Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 2011

The Jewish Dissent Canard

Yesterday, Marc Tracy, a blogger for Tablet, posted a response to Jonathan Neumann’s COMMENTARY article, “Occupy Wall Street and the Jews.” As an aside, he posited that “dissent and heresy” constitute the “other, dialectical half” of Judaism’s obsession with “laws and authority.”

This, in its pithy way –stated as a fact so self-evident that it need not be justified – illustrates well today’s central American Jewish argument over Judaism and Jewish authenticity, revealing how far from the true facts of things a small but well-placed minority of writers, philanthropists, and activists have strayed
and how, by so doing, they have set the latest roadblock to an invigorated American Jewish future.

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Yesterday, Marc Tracy, a blogger for Tablet, posted a response to Jonathan Neumann’s COMMENTARY article, “Occupy Wall Street and the Jews.” As an aside, he posited that “dissent and heresy” constitute the “other, dialectical half” of Judaism’s obsession with “laws and authority.”

This, in its pithy way –stated as a fact so self-evident that it need not be justified – illustrates well today’s central American Jewish argument over Judaism and Jewish authenticity, revealing how far from the true facts of things a small but well-placed minority of writers, philanthropists, and activists have strayed
and how, by so doing, they have set the latest roadblock to an invigorated American Jewish future.

The basic claim is this: A central aspect of the Jewish tradition (“half” of it, let’s say) is opposition. Figures like Hannah Arendt or Spinoza are cast as the central Jewish protagonists in a supposedly long-arching tradition.

More charitably, the claim is most likely driven by a vague sense of the Talmudic tradition, the great and awe-inspiring discussions that characterized the intellectual life of the long-vanished academies at Sura, Pumbedita and elsewhere.

Perhaps there is justification in casting this tradition as “dialectical,” if one is reaching for the ancient Socratic sense of the word. More likely though in its common usage today it is derivative of the Hegelian tradition popularized by Marx and, especially when coupled with the supposedly sacred values of dissent and heresy, little more than an intellectual club thought to be sufficiently sturdy to batter away all opposing arguments.

This is the central problem with the “Judaism as dissent” meme. Modern terms and ways of thinking about politics are coupled with a thin Jewish veneer to make far-reaching and radical claims about the Jewish past and future. Clothed in supposed authenticity, they are cast as, at a minimum, worthy halves of a Jewish tradition we all must grapple with.

The great intellectual tradition of the Jews has always been based on an expansive conception of truth and obligation, and not just halfway. The fire of the Talmudic tradition is driven by the conviction by interlocutors like Hillel and Shammai that they were in search of eternal truths God had revealed to the Jewish people, not by the postures of dissent or, even less, heresy. The Talmud in fact has its own idiomatic heretic: Elisha ben Abuyah, a brilliant student derided in the text as acher, “other,” precisely because his radical dissent from those truths eventually moved him outside of the community.

Today’s partisans of Jewish dissent likely believe that they are replenishing a tradition stunted in those American synagogues where rituals like responsive English readings are indeed stale and inauthentic.

Glorifying dissent though is simply today’s version of packaging the Jewish tradition in a contemporary box deemed more palatable than the true tradition, whose wonders only reveal themselves through patient and difficult study and are usually not in style on Madison Avenue.

Worst of all, the dissent posture so attractive to this cohort and the world they live in probably does not have nearly the resonance those inauthentic synagogues had for our parents’ generation, and so does not have the resources sufficient to match even their accomplishments. Which means that in the efforts of writers like Tracy, if they cannot be dissuaded from their strange path, we are seeing the emergence of a tiny yet indulged and influential American Jewish generation with little chance of appealing to anyone but itself and therefore doing its part to ensure that another generation of American Jews must pass before we can find one able to grapple honestly with the majesty of its own tradition.

 

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Perry’s Ignorance is Not a Virtue

ABC News reports Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted he didn’t know about the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, a case which struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law and similar laws in 13 others. The case was decided while Perry was governor, and he even wrote about it in his book Fed Up!, calling it one of the court cases in which “Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes.”

But in Iowa yesterday, Perry said, “I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t, I’m not even going to try to go through every Supreme Court case, that would be — I’m not a lawyer.” He added, “We can sit here and you know play I gotcha questions on what about this Supreme Court case or whatever, but let me tell you, you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C., it’s not some Supreme Court case.”
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ABC News reports Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted he didn’t know about the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, a case which struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law and similar laws in 13 others. The case was decided while Perry was governor, and he even wrote about it in his book Fed Up!, calling it one of the court cases in which “Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes.”

But in Iowa yesterday, Perry said, “I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t, I’m not even going to try to go through every Supreme Court case, that would be — I’m not a lawyer.” He added, “We can sit here and you know play I gotcha questions on what about this Supreme Court case or whatever, but let me tell you, you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C., it’s not some Supreme Court case.”

Asked by a columnist with the Austin American Statesman for clarification on whether he knew what the case was about, Perry responded, “I’m not taking the bar exam…I don’t know what a lot of legal cases involve.” When told that the Supreme Court case struck down the Texas sodomy law, Perry said, “My position on traditional marriage is clear…. I don’t need a federal law case to explain it to me.”

This episode illustrates why some of us are wary of those (like Perry and Herman Cain) who make a virtue of being outsiders and seemingly take pride in their ignorance, as if it’s proof of their outsider status.

To devalue the significance of “some Supreme Court case” is silly and unwise, to say nothing of being at odds with Perry’s own past statements. Lawrence v. Texas was hardly an obscure case, especially for a man who was serving as governor of Texas at the time. And to ask Perry to comment on the case hardly qualifies as a “gotcha question” (an all-purpose defense for people like Perry, Cain, and Sarah Palin).

I, for one, appreciate politicians who have actually done their homework before they run for president, who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and a command of the issues. Knowledge isn’t a substitute for wisdom, of course — but neither is knowledge antithetical to it. And Rick Perry has shown, time and time again, that he’s simply not prepared for a presidential run. This is one reason why he won’t win the GOP nomination.

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Will the Right Turn on Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s surge in Iowa can still be measured in terms of days rather than weeks, but even this late sign of life in a campaign that many had thought to be dead only a couple of weeks ago is prompting some on the right to turn on the right-to-life favorite as insufficiently conservative. In a race where it seems all are entitled to their moment only to be followed by a bitter backlash that cuts them down to size, the last minute nature of Santorum’s bubble won’t apparently deprive him of a few days of critical and somewhat nasty scrutiny. But the attack on Santorum from Red State’s Erick Erickson as an “earmarxist” and “pro-life statist” has got to be confusing for a liberal media for whom the former Pennsylvania senator is a symbol of everything they hate about conservatives.

Erickson’s posts (here and here) about Santorum the last couple of days has laid out the case that Santorum’s record in the House and the Senate as a “big government” conservative makes him a “co-conspirator” with liberals who defend the federal leviathan. For him, Santorum was, like former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a major culprit in the K Street project in which Republicans enlisted lobbyists to further their own interests. But though I think Santorum has little chance of beating Barack Obama in a general election and agree with Erickson that no matter how well Santorum does in Iowa he can’t be nominated, the assault on this week’s flavor of the month is more than a bit unfair.

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Rick Santorum’s surge in Iowa can still be measured in terms of days rather than weeks, but even this late sign of life in a campaign that many had thought to be dead only a couple of weeks ago is prompting some on the right to turn on the right-to-life favorite as insufficiently conservative. In a race where it seems all are entitled to their moment only to be followed by a bitter backlash that cuts them down to size, the last minute nature of Santorum’s bubble won’t apparently deprive him of a few days of critical and somewhat nasty scrutiny. But the attack on Santorum from Red State’s Erick Erickson as an “earmarxist” and “pro-life statist” has got to be confusing for a liberal media for whom the former Pennsylvania senator is a symbol of everything they hate about conservatives.

Erickson’s posts (here and here) about Santorum the last couple of days has laid out the case that Santorum’s record in the House and the Senate as a “big government” conservative makes him a “co-conspirator” with liberals who defend the federal leviathan. For him, Santorum was, like former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a major culprit in the K Street project in which Republicans enlisted lobbyists to further their own interests. But though I think Santorum has little chance of beating Barack Obama in a general election and agree with Erickson that no matter how well Santorum does in Iowa he can’t be nominated, the assault on this week’s flavor of the month is more than a bit unfair.

The Tea Party purist argument against Santorum that Erickson employs depicts him as an unredeemed big spender whose social conservative credentials shouldn’t deceive right-wingers into thinking he opposes big government. It is true that Santorum has sometimes voted for Republican spending sprees such as the prescription drug benefit and, yes, like so many other members of Congress, he acted sometimes as if his priority was to help Pennsylvania industries and projects via earmarks rather than to cut the budget and taxes.

But a fair look at his record shows that what Santorum did in his 12 years in the Senate and four years during which he was in the majority for almost all of it, was to try to govern. In a race where some, like Michele Bachmann, speak as if getting things done in Washington is merely a matter of asserting the correct policy and demanding that others bow to that dictate, Santorum is a man who understands how difficult it is to get anything done. Like the rest of the Republican Party during those years he may have made some mistakes. He is not, like Pat Toomey who now represents Pennsylvania in the Senate, a purist (and surely, one of Santorum’s worst mistakes for which some Pennsylvania conservatives have never forgiven him is his backing for Arlen Specter against Toomey in 2004) on the question of earmarks, taxes and spending. But to speak of him as part of the problem rather than someone who has genuinely sought to make a conservative difference is to distort the record.

Erickson is also wrong when he asserts that Santorum lost his race for re-election because of widespread disillusionment with Republican spending. It is true that the Jack Abramoff and other scandals played a big part in the 2006 GOP debacle. But in Santorum’s case, it would be a mistake to claim that Pennsylvanians rejected him because he brought home to the state too much bacon, even if I would agree that this wasn’t all that praiseworthy. Rather, Santorum’s problem was that in his second term in the Senate he allowed himself to become totally identified with social conservative issues–which was a mistake in a basically moderate state. His decision to highlight hard-line stances on abortion and gays and his prominence in the Terri Schiavo case made him look like an extremist.

The other reason he lost in a landslide was the war in Iraq. Santorum was a strong supporter of the war and bore the brunt for its unpopularity. Though the issue had little resonance at the time, Santorum also made concern about Iran and its nuclear program a prominent part of his campaign. His prescience on that issue is to his credit. Foreign policy is actually his greatest strength, even if he is better known for his uncompromising stances on social issues.

Santorum’s asset in Iowa is still his weakness in less conservative states. His identification with a strident social conservative agenda is such that it will make it difficult if not impossible for him to gain the votes of many independents or Democrats. But to put him down as insufficiently conservative on economics is a sign some conservatives are more interested in narrow ideological purity than anything else. Erickson sees Santorum’s rise as hurting Bachmann, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, whom he seems to prefer. He’s right about that, but to view any in that trio as more electable than Santorum is absurd.

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Obama’s Childish Playacting

In an interview on MSNBC, Politico’s Mike Allen, in discussing the confidence in President Obama’s camp, relayed what he was told: “We still have Michael Jordan.” This echoes a comment Obama himself reportedly once made: “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.”

Now, the references to Michael Jordan and LeBron James shouldn’t be confused with those made during the 2008 campaign, when Obama was referred to by his aides as the “black Jesus.” (Though even Jesus, it should be pointed out, didn’t promise to heal the planet, repair the world, and reverse the rise of the oceans, as Obama said he would do if elected president.)

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In an interview on MSNBC, Politico’s Mike Allen, in discussing the confidence in President Obama’s camp, relayed what he was told: “We still have Michael Jordan.” This echoes a comment Obama himself reportedly once made: “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.”

Now, the references to Michael Jordan and LeBron James shouldn’t be confused with those made during the 2008 campaign, when Obama was referred to by his aides as the “black Jesus.” (Though even Jesus, it should be pointed out, didn’t promise to heal the planet, repair the world, and reverse the rise of the oceans, as Obama said he would do if elected president.)

You might think that nearly three years of shooting air balls would cause Obama and his aides to stay away from comparisons to Jordan and James, as well as to FDR and Lincoln. (“I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln,” Obama told “60 Minutes.” The use of the word “possible” is priceless.) But you would be wrong. The Obama cult of personality, with a touch of narcissistic personality disorder, goes on.

And you can count on one thing: If Obama is defeated in 2012, his narrative will be that we the American people were not worthy of the Great and Mighty Obama. Perhaps we can take some comfort that no people on Earth possibly could be.

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So Much for Hamas’s Change of Heart

In recent weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about the big changes going on inside Hamas. The Islamist terrorist organization is, we are told, about to drop its commitment to “armed resistance” against Israel and adopt a policy of non-violence. There has even been speculation it will soon drop its refusal to recognize or negotiate with Israel as the unity pact it signed with its Fatah rivals allow it to become part of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank.

This flies in the face of everything we know about the terror group. But there is no need for skeptics to merely trust their instincts about Hamas. The group is itself making it clear its predilection for violence is not about to change. A spokesman for Hamas dismissed the reports about an order to cease attacks on Israel as so absurd it didn’t even merit a response. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said claims that Hamas had abandoned the armed struggle “reflect the state of despair that the Israeli government is facing as a result of the firmness of the Palestinian resistance.”

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In recent weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about the big changes going on inside Hamas. The Islamist terrorist organization is, we are told, about to drop its commitment to “armed resistance” against Israel and adopt a policy of non-violence. There has even been speculation it will soon drop its refusal to recognize or negotiate with Israel as the unity pact it signed with its Fatah rivals allow it to become part of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank.

This flies in the face of everything we know about the terror group. But there is no need for skeptics to merely trust their instincts about Hamas. The group is itself making it clear its predilection for violence is not about to change. A spokesman for Hamas dismissed the reports about an order to cease attacks on Israel as so absurd it didn’t even merit a response. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said claims that Hamas had abandoned the armed struggle “reflect the state of despair that the Israeli government is facing as a result of the firmness of the Palestinian resistance.”

It is natural for Westerners and Jews to attempt to project their own values on Hamas and to imagine that with enough patience and reason, the group can be persuaded to live in peace with Israel. But despite the political deals that Hamas might make as it attempts to maneuver its way into power in the West Bank in addition to its stronghold in Gaza, terrorism is not just a tactic for Hamas, it is the essence of its approach to Zionism. Just as Palestinian nationalism cannot define itself in any way but as an attempt to extinguish the Jewish state, so, too, is it impossible for Hamas to articulate its Islamist beliefs without resorting to violence. It isn’t just a tactic. It is integral to their worldview and their own sense of legitimacy as a Palestinian political organization.

Any expectation that this will change says more about the naïveté of some observers of the Middle East than it does about Hamas’s intentions toward Israel.

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General, Can You Spare a Billion?

The New York Times ran a story yesterday that is, at least to citizens of the English-speaking world, quite astonishing.

The overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the subsequent troubles have badly impacted the Egyptian economy. Not surprisingly, both foreign investment and the vital tourist industry have more or less disappeared. As a result, the Egyptian currency is under pressure, as foreign exchange reserves drain away to meet import needs. To help out (and, hopefully, to get some good publicity, which it badly needs) the Egyptian military has loaned the central bank $1 billion to shore up the Egyptian pound.

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The New York Times ran a story yesterday that is, at least to citizens of the English-speaking world, quite astonishing.

The overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the subsequent troubles have badly impacted the Egyptian economy. Not surprisingly, both foreign investment and the vital tourist industry have more or less disappeared. As a result, the Egyptian currency is under pressure, as foreign exchange reserves drain away to meet import needs. To help out (and, hopefully, to get some good publicity, which it badly needs) the Egyptian military has loaned the central bank $1 billion to shore up the Egyptian pound.

As in many countries that lack the Anglo-American tradition of strict civilian control of the armed forces, Egypt’s military runs a vast commercial empire and doesn’t even report the profits to the civilian government, let alone turn them over to the treasury. As the Times reports,

“If they lend $1 billion, it means they have got a far greater amount out there,” Ragui Assaad, an Egyptian economist at the University of Minnesota, said in a telephone interview. “They want to show that they are trying to be as helpful as they can, but it is also a reminder that they have this big autonomous budget.”

This huge cash flow gives the military both independence from and influence over the civilian authorities. That this is a big problem can be demonstrated by quotes from two major 20th-century figures:

Georges Clemenceau: “War is too important to be left to generals.”

Harry S Truman: “If it were against the law for generals to be stupid, the jails would be full of them.”

 

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Hypocritical Dems In No Position to Blast GOP Over Paul

For years, Democrats have been on the defensive about the not inconsiderable portion of their party that was hostile to the State of Israel. But the attention and support being given Ron Paul in the Republican presidential race is giving them an opportunity to roast members of the GOP for refusing to treat the libertarian extremist as being beyond the pale of American politics. Thus, it was no surprise to read that the National Jewish Democratic Council condemned Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for saying they would vote for Paul if he turned out to be the Republican nominee.

But to say this stance is hypocritical is an understatement. Did Jewish Democrats denounce their mainstream candidates for cozying up to racial hucksters and foes of Israel such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and pretending, as Romney and Santorum now do for Paul, that these persons were preferable to any Republican? Did they denounce their party for treating Jimmy Carter as a respected elder statesman? Of course not. Though it is troubling to see the other GOP candidates treat Paul as if he were a reasonable presidential choice, that is the way the game is played. Democrats are no more righteous in this respect than Republicans.

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For years, Democrats have been on the defensive about the not inconsiderable portion of their party that was hostile to the State of Israel. But the attention and support being given Ron Paul in the Republican presidential race is giving them an opportunity to roast members of the GOP for refusing to treat the libertarian extremist as being beyond the pale of American politics. Thus, it was no surprise to read that the National Jewish Democratic Council condemned Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for saying they would vote for Paul if he turned out to be the Republican nominee.

But to say this stance is hypocritical is an understatement. Did Jewish Democrats denounce their mainstream candidates for cozying up to racial hucksters and foes of Israel such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and pretending, as Romney and Santorum now do for Paul, that these persons were preferable to any Republican? Did they denounce their party for treating Jimmy Carter as a respected elder statesman? Of course not. Though it is troubling to see the other GOP candidates treat Paul as if he were a reasonable presidential choice, that is the way the game is played. Democrats are no more righteous in this respect than Republicans.

In truth, much of the Republican Party has rightly treated Paul as anathema. The Republican Jewish Coalition rightly refused to invite him to their presidential forum. It is also reassuring to see that the other candidates are finally shifting from a strategy of ignoring Paul’s radical approach to foreign policy and instead pointing out just how dangerous he and his ideas are.

But to expect the leading candidates to go out of their way to snub Paul or to declare him unfit for the presidency is unrealistic. Just as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry held their noses and pretended that Jackson and Sharpton were reasonable alternatives for the presidency because they wanted their supporters’ votes in the fall, so, too, do Republicans pander to Paul.

The emergence of Paul is a worrisome sign not just for Republicans but all Americans. The limited success he has enjoyed so far illustrates that despite the overwhelming support of most Americans across the political spectrum for Israel, there is still a good-sized minority on the margins of both the left and the right that must be confronted. It is to be hoped Paul’s numbers will decline as his connections with racist and extremist forces get more exposure.

It is some consolation to Republicans that Paul does far better in the polls with Democrats and independents than he does with Republicans, a point that should give partisans like the NJDC pause before they speak too loudly about the libertarian’s source of support. Given that polls also show Republicans to be even more devoted to Israel than most Democrats, there is no chance he will be the nominee.

But it takes an extra helping of chutzpah for the NJDC, a group that has relentlessly defended every swipe at Israel on the part of the Obama administration, to start demanding Republicans take loyalty tests to the Jewish state. Though the NJDC claims Republicans who refuse to condemn Paul are putting party above principle, their endless apologias for Obama and other liberal Democrats who have distanced themselves from Israel are no different than the trimming being done by Romney and Santorum about Paul.

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CAP Under Fire for Anti-Israel Comment About Sen. Kirk

The dustup over anti-Israel comments made by writers and analysts at the Center for American Progress continued this week, after several pro-Israel organizations criticized the think tank for turning a blind eye to staffers who used terms like “Israel Firster” and accused members of Congress of having an allegiance to the Israel lobby.

The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal spoke to anti-Semitism historian Jeffrey Herf, who saw historical, anti-Jewish connotations in the CAP writers’ comments:

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The dustup over anti-Israel comments made by writers and analysts at the Center for American Progress continued this week, after several pro-Israel organizations criticized the think tank for turning a blind eye to staffers who used terms like “Israel Firster” and accused members of Congress of having an allegiance to the Israel lobby.

The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal spoke to anti-Semitism historian Jeffrey Herf, who saw historical, anti-Jewish connotations in the CAP writers’ comments:

In a telephone conversation with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf, who has authored books on anti-Semitism, said the phrase “Israel Firsters” is “dangerous.” The notion of “Israel Firsters” “delegitimizes support for Israel” and stokes the “dual-loyalty” charge against American Jews, he said.

The dual-loyalty conspiracy theory existed on “the far Left and far Right of American politics but has not yet seeped into the center of American politics,” Herf said.

CAP blogger Zaid Jilani used the term “Israel Firster” on Twitter several times, but deleted the tweets and apologized after his remarks were publicized. Another CAP blogger, Ali Gharib, was also criticized in the JPost story about his insinuation that Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, was a representative of AIPAC. Gharib made the comment on his private Twitter account:

Gharib wrote that Senator “… Mark Kirk (R-AIPAC) should care about *anyone* other than Israel.”

When asked about Gharib’s statement that the senator from Illinois represents AIPAC, [CAP spokeswoman Andrea] Purse declined to comment. …

[NGO Monitor President Gerald] Steinberg said, “And Gharib’s inference that Senator Kirk is controlled by AIPAC because he supports tough Iran sanctions is equally absurd and sadly reminiscent of campaigns that allege that Jews control American foreign policy. Gharib’s statement also should be publicly condemned by CAP.”

Gharib issued a clarification and apology for his Kirk comment on Twitter yesterday:

One my tweets several months ago, a crude characterization of a senator is being seized upon by critics branding me as an anti-Semite.(1/2)

(2/2) While the accusations are completely false and contemptible, I do apologize for the crudeness of the flippant tweet in question.

Kirk hasn’t weighed in on the controversy yet, but the JPost story has already drawn attention on the Hill. One Republican congressional aide said Gharib’s comment amounted to a charge of “dual loyalty” against a sitting U.S. senator.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see a U.S. senator lower him or herself to respond directly to a relatively unknown fringe blogger but clearly the Jerusalem Post story has forced this issue into the mainstream public debate,” one GOP congressional aide told me. “Gharib’s bosses probably told him he crossed the line and forced him to apologize. In the end, Team Podesta doesn’t want this kind of publicity and they certainly don’t want to be seen accusing U.S. senators who serve in the U.S. military of dual loyalty.”

Questions have also been raised about why stories by CAP bloggers have appeared in the vehemently anti-Israel fringe publication The Electronic Intifada. According to CAP’s spokesperson, EI republished the articles without permission. But critics have pointed out that stories by Gharib and fellow CAP blogger Eli Clifton still remain on EI’s site, despite the alleged lack of authorization.

The CAP saga is a broader reflection of growing internal divisions within the Democratic Party and on the progressive-left. Now that Republicans and the conservative movement have turned support for Israel into a key value issue, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist segments of the isolationist far-right have found themselves unwelcome in the party. During the past decade and a half they’ve started to swell the ranks of the anti-Zionists in the left-wing pro-Palestinian and anti-war movements. The Democratic Party now has to decide whether it wants to let this strain of anti-Zionism trickle into its mainstream institutions, or whether it will reject these ideas, just like the conservative movement once did.

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Sinking Gingrich Flails at Krauthammer

Newt Gingrich has been trying to play the good guy who won’t attack his competitors–at least some of the time. But as his poll numbers head south in the last days before the Iowa caucuses, the candidate’s campaign is getting desperate and nasty. Politico reports that a statement issued by Winning Our Future, an independent group supporting the former speaker’s candidacy, launched an all-out attack on columnist Charles Krauthammer for his criticisms of Gingrich. According to the group, the distinguished conservative thinker is part of an “establishment media” campaign against Gingrich.

It is hard to know what is more bizarre: Gingrich’s attempt to cast Fox News and Krauthammer (who appears on the network) as the “media establishment” or the way this quintessential Washington insider/influence peddler is attempting to masquerade as an outsider in the capital. Gingrich, who likes to style himself the intellectual of the presidential race, is channeling Sarah Palin, who at one point attacked Krauthammer for being too elitist because he criticized her for lack of knowledge of the issues. But in this case, Gingrich’s minions are claiming that Krauthammer is “jealous” of Newt’s smarts. Especially grating for the Gingrich loyalists is the fact that Krauthammer mocked their candidate’s preposterous claim that his failure to get on the Virginia primary ballot was a disaster akin to the attack on Pearl Harbor; a statement so astonishing that Krauthammer cannot be blamed for treating it and its author as a joke.

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Newt Gingrich has been trying to play the good guy who won’t attack his competitors–at least some of the time. But as his poll numbers head south in the last days before the Iowa caucuses, the candidate’s campaign is getting desperate and nasty. Politico reports that a statement issued by Winning Our Future, an independent group supporting the former speaker’s candidacy, launched an all-out attack on columnist Charles Krauthammer for his criticisms of Gingrich. According to the group, the distinguished conservative thinker is part of an “establishment media” campaign against Gingrich.

It is hard to know what is more bizarre: Gingrich’s attempt to cast Fox News and Krauthammer (who appears on the network) as the “media establishment” or the way this quintessential Washington insider/influence peddler is attempting to masquerade as an outsider in the capital. Gingrich, who likes to style himself the intellectual of the presidential race, is channeling Sarah Palin, who at one point attacked Krauthammer for being too elitist because he criticized her for lack of knowledge of the issues. But in this case, Gingrich’s minions are claiming that Krauthammer is “jealous” of Newt’s smarts. Especially grating for the Gingrich loyalists is the fact that Krauthammer mocked their candidate’s preposterous claim that his failure to get on the Virginia primary ballot was a disaster akin to the attack on Pearl Harbor; a statement so astonishing that Krauthammer cannot be blamed for treating it and its author as a joke.

The point here is not so much that Gingrich and his crowd don’t have a clue about who or what is the “establishment.” The intended targets of this attack — Fox, Krauthammer and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal–are the intellectual guerrilla forces who have been intrepidly attacking liberal orthodoxies during the last decade while Gingrich was helping companies game the system in Washington.

Rather, it is the desperation evident as his house of cards campaign implodes. It was only a matter of time before his manifest liabilities in terms of his inconsistencies and monumental egotism began to grate on the public. But rather than go down in a dignified manner befitting the scholar he likes to play at the debates, Gingrich will sink while awkwardly flailing away at those who refused to ignore his obvious deficiencies. It isn’t a pretty picture, but the collapse of a presidential campaign never is.

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Ron Paul: Where Left Meets Right

It has long been apparent that Ron Paul’s isolationist foreign policy has far more to do with the agenda of the anti-American left than anything resembling the ideas conservatives support. But, surprisingly, that confluence of far left and far right may also apply to his domestic concerns. As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack reports, yesterday Paul threw a bouquet to the Occupy Wall Street movement and even compared it favorably with the Tea Party.

According to Paul, both the Tea Party and the Occupiers are citizens upset with the status quo, seek to overturn the political establishment and have far more in common than they suspect. This is, of course, nonsense. The Tea Party is about individual responsibility (remember, it started over mortgage defaulters having their bills paid by other citizens who pay their way) while Occupy is about entitlement and envy. They only look like the same thing if you are, like Paul, someone who is so obsessed with things like the Federal Reserve and opposing the defense of American interests and values abroad, that you lose perspective about how we can defend the freedom he says he believes in so deeply.

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It has long been apparent that Ron Paul’s isolationist foreign policy has far more to do with the agenda of the anti-American left than anything resembling the ideas conservatives support. But, surprisingly, that confluence of far left and far right may also apply to his domestic concerns. As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack reports, yesterday Paul threw a bouquet to the Occupy Wall Street movement and even compared it favorably with the Tea Party.

According to Paul, both the Tea Party and the Occupiers are citizens upset with the status quo, seek to overturn the political establishment and have far more in common than they suspect. This is, of course, nonsense. The Tea Party is about individual responsibility (remember, it started over mortgage defaulters having their bills paid by other citizens who pay their way) while Occupy is about entitlement and envy. They only look like the same thing if you are, like Paul, someone who is so obsessed with things like the Federal Reserve and opposing the defense of American interests and values abroad, that you lose perspective about how we can defend the freedom he says he believes in so deeply.

The point here is not just that Paul is far removed from the Republican mainstream though, of course, he is. Every poll shows the group he does most poorly with is registered Republicans. His bow to the Occupy Wall Street crowd makes sense, because left-wingers are far more likely to view him favorably than Republicans, even those with libertarian leanings. While some in the GOP share his instinctive distrust of government, Paul’s all-purpose extremism is easy to understand, because as far as he is concerned, there is really no difference between his rationalizing the Taliban and Iran and his sympathy for the neo-Marxist Occupiers. As Paul said:

I think some people like to paint Occupy left and the Tea Party people right, but I think it makes my point. There’s a lot of people unhappy, and they’re not so happy with the two party system because we have had people go in and out of office, Congress changes, the presidency changes, they run on one thing, they do something else. Nothing ever changes. And I sort of like it because I make the point that if you’re a Republican or Democrat the foreign policy doesn’t really change, even though there’s a strong Republican tradition of the foreign policy I’ve been talking about where we don’t get involved in policing the world. Does the monetary policy change? Do they really care about reining in the Fed? Would the Fed bail out all these countries around the world? More and more people know that now. But monetary policy doesn’t change.

Far from representing the values of conservative Tea Partiers who respect the Constitution, Paul’s obsessive hatred for the institutions of government and America’s place in the world is the antithesis of their world view.

The nexus of the far right and the far left has always been a dangerous place where extremists of all kinds, including racists and anti-Semites, linger. So it’s no surprise that Paul has pandered to these groups with his newsletters as well as his isolationism and conspiracy theories about 9/11. While he may be enjoying a momentary surge in Iowa, his politics of destruction are part of a long-failed tradition of populist extremism that has little appeal to most Republicans or mainstream America.

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Turkey Not Interested in Justice

Turkey has a terrorism problem, though not just the Kurdish one it often claims. The Turkish government, for example, embraces Hamas and Hezbollah and Prime Minister Erdogan himself has offered a character reference to an al-Qaeda financier to which Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor, had donated money.

Against this backdrop, it is tragic that the Obama administration has removed equipment needed by our troops in Afghanistan in order to woo the Turkish government and support its fight against terrorism. Never did the White House or State Department use their leverage to demand that Turkey accept a common definition of terrorism that would not give Palestinian and anti-Israel groups a free pass.

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Turkey has a terrorism problem, though not just the Kurdish one it often claims. The Turkish government, for example, embraces Hamas and Hezbollah and Prime Minister Erdogan himself has offered a character reference to an al-Qaeda financier to which Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor, had donated money.

Against this backdrop, it is tragic that the Obama administration has removed equipment needed by our troops in Afghanistan in order to woo the Turkish government and support its fight against terrorism. Never did the White House or State Department use their leverage to demand that Turkey accept a common definition of terrorism that would not give Palestinian and anti-Israel groups a free pass.

Now, in the name of anti-terrorism, it appears that Turkey has massacred nearly three dozen Iraqi Kurdish villagers, none of whom appear to have been Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members or were involved in any terrorist support. The deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party has acknowledged that the murders were in error. The killings come on top of a similar raid in August that killed seven civilians, including toddlers.

It will be interesting to see whether Turkey will discipline those involved in these killings, pay compensation, apologize, or allow international investigations. No one should hold their breath, however. The Turkish government is interested in neither justice nor counter-terrorism; its interests lay instead solely in Israel-bashing and incitement.

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The Nominee Matters, Not the Field

The liberal writer Gene Lyons echoes the conventional wisdom when he says, “What’’s alarming about the GOP contest isn’’t the indecisiveness or poor reasoning processes of Iowa voters. It’’s the dismal quality of the choices they’’re offered. Is this the best that one of America’’s two major political parties can do?”

I’ve argued before that what will matter in this race isn’t the quality of the field (which I concede is comprised of unusually weak candidates) but the quality of the nominee who emerges. This field will be long forgotten not only years from now, but by the GOP convention in the summer.

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The liberal writer Gene Lyons echoes the conventional wisdom when he says, “What’’s alarming about the GOP contest isn’’t the indecisiveness or poor reasoning processes of Iowa voters. It’’s the dismal quality of the choices they’’re offered. Is this the best that one of America’’s two major political parties can do?”

I’ve argued before that what will matter in this race isn’t the quality of the field (which I concede is comprised of unusually weak candidates) but the quality of the nominee who emerges. This field will be long forgotten not only years from now, but by the GOP convention in the summer.

To help illustrate the point: last night C-SPAN broadcast a 2000 Iowa debate which featured GOP presidential candidates Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, and Orrin Hatch. This hardly constituted a political Murderer’s Row. It didn’t matter. George W. Bush emerged as the nominee and defeated Al Gore for the presidency.

The Republican Party simply has to hope that its best candidate wins the nomination and that he is formidable. My guess is both things will happen.

 

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Good Year for Fox News

This past year was another very good one for the Fox News Channel, which continued its dominance of cable news (in January FNC will have been the #1 cable news channel for 10 years in a row).

The Associated Press, in reporting on the most recent Nielsen ratings, points out that FNC’s average viewership exceeded CNN and MSNBC combined, both in prime time and for the entire day. Fox typically had 1.87 million viewers in prime time this year. The top 13 programs in cable news all aired on Fox. And Fox was the only cable news network to place in the top 10 list of cable channels in both prime time and entire day.

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This past year was another very good one for the Fox News Channel, which continued its dominance of cable news (in January FNC will have been the #1 cable news channel for 10 years in a row).

The Associated Press, in reporting on the most recent Nielsen ratings, points out that FNC’s average viewership exceeded CNN and MSNBC combined, both in prime time and for the entire day. Fox typically had 1.87 million viewers in prime time this year. The top 13 programs in cable news all aired on Fox. And Fox was the only cable news network to place in the top 10 list of cable channels in both prime time and entire day.

Fox’s ratings lead may well extend in 2012, given both the forthcoming GOP primary race and presidential election. And one day years from now, when political passions cool and his achievements are put in perspective, Roger Ailes will be seen as one of the most significant journalistic figures of the last half-century. He is the man who is most responsible for shattering the monopoly on television news. It’s little wonder he and his network inspire rage in some liberal quarters. And there’s little doubt it bothers Ailes not at all.

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The Downsides of Drones

Yesterday, I noted that one of the downsides of the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes is that it eliminates the option of capturing and interrogating terrorist suspects. Admittedly, that may not be possible in many instances anyway, but the intelligence payoff from interrogation (and also seizure of documents) is much higher than from simple elimination.

Today, the Wall Street Journal notes another potential downside: the possibility of getting played by an allied intelligence service. In this case, the Journal writes, the U.S. government now suspects that the Joint Special Operations Command was being set up by the president of Yemen to eliminate one of his rivals in 2010 when a U.S. missile killed six people, including the deputy governor of one of the country’s provinces. This kind of mishap is a distinct danger when U.S. agencies use lethal force in countries where our intelligence-gathering capacity (especially in terms of human intelligence) is distinctly limited. This sort of thing was all too common in the early days in Afghanistan and Iraq, both places where U.S. troops were inadvertently drawn into local political rivalries.

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Yesterday, I noted that one of the downsides of the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes is that it eliminates the option of capturing and interrogating terrorist suspects. Admittedly, that may not be possible in many instances anyway, but the intelligence payoff from interrogation (and also seizure of documents) is much higher than from simple elimination.

Today, the Wall Street Journal notes another potential downside: the possibility of getting played by an allied intelligence service. In this case, the Journal writes, the U.S. government now suspects that the Joint Special Operations Command was being set up by the president of Yemen to eliminate one of his rivals in 2010 when a U.S. missile killed six people, including the deputy governor of one of the country’s provinces. This kind of mishap is a distinct danger when U.S. agencies use lethal force in countries where our intelligence-gathering capacity (especially in terms of human intelligence) is distinctly limited. This sort of thing was all too common in the early days in Afghanistan and Iraq, both places where U.S. troops were inadvertently drawn into local political rivalries.

The answer is to establish deeper ties and deeper understanding. but that takes time and energy. Sometimes drone strikes can be a convenient short-cut for that kind of intensive effort. On the other hand, if done right, and if used as the culmination of an intensive intelligence-generating process rather than a substitute for it, drone strikes can be a highly effective tool in the war against terrorist groups. They should certainly not be discontinued and not even reduced in number, but their downsides should be kept firmly in mind.

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Romney in the Catbird Seat

As we approach the eve of the Iowa caucus, the broad outlines of the GOP race remains what it has been from the beginning: Mitt Romney is doing well among less conservative/non-Tea Party voters while the more conservative voters have not coalesced around any alternative to Romney. And contrary to the  impression of some, Romney is not deeply disliked by most conservative voters. He may not be their first choice, but he’s done more than enough to make him acceptable to most Republicans. Governor Romney may not inspire passionate support on the right, but neither does he inspire passionate opposition.

Beyond that, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein points out that since 1980, no Republican (in a contested race) has won both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In fact, the pattern has been the same: one candidate wins in Iowa, another wins in New Hampshire, and one of those two wins in South Carolina– and, eventually, the nomination.

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As we approach the eve of the Iowa caucus, the broad outlines of the GOP race remains what it has been from the beginning: Mitt Romney is doing well among less conservative/non-Tea Party voters while the more conservative voters have not coalesced around any alternative to Romney. And contrary to the  impression of some, Romney is not deeply disliked by most conservative voters. He may not be their first choice, but he’s done more than enough to make him acceptable to most Republicans. Governor Romney may not inspire passionate support on the right, but neither does he inspire passionate opposition.

Beyond that, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein points out that since 1980, no Republican (in a contested race) has won both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In fact, the pattern has been the same: one candidate wins in Iowa, another wins in New Hampshire, and one of those two wins in South Carolina– and, eventually, the nomination.

To briefly review the history: In 1980, Ronald Reagan lost in Iowa (to George H.W. Bush), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. In 1988, George H.W. Bush lost in Iowa (to Robert Dole), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. In 1996, Bob Dole won in Iowa, lost in New Hampshire (to Pat Buchanan), and won in South Carolina. In 2000, George W. Bush won in Iowa, lost in New  Hampshire (to John McCain), and won in South Carolina. And in 2008, John McCain lost in Iowa (to Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. All of which means that if Romney wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has a significant lead right now (nearly 20 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average), it’s hard to see how he would lose the nomination, particularly given his enormous advantages in money and organization.

The board can still be scrambled, of course. It was only two weeks ago, after all, when Newt Gingrich was ahead by double digits in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida and was closing in on Romney in New Hampshire. This led Gingrich to tell ABC’s Jake Tapper, “”It’’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’’m going to be the nominee.”” But Gingrich’s support in Iowa and New Hampshire looks to be collapsing (by some counts he’s lost 20 points in 20 days). Romney’s team surely knows if the former Massachusetts governor can win in Iowa– and right now he leads Ron Paul in some polls and trails him in others –the outcome of this race may be decided almost as soon as it began. If so, it would be a remarkable achievement by Romney.

Caveats are important to insert. There are a dozen other scenarios one can imagine. Not a single vote has yet been cast in this election. There are huge numbers of undecided voters. And proportional representation can string things out. But this much is clear: only five days away from the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney is in the catbird seat.

 

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Whither Israeli Democracy?

In recent months, a new theme has replaced the media’s past obsession with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. While abuse of Israel on this count is by no means over, with no humanitarian crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza to trumpet and the Palestinians’ obvious disinterest in peace, the Israel-bashers have turned to a different theme: the imminent end of Israeli democracy.

Stories about proposed laws seeking to regulate non-governmental organizations, press disputes, clashes with the ultra-Orthodox and the treatment of women have often been combined to put forward the idea that the Jewish state is in the grips of a neo-fascist right-wing that is fast on its way to ending democracy and installing a theocracy that would no longer be seen as sharing values with the United States. But though Israel is beset, as is any democracy, with serious social problems and partisan clashes over a host of issues, the idea that democracy there is in any danger is a figment of the imagination of the country’s left-wing critics. Rather than being in decline, it is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.

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In recent months, a new theme has replaced the media’s past obsession with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. While abuse of Israel on this count is by no means over, with no humanitarian crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza to trumpet and the Palestinians’ obvious disinterest in peace, the Israel-bashers have turned to a different theme: the imminent end of Israeli democracy.

Stories about proposed laws seeking to regulate non-governmental organizations, press disputes, clashes with the ultra-Orthodox and the treatment of women have often been combined to put forward the idea that the Jewish state is in the grips of a neo-fascist right-wing that is fast on its way to ending democracy and installing a theocracy that would no longer be seen as sharing values with the United States. But though Israel is beset, as is any democracy, with serious social problems and partisan clashes over a host of issues, the idea that democracy there is in any danger is a figment of the imagination of the country’s left-wing critics. Rather than being in decline, it is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.

Briefly, and in order:

First, proposed laws that would either place curbs on foreign funding for non-governmental organizations or allow Israelis to sue those groups that support boycotts of the country may be badly conceived. But they are in no way a threat to democratic rule. For many years, leftists have poured money into Israeli groups that seek to slander the country as an apartheid state or to fund those who seek to undermine its status as a Jewish state. It is understandable that most Israelis would resent this activity, even if placing burdens on the funders seems unreasonable to Americans who have a very different conception of free speech rights than inhabitants of other democracies (including those in Europe).

Second, the idea that the current Israeli government is trying to muscle the press was mooted in a New York Times article this week that purported to show that Prime Minister Netanyahu was retaliating against an independent television station that gave him critical coverage. But the story glossed over two things. First is the fact that this government actually supports expanding the number of broadcast options the Israeli people currently have. Second is the fact that, like the United States, in Israel the vast majority of the mainstream media is in the grips of the left. Only someone with no conception of how Israeli society and politics actually works would possibly imagine there was any scarcity of anti-Netanyahu voices in the media there. Israel has a free press, and there is no danger it will cease to exist even if most of it is run by incorrigible left-wingers.

Third, and in many ways, most troubling is the reporting about clashes between the majority of Israelis and a small minority of ultra-Orthodox hoodlums who have been accused of abusing women in public places. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was wrong to compare the situation with what is going on in Iran–not because some of the Haredi thugs would not like to have the power to oppress women that the Islamists in Tehran would like–but because these hooligans are conducting themselves in a manner that contradicts Jewish religious law as well as the will of the secular majority and the government.

Clashes between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews make most Israelis especially angry because the Haredim often wield political power out of proportion to their numbers due to the quirks of the Israel’s proportional electoral system. Efforts by some Haredi outliers to defend what they wrongly see as their turf have resulted in egregious incidents such as the insults aimed at a small Modern Orthodox girl in the town of Beit Shemesh. Other efforts to enforce an appalling “back of the bus” policy for women or segregated sidewalks in religious neighborhoods are pressure points for a culture war in which the Orthodox are seen as trying to impose their will on the majority.

Peaceful coexistence between the Haredi community and the rest of the country is an ongoing challenge, especially because of the issues of avoidance of military service and abuse of the welfare state. Incidents such as the treatment of the Beit Shemesh girl are symbols of the rest of the country’s resentment against the Haredim, even if the offenders there are operating outside the consensus of even their own community.

But as contemptible as such episodes may be, they are not a sign of the end of democracy but proof that democracy is alive and well in Israel. Each episode has gotten a robust response from both the people and the government. Some Americans may not like the politics of the current Israeli government or the fact that it seems likely to be re-elected when it next faces the electorate there. But nothing that is happening in Israel or is likely to happen should persuade anyone that it is not the same lively and combative democratic culture it always has been.

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Iran Would Lose if They Close Hormuz

The Washington Post is right to note that Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for possible new sanctions on its oil exports are in all probability empty posturing. Iran, after all, needs to send its own oil exports (for example to China) through the Strait. Closing it would hurt Tehran above all, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states could reroute some of their exports via pipelines.

There is also the fact that Iranian military action is unlikely to succeed–it would meet a devastating response from the U.S. Fifth Fleet and potentially from the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In fact, the last time Iran tried this trick–that would be in the 1980s–it lost a “tanker war” against the United States. Tehran has certainly developed some fresh capabilities since, especially in terms of mines, cruise missiles, and speed boats–including probably suicide boats. All of that would make Iran a serious nuisance and might allow the Iranians to close the Strait temporarily. But there is little doubt that the Iranians
ultimately would come out on the losing end of any ensuing conflict. Moreover, by initiating military action, they would provide the U.S. just the excuse we need to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.

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The Washington Post is right to note that Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for possible new sanctions on its oil exports are in all probability empty posturing. Iran, after all, needs to send its own oil exports (for example to China) through the Strait. Closing it would hurt Tehran above all, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states could reroute some of their exports via pipelines.

There is also the fact that Iranian military action is unlikely to succeed–it would meet a devastating response from the U.S. Fifth Fleet and potentially from the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In fact, the last time Iran tried this trick–that would be in the 1980s–it lost a “tanker war” against the United States. Tehran has certainly developed some fresh capabilities since, especially in terms of mines, cruise missiles, and speed boats–including probably suicide boats. All of that would make Iran a serious nuisance and might allow the Iranians to close the Strait temporarily. But there is little doubt that the Iranians
ultimately would come out on the losing end of any ensuing conflict. Moreover, by initiating military action, they would provide the U.S. just the excuse we need to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.

In sum, Iran would be acting suicidally if it tried to close the Strait. That doesn’t mean that such action is out of the question; the Iranian Revolution has often harnessed suicidal impulses. But it is unlikely and should not deter the Europeans from proceeding with their plans to embargo Iranian oil.

 

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Obama’s Iran Promises: Security or Votes?

A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

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A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

Obama’s pledges to Israel lack credibility for a number of reasons.

First, is the fact that up until this month, every statement coming out of Washington was intended to pour cold water on the idea of an American attack on Iran even as a last resort. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s statements to this effect just a few weeks ago could only have been interpreted by Iran as a clear indication of this administration’s lack of interest in another Middle East conflict even over as serious a threat as a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Islamist regime.

Second, is Obama’s obvious reluctance to use the one economic weapon at his disposal that might actually have an impact on Iran: an oil embargo. In order to make an embargo work, the United States would have to enact a ban on dealing with any company that did business with Iran’s Central Bank. But Obama has so far refused to do so for fear of raising oil prices in an election year. There is also the fact that this administration, like its predecessor, has refused to enforce the existing weak sanctions on Iran. Since Obama has so far been unable to muster the will to enact crippling sanctions that might convince the ayatollahs to back down, how are we, or the Israelis, to believe he would go even farther and order a strike on Iran?

More persuasive is the thesis that this sudden desire to look tough on Iran is all about the 2012 presidential election. While the last three years have resulted in no action on Iran (unless, that is, you count, empty promises to do something about the problem), the president knows he is vulnerable to charges that his “engagement” policy and subsequent years of feckless diplomacy shows his indifference to the nature of the Iranian threat. He may believe that if he can convince the Israelis not to act in the next year he can get away with more tough talk while diplomacy and weak sanctions continue to fail. Even if, as seems likely, his foreign policy team would rather find a way to live with an Iranian nuke than use force to stop them, that’s not a stand he would prefer to campaign on next fall.

The nightmare scenario for Obama is an Iranian nuclear breakthrough in the next ten months. Having solemnly promised that such an event would never be allowed to happen on his watch, he would be forced to either act or back down and then be judged by the voters. Selling the American people on “containment” of Iranian nukes is something he may think he can get away with in a second term, not a re-election campaign.

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Maybe Ron Paul Should Have Been Nicer to the Trilateral Commission

Some of the die-hard Ron Paul supporters have come up with a few imaginative ideas about the origins of the ongoing “anti-Paul smear campaign” (their term for the totally legitimate investigation into Paul’s racist newsletters). Take, for example, this comically delusional “oppo” file on Jamie Kirchick, the journalist who broke the newsletter story in 2008, that’s apparently being emailed to reporters. I won’t give it all away, but the thesis is that Kirchick and Newt Gingrich orchestrated the scandal at the behest of the military industrial complex (there are charts).

But Paul himself may have come up with an even more convoluted theory about why some presidential candidates get bad press. On Feb. 18, 2001, Paul reportedly appeared on the now-defunct Radio Free America, a talk show created by prolific Holocaust denier Willis Carto. Here’s part of the transcript of the show, which was published in Carto’s anti-Semitic newsletter in March of 2001:

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Some of the die-hard Ron Paul supporters have come up with a few imaginative ideas about the origins of the ongoing “anti-Paul smear campaign” (their term for the totally legitimate investigation into Paul’s racist newsletters). Take, for example, this comically delusional “oppo” file on Jamie Kirchick, the journalist who broke the newsletter story in 2008, that’s apparently being emailed to reporters. I won’t give it all away, but the thesis is that Kirchick and Newt Gingrich orchestrated the scandal at the behest of the military industrial complex (there are charts).

But Paul himself may have come up with an even more convoluted theory about why some presidential candidates get bad press. On Feb. 18, 2001, Paul reportedly appeared on the now-defunct Radio Free America, a talk show created by prolific Holocaust denier Willis Carto. Here’s part of the transcript of the show, which was published in Carto’s anti-Semitic newsletter in March of 2001:

Radio Free America host Tom Valentine: Here’s Mack calling from Georgia.

Mack (Caller): The Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations have a lot of power in choosing the American president. Do you think our elections are just a fraud on the people?

Ron Paul: Almost no one gets elected who isn’t friendly with the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. If you are not in tune with them, the national media would crucify you. So you wouldn’t win. I think the people allow themselves to be deceived.

I asked Paul’s campaign press secretary whether the congressman currently believes that presidential candidates need support from the Trilateral Commission and CFR in order to get elected, but haven’t received a response yet.

Conspiracy theories aside, it’s hard to imagine why Paul would ever agree to go on Radio Free America in the first place. The show was a division of Carto’s Liberty Lobby, a group that often came under fire from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee (Carto, by the way, also founded the Institute for Historical Review, an infamous Holocaust denial organization). The ADL wrote that Radio Free America’s “skin-deep populism covered vintage Carto-ite anti-Semitism, paranoid-style politics, Holocaust denial and anti-Israel conspiracy theories.” Probably not the best crowd to associate with if you have presidential aspirations.

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Santorum’s Moment Finally Arrives

Two months ago, just as Herman Cain’s campaign was about to start to unravel, I wrote that perhaps it was Rick Santorum’s turn for a surge. I was, of course, wrong. It was Newt Gingrich’s turn back at the end of October and the beginning of November to take off and to be, at least for a few weeks, something of a frontrunner. But with only days to go before voters in Iowa cast the first actual votes of the caucus/primary season, it looks like Santorum’s moment has arrived. A CNN/Time/ORC poll released on Wednesday shows Santorum surging ahead of his competitors for the social conservative vote into third place among likely caucus goers with 16 percent.

Santorum’s timing is impeccable. With Gingrich collapsing (the poll shows him fading to fourth place with only 14 percent, which is down from 33 percent less than a month ago) and Michele Bachmann’s campaign in chaos as her Iowa chairman defected to Ron Paul yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator looks to be in excellent shape to win what he called the “conservative primary” over Bachmann and Rick Perry.

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Two months ago, just as Herman Cain’s campaign was about to start to unravel, I wrote that perhaps it was Rick Santorum’s turn for a surge. I was, of course, wrong. It was Newt Gingrich’s turn back at the end of October and the beginning of November to take off and to be, at least for a few weeks, something of a frontrunner. But with only days to go before voters in Iowa cast the first actual votes of the caucus/primary season, it looks like Santorum’s moment has arrived. A CNN/Time/ORC poll released on Wednesday shows Santorum surging ahead of his competitors for the social conservative vote into third place among likely caucus goers with 16 percent.

Santorum’s timing is impeccable. With Gingrich collapsing (the poll shows him fading to fourth place with only 14 percent, which is down from 33 percent less than a month ago) and Michele Bachmann’s campaign in chaos as her Iowa chairman defected to Ron Paul yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator looks to be in excellent shape to win what he called the “conservative primary” over Bachmann and Rick Perry.

Though it is probably a reach to think Santorum could overtake Mitt Romney, who finds himself in first with 25 percent, it is not out of the question in such a volatile environment. Just as possible is for him to leap over Paul, who is currently in second with 22 percent.

While the long term impact of a result next Tuesday that would mirror these poll numbers would probably mean Romney was the inevitable nominee, just by getting himself into third, Santorum ensures his campaign will not end on Jan. 4. Having concentrated all of his meager resources on Iowa, it’s not clear what his next step will be other than that he will have one.

The same can’t be said for Bachmann, who has also gone all in on Iowa. She was already slipping even further back in the polls before this latest setback, but this stab in the back from Kent Sorenson, her state chairman, must be considered the coup de grace for her hopes of getting back into the race. While Rick Perry’s deep pockets will enable him to keep at it for at least a few more weeks even if he has little chance, Bachmann is toast.

An Iowa result that left Romney on top, Paul with considerable support and Santorum as top social conservative left with a chance would set up an interesting three-way battle as the race progresses to Super Tuesday and the later primaries. As was the case in 2008, Paul will not go away. Indeed, despite his extremism and the fact that he has no chance to be the nominee, he will again hang around for as long as he wants even if his chances of winning a primary after Iowa are slim.

As for Santorum, he can put himself in position to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012, giving social conservatives and Tea Partiers a more responsible protest vote against the inevitability of Romney than Paul would provide. The proportional delegate vote in most states is set up to avoid an early sweep for the frontrunner, so there will be no reason for him to drop out, especially since a good showing in Iowa will help him raise money. It probably won’t be enough to stop Romney in the end, but it will give him hope and help keep the race interesting.

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