Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 29, 2011

Israel Ad Campaign Targeting Expats Raises Troubling Questions of Identity

The fact that many Israelis have left the Jewish state to find new homes and opportunities in the United States has long been a source of tension for Jerusalem. In the past, some Israeli leaders, such as the late Yitzhak Rabin, castigated emigrants as being little better than traitors. Attempts to shame them into returning failed as have more recent efforts aimed at enticing the yordim (as they are known in Hebrew) with more positive messages. But as cable’s The Jewish Channel reports in this video, the country’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which is responsible for promoting aliyah or immigration to the country, has taken a new tack in an effort to get some of what is estimated to be as many as 600,000 former Israelis living in the United States to come home.

The Ministry has created a series of commercials that are airing on cable channels likely to be watched by the Israelis that warn them they are losing their identity by staying in the United States. This is standard fare from a Zionist point of view, but one of the ads goes a bit further than the others and seems to be warning about the perils of Israelis marrying American Jews. If so, a government agency whose premise is supposed to be one that reinforces Jewish identity may be sending a message that contradicts that theme.

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The fact that many Israelis have left the Jewish state to find new homes and opportunities in the United States has long been a source of tension for Jerusalem. In the past, some Israeli leaders, such as the late Yitzhak Rabin, castigated emigrants as being little better than traitors. Attempts to shame them into returning failed as have more recent efforts aimed at enticing the yordim (as they are known in Hebrew) with more positive messages. But as cable’s The Jewish Channel reports in this video, the country’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which is responsible for promoting aliyah or immigration to the country, has taken a new tack in an effort to get some of what is estimated to be as many as 600,000 former Israelis living in the United States to come home.

The Ministry has created a series of commercials that are airing on cable channels likely to be watched by the Israelis that warn them they are losing their identity by staying in the United States. This is standard fare from a Zionist point of view, but one of the ads goes a bit further than the others and seems to be warning about the perils of Israelis marrying American Jews. If so, a government agency whose premise is supposed to be one that reinforces Jewish identity may be sending a message that contradicts that theme.

Each of the three ads attacks the sensibilities of Israeli expats in different ways. One warns that an Israeli who raises their children in America will call their fathers “daddy” rather than the Hebrew “abba.” Another portrays the child of expats telling their grandparents they are celebrating Christmas rather than Chanukah, which speaks to the fear of such children losing their Jewish identity as well as their ties to Israel.

But the third shows the plight of a young ex-Israeli with a boyfriend whom we may well assume to be Jewish (as Ben Smith of Politico does in a blog post) because we are not told otherwise. In the ad, the woman is commemorating Yom Hazikaron — Israel’s memorial day — but her partner doesn’t understand its significance and, the narrator reminds the audience, he never will.

It’s one thing for Israel to try and convince expats to come home lest they assimilate into a foreign culture. It’s quite another to send a message that hooking up with an American Jew will cause them to lose their secular Israeli identity. It’s true that many expats view themselves more as Israelis rather than Jews and fear losing their connection with the Hebrew language and the secular culture of the state more than ties with their nominal religion. But a message that seems to reinforce the notion that Israelis and American Jews have nothing in common runs contrary to the whole concept of Zionism, let alone traditional Judaism, and not to mention the political needs of a country that relies heavily on American Jewish support.

While it is possible the creators of this ad may not have intended to step on this particular land mine, their political masters in Jerusalem (who, The Jewish Channel reports, are spending little on trying to persuade American Jews to immigrate) need to rethink a strategy that seems to reinforce the divide between Israelis and Americans rather than bridging it.

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NYT’s Revkin Denies Bias in ClimateGate Coverage

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the newly-released “ClimateGate II” emails, which included a number of messages from former New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. Most of Revkin’s emails were typical, unobjectionable conversations with scientific sources. But some of them included disparaging remarks about climate change skeptics, and supportive comments that seemed to indicate – in my opinion – that Revkin saw himself on the same “team” as the climate scientists.

All reporters interact with sources differently, and none of the individual messages Revkin messages sent were blatantly outside the bounds of ethics. But the combination of them, along with his decision to not publish the 2009 ClimateGate emails, seemed problematic. I also felt that his coverage of ClimateGate downplayed the story, focusing more on the fallout of the scandal than on the actual content of the emails.

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on the newly-released “ClimateGate II” emails, which included a number of messages from former New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. Most of Revkin’s emails were typical, unobjectionable conversations with scientific sources. But some of them included disparaging remarks about climate change skeptics, and supportive comments that seemed to indicate – in my opinion – that Revkin saw himself on the same “team” as the climate scientists.

All reporters interact with sources differently, and none of the individual messages Revkin messages sent were blatantly outside the bounds of ethics. But the combination of them, along with his decision to not publish the 2009 ClimateGate emails, seemed problematic. I also felt that his coverage of ClimateGate downplayed the story, focusing more on the fallout of the scandal than on the actual content of the emails.

Unsurprisingly, Revkin disagrees, and he asked for a chance to respond. Here’s my email exchange with him (my questions and comments to him are highlighted in bold):

In some of the emails, you wrote disparagingly of climate change skeptics. You wrote that Inhofe “still speaks to and for a big chunk of America — people whose understanding of science and engagement with such issues is so slight that they happily sit in pre-conceived positions.” And you wrote that “the ‘Average Joe’ out there is only hearing radio soundbites about the sun turning off, or cable-news coverage or some stray TV image of snow in Baghdad.”

There are ill-informed people at both edges of the spectrum on climate science and policy, and influential people in the debate who tend to rely on caricatures to suit our soundbite culture. This particular e-mail was about an influential subset at one end (those who tend to bundle a big, rich body of science on greenhouse warming into a simple basket called “hoax”). I know from the careful wording of his speeches that Inhofe is mainly rejecting evidence pointing to “catastrophic” human-caused warming, but I don’t see him being quick to point out that he doesn’t dispute the basic reality that greenhouse gases keep Earth warm and more will make things warmer. That’s a starting point for discussing the need for, and nature of, any response.

Someone could easily sift my e-mails and find some in which I’ve spoken disparagingly of climate scientists and campaigners pushing a scientifically unsupported case for greenhouse action, as well. Of course that wouldn’t serve the interests of the person behind the email release called FOIA2011.

At the time, did you think that people who didn’t agree with the AGW theory were uneducated, or were being fed lies by irresponsible media outlets? And did you think that someone could be a global warming “denier” if he was also an educated, sincere person?

On AGW (anthropogenic global warming) Theory: Here, you’re making the mistake I allude to above in discussing Sen. Inhofe — lumping “AGW theory” (which even Michael Crichton did not dispute) with the range of views (some supported, some not) on whether the case has been made for dangerous human-driven climate change. That’s a very different question, and one laden with values judgments. A first step in having any kind of informed discussion of climate science and policy has to start with that delineation. I’ve even come up with a visual aid to help.

On bad media: There’s been plenty of misinformation and/or disinformation on climate disseminated by media over the years — much of it related to the AGW point above (conflating all climate science with flawed examples, or mashing up meanings). One case in point was George Will’s coverage of polar climate issues. Another was Time Magazine’s “Be Worried, Be Very Worried” cover story.

On the word “denier” and sincerity: There are plenty of sincere, highly educated critics of some climate science and scientists. Words like denier and skeptic have been greatly abused in the climate fight for far too long — often as a catch-all. I’ve long pointed out that there is a dizzyingly wide spectrum of attitudes, some informed, some not, on the amorphous thing called global warming. I’ve also noted that there has been plenty of denial to go around — noting that  I was in denial for a long time, presuming that more communication of climate findings could matter.

In another email you wrote, “the only discourse now is among folks who believe human-forced climate change is a huge problem…the ‘hotter’ voices are doing their job well. I’m doing mine.” From the context and the linked article, I take this to mean that your “job” was to inform the public that the only respectable discussions on climate change were going on between the “reasonable” AGW believers (you, in this case), and the extreme AGW believers – cutting out the skeptics completely. Is that what you were trying to say, or can you clarify?

I find it hard to draw the same conclusion in looking at my coverage, which has long included the voices of researchers challenging the predominant line of thinking on climate science, among them Roger Pielke Sr.Richard Lindzen, who was quoted in the 2006 article you read, John ChristyIvar Giaever (Nobelist who rejects the science pointing to dangerous greenhouse warming) and others.

Did your decision to not publish the emails have anything to do with your involvement on the email list, and your relationship with the scientists? You seemed to have a friendship with some of them, and agree on the issues – did this play a role in your coverage of ClimateGate?

The simple answer is no. First of all, I noted from the start that I was mentioned in some of the emails. The 2009 batch was there for anyone to sift for meaning from the get-go.

As has been written about extensively (see Steve McIntyre’s post on the hypocrisy of the Times), the decision on publishing the emails directly in the paper was not made by me, but by Times lawyers. This was made clear in a big addendum to my original coverage back on 11/29/09.

What many critics fail to note is that I did quote from and link to the emails repeatedly, including in the initial page-one article. (The emails were all quickly assembled in searchable databases, as with those now available for the new batch).

As for friendships, there are people on all sides of the climate story who became — over two decades — what I would call friendly acquaintances. But the idea that I was in cahoots with one side or the other isn’t well borne out by my coverage, which has been attacked routinely by liberals and conservatives alike as not to their liking.

That’s one reason the climate scientist Michael Mann admonished a colleague (in the 2009 emails) to be careful what he shared with me, saying I’m “not as predictable as we’d like.”

As for fairness, in general, have a look back at Anthony Watts’ post on my departure from the Times staff.

Clearly this isn’t an issue that’s purely black-and-white. Revkin obviously has his personal views on climate change, which he writes about regularly at his Dot Earth blog. Whether those opinions influenced his reporting, consciously or not, isn’t something that can be definitively known.

Having an opinion on an issue is hardly a disqualifier for reporters. All reporters have to make judgment calls which stories they cover, which sources they contact, which angles they focus on. A pro-life reporter might cover the abortion issue differently than a pro-choice reporter. Does that mean either of them is being intentionally dishonest? Of course not. But it does mean they should be aware of their biases.

On the whole, I think Revkin has tried to be fair to all sides of the climate change debate. But I still don’t believe he gives fair coverage to the content of the original ClimateGate emails — emails that he personally had a part in. If the messages had shown prominent climate change skeptics plotting media strategy, obscuring data, and acting more like lobbyists than scientists, the New York Times would certainly have treated it like the scandal it is. And if the Times is willing to devote space to crowdsourcing the Sarah Palin emails, it had no excuse for not doing the same with emails written by prominent scientists who help shape international environmental policy.

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Even After Cain’s Collapse, Morality Won’t Help Romney Beat Gingrich

The news that Herman Cain is “reassessing” his candidacy in the wake of a new sexual scandal has predictably set off a wave of speculation as to which of the other Republican contenders will benefit the most from his withdrawal, if that’s what he decides to do. Most observers have jumped to the conclusion that the big winner will be Newt Gingrich. He has been competing for some of the Tea Party/social conservative support and had already been the beneficiary of the precipitous slide in support for Cain after his foreign policy gaffes and sexual harassment charges eroded his standing in the polls. But one outlier on this question is the Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein, who writes today that Mitt Romney might actually gain some traction from the Cain collapse.

Klein’s reasoning is that dismay about Cain’s alleged conduct on the part of Christian conservatives — a factor that may weigh heavily in Cain’s decision to carry on — may bring renewed attention to the issue of moral probity in a potential president. If so, that stands to help Romney, a pillar of rectitude who has been married to the same woman for 42 years, and will remind voters of Gingrich’s well-known record of infidelity during his first two marriages. That’s not an unreasonable theory, but there are two big problems with it. One is, past transgressions don’t impact voters in the same way as fresh revelations. The other is, as we discussed last week, a narrative of redemption seems to be more popular these days than one of unblemished virtue.

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The news that Herman Cain is “reassessing” his candidacy in the wake of a new sexual scandal has predictably set off a wave of speculation as to which of the other Republican contenders will benefit the most from his withdrawal, if that’s what he decides to do. Most observers have jumped to the conclusion that the big winner will be Newt Gingrich. He has been competing for some of the Tea Party/social conservative support and had already been the beneficiary of the precipitous slide in support for Cain after his foreign policy gaffes and sexual harassment charges eroded his standing in the polls. But one outlier on this question is the Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein, who writes today that Mitt Romney might actually gain some traction from the Cain collapse.

Klein’s reasoning is that dismay about Cain’s alleged conduct on the part of Christian conservatives — a factor that may weigh heavily in Cain’s decision to carry on — may bring renewed attention to the issue of moral probity in a potential president. If so, that stands to help Romney, a pillar of rectitude who has been married to the same woman for 42 years, and will remind voters of Gingrich’s well-known record of infidelity during his first two marriages. That’s not an unreasonable theory, but there are two big problems with it. One is, past transgressions don’t impact voters in the same way as fresh revelations. The other is, as we discussed last week, a narrative of redemption seems to be more popular these days than one of unblemished virtue.

The fact that Gingrich led the impeachment of President Clinton on a perjury charge about a sexual indiscretion while simultaneously carrying on an affair with the woman who would become his third wife was an act of egregious public hypocrisy. But 13 years is a lifetime in politics, and the “new” Gingrich we have seen this year is a man who has, we are told, found faith and contentment in a happy marriage and life as a grandfather. Few seem to hold his past against him today.

Cain’s affair, combined with the sexual harassment charges, presents a very different picture. While his die-hard backers may claim all these women are liars, even many of those sympathetic to Cain are beginning to think there may be some fire amid all that smoke. Having presented himself to the country as a successful businessman who was also an upright family man, it’s too late to recast his image as a redeemed sinner in the way Gingrich has done. Whether or not he drops out now, Cain, who was falling fast in public opinion surveys even before this latest problem, is almost certainly toast.

It is possible that some social conservatives might start to re-evaluate Romney and see him in a better light after their sorry experiment with Cain. But unless Gingrich’s reformed wrongdoer story is revealed as fraudulent, it isn’t likely Romney will gain much of an advantage. Indeed, the only relatively fresh personal “scandal” attached to Gingrich is the story that broke over the summer about his exorbitant purchases of jewelry for his wife at Tiffany’s. No doubt some sober souls will think a man who spends that kind of money on baubles ought not to be entrusted with the Treasury of the United States, but the story also reinforced his redemption narrative as it paints him as a philanderer who has been transformed into a lovesick spouse. Fair or not, that is exactly the sort of thing our contemporary popular culture values far above Romney’s lifetime of fidelity and faith.

Romney’s problem remains the fact that he is still seen by most on the right as a heretic who tilted to the left on abortion during his career in Bay State politics only to re-emerge as a conservative when he decided to run for president. Gingrich has taken stands on issues like health care, entitlement reform and the environment that deviated even further from conservative orthodoxy. But the obsession with stopping Romney has led many on the right to grant Gingrich the absolution they deny to his competitor.

Gingrich’s undisciplined character may well cause his candidacy to implode like others who have risen to the top this year. But the idea that Romney will defeat him on the basis of a clearly superior moral character is not one that is likely to be sustained by the voters.

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Re: The Moral Rot at the Core of the Human Rights Community

Evelyn’s accurate diagnosis  of the “rot” at the core of the “human rights community,” and her salutary exhortation that “no self-respecting democracy should grant international law any credence,” points to a deeper issue; namely, the notion of a “world community” (of which the human rights community is, ostensibly, a part.)

“World community” has become something of a rhetorical talisman, the mere utterance of which expresses the speaker’s tacit commitment to the institutions
of an imagined global order and which tends to induce in the minds of the politically credulous an image of something that is, at once, grand and magisterial—almost transcendent—yet also intimate and personal, as well as presumptively benign.

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Evelyn’s accurate diagnosis  of the “rot” at the core of the “human rights community,” and her salutary exhortation that “no self-respecting democracy should grant international law any credence,” points to a deeper issue; namely, the notion of a “world community” (of which the human rights community is, ostensibly, a part.)

“World community” has become something of a rhetorical talisman, the mere utterance of which expresses the speaker’s tacit commitment to the institutions
of an imagined global order and which tends to induce in the minds of the politically credulous an image of something that is, at once, grand and magisterial—almost transcendent—yet also intimate and personal, as well as presumptively benign.

With almost predictable regularity, figures of international prominence—whether of renown or infamy—gravely call upon the world community to condemn this or that injustice (real or imagined), or to enforce this or that regimen or sanction, whether just or otherwise. Among all nations, Israel enjoys the distinction of being the disproportionate target of this “community’s” promiscuous and malignant disapprobation.

But here’s the rub: There is, in fact, no such thing as the “world community,” in any meaningful sense of the word “community.” After all, what is a “community”? I propose the following (courtesy of The Merriam-Webster On-Line International Dictionary) as a working definition: “a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.”

Given this definition, in what sense can the claim rationally be made that the United States, on the one hand, and, say, China or Myanmar, on the other, share common political or social interests? Do these nations share our commitment to human rights, representative democracy, and freedom of religion?

There is, to be sure, a community of democracies—fractious, quarrelsome, often divided on matters of great importance—but a community nonetheless. There are, as well, alliances—both formal and tacit—of oppressive nation-states, sometimes associated with cutthroat trans-national groups such as al-Qaeda, or regional/national organizations such as Hezbollah. These various alliances may be founded on considerations of principle—albeit malign—or of convenience, or of both. However, notwithstanding the nimbus of transcendence surrounding it, belief in the existence of an overarching world community, encompassing and yet somehow transcending such divergent categories of political actors, is a piece of self-deception of breathtaking scope.

Rather than cherish the fiction of a world community to whose moral authority we as a democracy can appeal and to whose “will” we are expected to defer, we should recognize, instead, that our world consists not of members of a single community, but rather of ever-shifting alliances of nations and regimes, divided, roughly, into two groups: those that share our commitment to democratic principles and those that do not. Considerations of Realpolitik require that we engage members of the latter group when and in such manner as it suits our vital interests. But it is only the former whose moral authority we should recognize and to whose demands we should show any deference.

 

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Americans Split on Whether OWS Activists Should Take Baths, Get Jobs

Inspired by Newt Gingrich’s common-sense grooming and lifestyle tips for Occupy Wall Street, Rasmussen decided to post this fundamental question to the public: “Should OWS activists take baths and get jobs?” As it turns out, the issue is a bitterly divisive one.

Rising Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich made news recently when he suggested that the Occupy Wall Street protesters should stop protesting and get jobs after taking a bath. Voters are evenly divided over whether that’s a good idea.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43 percent of likely U.S. voters agree with the former House speaker and think the protesters should take baths and get jobs. But an identical number (43 percent) disagree, and 14 percent more are undecided.

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Inspired by Newt Gingrich’s common-sense grooming and lifestyle tips for Occupy Wall Street, Rasmussen decided to post this fundamental question to the public: “Should OWS activists take baths and get jobs?” As it turns out, the issue is a bitterly divisive one.

Rising Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich made news recently when he suggested that the Occupy Wall Street protesters should stop protesting and get jobs after taking a bath. Voters are evenly divided over whether that’s a good idea.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43 percent of likely U.S. voters agree with the former House speaker and think the protesters should take baths and get jobs. But an identical number (43 percent) disagree, and 14 percent more are undecided.

Which raises even more questions: Do 43 percent of voters think Occupy Wall Streeters have already taken enough baths and have enough jobs? Or do these voters agree with the underlying premise that the activists are dirty and unemployed, but prefer they remain that way?

Before considering that, take a look at another story largely ignored during the Thanksgiving holiday, which sums up an essential problem for OWS. Apparently, a group of Occupy activists tried to march from New York City to Washington to confront the supercommittee, but didn’t realize that the supercommittee would have to make a final decision by last Monday – two days before the official deadline. The protesters arrived last Tuesday:

A group of roughly 50 protesters from Occupy Wall Street marched to Washington, D.C., from as far away as Zuccotti Park in New York City just before Thanksgiving, walking about 20 miles a day and relying on volunteers for housing.

But their triumphant arrival on Tuesday didn’t quite go according to plan.

A major goal of the march was to confront the congressional budget deficit supercommittee with Occupy’s message about the needs of the 99 percent. The protesters had originally planned to arrive in D.C. on Wednesday – but when they heard that the supercommittee would finish its work earlier than planned, they walked an extra 10 miles, staying moving until 2 a.m. Monday. Still, they were too late: The committee declared failure that day.

Criticizing the Occupy protesters for things like poor hygiene or lack of work ethic may seem silly or unfair. But they’re actually symptoms of an underlying issue. What type of person has time to camp out in a park for several months, or take a 10-day walk from New York to D.C. on a whim? Beyond that – what kind of person sets off on a 10-day walk to confront a congressional committee, without finding out exactly when they have to be at their destination?

Somebody who has a lot of free time on his hands, and a completely oblivious view of the world. These are the people who make up Occupy Wall Street, which has meant a struggle for the movement to transition into a serious political force.

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Iranian Incompetence Could Lead to Accidental War

As Jonathan noted, the recent explosions in Iran — one at a missile base on November 12th, the other yesterday near Istafan — hold out hope that the nuclear program can be delayed through sabotage. But it’s unclear whether the explosions are actually the result of internal or foreign sabotage, as opposed to accident or incompetence as the regime rushes forward with its various weapons programs; and more importantly, it’s unclear whether the regime itself knows their cause. But the cause might not really matter. Even if one or more of the incidents was an accident, the perception that the country’s most sensitive installations are vulnerable to sabotage could impel the regime to respond.

Consider the fact that the Isfahan explosion happened yesterday evening and within hours a rocket barrage was fired from Lebanon into Israel, and that as we speak the British embassy in Tehran is besieged by a student chapter of the Basij, a thuggish regime militia. It’s hard to believe that these measures are not a form of retaliation, a reminder that the regime will not sit idly as its prized missile and nuclear sites are attacked. The message seems to be clear: Tehran blames outside powers for the explosions.

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As Jonathan noted, the recent explosions in Iran — one at a missile base on November 12th, the other yesterday near Istafan — hold out hope that the nuclear program can be delayed through sabotage. But it’s unclear whether the explosions are actually the result of internal or foreign sabotage, as opposed to accident or incompetence as the regime rushes forward with its various weapons programs; and more importantly, it’s unclear whether the regime itself knows their cause. But the cause might not really matter. Even if one or more of the incidents was an accident, the perception that the country’s most sensitive installations are vulnerable to sabotage could impel the regime to respond.

Consider the fact that the Isfahan explosion happened yesterday evening and within hours a rocket barrage was fired from Lebanon into Israel, and that as we speak the British embassy in Tehran is besieged by a student chapter of the Basij, a thuggish regime militia. It’s hard to believe that these measures are not a form of retaliation, a reminder that the regime will not sit idly as its prized missile and nuclear sites are attacked. The message seems to be clear: Tehran blames outside powers for the explosions.

One of the foremost dangers now is that the Iranian government, by virtue of its unique combination of paranoia, conspiracy-mindedness, and technological malfeasance, could retaliate against the West in response to an instance of its own ineptitude. It simply may not matter who or what is making things explode — we could end up in a scenario where the Iranians provoke a confrontation with the U.S., Israel, or Britain in retaliation for what is in fact their own inability to conduct their rocket and nuclear programs without making mistakes, or their own inability to secure sensitive facilities against internal opposition.

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British Embassy Seizure in Tehran No Rogue Action

I certainly have fond memories of the British embassy in Tehran. When I first went to the Islamic Republic for language study and dissertation research, I would occasionally get a few hours’ respite in the British garden where we’d have an occasional evening with Pims and Lemonade amongst fellow English-speakers.

Certainly, the British embassy seizure fits a long-established pattern inside Iran. I detailed some of this, here, but there’s much more: Shortly before Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized British sailors in waters the Iranians disputed, the British government was proposing taking the Iranian nuclear file to the United Nations for additional sanctions. Two days before the British sailors were captured, here is what Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, had to say: “If they take illegal actions [such as sanctioning our nuclear program], we, too, can take illegal actions and will do so.”

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I certainly have fond memories of the British embassy in Tehran. When I first went to the Islamic Republic for language study and dissertation research, I would occasionally get a few hours’ respite in the British garden where we’d have an occasional evening with Pims and Lemonade amongst fellow English-speakers.

Certainly, the British embassy seizure fits a long-established pattern inside Iran. I detailed some of this, here, but there’s much more: Shortly before Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized British sailors in waters the Iranians disputed, the British government was proposing taking the Iranian nuclear file to the United Nations for additional sanctions. Two days before the British sailors were captured, here is what Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, had to say: “If they take illegal actions [such as sanctioning our nuclear program], we, too, can take illegal actions and will do so.”

Two lessons:

(1)   Spontaneity in Iran is pre-planned; it comes from the top. This was no rogue action.

(2)   Iranians may pooh-pooh sanctions rhetorically, but they certainly act as if they have an effect. Perhaps it’s time to take sanctions to the next level.

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Get Rid of Assad and Rebuild a Freer Syria

The noose is tightening around Bashar al-Assad’s neck. Not only has he been abandoned by his erstwhile interlocutors in the West, he has even been turned on by his own neighbors, as seen in the Arab League’s unprecedented decision to impose sanctions on Syria. Even the UN is starting to turn up the heat with its new report on the human rights abuses Assad is committing to stay in power.

But that does not mean he will go quickly or quietly. If he continues to cling to power, Syria could be plunged into a nightmarish civil war that could destabilize Iraq and other nearby states. To forestall that eventuality, I urge in the new Weekly Standard more robust action to topple Assad. Among the steps the U.S. and its allies should seriously consider, I write, is arming the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad, launching air strikes on regime targets, and supporting Turkey to set up “buffer zones” and “humanitarian corridors” that would be protected from Assad’s thugs.

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The noose is tightening around Bashar al-Assad’s neck. Not only has he been abandoned by his erstwhile interlocutors in the West, he has even been turned on by his own neighbors, as seen in the Arab League’s unprecedented decision to impose sanctions on Syria. Even the UN is starting to turn up the heat with its new report on the human rights abuses Assad is committing to stay in power.

But that does not mean he will go quickly or quietly. If he continues to cling to power, Syria could be plunged into a nightmarish civil war that could destabilize Iraq and other nearby states. To forestall that eventuality, I urge in the new Weekly Standard more robust action to topple Assad. Among the steps the U.S. and its allies should seriously consider, I write, is arming the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad, launching air strikes on regime targets, and supporting Turkey to set up “buffer zones” and “humanitarian corridors” that would be protected from Assad’s thugs.

All of these steps would not only protect innocent people but hasten the downfall of a terrible regime and usher in a replacement that is sure to be less of an Iranian ally.

As it happens, the Free Syrian Army advocates many of these same steps, as seen from this interview with its leader, Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad: “We are not in favor of the entry of foreign troops as was the case in Iraq, but we want the international community to give us logistical support. We also want international protection, the establishment of a no-fly zone, a buffer zone and strikes on certain strategic targets considered as crucial by the regime.”

The Free Syrian Army’s requests are worth taking seriously, as it does not appear peaceful protests will be sufficient to dislodge the Assad clique. The U.S. and our allies now have a major interest in getting rid of Assad as quickly as possible, and getting on with the work of rebuilding a freer Syria–and one that will not be in Tehran’s orbit.

 

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Pakistan’s Anti-Americanism

Pakistan’s anti-Americanism is certainly scary, but it is hardly new. When I went to Pakistan last year to interview former ISI leaders, senior diplomats, and political party activists—including from Jamaat-e-Islami, the anti-American Islamist party—I heard a range of views, but Pakistanis of all stripes referred to the “great betrayals” of 1965 and 1971.

Here, the story goes back to the Eisenhower administration: In an effort to create a southern corollary to NATO, Eisenhower sponsored the Baghdad Pact, also known as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Pakistani authorities believed their membership would, akin to the basis of NATO, trigger automatic American defense should Pakistan be attacked.

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Pakistan’s anti-Americanism is certainly scary, but it is hardly new. When I went to Pakistan last year to interview former ISI leaders, senior diplomats, and political party activists—including from Jamaat-e-Islami, the anti-American Islamist party—I heard a range of views, but Pakistanis of all stripes referred to the “great betrayals” of 1965 and 1971.

Here, the story goes back to the Eisenhower administration: In an effort to create a southern corollary to NATO, Eisenhower sponsored the Baghdad Pact, also known as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Pakistani authorities believed their membership would, akin to the basis of NATO, trigger automatic American defense should Pakistan be attacked.

Pakistan, of course, has a knack for starting wars and convincing themselves that India is responsible. During both the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, Pakistani authorities believed the United States should have dropped everything—despite involvement in Vietnam—and come to Pakistan’s aid. This, of course, is delusional, but several generations of the Pakistani elite—even before the radicalization of Pakistani society began in earnest—grew up believing the United States had “betrayed” Pakistan.

Radicalization sure has been a kicker, however. In the financial district of Islamabad—a wealthy, privileged area—I photographed graffiti last year calling for a new Holocaust in language that would make even Iran’s Qods Force blush.

So, what’s most scary about Pakistan’s anti-Americanism?  Perhaps it is the fact that Pakistan is not alone. As bad as things in Pakistan are, however, they may still be worse in Turkey which, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, is the only country surveyed that is more anti-American than Pakistan.

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No Reason to Believe “Obama’s Many Iran Promises”

Yesterday’s explosion at a facility in Isfahan, Iran is the sort of vague story that inspires hope the Islamic republic’s nuclear weapons program can be stopped. We don’t know whether what happened there was the result of sabotage by U.S. and/or Israeli agents, but whatever the cause, we can only pray the damage was serious. If so, this may be just one more piece of evidence proving that a covert war is being waged on Iran by foreign intelligence services that have sought to corrupt the ayatollah’s computers, kill their scientists and wreck their facilities by any means possible. While there are good reasons to be skeptical this campaign will be an effective answer to the nuclear threat, the possibility that the U.S. is doing all it can short of open war is the best, and perhaps only, defense of Barack Obama’s record on the issue.

Because force may be the only avenue left to stopping Iran, gaining an understanding of Obama’s real intentions on the issue is vital not only to the upcoming election but to the future of the region. On that score, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg takes up the cudgels for Obama in a piece in which he assembles a raft of quotes from the president assuring us he will not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The quotes are accurate and consistent and lead Goldberg to believe the many attacks on the president’s record on Iran are unfair. The only problem with this argument is that they are just words. Obama’s critics on the issue have never had a problem with his pledges to do something about Iran. Rather, it is his lack of effective action that has branded him a failure in this case.

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Yesterday’s explosion at a facility in Isfahan, Iran is the sort of vague story that inspires hope the Islamic republic’s nuclear weapons program can be stopped. We don’t know whether what happened there was the result of sabotage by U.S. and/or Israeli agents, but whatever the cause, we can only pray the damage was serious. If so, this may be just one more piece of evidence proving that a covert war is being waged on Iran by foreign intelligence services that have sought to corrupt the ayatollah’s computers, kill their scientists and wreck their facilities by any means possible. While there are good reasons to be skeptical this campaign will be an effective answer to the nuclear threat, the possibility that the U.S. is doing all it can short of open war is the best, and perhaps only, defense of Barack Obama’s record on the issue.

Because force may be the only avenue left to stopping Iran, gaining an understanding of Obama’s real intentions on the issue is vital not only to the upcoming election but to the future of the region. On that score, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg takes up the cudgels for Obama in a piece in which he assembles a raft of quotes from the president assuring us he will not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The quotes are accurate and consistent and lead Goldberg to believe the many attacks on the president’s record on Iran are unfair. The only problem with this argument is that they are just words. Obama’s critics on the issue have never had a problem with his pledges to do something about Iran. Rather, it is his lack of effective action that has branded him a failure in this case.

A brief review of that record shows that the last three years have seen U.S. policy on Iran go from disaster to disaster. Obama wasted his first year in office on a foolish attempt at “engagement” with Iran that was predicated on the hubristic assumption the magic of the president’s personality would allow appeasement to succeed when previous efforts by both the U.S. and the Europeans had failed. Since then, Obama has attempted to assemble an international coalition in favor of sanctions that would force the Iranians to give in. The result has been less than satisfactory, because even after appeasing Russia and China, the best Obama could produce was a series of weak sanctions that the Iranians have mocked–just as they did his engagement efforts.

With the International Atomic Energy Association’s latest report on Iran’s progress towards a military application of nuclear power, the need for tougher sanctions is apparent. But Russia and China have both made it clear they will have none of it, leaving Obama with no effective diplomatic options. Washington has not enforced the existing weak sanctions on Iran even when it came to U.S. companies, so why should we expect the Russians and Germans, who do far more business with Tehran, to go along with harsher measures?

Add to that the clear signals coming from the administration indicating they are not even seriously considering the use of force if diplomacy fails and that they are working harder to pressure Israel to abstain from an attack than they are to persuade the rest of the world to agree to sanction Iran, and what you have is an indication that this administration is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, no matter what Obama says publicly. Under the circumstances, the ayatollahs could be justified in thinking their path to nukes is clear since they are, with the help of the Russians, well situated to run out the clock with negotiations until the day dawns when they can announce their first successful nuclear test.

All we have to balance against this litany of failure is the hope that somehow covert intelligence activity will be enough to make up for all of the time Obama’s failed diplomacy has bought the Iranian scientists. But considering that we don’t know how much damage the Stuxnet virus, the assassinations of Iranian nuclear technicians and the “accidents” occurring there have done or what role American intelligence has played in this drama, it is impossible to use it as a defense of Obama.

Goldberg concludes his piece by saying, “I have seen no proof to suggest that Obama would simply give up the fight” if his current diplomatic initiatives fail–as they almost certainly will. But in the last three years, as American appeasement and ineffectual diplomacy have granted Tehran a series of undeserved victories, Obama has given us no reason — let alone proof — to believe his promises to stop the ayatollahs are anything more than hot air. While Goldberg and other liberals may have faith in him, the only battle on Iran Obama appears dedicated to winning is the one for American public opinion in advance of the 2012 election.

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State Department Takes Action Against Chechen Leader

After the U.S. instituted a travel ban against the Russian officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Russia responded with its own visa “blacklist” of American officials unwelcome in the Russian Federation. But the State Department seems to have one-upped the Russians again.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s brutal surrogate in the North Caucasus, has now been given the diplomatic cold shoulder:

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After the U.S. instituted a travel ban against the Russian officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Russia responded with its own visa “blacklist” of American officials unwelcome in the Russian Federation. But the State Department seems to have one-upped the Russians again.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s brutal surrogate in the North Caucasus, has now been given the diplomatic cold shoulder:

Thoroughbred racing has always attracted a mix of royalty and rogues. Blue bloods like the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts have long been owners. So, too, have mischief-makers like the mobster Arnold Rothstein, who won the 1921 Travers at Saratoga with a racehorse named Sporting Blood.

It appears, though, at least in New York and in Kentucky, that there are limits to who can race a horse. Officials in those states have taken steps to exclude from racing a horse owned by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, who has been accused by human rights groups of murder, torture and other abuses over the years.

The fact that mobsters are more welcome in the horseracing industry than Kadyrov–whose exclusion from the races came at the behest of the State Department–speaks volumes about the tyrant. In 2009, the human rights group Memorial effectively shut its Chechen operation when one of its workers, Natalia Estemirova, was murdered and her co-workers fled. Memorial has been succeeded in the area by the Joint Mobile Group, whose members never travel alone and try to ensure their every movement is recorded and transmitted to the group’s distant headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod.

WikiLeaks cables released earlier this year showed American officials fretting that the most frequent threats to investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya came from “Kadyrov’s people.” Two days before she was gunned down, Politkovskaya told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that she was planning to go public with information about Kadyrov’s habit of torturing civilians.

None of this stopped celebrities like Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme from attending Kadyrov’s recent lavish birthday party. But the State Department, which apparently told two racetracks to rescind or withhold Kadyrov’s participation, made the right call. As the New York Times story acknowledges, the moral failings of racehorse owners are usually overlooked. It’s nice to know Kadyrov didn’t get a pass.

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Choosing a Nominee

Right now there’s an intense debate among Republicans and conservatives when it comes to who would be the better nominee, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Advocates for both men are putting forward lawyer’s briefs for and against each candidate. There’s something to be said for this approach. But as an alternative, let me suggest four categories that people of any political party might apply when choosing a nominee.

First, is the nominee electable? A person may have achieved a perfect record when it comes to purity tests. He may thrill the base. But if that individual cannot be elected, it won’t much matter. Barry Goldwater ran a principled, and in many respects an admirable, campaign in 1964 — and he was wiped out by Lyndon Johnson. As a result, we’re struggling mightily with the effects of the Great Society (and not only the Great Society). An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable defeat. But a loss is worse, and has much further-reaching consequences than a victory.

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Right now there’s an intense debate among Republicans and conservatives when it comes to who would be the better nominee, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Advocates for both men are putting forward lawyer’s briefs for and against each candidate. There’s something to be said for this approach. But as an alternative, let me suggest four categories that people of any political party might apply when choosing a nominee.

First, is the nominee electable? A person may have achieved a perfect record when it comes to purity tests. He may thrill the base. But if that individual cannot be elected, it won’t much matter. Barry Goldwater ran a principled, and in many respects an admirable, campaign in 1964 — and he was wiped out by Lyndon Johnson. As a result, we’re struggling mightily with the effects of the Great Society (and not only the Great Society). An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable defeat. But a loss is worse, and has much further-reaching consequences than a victory.

Second, what are the nominee’s core principles — and will he/she fight for them? Will a nominee, if elected, champion necessary reforms even if they might be momentarily unpopular? Does the person possess a “fighting faith” or do they bend and break in the face of strong winds? Will they create a legacy — or will their achievements amount to little more than footprints in the sand? To take a specific issue in our time: who in the GOP field would put their shoulder to the wheel when it comes to structurally reforming Medicare, which is urgent, necessary, and politically difficult? It’s one thing to give a speech and check the box during primary season; it’s quite another to dedicate oneself to a cause.

Third, basic competence. Will the nominee run a campaign, and later the White House, with efficiency, crispness, and professionalism? Good ideas are a necessary but not a sufficient condition; the acid test for those in government is whether their good ideas get translated into reality. The presidency is far more than a university seminar; it is about the nuts and bolts of governing. It involves the ability to prioritize an agenda, rally public opinion, negotiate with legislative allies and opponents, and turn policy proposals into concrete legislation. In addition, the success of a president also depends in large measure on the quality of the people with whom a president surrounds himself. Lincoln with McClellan was considered a failure; Lincoln with Grant was greatness.

Fourth, governing temperament and character. Which of the candidates are steady, well-grounded, discerning, self-disciplined, and wise? Are they people of integrity? Are they consumed by their resentments or are they free of bitterness? Are they disposed to view opponents as enemies? Do they learn from their mistakes and are they open to new evidence? In a crisis, do they demonstrate equanimity or erratic behavior? Are they tempted to cut ethical corners in the quest for power and success?

It’s unlikely any single person will excel in all these categories. We all possess certain strengths and weaknesses; the questions voters need to ask are what the mixture is, the degree to which virtues and vices off-set one another, and which qualities a candidate possesses best fit the moment in which we live. I’ll grant that it’s impossible for us to answer all of the questions posed above with certainty. We often don’t know how we would respond in a crisis, let alone a person we don’t know well at all.

My point is really rather basic: Greatness and excellence in human beings are the products of many different tributaries, including character and judgment. Those things are often intangible and therefore not always easy to discern. But neither are they hidden from our view, clouded in mist and shadows. Voters have to do the best they can to judge candidates in the totality of their acts. And then they have to hope they got it right.

 

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Report: Cain Reassessing Candidacy

Is Herman Cain reassessing his candidacy? That’s what Robert Costa’s reporting, and Cain’s campaign chief Mark Block apparently confirmed it with ABC. It sounds like we’ll know more in the next couple of days:

In a conference call this morning, Herman Cain told his senior staff that he is “reassessing” whether to remain in the race. He told them he will make his final decision “over the next several days.”

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Is Herman Cain reassessing his candidacy? That’s what Robert Costa’s reporting, and Cain’s campaign chief Mark Block apparently confirmed it with ABC. It sounds like we’ll know more in the next couple of days:

In a conference call this morning, Herman Cain told his senior staff that he is “reassessing” whether to remain in the race. He told them he will make his final decision “over the next several days.”

Why would the Cain campaign make this publicly known, unless he was already leaning toward dropping out? When you say you’re reassessing your candidacy, that doesn’t instill confidence in your supporters, and will likely prompt a lot of them to start taking a look at the other candidates. The politicians who managed to stay afloat after a scandal usually follow a typical pattern: deny as much as possible, remain defiant, and don’t even hint at the possibility of stepping down.

It also seems strange that Cain would consider stepping down now, when it’s still unclear what the impact of the allegations will be. He vehemently denied the affair last night, and right now the story is just at the “he said-she said” stage. If Cain’s telling the truth, why not fight this? Either he knows evidence will come out proving he lied to the public, or…what? Obviously it’s a stressful situation for his family, but if Cain was willing to put them through the sexual harassment allegations, why drop out now?

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Christie to Obama on Supercommittee Failure: What Are We Paying You For?

Chris Christie shows why he’s going to be a key asset to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, cutting through President Obama’s “adult-in-the-room” nonsense with this pitch-perfect critique today:

“I was angry this weekend, listening to the spin coming out of the administration, about the failure of the supercommittee, and that the president knew it was doomed for failure, so he didn’t get involved. Well then what the hell are we paying you for?” Christie said during a press conference in Camden, N.J. “It’s doomed for failure so I’m not getting involved? Well, what have you been doing, exactly?”

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Chris Christie shows why he’s going to be a key asset to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, cutting through President Obama’s “adult-in-the-room” nonsense with this pitch-perfect critique today:

“I was angry this weekend, listening to the spin coming out of the administration, about the failure of the supercommittee, and that the president knew it was doomed for failure, so he didn’t get involved. Well then what the hell are we paying you for?” Christie said during a press conference in Camden, N.J. “It’s doomed for failure so I’m not getting involved? Well, what have you been doing, exactly?”

Christie is exactly right. Obama’s hands-off attitude toward Congress is really just another example of his complete failure of leadership. And it’s a politically-motivated ploy, at that – he refuses to get his hands dirty by working with the supercommittee, and then he’s the first to point fingers at Congress and say, “I told you so” when the committee fails.

Republicans have been scrambling for a consistent message on the supercommittee debacle, and Christie may be pointing the way here. Instead of acting defensive and responding to attacks on congressional Republicans, Christie has turned the argument on its head: if Obama was so sure the supercommittee was going to end in disaster, why didn’t he intervene? That is his job, after all. Instead, he sat on the sidelines for months, never lifting a finger.

This line has been used before, but it’s fitting in this context: if you want to claim you’re the adult in the room, it helps to actually be in the room.

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U.S. Relations Have Soured Worldwide

Hundreds of enraged Pakistanis took to the streets across the country Sunday, burning an effigy of President Obama and setting fire to American flags after 24 soldiers died in NATO air strikes. Prime Minister Gilani said his country was re-evaluating its relationship with the United States. According to Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the average Pakistani’s respect for the United States is lower than ever. “[The average Pakistani who] doesn’t know the United States, doesn’t read about the United States or just watches something on television about the United States, at that level [the relations] are probably the worst they’ve ever been,” he explained. He added that the relationship between the U.S. government and Pakistan’s government is “on about as rocky a road as I’ve seen.”

Elsewhere in the world, our relations with Afghanistan and Iraq have frayed. Our relationship with Israel is at a low point, even as the Palestinian Authority ignored Obama and sought statehood through the United Nations. No progress has been made toward achieving peace in the Middle East. Our capacity to  shape events in Egypt (where the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be gaining in power) and Syria (where innocent people are being massacred in the streets) is severely restricted. Iran views Obama with disdain as it continues on its march toward achieving nuclear weapons. North Korea also seems immune to Obama’s charm. Read More

Hundreds of enraged Pakistanis took to the streets across the country Sunday, burning an effigy of President Obama and setting fire to American flags after 24 soldiers died in NATO air strikes. Prime Minister Gilani said his country was re-evaluating its relationship with the United States. According to Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the average Pakistani’s respect for the United States is lower than ever. “[The average Pakistani who] doesn’t know the United States, doesn’t read about the United States or just watches something on television about the United States, at that level [the relations] are probably the worst they’ve ever been,” he explained. He added that the relationship between the U.S. government and Pakistan’s government is “on about as rocky a road as I’ve seen.”

Elsewhere in the world, our relations with Afghanistan and Iraq have frayed. Our relationship with Israel is at a low point, even as the Palestinian Authority ignored Obama and sought statehood through the United Nations. No progress has been made toward achieving peace in the Middle East. Our capacity to  shape events in Egypt (where the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be gaining in power) and Syria (where innocent people are being massacred in the streets) is severely restricted. Iran views Obama with disdain as it continues on its march toward achieving nuclear weapons. North Korea also seems immune to Obama’s charm.

And there’s more. The efforts to “re-set” relations with Russia have failed. During the Bush presidency relations with Japan, China, India, Mexico, Colombia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Great Britain (to name just a few countries) were better than they have been during the Obama years. Relations with France and Germany are worse now than they were in Bush’s second term (Sarkozy and Merkel doubt Obama’s seriousness on Iran and don’t see the U.S. as a reliable partner in the Eurozone crisis). America’s counsel to Europe, on dealing with its crushing debt, has been politely ignored. Sub-Saharan Africa received greater attention from the last president than the current one. Nothing significant has been done on the matter of global warming. Guantanamo Bay remains open. And polls show that the United States under President Bush was more popular in the Arab world than it is under President Obama.

With these developments in mind, I decided to re-read several of Barack Obama’s foreign policy speeches and transcripts from debates during the 2008 campaign. And what one finds are extravagant promises, from a stronger and more sustained partnership with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Japan, India, and China; to getting leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations to join a new Global Energy Forum that would lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols; to ending our dependence on foreign oil; to deepening our engagement to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict; to closing Guantanamo Bay; to meeting (without preconditions) Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during Obama’s first year in office; to renewed respect for America in the Muslim world; to rapid economic growth in order to maintain our military superiority.

“Now it’s our moment to lead,” Obama said in an April 23, 2007 speech, “our generation’s time to tell another great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. That this was the time when we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time when we brought opportunity to those forgotten corners of the world.”

Obama made these promises despite having no experience in foreign policy. No matter; his unrivaled intelligence, persuasive powers, and capacity to think strategically and anticipate events would lead to a “new era of international cooperation.”

It hasn’t quite turned out that way, has it?

Under Obama, we were supposed to see the flowering of diplomacy; what we’ve seen instead is a relentless (and welcomed) commitment to kill terrorists. As for the diplomatic failures we’ve experienced over the last three years, they cannot all be laid at Obama’s feet. The world is complicated; the problems we face are often vexing; and the United States cannot control how every country on earth conducts itself. Pakistan would be a tough nut for any statesman to crack.

Now in saying this, it should be pointed out, I’m extending significantly more grace and understanding to President Obama than he ever extended to his predecessor. Back when he was running for office, nothing was beyond Obama’s powers, or so Obama seemed to believe. Conflicts, intransigence and a burning hatred for America were easily fixable; the world would be as simple to shape as hot wax. After all, how difficult can stopping Iran’s nuclear program be for a man who said his election would heal the planet and reverse the ocean tides?

In Henry IV, Glendower says, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” To which Hotspur replies, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?”

Obama has learned the hard way that he, like any man, can call spirits from the vasty deep — but often they will not come. And what then?

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64 Years Ago Today

On this day 64 years ago, Amos Oz was an eight-year old boy in Jerusalem, up after midnight to watch the large crowd outside his family’s tiny flat. They listened to the only radio available in that part of the city, a big black box that had been placed outside, with its volume turned up as loud as possible, so that everyone could hear the UN broadcast from Lake Success, New York, as the tension-filled roll call proceeded on a resolution to partition Palestine into two states: an Arab and a Jewish one.

In his autobiographical masterpiece, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Oz describes in a two-sentence paragraph the moment after the voice on the radio announced that the resolution had received the necessary two-thirds vote. He captured what Golda Meir meant when she described the moment as one for which the Jews had waited 2,000 years, a moment “so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.” Here is the paragraph:

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On this day 64 years ago, Amos Oz was an eight-year old boy in Jerusalem, up after midnight to watch the large crowd outside his family’s tiny flat. They listened to the only radio available in that part of the city, a big black box that had been placed outside, with its volume turned up as loud as possible, so that everyone could hear the UN broadcast from Lake Success, New York, as the tension-filled roll call proceeded on a resolution to partition Palestine into two states: an Arab and a Jewish one.

In his autobiographical masterpiece, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Oz describes in a two-sentence paragraph the moment after the voice on the radio announced that the resolution had received the necessary two-thirds vote. He captured what Golda Meir meant when she described the moment as one for which the Jews had waited 2,000 years, a moment “so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.” Here is the paragraph:

[The announcer’s voice] was swallowed up in a roar that burst from the radio, overflowing from the galleries in the hall at Lake Success, and after a couple more seconds of shock and disbelief, of lips parted as though in thirst and eyes wide open, our faraway street on the edge of Kerem Avraham in northern Jerusalem also roared all at once in a first terrifying shout that tore through the darkness and the buildings and the trees, piercing itself, not a shout of joy, nothing like the shouts of spectators in sports grounds or excited rioting crowds, perhaps more like a scream of horror and bewilderment, a cataclysmic shout, a shout that could shift rocks, that could freeze your blood, as though all the dead who had ever died here and all those still to die had received a brief window to shout, and the next moment the scream of horror was replaced by roars of joy and a medley of hoarse cries and “The Jewish People Lives” and somebody trying to sing “Hatikvah” and women shrieking and clapping and “Here in the Land Our Fathers Loved,” and the whole crowd started to revolve slowly around itself as though it were being stirred in a huge cement mixer, and there were no more restraints, and I jumped into my trousers but didn’t bother with a shirt or sweater and shot out our door, and some neighbor or stranger picked me up so I wouldn’t be trampled underfoot, and I was passed from hand to hand until I landed on my father’s shoulders near our front gate.  My father and mother were standing there hugging one another like two children lost in the woods, as I had never seen them before or since, and for a moment I was between them inside their hug and a moment later I was back on Father’s shoulders and my very cultured, polite father was standing there shouting at the top of his voice, not words or word-play or Zionist slogans, not even cries of joy, but one long naked shout like before words were invented.

The UN resolution that passed that night contained no less than 30 references to a “Jewish state.” The Palestinian Arabs could have celebrated their own state that night as well, but instead began the first of the successive conventional wars, terror wars, rocket wars, and diplomatic efforts intended to destroy the Jewish state. More than six decades later, there are still no Palestinian leaders who will agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even if it would give them the state they could have had from such recognition 64 years ago, without firing a shot or creating a single refugee.

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Re: The Moral Rot at the Core of the Human Rights Community

I’d like to add to Noah’s excellent post yesterday, in which he described how the “human rights community” has become infected with the moral rot of tolerance for terrorism. First, this particular moral rot isn’t confined to a few NGOs; it pervades the entire system of what is fondly called “international law” – which is why no self-respecting democracy should grant international law any credence.

Consider, for instance, a recent statement by one Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh: “The expulsion of Hamas from Jordan in 1999 was a political and legal error. I will tell you openly, when the expulsion took place, I opposed it.” Khasawneh is Jordan’s new prime minister, and if that were all he was, the statement wouldn’t be shocking. But he also spent more than a decade as one of the 15 judges on the International Court of Justice, including three years as the court’s vice president, and before his first nine-year term expired in 2009, he was reelected to a second.

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I’d like to add to Noah’s excellent post yesterday, in which he described how the “human rights community” has become infected with the moral rot of tolerance for terrorism. First, this particular moral rot isn’t confined to a few NGOs; it pervades the entire system of what is fondly called “international law” – which is why no self-respecting democracy should grant international law any credence.

Consider, for instance, a recent statement by one Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh: “The expulsion of Hamas from Jordan in 1999 was a political and legal error. I will tell you openly, when the expulsion took place, I opposed it.” Khasawneh is Jordan’s new prime minister, and if that were all he was, the statement wouldn’t be shocking. But he also spent more than a decade as one of the 15 judges on the International Court of Justice, including three years as the court’s vice president, and before his first nine-year term expired in 2009, he was reelected to a second.

In short, the world’s highest court included a judge who sees nothing wrong with blowing up buses, pizzerias  and Passover seders  (at least as long as the slain women, children and senior citizens are Israelis), and therefore thinks it was wrong to have expelled the perpetrator of these atrocities. While almost every democracy worldwide has declared Hamas a banned terrorist organization, the distinguished judge thinks Hamas’ expulsion by his own country was an “error.”

This is merely one symptom of the larger problem with international law: Because it by definition encompasses the whole world, every country has an equal voice in it; a terror-exporting theocratic dictatorship like Iran has equal weight with a model democracy like Denmark. And because most of the world’s countries are not exactly enlightened regimes, their outsized influence frequently distorts “international law” into something no actual supporter of human rights ought to touch with a 10-foot pole – like a judge on the world’s highest court who can say without shame that he sees nothing wrong with mass murders of civilians.

Yet, there’s an opposite form of rot that’s almost equally troubling: moral purism. Take, for instance, the recent failure to negotiate a treaty restricting the use of cluster munitions. The draft treaty was successfully opposed, inter alia, by disarmament groups, the Red Cross and UN development and human rights agencies, because it imposed fewer restrictions than a 2008 convention already signed by 111 countries. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except that the major users and producers of cluster munitions, including the U.S., Russia, China, India and Israel, all refused to sign the 2008 treaty, but were willing to sign this one. The countries that didn’t sign the earlier treaty hold some 85 percent of existing cluster munitions, and the new treaty would have sharply reduced their stockpiles. As the U.S. noted, it alone would have destroyed more cluster munitions under the new treaty than were destroyed by all 111 signatories of the 2008 treaty combined, potentially saving many lives. But the moral purists would rather save no lives than accept a less-than-ideal solution, one that sharply reduced cluster-bomb carnage rather than ending it entirely.

It’s hard to say which form of rot does more global damage. But both are good reasons to strip the human rights/international law industry of any remaining moral authority.

 

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Political Winds are Shifting on Medicare

The political/intellectual ground may be shifting beneath our feet.

According to the New York Times, members of Congress from both parties told the so-called supercommittee that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government. The Times points out that Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have endorsed variations of a premium support plan, in which Medicare would subsidize premiums charged by private insurers that care for beneficiaries under contract with the government. But what is noteworthy is that “some Democrats say that —if carefully designed, with enough protections for beneficiaries — it might work.”

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The political/intellectual ground may be shifting beneath our feet.

According to the New York Times, members of Congress from both parties told the so-called supercommittee that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government. The Times points out that Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have endorsed variations of a premium support plan, in which Medicare would subsidize premiums charged by private insurers that care for beneficiaries under contract with the government. But what is noteworthy is that “some Democrats say that —if carefully designed, with enough protections for beneficiaries — it might work.”

John C. Rother, president of the National Coalition on Health Care, which represents consumers, employers and providers, said, “The supercommittee may have laid the groundwork for future reductions in the growth of Medicare.” And Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, frequently quoted a statement by President Obama: “The major driver of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and our health care spending. Nothing comes close.”

The Times goes on to report, “Competition among private insurers has already driven down costs for prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Medicare’s drug benefit is delivered entirely by private insurers.”

To be sure, Democrats say the idea of restructuring Medicare as part of a large deficit reduction package must also include tax increases. Still, the case for major structural changes in Medicare is being made that would “limit the government’s open-ended financial commitment to the program.”

This is a world away from where we once were.

We’re still a long way from building a bi-partisan consensus on this issue. And some Democrats will undoubtedly try to use the Medicare issue to their advantage in the 2012 election. But my sense is that we’re in a different era, one in which “Mediscare” attacks will be much less potent than in the past. The math is incontestable and, unless significant changes are made to Medicare, a fiscal crisis is unavoidable. As a result, the political winds are shifting. And it looks as if those who argued that Republicans who voted in favor of structural reforms for Medicare (via the House GOP budget in April) were engaging in a political suicide mission were wrong. In fact, they were doing what needed to be done: putting forth arguments on behalf of a policy whose time has come. All honor is due them.

 

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The Alternative to Scrutiny of Political Private Lives

The latest calamity to befall the campaign of Herman Cain came yesterday in the form of a claim made by a Georgia woman that he had engaged in a 13-year extramarital affair with her. Cain immediately went on CNN to deny he had done anything wrong. Interestingly, even before Cain spoke, his lawyer, L. Lin Wood, issued a statement drawing a clear distinction between the earlier charges which involve actions that were legally actionable and this accusation which is, “of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public” but also pointedly not denying the matter.

One may argue that such things are, as Wood said, none of the public’s business. But do we really need to point out to Cain that when you run for president the rules are not the same as when you are a private individual? Such intrusions may not be fair and they may also, as many pointed out after Mitch Daniels chose not to run because of the scrutiny that would be given to his family, discourage the best people from running for high office. But while many fair-minded observers spend the next few days disparaging the prurient interest in this business shown by the media and a public always eager for gossip and scandal, it is also fair to ask what would be the implications if the press adopted a blanket policy of ignoring such accusations? That’s not a hypothetical question. Half a century ago, that was exactly what the press would have done. Indeed, it was what they did when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.

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The latest calamity to befall the campaign of Herman Cain came yesterday in the form of a claim made by a Georgia woman that he had engaged in a 13-year extramarital affair with her. Cain immediately went on CNN to deny he had done anything wrong. Interestingly, even before Cain spoke, his lawyer, L. Lin Wood, issued a statement drawing a clear distinction between the earlier charges which involve actions that were legally actionable and this accusation which is, “of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public” but also pointedly not denying the matter.

One may argue that such things are, as Wood said, none of the public’s business. But do we really need to point out to Cain that when you run for president the rules are not the same as when you are a private individual? Such intrusions may not be fair and they may also, as many pointed out after Mitch Daniels chose not to run because of the scrutiny that would be given to his family, discourage the best people from running for high office. But while many fair-minded observers spend the next few days disparaging the prurient interest in this business shown by the media and a public always eager for gossip and scandal, it is also fair to ask what would be the implications if the press adopted a blanket policy of ignoring such accusations? That’s not a hypothetical question. Half a century ago, that was exactly what the press would have done. Indeed, it was what they did when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.

Kennedy’s conduct established a precedent that should remind those of us now inclined to believe that the media should back off of Cain or any other politician who might be caught doing something embarrassing that we pay a different kind of price when such things are covered up. JFK’s shenanigans may be the exception that proves the rule, but he also showed that when journalists treat a president like a buddy whose indiscretions must be covered up, it could lead to serious complications. Those members of the White House press corps who didn’t think it was their business to report about the president’s affairs eventually had to explain why they said nothing when the leader of the free world was sharing a mistress with a Mafia kingpin. His example shows that such concerns are not so much a desire to enforce a puritanical code as a matter of public safety.

You may say this has nothing to do with Cain’s life or that of any contemporary office holder or candidate, but the answer is that when politicians are not held accountable for their behavior, we can’t be surprised when they, like most people given similar impunity, run wild. As brutal as this is for their families, I, for one, would rather live in a country where the press doesn’t protect politicians from the consequences of their behavior than one in which the JFK precedent is repeated.

As for Cain, all we can say is the last time America was confronted with a politician who was faced with allegations of both affairs and sexual harassment, his own party gave him a pass. Which means that the talking point for Cain’s partisans must now switch from complaints about him being subjected to the same unfair attacks as Clarence Thomas to a demand that he be given the Bill Clinton treatment. If the same party that impeached Clinton agrees to this, then the least we can say of them is they are hypocrites.

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