Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 24, 2011

“Human Rights Community” Agrees: Gilad Shalit Should Remain in Captivity

Tomorrow marks the five-year anniversary of the Hamas raid into Israel in which Gilad Shalit was wounded and then dragged through a tunnel into the Gaza Strip, where he remains in captivity to this day. To mark the occasion, 12 prominent “human rights” organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem, have issued a joint statement.

If a better example of the utter moral collapse of the human rights community exists, it would be hard to find. The statement is one of passionless brevity — just a few sentences long — and expresses no opinion on the standing of Hamas, or on its 2006 raid into Israel, or on the legitimacy of its goals and methods. Remarkably, it doesn’t even demand the release of Gilad Shalit. The most that this allegedly courageous and principled human rights community could bring itself to say to the terrorists of Hamas is that they should improve the conditions of Shalit’s imprisonment. You can read the statement on Human Rights Watch’s website.

Even the Goldstone Report demanded Shalit’s release. Human rights groups, especially when it comes to condemning Israel, invoke what they believe to be the inflexible requirements of international law as a guide to matters of war and peace. Their only source of credibility is their adherence to principle. Yet here these same champions of international law have lost their voices, and their outrage, when it comes to making what should be the easiest of judgments: That it is against international law to raid a sovereign state for the purpose of abducting its citizens, that Shalit’s imprisonment is barbaric and utterly without legitimacy, and that Hamas must release him immediately.

Yet the human rights groups stand together in refusing to say these words, preferring to pick and choose their principles depending on political circumstances. If these groups actually cared about international law, they would be far less brazen in ignoring it when it doesn’t suit the politics of the moment.

Tomorrow marks the five-year anniversary of the Hamas raid into Israel in which Gilad Shalit was wounded and then dragged through a tunnel into the Gaza Strip, where he remains in captivity to this day. To mark the occasion, 12 prominent “human rights” organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem, have issued a joint statement.

If a better example of the utter moral collapse of the human rights community exists, it would be hard to find. The statement is one of passionless brevity — just a few sentences long — and expresses no opinion on the standing of Hamas, or on its 2006 raid into Israel, or on the legitimacy of its goals and methods. Remarkably, it doesn’t even demand the release of Gilad Shalit. The most that this allegedly courageous and principled human rights community could bring itself to say to the terrorists of Hamas is that they should improve the conditions of Shalit’s imprisonment. You can read the statement on Human Rights Watch’s website.

Even the Goldstone Report demanded Shalit’s release. Human rights groups, especially when it comes to condemning Israel, invoke what they believe to be the inflexible requirements of international law as a guide to matters of war and peace. Their only source of credibility is their adherence to principle. Yet here these same champions of international law have lost their voices, and their outrage, when it comes to making what should be the easiest of judgments: That it is against international law to raid a sovereign state for the purpose of abducting its citizens, that Shalit’s imprisonment is barbaric and utterly without legitimacy, and that Hamas must release him immediately.

Yet the human rights groups stand together in refusing to say these words, preferring to pick and choose their principles depending on political circumstances. If these groups actually cared about international law, they would be far less brazen in ignoring it when it doesn’t suit the politics of the moment.

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Who Will Guarantee the Guarantees?

In testimony yesterday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, John Bolton said he fears many in the Obama administration believe a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred by providing security guarantees to allies in the region. But security guarantees, he said, are not likely to provide much reassurance:

The United States’ broad retreat from the Middle East — from Iraq and now quite possibly from Afghanistan — is hardly reassuring to others seeking security assurances. And America’s disdain for Israel, its truest ally in the region, can hardly be comforting to those who have never enjoyed such close relations. If this is how the United States now treats close friends, how will it treat mere allies of convenience when convenience disappears? Our feckless and irresolute policy in Libya can hardly be helping either. 

Yesterday Mark Steyn was asked by Hugh Hewitt how he thought jihadists perceived America after the President’s speech on Afghanistan. Steyn said he thought it validated their view of the U.S. as a “sort of late period, puffed up, Ottoman sultan” – “ostensibly extremely rich and powerful, but it’s gotten all soft and decadent, and plumped up on its cushions, and it doesn’t have the staying power.”

It reminds one of David Brooks’ report in 2007 on his conversation with presidential candidate Barack Obama:

If you ask him about the Middle East peace process, he will wax rhapsodic about the need to get energetically engaged. . . . When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he says yes:  “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

A supposed superpower that does not stand by its allies, withdraws from wars before they are won, gets mired for months in a kinetic military action it said would take days, focuses myopically on the “peace process” as if it were the key to the region, and does not understand — as Bolton explained in testimony worth reading in its entirety — that the projection of hegemonic Iranian power will not require actual use of its nuclear weapons, is not likely to find “security guarantees” respected by either allies or adversaries.

The guarantees will only create a false sense of security among those who tell themselves they can deter Iran with them.

In testimony yesterday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, John Bolton said he fears many in the Obama administration believe a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred by providing security guarantees to allies in the region. But security guarantees, he said, are not likely to provide much reassurance:

The United States’ broad retreat from the Middle East — from Iraq and now quite possibly from Afghanistan — is hardly reassuring to others seeking security assurances. And America’s disdain for Israel, its truest ally in the region, can hardly be comforting to those who have never enjoyed such close relations. If this is how the United States now treats close friends, how will it treat mere allies of convenience when convenience disappears? Our feckless and irresolute policy in Libya can hardly be helping either. 

Yesterday Mark Steyn was asked by Hugh Hewitt how he thought jihadists perceived America after the President’s speech on Afghanistan. Steyn said he thought it validated their view of the U.S. as a “sort of late period, puffed up, Ottoman sultan” – “ostensibly extremely rich and powerful, but it’s gotten all soft and decadent, and plumped up on its cushions, and it doesn’t have the staying power.”

It reminds one of David Brooks’ report in 2007 on his conversation with presidential candidate Barack Obama:

If you ask him about the Middle East peace process, he will wax rhapsodic about the need to get energetically engaged. . . . When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he says yes:  “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

A supposed superpower that does not stand by its allies, withdraws from wars before they are won, gets mired for months in a kinetic military action it said would take days, focuses myopically on the “peace process” as if it were the key to the region, and does not understand — as Bolton explained in testimony worth reading in its entirety — that the projection of hegemonic Iranian power will not require actual use of its nuclear weapons, is not likely to find “security guarantees” respected by either allies or adversaries.

The guarantees will only create a false sense of security among those who tell themselves they can deter Iran with them.

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Survey Says: Economy Will Be Same or Worse A Year From Now

The latest data from the Pew Research Center shows the following:

  • Fewer than one in four Americans (23 percent) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, down from 30 percent in early May.
  • Less than one in ten of those surveyed (eight percent) say the economy today is good/excellent; more than nine in 10 (91 percent) say it is fair-to-poor.
  • A year from now 69 percent say the economy will be about the same or worse; only 29 percent say it will be better.
  • Positive expectations regarding future economic conditions now stand at their lowest point since mid-2008, which is when we were in the midst of the Great Recession.
  • The percentage of those surveyed saying they expect the economy to be better a year from now has fallen 13 points since April 2010 (it now stands at 29 percent).

To quote what the chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said about Democrats: “We own the economy.”

They do indeed.

The latest data from the Pew Research Center shows the following:

  • Fewer than one in four Americans (23 percent) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, down from 30 percent in early May.
  • Less than one in ten of those surveyed (eight percent) say the economy today is good/excellent; more than nine in 10 (91 percent) say it is fair-to-poor.
  • A year from now 69 percent say the economy will be about the same or worse; only 29 percent say it will be better.
  • Positive expectations regarding future economic conditions now stand at their lowest point since mid-2008, which is when we were in the midst of the Great Recession.
  • The percentage of those surveyed saying they expect the economy to be better a year from now has fallen 13 points since April 2010 (it now stands at 29 percent).

To quote what the chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said about Democrats: “We own the economy.”

They do indeed.

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Obama Contributes to Isolationism, Partisanship on Capitol Hill

It is dismaying although not terribly surprising to see the House deliver a giant slap in the face to President Obama on the Libya war. Members voted 123 to 295, to reject a resolution that would have authorized ongoing military action in Libya–a move sure to gladden Muammar Qaddafi’s heart. It was scant comfort that the House then rejected, 180 to 238, a bill to cut funding for all kinetic action in Libya while allowing U.S. forces to continue supporting NATO operations.

Part of the explanation here is the isolationism and partisanship which is never too far beneath the surface in both the Democratic and Republican parties. There is a tendency among Republicans to oppose anything a Democratic president does–and likewise a tendency among Democrats to oppose a Republican president. This is a particularly objectionable impulse when we have committed forces to battle–Congress should never undercut our ability to win a winnable war. But it’s a fact of life.

Still, partisanship can’t account for the fact  70 Democrats deserted a president of their own party and voted against authorizing the Libya intervention. No doubt some portion of those Democrats are opposed to any military intervention. But many Democrats, as well as Republicans, are also paying Obama back for his unwillingness to make the case for his military actions persistently and publicly.

I just got back from Capitol Hill, where I heard from both Democrats and Republicans that they are dismayed Obama has been AWOL in making the case for our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Because he has not been a vocal commander-in-chief, lawmakers have lacked direction. And thus their worst impulses–isolationism, partisanship–have come to the fore.  In this case, Obama has no one to blame but himself.

It is dismaying although not terribly surprising to see the House deliver a giant slap in the face to President Obama on the Libya war. Members voted 123 to 295, to reject a resolution that would have authorized ongoing military action in Libya–a move sure to gladden Muammar Qaddafi’s heart. It was scant comfort that the House then rejected, 180 to 238, a bill to cut funding for all kinetic action in Libya while allowing U.S. forces to continue supporting NATO operations.

Part of the explanation here is the isolationism and partisanship which is never too far beneath the surface in both the Democratic and Republican parties. There is a tendency among Republicans to oppose anything a Democratic president does–and likewise a tendency among Democrats to oppose a Republican president. This is a particularly objectionable impulse when we have committed forces to battle–Congress should never undercut our ability to win a winnable war. But it’s a fact of life.

Still, partisanship can’t account for the fact  70 Democrats deserted a president of their own party and voted against authorizing the Libya intervention. No doubt some portion of those Democrats are opposed to any military intervention. But many Democrats, as well as Republicans, are also paying Obama back for his unwillingness to make the case for his military actions persistently and publicly.

I just got back from Capitol Hill, where I heard from both Democrats and Republicans that they are dismayed Obama has been AWOL in making the case for our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Because he has not been a vocal commander-in-chief, lawmakers have lacked direction. And thus their worst impulses–isolationism, partisanship–have come to the fore.  In this case, Obama has no one to blame but himself.

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New Mideast Talks Another Exercise in Futility

The New York Times is reporting today both the Israelis and the Palestinians have signaled they will agree to take part in a new round of peace negotiations. The purpose of these talks is reported to be an effort to avert a confrontation in the United Nations in September over the Palestinian bid for the world body to recognize their independence without making peace with Israel.

That Israel would agree to new talks is not a surprise. It was not the Israelis who walked away from the negotiations in the first place. That was the Palestinians’ choice, and it reflected not so much their impatience with the pace of the talks as their fear they might actually produce an agreement which they would then be forced to turn down. The leaders of the PA know their people will not accept a peace recognizing Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. According to the Times, Israel has accepted the new talks even though they are accompanied by President Obama’s insistence the 1967 borders be the starting point for negotiations, a stance they have rightly rejected. However, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a speech yesterday, the end of the conflict would be brought about if PA leader Mahmoud Abbas were willing to say, “I will accept the Jewish state.”

But the idea any Israeli concessions are necessary to win a reprieve from a September showdown at the UN is a misperception of the diplomatic situation. The Palestinians fear the consequences of this confrontation, since they know the expectations this vote would raise among their people could not be realized: a U.S. veto means it is dead on arrival. If the Palestinians are signaling they may be willing to back down on September, it is because they know they have already lost. Were they more certain of their prospects, they would never consider turning back.

The notion these talks could ever lead to peace is unfounded. As the Palestinians told the Times, they will never give up on the right of return or recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Nor will they accede to measures guaranteeing Israeli security or accommodating Israel’s need for land swaps. All of which mean a peace accord is an impossible goal. Those pushing for these talks are also ignoring the fact the PA is about to become a Fatah-Hamas coalition. That will not only doom peace talks but also obligate the United States to cut off aid to the PA and cease negotiations.

All of this highlights the utter futility of the Obama administration’s current obsession with re-starting talks. While seemingly well-intentioned, for Israel to make any concessions in order to facilitate this latest exercise would be an egregious mistake.

The New York Times is reporting today both the Israelis and the Palestinians have signaled they will agree to take part in a new round of peace negotiations. The purpose of these talks is reported to be an effort to avert a confrontation in the United Nations in September over the Palestinian bid for the world body to recognize their independence without making peace with Israel.

That Israel would agree to new talks is not a surprise. It was not the Israelis who walked away from the negotiations in the first place. That was the Palestinians’ choice, and it reflected not so much their impatience with the pace of the talks as their fear they might actually produce an agreement which they would then be forced to turn down. The leaders of the PA know their people will not accept a peace recognizing Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. According to the Times, Israel has accepted the new talks even though they are accompanied by President Obama’s insistence the 1967 borders be the starting point for negotiations, a stance they have rightly rejected. However, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a speech yesterday, the end of the conflict would be brought about if PA leader Mahmoud Abbas were willing to say, “I will accept the Jewish state.”

But the idea any Israeli concessions are necessary to win a reprieve from a September showdown at the UN is a misperception of the diplomatic situation. The Palestinians fear the consequences of this confrontation, since they know the expectations this vote would raise among their people could not be realized: a U.S. veto means it is dead on arrival. If the Palestinians are signaling they may be willing to back down on September, it is because they know they have already lost. Were they more certain of their prospects, they would never consider turning back.

The notion these talks could ever lead to peace is unfounded. As the Palestinians told the Times, they will never give up on the right of return or recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Nor will they accede to measures guaranteeing Israeli security or accommodating Israel’s need for land swaps. All of which mean a peace accord is an impossible goal. Those pushing for these talks are also ignoring the fact the PA is about to become a Fatah-Hamas coalition. That will not only doom peace talks but also obligate the United States to cut off aid to the PA and cease negotiations.

All of this highlights the utter futility of the Obama administration’s current obsession with re-starting talks. While seemingly well-intentioned, for Israel to make any concessions in order to facilitate this latest exercise would be an egregious mistake.

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J Street Defends Anti-Israel Congresswoman

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the congresswoman who joined in an anti-Israel chant during a Code Pink event last Sunday, has been denounced by Jewish groups across the political spectrum – with one notable exception. The activist organization J Street, whose PAC endorses Woolsey and contributed financially to her 2010 campaign, actually defended the congresswoman in a statement to the Washington Jewish Week:

“Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey has voted consistently for aid to Israel in each of her 18 years in Congress,” Jessica Rosenblum, J Street’s director of media relations told the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo. “In 2010, she supported funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that is today protecting the citizens of southern Israel from attack. Her record is one of staunch support for the state of Israel and for American leadership to achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors through a two-state solution.”

Rosenblum added: “All JStreetPAC-endorsed candidates consistently support aid to Israel and must agree to continue supporting it to receive our endorsement.”

Multiple lawmakers who have been endorsed by J Street have backed away from the controversial group, so maybe the organization is so desperate for links to Congress it’s willing to overlook the blatant anti-Israel activism of its beneficiaries like Woolsey. At the Code Pink event, Woolsey praised the protester who interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, saying she was “proud” of the heckler.

Woolsey also appeared to join in an anti-Israel chant at the event, pumping her fist as Code Pink supporters shouted, “Not one dollar, not one dime, occupation is a crime!”

It certainly speaks to J Street’s diminishing clout on Capitol Hill that the organization feels obligated to stand behind radical anti-Israel lawmakers like Woolsey, even as overtly partisan groups such as the National Jewish Democratic Council swiftly condemned her.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the congresswoman who joined in an anti-Israel chant during a Code Pink event last Sunday, has been denounced by Jewish groups across the political spectrum – with one notable exception. The activist organization J Street, whose PAC endorses Woolsey and contributed financially to her 2010 campaign, actually defended the congresswoman in a statement to the Washington Jewish Week:

“Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey has voted consistently for aid to Israel in each of her 18 years in Congress,” Jessica Rosenblum, J Street’s director of media relations told the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo. “In 2010, she supported funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that is today protecting the citizens of southern Israel from attack. Her record is one of staunch support for the state of Israel and for American leadership to achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors through a two-state solution.”

Rosenblum added: “All JStreetPAC-endorsed candidates consistently support aid to Israel and must agree to continue supporting it to receive our endorsement.”

Multiple lawmakers who have been endorsed by J Street have backed away from the controversial group, so maybe the organization is so desperate for links to Congress it’s willing to overlook the blatant anti-Israel activism of its beneficiaries like Woolsey. At the Code Pink event, Woolsey praised the protester who interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, saying she was “proud” of the heckler.

Woolsey also appeared to join in an anti-Israel chant at the event, pumping her fist as Code Pink supporters shouted, “Not one dollar, not one dime, occupation is a crime!”

It certainly speaks to J Street’s diminishing clout on Capitol Hill that the organization feels obligated to stand behind radical anti-Israel lawmakers like Woolsey, even as overtly partisan groups such as the National Jewish Democratic Council swiftly condemned her.

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McKeon: President “Puts Himself in a Risky Spot” in Afghanistan

At a roundtable with reporters this morning, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon criticized President Obama’s decision to start withdrawing the surge troops from Afghanistan, saying it was a bad move both tactically and politically.

“I think by pulling back we’re going to put our troops in danger,” McKeon said echoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus. “I think the president put us in a risky spot with this. I think he put himself in a risky spot. Because this could all blow up next year.”

McKeon said the fallout might not be immediately apparent, but the withdrawal could have a devastating impact on next summer’s fighting season. He said the troops would not leave all at once in the fall, but would instead start leaving slowly throughout the summer, which would put more stress on the ones who remained behind.

“I’m more concerned about next year. Because I think we’ll be able to keep most of these forces through the fighting season this year,” he said. “But next year they say by the end of summer. You have to start pulling back and winding down, so we’re going to lose a lot of that summer fighting ability. And that’s my real concern.”

McKeon also spoke about his apprehension regarding the mission in Libya, arguing the president hasn’t yet made the case for what our national security interest is in the region. And while he brushed off suggestions the Republican Party is shifting toward isolationism, he did say the “three-legged stool” might be a bit wobbly at the moment.

“I think the conservative Republicans have a three-legged stool: defense, fiscal responsibility and social issues,” McKeon said. “But right now it’s like the stool is a little bit out of balance because fiscal matters are dominating everything because of the economic situation we’re in.”

McKeon also took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comment in Jamaica on Wednesday, when she implied those who criticized the intervention in Libya were “on Qaddafi’s side.”

“That doesn’t help the situation at all,” McKeon said. “I want the president to tell us why we’re there. What is the national security interest?”

At a roundtable with reporters this morning, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon criticized President Obama’s decision to start withdrawing the surge troops from Afghanistan, saying it was a bad move both tactically and politically.

“I think by pulling back we’re going to put our troops in danger,” McKeon said echoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus. “I think the president put us in a risky spot with this. I think he put himself in a risky spot. Because this could all blow up next year.”

McKeon said the fallout might not be immediately apparent, but the withdrawal could have a devastating impact on next summer’s fighting season. He said the troops would not leave all at once in the fall, but would instead start leaving slowly throughout the summer, which would put more stress on the ones who remained behind.

“I’m more concerned about next year. Because I think we’ll be able to keep most of these forces through the fighting season this year,” he said. “But next year they say by the end of summer. You have to start pulling back and winding down, so we’re going to lose a lot of that summer fighting ability. And that’s my real concern.”

McKeon also spoke about his apprehension regarding the mission in Libya, arguing the president hasn’t yet made the case for what our national security interest is in the region. And while he brushed off suggestions the Republican Party is shifting toward isolationism, he did say the “three-legged stool” might be a bit wobbly at the moment.

“I think the conservative Republicans have a three-legged stool: defense, fiscal responsibility and social issues,” McKeon said. “But right now it’s like the stool is a little bit out of balance because fiscal matters are dominating everything because of the economic situation we’re in.”

McKeon also took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comment in Jamaica on Wednesday, when she implied those who criticized the intervention in Libya were “on Qaddafi’s side.”

“That doesn’t help the situation at all,” McKeon said. “I want the president to tell us why we’re there. What is the national security interest?”

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Hamas: International Law a One-Way Street

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Hamas’ refusal to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross’ request for information about captured soldier Gilad Shalit by threatening to restrict privileges for terrorists held by Israel. The Shalit family applauded the prime minister’s gesture. While he did not specify what the restrictions on the prisoners would be, he did indicate he would move to end the ability of terrorists serving time in Israeli jails to pursue advanced academic degrees.

That brought forth a howl of protest from Hamas which said today any restrictions on those of its members who were caught after committing or aiding terrorist attacks on Israelis was beyond the pale. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said such a move would be “a violation of international law.” That a terrorist group that has held an Israeli captive for five years without ever allowing the ICRC access or even providing any proof of life in the last two years is outrageous. Yet such a stand is very much in keeping with the group’s belief anything it does is justified and any form of self-defense by Israel is illegal.

This issue highlights the hypocrisy not only of the terrorists themselves but the willingness of international activists to support Hamas’ efforts to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. As with arguments about Israeli counterattacks against Hamas missile firings from Gaza into southern Israel, the assumption appears to be Israel deserves to be attacked while Hamas ought to be held blameless for its behavior. That is the only explanation from the deafening silence from the international “human rights” community about Shalit’s plight.

Hamas’s intention here is to heighten the pressure on Netanyahu to pay an even larger ransom for Shalit. To date, the prime minister has resisted the overwhelming pressure from the Shalits and other Israelis who are even prepared to release convicted terrorist murderers to gain the soldier’s freedom.  This is a complicated question, and no one should envy Netanyahu’s dilemma, but as Evelyn Gordon pointed out last year in her excellent COMMENTARY article on the subject, the costs of ransoming Shalit in this manner are far greater than many of us suspect. Netanyahu needs to demonstrate strength on this issue. And, as we noted yesterday, the United States needs to weigh in here too, to raise the ante with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and make them aware they will pay a price for Shalit’s ongoing plight.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Hamas’ refusal to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross’ request for information about captured soldier Gilad Shalit by threatening to restrict privileges for terrorists held by Israel. The Shalit family applauded the prime minister’s gesture. While he did not specify what the restrictions on the prisoners would be, he did indicate he would move to end the ability of terrorists serving time in Israeli jails to pursue advanced academic degrees.

That brought forth a howl of protest from Hamas which said today any restrictions on those of its members who were caught after committing or aiding terrorist attacks on Israelis was beyond the pale. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said such a move would be “a violation of international law.” That a terrorist group that has held an Israeli captive for five years without ever allowing the ICRC access or even providing any proof of life in the last two years is outrageous. Yet such a stand is very much in keeping with the group’s belief anything it does is justified and any form of self-defense by Israel is illegal.

This issue highlights the hypocrisy not only of the terrorists themselves but the willingness of international activists to support Hamas’ efforts to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. As with arguments about Israeli counterattacks against Hamas missile firings from Gaza into southern Israel, the assumption appears to be Israel deserves to be attacked while Hamas ought to be held blameless for its behavior. That is the only explanation from the deafening silence from the international “human rights” community about Shalit’s plight.

Hamas’s intention here is to heighten the pressure on Netanyahu to pay an even larger ransom for Shalit. To date, the prime minister has resisted the overwhelming pressure from the Shalits and other Israelis who are even prepared to release convicted terrorist murderers to gain the soldier’s freedom.  This is a complicated question, and no one should envy Netanyahu’s dilemma, but as Evelyn Gordon pointed out last year in her excellent COMMENTARY article on the subject, the costs of ransoming Shalit in this manner are far greater than many of us suspect. Netanyahu needs to demonstrate strength on this issue. And, as we noted yesterday, the United States needs to weigh in here too, to raise the ante with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and make them aware they will pay a price for Shalit’s ongoing plight.

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Christie Routs Unions in Legislative Victory

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won a historic victory yesterday when the New Jersey legislature approved major cuts in state worker benefits and state spending. The 46-32 vote was made possible by the alliance Christie formed with some Democrats who were concerned about the runaway costs of benefits to public employees which threaten to bankrupt the state. The measures will save the state and local municipalities $132 billion during the next 30 years as the costs of pensions and some benefits are partially shifted onto the workers, as has been the case with private industry.

Considering the Democrats control both houses of the legislature and unions remain a powerful force in this liberal-leaning largely Democratic state, this is a remarkable achievement for the governor.  And it was a victory won despite a vicious campaign against Christie by the unions. At a rally last week, the vice president of the Communications Workers of America likened Christie to Adolf  Hitler and New Jersey to Nazi Germany.

Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who successfully restricted state workers’ collective bargaining rights, Christie avoided that fight. But it did not stop the unions and their Democratic supporters in the assembly from accusing the governor of “union busting” and threatening collective bargaining. Walker believed the only way to ensure public employees could be prevented from holding the state hostage was to legislate limits on their bargaining power. Christie rightly felt such a measure would be impossible to pass in New Jersey and instead concentrated on altering the state’s spending habits. But the unions believe the limits passed yesterday are an affront to their desire to hold their members harmless from the consequences of the runaway costs of their compensation. The significance of Christie’s victory cannot be overestimated. While the unions are vowing revenge and claim they will target all Democrats who voted with the governor, there is no question their heretofore-unchallenged power is receding.

The ability of the blunt-speaking and controversial governor to build a bipartisan coalition for fiscal sanity is just as amazing as the victory itself. While building a national reputation as a man who is not shy about telling opponents what he thinks of them, Christie was still able to find common ground with Democratic mayors and county officials (some of whom have seats in the legislature) to work out a deal that would help the taxpayers.

This achievement will, no doubt, lead some Republicans to renew their calls for Christie to run for president, but he is smart to stay where he is. Nevertheless, Christie’s rout of the unions provides a model for leaders of both parties to follow as they attempt to save their states and the federal government from the fallout of generations of treating entitlements and state worker benefits as the third rail of politics. Having touched that rail and not only survived but emerged victorious, Christie has changed the way we think about such conflicts.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won a historic victory yesterday when the New Jersey legislature approved major cuts in state worker benefits and state spending. The 46-32 vote was made possible by the alliance Christie formed with some Democrats who were concerned about the runaway costs of benefits to public employees which threaten to bankrupt the state. The measures will save the state and local municipalities $132 billion during the next 30 years as the costs of pensions and some benefits are partially shifted onto the workers, as has been the case with private industry.

Considering the Democrats control both houses of the legislature and unions remain a powerful force in this liberal-leaning largely Democratic state, this is a remarkable achievement for the governor.  And it was a victory won despite a vicious campaign against Christie by the unions. At a rally last week, the vice president of the Communications Workers of America likened Christie to Adolf  Hitler and New Jersey to Nazi Germany.

Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who successfully restricted state workers’ collective bargaining rights, Christie avoided that fight. But it did not stop the unions and their Democratic supporters in the assembly from accusing the governor of “union busting” and threatening collective bargaining. Walker believed the only way to ensure public employees could be prevented from holding the state hostage was to legislate limits on their bargaining power. Christie rightly felt such a measure would be impossible to pass in New Jersey and instead concentrated on altering the state’s spending habits. But the unions believe the limits passed yesterday are an affront to their desire to hold their members harmless from the consequences of the runaway costs of their compensation. The significance of Christie’s victory cannot be overestimated. While the unions are vowing revenge and claim they will target all Democrats who voted with the governor, there is no question their heretofore-unchallenged power is receding.

The ability of the blunt-speaking and controversial governor to build a bipartisan coalition for fiscal sanity is just as amazing as the victory itself. While building a national reputation as a man who is not shy about telling opponents what he thinks of them, Christie was still able to find common ground with Democratic mayors and county officials (some of whom have seats in the legislature) to work out a deal that would help the taxpayers.

This achievement will, no doubt, lead some Republicans to renew their calls for Christie to run for president, but he is smart to stay where he is. Nevertheless, Christie’s rout of the unions provides a model for leaders of both parties to follow as they attempt to save their states and the federal government from the fallout of generations of treating entitlements and state worker benefits as the third rail of politics. Having touched that rail and not only survived but emerged victorious, Christie has changed the way we think about such conflicts.

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Elders are Right: Drawdown Sends Negative Message to Afghan Civilians

The early word regarding Obama’s withdrawal plan is in from Afghanistan, and it is predictably unencouraging, if mixed.

The New York Times reports Hamid Karzai welcomes the decision to pull out 30,000 U.S. troops by the end of summer 2012. Take his words with a large heaping of salt. Karzai, like his counterpart in Baghdad, Nouri al Maliki, has always been dismissive, at least in public, of the need for U.S. troops to safeguard his country. He has expressed, at least in public, exaggerated expectations of the ability of his own forces to fight the insurgents. Much of this is simply typical political posturing for domestic consumption: No politician ever lost votes by being nationalistic and anti-foreigner.

But the Times also talked to Afghans in the south who have to live with the consequences of a troop drawdown. They are not as sanguine as the president–who lives behind the large walls of his palace in Kabul and rarely ventures out.

Hajji Kala Khan, a tribal elder from Maiwand:  “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say, ‘The Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared.’ ”

Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi, the governor of neighboring Zhare District:. “We have a problem in Zhare District, the enemy is still around.” Once the Americans leave, he said, “things will get worse.” He added that he saw no improvement in the ability of Afghanistan’s own military to replace the Americans, “so this is not an appropriate time for withdrawal; this drawdown will send a negative message to civilians.”

These elders are right: the drawdown does send a negative message to Afghan civilians and a positive message to the Taliban.


The early word regarding Obama’s withdrawal plan is in from Afghanistan, and it is predictably unencouraging, if mixed.

The New York Times reports Hamid Karzai welcomes the decision to pull out 30,000 U.S. troops by the end of summer 2012. Take his words with a large heaping of salt. Karzai, like his counterpart in Baghdad, Nouri al Maliki, has always been dismissive, at least in public, of the need for U.S. troops to safeguard his country. He has expressed, at least in public, exaggerated expectations of the ability of his own forces to fight the insurgents. Much of this is simply typical political posturing for domestic consumption: No politician ever lost votes by being nationalistic and anti-foreigner.

But the Times also talked to Afghans in the south who have to live with the consequences of a troop drawdown. They are not as sanguine as the president–who lives behind the large walls of his palace in Kabul and rarely ventures out.

Hajji Kala Khan, a tribal elder from Maiwand:  “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say, ‘The Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared.’ ”

Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi, the governor of neighboring Zhare District:. “We have a problem in Zhare District, the enemy is still around.” Once the Americans leave, he said, “things will get worse.” He added that he saw no improvement in the ability of Afghanistan’s own military to replace the Americans, “so this is not an appropriate time for withdrawal; this drawdown will send a negative message to civilians.”

These elders are right: the drawdown does send a negative message to Afghan civilians and a positive message to the Taliban.


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The Intellectual Bankruptcy of the Obama Presidency

If you want to see how intellectually bankrupt the Obama presidency is these days, watch this 25-second clip. In it, you’ll see House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan ask Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Elmendorf about the president’s April 13 speech, which outlined a budget “framework” that claims to save $4 trillion over a dozen years.

When asked if CBO had estimated the budget impact of the Obama framework, Elmendorf was almost contemptuous. “No, Mr. Chairman, we don’t estimate speeches,” he said. “We need much more specificity than was provided in that speech for us to do our analysis.”

Remember this, too: Last month President Obama’s budget (submitted earlier this year) was voted down 97-0. Democrats justified their “no” vote by saying that budget has been overtaken by the “new” one Obama laid out in his April 13 speech. Except there is no new Obama budget; there is the old one, which saddles America with more crippling deficits and debt, and there is Obama’s April 13 speech, which was a remarkably dishonest attack on the budget proposed by Ryan.

To pretend Obama’s speech is anything more than a campaign document – and a notably shallow and platitudinous one at that – is a fiction. It was exposed as such by the CBO director this week.

If you want to see how intellectually bankrupt the Obama presidency is these days, watch this 25-second clip. In it, you’ll see House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan ask Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Elmendorf about the president’s April 13 speech, which outlined a budget “framework” that claims to save $4 trillion over a dozen years.

When asked if CBO had estimated the budget impact of the Obama framework, Elmendorf was almost contemptuous. “No, Mr. Chairman, we don’t estimate speeches,” he said. “We need much more specificity than was provided in that speech for us to do our analysis.”

Remember this, too: Last month President Obama’s budget (submitted earlier this year) was voted down 97-0. Democrats justified their “no” vote by saying that budget has been overtaken by the “new” one Obama laid out in his April 13 speech. Except there is no new Obama budget; there is the old one, which saddles America with more crippling deficits and debt, and there is Obama’s April 13 speech, which was a remarkably dishonest attack on the budget proposed by Ryan.

To pretend Obama’s speech is anything more than a campaign document – and a notably shallow and platitudinous one at that – is a fiction. It was exposed as such by the CBO director this week.

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Obama Will Hold Up Grandma’s Check and Blame the GOP

Re: “Both Sides Digging in Over Budget Deal,” I agree with Pete this is a debate the GOP should win–and will win–in the long term. I’m slightly less sanguine it will win in the short term.

As Charles Krauthammer explained on Fox News Special Report last evening, when the government hits the wall in early August, and no deal is in place, then the Treasury will have to decide which bills it will pay and which ones to defer. Presumably, it will choose to meet our obligations regarding the principal and interest on the debt, thus avoiding a default.  But it will be up to the Obama administration to pick and choose among the other obligations. 

They could pick to defer those that would cause the least disruption to the economy, or they could choose those that would cause the biggest political backlash. I’m not sure the administration has the authority to order the Social Security Administration not to issue checks–an act that would produce an instant firestorm–but it certainly has the power to hold up other checks, such as unemployment and welfare, that would achieve much the same result.

Which path would this administration, steeped in Chicago ways, choose? You got it: hold up Grandma’s check and blame the GOP. With the media a certain ally (in medialand, after all, it’s always Republicans who “shut down the government”), that would put a huge amount of pressure on GOP lawmakers to cave.

If the Republicans are smart, they will make an issue–now!–of what should be deferred and what not in case of an impasse and demand those least able to cope with an interruption be protected.


Re: “Both Sides Digging in Over Budget Deal,” I agree with Pete this is a debate the GOP should win–and will win–in the long term. I’m slightly less sanguine it will win in the short term.

As Charles Krauthammer explained on Fox News Special Report last evening, when the government hits the wall in early August, and no deal is in place, then the Treasury will have to decide which bills it will pay and which ones to defer. Presumably, it will choose to meet our obligations regarding the principal and interest on the debt, thus avoiding a default.  But it will be up to the Obama administration to pick and choose among the other obligations. 

They could pick to defer those that would cause the least disruption to the economy, or they could choose those that would cause the biggest political backlash. I’m not sure the administration has the authority to order the Social Security Administration not to issue checks–an act that would produce an instant firestorm–but it certainly has the power to hold up other checks, such as unemployment and welfare, that would achieve much the same result.

Which path would this administration, steeped in Chicago ways, choose? You got it: hold up Grandma’s check and blame the GOP. With the media a certain ally (in medialand, after all, it’s always Republicans who “shut down the government”), that would put a huge amount of pressure on GOP lawmakers to cave.

If the Republicans are smart, they will make an issue–now!–of what should be deferred and what not in case of an impasse and demand those least able to cope with an interruption be protected.


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Whose Side is the President On?

Speaking to reporters during her trip to Jamaica, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Republicans threatening to cut off funding for operations in Libya by asking, “Whose side are you on?”  

I happen to agree with Secretary Clinton that it is wrong for either Republicans or Democrats to play football with national security.  Libya should not be a political football.  That said, given how President Obama has calibrated his Afghanistan strategy more toward politics than the situation on the ground, perhaps Secretary Clinton may ask the same question of her boss.


Speaking to reporters during her trip to Jamaica, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Republicans threatening to cut off funding for operations in Libya by asking, “Whose side are you on?”  

I happen to agree with Secretary Clinton that it is wrong for either Republicans or Democrats to play football with national security.  Libya should not be a political football.  That said, given how President Obama has calibrated his Afghanistan strategy more toward politics than the situation on the ground, perhaps Secretary Clinton may ask the same question of her boss.


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