Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 12, 2011

Reflections on the No Religious Test Clause

On Sunday, I laid out my case for why I believe Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor, was irresponsible when he insisted that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, which Jeffress deemed to be a “cult,” should be a key factor in voting against Romney in the GOP presidential race.

The Jeffress episode is a good opportunity to reflect on why the American Constitution, in Article 6, Clause 3, says this: “The Senator and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” [emphasis added]

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On Sunday, I laid out my case for why I believe Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor, was irresponsible when he insisted that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, which Jeffress deemed to be a “cult,” should be a key factor in voting against Romney in the GOP presidential race.

The Jeffress episode is a good opportunity to reflect on why the American Constitution, in Article 6, Clause 3, says this: “The Senator and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” [emphasis added]

About this article and clause several things may be said, beginning with this: The language used by the framers was as emphatic and unqualified as any you will find in the Constitution. The reason is simple: they knew how explosive (as well as important) the mix of religion and politics could be, and therefore insisted we prevent any kind of religious test from ever taking root in American soil.

It’s perhaps worthwhile to recall the brief history of James Madison, the so-called “father” of the Constitution and arguably primus inter pares among the founders. In Virginia in the 1780s there was an effort to raise taxes to support teachers of the Christian religion. Although the Virginia Bill of Rights (which Madison had in hand) had ended religious establishment in that state, several influential figures believed the well-being of religion required state support. (For a full account of this matter, see James Madison: A Biography, by Ralph Ketcham.) Madison thought it was “obnoxious on account of its dishonorable principle and dangerous tendency.” Madison was worried that this would, in Ketcham’s words, “violate the natural rights to liberty of conscience and involve the state in questions of heresy and orthodoxy entirely outside its realm.”

In order to channel the opposition to this tax, Madison drafted a “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” which argued, among other things, that “ecclesiastical establishment” not only didn’t promote religious purity but nearly always corrupted it. The assessment was a step toward bigotry, differing from “the Inquisition … only in degree,” and would make Virginia no longer an asylum for the persecuted. “Religious liberty stands out as the one subject upon which Madison took an extreme, absolute, undeviating position throughout his life,” according to Ketcham.

Which brings us to the Constitution itself. During the ratification period, the No Religious Test clause was used as ammunition by the anti-Constitutionalists. But the framers would not budge; for them, the issue was paramount. And the great 19th century legal scholar Joseph Story, in his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution, explained why.

“This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many respectable persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation,” according to Story.

It had a higher object; to cut off forever every pretense of any alliance between church and state in the national government. The framers of the Constitution were fully sensible of the dangers from this source, marked out in the history of other ages and countries; and not wholly unknown to our own. They knew that bigotry was unceasingly vigilant in its stratagems, to secure to itself an exclusive ascendancy over the human mind; and that intolerance was ever ready to arm itself with all the terrors of the civil power to exterminate those who doubted its dogmas or resisted its infallibility.

Story went on to remind his readers of the history of other countries, where they “found the pains and penalties of non-conformity written in no equivocal language, and enforced with stern and vindictive jealousy.”

I recount this simply to remind us that religious liberty depends on religious tolerance, and injecting sectarianism into politics has an ugly history. There are certain civic wounds that one doesn’t want to reopen.

America has achieved something remarkable in the history of nations: allowing religion to play a constructive role in the public square in a way that honors both faith and politics. It isn’t an easy balance to achieve, to say the least; and we have achieved it better than anyone. And so we don’t need ministers of any faith, including Christianity, attempting to undo what the framers created, with such great care and wisdom.

 

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The Stupid Party

A survey of Occupy Wall Street protesters, done by the liberal magazine New York, shows that more than one-third – 34 percent – are convinced the United States government is no better than al-Qaeda. (When I sent that figure to a liberal academic acquaintance of mine, he responded, “Not a very big n[umber].” And perhaps that’s true if you were polling the liberal arts faculty of a university.) Another 37 percent say capitalism can’t be saved; it’s inherently immoral. And when asked to explain how they would fix Wall Street, New York magazine received the following responses: “A maximum-wage law.” “President Elizabeth Warren.” And “Burn it down.”

This is the movement to which the Democratic Party – from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – wants to tether itself?

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A survey of Occupy Wall Street protesters, done by the liberal magazine New York, shows that more than one-third – 34 percent – are convinced the United States government is no better than al-Qaeda. (When I sent that figure to a liberal academic acquaintance of mine, he responded, “Not a very big n[umber].” And perhaps that’s true if you were polling the liberal arts faculty of a university.) Another 37 percent say capitalism can’t be saved; it’s inherently immoral. And when asked to explain how they would fix Wall Street, New York magazine received the following responses: “A maximum-wage law.” “President Elizabeth Warren.” And “Burn it down.”

This is the movement to which the Democratic Party – from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – wants to tether itself?

John Stuart Mill once remarked that the conservative party always tends to be “the stupid party.”

Not in this case.

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FDR Didn’t Try to Save Middle East Jews

One of the staples of American Jewish history is the periodic surfacing of books or articles dedicated to reviving the tarnished reputation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The one-way love affair that characterized the relationship between FDR and Jews has never quite recovered from the publication of Arthur D. Morse’s seminal 1967 book, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, and it was pretty much destroyed by David S. Wyman’s more scholarly and equally important 1984 work ,The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust 1941-1945. Both books and the subsequent scholarship they inspired constructed an ironclad case pointing to FDR’s indifference and the impact of his failure to act on the fate of European Jewry.

Yet that hasn’t stopped FDR’s defenders from sallying forth every now and then to restore a bit of the luster to his legacy with varying success. But as wrongheaded as some entries in this genre may be, you’d have to go far to find one as foolish and patently disingenuous as the piece that appeared in the most recent issue of the Forward by former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and New York University Law Professor Frank Tuerkheimer. They claim Roosevelt’s “Germany first” war policy saved the Jews of the Middle East. But the notion the fate of the Jews had even the tiniest impact on his decision is not only unproven; it is absurd.

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One of the staples of American Jewish history is the periodic surfacing of books or articles dedicated to reviving the tarnished reputation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The one-way love affair that characterized the relationship between FDR and Jews has never quite recovered from the publication of Arthur D. Morse’s seminal 1967 book, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, and it was pretty much destroyed by David S. Wyman’s more scholarly and equally important 1984 work ,The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust 1941-1945. Both books and the subsequent scholarship they inspired constructed an ironclad case pointing to FDR’s indifference and the impact of his failure to act on the fate of European Jewry.

Yet that hasn’t stopped FDR’s defenders from sallying forth every now and then to restore a bit of the luster to his legacy with varying success. But as wrongheaded as some entries in this genre may be, you’d have to go far to find one as foolish and patently disingenuous as the piece that appeared in the most recent issue of the Forward by former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and New York University Law Professor Frank Tuerkheimer. They claim Roosevelt’s “Germany first” war policy saved the Jews of the Middle East. But the notion the fate of the Jews had even the tiniest impact on his decision is not only unproven; it is absurd.

It is true that had the United States decided to concentrate its forces for a counter-attack on Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor that may well have prolonged the war in Europe. It is also conceivable though not likely such a decision would have led to a complete British collapse in North Africa. If that had happened, it might have led, as Morgenthau and Tuerkheimer assert, to the fulfillment of the dreams of Haj Amin Husseini, Germany’s Palestinian Arab ally, who wished to bring the Holocaust to Palestine. Had Germany held North Africa longer, it might also have led to the complete destruction of the Jewish communities of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

But before we begin the hosannas to FDR’s choice that saved the Jews, it should be understood that the documentary evidence shows Jewish considerations played no role whatsoever in this decision. “Germany first” was based on military and political criteria that centered on the survival of Britain and the realization that Hitler’s Germany was a far greater threat to the United States than Imperial Japan. This did go against the grain of American public opinion in December 1941, which thirsted for revenge against the Japanese. But FDR had settled on this policy even before America entered the war. Neither at that time nor in the early months of the American war effort was there any interest in Washington in the life or death of Jews in the Middle East or those already in the clutches of the Nazis for that matter.

As for Husseini’s Holocaust fantasy, though the documents about his plot that have recently been uncovered give proof positive of Palestinian Arab complicity with the Nazis, the chances of their fulfillment were minimal. Though Rommel’s victories scared the Allies, the inability of the Germans to maintain a secure supply line to his forces via an Allied-dominated Mediterranean Sea doomed his chances of ever entering Cairo, let alone Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Germany’s priority during this period was the invasion of the Soviet Union, where their conquests led directly to the slaughter of two million Jews.

When faced with specific requests to act to save Jews, the United States consistently failed to act until early 1944 when Morgenthau’s father secured FDR’s reluctant approval for funding of a War Refugee Board that dissident Jewish activists had clamored for. Despite little support from the administration and scarce funding, that Board did wind up helping to save hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the last year of the war. But rather than serve as evidence of Roosevelt’s good will, the efforts of the War Refugee Board only illustrate that had the U.S. acted decisively earlier in the conflict, far more Jews would have been spared.

American involvement in the war in North Africa was decisive in the rout of the Axis on that continent, and thus saved many Jewish and non-Jewish lives. One can similarly argue had the United States not fought in Europe at all, many Jews who survived the Holocaust would have perished. But though Americans can be said to have helped save civilization during World War II, the impact of this victory on the Jews was purely incidental.

Given the political and strategic choices facing the United States in December 1941, any decision other than “Germany First” was unlikely. Franklin Roosevelt deserves great credit for his leadership in defeating the Axis. But his goal was to help save Britain (though not its empire) in order to achieve that victory. Helping the Jews or limiting the impact of the Holocaust played no role whatsoever in his thinking. To imply anything else or to assert that this decision makes him some sort of hero to the Jews is an absurd distortion of the historical record.

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Bahrain Shouldn’t Get a Pass on Improving Human Rights

Since February, when protests swept Bahrain, the Al Khalifa ruling family has responded with sheer brutality. They are not as brutal as Assad or Qaddafi, to be sure, but their security forces have nevertheless shown a willingness to kill unarmed demonstrators. Around 30 have died, and many more have been locked up or dismissed from their jobs: all for the crime of demanding greater freedom and democracy. Bahrain even invited help from the Saudi security forces to complete the crackdown.

There is a sectarian tinge to the protests as most Bahrainis are Shiites while the ruling elite is Sunni, but there is little evidence to buttress the royal family’s charges that the protesters are agents of Iran. No doubt Iran would like to take advantage of turmoil in Bahrain, but the evidence indicates the demonstrations are driven by their anger at inequality and repression—not by a desire to establish a theocratic dictatorship along Iranian lines.

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Since February, when protests swept Bahrain, the Al Khalifa ruling family has responded with sheer brutality. They are not as brutal as Assad or Qaddafi, to be sure, but their security forces have nevertheless shown a willingness to kill unarmed demonstrators. Around 30 have died, and many more have been locked up or dismissed from their jobs: all for the crime of demanding greater freedom and democracy. Bahrain even invited help from the Saudi security forces to complete the crackdown.

There is a sectarian tinge to the protests as most Bahrainis are Shiites while the ruling elite is Sunni, but there is little evidence to buttress the royal family’s charges that the protesters are agents of Iran. No doubt Iran would like to take advantage of turmoil in Bahrain, but the evidence indicates the demonstrations are driven by their anger at inequality and repression—not by a desire to establish a theocratic dictatorship along Iranian lines.

These protests have put the U.S. in a difficult position because Bahrain is an important ally—it is home to our Fifth Fleet and the naval component of Central Command. Thus U.S. officials, from President Obama on down, have walked a difficult line, criticizing the Bahraini crackdown while making clear we were not prepared to abandon the royal family as we abandoned Mubarak in Egypt. The U.S. reluctance to do more to press Bahrain on human rights is understandable but misguided, because it opens us to the charge of hypocrisy and discredits our human rights advocacy elsewhere in the region. It is making it more likely that in Bahrain, as in Egypt, change when it occurs will come as a result of a revolution. Far better to encourage more measured liberalization over time to avoid an explosive upheaval.

This is why it is important we not simply continue our old way of doing business with Bahrain. Yet that is what the Pentagon seems intent on doing by proposing to sell to the government military equipment (44 armored Humvees and 300 missiles) worth $53 million. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts, both Democrats, have introduced a resolution to block the arms sale “until meaningful steps are taken to improve human rights” in Bahrain. Congress should approve their measure and the administration should stop fighting it. We need to make clear to Bahrain we will not give our allies a pass on human rights, and that requires more than empty words.

 

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Biden: Murder Will Rise Without Stimulus

Via Dan Halper, here’s a clip of Vice President Joe Biden ominously suggesting to a Flint, Michigan audience that Obama’s jobs plan is the only thing standing between them and a downward spiral into violent lawlessness. The relevant comments from the video:

“In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes – just to pick two categories – climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don’t rectify it…And God only knows what that number would have been had we not been able to get a little bit of help.”

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Via Dan Halper, here’s a clip of Vice President Joe Biden ominously suggesting to a Flint, Michigan audience that Obama’s jobs plan is the only thing standing between them and a downward spiral into violent lawlessness. The relevant comments from the video:

“In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes – just to pick two categories – climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don’t rectify it…And God only knows what that number would have been had we not been able to get a little bit of help.”

What Biden doesn’t mention is that the layoffs in Flint didn’t need to happen. While the city was struggling financially – and putting 60 percent of its budget toward police and firefighters – the mayor tried to negotiate spending reductions with the unions in order to forestall the layoffs. But the unions rejected pay or benefit concessions.

Biden’s comments mimic the Flint unions’ argument that lack of spending – not massive debt and mismanagement of funds – is the problem in the city. That might work to help these police officers get hired again for now. But Flint has long-term financial issues that aren’t going to be solved by a temporary band-aid like Obama’s jobs bill. And what happens to the newly-rehired officers once the new stimulus fund runs out?

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Obama the Unifier?

Barack Obama campaigned on unifying Red and Blue America, as the healer of the breach, as the man who would unify America after years of division. Yet now, less than three years into his presidency, we have seen the rise of two powerful protest movements in our nation – the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. These two movements are in many ways antithetical. But they are alike in this respect: they symbolize a deep and growing alienation with the current political system and its leadership. (40 percent of the Occupy Wall Street protesters who were surveyed said they believed in President Obama and he let them down, while 27 percent say they never believed in him.)

Obama is, in a weird way, unifying polar opposites, at least in the sense of engendering enough anger and anxiety in people that those of vastly different views and ideologies are now taking to the streets.

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Barack Obama campaigned on unifying Red and Blue America, as the healer of the breach, as the man who would unify America after years of division. Yet now, less than three years into his presidency, we have seen the rise of two powerful protest movements in our nation – the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. These two movements are in many ways antithetical. But they are alike in this respect: they symbolize a deep and growing alienation with the current political system and its leadership. (40 percent of the Occupy Wall Street protesters who were surveyed said they believed in President Obama and he let them down, while 27 percent say they never believed in him.)

Obama is, in a weird way, unifying polar opposites, at least in the sense of engendering enough anger and anxiety in people that those of vastly different views and ideologies are now taking to the streets.

The Obama presidency is responsible, at least in part, for unleashing these different forces in American society – and now his presidency is in the process of being devoured by them.

 

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Our 30-Year Intelligence Failure in Iran

Just as important as what we know about Iran’s alleged plot is what we don’t know about the regime and the factions which reportedly ordered the terrorist attack.

While many journalists repeat the myth the United States and Iran did not engage for 30 years until President Obama took his oath of office, the fact is every president: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, actively conducted diplomatic outreach toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unfortunately, whether the administration was Democrat or Republican, the diplomacy was always based on Iranian smoke and mirrors and the State Department’s wishful thinking rather than the reality of the Iranian regime.

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Just as important as what we know about Iran’s alleged plot is what we don’t know about the regime and the factions which reportedly ordered the terrorist attack.

While many journalists repeat the myth the United States and Iran did not engage for 30 years until President Obama took his oath of office, the fact is every president: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, actively conducted diplomatic outreach toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unfortunately, whether the administration was Democrat or Republican, the diplomacy was always based on Iranian smoke and mirrors and the State Department’s wishful thinking rather than the reality of the Iranian regime.

Over at FoxNews.com, I tried to outline the major gaps in our understanding of the Islamic Republic, even after three decades. Put together, our intelligence failure vis-à-vis Iran and its implications are far greater than that which exaggerated Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability. If Gen. David Petraeus, the new director of Central Intelligence, is able to rally his army of analysts and fill these holes, he may attain a victory even more momentous than turning the tide of war in Iraq.

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Can Herman Cain Challenge Romney?

After his latest debate disaster, it is difficult to view Rick Perry as the leading standard-bearer for Tea Party and social conservatives in the Republican presidential race. Though his massive war chest may enable him to go on campaigning, his inability to present himself as a plausible alternative dooms any hope he might have had for a comeback. But if Perry can’t win, who will the right look to in a last-ditch effort to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut?

The polls say the most likely candidate for displaced conservatives to embrace is Herman Cain. Cain was, after Romney, the focus of the most attention at last night’s debate in New Hampshire. Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann skewered his 9-9-9-tax scheme, but Cain kept his cool and left the stage undaunted. Most polls show Cain in second place behind Romney, and with Perry fading fast, his numbers may well increase. But the rise of the former Godfather Pizza executive is more a confirmation of the inevitability of Romney than a sign Cain has a realistic chance of being nominated.

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After his latest debate disaster, it is difficult to view Rick Perry as the leading standard-bearer for Tea Party and social conservatives in the Republican presidential race. Though his massive war chest may enable him to go on campaigning, his inability to present himself as a plausible alternative dooms any hope he might have had for a comeback. But if Perry can’t win, who will the right look to in a last-ditch effort to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut?

The polls say the most likely candidate for displaced conservatives to embrace is Herman Cain. Cain was, after Romney, the focus of the most attention at last night’s debate in New Hampshire. Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann skewered his 9-9-9-tax scheme, but Cain kept his cool and left the stage undaunted. Most polls show Cain in second place behind Romney, and with Perry fading fast, his numbers may well increase. But the rise of the former Godfather Pizza executive is more a confirmation of the inevitability of Romney than a sign Cain has a realistic chance of being nominated.

The New Hampshire debate illustrated all of Cain’s strengths even as it showed up Perry’s weakness. Cain is glib and utterly unflappable. The other candidates punched holes in his vaunted tax plan you could drive a truck through, but never once did Cain flinch or concede a point. In doing so, he showed he has both nerves of steel and a thick skin. These are good qualities in any leader, but the exchanges also showed he has the inflexibility of a man whose knowledge of the issues is shallow. Thus, rather than coming across as principled, all he exhibited was the relentlessness of a good salesman.

Cain’s flaws have already been discussed here. His is a campaign devoid of genuine substance, and his lack of government experience and foreign policy knowledge renders him unqualified for the highest office in the land. The novelty of his gregarious style will earn him the affection of a portion of the Republican electorate, but the votes for such a candidate to be nominated simply don’t exist. Romney has his flaws, but so far, none of his opponents have been able to sink him on his Massachusetts health care law, and it’s not likely Cain will succeed where others have failed.

With much of the GOP starting to line up behind Romney (if only to avoid being late to jump on his bandwagon), the best Cain can hope for is to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012. That will be quite an achievement for a man with no political experience. But in terms of landing a job, all it means is he is in a good position to get his own television show–not a seat in the Oval Office.

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The Battle to Define the Jobs Bill

The White House may have suffered a blow last night when the Senate rejected Obama’s jobs bill. But simply the fact that we’re calling it a “jobs bill” – and not a stimulus or a spending bill – shows the White House has at least been successful in defining the debate.

Now that the plan will be broken up and voted on piecemeal, Republicans have a chance to change things. The GOP will be able to highlight the more controversial aspects of the legislation – like the tax hikes – while supporting other measures. It will make it more difficult for Obama to accuse Republicans of obstructionism on “job-creation.”

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The White House may have suffered a blow last night when the Senate rejected Obama’s jobs bill. But simply the fact that we’re calling it a “jobs bill” – and not a stimulus or a spending bill – shows the White House has at least been successful in defining the debate.

Now that the plan will be broken up and voted on piecemeal, Republicans have a chance to change things. The GOP will be able to highlight the more controversial aspects of the legislation – like the tax hikes – while supporting other measures. It will make it more difficult for Obama to accuse Republicans of obstructionism on “job-creation.”

But that doesn’t mean Obama won’t benefit from this, too. While Americans aren’t crazy about the American Jobs Act, they view individual proposals in the plan favorably. Breaking up the bill could give Obama a chance to actually get many of his measures through Congress – assuming that’s actually what he wants to do.

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Shalit Deal Proves Hamas is the Face of Palestinian Statehood

While Israelis and their friends have been debating the morality of the prisoner exchange for the freedom of Gilad Shalit, Palestinians have been joyously celebrating the success of the kidnapping plot. The release of more than 1,000 Arab prisoners in the deal, including many murderers and terrorists, is viewed as a great national achievement for the Palestinian people and Hamas.

The ransoming of Shalit ought to serve as a reminder that despite the hubbub at the United Nations last month over the demand for Palestinian statehood, such a state already exists in all but name. Hamas-ruled Gaza is the real Palestinian state. The success of its terrorist masters in forcing Israel to free so many killers must be viewed as a body blow to the pretensions of the Palestinian Authority to legitimacy both abroad and home.

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While Israelis and their friends have been debating the morality of the prisoner exchange for the freedom of Gilad Shalit, Palestinians have been joyously celebrating the success of the kidnapping plot. The release of more than 1,000 Arab prisoners in the deal, including many murderers and terrorists, is viewed as a great national achievement for the Palestinian people and Hamas.

The ransoming of Shalit ought to serve as a reminder that despite the hubbub at the United Nations last month over the demand for Palestinian statehood, such a state already exists in all but name. Hamas-ruled Gaza is the real Palestinian state. The success of its terrorist masters in forcing Israel to free so many killers must be viewed as a body blow to the pretensions of the Palestinian Authority to legitimacy both abroad and home.

Throughout the debate at the UN last month, the fact that a major portion of the territory that will form any Palestinian state is under the rule of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ rivals was ignored. Those nations that supported the statehood resolution acted as if Gaza didn’t actually exist. But Hamas has demonstrated something the PA can only dream about: it exercises sovereignty over part of their national territory and it has the force not only to conduct cross-border raids but also to ensure Israel was unable to rescue the hostage the terrorist state seized in 2006.

None of this is lost on the Palestinian public celebrating the release of the 1,000 prisoners. As much as Israel would prefer to deal with Abbas and the PA — assuming Abbas ever chose to actually negotiate with Israel rather than boycotting talks as he has done for nearly three years — it was only Hamas that had the power to force Jerusalem to bow to demands to free so many killers. Hamas is not merely the face of Palestinian terror. It has proven again it is in effect, the face of Palestinian statehood.

It is also interesting to note reports indicate Fatah’s own leading terrorist Marwan Barghouti is not among those to be freed. Many had seen his possible release as a blow to Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as Barghouti is far more popular than either. But by not insisting on Barghouti’s release, Hamas has also deprived Fatah of a popular leader who might have the strength and the resume (the mass murders of Israelis that landed him in jail gives him enormous prestige in the upside down ethos of Palestinian politics) to stand against them in any future election or power struggle.

The Shalit deal may mark a turning point for Hamas in its drive for Palestinian political supremacy. Though some analysts see the exchange as just a momentary boost for the group, it may turn out to be more than that. When compared to what will soon be seen as the empty triumph of Abbas at the UN that changes nothing for Palestinians, Hamas’ ability to bring Israel to its knees illustrates which of the two leading groups is the stronger.

The Shalit exchange illustrates that a Palestinian state already exists, albeit one ruled by terrorists. It may also demonstrate who will be in charge in any future state in the West Bank.

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Romney: Christie’s on My VP List

Chris Christie’s endorsement of Mitt Romney was pretty much expected, but what prompted him to announce it so early? Tim Pawlenty reportedly got some debt help after his speedy endorsement of Romney. Should we assume Christie has his eye on something as well?

“Of course, he’d be on anyone’s shortlist,’’ Romney said of Christie in a TODAY interview Wednesday. “He may take himself off the list and say, ‘No way.’ He’d have no interest. But the truth is that Gov. Christie is one of the leading figures in the Republican party, and of course anyone who becomes our nominee is going to look at people like Gov. Christie and say, ‘Well, that would be a terrific person to have on the ticket.’’’

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Chris Christie’s endorsement of Mitt Romney was pretty much expected, but what prompted him to announce it so early? Tim Pawlenty reportedly got some debt help after his speedy endorsement of Romney. Should we assume Christie has his eye on something as well?

“Of course, he’d be on anyone’s shortlist,’’ Romney said of Christie in a TODAY interview Wednesday. “He may take himself off the list and say, ‘No way.’ He’d have no interest. But the truth is that Gov. Christie is one of the leading figures in the Republican party, and of course anyone who becomes our nominee is going to look at people like Gov. Christie and say, ‘Well, that would be a terrific person to have on the ticket.’’’

Christie isn’t ruling it out. And after everything that’s happened during the past few weeks, any non-denial from Christie seems suspect:

Christie told NBC’s Jamie Gangel that Romney hasn’t made him any promises, but evaded direct questions about his vice presidential aspirations with jokes.

“I don’t know that I’d be anybody’s good match in that regard,’’ Christie said. “But ultimately, that kind of thing is up to the person who’s the presidential nominee to decide who they think is the best person for them, and most importantly, the best person for the country.’’

It definitely sounds like Christie’s walking back his previous vehement denials that he’s interested in a VP slot. Here was his comment on a VP run from June:

“The person that picked me as vice president would have to be sedated,” Christie said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Seriously, forget it….”

“I mean that’s who I am and I don’t think that’s vice presidential material,” Christie said referencing an interaction he had with a voter who questioned where he chooses to school his children.

Christie  still seems to be brushing off the idea, but he’s definitely undergone a major change in tone. I’m not sure whether he would be the smartest VP pick for Romney, since the two share similar voting bases, but it would definitely help boost Romney’s enthusiasm quotient.

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Time for Germany to Step Up

Yesterday’s news that the U.S. stopped an Iranian plan to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington naturally inspired immediate debate over how the White House should respond. Tougher economic sanctions–or at least stricter enforcement of existing sanctions–seemed to be an obvious element of American action.

But that discussion shows just how difficult the sanctions process–which does seem to have accomplished some of its aims–has been diplomatically. You would think authoritarian regimes in the East are the main impediments to reining in Iran’s nuclear program, as they are on Syria. But just two days prior to yesterday’s revelation, Benjamin Weinthal reported that Germany remains the West’s primary obstacle:

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Yesterday’s news that the U.S. stopped an Iranian plan to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington naturally inspired immediate debate over how the White House should respond. Tougher economic sanctions–or at least stricter enforcement of existing sanctions–seemed to be an obvious element of American action.

But that discussion shows just how difficult the sanctions process–which does seem to have accomplished some of its aims–has been diplomatically. You would think authoritarian regimes in the East are the main impediments to reining in Iran’s nuclear program, as they are on Syria. But just two days prior to yesterday’s revelation, Benjamin Weinthal reported that Germany remains the West’s primary obstacle:

Despite new EU sanctions, German exports to the Islamic Republic increased by 2.6 percent between 2009 and 2010, reaching a total of 3.8 billion euros, according to new trade data the Post obtained last week from the Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden.

German exports to Iran dropped from approximately 2.22b. euros in the first half of 2010 to 1.76b. euros in the first half of 2011, but German imports of Iranian goods increased from 382 million euros to 453m. euros in the same period. The Federal Republic’s consumption of Iranian gas and oil rose during the first six months of 2011 to 280m. euros, from 197m. euros in the first half of 2010.

When I reported on this issue in the spring, German pro-Israel groups were complaining to me they could not get Angela Merkel’s government to take real action against the European Iranian Bank of Commerce in Hamburg, through which countries (such as India) were funneling payments to Iran for petroleum exports. German officials finally agreed to step in, but there was a sense among Germans getting such action from the government was a slow, frustrating process. And they were right.

But on some level, this isn’t difficult to understand. The New York Times revealed last year that our own federal government has been skirting the sanctions. Why should European leaders follow our sanctions if we won’t? Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, told me at the time the president can get sanctions bills–such as those sponsored by Sherman–watered down in the Senate anyway before they pass.

Sherman told me at the time: “We could be effective against Iran–so effective as to force them to abandon their nuclear program. In order to do that, we would have to take action that would drive oil companies and Wal-Mart and foreign governments a little bonkers. And we’re not even willing to take on the epicureans and tell them they have to make do with Russian caviar.”

The Iranian plot certainly demands a response. Perhaps it will give us leverage with Germany–leverage we shouldn’t need in the first place, but which we should now have.

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Should Perry Give Up?

At the Examiner, Conn Carroll wonders whether Perry should just give up on the debates after his awful performance last night:

Perry has performed poorly in all four of the GOP debates in which he has participated. Even the candidate himself seems to acknowledge that debates can only hurt his campaign. So why show up? The Perry campaign is telling every reporter who will listen that debates don’t matter. OK. If they really believe that, then why have Perry show up at all? Why not just work crowds, raise money, and run TV and web ads? We know Perry can’t debate, so let the headlines be about what he CAN do.

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At the Examiner, Conn Carroll wonders whether Perry should just give up on the debates after his awful performance last night:

Perry has performed poorly in all four of the GOP debates in which he has participated. Even the candidate himself seems to acknowledge that debates can only hurt his campaign. So why show up? The Perry campaign is telling every reporter who will listen that debates don’t matter. OK. If they really believe that, then why have Perry show up at all? Why not just work crowds, raise money, and run TV and web ads? We know Perry can’t debate, so let the headlines be about what he CAN do.

Skipping the debates seems like a bit of a cop-out. But beyond that, if Perry believes the debates are just a sideshow, then he should follow through on that by shifting the focus of his campaign to grassroots campaigning, public speaking, organizing and fundraising. That’s what he’s good at. As John McCormack noted, Perry shined during his small, post-debate event.

Aren’t the debates starting to lose their significance at this point, anyway? Romney looks inevitable. The only reason so many of the other candidates are still showing up is probably because it’s free. Bachmann’s almost out of money. Newt clearly lost interest a long time ago, and is now just doing it for the entertainment value. Huntsman’s at zero percent in the polls, and Santorum’s campaign is heading there.

But Perry has none of these problems. He’s still in the top three in most polls. And he has $17 million to burn. No matter how many times he bombs out at a debate, he can still run a top-tier campaign in every other area.

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What Message is Obama Sending to Iran?

Discussing the Iranian plot with the New York Times, an anonymous senior administration official (in the Bush administration, that meant the National Security Advisor or the Secretary of State) promised the Obama administration would send Iran a strong message. “’We’re going to work with allies and partners to send Iran a message: we don’t tolerate the targeting of foreign diplomats on our soil, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

Obama and his advisers shouldn’t waste their breath: If the strongest message they send Iran after a plot to kill Americans and foreign diplomats in Washington is to beg and plead with Moscow and Beijing at the United Nations, then the leadership in Iran can rest secure.

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Discussing the Iranian plot with the New York Times, an anonymous senior administration official (in the Bush administration, that meant the National Security Advisor or the Secretary of State) promised the Obama administration would send Iran a strong message. “’We’re going to work with allies and partners to send Iran a message: we don’t tolerate the targeting of foreign diplomats on our soil, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

Obama and his advisers shouldn’t waste their breath: If the strongest message they send Iran after a plot to kill Americans and foreign diplomats in Washington is to beg and plead with Moscow and Beijing at the United Nations, then the leadership in Iran can rest secure.

If the Iranian regime is to understand there are redlines they cannot cross and plausible deniability is no longer a strategy they can embrace when it comes to their constituent parts, then the only response the Obama administration can take is biting economic sanctions against Iran’s central bank, or limited military actions such as the Reagan administration did during Operation Preying Mantis. Wars in the Middle East are caused not by oil or water, but rather by overconfidence. Both the Bush and Obama administrations enabled Iranian confidence. The only way there will be peace or at least stability is if the Iranian regime understands the costs of their actions are too great for them to bear.

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A GOP Debate Post-Mortem

Here are some morning-after thoughts on Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate:

1. Rick Perry’s quest for the presidency is finished, even if his campaign is not. The Texas governor won’t withdraw — and he’s raised enough money to go on for a while. But Perry, desperately in need of a superior debate performance, once again whiffed. He looks like a man who would rather be anywhere on earth than on the debate stage. At this point he cannot undo the damage he’s inflicted on himself; he simply doesn’t have the skill set to do so. Perry will continue to slide in the polls and, I suspect, end up being a fairly marginal figure in the race.

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Here are some morning-after thoughts on Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate:

1. Rick Perry’s quest for the presidency is finished, even if his campaign is not. The Texas governor won’t withdraw — and he’s raised enough money to go on for a while. But Perry, desperately in need of a superior debate performance, once again whiffed. He looks like a man who would rather be anywhere on earth than on the debate stage. At this point he cannot undo the damage he’s inflicted on himself; he simply doesn’t have the skill set to do so. Perry will continue to slide in the polls and, I suspect, end up being a fairly marginal figure in the race.

Most of those who proclaimed at the outset that Perry was the Real Deal were at a distinct disadvantage: they hadn’t seen him in action. They were moved by what they thought he was versus who he actually turned out to be. What we’ve learned is that he’s the worst candidate in this particular field. He will take his place alongside a couple of other Texans who flamed out as presidential candidates: John Connally and Phil Gramm.

2. Herman Cain’s 9/9/9 tax plan got a lot of attention, which probably pleases Cain. But clear lines of attack were also developed, especially by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, and they will be exploited. Both Bachmann and Santorum hit Cain on his tax plan’s vulnerability: creating an additional revenue stream (via a national sales tax) without eliminating the income tax. To reiterate something I wrote yesterday: Cain plan will become less appealing the more GOP voters examine his policies.

3. Governor Romney once again turned in an extremely strong performance. He’s fluid and at ease, in complete command of the issues, and seemingly impossible to knock off stride. The most salient political development of this (Republican) campaign season is the extraordinary improvement in Romney as a candidate from 2008. And while I didn’t agree with all of Romney’s positions, including his unwillingness to provide a capital gains tax cut for those making over $200,000 (thereby excluding those who make the most capital gains and undermining economic growth), there’s simply no denying the former Massachusetts governor has become a superb debater. He is easily the most skilled politician in the current field.

Some other observations: Michele Bachmann was strong, particularly early on in the debate (she explained her positions well and with precision), but then faded a bit. Jon Huntsman may (or may not) be a nice fellow in person, but he comes across as very unpleasant. Newt Gingrich showed both his considerable strengths (knowledge of the issues and an active intellect) and weaknesses (a rhetorical recklessness, such as arguing that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be put in jail). Senator Santorum once again did well, especially when, in the midst of a back-and-forth with Cain, he asked those in the New Hampshire crowd to raise their hands if they favored a sales tax (none did). And I found Ron Paul to be somewhat less offensive than usual (probably because the subject was economics rather than foreign policy).

I know enough about politics to know it’s too early to declare the next GOP presidential nominee before a meaningful vote has been cast. But I also know enough about politics to know roughly 12 weeks away from the first meaningful votes being cast, Mitt Romney is in a commanding position.

 

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For Iran, Command is Everything

Alana Goodman is right to reflect what Iran’s alleged terrorism plot means for the U.S. posture toward Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons:

If Iran feels safe planning a U.S.-based attack now, imagine how much more blatant its aggression would be if it had nuclear weapons. Some people like to pretend Israel is the only country that would be seriously threatened by a nuclear Iran. This case is a prime example of how wrong that assumption is.

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Alana Goodman is right to reflect what Iran’s alleged terrorism plot means for the U.S. posture toward Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons:

If Iran feels safe planning a U.S.-based attack now, imagine how much more blatant its aggression would be if it had nuclear weapons. Some people like to pretend Israel is the only country that would be seriously threatened by a nuclear Iran. This case is a prime example of how wrong that assumption is.

The alleged plot raises other issues, however: The Iranian government is not homogenous; it is made up of myriad power centers and factions. While analysts often discuss factions along the Iranian political spectrum, for example, arguing about who is reformist, pragmatic, or a hardliner, the same analysts have very little understanding of how such factions play out in the military. For all intensive purposes, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a big black box about which the United States and the West know little. It is not a monolith, however, but is an institution consisting of individuals, each with their own point of view and, like all bureaucracies, it has its own internal debates and cultures.

What the terrorist plot indicates, however, is that individuals and bureaucracies matter. Many Iranian officials are radical, and some are willing to take the fight to the United States for purely ideological reasons. With such a reality, understanding of command and control of an Iranian bomb becomes crucial. It’s not enough to say 99 percent of Iranian regime officials are pragmatic; if it’s the one percent who retain custody over a nuclear weapon, then that’s all that matters from the point of view of American national security. To calibrate containment upon the assumption of Iranian pragmatism and rationality is simply inane given that those able to call the shots seek to murder as many Americans as they can.

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