing tall. The United States was driven out of Lebanon by the Druse and Shiites.”)

The American withdrawal from Lebanon, in the aftermath of the October 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks by Iranian-trained Hezbollah terrorists, was cited by Osama bin Laden in his 1996 fatwa against the United States as a sign of weakness. “Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H),” bin Laden wrote. “You were turned into scattered bits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly Marine soldiers were killed… It was a pleasure for the ‘heart’ of every Muslim and a remedy to the ‘chests’ of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut , Aden and Mogadishu.” Read More

In his appearance on “This Week,” while arguing that it is “folly” to prolong our mistake in Libya, George Will used a historical comparison. “When Ronald Reagan, the much-quoted saint of the Republican Party, made a mistake, as he did in Lebanon, he quickly liquidated it,” according to Will.

It’s actually a bit more complicated than Will suggests, something Will himself understood at the time. (In his December 31, 1984 column, in a paragraph critical of Reagan’s weakness on national security, Will wrote, “Under Carter one embassy was seized. Under Reagan embassies are blown to smithereens and Americans are methodically beaten and shot in televised terrorism…. Reagan said the United States is back and standing tall. The United States was driven out of Lebanon by the Druse and Shiites.”)

The American withdrawal from Lebanon, in the aftermath of the October 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks by Iranian-trained Hezbollah terrorists, was cited by Osama bin Laden in his 1996 fatwa against the United States as a sign of weakness. “Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H),” bin Laden wrote. “You were turned into scattered bits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly Marine soldiers were killed… It was a pleasure for the ‘heart’ of every Muslim and a remedy to the ‘chests’ of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut , Aden and Mogadishu.”

As for what happened: Islamic Jihad phoned in new threats against the Multinational Force (MNF) pledging “the earth would tremble” unless the MNF withdrew by New Year’s Day 1984. In response, Marines were moved offshore. On February 7, 1984, Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawing. Their withdrawal was completed later that month, four months after the barracks bombing and several months before the rest of the multinational force was withdrawn.

Robert McFarlane, who served as Reagan’s National Security Advisor, later wrote, “One could draw several conclusions from this episode. To me the most telling was the one reached by Middle Eastern terrorists, that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack.” It was, Reagan’s national security adviser admitted, “one of the most tragic and costly policy defeats in the brief modern history of American counterterrorism operations.”

This doesn’t mean, by the way, Reagan was wrong to leave Lebanon in the aftermath of the bombing. It may be that to maintain our presence there would have compounded our initial mistake, and Reagan chose the lesser of two evils, which is what statesmen are sometimes forced to do. But it’s too simple to say our pull back in 1984 “liquidated” the mistake. It created unintended consequences, including sending a message of irresolution to the world, including Islamists. And quite a high cost was eventually paid. That is often the result of retreat.

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What Happens After Qaddafi?

Daniel Byman, author of a fine new history of Israeli counterterrorism (“A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism”), has an oped in the Financial Times today warning of the perils facing post-Qaddafi Libya:

The country has strong tribal identities and no tradition of democracy. Col Qaddafi’s divide-and-rule policies further set Libyans against one another. Institutions such as the judiciary, media and civil society are weak or non-existent. Libya’s oil wealth is an invitation to corruption. All of this is a recipe for conflict or government collapse, not for a transition to democracy.

All true, which is why I find Byman’s proposed solutions so inadequate. He writes:

We badly need to learn more about the key players. We can provide political and financial support to democratic forces there only if we know who they are. Military training is important, too, not only to help the rebels win but to create a more unified, professional structure, which will help maintain stability once Col. Qaddafi has gone. …. Western powers control billions in Libyan assets held outside the country, which can be channelled to the opposition in exchange for its developing democratic institutions.

Nothing wrong with any of this. I support doing exactly what he says. But I am puzzled by the omission of a stabilization force. Given the risks of chaos, it makes sense for NATO, along with the UN, the African Union, and the Arab League, to plan to deploy a substantial peacekeeping force to Libya after Qaddafi’s fall to prevent violence and give the transitional government a chance to assert its authority. This should not require a large commitment of U.S. troops, but some may be needed along with forces from our allies.

We need to make plans for such a stabilization force now–not when it’s already needed. We have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. I am concerned this is not the case today. Which is all the more reason to worry about what happens after Qaddafi is gone.

Daniel Byman, author of a fine new history of Israeli counterterrorism (“A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism”), has an oped in the Financial Times today warning of the perils facing post-Qaddafi Libya:

The country has strong tribal identities and no tradition of democracy. Col Qaddafi’s divide-and-rule policies further set Libyans against one another. Institutions such as the judiciary, media and civil society are weak or non-existent. Libya’s oil wealth is an invitation to corruption. All of this is a recipe for conflict or government collapse, not for a transition to democracy.

All true, which is why I find Byman’s proposed solutions so inadequate. He writes:

We badly need to learn more about the key players. We can provide political and financial support to democratic forces there only if we know who they are. Military training is important, too, not only to help the rebels win but to create a more unified, professional structure, which will help maintain stability once Col. Qaddafi has gone. …. Western powers control billions in Libyan assets held outside the country, which can be channelled to the opposition in exchange for its developing democratic institutions.

Nothing wrong with any of this. I support doing exactly what he says. But I am puzzled by the omission of a stabilization force. Given the risks of chaos, it makes sense for NATO, along with the UN, the African Union, and the Arab League, to plan to deploy a substantial peacekeeping force to Libya after Qaddafi’s fall to prevent violence and give the transitional government a chance to assert its authority. This should not require a large commitment of U.S. troops, but some may be needed along with forces from our allies.

We need to make plans for such a stabilization force now–not when it’s already needed. We have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. I am concerned this is not the case today. Which is all the more reason to worry about what happens after Qaddafi is gone.

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Obama’s Ambivalence on Afghanistan

President Obama is scheduled to announce his Afghan troop withdrawals on Wednesday night. The Los Angeles Times  reports  he will bring 10,000 troops home by the end of the year and the remaining 20,000 surge personnel by the end of 2012. I have no idea if that’s accurate, but if so that would be a steeper reduction this year than our military commanders feel comfortable with. At the same time, it would allow them flexibility in managing the drawdown and would keep two-thirds of the surge forces in Afghanistan through the 2012 summer fighting season.

If that is in fact what Obama announces–or some approximation thereof–it won’t be catastrophic. But nor will it be great. It will force the remaining troops, whose numbers are barely adequate at the moment, to assume an even greater level of risk.

What, I wonder, is the imperative, either strategic or political, that forces Obama to do this? Why announce any drawdown at all? Or why not announce only the most minimal drawdown? Read More

President Obama is scheduled to announce his Afghan troop withdrawals on Wednesday night. The Los Angeles Times  reports  he will bring 10,000 troops home by the end of the year and the remaining 20,000 surge personnel by the end of 2012. I have no idea if that’s accurate, but if so that would be a steeper reduction this year than our military commanders feel comfortable with. At the same time, it would allow them flexibility in managing the drawdown and would keep two-thirds of the surge forces in Afghanistan through the 2012 summer fighting season.

If that is in fact what Obama announces–or some approximation thereof–it won’t be catastrophic. But nor will it be great. It will force the remaining troops, whose numbers are barely adequate at the moment, to assume an even greater level of risk.

What, I wonder, is the imperative, either strategic or political, that forces Obama to do this? Why announce any drawdown at all? Or why not announce only the most minimal drawdown?

I realize the country is war weary, and the conflict in Afghanistan is not popular. But will it really be any more popular if we have only 90,000 troops there–or even 70,000–instead of 100,000? I doubt that will make any difference in terms of popular opinion. But it could make a big difference on the ground where commanders are already struggling to police a vast swath of geography against Taliban incursions. Kandahar and Helmand provinces have a critical mass of troops now, but not so in Regional Command-East where the Haqqani Network and other terrorists are still able to operate. Pacifying the east will require at least another campaigning season–and probably more. This troop reduction will make that task all the more difficult.

This drawdown could jeopardize the success of the entire operation and has the potential to be a huge political setback for the president.  He will be judged ultimately not on how fast he withdrew forces from Afghanistan but on what kind of Afghanistan he left behind. I would think, therefore, that having committed himself to the war effort already, it would be in his interest to do everything possible to see it through, notwithstanding the political criticism he might incur along the way.

Certainly Congress will not force his hand. Republicans may be growing more isolationist; they are especially wary of the Libya intervention. But there is not much opposition among Hill Republicans to the war in Afghanistan, and no real attempt to mandate steeper troop reductions. Left-wing Democrats would like to see a faster pull-out, but Obama is their guy, and they don’t have enough support to make him do something he doesn’t want to do.

So again, what is driving Obama here? If it’s not strategy and it’s not politics, I have to believe it’s his own ambivalence about the mission. This also helps to explain why, in spite of his willingness to send reinforcements to Afghanistan, he has rarely made the case for the war effort publicly. He seems almost embarrassed by his own commitment. Certainly he has not embraced the role of a wartime commander-in-chief. I only hope his doubts and hesitations do not put the entire war effort at risk.




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The Low Standards of Jewish Democrats

There are those who claim there is virtually nothing a Democratic president can do to Israel to cause liberal Jews to abandon his cause. But that is an exaggeration. Were a Democratic president to dramatically shift U.S. Middle East policy to Israel’s disadvantage without at the same time paying lip service to the concept of the U.S.-Israel alliance, there would probably be drastic consequences in terms of liberal Jewish support for that president. But even a president who made it clear from the first day of his administration he would distance the United States from Israel could retain the backing of liberal Jewish activists so long as he still claimed to be the friend of the Jewish state.

That is the only way to explain the willingness of so many Jewish Democrats who profess to be backers of Israel to line up in support of President Barack Obama’s re-election. As accounts of last night’s Barack Obama fundraiser for Jewish donors show, it doesn’t take much for a Democratic leader to seduce the Jewish faithful. As far as Israel is concerned, Barack Obama may be the least friendly resident of the White House since the first president George Bush or even Dwight Eisenhower, but that has not prevented him from raising large amounts of cash in the Jewish community. Nor will it prevent him from winning the majority of Jewish votes next year.

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There are those who claim there is virtually nothing a Democratic president can do to Israel to cause liberal Jews to abandon his cause. But that is an exaggeration. Were a Democratic president to dramatically shift U.S. Middle East policy to Israel’s disadvantage without at the same time paying lip service to the concept of the U.S.-Israel alliance, there would probably be drastic consequences in terms of liberal Jewish support for that president. But even a president who made it clear from the first day of his administration he would distance the United States from Israel could retain the backing of liberal Jewish activists so long as he still claimed to be the friend of the Jewish state.

That is the only way to explain the willingness of so many Jewish Democrats who profess to be backers of Israel to line up in support of President Barack Obama’s re-election. As accounts of last night’s Barack Obama fundraiser for Jewish donors show, it doesn’t take much for a Democratic leader to seduce the Jewish faithful. As far as Israel is concerned, Barack Obama may be the least friendly resident of the White House since the first president George Bush or even Dwight Eisenhower, but that has not prevented him from raising large amounts of cash in the Jewish community. Nor will it prevent him from winning the majority of Jewish votes next year.

It was less than a month ago that Obama specifically timed a major Middle East policy speech in order to ambush visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By demanding in that speech Israel accept the idea future peace talks would treat the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations without also stating American support for Israel’s retention of Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs (as his predecessor George W. Bush did) or by making any demands on the Palestinians, Obama dramatically tilted the diplomatic playing field to Israel’s disadvantage. Netanyahu faced down Obama and won the applause of Congress for doing so. But even as Obama renewed a campaign of pressure on Israel in the last week, the president was able to go to Jewish donors last night and masquerade as a friend of the Jewish state.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Most liberal Jews are fervently partisan Democrats and still wrongly fear conservative Christians far more than Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and al-Qaeda combined. The standards liberal Jews have adopted on that issue are so low it allows virtually any Democrat, even one with no history of support for Israel (as was the case with Barack Obama in 2008) a pass by merely the uttering of a few catch phrases.

And even though Obama has spent his presidency picking fights with Israel, all he needs to charm Jewish donors is to mouth a few more insincere phrases. But the good news for Israel is (as Netanyahu’s speech to Congress demonstrated), American support for Israel is a consensus issue for the overwhelming majority of Americans. The low standards of liberal Jews on the issue won’t prevent Congress from acting as a brake on Obama’s less than friendly policies toward the Jewish state. As one person who attended the Obama fundraiser told Politico, the number of ovations the president received was not as many as Netanyahu got from Congress.

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Israel’s Contribution to Saving American Lives

Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, announced yesterday Israeli missile defense systems will be integrated into a planned U.S. regional defense array, where they will help protect U.S. forces in the Middle East and, perhaps, also Arab allies of America that don’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel. These systems – the Arrow for defense against ballistic missiles, Iron Dome and Magic Wand for shorter-range rockets – are a product of the close American-Israeli alliance: They were developed with generous American funding and in cooperation with American companies, but the technology is primarily Israeli. Now, that technology will be used to save American lives.

Last week, Col. Richard Kemp of the British army related that Israeli know-how is also saving British lives. In 2003, Kemp commanded the British forces in Afghanistan, which were confronting a weapon they had never faced before: suicide bombers. So he called Israel for help. Two days later, an Israeli brigadier general was in London giving him a four-hour briefing on everything Israel had learned from its years of dealing with suicide bombers. “It was from that meeting that my policy for countering suicide bombers in Afghanistan was devised – a policy that was subsequently adopted by all British forces, and has saved lives,” Kemp concluded.

 There are, of course, dozens of similar examples. Israeli technologies helped protect  U.S. forces in Iraq against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). An Israel Defense Forces laboratory for analyzing IEDs has shared  its expertise with numerous countries fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the U.S., Britain, Germany and Italy. Nor, of course, is Israel’s benefit to the West limited to military issues: Israeli technology is found in most computers and cell phones, for instance, while Israeli companies have created tens of thousands of jobs in America.

All this should not even need to be said: After all, that’s how allies are supposed to act. But at a time when most of Europe openly views Israel as a principal obstacle to world peace, and even respected voices in America’s foreign policy establishment (mainly of the “realist” school) assert  the alliance with Israel provides few strategic benefits compared to its costs, it’s worth recalling the truth: Israel and the West are fighting a common enemy – radical Islam. But due to its location, Israel has been on the front lines of this battle for longer than other Western countries, and thus has painfully acquired expertise from which its allies derive enormous benefit every day.

If you believe Islamist terror would magically disappear if Israel did – that the London Underground, Indonesian nightclubs, Pakistani  hospitals  and American naval ships would never again be bombed if it weren’t for Israel – then of course, Israel’s contribution to this war is meaningless. But anyone who grasps the ludicrousness of that belief ought to recognize Israel’s vital role in helping the West minimize its casualties in what seems likely to be a long war.


Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, announced yesterday Israeli missile defense systems will be integrated into a planned U.S. regional defense array, where they will help protect U.S. forces in the Middle East and, perhaps, also Arab allies of America that don’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel. These systems – the Arrow for defense against ballistic missiles, Iron Dome and Magic Wand for shorter-range rockets – are a product of the close American-Israeli alliance: They were developed with generous American funding and in cooperation with American companies, but the technology is primarily Israeli. Now, that technology will be used to save American lives.

Last week, Col. Richard Kemp of the British army related that Israeli know-how is also saving British lives. In 2003, Kemp commanded the British forces in Afghanistan, which were confronting a weapon they had never faced before: suicide bombers. So he called Israel for help. Two days later, an Israeli brigadier general was in London giving him a four-hour briefing on everything Israel had learned from its years of dealing with suicide bombers. “It was from that meeting that my policy for countering suicide bombers in Afghanistan was devised – a policy that was subsequently adopted by all British forces, and has saved lives,” Kemp concluded.

 There are, of course, dozens of similar examples. Israeli technologies helped protect  U.S. forces in Iraq against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). An Israel Defense Forces laboratory for analyzing IEDs has shared  its expertise with numerous countries fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the U.S., Britain, Germany and Italy. Nor, of course, is Israel’s benefit to the West limited to military issues: Israeli technology is found in most computers and cell phones, for instance, while Israeli companies have created tens of thousands of jobs in America.

All this should not even need to be said: After all, that’s how allies are supposed to act. But at a time when most of Europe openly views Israel as a principal obstacle to world peace, and even respected voices in America’s foreign policy establishment (mainly of the “realist” school) assert  the alliance with Israel provides few strategic benefits compared to its costs, it’s worth recalling the truth: Israel and the West are fighting a common enemy – radical Islam. But due to its location, Israel has been on the front lines of this battle for longer than other Western countries, and thus has painfully acquired expertise from which its allies derive enormous benefit every day.

If you believe Islamist terror would magically disappear if Israel did – that the London Underground, Indonesian nightclubs, Pakistani  hospitals  and American naval ships would never again be bombed if it weren’t for Israel – then of course, Israel’s contribution to this war is meaningless. But anyone who grasps the ludicrousness of that belief ought to recognize Israel’s vital role in helping the West minimize its casualties in what seems likely to be a long war.


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Yet Another Reason a Palestinian State Would Instantly Be a Failed State

We have to go over this theme now and again because analysts and diplomats charged with evaluating Palestinian progress tend to make things up a lot. Contrary to UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry, the Palestinians do not have functioning political institutions. Contrary to Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, the Palestinians can’t exert sovereignty over their territory. Contrary to Washington Institute analyst David Makovsky, the Palestinian government is structurally unable to embrace living side by side with Israel. There’s a pattern here.

Now it turns out, per the pro-Palestinian shills at  UNRWA, the Palestinian economy is still totally reliant on foreign funding. The government and the economy would collapse without a constant stream of donations. That wouldn’t be a huge problem except, per the soon-to-be-unemployed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, it’s also the case Western and Arab countries have been routinely failing to provide promised funds. The shortfalls are preventing the Palestinian Authority from meeting the basic obligations governments are often expected to meet, like “paying for stuff.”

The international community is neglecting its commitments even while its cherubic Palestinian wards remain the global cause celebre. Should they ever fall off the radar they would receive even less attention, with a potential collapse of the Palestinian government becoming a real possibility. Read More

We have to go over this theme now and again because analysts and diplomats charged with evaluating Palestinian progress tend to make things up a lot. Contrary to UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry, the Palestinians do not have functioning political institutions. Contrary to Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, the Palestinians can’t exert sovereignty over their territory. Contrary to Washington Institute analyst David Makovsky, the Palestinian government is structurally unable to embrace living side by side with Israel. There’s a pattern here.

Now it turns out, per the pro-Palestinian shills at  UNRWA, the Palestinian economy is still totally reliant on foreign funding. The government and the economy would collapse without a constant stream of donations. That wouldn’t be a huge problem except, per the soon-to-be-unemployed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, it’s also the case Western and Arab countries have been routinely failing to provide promised funds. The shortfalls are preventing the Palestinian Authority from meeting the basic obligations governments are often expected to meet, like “paying for stuff.”

The international community is neglecting its commitments even while its cherubic Palestinian wards remain the global cause celebre. Should they ever fall off the radar they would receive even less attention, with a potential collapse of the Palestinian government becoming a real possibility.

Of course, Israel would be blamed for any economic crisis. Activists and diplomats would rush to explain how the Israelis hadn’t really granted the Palestinians autonomy. That – not corrupt and immature Palestinian institutions – would be identified as the real cause of economic instability, which in turn would be identified as the “root cause” of ongoing terrorism (terrorism strangely unslacked by the unprecedented creation of yet another Arab state in the Middle East).

Fair enough. Israel would make territorial concessions on the basis of some fantasy of Palestinian institution-building, that fantasy would collapse, and Israel would get scapegoated while pro-Israel advocates sputtered “but we told you this would happen.” Very comfortable and familiar. Everybody knows their lines.

But let’s not pretend the scenario is anything but inevitable. UNRWA says a Palestinian government can’t function without outside assistance. The Palestinian Prime Minister says adequate outside assistance has not been forthcoming. The implications aren’t exactly beyond human scrutiny.

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Obama to Jewish Donors: I’m Going to Weaken U.S.-Israeli Alliance, But Only a Little

Continuing his Day 1 policy of putting “daylight” between the United States and Israel, the President yesterday warned his Middle East diplomacy would soon heighten “‘tactical’ disagreements” between the United States and Israel. He did this at a dinner where Democratic Jewish donors, the cheapest dates in American politics, paid between $25,000 and $35,800 for the privilege of having the President pat them on the head and tell them everything is OK:

Marilyn Victor, a supporter at the fundraiser, characterized the attitude of Jewish donors thusly: “We support you, but we’re a little insecure, so make us secure.” “We were very reassured,” said Randi Levine, who attended with her husband, Jeffrey, a real estate developer in New York City.

At  first you might be inclined to cringe at how pathetic Obama’s Jewish supporters sound, or to get outraged about their self-willed naivete. But at some point you really have to acknowledge the social scientific evidence  they just can’t help it. You can’t reason someone out of what they haven’t been reasoned into, and you especially can’t do it when they’re literally begging for soothing words so they don’t have to reason at all.

Also, dwelling on Jewish politics might distract from the sheer geopolitical incoherence of Obama’s continued efforts to detonate the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Now it’s worth noting the President did promise never to fully break the alliance, limiting himself to predicting there would be tension if the Israelis didn’t accept the parameters of his goalpost-moving, agreement-abrogating, security-undermining Winds of Change speech. So everybody keep that in mind. No breaking. Just weakening. Weakening with absolutely no hope of a payoff when we’re down to one stable ally in the Middle East – but just weakening. Read More

Continuing his Day 1 policy of putting “daylight” between the United States and Israel, the President yesterday warned his Middle East diplomacy would soon heighten “‘tactical’ disagreements” between the United States and Israel. He did this at a dinner where Democratic Jewish donors, the cheapest dates in American politics, paid between $25,000 and $35,800 for the privilege of having the President pat them on the head and tell them everything is OK:

Marilyn Victor, a supporter at the fundraiser, characterized the attitude of Jewish donors thusly: “We support you, but we’re a little insecure, so make us secure.” “We were very reassured,” said Randi Levine, who attended with her husband, Jeffrey, a real estate developer in New York City.

At  first you might be inclined to cringe at how pathetic Obama’s Jewish supporters sound, or to get outraged about their self-willed naivete. But at some point you really have to acknowledge the social scientific evidence  they just can’t help it. You can’t reason someone out of what they haven’t been reasoned into, and you especially can’t do it when they’re literally begging for soothing words so they don’t have to reason at all.

Also, dwelling on Jewish politics might distract from the sheer geopolitical incoherence of Obama’s continued efforts to detonate the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Now it’s worth noting the President did promise never to fully break the alliance, limiting himself to predicting there would be tension if the Israelis didn’t accept the parameters of his goalpost-moving, agreement-abrogating, security-undermining Winds of Change speech. So everybody keep that in mind. No breaking. Just weakening. Weakening with absolutely no hope of a payoff when we’re down to one stable ally in the Middle East – but just weakening.

Geopolitically, the Arab Spring has been a 100 percent loss for the United States. There’s much to be said for the overthrow of Arab dictators – democratic freedom, the American left’s new-found appreciation for same, etc. – but on the map we’ve done nothing but lose ground. Two nominally pro-American autocrats are in jail and will probably remain there for the rest of their lives. Iranian proxies have taken over Lebanon and are hanging on in Syria. The rest of the Arab world is teetering on the brink of collapse.

That leaves Israel as the only stable ally the United States has in the Middle East. The President’s advisers resent the hell out of that, and during the Egyptian uprisings they fed journalists vicious and petty quotes about how the Israelis were gloating over their last-ally status. They resent it so much they’ve apparently made the decision to proceed as if it doesn’t exist.

That’s the possible explanation for why they’d be willing to weaken the only reliable ally we have left in the region in exchange for zero,which is the precise chance the peace process has of progressing during the next couple of years. It’s what critical theorists used to call overdetermined: there are so many potential problems, each sufficient to totally kill progress, that one is bound to hit. Here’s an easy one. Fatah-Hamas unity is a prerequisite to making peace, but Israel can’t be expected to negotiate with Hamas’ genocidal regime. No Israeli government will hand over Jewish holy places to an Arab government after what happened last time, but thanks to Obama’s new “1967 borders” stance that’s exactly what the Palestinians are demanding as a prerequisite to talks. Thanks to that same stance the Palestinians are demanding 1-for-1 land swaps as part of a final status agreement, but there isn’t enough land for that. And so on.

The President’s understanding of the Middle East was incubated in anti-Israel university echo chambers. Until he learned better during the campaign he casually spoke like an anti-Israel academic, using “pro-Likud” as a term of derision. Many on his staff, and perhaps the President himself, simply don’t like the Israelis very much.

Fair enough. But they’re not elected to indulge their sentiments. Their job is to increase the number and intensity of our alliances, and to coopt or contain our enemies. Many of their failures in this regard could be written off as mere incompetence. But here is the President explicitly setting out to drive a wedge between us and our last Middle Eastern ally. No worries though – that’s not a particularly important or unstable part of the world.

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