Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 23, 2011

Battle Against Islamist Terrorism is Not Over; It is Changing Shape

The Washington Post has the umpteenth story today announcing the imminent demise of al-Qaeda. This one is more convincing than most because it focuses on the organization’s decline since the elimination of Osama bin Laden. The Post account declares that there are only two “high value” leaders remaining in al-Qaeda–Ayman al-Zawahiri and his No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi–and that according to U.S. intelligence officials, their “demise would mean the group’s defeat.”

The seeming certainty of this judgment is somewhat undermined down below where the article casually refers to “the organization’s estimated few hundred remaining followers in Pakistan.” Did al-Qaeda ever have more than a few hundred followers in Pakistan? And what is to say that some of those “followers” could not become leaders even if Zawahiri and Libi are eliminated? That concern is reason enough to maintain the pressure in Pakistan rather than moving the CIA’s drones to other battle fronts too soon.

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The Washington Post has the umpteenth story today announcing the imminent demise of al-Qaeda. This one is more convincing than most because it focuses on the organization’s decline since the elimination of Osama bin Laden. The Post account declares that there are only two “high value” leaders remaining in al-Qaeda–Ayman al-Zawahiri and his No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi–and that according to U.S. intelligence officials, their “demise would mean the group’s defeat.”

The seeming certainty of this judgment is somewhat undermined down below where the article casually refers to “the organization’s estimated few hundred remaining followers in Pakistan.” Did al-Qaeda ever have more than a few hundred followers in Pakistan? And what is to say that some of those “followers” could not become leaders even if Zawahiri and Libi are eliminated? That concern is reason enough to maintain the pressure in Pakistan rather than moving the CIA’s drones to other battle fronts too soon.

Even more reason to maintain resources in and around Pakistan (Afghanistan remains our most reliable regional base) is the fact that it is home to so many other terrorist organizations, such as the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar e Taiba, and the Haqqani Network, which are plotting to kill Americans and our allies: The Haqqanis have carried out numerous deadly attacks against Americans in Afghanistan while the Pakistani Taliban supported an attempted car-bombing in Times Square.

This points to a larger concern that I have voiced before and will reiterate now: Even if al-Qaeda can’t recover from bin Laden’s death, that hardly means the threat of Islamist extremism is over. There are numerous other groups ready to fill the vacuum left behind by al-Qaeda, and many of them–from the Haqqanis to Hamas and Hezbollah–are stronger than they have ever been. The Arab Spring is providing further opportunities for them (or their sympathizers ) to seize power in a chaotic climate. The battle against Islamist terrorism is far from over; it is merely changing shape.

The historical analogy which springs to mind is the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party’s Combat Organization, which was the main perpetrator of terrorism before and during the 1905 Revolution. It subsequently went into steep decline. Russian officials may have been tempted to declare victory in their own “war against terrorism” were it not for the fact that the SR Combat Organization were displaced by an even more malign group–the Bolsheviks.

 

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Detainee Negotiation is Test Case for Iraq

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the difficult negotiations going on between Iraqi and American authorities over the fate of Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative who is the last detainee still in U.S. custody in Iraq.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the U.S. military withdrawal from that country is that we are having to either free or turn over to the Iraqis hard-core terrorists who have long been held in U.S.-run detention facilities. The odds that the Iraqi government would find the gumption to hold a Shiite terrorist with close Iranian connections–someone like Daqduq–are slight, to say the least. It would take an exceedingly brave or foolish Iraqi judge to order Daqduq’s incarceration. The judge would likely be signing his own death warrant, and his family’s, and for no good reason: After he was killed, Daqduq would be released anyway.

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The Wall Street Journal reports today on the difficult negotiations going on between Iraqi and American authorities over the fate of Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative who is the last detainee still in U.S. custody in Iraq.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the U.S. military withdrawal from that country is that we are having to either free or turn over to the Iraqis hard-core terrorists who have long been held in U.S.-run detention facilities. The odds that the Iraqi government would find the gumption to hold a Shiite terrorist with close Iranian connections–someone like Daqduq–are slight, to say the least. It would take an exceedingly brave or foolish Iraqi judge to order Daqduq’s incarceration. The judge would likely be signing his own death warrant, and his family’s, and for no good reason: After he was killed, Daqduq would be released anyway.

The only way to prevent him from returning to Iran and resuming his work as a terrorist would be to move him to the U.S. for detention and trial. Guantanamo Bay would seem a fitting destination, although the Obama administration apparently would prefer either a military tribunal or a federal trial on the mainland. Either option is certainly preferable to letting this killer run loose, notwithstanding the possibility that Iranian operatives would kidnap Americans to bargain for his release. Daqduq was allegedly the mastermind of a fiendishly clever 2007 raid in which Shiite extremists dressed as American security contractors raided Karbala’s provincial headquarters and murdered five American soldiers. He is among the baddest of the bad.

But removing him from Iraq requires, in theory at least, Iraqi approval. And that is difficult to get. This is an early test case of which way the new Iraq–free of any American troops–will lean. Alas the odds are that on this issue, at least, the Iraqis will most likely do Iran’s bidding. Unless Obama is willing to order his removal without Iraqi consent, there is a likelihood of more Americans dying at Daqduq’s hands.

 

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Failures of Trends in Israel Advocacy

A foolish op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times illustrates well the approaching failures of the latest trends in Israel advocacy.

“Pinkwashing” may be an unfamiliar term to most, but it’s been the hip new expression in anti-Israelist Western circles for years now. It refers to the efforts by the state of Israel and Israel advocacy organizations to promote Israel’s liberal treatment of its gay population, which is certainly the freest, by an extreme long shot, in its region and perhaps in the entire Western world, where even San Francisco may not be as welcoming to gays as Tel Aviv.

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A foolish op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times illustrates well the approaching failures of the latest trends in Israel advocacy.

“Pinkwashing” may be an unfamiliar term to most, but it’s been the hip new expression in anti-Israelist Western circles for years now. It refers to the efforts by the state of Israel and Israel advocacy organizations to promote Israel’s liberal treatment of its gay population, which is certainly the freest, by an extreme long shot, in its region and perhaps in the entire Western world, where even San Francisco may not be as welcoming to gays as Tel Aviv.

The attractiveness of this kind of argument is easy to see. Because Israel is seen most harshly in the West by the left, it is the “progressive” case for Israel that must be made. (Evangelicals and conservatives, presumably, will go on loving the Jewish state no matter how large or, shall we say, exuberant, the Tel Aviv gay pride parade becomes.) Since the left today reflexively voices its concern over gay rights, the thinking goes, highlight sexual freedom in Israel. A similar thought process is behind efforts to promote Israel’s environmentalist credentials. Nowhere in the world of Israel advocacy are these kinds of efforts more attractive than on the college campus, where defining oneself as a believer in gay rights and an environmentalist are two of the chief assumptions that govern intellectual life.

The Times pinkwashing op-ed reflects the related problems of this kind of advocacy. While it may have an important effect on the center of opinion, it will do nothing to dent the anti-Israelism of the intelligentsia. Most importantly, by eliding the fundamental question at the heart of the conflict, namely whether or not Jews have a right to self-determination in their homeland, advocacy on this score may win small victories but still find itself continuing to lose the war.

It also is, seen in a certain light, a specie of the traditional Jewish accommodationist political strategy. Rather than demanding acknowledgement of their rights on their own terms (as most peoples do), Jewish Israel advocacy, even when promoted by the state of Israel itself, continues to fall back on ways to make itself appealing to the governing proclivities of the day. Yesterday’s order was nationalism, so Leo Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, and their followers cast the Jewish national project in line with it. Today’s tendencies lean in other directions, so Jews find themselves pitching their arguments along those lines. All will find themselves forever flummoxed by the ferocity of anti-Jewish politics until they come to understand it is a hatred that cannot be appeased.

The alternative is a robust attack on those ideologues governed by a fundamental misunderstanding of the right to self-determination that underlies our present international order, driven by the conviction in thought, word, and deed that Jewish rights are not a topic up for debate.

We may of course still fail to diminish the potency of the West’s current anti-Israelist madness. At least in this way we would give ourselves a fighting chance.

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Social Cons Plot Against Romney in Iowa

As Mitt Romney ramps up his campaign in Iowa, a group of high-profile social conservatives are meeting on Monday to figure out how to prevent him from winning the state caucus, CNN reports. These social conservatives oppose Romney because of his flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage, but as CNN notes, his Mormonism obviously plays a role:

Many social conservatives and other religious leaders in the state have openly labeled the former Massachusetts governor as a “flip-flopper,” a criticism the campaign frequently beats back, while others have seen Romney’s Mormon faith as an issue. And many of them have openly hoped for someone to emerge as a viable alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

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As Mitt Romney ramps up his campaign in Iowa, a group of high-profile social conservatives are meeting on Monday to figure out how to prevent him from winning the state caucus, CNN reports. These social conservatives oppose Romney because of his flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage, but as CNN notes, his Mormonism obviously plays a role:

Many social conservatives and other religious leaders in the state have openly labeled the former Massachusetts governor as a “flip-flopper,” a criticism the campaign frequently beats back, while others have seen Romney’s Mormon faith as an issue. And many of them have openly hoped for someone to emerge as a viable alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

I’d venture to guess that Romney’s religion is one of the main issues driving this. Especially when these are the other candidates the group is considering endorsing:

The effort is said to still be in the discussion phase. Participants were said to have narrowed their focus down to four candidates: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Admittedly, Bachmann and Santorum are flawless social conservatives. But Newt Gingrich? He may have the right position on abortion and gay marriage, but his personal life has been far from squeaky clean. And Perry’s taken some conflicting positions on gay marriage and angered values voters with his support for the dreaded HPV vaccine.

Why are Gingrich’s and Perry’s missteps so easily forgiven, but Romney’s aren’t? As Jonathan wrote last week, hatred of Mormons is one of the last acceptable bigotries in America. If the point of Monday’s meeting is for social conservatives to choose a candidate who is unblemished on their issues, then they should at least be consistent about it and endorse someone like Bachmann or Santorum. But if Romney’s faith is the main issue, then the larger conservative movement in Iowa shouldn’t entertain that kind of intolerance.

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OWS Now Using Unborn Children as Human Shields

Several weeks ago, the protesters of Occupy Wall Street in Washington, D.C., used children as human shields during a confrontation with attendees of a conservative conference for Americans for Prosperity. Now, in Seattle, it appears one protester used her unborn child as a barrier between herself and police.

Occupy the Planet, a blog dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement, explains:

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Several weeks ago, the protesters of Occupy Wall Street in Washington, D.C., used children as human shields during a confrontation with attendees of a conservative conference for Americans for Prosperity. Now, in Seattle, it appears one protester used her unborn child as a barrier between herself and police.

Occupy the Planet, a blog dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement, explains:

And now we have, in addition to the figurative miscarriages of justice connected to police violence against Occupy protesters, a literal miscarriage as well, as Jennifer Fox has just lost the fetus she was carrying, five days after being kicked and hit in the stomach by Seattle police.

Just to be clear, Fox entered the crowd knowing many such protests had been broken up by police, and that the Occupiers had routinely added a physical element to the confrontations by refusing to follow the law and police orders. Despite this, she took the risk to herself and her baby by joining in the crowd of protesters. After sustaining injuries at the demonstration, Fox was rushed to a hospital where doctors assured her her baby was fine. Her miscarriage occurred a full five days after the confrontation with police. The linkage between the miscarriage and the actions of the Seattle PD is tenuous at best. However, the Occupy movement has still laid the blame at the feet of the police.

The use of terminology in the account on the Occupy the Planet blog is interesting. It goes back and forth, several times going from calling the life inside of her a baby to a fetus as well. How much does this leftist group, who often have pro-choice signs at OWS rallies, care about the loss of Fox’s pregnancy? Did she lose a baby or a fetus? Was this pregnant OWS protester sent to the front of the line to manufacture a story of heartbreak?

Excuse my cynicism, but if a group has used children previously, who, as you can see from Stephen Gutowski’s videos, were visibly petrified, why would they not use a “ball of flesh” to create a narrative of police brutality?

UPDATE: Fox’s refusal to release any medical records that could confirm her story has led many, including her former foster mother, to question whether Fox was ever actually pregnant. Seattle police have initiated an internal investigation into the incident.

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GOP Debate Was Civil and Informative

The headlines coming out of last night’s GOP debate predictably emphasized the candidates clashing. Of course there were some clashes; this was a debate after all. But what struck me is not the level of acrimony but the lack thereof. It was, on the whole, a civil and informed debate with most of the candidates displaying familiarity with the issues; the exceptions were Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Ron Paul, who seemed out of their depth discussing foreign affairs. It is perhaps no coincidence that Paul–whose answer to every question seems to be that he’s opposed to war, period–displayed a stunning lack of knowledge of specific issues, for example conflating Somalia’s Shabaab with al-Qaeda. Both are Islamist terrorist organizations, but they have no formal affiliation.

Jon Huntsman knew more (as he not so subtly reminded viewers with his reference to China), but he was also out of step with the other candidates–for  example, by advocating a rapid drawdown in Afghanistan that would most likely lead to the collapse of the Afghan government and a recurrence of the terrible civil war that devastated the country in the 1990s. But he has only slightly more hope than Paul does of becoming the Republican nominee. Both men are an asterisk in the race–notably only for getting unearned national airtime at debates such as this one.

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The headlines coming out of last night’s GOP debate predictably emphasized the candidates clashing. Of course there were some clashes; this was a debate after all. But what struck me is not the level of acrimony but the lack thereof. It was, on the whole, a civil and informed debate with most of the candidates displaying familiarity with the issues; the exceptions were Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Ron Paul, who seemed out of their depth discussing foreign affairs. It is perhaps no coincidence that Paul–whose answer to every question seems to be that he’s opposed to war, period–displayed a stunning lack of knowledge of specific issues, for example conflating Somalia’s Shabaab with al-Qaeda. Both are Islamist terrorist organizations, but they have no formal affiliation.

Jon Huntsman knew more (as he not so subtly reminded viewers with his reference to China), but he was also out of step with the other candidates–for  example, by advocating a rapid drawdown in Afghanistan that would most likely lead to the collapse of the Afghan government and a recurrence of the terrible civil war that devastated the country in the 1990s. But he has only slightly more hope than Paul does of becoming the Republican nominee. Both men are an asterisk in the race–notably only for getting unearned national airtime at debates such as this one.

The other candidates–Mitt Romney (full disclosure: I’m an adviser to his campaign), Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum–showed not only command of the topics but a large degree of agreement on the major foreign policy issues, such as the war on terror, Israel, Iran and the war in Afghanistan. Leaving aside immigration (a domestic issue which somehow intruded at great length) their major disagreements are over the implementation of policies to address such difficult issues as Pakistan–an area where even conservative policymakers and scholars are split and where there is hardly a”right” answer.

Despite the usual handwringing about the supposedly low quality of the candidates and the head scratching over why the “best” candidates refuse to run, I came away impressed by the field and reassured that a strong, forward-leaning American foreign policy dedicated to maintaining our global leadership finds such broad support from the mainstream Republican candidates. After a decade of war, it appeared to be possible that there would be an isolationist backlash even in the GOP. That hasn’t happened, leaving poor Ron Paul to lead the isolationist caucus pretty much by himself, with an occasional assist from the irrelevant Huntsman.

 

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Can Timing Save Newt from Perry’s Fate?

As Jonathan noted, Newt Gingrich offered a balanced approach to the issue of illegal immigration last night, but one that–as Rick Perry showed–is still controversial among Republicans in many states, including Iowa. There are some equally thoughtful critiques of Gingrich’s position, and Mickey Kaus offers a few today. Gingrich’s proposal was heavy on nuance, light on red meat, and framed as an appeal to common sense.

But so was Perry’s, yet his poll numbers were halved by the time the dust settled after his infamous answer to the immigration issue in September. So why should Gingrich be any different? Timing and temperament.

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As Jonathan noted, Newt Gingrich offered a balanced approach to the issue of illegal immigration last night, but one that–as Rick Perry showed–is still controversial among Republicans in many states, including Iowa. There are some equally thoughtful critiques of Gingrich’s position, and Mickey Kaus offers a few today. Gingrich’s proposal was heavy on nuance, light on red meat, and framed as an appeal to common sense.

But so was Perry’s, yet his poll numbers were halved by the time the dust settled after his infamous answer to the immigration issue in September. So why should Gingrich be any different? Timing and temperament.

Perry’s complete answer on immigration was just as thoughtful as Gingrich’s, but he tripped himself up when he told those who disagreed with him, “I don’t think you have a heart.” It’s all most people remembered from the debate, and it was a decidedly uncharitable way of engaging his critics. Gingrich came close by suggesting we should be “humane” about enforcing immigration law, but it lacked the accusatory punch of Perry’s statement.

Perry’s comments on immigration also sounded defensive. Gingrich took a tone that was professorial even by Gingrich standards and accommodating on any scale. Gingrich focused on “we,” Perry put the spotlight on “you.” Conservatives are by now tired of the accusation of heartlessness, and anything that can be interpreted as an attack on their character or intentions is going to be loudly rejected. Gingrich managed to thread the needle on an issue on which it is vitally important to do so.

But the other advantage Gingrich has over Perry on this is his placement as the right bookend. Perry’s surge in support came at the beginning of primary season; Gingrich may be looked upon by those opposed to Mitt Romney’s nomination as the last best hope. When the candidates return from Thanksgiving, they’ll have one month before the Iowa caucuses. Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann have all had their chances. Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Ron Paul won’t be getting one. If the “Not Romney” folks drop Gingrich, it would in all likelihood end the nomination contest before the first ballot is cast.

Gingrich is not backing down from the issue, as he proved in the post-debate interviews last night. He’s got a month to convince Iowans, though–a tougher assignment than winning over CNN political correspondents on the merits of a compassionate immigration plan.

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Can an All-American Boy Like Romney Still Aspire to the White House?

As Alana noted yesterday, Mitt Romney’s somewhat stiff personality appears to be as much of a handicap to his presidential candidacy as his record of flip-flops on some major issues like health care and abortion. It may well be the fact that he never smoked or drank will be held against him by voters who don’t think they can trust a person who won’t have a beer with them or who prefer the redemption stories of sinners who found the light (as was the case with George W. Bush) than the narrative of a man who never seems to have strayed off the straight and narrow path of virtue.

If so, this says something very interesting about American society. If we have gotten to the point where voters aren’t merely prepared to forgive someone for past transgressions but will actively reject a candidate because he has no past sins to atone for, then what we are witnessing is a sea change in our 21st century political culture. Will a nation that seems to honor victims more than heroes and that embraces those with tarnished reputations more readily than those without a blemish be one where an all-American boy who grew up to be a church-going, faithful husband can aspire to the presidency? Maybe not. But I think we ought to wait until the next election is over before we jump to that conclusion.

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As Alana noted yesterday, Mitt Romney’s somewhat stiff personality appears to be as much of a handicap to his presidential candidacy as his record of flip-flops on some major issues like health care and abortion. It may well be the fact that he never smoked or drank will be held against him by voters who don’t think they can trust a person who won’t have a beer with them or who prefer the redemption stories of sinners who found the light (as was the case with George W. Bush) than the narrative of a man who never seems to have strayed off the straight and narrow path of virtue.

If so, this says something very interesting about American society. If we have gotten to the point where voters aren’t merely prepared to forgive someone for past transgressions but will actively reject a candidate because he has no past sins to atone for, then what we are witnessing is a sea change in our 21st century political culture. Will a nation that seems to honor victims more than heroes and that embraces those with tarnished reputations more readily than those without a blemish be one where an all-American boy who grew up to be a church-going, faithful husband can aspire to the presidency? Maybe not. But I think we ought to wait until the next election is over before we jump to that conclusion.

It is true that there was something particularly compelling in 2008 about a presidential election in which both candidates were remarkably candid about their backgrounds and personal flaws. Both Barack Obama and John McCain published autobiographies that made it clear neither had led faultless lives. Obama’s admission of drug use and his search for an identity after a fatherless childhood struck a chord with many Americans. So too did McCain’s self-portrait of a bad boy whose road to maturity required a passage in the hell of the Hanoi Hilton.

By contrast, Mitt Romney can offer us no such struggle with demon rum, infidelity or even an identity. His appears to be a life that started with a happy childhood, a smooth transition to adulthood, success in business and then on to politics. He grew up in comfort and is probably richer than even his father (a former auto company exec and governor of Michigan) was. When Rush Limbaugh complained last week that the media hadn’t fully vetted Romney yet, he was wrong. The mainstream media has been all over Romney this year, with newspapers such as the New York Times producing investigations of his religious life and anything else they can dig up. But it hasn’t resonated because they basically found nothing. Far from there being undiscovered skeletons in his closet, the problem for Romney may be that he’s so squeaky clean some people may wonder how someone so good can empathize with the rest of us ordinary folk.

That said, I would imagine that during the course of the next several months, we’ll have a chance to see how well — or poorly — Romney’s all-American boy persona plays with the American public. For all of his very public religiosity and goodness, he at least has the grace not to indulge in the sort of self-righteousness that is the hallmark of President Obama’s personality. It’s true there will be no photo ops with him drinking beer, but if Joe Lieberman survived the 2000 campaign without eating non-kosher food or travelling on the Sabbath, I imagine Romney will not fail because he won’t take a drink. My guess is the success of his candidacy will hinge on the viability of his Republican opponents, not his own goody-two-shoes reputation. If he wins the nomination and goes on to beat Obama next fall, it will not only be a historic first for Mormons, it may also be a sign Americans are still sufficiently open-minded to be able to elect a man who hasn’t needed to atone for public transgressions.

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Gingrich Has Thoughtful and Nuanced Stand on Immigration

I’ve had some critical things to say about Newt Gingrich in the past, but I thought his answer on immigration at last night’s GOP debate was excellent. He put forth a series of steps that would curtail illegal immigration, even as he said this: “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

In response, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom leaped in for the kill: “Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said he was willing to repeat that mistake, by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today. Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty.”

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I’ve had some critical things to say about Newt Gingrich in the past, but I thought his answer on immigration at last night’s GOP debate was excellent. He put forth a series of steps that would curtail illegal immigration, even as he said this: “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

In response, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom leaped in for the kill: “Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said he was willing to repeat that mistake, by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today. Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty.”

In fact, Governor Romney, a reasonable man, refused to say he would deport someone who has been in this country for a quarter-century, has raised a family here, and who has not gone afoul of the law. For his campaign to jump on Gingrich about “amnesty” is silly. Gingrich made an entirely reasonable distinction between categories of illegal immigrants. No matter; the Romney campaign is now using the Scarlet A (as in amnesty) against the former speaker.

I’ve been through enough campaigns to know that staff is paid to seize on minor matters and elevate them to heresies over first principles. That goes with the territory. But if the Republican Party has adopted a position in which Gingrich’s thoughtful and nuanced stand on immigration is viewed as disqualifying, then it will pay a price, morally and politically.

 

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Does Huntsman Really Understand China?

Another key point in the GOP debate that went unnoticed by much of the press was when Jon Huntsman lamented that Americans spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan, but China walks away with the mining concession.  It’s a good point, of course, but what Huntsman doesn’t seem to realize is that China paid Afghanistan’s minister of mining something like a $10 million bribe to get that concession.

So, for Huntsman: Do we replicate China’s embrace of dysfunctional corruption and start paying bribes or do we keep them out of Afghanistan all together and, if so, how? Alas, sometimes the issues look much more sanitary when sitting in the bubble of the American embassy, rather than being out and on the ground.

Another key point in the GOP debate that went unnoticed by much of the press was when Jon Huntsman lamented that Americans spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan, but China walks away with the mining concession.  It’s a good point, of course, but what Huntsman doesn’t seem to realize is that China paid Afghanistan’s minister of mining something like a $10 million bribe to get that concession.

So, for Huntsman: Do we replicate China’s embrace of dysfunctional corruption and start paying bribes or do we keep them out of Afghanistan all together and, if so, how? Alas, sometimes the issues look much more sanitary when sitting in the bubble of the American embassy, rather than being out and on the ground.

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Hamas is the Big Winner in Egypt

We don’t know yet what the final outcome of the power struggle going on in Egypt will be, but we do know the identity of one of the big winners: Hamas. No matter how much power the Egyptian military winds up with, there’s little question the Islamist group is one of the chief beneficiaries of the collapse of the Mubarak regime and the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

As the New York Times reports this morning, the Brotherhood’s clout is just one of a number of factors that have increased Hamas’ influence among Palestinians and the region. Their ability to force Israel to free over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one kidnapped Israeli soldier diminished Fatah and the Palestinian Authority as did the failure of the latter’s effort to bypass the peace process by winning independence from the United Nations. But with Gaza’s border with Egypt no longer sealed and the possibility that it will become the entry point for arms and other form of aid, there will soon be no way for anyone to ignore the fact that the Hamas state there is the true face of Palestinian independence.

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We don’t know yet what the final outcome of the power struggle going on in Egypt will be, but we do know the identity of one of the big winners: Hamas. No matter how much power the Egyptian military winds up with, there’s little question the Islamist group is one of the chief beneficiaries of the collapse of the Mubarak regime and the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

As the New York Times reports this morning, the Brotherhood’s clout is just one of a number of factors that have increased Hamas’ influence among Palestinians and the region. Their ability to force Israel to free over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one kidnapped Israeli soldier diminished Fatah and the Palestinian Authority as did the failure of the latter’s effort to bypass the peace process by winning independence from the United Nations. But with Gaza’s border with Egypt no longer sealed and the possibility that it will become the entry point for arms and other form of aid, there will soon be no way for anyone to ignore the fact that the Hamas state there is the true face of Palestinian independence.

Just as Egypt was the lynchpin for the start of a Middle East peace process, the rise of a new government there that may further downgrade relations with Israel has the potential to bury what little hope remains for negotiations with the Palestinians. Though most observers doubt the Egyptian army will allow the peace treaty with Israel to be completely repudiated, it will be no surprise if the government that is formed after elections will be hostile to the Jewish state and even friendlier with the Brotherhood’s ideological ally Hamas.

That will strengthen Hamas immeasurably, because it has the potential to negate Israel’s blockade of the Islamist enclave and set up a secure supply line between Gaza and Iran, which remains the terror group’s main supplier of arms and material.

The impact of this turn of events will be felt throughout the region. Hamas’ popularity among Palestinians, heightened by the Gilad Shalit deal, will continue to grow. The unity pact with Fatah reflects the PA’s recognition the tide has turned in its long rivalry with Hamas with the Islamists clearly gaining the upper hand. The Palestinian unity government that comes out of that agreement is expected to be less oriented toward the West and more subservient to the terrorists. This has caused even Jordan, heretofore a bulwark of Arab moderation and deeply fearful of the influence of Hamas, to thaw its relations with the group. All this dooms any hope for a resumption of peace talks with Israel no matter what concessions the Obama administration is able to force the Jewish state to make.

On the sidelines watching this disaster unfold is the Obama administration, whose mishandling of the peace process and the Arab Spring has aided the rise of Islamists. Though American influence in the region is diminishing, it remains to be seen whether the president is too distracted by other events to recognize he still has some leverage that can be used to maintain the isolation of Hamas via the vast sums of aid that still flow from the U.S. and the West to the Palestinians as well as to Egypt and other Arab nations. Though he cannot dictate who will run Egypt, Obama can make it clear to the army and whoever emerges after the elections that support for Hamas and the trashing of the peace treaty with Israel is a red line they dare not cross if they wish to get another penny of the $2 billion a year they get from the U.S. But no matter what Obama now belatedly says or does, there’s little question that Hamas’ power and influence is growing.

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“Qaddafi Was a Jew”

The Forward has a must-read article on pervasive anti-Semitism in the new Libya that reveals both the Arab world’s greatest problem – which isn’t anti-Semitism per se – and why the West persistently ignores it. Inter alia, reporter Andrew Engel describes how Libyan after Libyan volunteered the “information,” completely unprompted, that the hated Muammar Qaddafi was a Jew. The same theme permeated a CD he heard in a Tripoli taxi – but only in Arabic:

The first track, “Khalas ya Qaddafi” (“Finished, oh Qaddafi”), rapped in English: “Thank you Obama, thank you Jazeera, thank you Sarkozy for everything you’ve done to me.” It then moved into Arabic: “I’m sorry for Algeria because their leader is Bouteflika, who supports every Jew with his soldiers and weapons. Leave, oh Qaddafi. Every day people die, every day people suffer … Go out, you Jew!”

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The Forward has a must-read article on pervasive anti-Semitism in the new Libya that reveals both the Arab world’s greatest problem – which isn’t anti-Semitism per se – and why the West persistently ignores it. Inter alia, reporter Andrew Engel describes how Libyan after Libyan volunteered the “information,” completely unprompted, that the hated Muammar Qaddafi was a Jew. The same theme permeated a CD he heard in a Tripoli taxi – but only in Arabic:

The first track, “Khalas ya Qaddafi” (“Finished, oh Qaddafi”), rapped in English: “Thank you Obama, thank you Jazeera, thank you Sarkozy for everything you’ve done to me.” It then moved into Arabic: “I’m sorry for Algeria because their leader is Bouteflika, who supports every Jew with his soldiers and weapons. Leave, oh Qaddafi. Every day people die, every day people suffer … Go out, you Jew!”

Another rap number, “HadHihi al-Thawra” (“This Revolution”), rapped in Arabic: “… The anger won’t die, the one who will die is Qaddafi, his supporters and the Jews.”

This is standard practice in the Arab world: Statements in English are carefully crafted to be pleasing to Western ears (“thank you Obama, thank you Sarkozy”), but statements in Arabic have no such constraints. That’s why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounces terrorism in English even while lauding terrorists as heroes in Arabic (here or here, for instance).

But most Westerners don’t speak Arabic, so they take what they hear in English at face value. And even when confronted with translations by organizations like MEMRI or Palestinian Media Watch, they continue to believe what they hear in English, because that’s human nature: What you hear with your own ears carries conviction, even though people generally speak far more freely and honestly in their native tongue.

Yet the West’s ability to ignore the Arab world’s pervasive anti-Semitism means it consistently fails to understand the most basic problem facing Arab countries. As Engel perceptively noted, by deeming Qaddafi a Jew, his Libyan interlocutors “had accomplished an amazing feat of disassociation between themselves and the man who ruled them for most of their lives, as if they were saying: ‘You know, Qaddafi was not one of us. A Libyan could not have done what he did.’ It was a refusal to come to terms with Libya’s own past. Even a dictator, after all, requires popular support from some segments of society to rule for more than four decades … A country unable to come to terms with its history may find itself incapable of building the successful, inclusive democracy it has promised the world.”

Indeed, people who consistently blame an outside agency for their problems – whether it’s Jews, Western colonialism or anything else –are incapable of building any kind of decent society. You can’t fix a problem if you consider it beyond your control, and if it’s someone else’s fault, it is beyond your control. Only when people acknowledge that they have contributed to their own problems can they begin to seek solutions.

That’s why Arab anti-Semitism matters so desperately –not because of the threat it poses to Israel, though that is real, but because of the threat it poses to Arab countries’ own development. The same goes for the Arabs’ tendency to blame their troubles on Israel or the West. Evasion of responsibility for its own welfare has always been, and continues to be, the Arab world’s biggest problem.

And by pandering to it – for instance, by asserting that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is necessary for Arab development even though it patently hasn’t been necessary for Israel’s development – the West is entrenching this problem rather than helping the Arab world to confront it.

 

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Ron Paul’s Ignorance of al-Qaeda

While Jonathan Tobin is correct that “[Ron] Paul’s rationalization of the Taliban is disgusting,” Paul’s factual ignorance was astounding. The question he was answering was that posed by my colleague Katherine Zimmerman and was specifically about Ash-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate which has taken root in Somalia following the American withdrawal from that country. Paul’s answer? al-Qaeda exists in places where we keep bases. But we don’t keep bases in Somalia. The logic of Paul’s response was that al-Qaeda would disappear if we only withdrew from the world, but Zimmerman is right: the Ash-Shabaab case proves him wrong.

Paul may hit his stride when he discusses domestic libertarianism, but he really doesn’t understand anything about international relations or the outside world. Perhaps if he actually attended some of the meetings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which in theory he serves, he could distinguish himself as being more expert than Herman Cain.

While Jonathan Tobin is correct that “[Ron] Paul’s rationalization of the Taliban is disgusting,” Paul’s factual ignorance was astounding. The question he was answering was that posed by my colleague Katherine Zimmerman and was specifically about Ash-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate which has taken root in Somalia following the American withdrawal from that country. Paul’s answer? al-Qaeda exists in places where we keep bases. But we don’t keep bases in Somalia. The logic of Paul’s response was that al-Qaeda would disappear if we only withdrew from the world, but Zimmerman is right: the Ash-Shabaab case proves him wrong.

Paul may hit his stride when he discusses domestic libertarianism, but he really doesn’t understand anything about international relations or the outside world. Perhaps if he actually attended some of the meetings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which in theory he serves, he could distinguish himself as being more expert than Herman Cain.

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The Heart of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Contentions commenter Maines Michael points us to Bat Ye’or’s incisive article in the November New English Review, entitled “The Palestinization of UNESCO” (which follows Robert Wolfe’s equally incisive article in the August NER, entitled “Settlements Are the Issue”). Taken together, the two articles cut to the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bat Ye’or’s article focuses on the claim “that Jewish existence in its ancestral homeland, Judea and Samaria, is an ‘occupation’ — a colonization:”

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Contentions commenter Maines Michael points us to Bat Ye’or’s incisive article in the November New English Review, entitled “The Palestinization of UNESCO” (which follows Robert Wolfe’s equally incisive article in the August NER, entitled “Settlements Are the Issue”). Taken together, the two articles cut to the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bat Ye’or’s article focuses on the claim “that Jewish existence in its ancestral homeland, Judea and Samaria, is an ‘occupation’ — a colonization:”

In this way, Israel has become a state that is occupying its own historical homeland. In Orwellian language propagandists speak of “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” that is called Judea, and not of the ethnic and religious cleansing of Jews from their homeland through wars, expulsions, dispossession and the dehumanizing apartheid rule of dhimmitude.

Wolfe’s article focuses on the fact that the “settlers” in Hebron are the descendants of Jews who lived there for a very long time:

[P]rior to 1949 there were numerous Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. In particular there was a large Jewish community in Hebron which dated back to the 16th century. But in 1929, this entire community was destroyed by the Arabs and its inhabitants massacred. … So when the Palestinians now argue that Jews have no right to live anywhere beyond the 1949 armistice lines, what they are actually saying is that Jews have no right to return to areas where they were previously murdered or driven out by the Arabs.

Wolfe also observes it is “neither just nor reasonable to expect Israel to maintain Judea and Samaria in the same Judenrein condition in which the Arabs left it in 1967”:

Judea and Samaria formed the heartland of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and Jews have every right to settle there while waiting for the time, perhaps many years from now, when the democratization of Arab society has proceeded to the point where the Palestinians are ready to make peace with Israel. If the Palestinians are concerned that the progress of Jewish settlement will gradually shrink the area available for a future Palestinian state, they have only to make peace now in order to stabilize the situation.

The area Israel has tried to give the Palestinians three times is properly described as “disputed” rather than “occupied.” In 1922, the League of Nations designated it as the national home of the Jewish people. In 1937, in response to Arab pogroms, the Peel Commission proposed two states, which the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected. In 1947, the UN proposed another two-state solution; the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected it. When the Arabs started a war, Jordan illegally occupied a portion of Palestine — an occupation never recognized by the UN, U.S., Soviet Union, or any Arab country. In 1967, when it joined still another war against Israel, Jordan lost the land it unlawfully held. It is currently held by the only entity with even a shadow of a legal claim to it: the Jewish state.

With the demise of the peace process – the victim of too many Palestinian rejections of a state, too many wars after withdrawals from disputed land, too many years of Palestinian refusals to negotiate without pre-negotiation concessions designed to pre-determine the issues to be negotiated — it is time to return to first principles.

One is that the U.S. has no conceivable interest in supporting an apartheid Palestinian state, much less one in which terrorist groups remain not only undismantled but part of the Palestinian polity, currently run by unelected leaders unable even to organize Potemkin elections, whose declared goal is not an end-of-claims agreement but an entity to pursue further claims against the state Arabs tried to destroy in 1948 and 1967 and still refuse to recognize as a Jewish state.

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