As I noted earlier, President Obama’s pitch for the Jewish vote has more to do with his appeal to knee-jerk liberalism on a host of non-Jewish issues than it does with concern for Israel’s welfare. Nevertheless, it is a misnomer to think liberal Jews such as those who cheered Obama Friday at the Reform biennial, don’t care about the Jewish state.
However, their willingness to accept Obama’s claims on the topic says more about their desire not to turn on a Democrat than it says about his virtues. One must ignore much of what has transpired in the last three years in order to believe the president’s claims.
On Friday afternoon, President Obama received a hero’s welcome when he spoke to the biennial convention of the Union of Reform Judaism. Approximately 5,000 Reform Jews gave Obama almost as many standing ovations as Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this past spring. But though the coverage of the speech has focused primarily on the president’s repeat of his boasts that he is the most pro-Israel president in history, it should be understood that the bulk of the address did not touch on the Middle East. Rather, the main focus of his remarks was a compendium of liberal positions on domestic issues intended to draw cheers from an audience that, while still concerned with Israel’s security, was far happier hearing talk about higher taxes, defense of entitlements and the class warfare rhetoric Obama has been rehearsing since the start of the debt-ceiling crisis this past summer.
Those seeking to analyze the possibility of a shift in the Jewish vote as Obama seeks re-election know that the president’s often-antagonistic relationship with the State of Israel could cost him next November. Polls and special elections such as the one in New York’s 9th Congressional district last September have showed that there are enough swing Jewish voters who will be influenced by this issue to give Democrats something to worry about. But though the minority of Jews who can be swayed by concerns about Israel is not inconsiderable, it is nonetheless true that Obama is almost certain to win a majority of the Jewish vote in 2012 no matter what happens to Israel on his watch. And the applause Obama garnered on Friday afternoon when speaking to this conclave of the largest Jewish denomination in this country provides the evidence for that conclusion.
Say what you will about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (and as I have repeatedly argued, I think it is unwise and counterproductive), as a purely military operation, it is an impressive achievement. During the course of the last few months, the U.S. military has withdrawn 50,000 troops from a still-volatile land where plenty of enemies, on both the Shiite and Sunni sides, would like to inflict more casualties on us–and it has done so with almost no casualties.
According to icasualties.org, U.S. forces suffered four fatalities in September, four in October, two in November and none at all in December, the month when the last troops headed for Kuwait. Even that low level of casualties inevitably means heartbreak for some military families; the Washington Post has a moving article today about Specialist David Hickman, who was killed on Nov. 14 when an IED ripped into his armored truck, making him quite possibly the last U.S. serviceman killed in action in Iraq (at least for the time being). We should also keep in mind that even in peacetime, a certain number of service personnel are lost due to training accidents, illness and suicide–but by any reasonable measure the losses suffered in what could be a very dangerous operation (a withdrawal under fire) were remarkably low.
The death today of Vaclav Havel at the age of 75 reminds us what it truly means to speak up for liberty against tyranny. A playwright who became a symbol of dissent against an evil Soviet empire, Havel spent years in Communist jails for his activities and writings that championed individual freedom. He co-authored the Charter 77 manifesto that gave new life to the cause of human rights in his own country and helped inspire others elsewhere living under the Soviet yoke. Eventually, he helped lead his nation to freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall and served as the first president of a free Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic after the Slovaks left to form their own nation.
But there is more to be learned from recounting the story of Havel’s sacrifices and triumphs than just a tale of individual heroism. What ought to be remembered about Havel and the “Velvet Revolution” that he led to victory is that it was won by an uncompromising defense of the principle of democracy and individual rights when many unenlightened Western “realists” and liberals made it clear they were more interested in accommodating the Soviets than working to free those suffering under their tyranny. Havel’s struggles also gives us a yardstick by which we can measure the worthiness of contemporary protest movements around the world that now claim the mantle of dissent.
Those of us who had been in favor of a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq had warned that these forces were a vital stabilizing force in Iraq’s turbulent politics. It gives me no pleasure to be proven right. For no sooner have U.S. troops been withdrawn (the final convoy crossed the Kuwait border yesterday), then Iraqi politics were plunged into a fresh crisis.
Sunni politicians are accusing the domineering Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, of sending his security forces to arrest their aides and target them. In protest, the Iraqiya coalition, the top vote getter in Iraq’s last election, has announced a boycott of parliament. As the Iraq analyst Reidar Vissar notes, rumors are rampant the crisis will escalate because of “unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.”
A new Associated Press-GfK poll found the following:
One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.
I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.