Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 16, 2011

The Lesser Evil

I would like to “extend and clarify” my remarks on Egypt earlier today—a privilege customarily accorded to congressmen and, in this case, to bloggers. I wrote about the troubling situation in Egypt where Islamists are poised to take power. I am concerned about this because of reports, such as this one in Tablet  (which I cited earlier), and in the New Republic, about the illiberal intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood—and of course of the Salafists who have emerged as major players in Egyptian politics as well. My primary argument in the article was that this development, troubling as it is, should not cause us to give up on democratization in the Middle East; in my view, there is no real alternative because unpopular autocracies cannot last forever.

Some readers appear confused, however, by this paragraph:

There is no good alternative left in Egypt: Either continue with some degree of rule by the military or cede complete power to potentially radical Islamists. In those circumstances, the least-bad option is for Washington to support the army in continuing to provide a check on unfettered majoritarian rule.

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I would like to “extend and clarify” my remarks on Egypt earlier today—a privilege customarily accorded to congressmen and, in this case, to bloggers. I wrote about the troubling situation in Egypt where Islamists are poised to take power. I am concerned about this because of reports, such as this one in Tablet  (which I cited earlier), and in the New Republic, about the illiberal intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood—and of course of the Salafists who have emerged as major players in Egyptian politics as well. My primary argument in the article was that this development, troubling as it is, should not cause us to give up on democratization in the Middle East; in my view, there is no real alternative because unpopular autocracies cannot last forever.

Some readers appear confused, however, by this paragraph:

There is no good alternative left in Egypt: Either continue with some degree of rule by the military or cede complete power to potentially radical Islamists. In those circumstances, the least-bad option is for Washington to support the army in continuing to provide a check on unfettered majoritarian rule.

To clarify: I am not suggesting the Egyptian military nullify the results of the vote as the Algerian military did two decades ago—a decision which set off a ruinous civil war in Algeria. That would be a disaster. What I am suggesting is more of the Turkish model, with the army helping to craft a constitution that protects minority rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech, and then helping to enforce it, in order to prevent an elected government from trampling on basic liberties. Otherwise, I fear, the result could be “one man, one vote, one time.” I am fully aware, I might add, of the downside of military involvement
in politics. But in the present instance I fear, as I suggested earlier, it might be the lesser evil.

 

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Romney Making Inroads with Tea Party?

Is Mitt Romney making inroads with the Tea Party? That at least seems to be the implication of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of him today. Haley had promised to make up her mind before Iowa, and apparently Gingrich’s high poll numbers in her state weren’t enough to win her over:

“Today is the day that I’m throwing all of my support behind Mitt Romney for president,” Haley said on FOX & Friends.  ”What I want was someone who is not part of the chaos that is Washington. What I wanted was someone who knew what it was like to turn broken companies around.”

Haley also argued that Romney was the only candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama next fall.

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Is Mitt Romney making inroads with the Tea Party? That at least seems to be the implication of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of him today. Haley had promised to make up her mind before Iowa, and apparently Gingrich’s high poll numbers in her state weren’t enough to win her over:

“Today is the day that I’m throwing all of my support behind Mitt Romney for president,” Haley said on FOX & Friends.  ”What I want was someone who is not part of the chaos that is Washington. What I wanted was someone who knew what it was like to turn broken companies around.”

Haley also argued that Romney was the only candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama next fall.

For someone with Tea Party credibility like Haley, it’s useless to try to argue for Romney on the grounds that he’s the true conservative in the race. Movement conservatives will not buy it. But electability is a legitimate issue, and if Haley can make the case that Romney is just as conservative (if not more so) than Gingrich – and has a better chance of getting elected – then that could encourage Tea Partiers to take another look at Romney.

Haley’s support for Romney is also a loss for both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, who she’s praised in the past, and who could have really used her endorsement in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. Both candidates were impressive in the debate last night, but the fact that Haley overlooked them may be an acknowledgment that she can’t see them on a path to the nomination.

The South Carolina governor is quickly jumping into her role as a Romney surrogate, and has already recorded a robocall for him in her state. It will be interesting to see how this impacts Gingrich’s 20-point lead (according to the RCP average) in the South Carolina polls.

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Christopher Hitchens Traveled a Long Road

One of the essays in Christopher Hitchens’ 2004 book, Love, Poverty, and War, began with a portion of W.H. Auden’s elegy for William Butler Yeats, which perhaps Hitchens had in mind for himself:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

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One of the essays in Christopher Hitchens’ 2004 book, Love, Poverty, and War, began with a portion of W.H. Auden’s elegy for William Butler Yeats, which perhaps Hitchens had in mind for himself:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

The facing page of Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, published a few months before he learned he had cancer, set forth an excerpt from another Auden poem, “Death’s Echo,” which Hitchens probably thought was a description of the life he had led, but is perhaps an even better description of his last year, which he spent writing, speaking and debating ultimate issues as his cancer ravaged him:

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,
Not to be born is the best for man;
The second-best is a formal order,
The dance’s pattern; dance while you can.

Dance, dance for the figure is easy,
The tune is catching and will not stop;
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

John Podhoretz may not be correct that Hitchens was the bravest ideologically-driven writer since Norman Podhoretz; David Horowitz may have a claim to that title, and Norman belongs in a class by himself, for reasons beyond the scope of this post. Hitchens also had an extraordinary blind side when it came to the Palestinians, which perhaps came from what Benjamin Kerstein describes as anti-Semitism, but that seems to me too strong a judgment. He traveled a long road in his life. Here is part of the last paragraph of the penultimate chapter in Hitch-22:

So I close this long reflection on what I hope is a not-too-quaveringly semi-Semitic note. When I am at home, I will only enter a synagogue for the bar or bat mitzvah of a friend’s child, or in order to have a debate with the faithful … When I am traveling, I will stop at a shul if it is in a country where Jews are under threat, or dying out, or were once persecuted. This has taken me down queer and sad little side streets in Morocco and Tunisia and Eritrea and India, and in Damascus and Budapest and Prague and Istanbul, more than once to temples that have recently been desecrated by the new breed of racist Islamic gangster … I hate the idea that the dispossession of one people should be held hostage to the victimhood of another, as it is in the Middle East and as it was in Eastern Europe. But I find myself somehow assuming that Jewishness and “normality” are in some profound way noncompatible. The most gracious thing said to me when I discovered my family secret [that my mother was Jewish and that therefore so was I] was by Martin [Amis], who after a long evening of ironic reflection said quite simply: “Hitch, I find that I am a little envious of you.” I choose to think that this proved, once again, his appreciation for the nuances of risk, uncertainty, ambivalence, and ambiguity. These happen to be the very things that “secularity” and “normality,” rather like the fantasy of salvation, cannot purchase.

There is a lot in that last paragraph, and it can serve as a testament to the courage and complexity of the man. Will time pardon him for writing well, to use the terms of Auden’s poem? If writing well is the source of pardon, he has already been pardoned. But great writing, as Peter Wehner notes, is a gift, not a virtue. The pardon we all need comes from a much more profound source, a much more mysterious place, a place that may or may not exist. As Allahpundit tweeted last night about Hitchens, now he knows. May he rest in peace.

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“Haves” vs. “Have Nots”

Despite the best efforts of President Obama and the Occupy Wall Street movement to pit the so-called “99 percent” against the “1 percent,” Americans are increasingly rejecting the idea that the country is divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who believe this has dropped significantly since 2008, especially among independents and moderates:

Americans are now less likely to see U.S. society as divided into the “haves” and “have nots” than they were in 2008, returning to their views prior to that point. A clear majority, 58 percent, say they do not think of America in this way, after Americans were divided 49 percent to 49 percent in the summer of 2008.

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Despite the best efforts of President Obama and the Occupy Wall Street movement to pit the so-called “99 percent” against the “1 percent,” Americans are increasingly rejecting the idea that the country is divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who believe this has dropped significantly since 2008, especially among independents and moderates:

Americans are now less likely to see U.S. society as divided into the “haves” and “have nots” than they were in 2008, returning to their views prior to that point. A clear majority, 58 percent, say they do not think of America in this way, after Americans were divided 49 percent to 49 percent in the summer of 2008.

As Gallup notes, this is despite the economic downturn, the rising unemployment rate and the increasing pessimism about the direction of the country. When asked to choose which of the categories they see themselves in, a clear majority of Americans also say they are “haves” as opposed to “have nots”:

If they had to choose, 58 percent of Americans would say they are in the “haves,” rather than the “have nots” group. This breakdown has held remarkably steady over the past two decades of economic boom and bust, with a record-high 67 percent of Americans putting themselves in the “haves” category during the strong economic times of the late 1990s.

This is a pretty significant blow to the Occupy movement, and helps explain why the protests never caught fire with the general public. Americans just don’t accept the idea that the 1 percent is taking advantage of the 99 percent. In fact, nearly 60 percent of Americans, when forced to choose, would categorize themselves as the people of privilege. This number has remained fairly steady since 1989, though it rose to a height of 67 percent during the economic boom in the late ‘90s.

The one area to be concerned about is the growing number of people who categorize themselves as “have nots.” In 1989, just 17 percent of Americans put themselves in that group. That’s steadily increased during the years, and now hovers around 34 percent. This is in spite of the explosion of federal spending on entitlement programs, and if the trend continues, it will become more and more difficult to make reductions in these areas.

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The Political Chess Match Continues

I wanted to make a few political observations about last night’s GOP debate, which I thought was quite a good one overall.

Several times, Mitt Romney had a chance to go after Newt Gingrich, and he pulled back from doing so. That leads me to think his campaign team must believe Gingrich is quickly losing altitude in Iowa and the week-long attacks on Gingrich have taken a toll on the former Speaker. The Romney campaign, it appears, concluded there was no need for the former Massachusetts governor to go after Gingrich at this point, on that stage; and the risks of a confrontation, which had the potential to get ugly, were greater than the rewards. (It can’t have hurt Romney that Michele Bachmann went after Gingrich hard on both Freddie Mac and life issues.)

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I wanted to make a few political observations about last night’s GOP debate, which I thought was quite a good one overall.

Several times, Mitt Romney had a chance to go after Newt Gingrich, and he pulled back from doing so. That leads me to think his campaign team must believe Gingrich is quickly losing altitude in Iowa and the week-long attacks on Gingrich have taken a toll on the former Speaker. The Romney campaign, it appears, concluded there was no need for the former Massachusetts governor to go after Gingrich at this point, on that stage; and the risks of a confrontation, which had the potential to get ugly, were greater than the rewards. (It can’t have hurt Romney that Michele Bachmann went after Gingrich hard on both Freddie Mac and life issues.)

If Gingrich’s lead in Iowa was in the double digits, you can be sure Romney would not have declined the invitation to attack Gingrich.

Gingrich, on the other hand, went out of his way to appear agreeable and recapture the “Uncle Newt” image that helped catapult him to the top of the polls. In that respect, I thought Gingrich did quite well, even if his irritation with Michele Bachmann was barely contained.

Overall, I thought both Romney and Gingrich had a very good night. The big loser was Ron Paul, whose stand on Iran is incoherent, discrediting and has limited appeal in a GOP primary.

Right now, Romney, Gingrich, and Paul are bunched at the top in Iowa, with the second-tier candidates not all that far behind. There are 18 days left before the Iowa caucus – which in this particular political year means the situation can dramatically shift several times between now and January 3.

The chess match continues.

 

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Anti-Israel Propaganda in U.S. Libraries

Pro-Hamas partisan and fundraiser George Galloway noted a few years ago that of all the American Muslim groups with which he works, the non-profit American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) was “far and away producing the biggest meetings and the biggest fundraising.” Since then the group has come under intense scrutiny for rationalizing terrorism and defending terrorists at conferences and elsewhere:

At the opening ceremony, Jamal Said… hailed “the activists and freedom fighters who gave up their personal ambitions and their own lives so our cause may live.” Said was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Hamas financing trial…

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Pro-Hamas partisan and fundraiser George Galloway noted a few years ago that of all the American Muslim groups with which he works, the non-profit American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) was “far and away producing the biggest meetings and the biggest fundraising.” Since then the group has come under intense scrutiny for rationalizing terrorism and defending terrorists at conferences and elsewhere:

At the opening ceremony, Jamal Said… hailed “the activists and freedom fighters who gave up their personal ambitions and their own lives so our cause may live.” Said was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Hamas financing trial…

During a session held in Arabic, Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem supported Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for conducting acts of terrorism…

Rafeeq Jaber… argued that there are risks involved in “working for Palestine.”… Jaber served as the president of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP)… the primary voice of Hamas in the United States. Court documents show both IAP and HLF were created by the “Palestine Committee” in America, which was established by the Muslim Brotherhood to “support Hamas from abroad.” HLF acted as “the fundraising arm for Hamas,” and IAP served as a “media entity.”

Now AMP has found a new mission: stacking American libraries with venomous anti-Israel propaganda. The group has been, according to its webpage, “working hard to place a collection of books that shed light on the history, culture and politics of Palestine into the permanent collections of public libraries.” Listed titles include:

In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, by Ghada Karmi
Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, by Rashid Khalidi
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
Fifty Years of Israel, by Donald Neff
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe
The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After, by Edward Said
Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine, by Ghada Karmi
A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel, by Hatim Kanaaneh
Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts about the U.S.-Israeli Relationship, by Paul Findley

It’s a little curious that they didn’t include Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims, which usually shows up on lists like these (e.g. the mandatory reading list for John Mearsheimer’s Spring 2011 seminar “Zionism and Palestine.”). An ungenerous critic might reflexively insist that AMP excluded Morris because he was just too Jewish, but a fairer explanation is they only had a finite number of slots and wanted to leave room for Paul Findley. The ADL backgrounder on Findley and anti-Semitic propagandizing, by the by, is here. Keep an eye out for the Friedman-esque line “U.S. policy in the Middle East is made in Israel, not in Washington.”

Of course, the AMP webpage lists the titles under the heading “titles include…” so maybe there are more books in their donated collections. Who knows what other valuable information about nefarious Jewish plots they’re imparting to future generations?

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McCain, Putin Trade Barbs

Vladimir Putin does not like John McCain. Whether it’s McCain’s 2007 remark that he looked into Putin’s eyes and “saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B,” or his announcement during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war that “today, we are all Georgians,” the Arizona senator has been a thorn in Putin’s side.

It’s not surprising, then, that McCain is enjoying the burgeoning “Slavic Spring” protests. It’s also no surprise that McCain has happily shared his feelings with Putin via social media. The Washington Post reports:

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Vladimir Putin does not like John McCain. Whether it’s McCain’s 2007 remark that he looked into Putin’s eyes and “saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B,” or his announcement during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war that “today, we are all Georgians,” the Arizona senator has been a thorn in Putin’s side.

It’s not surprising, then, that McCain is enjoying the burgeoning “Slavic Spring” protests. It’s also no surprise that McCain has happily shared his feelings with Putin via social media. The Washington Post reports:

“Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you,” McCain tweeted earlier this month. Two days later, he delivered remarks on the Senate floor excoriating the Russian government on missile defense, human rights and interference in Georgia, among other issues.

On Thursday, in his nationally televised and wide-ranging “phone in,” Putin was asked about McCain’s pugnacious tweet, and the suggestion that the kind of uprisings that have unfurled across the Middle East could be replicated in Russia.

According to reports from Moscow, Putin turned stone-faced.

“Mr. McCain was captured, and they kept him — not just in prison, but in a pit — for several years,” he said, referring to McCain’s years in captivity during the Vietnam War. “Anyone would go nuts.”

Putin also invoked the NATO mission in Libya, saying McCain has “the blood of peaceful civilians on his hands, and he can’t live without the kind of disgusting, repulsive scenes like the killing of Qaddafi.”

There is perhaps no love lost between McCain and Putin. On Thursday, McCain shot back on Twitter: “Dear Vlad, is it something I said?”

It’s pretty clear McCain got under Putin’s skin, and this is more than schoolyard taunting. During the 2008 war, a Georgian woman told Michael Totten: “The night they came close to Tbilisi, Bush and McCain made their strongest speeches yet. The Russians seemed to back down. Bush and McCain have been very good for us.”

Whether or not McCain’s strong statements influenced Russian behavior, McCain serves as a steady reminder to Putin that the free world is watching. And it’s telling that in Putin’s mind, Qaddafi is the victim and McCain the bloodthirsty one.

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Christopher Hitchens, RIP

I have several recollections of Christopher Hitchens, who died yesterday at the age of 62.

The first is when I served in the George W. Bush White House and, in the first term, invited Christopher to speak to the White House staff. He spoke very well, of course, but what I most recall are a couple of things that occurred before the speech. The first is standing with him outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He had gone out to smoke, which wasn’t unusual — and he confided to me that he was nervous, which was. The words “Christopher Hitchens” and “nervous” don’t usually belong in the same sentence. He also wore a tie, which he indicated to me he hadn’t done in years — and, he told me, he had gotten his shoes shined before the speech, which he didn’t recall ever having had done.

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I have several recollections of Christopher Hitchens, who died yesterday at the age of 62.

The first is when I served in the George W. Bush White House and, in the first term, invited Christopher to speak to the White House staff. He spoke very well, of course, but what I most recall are a couple of things that occurred before the speech. The first is standing with him outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He had gone out to smoke, which wasn’t unusual — and he confided to me that he was nervous, which was. The words “Christopher Hitchens” and “nervous” don’t usually belong in the same sentence. He also wore a tie, which he indicated to me he hadn’t done in years — and, he told me, he had gotten his shoes shined before the speech, which he didn’t recall ever having had done.

It wasn’t hard for me to fit the pieces together. Christopher felt it was an honor for him, a British citizen, to speak at the White House. For all his reputation for being a bon vivant, an iconoclast, and a man not known for his devotion to protocol, he was in fact quite moved to be a guest at one of the great symbols of American democracy. It was, I thought, something of a touching moment.

Memory number two is meeting Christopher for drinks at a hotel late one afternoon several years ago. We were joined by Michael Cromartie, now my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And among the topics (in this case a topic of my choice) was Malcolm Muggeridge, who had a formative influence on my Christian pilgrimage. We discussed C.S. Lewis and related topics — and the conversation was fascinating, wide-ranging, and completely free of animus. What struck me was how Hitchens, for all his ferocious contempt for Christianity, was actually respectful in dealing with me and others of my faith.

My third memory is the last time I saw Hitchens, which was at a dinner with him, his brother Peter (they had spoken together at a forum earlier in the day), his wife Carol Blue (who joined us later in the dinner), and a few others. At that point, Christopher had been diagnosed with cancer and knew his days were numbered. The dinner itself was sheer delight. We spoke about American politics, the Scottish author John Buchan, poetry and much else. Afterward I commented to a friend how impressive Hitchens was, in this sense: there was no sense of impending doom or self-pity. Life was good, he seemed to signal, and life went on. At the conclusion of the evening he did make a point to mention to me how much he appreciated a hand-written note President Bush had sent him after learning of Christopher’s illness. Then there was, at the end, a brief, and at least for me, a poignant farewell. I knew it was unlikely I would ever see him again. And I never did. (I did continue to communicate with him from time to time via e-mail.)

I disagreed with Christopher on many issues, from Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa to the state of Israel and Christianity, and I never really understood his hatred for the Lord whom I had come to love. Still, I grew to admire him a great deal, not for his wit and brilliant writing, which are gifts but not virtues; but for his courage. He showed it in his solidarity with Salman Rushdie, in breaking ranks with those on the Left over the Iraq war, and in how he dealt with his death sentence. In the end, pain which would have broken most of us didn’t break him. And he wrote — oh how he wrote — almost to his final hour.

Death, he said, was our common fate. True enough. But I wish it was a fate he could have avoided for much longer than he did.

Requiescat in pace.

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Has Gingrich Had a Change of Heart?

Newt Gingrich has taken a strong stance against the individual mandate since he launched his campaign, but, as he’s admitted, he previously supported the mandate during his fight against Hillarycare in the 90’s. And now it turns out that Gingrich may have been promoting the individual mandate much more recently than he acknowledged, according to a New York Times report.

First, here are Gingrich’s remarks on the individual mandate at a Republican debate in New Hampshire in June:

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Newt Gingrich has taken a strong stance against the individual mandate since he launched his campaign, but, as he’s admitted, he previously supported the mandate during his fight against Hillarycare in the 90’s. And now it turns out that Gingrich may have been promoting the individual mandate much more recently than he acknowledged, according to a New York Times report.

First, here are Gingrich’s remarks on the individual mandate at a Republican debate in New Hampshire in June:

“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at HealthTransformation.net. I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”

He claimed to have been fighting against the individual mandate for two and a half years. But the Times reports that Gingrich pushed health care executives to support the mandate just two years earlier, on a conference call in May 2009:

More broadly, [Gingrich] has indicated his agreement with the most controversial aspect of President Obama’s heath care plan, the requirement that every American buy health insurance. Although he now says he is opposed to the so-called individual mandate, in a May 2009 conference call — previously unreported — he told health care executives, “We believe there should be must-carry; that is, everybody should have health insurance, or if you’re an absolute libertarian, we would allow you to post a bond.”

This was well after Hillarycare, and well within the “two and a half years” Gingrich claims he spent fighting against the individual mandate. Why doesn’t his timeline add up? More importantly, what happened between then and now that changed Gingrich’s mind and acknowledge the individual mandate is unconstitutional? Was it simply the fact that it’s become incredibly unpopular with the public? Or did Gingrich honestly have a change of heart?

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“We Will Be Back…and You Will Be Gone”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not alone in seeking to wipe Israel off the map. But while he races to acquire the tools to do so, the Palestinian Arab Diplomatic Mission to the UK beat him to it, until last week displaying on its website a map aimed at tourists which did not identify Israel- from the river to the sea – at all.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority assailed the “Discover Palestine” promotion, featuring the entire area painted in the colors of the Palestinian Arab flag, as “misleading.” Empowered this year to cover marketing claims made by institutions on their own websites, the agency forced the mission to remove the offending material, as well as other misleading information. In the meantime, the mission is seeking legal advice.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not alone in seeking to wipe Israel off the map. But while he races to acquire the tools to do so, the Palestinian Arab Diplomatic Mission to the UK beat him to it, until last week displaying on its website a map aimed at tourists which did not identify Israel- from the river to the sea – at all.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority assailed the “Discover Palestine” promotion, featuring the entire area painted in the colors of the Palestinian Arab flag, as “misleading.” Empowered this year to cover marketing claims made by institutions on their own websites, the agency forced the mission to remove the offending material, as well as other misleading information. In the meantime, the mission is seeking legal advice.

This episode – and the website – is more telling, though, than a simple marketing miscommunication. Such maps are commonplace in Palestinian Authority schools, and betray the real attitude of the Palestinian Arab leadership: there is no place for Israel in their vision of peace.

Closer scrutiny of the same website reveals how embedded this perspective is. There is an ad for tours of “historic Palestine,” which include Ein Gedi, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, all of which are within Israel’s internationally-recognized borders. (Haifa and Jaffa were also claimed as part of “Palestine” on the tourist maps, and had to be removed.) Another promoted organization provides educational tours for foreign youth, and lists several past events, including an exhibit a few years ago entitled, “Commemorating the 58th Anniversary of the Nakba: ‘We will be back.’’’

Nakba, the familiar Arabic term meaning “catastrophe,” is used to refer to the flight of many Arabs from within the nascent Israel’s borders as the fledgling state fought its War of Independence, launched by its Arab neighbors in a bid to destroy it. However, “Nakba,” the website explains elsewhere,”is not simply a historical event but an ongoing process” to dispossess the Arabs, a process masked by “the Zionist master discourse…[which] transformed an ancient religious biblical tie into the basis for European settlers to substantiate a purported ‘return.’’’

The mission’s diminishment of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel (to delegitimize the Jewish state), the insistence on the Palestinian Arab right of return (to destroy it demographically), and the unabashed ejection of Israel from the map entirely (the ultimate ambition) represent three stages in their war.

The Palestinian Arabs are free to conjure up whatever collective narrative they fancy – that is a universal prerogative – but the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and others need not fund such corrosive activity.

More to the point, though, this episode, like the many before it and the many to come, demonstrates that the claims of the Palestinian Arabs are irreconcilable with any peace agreement Israel can (and has) offered, and that their aspirations simply cannot be squared with the reality of a Jewish and secure Israel within any borders west of the Jordan. “We will be back,” they say, meaning to finish: “and you will be gone.”

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Secret EU Document Targets Israel

The European Union has done such a good job integrating its own Arab and Muslim minorities – British mass honor attacks being covered up by the BBC, German multiculturalism bring declared a failure by Chancellor Merkel, Belgian schoolgirls being beaten to cries of “dirty Jew” by Moroccan girls, etc. – that they’re seeking to offer their expertise to Israel. How generous:

The European Union should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to a classified working paper produced by European embassies in Israel, parts of which were obtained by Haaretz. This is an unprecedented document in that it deals with internal Israeli issues. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials, it was written and sent to EU headquarters in Brussels behind the back of the Israeli government… [W]ork on it began more than a year ago at Britain’s initiative.

The embassies declared in the document that the breakdown in the peace process was having a negative impact on the integration of Israeli Arabs into society… The document suggests that the EU discuss Jewish-Arab relations with the Israeli government, while stressing the government’s obligation to bridge the gaps between the Jewish majority and Arab minority.

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The European Union has done such a good job integrating its own Arab and Muslim minorities – British mass honor attacks being covered up by the BBC, German multiculturalism bring declared a failure by Chancellor Merkel, Belgian schoolgirls being beaten to cries of “dirty Jew” by Moroccan girls, etc. – that they’re seeking to offer their expertise to Israel. How generous:

The European Union should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to a classified working paper produced by European embassies in Israel, parts of which were obtained by Haaretz. This is an unprecedented document in that it deals with internal Israeli issues. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials, it was written and sent to EU headquarters in Brussels behind the back of the Israeli government… [W]ork on it began more than a year ago at Britain’s initiative.

The embassies declared in the document that the breakdown in the peace process was having a negative impact on the integration of Israeli Arabs into society… The document suggests that the EU discuss Jewish-Arab relations with the Israeli government, while stressing the government’s obligation to bridge the gaps between the Jewish majority and Arab minority.

As a pretext for delegitimizing the Jewish State, it’s long been clear that anti-Israel partisans would transition to issues revolving around Israel’s “Arab minority” [PDF] as soon as they could no longer point to Israeli peace process intransigence. The old expectation was that they’d wait until after there was a successful formal peace deal, because until then they could always unblinkingly blame Israel for any lack of progress.

Apparently, Palestinian rejectionism has become so overwhelmingly undeniable during the last two years, with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly offering to start negotiations without preconditions and PA leader Abbas repeatedly declining, that the Europeans felt they had to brainstorm new ideas ahead of schedule. The EU Parliament experimented with backing the Goldstone Report but of course that ended poorly. Ergo the rush to focus on Israel’s Arab minority, complete with the presumed entitlement of interfering in Israel’s internal affairs.

It’s comforting to note, though, that even here they’re getting out-innovated by the United States. The European document presumably only blames Israel for ethnic tensions within Israel. It took President Obama’s ambassador to Belgium to explain how you could blame Israel for ethnic tensions within Europe.

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No Good Alternative Left in Egypt

The year started with seemingly glorious news from Egypt: tens of thousands of people rallying in Tahrir Square to demand the end of dictatorship and the advent of representative government. It is ending on a grim note with the Muslim Brotherhood winning 47 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections and even more hard-line Salafists winning another 21 percent. The second round of voting, which ended Thursday, is expected to confirm those results. Egyptian liberals now fear, as two of them wrote recently in Tablet magazine, that their country might “collapse into Islamist totalitarianism, or, even worse, total chaos.”

Does this vindicate the warnings of Realpolitikers—including most Israelis—who cautioned that President Obama was wrong to abandon Hosni Mubarak? More broadly, is this evidence that democratization in Muslim lands is a bad idea?

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The year started with seemingly glorious news from Egypt: tens of thousands of people rallying in Tahrir Square to demand the end of dictatorship and the advent of representative government. It is ending on a grim note with the Muslim Brotherhood winning 47 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections and even more hard-line Salafists winning another 21 percent. The second round of voting, which ended Thursday, is expected to confirm those results. Egyptian liberals now fear, as two of them wrote recently in Tablet magazine, that their country might “collapse into Islamist totalitarianism, or, even worse, total chaos.”

Does this vindicate the warnings of Realpolitikers—including most Israelis—who cautioned that President Obama was wrong to abandon Hosni Mubarak? More broadly, is this evidence that democratization in Muslim lands is a bad idea?

Not really. Actually, recent events show why the U.S. should have been more consistent in applying its democratic principles in the past—and why we need to do better in the future.

By the time that massive protests erupted against the Mubarak regime he was a goner, one way or another. The only way he could have kept his grip on power would have been to slaughter his own people in the streets. But it is far from clear that the Egyptian army would have been willing to fire on its own people. And as the examples of Syria and Libya demonstrate, even a willingness to slaughter without mercy is no longer a guarantee of a dictator’s staying power. Moreover, if Mubarak had opened fire to stay in power, it is hard to imagine the U.S. remaining allied to him afterward. By carrying out a bloodbath, Mubarak would have sacrificed whatever scraps of legitimacy he had left, at home or abroad.

So Obama was not wrong to finally withdraw U.S. support from Mubarak. Nor was his action necessarily decisive. Obama was merely acknowledging the inevitable. The real mistake was made earlier—by a long line of presidents, from Reagan to Obama, who countenanced Mubarak’s dictatorial rule for so long.

Some of us had been arguing for years that it was a mistake to give Mubarak a blank check. In 2006, for example, I published an op-ed arguing that the U.S. should have punished Mubarak for jailing his chief liberal critic, Ayman Nour, by  “trimming or eliminating” our $1.8 billion annual subsidy to his regime and “redirecting the money to promotion of civil society in the Middle East.”

That advice was ignored even by George W. Bush, supposedly a wild-eyed “neocon,” because political reform in Egypt always took a backseat to short-term imperatives to win Mubarak’s cooperation on issues such as fighting al-Qaeda and fostering the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.”

Unfortunately, our Mubarak-über-alles policy backfired: It made a revolution, rather a gradual devolution of power, more likely—and when the revolution came it made it more likely that power would be seized by Islamists because the mosque was the only place where any independent political organizing could occur.

To see how things might have worked out differently, look at Morocco. I traveled there last week as a guest of its government, which is doing what Mubarak wouldn’t: opening up its political system in a controlled way. King Mohammed VI has forged a new constitution that allows the largest party in parliament to form a government while keeping for himself control of national security and religious affairs. In Morocco, as in Egypt, an Islamist party has emerged as the winner of a recent election. But, unlike in Egypt, there is little fear of the dark of night of totalitarianism descending. That’s in part because Morocco’s Islamists, organized in the Justice and Development Party, are so moderate; they are primarily focused (or say they are) on fighting corruption and expanding services such as health care and schooling, not on banning alcohol or repressing women. But it’s also because the king serves as an effective check on their power.

To be sure, it’s easier for Mohammed to play this role than it would have been for Mubarak because the king has far greater legitimacy as the heir to a well-established throne, as a descendent of the Prophet, and as “Commander of the Faithful.” But Mubarak could have enhanced his own authority if he had ceded a measure of political power years ago. The fact that he did not—and that the U.S. did not pressure him to do so—helps to account for the mess that Egypt currently finds itself in.

There is no good alternative left in Egypt: Either continue with some degree of rule by the military or cede complete power to potentially radical Islamists. In those circumstances, the least-bad option is for Washington to support the army in continuing to provide a check on unfettered majoritarian rule. But we might have avoided this difficult dilemma if we had pushed earlier to open up the sclerotic Egyptian political system.

This is a salutary lesson here in dealing with other illiberal allies such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. needs to push for real reform in those places before the current, pro-Western rulers find themselves toppled by anti-American revolutionaries. There is scant cause to believe that most Egyptians—or most other Muslims—want to live under Taliban-like rule, but extremists will be poised to seize power if more moderate parties cannot organize.

 

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Ron Paul’s Self-Inflicted Handicap

Because the media doesn’t view Ron Paul as a serious contender for the GOP nomination, he’s gotten almost no scrutiny this season for some of the uglier skeletons in his closet – most notably, his infamous newsletters that promoted outright bigotry.

Sean Hannity was the first to question Paul about the newsletters after last night’s debate:

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Because the media doesn’t view Ron Paul as a serious contender for the GOP nomination, he’s gotten almost no scrutiny this season for some of the uglier skeletons in his closet – most notably, his infamous newsletters that promoted outright bigotry.

Sean Hannity was the first to question Paul about the newsletters after last night’s debate:

Hannity: Why do you not take responsibility for the things that were in your individual newsletters?

Paul: In 2002, the Texas Monthly reviewed that and they wrote a long, long article, and that’s a liberal newspaper, so you read that and you’ll find out –

Hannity: I read Reason magazine which is libertarian and –

Paul: I did not, I did not write it. And I do not support those views. And they’re painted to make me think that, you know, I’m a racist or something.

Hannity: There were some very racial things in there.

Paul: I’m the greatest defender of civil liberties, especially when it comes to the inequities in our judicial system, you know, with blacks, the imprisonments for the drug wars, the number of blacks to get the death penalty.

Hannity: I gotta run. Let me ask you one last question. Do you know who did write it and do you repudiate what was in your newsletter?

Paul: I do not. And I don’t believe anything, any of that stuff that they’ve quoted.

Ron Paul has had three years to formulate a response to these questions, since Jamie Kirchick’s investigation into his newsletters came out in The New Republic. He had to know that he was going to get asked about this at some point during his campaign. And that’s his answer? That he doesn’t know who wrote these things? That’s completely unacceptable.

And this was during a friendly interview with Hannity, who didn’t push back too hard. Imagine how that same conversation would have gone with someone from CNN or MSNBC, or even one of the news anchors from Fox.

The polls are showing that Paul actually has a good shot of winning in the Iowa caucuses, and he certainly has the passionate supporters and ground game to potentially pull it off. But it’s important for voters to remember Paul’s insurmountable, self-inflicted handicap, and why he has no chance of becoming president.

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Hamas’ Naked Bloodlust

Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

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Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

Hamas’ boasts are almost certainly exaggerated: It claims “credit” for more than 80 percent of all Israeli casualties since 1987, whereas Israeli data shows a much more equal distribution between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, aka Israel’s “peace partner.” But its eagerness to claim responsibility for more than its fair share of murders merely underscores the point that, far from being moderated by the responsibilities of governance, Hamas’ years in control of Gaza haven’t slaked its thirst for Israeli blood one whit.

There are several reasons why this ought to give pause to all those, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the New York Times, who routinely blame Israel for the impasse in the peace process. First, as Elliott Abrams noted, there’s little point in negotiating a peace agreement with half the Palestinian polity while the other half remains committed to Israel’s eradication, as that makes it unlikely a Palestinian state could actually deliver the promised peace.

More importantly, it’s hard to see how peace is possible when a sizable portion of the Palestinian public shares Hamas’ genocidal goals. About one-third of Palestinians (excluding the undecided) say they plan to vote Hamas in the next election. Even taken at face value, that’s a minority far too large to ignore, and in reality, the figure is probably larger: Polls also predicted a Fatah victory before the last election, which Hamas won handily.

Then there’s the fact that Israel’s “peace partner” feels it has enough in common with this genocidal organization to decide to form a unit government with it. That ought to cast doubt on Fatah’s commitment to peace even among those untroubled by other evidence.

Finally, there’s what it says about the broader land-for-peace paradigm. Abrams argued that how newly-elected Islamist parties in other Arab countries respond to Hamas’s genocidal goals will be a good test of their intentions. But in one case, we already know the answer: Hamas announced last week that it was formally joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which, shortly after winning Egypt’s elections, has already announced plans to reconsider Egypt’s own peace with Israel. In other words, the change in government in Egypt is making that peace treaty look decidedly shaky; would a treaty signed with Fatah to create a state where Hamas could someday win power be more stable?

One can understand why many Westerners prefer to avert their eyes from these facts; Hamas’ naked bloodlust isn’t pretty. But if you really want to understand why the “peace process” has failed, you won’t find a more concise explanation than Hamas’ own press release.

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Israel Won’t “Bibiwash” NYTimes Bias

The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

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The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

As Dermer pointed out out, the only op-ed article published by the Times during this period that defended Israel was by Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist whose claim to fame is the fact that he lent his name to a libelous United Nations report attacking Israel that he has since recanted. Every other piece has been part of the one-sided campaign in which the Jewish state has been skewered from every possible angle including some outrageous and clearly false assertions a less biased paper would never have considered. That list included an absurd article claiming it was wrong for Israel to take pride in its fine record on gay rights and one by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he re-wrote history by claiming Arab armies invaded the newborn Israel in 1948 to protect Palestinian Arabs rather than to destroy the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s office is only just now noticing something the paper’s readers deduced long ago. The editors of the Times abandoned any semblance of balance on their opinion page many years ago. In terms of American domestic politics and foreign policy that means a preponderance of liberal views with only token and half-hearted opposition by the Times’s house “conservatives.” However, when it comes to Israel, it means a page in which Israel’s friends are unwelcome while its critics and enemies enjoy a year-round open season on the Jewish state. In the not-so-distant past, writers like A.M. Rosenthal and William Safire would balance the views of the editorial column and the paper’s left-wing columnists, but now there is no one on staff ready to do so.

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s koshering of the Times would do nothing but allow the paper to pretend to be fair. Though its doubtful anybody at the Times is likely to take this criticism to heart, by calling them out for their bias Dermer and his boss have performed a public service that should warm the hearts of many of the paper’s readers as well as those who have long since given up reading it.

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Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

There is no question in my mind that Christopher Hitchens was the bravest ideologically driven writer since—well, I’ll say it—my father, Norman Podhoretz. The bravery he displayed was not in taking unyielding positions and holding to them even when the outcome appeared bleak, as was the case with his support for the war in Iraq—contrast Hitchens’s stalwartness with the unutterable cravenness of the self-righteously inconstant Andrew Sullivan, whose salivation at the Pavlov-like bell rung by the website clicks of the the anti-war left when he put his toe in the Bush-lied waters turned into an unslaking yearning for the rewards of that Internet traffic, and you get a sense of how things might have been different for Hitchens.

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There is no question in my mind that Christopher Hitchens was the bravest ideologically driven writer since—well, I’ll say it—my father, Norman Podhoretz. The bravery he displayed was not in taking unyielding positions and holding to them even when the outcome appeared bleak, as was the case with his support for the war in Iraq—contrast Hitchens’s stalwartness with the unutterable cravenness of the self-righteously inconstant Andrew Sullivan, whose salivation at the Pavlov-like bell rung by the website clicks of the the anti-war left when he put his toe in the Bush-lied waters turned into an unslaking yearning for the rewards of that Internet traffic, and you get a sense of how things might have been different for Hitchens.

No, his bravery was personal; in maintaining views that angered not those for whom he had contempt but those whom he liked and socialized with and who even held some of the purse-strings for him, like The Nation, Hitchens did the most difficult thing a thinking person can do outside wartime or a threat of imminent violence or danger, and that is take a stand that puts him at odds with the entirety of his community. There can be real fun in this, to be sure, and you can’t be as consistently, almost willfully contrarian as Hitchens was without thrilling yourself by being the mischievous boy who is always looking to get away with something outrageous. But it is still extraordinarily difficult to keep yourself strapped to the mast when the sirens are singing to seduce you and are also threatening at the same time to dash your ship against the rocks. Christopher did, and, like my father, he set a great example for a generation of younger writers who found his combination of literacy, smart-assery, and polemical brilliance so alluring.

That said—and while also acknowledging the limpid quality of his prose, the supernatural ability he had to churn out literate articles despite the fact that he drank more than any other person I have ever known (with the exception of Pat Moynihan), and his enormous personal charm that always made time spent with him a pleasure—Christopher was also capable of expressing himself in a fashion that deserves to be called repugnant. I once saw him at a party in Washington in the 1980s accuse a young Reaganite then working idealistically for a controversial official as that official’s “butt boy” to that Reaganite’s face, an act of public-school mortification and bullying of a kind I’d never witnessed before and hope never to have to see again; he suggested in print once that Ronald Reagan could not negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev because the assassination attempt on Reagan’s life had left the president incontinent and he would have to leave the room too often; he stood in defense of the historiographic virtues of the Holocaust denier David Irving, which is a little like praising Josef Mengele for his medical skills; he wrote indefensibly disgusting things about Mother Teresa; and then there was the case of Israel.

Christopher’s loathing for Israel originated in his days as part of Britain’s neo-Marxist left and its post-1967 decision to treat the Jewish state as an imperialist power (where once it had been considered a great success in the battle against British imperialism). But when he turned from those views, he continued to express an alienation toward Israel even when he came to hold views about the civilizational threat of Islamic radicalism that were remarkably consistent with, say, Natan Sharansky’s. In the end, his feelings toward Israel calmed down but never underwent an evolutionary change, because his problem was not with the notion of a homeland for the dispossessed Jewish tribe so much as it was with the continued existence of the tribe itself—a tribe of which he was astonished to discover in midlife he was a member, on his mother’s side. That tribe survived on this earth through the millennia because of its fidelity to the laws not of man but of God. That fidelity, as I am sure he was honest enough with himself to understand, made his own formidable life possible.

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How Hitchens Is Great Even in Death

The great Christopher Hitchens, an essayist of fierce and unshakable integrity, has died in Houston of the esophageal cancer with which he was first diagnosed just a year and a half ago.

A complicated figure who should be remembered for the undeviating contrarianism that made him such a good journalist (see his 2001 Letters to a Young Contrarian), Hitchens also emerged in recent years as a leading voice of the New Atheism (see his 2007 God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). He specialized in angering people — a lot of people, a lot of the time. (Update: Including the Jews. This morning at Jewish Ideas Daily, Benjamin Kerstein examines Hitchens’s “loathing for Judaism, or rather the grotesque caricature he refers to as Judaism.” It does not diminish his achievement to observe that many of those whom Hitchens angered were right to be angry.)

He drove his former comrades on the left especially crazy. Many of them broke with him after he condemned “Islamic fascism” in the days following 9/11. By then he had already turned away from his youthful Trotskyism. And he had tried the left’s patience with his bitter opposition to President Clinton (see his 1999 No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton). But the heresy of locating fascism in the Islamic and not the capitalist world was the last straw. He stopped writing for the Nation, to which he had regularly contributed for 20 years, and never again let up on the left for its appeasement of terrorism.

In an essay written for Slate on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Hitchens explained his conception of his literary role:

The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either.

His detractors on the left and among the religious never understood this about him: everything Hitchens wrote was a provocation to rethink and an invitation to reply. He could be disdainful of his opponents — this is the usual reason given by people who refuse to read him — but Hitchens’s essays are a call to defend themselves. His essays are never bullying, because Hitchens never pretends to have the last word on a subject. Hence the title of his last book: Arguably. (If there is any justice in the literary world it will win the National Book Critics Circle award in nonfiction, for which I — and many others, I’m sure — have nominated it.)

Hitchens set a high standard of argument in several genres, writing a hugely entertaining memoir (his 2010 Hitch-22), political history (his 2005 Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), and literary criticism (his 2002 Why Orwell Matters). In his last months, he added his unsparing honesty to the literature of cancer (see here, for example, and here and particularly here). He is routinely compared to Orwell, but the comparison does neither man justice. Better to say this: exactly like Orwell, he was a man of the left who was the left’s best critic, an utterly unique figure with a plain and compelling voice all his own, perfectly fitted to his age. To honor his memory, I will not pray for him.

Rest in peace.

The great Christopher Hitchens, an essayist of fierce and unshakable integrity, has died in Houston of the esophageal cancer with which he was first diagnosed just a year and a half ago.

A complicated figure who should be remembered for the undeviating contrarianism that made him such a good journalist (see his 2001 Letters to a Young Contrarian), Hitchens also emerged in recent years as a leading voice of the New Atheism (see his 2007 God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). He specialized in angering people — a lot of people, a lot of the time. (Update: Including the Jews. This morning at Jewish Ideas Daily, Benjamin Kerstein examines Hitchens’s “loathing for Judaism, or rather the grotesque caricature he refers to as Judaism.” It does not diminish his achievement to observe that many of those whom Hitchens angered were right to be angry.)

He drove his former comrades on the left especially crazy. Many of them broke with him after he condemned “Islamic fascism” in the days following 9/11. By then he had already turned away from his youthful Trotskyism. And he had tried the left’s patience with his bitter opposition to President Clinton (see his 1999 No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton). But the heresy of locating fascism in the Islamic and not the capitalist world was the last straw. He stopped writing for the Nation, to which he had regularly contributed for 20 years, and never again let up on the left for its appeasement of terrorism.

In an essay written for Slate on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Hitchens explained his conception of his literary role:

The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either.

His detractors on the left and among the religious never understood this about him: everything Hitchens wrote was a provocation to rethink and an invitation to reply. He could be disdainful of his opponents — this is the usual reason given by people who refuse to read him — but Hitchens’s essays are a call to defend themselves. His essays are never bullying, because Hitchens never pretends to have the last word on a subject. Hence the title of his last book: Arguably. (If there is any justice in the literary world it will win the National Book Critics Circle award in nonfiction, for which I — and many others, I’m sure — have nominated it.)

Hitchens set a high standard of argument in several genres, writing a hugely entertaining memoir (his 2010 Hitch-22), political history (his 2005 Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), and literary criticism (his 2002 Why Orwell Matters). In his last months, he added his unsparing honesty to the literature of cancer (see here, for example, and here and particularly here). He is routinely compared to Orwell, but the comparison does neither man justice. Better to say this: exactly like Orwell, he was a man of the left who was the left’s best critic, an utterly unique figure with a plain and compelling voice all his own, perfectly fitted to his age. To honor his memory, I will not pray for him.

Rest in peace.

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Last Dance in Iowa Brings Gingrich Back to the Pack

A few days ago, Newt Gingrich looked to be rolling to the nomination, and Mitt Romney seemed headed for an inevitable loss. But the last debate before the Iowa caucus ended with the former Speaker headed back to the pack. Gingrich had some strong moments in Sioux City, but the beating he took on his consulting work for Freddie Mac from Michele Bachmann brought into focus the questions about his record that many Republicans have been ignoring in recent weeks.

Mitt Romney recovered from his poor performance last Saturday and was back to the steady, confident debater he was earlier in the campaign. But the story was not so much his strong showing as it was the ability of Bachmann and even Rick Perry to score some points. If, as today’s Rasmussen poll indicates, voters are starting to have second thoughts about Gingrich’s ability to beat President Obama, then the ability of the second-tier conservatives to eat into the former Speaker’s support may be crucial in deciding the outcome of the caucus next month. Though Ron Paul, the candidate who seemed in the best position to threaten Gingrich’s lead, had a terrible night as he was flayed by Bachmann for his irresponsible support for Iran, the net result of the field evening out in this manner is to Romney’s advantage.

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A few days ago, Newt Gingrich looked to be rolling to the nomination, and Mitt Romney seemed headed for an inevitable loss. But the last debate before the Iowa caucus ended with the former Speaker headed back to the pack. Gingrich had some strong moments in Sioux City, but the beating he took on his consulting work for Freddie Mac from Michele Bachmann brought into focus the questions about his record that many Republicans have been ignoring in recent weeks.

Mitt Romney recovered from his poor performance last Saturday and was back to the steady, confident debater he was earlier in the campaign. But the story was not so much his strong showing as it was the ability of Bachmann and even Rick Perry to score some points. If, as today’s Rasmussen poll indicates, voters are starting to have second thoughts about Gingrich’s ability to beat President Obama, then the ability of the second-tier conservatives to eat into the former Speaker’s support may be crucial in deciding the outcome of the caucus next month. Though Ron Paul, the candidate who seemed in the best position to threaten Gingrich’s lead, had a terrible night as he was flayed by Bachmann for his irresponsible support for Iran, the net result of the field evening out in this manner is to Romney’s advantage.

There were no obvious gaffes. But there were some memorable moments as Bachmann stood up to both Gingrich and Paul, subjecting both to withering attacks. Gingrich recovered to some extent with strong attacks on President Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and on liberal judges. But if his goal was to maintain his momentum, he failed. Gingrich was subjected to tough questioning that diminished his ability to stay on top.

The debate was more important to Gingrich than the others because his weak organization in the state made it imperative he head into the final weeks with a big lead. Though it can be argued by the end of the night he had recovered some of the ground he lost when he was being backed into a corner by Bachmann, it still meant that he was, at best, no better off than when he began.

Paul’s extremist foreign policy, which was thoroughly exposed by both the moderators and his conservative opponents, should sink any hopes that his followers might have about the libertarian extremist squeaking out a narrow plurality. That has to help Gingrich, but strong showings by Bachmann and Perry (who will be best remembered for his line about being the political version of Tim Tebow), will eat into Gingrich’s lead and diminish the notion that he is the default “anti-Romney” for many conservatives.

Romney’s path to victory in Iowa — which would set him on an easy path to the nomination — is predicated on a divided conservative field. If Gingrich is headed back to the pack and with some of the second-tier candidates gaining ground rather than fading into obscurity, then Romney may be back on track.

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