Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 15, 2011

Barack Obama, Shameless Hypocrite

At his speech last night to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, President Obama repeated a line he’s used quite often lately. “But if we’re being honest, we know the real problem isn’t the members of Congress in this room. It’s the members of Congress who put party before country because they believe the only way to resolve our differences is to wait 14 months till the next election.”

This is supposed to be a sophisticated way of accusing your opponents of being unpatriotic.

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At his speech last night to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, President Obama repeated a line he’s used quite often lately. “But if we’re being honest, we know the real problem isn’t the members of Congress in this room. It’s the members of Congress who put party before country because they believe the only way to resolve our differences is to wait 14 months till the next election.”

This is supposed to be a sophisticated way of accusing your opponents of being unpatriotic.

That is, I think, a very unwise thing to do, unless the weight of the evidence for an explosive charge like this is conclusive (which is clearly not the case in this instance). And Obama needs to be careful. I say that because in recent months he has ordered a massive drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq that are so drastic and irresponsible, they were not even options presented to the president by the military chain of command. General Obama came up with his own plan.

The actions in Afghanistan in particular are impossible to make sense of from the perspective of a military strategy (withdrawing 33,000 troops in September 2012, right in the middle of the fighting season). But they are very easy to make sense of from the perspective of a re-election strategy.

Here it’s worth recalling it was Obama who, in accepting his party’s nomination, said, “What I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and each other’s patriotism. The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party.”

Despite Obama’s record, I’m not prepared to accuse him (as he accuses others) of putting himself and his re-election before country. But I am prepared to say he is a shameless hypocrite.

 

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Our Lack of Moral Vocabulary

Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a fascinating column on young people’s moral lives, basing it on hundreds of in-depth interviews with young adults across America conducted by the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team.

The results, according to Brooks, were “depressing” — not so much because of how they lived but because of “how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, what we find is “young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.” What Smith and his team found is an atmosphere of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” The reason, in part, is because they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to “cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”

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Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a fascinating column on young people’s moral lives, basing it on hundreds of in-depth interviews with young adults across America conducted by the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team.

The results, according to Brooks, were “depressing” — not so much because of how they lived but because of “how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, what we find is “young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.” What Smith and his team found is an atmosphere of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” The reason, in part, is because they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to “cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”

This is part of a generations-long phenomenon. In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” And the university, Bloom argued, is unwilling to offer a distinctive visage to young people. The guiding philosophy of the academy is there are no first principles, no coherent ways to interpret the world in which we live.

But this is merely a pose. No one, not even a liberal academic, is a true relativist. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find them to be (morally) judgmental toward those who want to discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. They will likely have strong (moral) views on criminalizing abortion, restricting marriage to one man and one woman, anthropogenic global warming, water-boarding terrorists, rendition, Israeli settlements, profits for oil companies, and cutting taxes for the rich. The left is adamant: women have a “right” to an abortion and gays have a “right” to marry. These rights are viewed as a priori and inviolate. And no one, not even a progressive liberal arts professor, is morally indifferent to someone who wants to rape his wife, molest his children, and steal his iPad. It is fashionable to insist we don’t want to “impose our values” on others or “legislate morality.” But the reality is we do so all the time, on an endless number of issues, and no civilization could survive without doing so. The question, really, is which moral standards do we aspire to? What is the ethical code we use to judge ourselves and others?

In training our hearts and minds toward the good, there is quite a lot to work with. With the exception of a very few (like sociopaths), we all have a moral sense. We are all born with a conscience. We all believe (pace Richard Rorty) that some actions are inherently inhuman. And no one believes that what is right simply depends on individual taste or cultural circumstances, on subjective values, and what emerges in the privacy of your own heart (especially if the heart in question belongs to Mao, Stalin, or Pol Pot). Most people, in fact, play by the rules. They work hard, love their families, and are loyal to their country. They think courage and compassion are better than cowardice and cruelty. They’re just not sure why. Hence Brooks’ point about our lack of moral categories and moral vocabulary.

This didn’t arise ex nihilo. In the 1970s, influential figures in education like Sydney Simon and Lawrence Kohlberg argued for “values clarification” and “cognitive moral development,” believing the traditional moral education was essentially indoctrination –“undemocratic and unconstitutional.” (See this excellent 1978 Public Interest essay by William J. Bennett and Edwin J. DeLattre for more.) This was utter nonsense, of course; but it was also corrosive and had profound human and social consequences. You can’t promote ethical agnosticism and embrace nonjudgmentalism without there being moral ramifications. Because at some point, we all have to take a moral stand and embrace a moral cause. We have to believe in, and abide by, rules and precepts. We don’t have the luxury of living a life of perpetual moral confusion. C.S. Lewis put it as well as anyone when he wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

One final thought: what is often lost in this debate is that human fulfillment and happiness isn’t found in a world stripped of moral beliefs. Despair, not joy, is found among those who believe in nothing, who find purpose in nothing, who fight for nothing. Because of human anthropology – because we are moral creatures, made in the image of God – we are meant to delight in His ways, to live lives of high moral purpose. All of us fail more often than we should. But we cannot give up on the aspiration; nor can we allow our hearts to grow cold and indifferent, unmoved by the beauty of moral excellence.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things,” St. Paul wrote. In our world, there is still excellence. There are still things worthy of praise. It’s time we once again dwell on them.

 

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“Never Mind”

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s special elections, Democrats are doing what many of us predicted: Panicking. And the leader of the pack is Democratic strategist James Carville, who wrote, “Today I was mulling over election results from New York and Nevada while thinking about that very question. What should the White House do now? One word came to mind: Panic.” Carville added, “The course we are on is not working. The hour is late, and the need is great.”

Carville’s counsel – that President Obama should “fire, indict, [and] fight” – is not terribly helpful. Like most Democrats, he (wrongly) assumes Obama’s main problem is messaging. But set that aside for the moment. What I wanted to call attention to is what Carville wrote two years ago.

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s special elections, Democrats are doing what many of us predicted: Panicking. And the leader of the pack is Democratic strategist James Carville, who wrote, “Today I was mulling over election results from New York and Nevada while thinking about that very question. What should the White House do now? One word came to mind: Panic.” Carville added, “The course we are on is not working. The hour is late, and the need is great.”

Carville’s counsel – that President Obama should “fire, indict, [and] fight” – is not terribly helpful. Like most Democrats, he (wrongly) assumes Obama’s main problem is messaging. But set that aside for the moment. What I wanted to call attention to is what Carville wrote two years ago.

“Today,” he proclaimed, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It turns out James was off by 39 years.

He was not the only one to miss the mark. In the judgment of Sidney Blumenthal , author of The Strange Death of Republican America, “no one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.”

Actually, some of us can.

And Michael Lind added this: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.”

Or it may not.

Messrs. Carville, Blumenthal, and Lind can take a seat next to Sam Tannenhaus, who wrote The Death of Conservatism at just about the moment when conservatism was on the ascendancy once again.

To quote that eminent political commentator Emily Litella (Gilda Radner): “Never mind.”

 

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Now It Can Be Told: Palestinians Assumed Khalidi Would Influence Obama

The president of the world’s sole hyperpower, the United States, called up a state to which it gives military aid by the billions, Egypt, and insisted the state meet its Vienna Convention obligations to protect the embassy of an ally, Israel. For some reason, this minimal attempt to maintain global stability is being hailed by liberal Jewish groups – the Israel Policy Forum is a particularly eyeroll-inducing example – as an act of pro-Israel advocacy worthy of being inscribed into the rocks of the Sinai Peninsula itself. (The Peninsula, of course, having been given to Egypt by Israel on the basis of U.S. security assurances something like the embassy riot would never be allowed to happen.)

Today’s Gallup poll has Obama’s approval among Jews at 55 percent, which is a five-point drop from where it was last time Gallup polled the issue. So Obama’s Jewish defenders have some ground to make up. They’re already reverting to their 2008 rhetorical strategy, which involves giving supporters excuses to never tune in to criticism. This time though, their “only Republican smear artists say that…” shtick is going to be harder to pull off.

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The president of the world’s sole hyperpower, the United States, called up a state to which it gives military aid by the billions, Egypt, and insisted the state meet its Vienna Convention obligations to protect the embassy of an ally, Israel. For some reason, this minimal attempt to maintain global stability is being hailed by liberal Jewish groups – the Israel Policy Forum is a particularly eyeroll-inducing example – as an act of pro-Israel advocacy worthy of being inscribed into the rocks of the Sinai Peninsula itself. (The Peninsula, of course, having been given to Egypt by Israel on the basis of U.S. security assurances something like the embassy riot would never be allowed to happen.)

Today’s Gallup poll has Obama’s approval among Jews at 55 percent, which is a five-point drop from where it was last time Gallup polled the issue. So Obama’s Jewish defenders have some ground to make up. They’re already reverting to their 2008 rhetorical strategy, which involves giving supporters excuses to never tune in to criticism. This time though, their “only Republican smear artists say that…” shtick is going to be harder to pull off.

Before getting to that, there’s also a distinct tune out strategy – designed to get supporters to dismiss criticism they’ve already heard – in which these groups indulge. It was a tune out move when NJDC head and newly crowned Obama Jewish outreach director Ira Forman addressed Biden’s well-documented anti-Israel history by intoning that “Biden embodies the Jewish ideal of practicing tikkun olam.” There’s nothing sophisticated going on there. It’s just a shoddy, unresponsive argument (and two years later, unsurprisingly, Biden was repeatedly condemning Israel and telling people to “get over” it).

In the never tune in strategy, by contrast, the goal was to make sure low-information Jewish Democrats were insulated from ever encountering criticism. There were all kinds of ways this move got made in 2008. The most blunt was when the Obama campaign simply banned its surrogates from debating Republican Jewish Coalition members publicly. In other cases, the tactic was a touch more subtle, and involved hammering supporters with the message that anti-Obama concerns were “sleazy” or “deceptive” or “mudslinging,” and opponents were “genetically incapable of telling the truth” about what a great friend to Israel Obama would be. Why check out what you already know is false, right?

Liberal Jewish groups were particularly insufferable on the issue of Obama’s ideological mentors, and the NJDC branded those concerns as guilt-by-association. You’d have to ignore reality, their line went, to believe Obama’s associates would influence his views on Israel. The NJDC was so proud of that line, they were still running it two years later:

Prior to Obama’s election, our Republican friends told us that we should ignore Obama’s statements on Israel, ignore Obama’s perfect record on Israel, ignore Obama’s vigorous outreach to the Jewish community, and instead find him guilty by distant association. They told us that Obama was like the Manchurian Candidate, and once he was elected, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi and other fellow travelers would be running the country and dictating policy on Israel. They told us that Obama might not even be committed to Israel’s survival. [I may have missed the retraction when Obama told the Arab world that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable.”] They told us that Obama does not believe that Israel is a sovereign state.

Putting aside the sheer bloody gall of Obama’s Jewish defenders requesting apologies on wrong predictions, and ignoring how most of those “they told us” lines are strawmen, it turns out that “Republicans” weren’t the only ones who thought Rashid Khalidi’s influence would be felt in administration policy-making. As the New York Times outlined over the weekend:

Judging by Mr. Obama’s background, temperament and worldview, Palestinians expected him to bring a new focus to the peace process and a greater sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It did not go unnoticed that he is friends with a prominent Palestinian-American scholar, Rashid Khalidi. Mr. Obama named a high-profile special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell Jr. He also spoke empathetically about the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza after an Israeli military campaign against Hamas there. And the president’s demand of Israel that it freeze settlement construction cheered the Palestinians.

The assumption that Obama’s long-time influencers would influence him appears to have extended beyond Republican circles. It probably seemed even more tenable after campaign incidents where the then-senator slipped into the kind of rhetoric indigenous to anti-Israel graduate seminars and fringe sites.

The Palestinians were too optimistic in thinking Obama could electorally afford more than the three or four blowups he’s had with Israel. Another case of recklessly heightened expectations. But they were right there with the rest of us in expecting, on the basis of Obama’s ideological history, at least that many.

So this time around, as liberal Jewish groups struggle to explain why you should believe them rather than your lying eyes, the least they can do is show some argumentative modesty. It would be a real pity if they revived their 2008 combination of insult and condescension, given how it turns out they were staggeringly wrong. If they had been right, then maybe some insult and condescension might be justified. But it’s the opposite of that.

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Can the PLO Walk Back Its Judenrein Pledge?

The left-wing Think Progress blog has an item today purporting to debunk the outrage expressed here and elsewhere in the civilized world about the comments of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States, in which he stated Jews would not be welcome in an independent Palestinian state. According to Matt Duss, the dustup over Maen Areikat’s remarks is just a neocon canard and shows the hypocrisy of pro-Israel writers rather than betraying the Nazi-like predilections of Palestinian nationalism.

But Duss’ apologia for the PLO rings false for several reasons.

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The left-wing Think Progress blog has an item today purporting to debunk the outrage expressed here and elsewhere in the civilized world about the comments of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States, in which he stated Jews would not be welcome in an independent Palestinian state. According to Matt Duss, the dustup over Maen Areikat’s remarks is just a neocon canard and shows the hypocrisy of pro-Israel writers rather than betraying the Nazi-like predilections of Palestinian nationalism.

But Duss’ apologia for the PLO rings false for several reasons.

First of all, even though he claims these were just Areikat’s personal views, if he is a diplomat abroad his remarks are rightly interpreted as representing those who sent him.

Second, the notion evicting all Jews from a Palestinian state is a prelude to better understanding and peace is a joke, because it would set a precedent that would only feed the spirit of irredentism already a dominant force in Arab politics. Throwing the Jews out from the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem would simply whet the appetite of the Muslim world for more attacks on what was left of Israel. After all, the conflict didn’t begin in 1967, but is about the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter how small its territory.

Third, Areikat’s views are not, as could be said of the opinions of radical right Israeli settlers or even the more mainstream hard line views of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the opinions of a minority faction. Calls for the eviction of Jews not just from the West Bank but also from pre-1967 Israel are heard on a steady basis from the official Palestinian Authority media. Support for a “right of return” of the descendants of refugees into Israel is uniform among Palestinians. So, too, is the notion any Jewish presence in the country is not merely an obstacle to peace but an insult to Arab honor. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas personally promised last month to erase every Jewish community in the West Bank as well as Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. That’s why Areikat’s belated attempt to walk back his comments is blatantly insincere.

Of course it’s true (as many left-wingers, though not Duss, often point out), Israel itself has always presumed Jews would not stay in any territory evacuated in the event of a peace treaty. But that’s not because Israelis think its okay for the West Bank to be Jew-free, but because they know any Jew left behind would last as long as the greenhouses left behind in Gaza when Israel abandoned that area to the Palestinians in 2005.

Lastly, for Duss to compare a promise to evict all Jews from a Palestinian state to property disputes in Jerusalem (in which some Arabs lost court cases in which Jews held the title to the land or houses in question) is an absurdity. Whether or not you believe Palestinians who have squatted on other people’s property in Jerusalem ought not to be forced to move, to compare Israel’s record on this with a Judenrein Palestine makes no sense. Duss seems to forget Israeli Arabs have full citizenship rights, serve in the Knesset and have redress to independent courts.

What the Palestinians want is one more Arab state in which Jews are not welcome alongside an Israel where Arabs are free to live. Anyone who believes that racist and blatantly anti-Semitic concept is a reasonable solution needs to check their own moral compass before they start criticizing friends of Israel.

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Blair’s Tactic Won’t Solve Abbas’ Problem

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair might have come up with the perfect compromise to the standoff over the Palestinians’ attempt to get the United Nations to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence. In his capacity as the Diplomatic Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, Blair has proposed the Palestinian Authority give their proposed resolution to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Moon would then sit on it until the end of the General Assembly session on Dec. 28, when he would present it to the GA if peace negotiations hadn’t begun. This would allow the PA to put off the impending flare-up of violence in the West Bank and dampen the expectations of their people while presumably giving the United States and the Quartet time to jumpstart a new round of talks between the PA and Israel. It would also get the Obama administration off the hook in terms of having to veto the resolution in the Security Council.

But there are two big problems with this idea.

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair might have come up with the perfect compromise to the standoff over the Palestinians’ attempt to get the United Nations to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence. In his capacity as the Diplomatic Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, Blair has proposed the Palestinian Authority give their proposed resolution to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Moon would then sit on it until the end of the General Assembly session on Dec. 28, when he would present it to the GA if peace negotiations hadn’t begun. This would allow the PA to put off the impending flare-up of violence in the West Bank and dampen the expectations of their people while presumably giving the United States and the Quartet time to jumpstart a new round of talks between the PA and Israel. It would also get the Obama administration off the hook in terms of having to veto the resolution in the Security Council.

But there are two big problems with this idea.

One is that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA may have already gone too far to turn back now. Abbas knows his UN gambit is likely to hurt the PA more than Israel, because Palestinians will soon realize they are no closer to independence (outside of Gaza, that is where an independent, though terrorist-run Palestinian state currently exists), and the very real possibility of violence will strengthen Hamas. But the worldwide diplomatic offensive he has commenced against Israel as well as the United States may have already generated too much heat for him to walk it back now.

The second is that Blair’s proposal presumes what the Palestinians want is a resumption of talks, albeit with foreign pressure bearing down on Israel to agree to the 1967 lines as well as concessions on Jerusalem, refugees and no recognition of it as the Jewish state.

But Abbas has gone to the UN precisely because he seeks to evade such negotiations even if they are conducted, as President Obama signaled this past May, with the playing field tilted toward the Palestinians.

Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem in 2008 just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did in 2000 and 2001. The dynamic of Palestinian politics and culture is such that any recognition of Israel, no matter where its borders are drawn, are anathema to them and likely to terminate the career–if not the life–of any PA leader who signed on to it.

While the PA might wish the trap they have set for themselves would disappear, it’s not likely Blair’s plan can do the trick. Were Abbas to back down now, it might be a political disaster for him and boost Hamas anyway. And if this proposal meant he would be forced into talks with Netanyahu (who has repeatedly declared his willingness to negotiate without preconditions), that might be just as bad for him, despite all the promises Washington and the Europeans are making to Abbas about supporting his positions in the talks.

It could be the PA now has no choice but to play the cards they have dealt themselves.

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Did the WH Pressure General to Change Testimony for Donor?

The Solyndra train wreck is hard to look away from, but there’s another White House scandal brewing that has the potential to be even more explosive. Eli Lake breaks the story of a 4-star Air Force general who was allegedly pressured by the White House to change testimony he was set to give to Congress, in order to appease a company owned by a major Democratic donor:

According to officials familiar with the situation, Shelton’s prepared testimony was leaked in advance to the company. And the White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.

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The Solyndra train wreck is hard to look away from, but there’s another White House scandal brewing that has the potential to be even more explosive. Eli Lake breaks the story of a 4-star Air Force general who was allegedly pressured by the White House to change testimony he was set to give to Congress, in order to appease a company owned by a major Democratic donor:

According to officials familiar with the situation, Shelton’s prepared testimony was leaked in advance to the company. And the White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.

“There was an attempt to influence the text of the testimony and to engage LightSquared in the process in order to bias his testimony,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said in an interview. “The only people who were involved in the process in preparation for the hearing included the Department of Defense, the White House, and the Office of Management and Budget.”

From what we know so far, this could be even more damaging for the White House than Solyndra, for several reasons.

First, it could have undermined military capabilities. Gen. Shelton was supposed to testify that LightSquared’s wireless network interfered with military GPS – and this appears to be the part the White House allegedly wanted him to tone down. Second, this could potentially go beyond ethical issues, since pressuring somebody to lie under oath falls into legal territory.

Gen. Shelton testified before the House Armed Services Committee today, telling them that LightSquared’s broadband network does seriously interfere with military GPS. Whether this controversy gets investigated is up to Republicans in Congress, but I imagine several committees would be happy to take it up.

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Note to Erdogan: Nobody Likes the Turks

In 1822, the Ottomans dispatched 40,000 Turkish troops to the Greek island of Chios with orders to kill all infants under three-years-old, all males over 12-years-old, and all females over 40-years-old, except those willing to convert to Islam. Some 20,000 Greeks were killed and the island was depopulated, eradicating a 2,000 year culture. Two years later, Ottoman soldiers burned the island of Kasos to the ground and killed 7,000 of its inhabitants. Eventually, Europeans navies dispatched by Britain and France, and a navy dispatched by Russia, intervened to stop the atrocities.

In 1876, 8,000 Turkish troops were dispatched to the Bulgarian town of Batak where, after promising to withdraw in exchange for the Bulgarians disarming, they beheaded or burned alive 5,000 of the city’s now-unprotected civilians. The massacre was part of a broader Turkish campaign in which 15,000 Bulgarians were eventually murdered, and which a British investigator described as “perhaps the most heinous crime” of the 1800s. Eventually, the Russians intervened to stop the atrocities.

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In 1822, the Ottomans dispatched 40,000 Turkish troops to the Greek island of Chios with orders to kill all infants under three-years-old, all males over 12-years-old, and all females over 40-years-old, except those willing to convert to Islam. Some 20,000 Greeks were killed and the island was depopulated, eradicating a 2,000 year culture. Two years later, Ottoman soldiers burned the island of Kasos to the ground and killed 7,000 of its inhabitants. Eventually, Europeans navies dispatched by Britain and France, and a navy dispatched by Russia, intervened to stop the atrocities.

In 1876, 8,000 Turkish troops were dispatched to the Bulgarian town of Batak where, after promising to withdraw in exchange for the Bulgarians disarming, they beheaded or burned alive 5,000 of the city’s now-unprotected civilians. The massacre was part of a broader Turkish campaign in which 15,000 Bulgarians were eventually murdered, and which a British investigator described as “perhaps the most heinous crime” of the 1800s. Eventually, the Russians intervened to stop the atrocities.

I only bring these up because Israel and Greece just signed a military cooperation pact, and Israel and Bulgaria just signed a military cooperation pact, and European Union officials are slamming Turkey for sabre-rattling, and the Russians today committed to patrolling Eastern Mediterranean waters in response to borderline explicit Turkish military threats against Cyprus’s gas drilling.

Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman ilk seem to have forgotten a fairly straightforward regional reality: nobody likes them.

Per JE Dyer’s trenchant analysis, the collapse of Pax Americana has caused the region to revert to somewhere in between 18th century Ottoman naval hegemony and the 19th century Pax Britannica. There are a lot of reasons for everyone to be worried about that dynamic – you’ll recall that this book ended badly – but it has predictable consequences for Turkey’s current resurgence. The AKP’s years of trying to repair regional relations with “good neighbor” and “zero problems” policies — which as recently as last year involved removing historical rivals like Russia, Bulgaria and Greece from Ankara’s “threats list” and replacing them with Israel – have been reversed in a few months.

Presumably, the Turks intend to compensate for alienating Europe by expanding their influence into the Arab and Muslim world, an “eastern turn” that fits their neo-Ottoman pretensions nicely. They’ve opened up border crossings and boosted trade with Iran. They’ve conducted unprecedented joint military drills and emphasized cultural exchanges with Syria, resulting in New York Times articles with fawning lines like – quote unquote – “people in Syria love Turkey because the country supports the Arab world, and they are fellow Muslims.” Erdogan became a Palestinian champion, valorizing Hamas while hosting confabs to hammer out strategies for the Palestinians’ Fatah-driven UN gambit. He even offered the Taliban an office in Istanbul, because why shouldn’t they have an outpost in the revived center of all Muslim life?

And of course most recently, Ankara immodestly declared it was shaping the Arab Spring via its Islamist engagement.

Except the AKP is screwing all of that up, too. Egypt’s Islamists are in a row with Erdogan, which is a little ungrateful on their part given how he empowered them by calling for Mubarak’s ouster early and often (albeit in the context of anti-Israel bluster, naturally). Even worse, having invested so much in now-impossible Iranian and Syrian alliances – to such an extent that Ankara’s efforts strained relations with the 2010 Obama White House – Turkey’s foreign policy is now in shambles:

The bottom line is that from aspiring to having zero problems with neighbors, Turkey has today surrounded itself with problems with all of its key neighbors, and other countries in the region. Ties with Israel are all but broken, dialogue with Syria is all but non-existent, and the extremely warm atmosphere between Tehran and Ankara of only a year ago has all but dissipated due to serious differences over Syria, as well as Turkey’s decision to participate in NATO’s missile defense shield… As for ties with Armenia, they are not going anywhere.

There’s also a limit on how long Turkey can keep boosting Hamas while routinely killing hundreds of Kurds. Something’s going to give and, as Michael Rubin explained not too long ago, it might already be giving.

Meanwhile the Israelis – much to the chagrin of Turkey and the Arab world – cooperated closely with the Europeans to shut down Flotilla II. Israel’s military, economic, and cultural ties with Greece are blossoming, in contrast to the physical wall Greece is building on its Turkish border. The Bulgarian foreign minister recently chastized his Turkish counterpart over Turkey’s anti-Israel diplomacy.

No one is under any illusions that there’s love lost between the Jewish state and many European countries and publics (witness the ongoing hand-wringing over Palestinian UDI and Durban 3). But in between the smug “analysis” declaring that Israel is isolated — a literal Erdogan talking point that’s been gleefully parroted by the likes of Robert Malley and Roger Cohen – it might be worth noting that, at least versus Turkey, the Jewish state is actually slightly up on allies gained during the last few months.

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Poll Shows Lopsided American Opposition to Palestinians’ UN Statehood Gambit

Rasmussen has a new poll out showing only 26 percent of American likely voters believe the United Nations General Assembly should pass a resolution affirming unilateral Palestinian independence. Thirty-four percent opposed the resolution and 38 percent thought it would hurt peace talks. Respondents were evenly split on whether the U.S. should cut UN funds in the aftermath of a UDI resolution (35/34).

These numbers are roughly in line  with last June’s CNN poll, which showed only 16 percent of Americans think the United States should side with the Palestinians against Israel. To put American feelings on intransigent Palestinian nationalism into perspective, here is a list of other things in which Americans believe:

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Rasmussen has a new poll out showing only 26 percent of American likely voters believe the United Nations General Assembly should pass a resolution affirming unilateral Palestinian independence. Thirty-four percent opposed the resolution and 38 percent thought it would hurt peace talks. Respondents were evenly split on whether the U.S. should cut UN funds in the aftermath of a UDI resolution (35/34).

These numbers are roughly in line  with last June’s CNN poll, which showed only 16 percent of Americans think the United States should side with the Palestinians against Israel. To put American feelings on intransigent Palestinian nationalism into perspective, here is a list of other things in which Americans believe:

* That aliens have contacted the United States government (which is doubtful because covering up contact would require zero error by the same administrations that brought us the Katrina response and the Gunwalker program.) (37 percent)
* That reincarnation happens (25 percent, with Democrats more likely to say yes than Republicans by a full 14 points)
* That ghosts exist (32 percent)
* That they’ve personally been in the presence of a ghost; see directly above (23 percent)
* That witches can do magic (21 percent)
* That the new Adam Sandler movie Bucky Larson – current Rotten Tomatoes “fresh” rating, zero percent – is something that they “like” (34 percent)

None of that is to say Americans believe in absurd things. The point is, polling has fundamental methodological limitations. “Public opinion” simply doesn’t exist on a lot of issues. Most people don’t know or care about most things–that’s what we have representatives for–but they don’t want to appear uninformed, so they just give an answer. That’s how scholars produce studies where respondents express “strong” support or opposition to candidates and laws that don’t exist.

Add to that theoretical limitation other empirically known problems: people want to give the answers they think are socially acceptable, the answers they think pollsters want, and sometimes even the answers that are “yes.” The upshot is there’s a floor of respondents–one in five, give/take–who are willing to agree to anything if you make it general and abstract enough.

Do 60 percent of likely voters really have an opinion on the technical question of a UNGA resolution on unilateral Palestinian independence, which minimally involves weighing the Israeli backlash to Palestinians pocketing two decades of concessions vs. the Palestinian backlash to being stymied internationally vs. the Arab backlash to Obama siding with Israel vs. the international backlash to congressional opposition to the UN? Unlikely.

But, exactly because the specific issue is under most people’s radar, that 26 percent number is a huge problem for anti-Israel partisans. Palestinian statehood sounds kind of anodyne on its face, and you’d expect most undecideds to break in favor. But the percent of likely voters who agreed with the resolution is functionally indistinguishable from the percent of people who’ll say yes to anything they’ve never heard of. As soon as you get into the range of people who in some sense thought about the specifics of the question–which is to say, who activated whatever heuristics they use for evaluating Israeli/Arab issues in general–you encounter hard opposition to the anti-Israel position.

Americans believe in the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and they distrust Palestinian attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic and military security. American politicians respond to that belief and that distrust. No amount of feverish conspiracy ranting about the Israel lobby is going to change that basic dynamic.

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Wicked (or, at Least, Difficult) Women in Literature

In Shakespeare’s comedy, a shrew is known by her “impatient humour,” a “chattering tongue,” “scolding” and “waspish,” bandying “word for word and frown for frown.” She is “froward, peevish, sullen, sour,” and “not obedient to [her husband’s] honest will.” In the end, of course, the shrew is tamed. She places her hand below her husband’s foot.

On the literary level it would be a long time before women, in Gershon Legman’s phrase, carried the war into the camp of the enemy. In his foul-mouthed study of censorship Love and Death, Legman frankly calls the shrew, the “spirited” woman, by a different name:

The bitch has been here before. She was never gone. But, for our generation, first in Gone With the Wind in 1936 was she made a heroine. Margaret Mitchell did for bitchery what Edgar Allan Poe did for murder — she made it respectable.

David Plante suggested a less inflammatory term. His 1983 memoir of Jean Rhys, Germaine Greer, and Sonia Brownell Orwell was called Difficult Women. Whether a woman or man is doing the calling makes a difference. But given her literary pedigree, the not-so-nice woman (whatever she ends up being called) ought to be fair game for male authors as well as female.

When a man takes a shot at her, though, he is likely to be criticized. In a tweet this morning, Holly Robbins agreed with my assessment yesterday that Stoner is a great novel, but she added that “its depictions of the female sex are irritating.” The severe restrictions of a tweet did not give her the chance to elaborate, but Robbins is probably troubled by John Williams’s portrait of Edith Bostwick Stoner, the hero’s wife.

Deeply unhappy and “morosely withdrawn” in the early years of their marriage, Edith returns from her father’s funeral in St. Louis a changed woman. She declares war with her husband over the love of their daughter Grace. She removes Grace’s desk from Stoner’s study — the small desk that stood beside his, where they worked happily together every evening — repainting it a “pale pink, attaching around the top a broad ribbon of matching ruffled satin, so that it bore no resemblance to the desk that Grace had grown used to.” She throws out the clothes that he had bought and buys more “girlish” things. She arranges piano lessons and sits beside Grace on the bench while she practices. She supervises every moment of her daughter’s life. Stoner almost never sees her:

The enormity came upon him gradually, so that it was several weeks before he could admit to himself what Edith was doing; and when he was able at last to make that admission, he made it almost without surprise. Edith’s was a campaign waged with such cleverness and skill that he could find no rational grounds for complaint.

Edith is a moral monster, an infinitely subtle one, and the portrait of her is not demeaned by the fact that she is a woman and her author a man. She is, in fact, one of the greatest, um, difficult women in contemporary literature.

Who are the others? There are bad girlfriends (Margaret Peel in Lucky Jim), bad wives (Antonia Lynch-Gibbon in A Severed Head), bad mothers (Rosemary Porter in Francine Prose’s Primitive People), bad daughters (Ginny Smith in Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres), bad women to have as adversaries (Hester Lilt in Cynthia Ozick’s Cannibal Galaxy.

Easily the most brilliant portrait of a self-described “harridan” is Zoë Heller’s novel of three years ago The Believers. Audrey Litvinoff is described by her friends in New York as the “cute little English girl with the chutzpah and the longshoreman’s mouth.” Or at least she once was. Now 58, she has lost her cuteness — her friends now scowl behind her back — but she has not lost her “ugly view of the world.” She drops F-bombs in every other sentence, accuses everyone (but herself) of bad faith and shallow self-interest, disparages her daughters without letup or charity. She is unforgettable. But because of Audrey’s unflagging nastiness, her daughters’ independent decisions to go their own separate ways come off as acts of moral courage.

Even in fiction written by a woman, a wicked woman has her uses.

In Shakespeare’s comedy, a shrew is known by her “impatient humour,” a “chattering tongue,” “scolding” and “waspish,” bandying “word for word and frown for frown.” She is “froward, peevish, sullen, sour,” and “not obedient to [her husband’s] honest will.” In the end, of course, the shrew is tamed. She places her hand below her husband’s foot.

On the literary level it would be a long time before women, in Gershon Legman’s phrase, carried the war into the camp of the enemy. In his foul-mouthed study of censorship Love and Death, Legman frankly calls the shrew, the “spirited” woman, by a different name:

The bitch has been here before. She was never gone. But, for our generation, first in Gone With the Wind in 1936 was she made a heroine. Margaret Mitchell did for bitchery what Edgar Allan Poe did for murder — she made it respectable.

David Plante suggested a less inflammatory term. His 1983 memoir of Jean Rhys, Germaine Greer, and Sonia Brownell Orwell was called Difficult Women. Whether a woman or man is doing the calling makes a difference. But given her literary pedigree, the not-so-nice woman (whatever she ends up being called) ought to be fair game for male authors as well as female.

When a man takes a shot at her, though, he is likely to be criticized. In a tweet this morning, Holly Robbins agreed with my assessment yesterday that Stoner is a great novel, but she added that “its depictions of the female sex are irritating.” The severe restrictions of a tweet did not give her the chance to elaborate, but Robbins is probably troubled by John Williams’s portrait of Edith Bostwick Stoner, the hero’s wife.

Deeply unhappy and “morosely withdrawn” in the early years of their marriage, Edith returns from her father’s funeral in St. Louis a changed woman. She declares war with her husband over the love of their daughter Grace. She removes Grace’s desk from Stoner’s study — the small desk that stood beside his, where they worked happily together every evening — repainting it a “pale pink, attaching around the top a broad ribbon of matching ruffled satin, so that it bore no resemblance to the desk that Grace had grown used to.” She throws out the clothes that he had bought and buys more “girlish” things. She arranges piano lessons and sits beside Grace on the bench while she practices. She supervises every moment of her daughter’s life. Stoner almost never sees her:

The enormity came upon him gradually, so that it was several weeks before he could admit to himself what Edith was doing; and when he was able at last to make that admission, he made it almost without surprise. Edith’s was a campaign waged with such cleverness and skill that he could find no rational grounds for complaint.

Edith is a moral monster, an infinitely subtle one, and the portrait of her is not demeaned by the fact that she is a woman and her author a man. She is, in fact, one of the greatest, um, difficult women in contemporary literature.

Who are the others? There are bad girlfriends (Margaret Peel in Lucky Jim), bad wives (Antonia Lynch-Gibbon in A Severed Head), bad mothers (Rosemary Porter in Francine Prose’s Primitive People), bad daughters (Ginny Smith in Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres), bad women to have as adversaries (Hester Lilt in Cynthia Ozick’s Cannibal Galaxy.

Easily the most brilliant portrait of a self-described “harridan” is Zoë Heller’s novel of three years ago The Believers. Audrey Litvinoff is described by her friends in New York as the “cute little English girl with the chutzpah and the longshoreman’s mouth.” Or at least she once was. Now 58, she has lost her cuteness — her friends now scowl behind her back — but she has not lost her “ugly view of the world.” She drops F-bombs in every other sentence, accuses everyone (but herself) of bad faith and shallow self-interest, disparages her daughters without letup or charity. She is unforgettable. But because of Audrey’s unflagging nastiness, her daughters’ independent decisions to go their own separate ways come off as acts of moral courage.

Even in fiction written by a woman, a wicked woman has her uses.

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Military at Risk With Aging Equipment

The Wall Street Journal has a great story today about the severe difficulties the military services face because of aging equipment. The lead anecdote says it all:

When Lt. David A. Deptula II, an Air Force pilot, climbed into his fighter plane at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan in 2008, it wasn’t the first time a pilot named David Deptula had been at the controls. Lt. Deptula’s father flew the very same F-15 when it was fresh off the McDonnell Douglas Corp. assembly line 30 years earlier.

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The Wall Street Journal has a great story today about the severe difficulties the military services face because of aging equipment. The lead anecdote says it all:

When Lt. David A. Deptula II, an Air Force pilot, climbed into his fighter plane at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan in 2008, it wasn’t the first time a pilot named David Deptula had been at the controls. Lt. Deptula’s father flew the very same F-15 when it was fresh off the McDonnell Douglas Corp. assembly line 30 years earlier.

“We have a geriatric Air Force,” says the senior David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general. When flying that F-15 in 1999, he had to make an emergency landing in Turkey after disintegrating wiring caused a bunch of cockpit warning lights to flash on one after another.

Similar problems afflict all the services because the Pentagon took a post-Cold War procurement “holiday” in the 1990s. All of our primary weapons systems today date from the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s or even earlier, and they are becoming antiquated and worn out. Replacing them will cost tens of billions of dollars. But instead of adding more spending for procurement, Congress is radically slashing the defense budget. Already this year we have seen more than $400 billion in cuts, and we could see another $600 billion this fall. Those cuts (which are to be made over ten years) will make it impossible to recapitalize our armed forces; they will, in fact, make it impossible to carry out many of the missions the military services perform today.

Anyone who claims the armed forces can get along with less money should read the Journal article and then explain how we can keep using antiquated equipment for decades to come. The answer is we can’t—at least not without putting at serious risk the men and women who are on the frontlines.

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Obama’s “Green Jobs” Fall Way Short

Obama’s $38.6 billion green energy loan guarantee program created 3,500 jobs in two years, the Washington Post reported today. In other words, the White House is just 61,500 jobs short of reaching its promised goal:

$38.6 billion loan guarantee program that the Obama administration promised would create or save 65,000 jobs has created just a few thousand jobs two years after it began, government records show.

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Obama’s $38.6 billion green energy loan guarantee program created 3,500 jobs in two years, the Washington Post reported today. In other words, the White House is just 61,500 jobs short of reaching its promised goal:

$38.6 billion loan guarantee program that the Obama administration promised would create or save 65,000 jobs has created just a few thousand jobs two years after it began, government records show.

The program — designed to jumpstart the nation’s clean technology industry by giving energy companies access to low-cost, government-backed loans — has directly created 3,545 new, permanent jobs after giving out almost half the allocated amount, according to Energy Department tallies.

So let’s get this straight. The administration has already spent half of the initial $38.6 billion loan guarantees, which would be around $19.3 billion. And it’s “created” 3,500 jobs – at a cost of roughly $5.5 million per job. Numbers like these explain why Obama has been relatively quiet on “clean energy” funding during his latest jobs push. Notice it hasn’t been popping up in his speeches lately. Obama’s getting attacked by environmental groups for it, but politically it’s his only option.

And for the White House, there couldn’t be a worse time for this information to come out. August wasn’t a kind month to Obama, but his jobs plan isn’t saving him from a September that’s shaping up to be even worse. As James Carville advised earlier today, “What should the White House do now? One word came to mind: Panic.”

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State Department Bashes Azerbaijan for Radical Islam Crackdown

The government of Azerbaijan is determined to resist radicalization. That’s no easy feat: Shi’ite Muslim Azerbaijan shares a 400-mile border with the Islamic Republic of Iran which has consistently sought to undermine the Azerbaijani state and which offers lucrative scholarships and subsidies to Azerbaijani imams in order to get them to accept Iran’s revolutionary interpretation of Shi’ite Islam.

Enter the State Department: While the Azeri Education Ministry prepares to crack down on those who violate its ban on hijab in schools, the State Department has criticized the secular republic for violating religious freedom. Meanwhile, Azeri girls are caught in the middle. Al-Arabiya quoted an Education Ministry spokeswoman as saying, “We are getting calls from girls who inform us anonymously that they do want to go to school but their parents don’t let them do so, saying that they must wear the hijab.”  The Al-Arabiya story continued, “The State Department also criticized the Azerbaijani government for the continued closure of several mosques and for increasing fines for violating laws regulating religious activities.”

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The government of Azerbaijan is determined to resist radicalization. That’s no easy feat: Shi’ite Muslim Azerbaijan shares a 400-mile border with the Islamic Republic of Iran which has consistently sought to undermine the Azerbaijani state and which offers lucrative scholarships and subsidies to Azerbaijani imams in order to get them to accept Iran’s revolutionary interpretation of Shi’ite Islam.

Enter the State Department: While the Azeri Education Ministry prepares to crack down on those who violate its ban on hijab in schools, the State Department has criticized the secular republic for violating religious freedom. Meanwhile, Azeri girls are caught in the middle. Al-Arabiya quoted an Education Ministry spokeswoman as saying, “We are getting calls from girls who inform us anonymously that they do want to go to school but their parents don’t let them do so, saying that they must wear the hijab.”  The Al-Arabiya story continued, “The State Department also criticized the Azerbaijani government for the continued closure of several mosques and for increasing fines for violating laws regulating religious activities.”

Azerbaijan, as did Turkey until the current government lifted restrictions, regulated schools to ensure that very young children were not subject to incitement and also that religious education teachers actually understood Islam, rather than simply the Saudi or Iranian interpretation of it.

The State Department actions show once again the Obama administration has lost its moral and strategic grounding, and also that Secretary Clinton’s State Department refuses to define American interests, let alone how to achieve them.

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Most British Rioters Were Career Criminals

These are themes better dealt with in extended articles than short blog posts — and the issues inevitably get lost in the tempo of election seasons, which are seemingly always now — but cultural decency matters, and moral fortitude matters, and social cohesion matters. And Britain is thoroughly hosed:

Three-quarters had a previous caution or conviction, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show, and those with a criminal record averaged 15 offenses. This showed “existing criminals were on the rampage,” said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. The justice system needed changes “to ensure both effective punishment and reform to tackle reoffending,” he said. “I am dismayed to see a hardcore of repeat offenders back in the system.”

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These are themes better dealt with in extended articles than short blog posts — and the issues inevitably get lost in the tempo of election seasons, which are seemingly always now — but cultural decency matters, and moral fortitude matters, and social cohesion matters. And Britain is thoroughly hosed:

Three-quarters had a previous caution or conviction, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show, and those with a criminal record averaged 15 offenses. This showed “existing criminals were on the rampage,” said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. The justice system needed changes “to ensure both effective punishment and reform to tackle reoffending,” he said. “I am dismayed to see a hardcore of repeat offenders back in the system.”

In tension with the suggestion that effective punishment might be effective — an intuition grounded in common sense, most of the world’s great ethical systems, and what words mean — was the response of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Writing in the Times, the secretary emphasized that Britain “cannot simply arrest our way out of these riots.” Instead he recommended, among other measures, building “a welfare system designed so that work pays.'” While undoubtedly an admirable idea, that seems to lack something when it comes to conveying that crime is unacceptable.

In fairness to the Conservative government, they are trying to do something about the UK’s now-undeniably broken society. It’s just that every time they offer up new measures, they’re confronted with pushbacks like this, where social workers partner with Lib Dem coalition members to undermine harsh sentencing. Instead, reformers are recommending community service and mandatory dialogue with riot victims:”Remember when the police abandoned me and hundreds of other small business owners so you could destroy our stores–good times!”

In any case, at least there’s still a consensus in the UK that some offenses are worthy of extended official notice and disapprobation. Racist three-year-olds simply will not be tolerated.

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Is Colin Powell a War Criminal?

The answer to that question is certainly no. While I may disagree with Powell’s foreign policy recommendations while he was Secretary of State and subsequently, he has served the United States honorably in a variety of capacities. The State Department should tread carefully, however, as its allies in Europe and the organizations it funds in the United Nations embrace the trope that disproportionate force is somehow wrong. The Turkish government, for example, has dismissed the legitimacy of the Palmer Commission but seized upon its findings that Israeli forces used disproportionate force. It has also embraced similar testimony by self-described human rights experts and UN bureaucrats to the UN Human Rights Council to complain about disproportionate violence.

Now let’s consider the Powell Doctrine through the same lens. Part of the Powell Doctrine declares, “When a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.”

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The answer to that question is certainly no. While I may disagree with Powell’s foreign policy recommendations while he was Secretary of State and subsequently, he has served the United States honorably in a variety of capacities. The State Department should tread carefully, however, as its allies in Europe and the organizations it funds in the United Nations embrace the trope that disproportionate force is somehow wrong. The Turkish government, for example, has dismissed the legitimacy of the Palmer Commission but seized upon its findings that Israeli forces used disproportionate force. It has also embraced similar testimony by self-described human rights experts and UN bureaucrats to the UN Human Rights Council to complain about disproportionate violence.

Now let’s consider the Powell Doctrine through the same lens. Part of the Powell Doctrine declares, “When a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.”

Certainly, the Powell Doctrine formed the basis of the decisive and overwhelming victory against Saddam Hussein in 1991. The idea that when engaging militarily, once should calibrate military power to the weakest combatant is one of the most curious—and stupid—conclusions of armchair international law advocates and human rights experts. It’s time to put the proportionality arguments where they belong—in the dustbin of bad ideas.

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Do Alternative Energy Subsidies Endanger National Security?

Most would agree that reducing our dependence on Middle East oil is an economic and national security imperative. But with the recent collapse of Solyndra – and warning signs that other government-supported alternative energy companies may follow suit –there are clearly financial risks that come with the federal government subsidizing the clean energy industry.

At the Washington Examiner, Reps. Mike Pompeo and Jeff Flake make the case that these subsidies actually keep the U.S. reliant on foreign oil because they distort the alternative energy market:

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Most would agree that reducing our dependence on Middle East oil is an economic and national security imperative. But with the recent collapse of Solyndra – and warning signs that other government-supported alternative energy companies may follow suit –there are clearly financial risks that come with the federal government subsidizing the clean energy industry.

At the Washington Examiner, Reps. Mike Pompeo and Jeff Flake make the case that these subsidies actually keep the U.S. reliant on foreign oil because they distort the alternative energy market:

Subsidy policy toward the renewable and alternative fuels industry has been tried for more than three decades — from President Carter’s Synfuels Corp. in the early 1980s to President Obama’s Solyndra just this year — and it has failed. …

Although subsidy seekers argue that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ dominant position in the world oil market means that government intervention in the energy marketplace is warranted, that logic is flawed. If collusion by the OPEC cartel really boosts the price of oil artificially high, then alternative fuels should have an easier time competing against it without a subsidy. In fact, the constant pursuit of federal tax subsidies keeps some private capital on the sidelines that would otherwise be invested in alternative energy.

Another problem with the federal government interfering with the alternative energy industry is that government tends to be a very poor judge of what makes a successful private business model. There are already plenty of green energy venture capital firms out there. If a startup turns to the government for investment, that should raise questions about why it hasn’t been able to acquire this funding through private means.

Subsidizing the industry also keeps untenable businesses like Solyndra around for too long, instead of allowing them to collapse and be replaced by new innovation. It also encourages alternative energy companies to design products that target the interests of the federal government, instead of consumers.

Regardless of where you sit on federal subsidies, clearly clean energy technology won’t be at a point where it will be able to replace fuel for the foreseeable future. So instead of sending oil money to OPEC countries, it makes more sense to take advantage of domestic fuel production for the time being. And in the meantime, it might be better for the government to get out of the way and let the free market handle alternative energy innovation.

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Hillary Praises Turkey’s Headscarves

According to a Turkish news agency, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised religious freedom in Turkey, saying, “Turkey also now allows women to wear headscarves at universities, which means female students no longer have to choose between their religion and their education.”

If this statement is accurate, Clinton accepts the Islamist argument hook, line, and sinker. Let’s put aside the idea that head scarves or full veiling, as is increasingly common in some segments of Turkish society, is ‘”religion.” The Quran talks about the importance of modesty, but Muslims communities are not homogenous and not every Muslim accepts Saudi interpretations of Islamic law.

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According to a Turkish news agency, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised religious freedom in Turkey, saying, “Turkey also now allows women to wear headscarves at universities, which means female students no longer have to choose between their religion and their education.”

If this statement is accurate, Clinton accepts the Islamist argument hook, line, and sinker. Let’s put aside the idea that head scarves or full veiling, as is increasingly common in some segments of Turkish society, is ‘”religion.” The Quran talks about the importance of modesty, but Muslims communities are not homogenous and not every Muslim accepts Saudi interpretations of Islamic law.

Anyone who has been the parent of a teenage girl in a majority Muslim country (admittedly, I am not—although I have many Iraqi, Lebanese, and Turkish friends who are) will testify to the tremendous peer pressure which their child must resist. The issue for educators in Turkey is to have an atmosphere in which education takes priority over religious proselytization and in which girls needn’t fear a well-financed mobs of burka-clad bullies compelling them through methods other than free choice to cover up and embrace the concept of separate but equal, rather than equality of opportunity.

In theory, the range of choice might be wide, but what Turkish university administrators know is that in reality, there are only two choices: a campus of women donning head-coverings, or a campus of women not compelled to veil. Indeed, while Clinton celebrates Turkey’s Islamist reforms, I’ve noted previously the staggering inequality which Turkey’s women now face.

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Re: Electoral College Hysteria

I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s amusing to see Democratic pundits up in arms over a “nefarious” attempt by the Republicans to glom onto some of next year’s electoral votes in Pennsylvania. But I’m always amazed at how many people who write about politics have memories whose span can apparently be measured in nanoseconds. In 2004, Pennsylvania Democrats were touting an initiative to have the state’s electoral votes allocated according to the popular vote. Kerry ended up carrying the state narrowly, so they were lucky their bright idea went nowhere, and he ended up with all the votes.

And, of course, after the Electoral College gave the White House to George W. Bush in 2000 although Al Gore won a very narrow plurality of the popular vote, Democrats were loudly demanding the abolition of the Electoral College altogether.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s amusing to see Democratic pundits up in arms over a “nefarious” attempt by the Republicans to glom onto some of next year’s electoral votes in Pennsylvania. But I’m always amazed at how many people who write about politics have memories whose span can apparently be measured in nanoseconds. In 2004, Pennsylvania Democrats were touting an initiative to have the state’s electoral votes allocated according to the popular vote. Kerry ended up carrying the state narrowly, so they were lucky their bright idea went nowhere, and he ended up with all the votes.

And, of course, after the Electoral College gave the White House to George W. Bush in 2000 although Al Gore won a very narrow plurality of the popular vote, Democrats were loudly demanding the abolition of the Electoral College altogether.

Last year, while discussing the electoral college with COMMENTARY’s legendary former editor Norman Podhoretz, I asked if he had ever read Alexander M. Bickel’s masterful essay on that much maligned but valuable institution. He turned to me and said, “I published it!” And indeed he had, in the December, 1968, issue.

I should have known. And everyone should read it.

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Obama, the Cairo Call and the Jews

Last weekend, when the Israeli embassy was being ransacked by an Egyptian mob, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the White House to ask for American assistance. To his credit, President Obama took the call and promised to help. The head of Egypt’s military government, who couldn’t be found when the Israelis had tried to reach him, turned up to respond to the American request, and the desperate situation was back under control. The six Israelis who were trapped in the embassy got out alive. For this, President Obama deserves Israel’s thanks.

But for defenders of the administration, this was more than a praiseworthy episode. For liberal groups like the Israel Policy Forum and liberal newspapers like the Forward, the Obama phone call was a vindication of the administration’s entire record on the Middle East and Israel. According to the latter, this one incident discredited all complaints against Obama for his behavior toward the Jewish state during his time in office. While Obama is entitled to take credit for doing the right thing here, the notion this means he ought to get a pass on everything else that he’s done isn’t merely absurd. It is, in fact, a good example of what Obama’s defenders have accused the right of doing: exploiting Israel for partisan political purposes.

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Last weekend, when the Israeli embassy was being ransacked by an Egyptian mob, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the White House to ask for American assistance. To his credit, President Obama took the call and promised to help. The head of Egypt’s military government, who couldn’t be found when the Israelis had tried to reach him, turned up to respond to the American request, and the desperate situation was back under control. The six Israelis who were trapped in the embassy got out alive. For this, President Obama deserves Israel’s thanks.

But for defenders of the administration, this was more than a praiseworthy episode. For liberal groups like the Israel Policy Forum and liberal newspapers like the Forward, the Obama phone call was a vindication of the administration’s entire record on the Middle East and Israel. According to the latter, this one incident discredited all complaints against Obama for his behavior toward the Jewish state during his time in office. While Obama is entitled to take credit for doing the right thing here, the notion this means he ought to get a pass on everything else that he’s done isn’t merely absurd. It is, in fact, a good example of what Obama’s defenders have accused the right of doing: exploiting Israel for partisan political purposes.

The biggest problem with this argument is that it takes the issue of Obama’s relationship with Israel as an all or nothing affair. It is foolish to claim, as some conservatives do, Obama is an out-and-out enemy of Israel who is working every day for its destruction. The issue is more complicated than that. As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, the administration’s relations with Israel are often distorted by Obama’s misguided ideas about the Middle East, but also a function of a strategic alliance between the two countries that transcends party and even policy differences. Security cooperation between Israel and the United States has been strengthened in the last three years. Projects such as the Iron Dome missile defense system begun under the Bush administration were supported. The permanence and the strength of this relationship is the work of several administrations as well as Congress. For any president — even one who is less-than-friendly to Israel — to seek to curtail or end it would require the expenditure of vast amounts of scarce political capital and would likely be derailed by Congress in any case.

While as I noted earlier this week, Obama is no Jimmy Carter, there were those who defended that Democrat’s actions toward Israel when he was president. They, too, could point to some incidents where even he did the right thing.

But to admit this does not obligate us to ignore the fact this president has consistently displayed hostility to Israel’s government, picked needless and costly fights with it and done much to undermine the notion the United States has Israel’s back. In particular, Obama has done more to undermine Israel’s position on Jerusalem than any predecessor. His foolish attempts to pressure Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian partner who refuses to negotiate have exacerbated tensions in the region and have helped set the current debacle about a Palestinian statehood resolution in motion.

These facts have not escaped the attention of Israelis who consistently tell pollsters they do not consider him a friend or a reliable ally. He is clearly the least popular American president in Israel since the first George Bush. American Jews are also upset about this and, as the results in the special election in New York’s 9th congressional district showed, Democrats will rightly suffer because of it.

That does not mean Obama is Israel’s implacable enemy as some would contend, but it is reasonable for American Jews and other friends of Israel to harshly criticize his behavior, such as his ambush of Netanyahu on his visit to Washington in May and his attempt to force Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations. Only a highly partisan Democrat could possibly contend that his behavior toward Israel has been exemplary.

The claim that the Cairo phone call obligates us to forget everything else about Obama is ridiculous. So, too, is the assertion that  his policy of hostility is a figment of conservatives’ imagination. Obama’s attitudes toward Israel are a complex mix of political expediency and hostility. And, as the Cairo incident proved, he may also be capable of acts of generosity every now and then. But just as it is right to applaud the president when he does the right thing, so, too, must he also be held accountable for his failures. If our standard of judgment for presidents on Israel is so low that any act of friendship requires us to give Obama a pass when he wrongs the Jewish state, then what we have is no standard at all.

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Dems Ignored Red Flags in Health Care Act

The Obama administration failed to heed numerous warnings from government experts that a long-term care insurance program included in the health care reform act was unsustainable, and continued to promote the initiative to the public, according to emails released by a Republican congressional working group today (read the full working group report here).

Republicans have questioned the solvency of the CLASS Act, a long-term insurance entitlement pushed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, since its inception. But the subpoenaed emails show the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Health and Human Services department staffers were also raising alarms about the program, only to be ignored by other administration officials and congressional Democrats.

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The Obama administration failed to heed numerous warnings from government experts that a long-term care insurance program included in the health care reform act was unsustainable, and continued to promote the initiative to the public, according to emails released by a Republican congressional working group today (read the full working group report here).

Republicans have questioned the solvency of the CLASS Act, a long-term insurance entitlement pushed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, since its inception. But the subpoenaed emails show the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Health and Human Services department staffers were also raising alarms about the program, only to be ignored by other administration officials and congressional Democrats.

“This report is further confirmation that the Obama Administration willfully chose to ignore the fiscal insolvency of the CLASS program in order to achieve a political victory by pushing the president’s health care bill through Congress,” said Sen. John Thune, a member of the working group investigating the issue, in a statement this morning. “The CLASS Act is a ticking time bomb that will place taxpayers’ money at risk due to fatal flaws in the entitlement program’s design and structure.”

On May 19, 2009, the CMS chief actuary sent an email warning Kennedy’s office the program in its current form would lead to an “insurance death spiral.”

“The program is intended to be ‘actuarially sound,’ but at first glance this goal may be impossible,” wrote the actuary. “Due to the limited scope of the insurance coverage, the voluntary CLASS plan would probably not attract many participants other than individuals who already meet the criteria to qualify as beneficiaries.”

In an email to members of his own staff, the CMS chief actuary was even more explicit. “Thirty-six years of actuarial experience lead me to believe that this program would collapse in short order and require significant federal subsidies to continue,” he wrote.

In August, 2009, a CMS official emailed the chief actuary and said that staffers at CMS and the Health and Human Services department had been “relaying your concerns about the actuarial soundness of the CLASS Act” to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which was crafting the health care legislation. Yet shortly after, the chief actuary was cut out of the deliberations by Kennedy’s staff, according to the report.

Meanwhile, internal debate over the CLASS Act erupted at HHS, with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation writing in an assessment on Sept. 25, 2009, the program “is still likely to create severe adverse selection problems.”

“Seems like a recipe for disaster to me,” another staffer wrote in an Oct. 22, 2009 email. “I can’t imagine that CLASS would not have high levels of adverse selection given the significantly higher premiums compared to similar policies in the private market.”

Around the same time, HHS officials praised the program publicly. At a Kaiser Family Foundation speech on October 20, 2009, Richard Frank, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS, said:

“We’ve, in the department, have modeled this extensively, perhaps more extensively than anybody would want to hear about [laughter] and we’re entirely persuaded that reasonable premiums, solid participation rates, and financial solvency over the 75-year period can be maintained.  So it is, on this basis, that the administration supports it that the bill continues to sort of meet the standards of being able to stand on its own financial feet. ”

CMS and HHS staffers continued to privately raise alarms about the program and its various provisions through the passage of ObamaCare, but these concerns were not relayed to the public. They also didn’t seek to make changes to the CLASS Act during reconciliation, according to the report.

“To advance the president’s healthcare agenda, it appears a deliberate effort was made by administration officials to hide CLASS’s true cost from lawmakers and the public,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Republican working group that released the report, said in a statement this morning.

In light of the revelations, Sessions and other members of the group are calling for the CLASS Act to be repealed and a further investigation.

Coming around the same time as the Solyndra scandal, this latest report seems to indicate a troubling pattern within the administration of ignoring red flags in the pursuit of politically motivated projects.

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