Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 16, 2011

The Decline of Secular Education in Turkey

American diplomats still use the mantra that Turkey is a model for the Middle East. Alas, increasingly it seems that the Middle East is the model for Turkey. According to Yeni Şafak, Turkey’s Islamist broadsheet, the number of students choosing madrasas over traditional high school grounded in Western and secular coursework has skyrocketed to 240,000.

The sharp rise in the number of those seeking a purely Islamist education follows the Turkish government’s watering down of entrance requirements for mainstream universities so that those without a basis in liberal arts could qualify for Turkey’s top schools.

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American diplomats still use the mantra that Turkey is a model for the Middle East. Alas, increasingly it seems that the Middle East is the model for Turkey. According to Yeni Şafak, Turkey’s Islamist broadsheet, the number of students choosing madrasas over traditional high school grounded in Western and secular coursework has skyrocketed to 240,000.

The sharp rise in the number of those seeking a purely Islamist education follows the Turkish government’s watering down of entrance requirements for mainstream universities so that those without a basis in liberal arts could qualify for Turkey’s top schools.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government is also scrapping basic regulations on Quran schools. No longer will Turkey set age requirement initially put in place to stop indoctrination of very young children. Nor will Turkey enforce qualification regulations meant to keep out Saudi preachers who could indoctrinate hate rather than theology.

Alas, if the path to the future is through children’s education, then Turkey’s future appears less in line with Europe’s, and more with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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Ron Paul Deserves Media Scorn

In the aftermath of the Iowa straw poll this past weekend, the Ron Paul campaign has been issuing bitter complaints about the nature of the coverage of the event and their candidate. They are angry about the fact that despite Paul’s near victory at Ames, the press treats him with the same disdain they reserve for candidates who didn’t do nearly as well as the Texas congressman. The Paul camp thinks their man ought to be listed among the frontrunners. As far as they are concerned, this is a clear case of media bias against libertarians.

Unfortunately for the extremist candidate and his vocal fans the press is, at least in this one case, completely right. Though Paul has a devoted following, a lot of cash and will undoubtedly win some protest votes wherever his name appears on the ballot, his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination are as minimal as those of Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Thaddeus McCotter, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman and maybe even less than some of them. If the press prefers to devote far more of their resources to covering the Republicans who have a reasonable shot at the nomination that is simply a case of giving their audiences what they want: more information about someone who might actually become president.

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In the aftermath of the Iowa straw poll this past weekend, the Ron Paul campaign has been issuing bitter complaints about the nature of the coverage of the event and their candidate. They are angry about the fact that despite Paul’s near victory at Ames, the press treats him with the same disdain they reserve for candidates who didn’t do nearly as well as the Texas congressman. The Paul camp thinks their man ought to be listed among the frontrunners. As far as they are concerned, this is a clear case of media bias against libertarians.

Unfortunately for the extremist candidate and his vocal fans the press is, at least in this one case, completely right. Though Paul has a devoted following, a lot of cash and will undoubtedly win some protest votes wherever his name appears on the ballot, his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination are as minimal as those of Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Thaddeus McCotter, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman and maybe even less than some of them. If the press prefers to devote far more of their resources to covering the Republicans who have a reasonable shot at the nomination that is simply a case of giving their audiences what they want: more information about someone who might actually become president.

If that seems unfair to the libertarian crowd that follows Paul around cheering his every irresponsible statement, they’re just going to have to learn to live with it. If anything, Paul gets more than his fair share of attention at times simply because at every debate his outrageous statements can tend to be the focus of comment even though few outside of his immediate circle take him seriously. And that is as it should be.

At the Ames debate last week, for instance, Paul launched into an embarrassing rant in which this supposed apostle of liberty served as an apologist for one of the worst tyrannies on the planet: Iran. He not only denied that the ayatollahs wanted a nuclear weapon but rationalized their desire to do so and, like the regime itself, placed all the blame for tension with Tehran on the United States. As this bizarre passage illustrated, Paul’s wacky right-wing isolationism has morphed into nothing more than a variant of traditional leftist anti-American rhetoric.

That he holds obnoxious views that are completely out of step with the Republican mainstream as well as most Americans is not by itself a reason for the press to give him short shrift. But it is a reflection of the fact that Paul is a mere gadfly whose candidacy exists solely to promote his ideas. His good showing at the straw poll was merely a function of the fact that he has a strong cadre of supporters who are willing to show up and vote at a staged event.

While he will always get equal time in the debates and his activities should be noted, the notion that he should in any way be treated as a serious contender for the nomination or the presidency is absurd. Though he will get votes and deserves, as do all candidates, a hearing, he should be treated as the embarrassing outlier that he is and nothing more.

 

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Re: Obama Re-Writes History on Bush and Jerusalem

Omri Ceren is absolutely correct to lambast the Obama White House for whitewashing our own diplomatic history when it comes to Jerusalem. If only the Obama administration stopped by trying to erase his predecessors’ acknowledgment that Jerusalem is part of Israel. Even if Jerusalem is ultimately divided—a disastrous outcome in my personal opinion—much of it will remain Israeli.

But the Obama administration isn’t satisfied with erasing Israeli claims, legacy, or history in Jerusalem. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has sponsored a project to remove the trilingual (English, Arabic, and Hebrew) road signs in the West Bank with bilingual ones, scrubbing the Hebrew. This project costs money, but isn’t that what American taxpayers are for? That’s the Obama administration at work equating peace with ethnic (or at least religious) cleansing, and squandering American money all at the same time.

Omri Ceren is absolutely correct to lambast the Obama White House for whitewashing our own diplomatic history when it comes to Jerusalem. If only the Obama administration stopped by trying to erase his predecessors’ acknowledgment that Jerusalem is part of Israel. Even if Jerusalem is ultimately divided—a disastrous outcome in my personal opinion—much of it will remain Israeli.

But the Obama administration isn’t satisfied with erasing Israeli claims, legacy, or history in Jerusalem. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has sponsored a project to remove the trilingual (English, Arabic, and Hebrew) road signs in the West Bank with bilingual ones, scrubbing the Hebrew. This project costs money, but isn’t that what American taxpayers are for? That’s the Obama administration at work equating peace with ethnic (or at least religious) cleansing, and squandering American money all at the same time.

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Women Writers: A Caste Apart

V. S. Naipaul’s comments to the Royal Geo­graphic Society in late May reignited the flame wars over “women’s writing.” “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not,” the Nobel Prize-winning novelist said. Women writers are inevitably sentimental, they have a “narrow view of the world,” because none of them is “a complete master of a house.” The most hilarious of Naipaul’s self-parodic remarks was that no English novelist who also happened to be a woman — not even Jane Austen, to whom my teacher J. V. Cunningham once said it would be indecorous to ascribe a fault — is “the equal to me.”

The best reply to Naipaul would have been silence, with mockery as a second best. (Naipaul goes to a restaurant. His meal is brought to the table. “I think it is unequal to me,” he says.) But what was surprising — or, come to think of it, not so surprising — was that his scornful and angry critics agreed entirely with Naipaul about one thing. Women writers are to be treated as a caste apart, who share a mutual understanding — not because they are writers, but because they are women. The complaint (repeated in Harper’s by Francine Prose) that women are published less often and reviewed less widely than men, the call (made by the Australian novelist Sophie Cunningham) to set up A Prize of Their Own, saluted Naipaul’s ideas by suggesting that women do indeed require a compensa­tory boost.

The notion, as Prose said, “apparently won’t go away.” Neither, apparently, will the bankrupt notion of what she herself calls “women’s writing.” When I praised her last year in COMMENTARY, I ignored her gender and placed her in a different literary tradition altogether: “[I]t was not until she began to find inspiration in the English tradition,” I said, that she began to be a really good novelist — “very different from most American novelists now writing, and in a manner that elevates her far above them.” Would she like me to go back and rewrite my conclusion?

One of Prose’s best novels is Hunters and Gatherers (1995), a novel (as I described it) that takes her feminist heroines and “plops them down in an exotic, hostile landscape where their civilized habits and spiritual airs prove inadequate to the test of interpersonal savagery.” The tradition to which the novel belongs includes Gulliver’s Travels, Heart of Darkness, and Lord of the Flies. As it happens, Ann Patchett has just published a novel that mines the same tradition — State of Wonder (Harper, 368 pp., $26.99). Patchett’s novel is nowhere near as good as Prose’s, but not because of a “sentimentality” or “narrow view of the world” that distinguishes “women’s writing.” The reasons for its mediocrity, though, aren’t far removed from that sort of thinking.

Patchett won the Orange Prize a decade ago for Bel Canto, a novel celebrating the possibility of love and friendship between terrorists and hostages. Despite being published just three months before 9/11, no one seemed particularly upset by her theme — perhaps because her terrorists were Peruvian Communists, not Arab Islamists. In State of Wonder, her sixth novel, she returns to South America. Marina Singh (“a doctor who worked in statin development”) travels to Brazil to track down the elusive Annick Swenson, who is up river somewhere in the Amazonian interior, cooking up a new fertility drug for a big pharmaceutical company. Thus Patchett sets out to rewrite Heart of Darkness with women in the roles of Marlow and Kurtz. She takes about three-and-a-half times Conrad’s length to reach the opposite conclusion. Instead of a primal savagery, Patchett’s heroine finds more human civilization — a differ­ent civilization, but a densely complicated civilization nevertheless — deep in the jungle.

Here is Marina’s arrival among a tribe of cannibals, to whom she has journeyed in search of her colleague Anders Eckman, who had been reported dead:

The arrows had fallen at least three feet away from them and Marina was willing to take this as a good sign. It wouldn’t have been so difficult to hit the target had they meant to. . . . Minutes passed. She called out to the jungle again, a sentence without meaning, and it echoed through the trees until the birds called back to her. She saw a movement in the leaves and then, slipping out from between the branches, a single man came forth, and then another. They were created wholly from the foliage, one and then one more stepping forward to watch her until a group of thirty or more were assembled on the bank of the river, loincloths and arrows, their foreheads as yellow as canaries. The women came behind the men, holding children, their faces unpainted. . . . [T]hough she waited for her own fear it did not come. She was finally here. This was the place she had been trying to get to from the very beginning and her she would wait for the rest of her life.

The cannibals accept her gifts of oranges and peanut butter, and then they take the young boy she has brought along in exchange for Anders. But it turns out that he is a prince of the tribe, who had never been returned to them after Dr. Swenson treated him for fever several years before. Who, then, is the real cannibal?

State of Wonder is a dreadful novel, but not because it was written by a woman. Its sentimentality is merely the syrupy emotion behind the multiculturalism that Ann Patchett requires nearly 400 pages to affirm. And if the novel has a narrow view of the world, the reason is that its view of the world is wholly determined by the dominant and unquestioned ideology of the current literary moment.

V. S. Naipaul’s comments to the Royal Geo­graphic Society in late May reignited the flame wars over “women’s writing.” “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not,” the Nobel Prize-winning novelist said. Women writers are inevitably sentimental, they have a “narrow view of the world,” because none of them is “a complete master of a house.” The most hilarious of Naipaul’s self-parodic remarks was that no English novelist who also happened to be a woman — not even Jane Austen, to whom my teacher J. V. Cunningham once said it would be indecorous to ascribe a fault — is “the equal to me.”

The best reply to Naipaul would have been silence, with mockery as a second best. (Naipaul goes to a restaurant. His meal is brought to the table. “I think it is unequal to me,” he says.) But what was surprising — or, come to think of it, not so surprising — was that his scornful and angry critics agreed entirely with Naipaul about one thing. Women writers are to be treated as a caste apart, who share a mutual understanding — not because they are writers, but because they are women. The complaint (repeated in Harper’s by Francine Prose) that women are published less often and reviewed less widely than men, the call (made by the Australian novelist Sophie Cunningham) to set up A Prize of Their Own, saluted Naipaul’s ideas by suggesting that women do indeed require a compensa­tory boost.

The notion, as Prose said, “apparently won’t go away.” Neither, apparently, will the bankrupt notion of what she herself calls “women’s writing.” When I praised her last year in COMMENTARY, I ignored her gender and placed her in a different literary tradition altogether: “[I]t was not until she began to find inspiration in the English tradition,” I said, that she began to be a really good novelist — “very different from most American novelists now writing, and in a manner that elevates her far above them.” Would she like me to go back and rewrite my conclusion?

One of Prose’s best novels is Hunters and Gatherers (1995), a novel (as I described it) that takes her feminist heroines and “plops them down in an exotic, hostile landscape where their civilized habits and spiritual airs prove inadequate to the test of interpersonal savagery.” The tradition to which the novel belongs includes Gulliver’s Travels, Heart of Darkness, and Lord of the Flies. As it happens, Ann Patchett has just published a novel that mines the same tradition — State of Wonder (Harper, 368 pp., $26.99). Patchett’s novel is nowhere near as good as Prose’s, but not because of a “sentimentality” or “narrow view of the world” that distinguishes “women’s writing.” The reasons for its mediocrity, though, aren’t far removed from that sort of thinking.

Patchett won the Orange Prize a decade ago for Bel Canto, a novel celebrating the possibility of love and friendship between terrorists and hostages. Despite being published just three months before 9/11, no one seemed particularly upset by her theme — perhaps because her terrorists were Peruvian Communists, not Arab Islamists. In State of Wonder, her sixth novel, she returns to South America. Marina Singh (“a doctor who worked in statin development”) travels to Brazil to track down the elusive Annick Swenson, who is up river somewhere in the Amazonian interior, cooking up a new fertility drug for a big pharmaceutical company. Thus Patchett sets out to rewrite Heart of Darkness with women in the roles of Marlow and Kurtz. She takes about three-and-a-half times Conrad’s length to reach the opposite conclusion. Instead of a primal savagery, Patchett’s heroine finds more human civilization — a differ­ent civilization, but a densely complicated civilization nevertheless — deep in the jungle.

Here is Marina’s arrival among a tribe of cannibals, to whom she has journeyed in search of her colleague Anders Eckman, who had been reported dead:

The arrows had fallen at least three feet away from them and Marina was willing to take this as a good sign. It wouldn’t have been so difficult to hit the target had they meant to. . . . Minutes passed. She called out to the jungle again, a sentence without meaning, and it echoed through the trees until the birds called back to her. She saw a movement in the leaves and then, slipping out from between the branches, a single man came forth, and then another. They were created wholly from the foliage, one and then one more stepping forward to watch her until a group of thirty or more were assembled on the bank of the river, loincloths and arrows, their foreheads as yellow as canaries. The women came behind the men, holding children, their faces unpainted. . . . [T]hough she waited for her own fear it did not come. She was finally here. This was the place she had been trying to get to from the very beginning and her she would wait for the rest of her life.

The cannibals accept her gifts of oranges and peanut butter, and then they take the young boy she has brought along in exchange for Anders. But it turns out that he is a prince of the tribe, who had never been returned to them after Dr. Swenson treated him for fever several years before. Who, then, is the real cannibal?

State of Wonder is a dreadful novel, but not because it was written by a woman. Its sentimentality is merely the syrupy emotion behind the multiculturalism that Ann Patchett requires nearly 400 pages to affirm. And if the novel has a narrow view of the world, the reason is that its view of the world is wholly determined by the dominant and unquestioned ideology of the current literary moment.

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Iraq Pullout Squandering Surge Gains

It is becoming tiresome to keep pointing to fresh atrocities in Iraq as a reason why U.S. troops cannot afford to leave at the end of this year. But lack of originality does not make any observation any less true; in fact the most unoriginal ideas are often the most accurate. So I call attention to the 42 attacks across Iraq on Monday that killed at least 89 people, most of them probably the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that never quite seems to go away. Nor is Al Qaeda in Iraq alone; Shiite groups such as Kataib Hezbollah (an Iranian proxy) continue to gain strength too.

While all this is happening, U.S. troops are preparing to leave. As we enter the fall, exiting Iraq will become their top mission. It is doubtful that they will be asked to return in large numbers after they leave. But will any request arrive before then? Perhaps but it looks increasingly unlikely. The Obama administration did not wake up to the need to push for a troop extension until well into this year — and even then the strongest proponent appeared to be Bob Gates, who has since left the Pentagon. Given how long Iraqi politicos typically take to make any decision — remember the 10-month deadlock last year over forming a government? — it is no surprise that the government is deadlocked over its response. Prime Minister Maliki has indicated he is sympathetic to keeping American troops around but he wants political cover from other political factions. As he waits, the clock ticks down.
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It is becoming tiresome to keep pointing to fresh atrocities in Iraq as a reason why U.S. troops cannot afford to leave at the end of this year. But lack of originality does not make any observation any less true; in fact the most unoriginal ideas are often the most accurate. So I call attention to the 42 attacks across Iraq on Monday that killed at least 89 people, most of them probably the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that never quite seems to go away. Nor is Al Qaeda in Iraq alone; Shiite groups such as Kataib Hezbollah (an Iranian proxy) continue to gain strength too.

While all this is happening, U.S. troops are preparing to leave. As we enter the fall, exiting Iraq will become their top mission. It is doubtful that they will be asked to return in large numbers after they leave. But will any request arrive before then? Perhaps but it looks increasingly unlikely. The Obama administration did not wake up to the need to push for a troop extension until well into this year — and even then the strongest proponent appeared to be Bob Gates, who has since left the Pentagon. Given how long Iraqi politicos typically take to make any decision — remember the 10-month deadlock last year over forming a government? — it is no surprise that the government is deadlocked over its response. Prime Minister Maliki has indicated he is sympathetic to keeping American troops around but he wants political cover from other political factions. As he waits, the clock ticks down.

I was recently asked, after a speech, if the decision to invade Iraq was a terrible blunder. I replied it was too soon to tell. Immediately after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, President Bush’s decision to topple him looked like a great idea. A few years later, after unremitting guerrilla warfare and terrorism, it looked like a disaster. But then the surge reversed perceptions once again and gave us a chance to salvation a decent outcome. It would be a tragedy if we blow that chance and the nay saying of the Iraq War critics is vindicated by a complete American withdrawal followed by a disastrous resumption of fighting.

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Iranian Lobbying Group’s Moral Confusion

Frequent COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari has an important piece over at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s website regarding curious inconsistencies in the positioning of the National Iranian American Council(NIAC), a group which cloaks itself in Iranian American advocacy but seems to spend most of its time lobbying Congress against sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Like Sohrab, I believe that the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) should remain listed as a terrorist group. Its enemy — the regime in Tehran — may also our own adversary,  but it’s not the enemy that matters but the willingness of the group to target civilians for political gain. Terrorism should be a black-and-white issue. The minute policymakers make exceptions is to open a floodgate that legitimizes all terror. Political ideology should never be a mitigating factor. Add to that the fact that the MKO remains a somewhat creepy cult, has killed Americans in the past, and is regarded by most Iranians in the same way that Americans view John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, then the recommendation of well-paid lobbyists and former officials to rehabilitate the group is truly counterproductive. The fact that the MKO killed American servicemen and refuses to acknowledge its past is simply icing on the cake.

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Frequent COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari has an important piece over at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s website regarding curious inconsistencies in the positioning of the National Iranian American Council(NIAC), a group which cloaks itself in Iranian American advocacy but seems to spend most of its time lobbying Congress against sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Like Sohrab, I believe that the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) should remain listed as a terrorist group. Its enemy — the regime in Tehran — may also our own adversary,  but it’s not the enemy that matters but the willingness of the group to target civilians for political gain. Terrorism should be a black-and-white issue. The minute policymakers make exceptions is to open a floodgate that legitimizes all terror. Political ideology should never be a mitigating factor. Add to that the fact that the MKO remains a somewhat creepy cult, has killed Americans in the past, and is regarded by most Iranians in the same way that Americans view John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, then the recommendation of well-paid lobbyists and former officials to rehabilitate the group is truly counterproductive. The fact that the MKO killed American servicemen and refuses to acknowledge its past is simply icing on the cake.

Yet, as Sohrab points out, NIAC was front-and-center against the effort to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity. The IRGC is responsible for far more deaths — both American and otherwise — than the MKO. Why then oppose IRGC listing and favor MKO terrorist designation? Consistency matters. If the IRGC is acting as a rogue operator—something which I seek to disprove here—then it certainly is a terrorist group. If it acts on the orders of the leadership in Tehran, then the whole regime is a guilty of state-sponsored terrorism.

NIAC opposed efforts to promote civil society – and regularly targeted its proponents in the most callous way until the 2009 disputed elections. Likewise, it downplayed the human rights issue until that time, before suddenly seeing which way the wind blew. It has wrongly opposed efforts to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear development and missile proliferation efforts, and it has sought to give the IRGC a free pass. It might be right on the MKO, but it’s wrong in its dedication to the Islamic Republic. Iranians and Americans deserve a future free of terrorism, be it MKO or Islamic Republic. It’s time to stop playing cynical games, and to take a true stand on principle. Thankfully, the Iranian community has people like Sohrab Ahmari who do stand on principle. If only NIAC had their moral compass.

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Perry Passes Romney to Take Lead in Race

That didn’t take long. Governor Rick Perry has shot up to a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race. According to the most recent poll by Scott Rasmussen, Perry is drawing support from 29 percent of likely Republican primary voters, Mitt Romney is drawing 18 percent, and Michele Bachmann is drawing 13 percent.

This poll reflects several things, I think.

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That didn’t take long. Governor Rick Perry has shot up to a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race. According to the most recent poll by Scott Rasmussen, Perry is drawing support from 29 percent of likely Republican primary voters, Mitt Romney is drawing 18 percent, and Michele Bachmann is drawing 13 percent.

This poll reflects several things, I think.

The first is that Perry appears to be quite a formidable political figure — a man with an impressive record to tout (take a look at this and some undeniable political skills (he has never lost a race). Second, support for the previous (nominal/perceived) front-runner, Mitt Romney, looks to be weak. It’s clear that GOP voters have not, at least until now, settled on a favorite candidate. And third, Perry’s entry into the field is likely to do substantial damage to Rep. Bachmann, who until now was the Tea Party favorite and the most likely alternative to Governor Romney. By most accounts, Perry outperformed Bachmann during their speeches in Iowa earlier this week.

Governor Perry’s entrance into the race has been (with the exception of his unfortunate comment about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) impressive. He has certainly scrambled the field. And at this moment, still five months away from the Iowa caucus, Governor Perry has established an impressive lead.

Whether he stays there are not is impossible to know. There is nothing quite like experiencing the intensity of a presidential campaign. And there will be events and moments that none of us, including the candidates, can possibly anticipate. How they do will determine who emerges and who will ultimately square off against the president. But for now – in the middle part of August 2011, just four days after he declared his candidacy for president — Rick Perry is at the top of the GOP heap.

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Why Paul Ryan Shouldn’t Run

Though I agree that Paul Ryan’s inclusion in the GOP primary field would improve the debate and give the Republican party a national platform on which to display its young star, I think the prospect for such a candidacy has been overtaken by events.

There have been good arguments both for and against, but over at the American Spectator, W. James Antle nails it:

Second, Ryan’s credibility as a fiscal conservative will be tarnished. He voted for TARP. He not only voted for but was instrumental in passing Medicare Part D…. He has been an advocate for spending agreements that have been criticized by Tea Party activists and supported a debt deal the entire GOP field save Jon Huntsman opposed. He is running against Republicans — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann​, Ron Paul​ — who will not hesitate to point all of this out.

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Though I agree that Paul Ryan’s inclusion in the GOP primary field would improve the debate and give the Republican party a national platform on which to display its young star, I think the prospect for such a candidacy has been overtaken by events.

There have been good arguments both for and against, but over at the American Spectator, W. James Antle nails it:

Second, Ryan’s credibility as a fiscal conservative will be tarnished. He voted for TARP. He not only voted for but was instrumental in passing Medicare Part D…. He has been an advocate for spending agreements that have been criticized by Tea Party activists and supported a debt deal the entire GOP field save Jon Huntsman opposed. He is running against Republicans — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann​, Ron Paul​ — who will not hesitate to point all of this out.

One key to winning the 2012 presidential elections for Republicans will be to nominate someone that cannot be saddled with House Republicans’ unpopularity or–in the form of Paul Ryan himself–policy positions that double as easy Democratic attack ads. One of the reasons the candidates thus far have not exactly embraced Ryan’s Medicare proposal is that it is easily demagogued. President Obama would love nothing more than to run against Ryan. He may try to anyway, but it will be tougher if he’s not actually running against Ryan.

The GOP nominee is going to have to show his independence from Congress (something Bachmann, obviously, cannot do). Additionally, as Antle points out, if Ryan runs he’ll be criticized from the right by Perry and Bachmann (and some of the second-tier candidates). Imagine that spectacle: Paul Ryan getting hammered for not being conservative enough or fiscally responsible enough.

Ryan could elevate the policy debate and minimize the rhetorical excess that often finds its way into the contest. But I don’t think Ryan has much of a chance for the nomination or the presidency, and the primary season could quite brutally drive a wedge between Ryan and the party’s base—a conflict I sense the party would like to avoid.

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White House Unsure Whether it Sent Trade Deals to Congress

Enacting three new free trade deals is one of the few job-creating proposals President Obama has put forward so far, and he’s been chastising congress for not passing the agreements during almost every stop on his Midwest jobs tour. But there are still many people who don’t realize the president hasn’t actually sent the agreements to congress to be passed. Including, apparently, Obama’s own press secretary Josh Earnest.

Here’s an exchange between Earnest and a reporter last week, via the briefing posted on the White House website:

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Enacting three new free trade deals is one of the few job-creating proposals President Obama has put forward so far, and he’s been chastising congress for not passing the agreements during almost every stop on his Midwest jobs tour. But there are still many people who don’t realize the president hasn’t actually sent the agreements to congress to be passed. Including, apparently, Obama’s own press secretary Josh Earnest.

Here’s an exchange between Earnest and a reporter last week, via the briefing posted on the White House website:

Q:    I already tweeted that you sound like Jay and Robert with your comment about not making economic predictions.  (Laughter.)  I just — why does the White House keep telling Congress to move on the free trade bills if they haven’t even — if you guys haven’t even sent them over?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t — have we not sent them over?

Q:   No.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that there have been — (laughter) —

Q:    Gotcha.

MR. EARNEST:  There you go.  (Laughter.)  I withdraw my “nice” comment.  (Laughter.)

Funny! Though maybe not so much for the members of Congress Obama has been attacking for not passing the deals “right now.” Today, during his speech in Iowa, Obama called on the public to “send a message” to congress, demanding that they “get into the game” and move forward on proposals like the trade agreements. But it’s Obama who’s been sitting on the sidelines throughout the debate, and has yet to offer a serious jobs plan.

During today’s Iowa speech, Obama’s “new” proposals were just as vague as some of his previous ones: he called for expanding broadband internet access, creating a “rural council” to come up with job ideas, increasing loans to small businesses, and finding ways to recruit doctors and nurses for local hospitals. Not only were there no details on how he would move forward on these proposals, they’re also not extensive enough to make a dent in solving the jobs crisis.

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Obama Re-Writes History on Bush and Jerusalem

Now this is just getting silly. The Obama White House is gearing up for a Supreme Court case in which it will defend its refusal to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of Americans born in the Israeli capital. As part of its preparations the administration recently scrubbed all the captions on a White House photo gallery of Vice President Biden in the city, changing “Jerusalem, Israel” to “Jerusalem.” The optics of methodically erasing the word “Israel” from the White House webpage caused a predictable uproar.

Those who make it their business to rationalize White House hostility toward Israel were relieved, then, when the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo published an article claiming that the Bush administration had enforced an identical policy. Kredo cited a “search of the Bush White House’s archives” and photos of Laura Bush touring the Western Wall to conclude that the Bush White House webpage “never explicitly labeled [Jerusalem] as part of Israel.” Though he was otherwise unsparing in criticizing the White House’s “horrible, simply ridiculous… photo mistake,” Obama’s defenders latched on to his article anyway. The NJDC and J Street found particularly grating and obnoxious ways to pass along the article. You should read them because they’re about to become deeply embarrassing.

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Now this is just getting silly. The Obama White House is gearing up for a Supreme Court case in which it will defend its refusal to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of Americans born in the Israeli capital. As part of its preparations the administration recently scrubbed all the captions on a White House photo gallery of Vice President Biden in the city, changing “Jerusalem, Israel” to “Jerusalem.” The optics of methodically erasing the word “Israel” from the White House webpage caused a predictable uproar.

Those who make it their business to rationalize White House hostility toward Israel were relieved, then, when the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo published an article claiming that the Bush administration had enforced an identical policy. Kredo cited a “search of the Bush White House’s archives” and photos of Laura Bush touring the Western Wall to conclude that the Bush White House webpage “never explicitly labeled [Jerusalem] as part of Israel.” Though he was otherwise unsparing in criticizing the White House’s “horrible, simply ridiculous… photo mistake,” Obama’s defenders latched on to his article anyway. The NJDC and J Street found particularly grating and obnoxious ways to pass along the article. You should read them because they’re about to become deeply embarrassing.

Elliot Abrams responded in a quote he gave to Jennifer Rubin, forcefully insisting that Kredo was “just wrong” and that the Bush White House “did not have a hard and fast rule that prohibited referring to Jerusalem” as part of Israel in documents and captions.

Basic Google searches are enough to show that Abrams is right and Obama’s defenders are flat wrong.

Sometimes Bush-era White House photos explicitly identified Jerusalem as being in Israel and sometimes they didn’t, just like sometimes they explicitly identified Tel Aviv as being in Israel and sometimes they didn’t. A naive “Jerusalem, Israel” Google search on the Bush White House archives is sufficient to turn up this 2002 photo of Vice President Cheney captioned as “a press briefing in Jerusalem, Israel.” It also turns up this photo labeled “Mrs. Laura Bush visits the Western Wall Tunnels… in Jerusalem, Israel.” That’s from the exact, precise, identical tour that Kredo linked to in order to “hammer home the point” that the Bush administration “never explicitly labeled [Jerusalem] as part of Israel.”

Getting beyond photo captions, Bush-era documents show that the previous White House was indeed able to correctly identify the city of Jerusalem as being inside the state of Israel. The record shows that the President even acknowledged that the Jerusalem consulate – the same one that won’t issue passports referencing “Jerusalem, Israel” – was located in Jerusalem, Israel. Bush’s statement nominating Jeffrey Feltman to be ambassador to Lebanon, for instance, explicitly described Feltman’s previous position as “Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, Israel.”

It gets worse for Obama’s defenders, though, than merely being demonstrably wrong. It turns out that while they were insisting that the Bush administration consistently refused to reference “Jerusalem, Israel,” the Obama State Department was busy scrubbing documents in which Bush administration referenced “Jerusalem, Israel.” Straight down the memory hole. That’s kind of amazing when you pause and think about it, no?

The “Jerusalem, Israel” captions and statements from the Bush-era White House are digitally archived and frozen, and so beyond the administration’s reach. But Bush-era State Department reports are stored on the Obama State Department’s servers. Two old documents in particular – the State Department’s FY 2002 and FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Reports – come up quickly in searches. When they were originally written they both had appendices identifying the location of the Jerusalem consulate as “Jerusalem, Israel.” Some time in the last two weeks that location was changed to “Jerusalem.” Whoever made the changes even went back and scrubbed the old “hard copy” PDFs. You can do the compare and contrast yourself. Click on these links for scrubbed versions of FY 2002 HTML, FY 2003 HTML, FY 2002 PDF, FY 2003 PDF, and on these links for cached original versions of FY 2002 HTML, FY 2003 HTML, FY 2002 PDF, FY 2003 PDF.

The Bush White House was simply not as hostile to Israel as the Obama administration. It simply did not engage in the same consistent, systematic efforts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic positions. Efforts to rewrite history, which at this point have become quite literal, won’t change that basic fact. Those who continue to grasp for pretexts to believe otherwise – and you really should go back to see the sneering smugness with which the NJDC and J Street approached this controversy – will continue to get embarrassed. Facts are not only stubborn things but, in a digital age, fairly easy for anyone to find.

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Introducing ‘Literary Commentary’

I’d like to introduce you to a new blog on our website: “Literary Commentary.” It will be a place to discuss matters fictional, science-fictional, Jewish-fictional, and all other manner of story, and it will be the charge of D.G. Myers, long a professor of English literature at Texas A&M and now a member of the faculty of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University. Go take a look; bookmark it; enjoy it.

I’d like to introduce you to a new blog on our website: “Literary Commentary.” It will be a place to discuss matters fictional, science-fictional, Jewish-fictional, and all other manner of story, and it will be the charge of D.G. Myers, long a professor of English literature at Texas A&M and now a member of the faculty of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University. Go take a look; bookmark it; enjoy it.

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Beck’s Criticism of Israeli Protests Not Completely Off Base

Say whatever you want about Glenn Beck but anyone who claims he doesn’t love Israel is lying. The talk show host is back in the Jewish state this week to stage a “Restore Courage” rally to support the country. At a time when Israel remains the focus of an international diplomatic campaign aimed at isolating and delegitimizing it, the former Fox News personality deserves a great deal of credit for being willing to put himself on the line in this way.

Yet, predictably, Beck has gotten himself in trouble almost as soon as he arrived by saying that demands of Israelis who took part in massive economic protests reminded him of the Soviet Union. Beck will, no doubt, be criticized for implicitly calling Israelis “communists,” as Haaretz put it. But even though Beck certainly oversimplified some aspects of the protests and clearly doesn’t understand why they resonate with most Israelis, he is not entirely wrong.

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Say whatever you want about Glenn Beck but anyone who claims he doesn’t love Israel is lying. The talk show host is back in the Jewish state this week to stage a “Restore Courage” rally to support the country. At a time when Israel remains the focus of an international diplomatic campaign aimed at isolating and delegitimizing it, the former Fox News personality deserves a great deal of credit for being willing to put himself on the line in this way.

Yet, predictably, Beck has gotten himself in trouble almost as soon as he arrived by saying that demands of Israelis who took part in massive economic protests reminded him of the Soviet Union. Beck will, no doubt, be criticized for implicitly calling Israelis “communists,” as Haaretz put it. But even though Beck certainly oversimplified some aspects of the protests and clearly doesn’t understand why they resonate with most Israelis, he is not entirely wrong.

Any discussion of these protests must begin by stating the reason why most Israelis are sympathetic to the demonstrations: the price of housing and food is sky high and the middle class is being squeezed even in an economy that is on the upswing. Complaints about an inequitable distribution of wealth strike many Americans, including Beck, as mere left-wing rhetoric. But when Israelis speak of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families they are, for the most part, not calling for socialism. Rather, they are noting the fact that during the sell off of state properties when free market reform in Israel began during the Rabin and Peres governments, a few individuals were able to snatch up bargains that enriched them in a manner that better resembles what happened in Russia in the early 1990s than anything out of a Milton Friedman economics text.

These are things that Beck needs to take into account before he opens his mouth on the subject.

That said, those who roast him for his remarks on the subject need to understand that some of the rhetoric coming out of the protests does emanate from a foolish nostalgia for Israel’s socialist past. For all of its current problems, Israel wasn’t a better country when there was little wealth creation allowed and a corrupt system made it impossible for citizens to get decent services. The country needs more free market reform, not less and Beck is right to point that out.

It should also be noted that the effort by some on the left to hijack the protests and to link them with a campaign against the settlements is an absurd red herring. Though Beck’s call for more building in the West Bank in order to ease the housing crunch is never going to happen, what many Americans who sympathize with the Israeli left have to understand is that this problem will be made incomparably worse if settlements where tens of thousands of Jews live are destroyed to please the Palestinians.

Beck has blundered badly at times when speaking about Jewish subjects. But the worst that he can be accused of here is indulging in a bit of hyperbole on a subject on which Israelis disagree. Considering that he is in the country on a solidarity mission, anyone inclined to bash him over this should cut him some slack.

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Assad Wages War on Non-Alawites

Syria’s Bashar Assad is getting increasingly creepy, if such a thing is even possible. The LA Times reports that his armed forces are herding thousands of civilians into a stadium in Latakia, taking away their identification cards, and warning them that their neighborhoods are about to be destroyed by the army.

Latakia is the “capital” of the Alawite region of Syria between the Mediterranean and the coastal mountains, and the regime is overwhelmingly dominated by Alawites even though they only make up around a tenth of the population. The city isn’t entirely Alawite, though. Sunnis and Palestinians also live there. And while some Alawites are taking part in the demonstrations and are just as much enemies of the regime as anyone else, Assad’s government seems to be more interested in waging war on the non-Alawite parts of the city for now, including a Palestinian refugee camp. And it is residents of those areas who are being herded into that stadium.

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Syria’s Bashar Assad is getting increasingly creepy, if such a thing is even possible. The LA Times reports that his armed forces are herding thousands of civilians into a stadium in Latakia, taking away their identification cards, and warning them that their neighborhoods are about to be destroyed by the army.

Latakia is the “capital” of the Alawite region of Syria between the Mediterranean and the coastal mountains, and the regime is overwhelmingly dominated by Alawites even though they only make up around a tenth of the population. The city isn’t entirely Alawite, though. Sunnis and Palestinians also live there. And while some Alawites are taking part in the demonstrations and are just as much enemies of the regime as anyone else, Assad’s government seems to be more interested in waging war on the non-Alawite parts of the city for now, including a Palestinian refugee camp. And it is residents of those areas who are being herded into that stadium.

The elite of this minority heterodox sect are in a fight for their lives. More than seventy percent of Syria’s people are Sunnis, and most of them have long considered the Alawites infidels. After being dominated by a vicious totalitarian regime spawned by that minority sect for so many decades, a rather significant number of them won’t likely feel merciful if the regime is overthrown. Assad knows this perfectly well, as do those who run the army and the intelligence services. That’s why they’re fighting back hard.

Some analysts have speculated that the regime may want to clear Sunnis and Palestinians out of the coastal Alawite region so it can make that part of the country an escape hatch in case the government falls. I’m not sure that’s what’s going on right now in Latakia, but it looks like it might be.

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Envoi

Today marks the 103rd birthday of William Maxwell, novelist (They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf) and fiction editor of the New Yorker for forty years, along with the 91st birthday of the American poet Charles Bukowski (“as the poems go into the thousands/ you realize that you’ve created very/ little”).

Today also marks the debut of Literary Commentary, the magazine’s new book blog. The coincidence may be fitting, since this blog — its interests and loyalties, its voice and point of view — will probably be found somewhere between Maxwell’s graceful kindly wisdom and Bukowski’s rough self-pitying intimacy.

To those who are already familiar with it, my nearly three-years-old Commonplace Blog is relocating here, with a new focus on the current literary scene to go along with its new venue and affiliation. To those who will be reading it for the first time, I should explain that, while this blog will be a source for book reviews and reconsiderations, Literary Commentary is intended to be something more. It represents the literary side of what John Podhoretz, its fourth editor, defined as COMMENTARY’s mission.

Literary Commentary too is an “act of faith — faith in the power of ideas, in tradition and the value of defending tradition, and faith in America and the West.” It too is an “expression of faith in the act of reading itself, in its unparalleled capacity to enlarge the perspective and knowledge of those for whom reading is an activity as central to their lives as the drawing of breath.” In particular, it places faith in the reading of literature and the power of literature, not merely to kill the time softly, but to instruct and move, to frighten and uplift, to change forever the way men and women think.

At the risk of ingratitude, in fact, I’d say that John’s faith in reading is misplaced if reading is not critical, feisty, dubious, prepared to take issue and answer back. “I think of reading as the ‘gateway drug’ to learning,” Bethanne Patrick tweeted last week, defending the Twitter event known as #FridayReads, when thousands of twitterers eagerly cough up the book they will be sitting down with that weekend. But reading is not that—not necessarily. Reading can be an undiscriminating waste of time, an enthusiastic hobby like model railroading or royal commemorative collecting that leads only to more and more of itself, unless it is accompanied by reasons and argument.

In an age of the reader review, when critical judgment is measured by a rating of stars (one to five), Literary Commentary aims to return to an older conception of reading, one that is founded upon the unfashionable belief that (as Hugh Kenner once put it) there are some books that “every civilized American should be familiar with.” But along with this belief goes the confidence that some of those books are being written even today; or at least they were written five or six minutes ago. To quote John again, COMMENTARY exists “to take inventory in and increase the storehouse of the best that has been thought and said.” Starting today, Literary Commentary joins in the magazine’s work.

Today marks the 103rd birthday of William Maxwell, novelist (They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf) and fiction editor of the New Yorker for forty years, along with the 91st birthday of the American poet Charles Bukowski (“as the poems go into the thousands/ you realize that you’ve created very/ little”).

Today also marks the debut of Literary Commentary, the magazine’s new book blog. The coincidence may be fitting, since this blog — its interests and loyalties, its voice and point of view — will probably be found somewhere between Maxwell’s graceful kindly wisdom and Bukowski’s rough self-pitying intimacy.

To those who are already familiar with it, my nearly three-years-old Commonplace Blog is relocating here, with a new focus on the current literary scene to go along with its new venue and affiliation. To those who will be reading it for the first time, I should explain that, while this blog will be a source for book reviews and reconsiderations, Literary Commentary is intended to be something more. It represents the literary side of what John Podhoretz, its fourth editor, defined as COMMENTARY’s mission.

Literary Commentary too is an “act of faith — faith in the power of ideas, in tradition and the value of defending tradition, and faith in America and the West.” It too is an “expression of faith in the act of reading itself, in its unparalleled capacity to enlarge the perspective and knowledge of those for whom reading is an activity as central to their lives as the drawing of breath.” In particular, it places faith in the reading of literature and the power of literature, not merely to kill the time softly, but to instruct and move, to frighten and uplift, to change forever the way men and women think.

At the risk of ingratitude, in fact, I’d say that John’s faith in reading is misplaced if reading is not critical, feisty, dubious, prepared to take issue and answer back. “I think of reading as the ‘gateway drug’ to learning,” Bethanne Patrick tweeted last week, defending the Twitter event known as #FridayReads, when thousands of twitterers eagerly cough up the book they will be sitting down with that weekend. But reading is not that—not necessarily. Reading can be an undiscriminating waste of time, an enthusiastic hobby like model railroading or royal commemorative collecting that leads only to more and more of itself, unless it is accompanied by reasons and argument.

In an age of the reader review, when critical judgment is measured by a rating of stars (one to five), Literary Commentary aims to return to an older conception of reading, one that is founded upon the unfashionable belief that (as Hugh Kenner once put it) there are some books that “every civilized American should be familiar with.” But along with this belief goes the confidence that some of those books are being written even today; or at least they were written five or six minutes ago. To quote John again, COMMENTARY exists “to take inventory in and increase the storehouse of the best that has been thought and said.” Starting today, Literary Commentary joins in the magazine’s work.

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Nonprofit Unites Military Families Through Reading

During my recent stints teaching classes for the U.S. Navy on aircraft carriers, I have learned more about the U.S. military than during my time at the Pentagon, where I was chained to a desk worrying more about font size (Donald Rumsfeld wanted 13 point Times) and running papers up and down the chain of command for signatures (printing out multiple copies for the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense who, invariably, would lose them).

The great thing about lecturing on carriers as opposed to teaching on army bases is that I can’t simply leave the classroom: I’m eating with the servicemen, hitting the gym with the servicemen, and watching movies with the servicemen. While Congressional delegations might visit a carrier for a day or two and have a pretty tight itinerary, once I have my teaching schedule and see when I’m committed and when I have down time—and having finally learned to navigate a Nimitz class carrier—I’m on my own and can just observe life.

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During my recent stints teaching classes for the U.S. Navy on aircraft carriers, I have learned more about the U.S. military than during my time at the Pentagon, where I was chained to a desk worrying more about font size (Donald Rumsfeld wanted 13 point Times) and running papers up and down the chain of command for signatures (printing out multiple copies for the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense who, invariably, would lose them).

The great thing about lecturing on carriers as opposed to teaching on army bases is that I can’t simply leave the classroom: I’m eating with the servicemen, hitting the gym with the servicemen, and watching movies with the servicemen. While Congressional delegations might visit a carrier for a day or two and have a pretty tight itinerary, once I have my teaching schedule and see when I’m committed and when I have down time—and having finally learned to navigate a Nimitz class carrier—I’m on my own and can just observe life.

It’s in this context that I came across “United Through Reading.” It’s truly an amazing program which does more than anything else I’ve seen to mitigate the separation that affects not only servicemen, but also their families. I’ve met officers who left newborn babies when they were just weeks old, and I’ve written before about the touching reunions between servicemen and their kids.

“United Through Reading” fills an important gap, however. Most ships, many forward operating bases, and many other facilities are now fitted with cameras in which moms and dads serving theiur country can read from a book they’ve brought from home, or pick a children’s book from the facility’s library, and read on video directly to their child. Usually, the chaplains from across the services and denominations will manage the children’s library which “United Through Reading” provides, and manage sign-ups for camera time. United Through Reading then will arrange for the various DVDs to be sent to each child’s home.

People whose sons and daughters were born when they were abroad will talk about how their children recognized their voices in a room full of crowded people because they had heard them read every night, even while they were away. For young kids, especially, it keeps the bond alive. For parents, it’s reassuring to know they can still read that bedtime story to their son or their little girl.

During the last decade of war, much of the press focus has been on the evolution of military tactics, especially the revival of counter-insurgency strategy. At the same time, however, it has been great to see how the military has evolved socially as well, and how the institution has grown even more attentive to the needs of young families. So many non-governmental organizations embrace a smug anti-military attitude, even though no group does more humanitarian relief and development than the military itself. Accordingly, it’s also good to see a non-profit develop to attend so well to our servicemen’s needs, so that they may concentrate on protecting our liberty.

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Gibbs: GOP Doesn’t Want to See Economy Improve

Noemi Emery has a great and timely column at the Weekly Standard about how entrenched partisans on both sides of the aisle believe their ideological opponents are intentionally trying to destroy the economy for political gain:

It’s a conspiracy! In a stunning display of harmonic convergence, the right and the left have hit on the cause of the persistent malaise that afflicts the economy: a sinister plot to destroy the country, for selfish and partisan gain. That these plots exist is the fervent belief of the most intense partisans, who believe their opposite numbers are not only wrong, but know they are wrong, and forge ahead anyhow, indifferent to consequence.

Emery’s spot-on that this conspiracy-laced thinking infects the right as much as the left. As damaging as Obama’s economic policies have been, the idea that he’s pursuing some Cloward and Piven master plan is based on pure fantasy.

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Noemi Emery has a great and timely column at the Weekly Standard about how entrenched partisans on both sides of the aisle believe their ideological opponents are intentionally trying to destroy the economy for political gain:

It’s a conspiracy! In a stunning display of harmonic convergence, the right and the left have hit on the cause of the persistent malaise that afflicts the economy: a sinister plot to destroy the country, for selfish and partisan gain. That these plots exist is the fervent belief of the most intense partisans, who believe their opposite numbers are not only wrong, but know they are wrong, and forge ahead anyhow, indifferent to consequence.

Emery’s spot-on that this conspiracy-laced thinking infects the right as much as the left. As damaging as Obama’s economic policies have been, the idea that he’s pursuing some Cloward and Piven master plan is based on pure fantasy.

But while these theories had previously been (mostly) confined to the bomb-throwers on the far-left and far-right, it’s troubling to see the same paranoid ideas broadcast by Obama’s own campaign.

This morning on MSNBC, Robert Gibbs suggested that Republicans were obstructing economic progress because it helped their election chances, AP reports:

Looking ahead to 2012, Gibbs said, “We’re not running against George W. Bush.” He added, “But many of the policies that got us into the mess that we’re trying to dig out of now, are the same policies that the frontrunners for the Republican nomination seek to go back to.”

He also suggested that some Republicans “do not want to see this economy get better” because they know continuing misery will likely improve their election prospects.

It’s impossible for the Obama administration to deal with the challenges in Washington if it doesn’t think its political opponents are acting in good faith. Obama has spent the last week or so making speeches denouncing partisan gridlock, but these inflammatory statements only widen the divide between the two parties.

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Leahy Bill Part of NGO Attack on Israel

Here’s an article from Sunday about a company of US Marines that came to Israel for a month of intensive training, and the role that IDF Special Forces played in their exercises:

“By training here,” Hospital Corpsman HM1 Raymond Price elaborates, “we can better combat terrorism at any area and field.”… During earlier exercises that involved IDF forces, the US Marines were impressed by their work “the tactics used by the snipers and Special Forces are much more efficient,” explains Cpl. Lombard, “they also focus more on the safety of each individual soldier rather than the mission.”… This particular company, the Marine Corps Fast Team Security Forces, enlisted for five years, three of which they spend deployed to Europe or Africa and after further infantry training are sent to the battle fronts at either Iraq or Afghanistan.

And here’s an article from this morning about how Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy wants to cut assistance to IDF Special Forces, reportedly at the behest of pro-Palestinian advocates in Vermont.

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Here’s an article from Sunday about a company of US Marines that came to Israel for a month of intensive training, and the role that IDF Special Forces played in their exercises:

“By training here,” Hospital Corpsman HM1 Raymond Price elaborates, “we can better combat terrorism at any area and field.”… During earlier exercises that involved IDF forces, the US Marines were impressed by their work “the tactics used by the snipers and Special Forces are much more efficient,” explains Cpl. Lombard, “they also focus more on the safety of each individual soldier rather than the mission.”… This particular company, the Marine Corps Fast Team Security Forces, enlisted for five years, three of which they spend deployed to Europe or Africa and after further infantry training are sent to the battle fronts at either Iraq or Afghanistan.

And here’s an article from this morning about how Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy wants to cut assistance to IDF Special Forces, reportedly at the behest of pro-Palestinian advocates in Vermont.

It’s very easy to conclude that the Senator is allowing cheap anti-Israel demagoguery to get in the way of a mutually beneficial relationship, one that helps our troops be more efficient in the field while bolstering our last stable Middle Eastern ally during a dangerous time. Just because it’s very easy, though, doesn’t make it wrong.

Leahy has tried to cut off security assistance to Israel before. On Twitter Shmuel Rosner pointed to an old article of his about the Vermont trying to restrict Israel’s options against Hezbollah. What’s different this time is the diplomatic context in which attacks on Israel take place. Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth quickly laid claim to Leahy’s new legislation as part and parcel of NGO attacks on the legitimacy of Israel’s court system.

The NGO campaign against Israel’s court system, in turn, is designed to internationalize the lawfare campaign against Israel. The issue is one of complementarity, a dynamic that NGO Monitor’s Anne Herzberg sketched out last June. Anti-Israel partisans want to haul Israeli leaders in front of international kangaroo courts, but they can’t do that as long as there’s recognition that Israel’s court system is, in the words of Spain’s Supreme Court, “substantive and genuine.” So that’s where NGO’s are targeting their attacks, and that’s why Roth crowed that Leahy’s bill was necessary because there’s “no investigative system to ensure [Israeli units] aren’t abusing rights.”

Leahy’s legislation not only cuts off funding to programs that help train our Marines stay alive. It also boosts the NGO campaign to politicize international institutions and turn them against Israel. That the bill is being justified with bromides about military discipline and the rule of law is a good measure of just how far through the Looking Glass we’ve fallen.

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Three Strikes Against Envoy to Turkey

Last year, after Senator Sam Brownback placed a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be ambassador to Turkey, President Obama sent Ricciardone to Turkey as a recess appointment. Brownback’s reasons for his hold were well-founded. During Ricciardone’s posting in Egypt, he sought to ingratiate himself so much to President Hosni Mubarak that he crippled Bush’s democratization drive and ultimately undercut American interests. Wherever one stands on the wisdom of Bush’s transformative diplomacy, declaring Mubarak so popular that he could win elections in the United States is not something any American Foreign Service officer should do and keep his job.

Ricciardone needs to be confirmed by the Senate by the end of the year if he expects to keep his job. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) appears ready to put a hold on the diplomat because the envoy refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

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Last year, after Senator Sam Brownback placed a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be ambassador to Turkey, President Obama sent Ricciardone to Turkey as a recess appointment. Brownback’s reasons for his hold were well-founded. During Ricciardone’s posting in Egypt, he sought to ingratiate himself so much to President Hosni Mubarak that he crippled Bush’s democratization drive and ultimately undercut American interests. Wherever one stands on the wisdom of Bush’s transformative diplomacy, declaring Mubarak so popular that he could win elections in the United States is not something any American Foreign Service officer should do and keep his job.

Ricciardone needs to be confirmed by the Senate by the end of the year if he expects to keep his job. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) appears ready to put a hold on the diplomat because the envoy refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

Ricciardone deserves to have his posting curtailed, but it would be a shame to do so on the Armenian issue: To allow Armenian Americans to hold up an American envoy to Azerbaijan or Turkey would be as wrong as Turkish or Azeri Americans to hold up an American envoy to Armenia.

If the Senate sinks Ricciardone’s nomination, they should do so for a simple reason: He has failed to promote American interests in Turkey. Rather, he has undercut them. He has downplayed the mass arrest of Turkish generals which has gone beyond serious allegations criminality and has more to do with the Islamist prime minister vendetta against secularists, telling Congress that institutions matter more than individuals. But when secularists are not allowed to serve at senior levels, it matters. When the head of Turkey’s intelligence service favors Iran over the United States, it matters.

If institutions matter more than individuals, it’s time to bring Ricciardone home and replace him with a new ambassador. Ricciardone struck out on Iraq, where he counseled the rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein. He struck out on Egypt, where he lionized Mubarak. And he struck out on Turkey, where he fiddles while secularism burned. Three strikes should be more than enough for an out.

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Afghan Anti-Corruption Plan Succeeds

One of the most significant if little-noticed features of the American campaign plan in Afghanistan has just been outed in the Washington Post — namely the effort to reduce corruption which all too often has been fueled by our own spending.

For years the U.S. and our allies funneled billions of dollars to Afghan contractors closely connected with corrupt political networks run by notorious warlords. This led to a growth of corruption that disgusted the people of Afghanistan and drove some of them straight into the hands of the Taliban. Everyone was aware of the problem but no one did much about it until last summer when Gen. David Petraeus created Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat (Dari for “transparency”), headed by one of the best officers in the entire army—Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

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One of the most significant if little-noticed features of the American campaign plan in Afghanistan has just been outed in the Washington Post — namely the effort to reduce corruption which all too often has been fueled by our own spending.

For years the U.S. and our allies funneled billions of dollars to Afghan contractors closely connected with corrupt political networks run by notorious warlords. This led to a growth of corruption that disgusted the people of Afghanistan and drove some of them straight into the hands of the Taliban. Everyone was aware of the problem but no one did much about it until last summer when Gen. David Petraeus created Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat (Dari for “transparency”), headed by one of the best officers in the entire army—Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

For the past year McMaster and his staff have been working to ferret out wrongdoing and try to correct it. This has not been an easy task, needless to say, because politicians run the Afghan justice system complicit in the corruption. But the U.S. doesn’t need to get prosecutions in order to make an impact. It can do simple things like redirecting contracts to supply U.S. forces.

The Post notes that seven of eight current Host Nation Trucking contractors have just been suspended for lack of “integrity and business ethics” and the contracts which they used to hold have been redirected to 20 other firms. This is hardly the end of the story, and no doubt some of the new firms will be as corrupt as the old ones. But by spreading out the business, the coalition is trying to limit the amount of lucre that goes to any powerbroker, and also sending a powerful message that there will be consequences for corrupt acts.

The U.S.-led coalition has a long, long way to go in the fight against the most corrupt practices but this is one small, significant victory.

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It’s Not Too Late For Another Candidate

I wanted to issue a slight dissent from Jonathan’s post. Because the current GOP presidential field is perceived as weak by many people, because a lot of money remains uncommitted, and because the race is so wide open, it’s actually not too late for a September/October entry; and a late entrant could in fact win the nomination.

There is speculation from well-placed sources that both Governor Chris Christie and Representative Paul Ryan are considering entering the race. Whether they do or not is unclear. But I for one wouldn’t be shocked if either man, or both men, enters the presidential arena. I hope they do – not because I’m certain either person would win, but because they would add a great deal to the field. If the 2012 election is as crucial as many of us believe, then the person who will compete against the president needs to be the strongest possible candidate. And that is what primaries help decide.

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I wanted to issue a slight dissent from Jonathan’s post. Because the current GOP presidential field is perceived as weak by many people, because a lot of money remains uncommitted, and because the race is so wide open, it’s actually not too late for a September/October entry; and a late entrant could in fact win the nomination.

There is speculation from well-placed sources that both Governor Chris Christie and Representative Paul Ryan are considering entering the race. Whether they do or not is unclear. But I for one wouldn’t be shocked if either man, or both men, enters the presidential arena. I hope they do – not because I’m certain either person would win, but because they would add a great deal to the field. If the 2012 election is as crucial as many of us believe, then the person who will compete against the president needs to be the strongest possible candidate. And that is what primaries help decide.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial concludes with these two sentences: “If the current field isn’t up to that [appealing across the GOP’s disparate factions and offering a vision to strengthen the economy], perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now would be the time.” That statement is elliptical. But it is also, I believe, wise — and based on more than wishful thinking.

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