Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 14, 2011

The Deep Roots of Israel’s Capitalist Democracy

For the first time since Israel’s housing and cost-of-living protests began, last night there was no massive Saturday night demonstration in Tel Aviv. But there were several well-attended demonstrations in other cities such as Haifa, Beersheba and Afula. Though many leftist groups and non-governmental organizations have sought to exploit this movement for their own political ends, it cannot be denied the protesters have touched a nerve. The vast majority of Israelis see them as a reasonable response to genuine problems.

Though much of the coverage of these demonstrations have sought to shoehorn them into a political context in which the Israeli government can be depicted as the villain of the story, COMMENTARY contributor Sol Stern points out in the City Journal that in fact this unrest represents an opportunity for Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance the cause of free market reform.

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For the first time since Israel’s housing and cost-of-living protests began, last night there was no massive Saturday night demonstration in Tel Aviv. But there were several well-attended demonstrations in other cities such as Haifa, Beersheba and Afula. Though many leftist groups and non-governmental organizations have sought to exploit this movement for their own political ends, it cannot be denied the protesters have touched a nerve. The vast majority of Israelis see them as a reasonable response to genuine problems.

Though much of the coverage of these demonstrations have sought to shoehorn them into a political context in which the Israeli government can be depicted as the villain of the story, COMMENTARY contributor Sol Stern points out in the City Journal that in fact this unrest represents an opportunity for Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance the cause of free market reform.

Stern rightly notes the demonstrations, which have been a model of civil behavior and nothing like the unruly mobs that have protested against entitlement reforms in Europe, are not the result of economic failure but of Israel’s success as its economy expanded and real estate in Tel Aviv became even more valuable. Though, as he points out, many Israelis have been left behind by the boom, the answer to the problem is not the socialism of the past, but more free enterprise to break the shackles of government intervention that are the vestiges of the country’s old East German model.

It is well understood within Israel that to the extent that the protests become co-opted by the left, their support from the general public will drop. In fact, as Stern writes:

If Netanyahu plays his political cards right, he could emerge from this season of demonstrations as the winner who pushed forward the additional economic liberalization and reforms that this “start-up nation” still needs. He has already acted to release massive tracts of government-owned land for the construction of new housing, including rental units. Last week, he appointed a committee of independent experts to report to his government on further steps that can be taken to meet the protesters’ more reasonable demands, without indulging in the levels of welfare spending that brought the economies of Israel’s Mediterranean neighbors—Greece, Spain, and Italy—to their knees.

Though the left would like to hijack the protests, this middle class revolt is likely to remain a mainstream movement. That means that as Stern puts it, they will actually demonstrate “how deep and stable the roots of Israel’s capitalist democracy are.”

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The Price of Obama’s Afghan Retreat

The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a great story today about the great Carter Malkasian. Who’s Carter Malkesian, you may ask? The full answer comes form the Post article. The short answer is that Malkasian is an academic who, working as a temporary hire at the State Department, has spent the last two years as the diplomatic adviser to the Marines in Garmser–once one of the most heavily contested districts in Afghanistan. It has calmed down tremendously thanks in no small part to the hard work and skill of “Carter Sahib” — a term of respect that local elders have conferred on this American.

Chandrasekaran shows how Malkasian learned Pashto so he could communicate with the locals in their own tongue; and then he ventured out of the perimeter, flouting State Department rules that emphasize safety over effectiveness. In his own way, Malkasian is the American analogue to legendary Brits such as Robert Warburton who spent 18 years as political officer on the Northwest Frontier, 1879-1898. In the process Warburton acquired irreplaceable knowledge of the situation and matchless credibility with the locals.
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The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a great story today about the great Carter Malkasian. Who’s Carter Malkesian, you may ask? The full answer comes form the Post article. The short answer is that Malkasian is an academic who, working as a temporary hire at the State Department, has spent the last two years as the diplomatic adviser to the Marines in Garmser–once one of the most heavily contested districts in Afghanistan. It has calmed down tremendously thanks in no small part to the hard work and skill of “Carter Sahib” — a term of respect that local elders have conferred on this American.

Chandrasekaran shows how Malkasian learned Pashto so he could communicate with the locals in their own tongue; and then he ventured out of the perimeter, flouting State Department rules that emphasize safety over effectiveness. In his own way, Malkasian is the American analogue to legendary Brits such as Robert Warburton who spent 18 years as political officer on the Northwest Frontier, 1879-1898. In the process Warburton acquired irreplaceable knowledge of the situation and matchless credibility with the locals.

The former Marine commander in Afghanistan is absolutely right when he says, “We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan.” Alas that’s not going to happen; even in Garmser there is no replacement in sight. More generally the State Department has a hard time finding employees to fill such posts in the field; most come and go quickly and do not stick around local enough to acquire the kind of expertise that ca only come over time. Even without such officials, however, we can still make progress if we show sustained commitment — as President Bush did in Iraq. But in Afghanistan our commitment is very much open to question.

Because Malkasian is so knowledgeable and effective (he deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom), his opinion on President Obama’s Afghanistan policy is worth listening to. This is what he says in the Post story.

He thinks President Obama erred in announcing his troop-reduction plans so publicly. In Garmser, he contends, the president’s statement has generated doubts among Afghans about who will eventually prevail — a fear that could lead some to once again side with the Taliban, threatening the progress that has been achieved.

“We shouldn’t have said we are leaving,” Malkasian said. “The nuance is lost here. If it’s a little foggy to me, to the Afghans it’s utterly confusing.”

It’s a shame that President Obama seems to be listening to the voice of his political advisers — who no doubt emphasized the political advantages of bringing surge troops home before the 2012 election — rather than to the experts on the ground who have risked their lives repeatedly to give the U.S. and our allies a chance of success on this vital battleground.

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Only Three Plausible GOP Candidates

At the Republican presidential debates in the coming months, there will be no shortage of candidates. But after a tumultuous Saturday which brought us a new and formidable contender in the person of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Ames straw poll, there are now only three persons who have a chance to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney, Perry and Bachmann.

Some potential candidates and their supporters may try to distract us from that fact. It is also true that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, Herman Cain and others will take part in future debates and may receive some votes in the early caucuses and primaries. But it is now clear only one of that trio of Romney, Perry and Bachmann will be the person standing on the podium in Tampa next September accepting the GOP nomination.

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At the Republican presidential debates in the coming months, there will be no shortage of candidates. But after a tumultuous Saturday which brought us a new and formidable contender in the person of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Ames straw poll, there are now only three persons who have a chance to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney, Perry and Bachmann.

Some potential candidates and their supporters may try to distract us from that fact. It is also true that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, Herman Cain and others will take part in future debates and may receive some votes in the early caucuses and primaries. But it is now clear only one of that trio of Romney, Perry and Bachmann will be the person standing on the podium in Tampa next September accepting the GOP nomination.

The first person to acknowledge this is Tim Pawlenty, a man many of us believed had a reasonable chance to win it himself. But after his flameout at the Ames debate on Thursday and a distant third place finish in the straw poll, Pawlenty has recognized he is finished and pulled out.

The other second tier candidates will hang around for a while.

Rick Santorum was probably given a boost by a strong performance at the last debate and earned the dubious distinction of being the best of the worst with a fourth place finish in the poll. But he has little money and no chance to do better when the real votes are counted. The candidacies of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman are just as hopeless, but they will also probably not withdraw until after the first primaries if for no other reason than Gingrich has nothing better to do and Cain and Huntsman have enough money of their own to persist.

Representative Ron Paul almost won the straw poll, a result that would not have increased his nonexistent chances of being the nominee but would have done irreparable damage to the straw poll and the Iowa GOP. Paul’s extremist libertarian positions put him outside the Republican mainstream on virtually every issue, but he has devoted followers and plenty of cash. As in 2008, he will not drop out, but he will also not win any primaries.

As for the possibility someone else will jump into the race, the chances of that happening now are slim and getting slimmer with each passing day. Sarah Palin showed up in Iowa the day before the straw poll and told Fox News she was still considering running. But though crowds still follow her, such statements appear to be a fairly transparent attempt to steal a bit of the attention that is going to the real candidates. If Palin did run, it would sabotage Bachmann but it would do far more harm to the former Alaska governor. Palin’s defeat would be inevitable and crushing. It would finish her as a public figure. So I don’t believe for a minute she will risk such an outcome.

Nor is there much chance any of the other potential conservative saviors such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie will jump in at this late date even if their fans continue to implore them to do so.

So that leaves us with only three plausible GOP contenders for the nomination. As things stack up right now, each will enter the first three contested states favored in one of them: Bachmann in Iowa; Romney in New Hampshire and Perry in South Carolina. If each of them manages to hold on in those states, the chances of a quick decision, as is usually the case in Republican presidential contests, may be out the window. Which means 2012 may be the most interesting GOP race in decades.

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