Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2012

Misguided Alarmism About Sharia Law

Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

Read More

Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

What are the odds that in the future any other sentence could possibly be reached in such a case in Canada, the U.S., or any other part of the West?  I’d say the odds are pretty slim. Which is one reason–not the only one–why alarmism about the spread of sharia is so misguided. In fact, only the most fanatical interpretations of sharia would countenance such cold-blooded murder.

The meaning of sharia is as vague and open for debate as the meaning of the Talmud or Catholic theology. Some people will have fundamentalist interpretations, but other interpretations will be more moderate. There is nothing particularly alarming about Muslims volunteering to agree to abide by the laws of their faith in certain matters pertaining to family law, just as some observant Jews, Catholics, and other religious believers do. What would be repugnant and alarming is if some cockamamie interpretation of sharia were infringing on the freedoms of unbelievers or jeopardizing the safety and well-being of those entitled to the full protection of the law. But as the Shafia case in Canada shows, that is not what is happening. And I predict it will not happen in the future either.

 

Read Less

Election Revealing Left’s Xenophobia

Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

Read More

Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

If you want a clue as to why Romney releasing his tax returns hasn’t hurt him one little bit in Florida consider this: 68% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of rich people to only 8% with a negative one. Romney’s up 47-32 among those who like rich people. Here’s a simple reality: in a GOP primary it’s an asset to be rich and successful, not a liability. Attacks on Romney along those lines just aren’t going to be effective with Republican voters. Additionally only 14% of voters have “major concerns” about Romney’s overseas bank accounts, while 56% have none at all.

Republican voters just don’t hold his wealth against Romney. MacGillis had been talking to swing voters who sometimes vote Democrat and sometimes Republican. They, too, for the most part weren’t angry about Romney’s wealth. So who is? Liberals, it seems. An article in Politico a few days ago inadvertently shed more light on liberal voters’ sense of political xenophobia:

The academic standards for president have been rising since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton was the first Rhodes scholar. He handed the Oval Office keys to our first M.B.A. president, George W. Bush.

Barack Obama held one of the highest post-graduate honors, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review. The presidential and vice presidential nominees on every Democrat ticket in the past 20 years have a post-graduate degree. This is also true of the only successful GOP ticket in this period, Bush (M.B.A.) and Dick Cheney (M.A.).

There has never been a Ph.D. president during the modern era or anyone holding two post-graduate degrees, or a medical license. President Harry Truman never even graduated from college.

The article notes that despite their education levels, Truman, Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson were the most consequential presidents of the post-war era. Could Truman, the authors wonder, even get elected today?

The answer is yes–as a Republican. As the article explains, this year’s crop of Republican candidates is extremely well educated–perhaps the best such group of candidates yet. So Republican voters are obviously not antagonistic toward the well educated. But Republicans have also pushed back against the narrative that those who were not educated at elite universities aren’t fit for higher office–and been pilloried as “anti-intellectual” for it.

As far as educational standards go, Republicans will nominate both the elite and the non-elite. They will support rich candidates or those closer to “the common man.” And a look back at polling tells you they are more likely to support a Mormon for president than Democrats are. Liberal voters, then, have an educational bias, a religious bias, and a class bias. So it’s really no wonder that mainstream media outlets and a liberal president are pushing the class warfare narrative: it turns out liberal voters are a closed-minded bunch.

Read Less

Palestinian TV Celebrates Mass Murderer

At times, it seems for those who wish to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East, there is nothing the Palestinians could do to reassess their thinking. But surely even the most dedicated finder of fault with Israel would have to be shocked by the latest outrage promoted by the official television station of the Palestinian Authority. PA TV runs a show titled “For You,” which is dedicated to stories about Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails. But last week’s edition broke new ground when it comes to promoting contempt for the value of Jewish life among Palestinians.

The show, which was broadcast twice last week, featured Hakim Awad, a Palestinian who was sentenced to five life sentences last summer for taking part in the cold-blooded murder of a Jewish family in the settlement of Itamar. Hakim and his cousin Amjad Awad stabbed to death Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children: 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and Hadas, a four-month-old baby. But the official television station of the U.S.-funded PA treated Awad as a “hero” and a “legend.”

Read More

At times, it seems for those who wish to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East, there is nothing the Palestinians could do to reassess their thinking. But surely even the most dedicated finder of fault with Israel would have to be shocked by the latest outrage promoted by the official television station of the Palestinian Authority. PA TV runs a show titled “For You,” which is dedicated to stories about Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails. But last week’s edition broke new ground when it comes to promoting contempt for the value of Jewish life among Palestinians.

The show, which was broadcast twice last week, featured Hakim Awad, a Palestinian who was sentenced to five life sentences last summer for taking part in the cold-blooded murder of a Jewish family in the settlement of Itamar. Hakim and his cousin Amjad Awad stabbed to death Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children: 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and Hadas, a four-month-old baby. But the official television station of the U.S.-funded PA treated Awad as a “hero” and a “legend.”

The show featured the prisoner’s aunt and mother praising him while directly acknowledging his participation in the killings of the Fogel family. The host responded saying, “We also wish them [the murderers] well.” The watchdog group Palestine Media Watch reported the broadcast.

Critics of PMW claim it and other groups that monitor the Arab media cherry-pick incendiary quotes and take them out of context. But there is no way to explain or rationalize the PA’s decision to broadcast shows that glorify terrorists who kill Jewish children. However, this issue is about more than the culpability of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Fatah-run Authority (though perhaps soon it will be run by Hamas). The reason why such programs are broadcast is they reflect Palestinian popular opinion which views the murder of Jews as justifiable.

It must be understood that as long as the PA promotes such sentiments, peace is impossible. Until the day comes when a Palestinian government is prepared to teach its people that slaughtering Jews is wrong, there is simply no way it will ever sign an accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state–no matter where its borders are drawn.

Read Less

Defining Recovery Down

On Friday, we learned that the annualized GDP growth rate in the fourth quarter was 2.8 percent. The press coverage the following days portrayed this news as encouraging. It wasn’t. The Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009; for the last quarter of 2011 to produce a growth rate less than 3.0 percent is evidence of a very weak economy. (Historically, the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery.) Indeed, the GDP increase for all of 2011 was a Lost Decade-like 1.7 percent. We lost ground from 2010, which itself was a relatively sickly year (GDP grew only 3.0 percent).

As a point of comparison, this editorial points out that once the Reagan recovery began in earnest in 1983, growth stayed above 5 percent for 18 months and never fell below 3.3 percent for 13 consecutive quarters. In the Obama years, on the other hand, growth has never exceeded 4 percent in any quarter.

Read More

On Friday, we learned that the annualized GDP growth rate in the fourth quarter was 2.8 percent. The press coverage the following days portrayed this news as encouraging. It wasn’t. The Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009; for the last quarter of 2011 to produce a growth rate less than 3.0 percent is evidence of a very weak economy. (Historically, the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery.) Indeed, the GDP increase for all of 2011 was a Lost Decade-like 1.7 percent. We lost ground from 2010, which itself was a relatively sickly year (GDP grew only 3.0 percent).

As a point of comparison, this editorial points out that once the Reagan recovery began in earnest in 1983, growth stayed above 5 percent for 18 months and never fell below 3.3 percent for 13 consecutive quarters. In the Obama years, on the other hand, growth has never exceeded 4 percent in any quarter.

For anyone to be encouraged by our latest GDP figures is evidence that, to paraphrase a formulation once used by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we’re Defining Recovery Down.

 

Read Less

You Can’t Take Money Out of Politics

Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

Read More

Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

It is true the spectacle of individual donors like Newt Gingrich’s friend Sheldon Adelson having the power to affect the race seems an indictment of the current state of the law. But super PACs exist, like their predecessors in recent elections such as the 527 groups made famous by the Swift Boat Veterans that attacked John Kerry, because of the reform impulse that seeks to take money out of politics. As this is impossible, all the reforms have done is to make it more difficult for candidates and political parties to raise money. Though some laws, like McCain’s unlamented legislation, have sought to extend those restrictions to individual citizens, groups and corporations, this violates the constitutionally protected right of political speech.

McCain thinks it is scandalous that a “casino owner and his wife” — meaning the Adelsons — have a right to spend their money promoting candidates and issues they believe in. But even if you agree some of the ads financed by Adelson (such as the Michael Moore-style documentary attacking Romney’s business career that was run by a Gingrich super PAC) were absurd, why should the government have any more right to stifle the Adelsons’ speech than it does that of the media or incumbent politicians?

As Thompson pointed out in rebuttal to McCain, the right of political speech cannot be restricted only to those candidates who can “self-fund.” That means all candidates and the parties should have the ability to raise the money they need, if they can muster such support, so long as there is some transparency. If McCain thinks it’s a bad thing that campaign finance law has marginalized parties, he should blame the whole “reform” impulse that has continually blighted our political life since Watergate, not the court.

If there are to be more campaign finance scandals, they are as much the fault of those who, like McCain, cling to the myth that money can be drained from politics if only you write enough restrictive laws. On the contrary, politics will be a lot cleaner once this “reform” impulse is permanently shelved.

Read Less

So, You Think the Palestinians Are Actually Interested in Negotiating?

As I noted earlier, one area in which Palestinians need no help from anyone is finding excuses to shun negotiations. Currently, of course, they are claiming Israel’s position on borders leaves no room for progress. But if you want to see the real reason talks are stalemated, take a look at what happened last week, when Israel tried to present its position on security arrangements at a negotiating session in Amman: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused  to even let the Israeli official speak, saying he had no “mandate to negotiate security arrangements” until Israel presented “detailed documents” with its position on borders.

Everyone involved in the peace process has always understood that borders and security are intimately connected, because how much territory Israel is willing to cede will depend on the robustness of the compensatory security arrangements. That’s why even President Barack Obama, in his May 2011 speech calling for a “borders first” approach that would defer issues like Jerusalem and the refugees until later, didn’t propose deferring security; he suggested that talks focus first on “territory and security.” Thus, if the Palestinians aren’t even willing to listen to Israel’s positions on security arrangements, they clearly aren’t interested in conducting serious negotiations at all. As Israel’s chief negotiator aptly told Erekat, “If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate.”

Read More

As I noted earlier, one area in which Palestinians need no help from anyone is finding excuses to shun negotiations. Currently, of course, they are claiming Israel’s position on borders leaves no room for progress. But if you want to see the real reason talks are stalemated, take a look at what happened last week, when Israel tried to present its position on security arrangements at a negotiating session in Amman: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused  to even let the Israeli official speak, saying he had no “mandate to negotiate security arrangements” until Israel presented “detailed documents” with its position on borders.

Everyone involved in the peace process has always understood that borders and security are intimately connected, because how much territory Israel is willing to cede will depend on the robustness of the compensatory security arrangements. That’s why even President Barack Obama, in his May 2011 speech calling for a “borders first” approach that would defer issues like Jerusalem and the refugees until later, didn’t propose deferring security; he suggested that talks focus first on “territory and security.” Thus, if the Palestinians aren’t even willing to listen to Israel’s positions on security arrangements, they clearly aren’t interested in conducting serious negotiations at all. As Israel’s chief negotiator aptly told Erekat, “If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate.”

But that isn’t the only evidence; equally telling is the ever-growing list of “gestures” the Palestinians are demanding from Israel in exchange for deigning to sit in the same room with Israeli officials. For months, they said the condition for continued talks was a freeze on settlement construction. But now, even this isn’t enough: Nimer Hammad, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said earlier this month the PA also demands a release of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel, the dismantling of Israeli security checkpoints in the West Bank and the transfer of additional chunks of West Bank territory to PA control – or in other words, that Israel cede territory prior to negotiations instead of as a result of negotiations.

Even worse, the “international community” is pressuring Israel to agree to these demands, seemingly incapable of seeing the obvious: If the Palestinians had any interest in holding genuine negotiations, they wouldn’t need to be bribed with lavish Israeli concessions just to get them to enter the room.

And that, of course, brings us to the other obvious corollary that the “international community” willfully refuses to see: If the Palestinians had any real interest in obtaining a state, they wouldn’t need to be bribed, cajoled and arm-twisted just to get them to hold talks with the only party that can actually give them one –Israel.

But to admit that is to admit  the entire peace process is a fraud and a failure, and that is too painful. It’s much more comfortable to keep pretending that peace could be achieved if Israel would just give a little more.

Read Less

The Sore Loser Scenario

With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.

Read More

With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.

Gingrich has no incentive to be a good sport like most Republican runners-up in the past. The former speaker has no need to worry about mending fences with GOP power bases in order to secure another White House race in the future simply because it is unlikely he would run again and no chance he would benefit, as others have in the past, from his runner-up status in 2012. Gingrich has nothing personally to gain from clearing the way for the all-but-certain nominee and to help strengthen his chances in November against Obama.

Just as important is the temperament of the candidate. Even at the height of his power as Speaker of the House, Gingrich was always better suited to the role of insurgent bomb thrower than power broker. If anything, he may actually enjoy the idea of leading a grass roots revolt against the GOP establishment even if he is just as much a member of that establishment as anyone else. Having bought into his own increasingly bitter attacks on Romney for supposedly being a liberal, it may be close to impossible for Gingrich to step back in off of the rhetorical ledge onto which he has stepped.

With the GOP primary rules mandating proportional allocation of delegates, it may even be possible for him to come close to preventing Romney from obtaining a majority until very late in the year, even if he never won another state after South Carolina. That would force Romney to spend time, energy and money fighting Republicans rather than preparing for Obama. Rather than a long fight helping Romney, the Gingrich onslaught would be aided by a press that will latch onto his attacks in a way that Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Obama did not. Gingrich could ensure that the Republican convention is a bloodbath rather than a coronation of the GOP standard-bearer.

The only question is whether Gingrich’s financial supporters are as interested in sabotaging Romney as he is. Considering that his main backer, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is primarily interested in removing the possibility of a second Obama administration pressuring Israel, it may be that at some point he will consider it prudent to turn off the spigot of contributions. It may be that just as Adelson was able to revive Gingrich’s hopes with financial contributions, he could at some point put the Republicans out of their misery.

But failing that, Republicans could be in for a long, bitter and ultimately destructive Gingrich campaign whose only object would be to diminish Romney. That is exactly what President Obama is counting on.

Read Less

Erasing 20 Years of History

When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

Read More

When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

In short, Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is precisely “the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years.”

But along came Obama, with his assertion last May that the starting point for talks should be the 1967 lines rather than two decades of previous negotiations, and suddenly, 20 years of history have been erased: The Palestinians can unblushingly assert that Israel’s demand to retain the settlement blocs is a new demand, and a veteran New York Times reporter can unblushingly parrot that assertion. In effect, the starting point for talks has just been moved.

This would indeed be a serious obstacle to negotiations if they ever resumed, because in 20 years of conceding one “red line” after another, one of the few things successive Israeli governments have never wavered on is their insistence on retaining the settlement blocs. Yet the Palestinians can’t be more Catholic than the Pope: If the U.S. president deems the settlement blocs illegitimate, Palestinians can hardly do otherwise. That’s precisely why previous U.S. presidents were always careful to provide cover for Palestinian negotiators by making it clear that in their view, the settlement blocs should remain Israeli.

But Obama has practically single-handedly created a new narrative, in which Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is not a given, and his allies in the media are eagerly disseminating it. And that mistake, as Jonathan aptly said, will haunt Israeli-Palestinian talks for a long time to come.

Read Less

Turkey May Soon Host Hamas

As Hamas looks to leave its long-standing offices in Damascus, where the Assad regime now teeters, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is neither confirming nor denying reports that the group may relocate its offices to Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News:

Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels.

Read More

As Hamas looks to leave its long-standing offices in Damascus, where the Assad regime now teeters, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is neither confirming nor denying reports that the group may relocate its offices to Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News:

Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels.

How will the Obama administration react should Turkey provide safe haven for Hamas? After all, a major reason why Syria remained for years on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list was because it sheltered and provided safe haven to terrorist groups.  According to the State Department:

Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since the list’s inception in 1979. Because of its continuing support and safe haven for terrorist organizations, Syria is subject to legislatively mandated penalties, including export sanctions and ineligibility to receive most forms of U.S. aid or to purchase U.S. military equipment.

The United States provides Turkey with counter-terrorism assistance. While it is true Turkey has suffered from terrorism, the United States should never provide assistance to any country which embraces an a la carte definition of terrorism in which it complains about terrorism waged against it, but excuses or encourages terrorism waged against others.

Turkey was once a valuable NATO ally, but increasingly it is becoming like Pakistan an ally in name only. The only question for American policymakers should be how much damage will occur before diplomats recognize what Turkey has become and stop praising what it once was.

Read Less

Obama’s ’67 Borders Mistake Haunts Talks

The Palestinian reaction to Israel’s position about West Bank settlement blocs once again demonstrates that rather seeking an agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state, what they are doing is looking for an excuse to avoid ever having to sign a peace deal. Even worse, it is evidence that President Obama’s misguided intervention into the question of future borders last May is still having a harmful effect on the effort to revive negotiations.

The Israeli position in the discussions taking place in Jordan is they want the major settlement blocs (which comprise a tiny portion of the West Bank’s territory but also the vast majority of the more than 250,000 Jews who live there) to be incorporated into Israel as part of a deal. But rather than negotiate this point, the Palestinians have rejected it out of hand and said they won’t talk if the Israelis stick to their position. Israel’s position is compatible even with President Obama’s stand on the issue which allows for territorial swaps that would enable Israel to retain these blocs. But even though the president’s Jewish defenders claim his May 2011 speech merely restated existing policies, the Palestinian interpretation seems to illustrate how damaging his mention of the 1967 lines has been.

Read More

The Palestinian reaction to Israel’s position about West Bank settlement blocs once again demonstrates that rather seeking an agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state, what they are doing is looking for an excuse to avoid ever having to sign a peace deal. Even worse, it is evidence that President Obama’s misguided intervention into the question of future borders last May is still having a harmful effect on the effort to revive negotiations.

The Israeli position in the discussions taking place in Jordan is they want the major settlement blocs (which comprise a tiny portion of the West Bank’s territory but also the vast majority of the more than 250,000 Jews who live there) to be incorporated into Israel as part of a deal. But rather than negotiate this point, the Palestinians have rejected it out of hand and said they won’t talk if the Israelis stick to their position. Israel’s position is compatible even with President Obama’s stand on the issue which allows for territorial swaps that would enable Israel to retain these blocs. But even though the president’s Jewish defenders claim his May 2011 speech merely restated existing policies, the Palestinian interpretation seems to illustrate how damaging his mention of the 1967 lines has been.

By stating that a Middle East peace deal should be negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines, Obama strengthened the Palestinians’ belief that their demands for a complete Israeli retreat and the eviction of every Jew living in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem had America’s tacit backing. Though Obama quickly followed up with a reassurance that he backed the idea of territorial swaps that would allow Israel to try to keep some settlements, the Palestinians viewed that as inconsequential, as the president had buttressed their position that a return to the status quo of June 4, 1967 was an imperative.

The Palestinians approach the West Bank–an area to which no sovereign nation had a claim that the world recognized in 1967–as theirs without any need to negotiate. Indeed, they are even incredulous at the notion that Israel has any claim or rights. Israel’s position is the West Bank is disputed territory, not Palestinian. By speaking of 1967 as the starting point, Obama tacitly endorsed the Palestinian position that the West Bank was “stolen” from them, even though they never owned it in the first place.

Given the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement and the impending changes in Palestinian politics that this will cause, there is no reason to believe the PA will ever agree to any peace deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But what Israel is doing here is explicitly demonstrating that even the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, derided by the American left for its supposed opposition to peace, is once again offering the Palestinians a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza. But rather than pursuing this opportunity and seeking to use the certain support of the United States and the European Union to better their negotiating position, the Palestinian Authority is merely looking a for a way out of the talks.

The irony is that although the Obama administration has always wanted to further peace talks, its every effort to achieve that goal has made it more difficult. Just as the president’s unprecedented demands for an Israeli building freeze even in Jerusalem made it impossible for the Palestinians to negotiate for anything less, so, too has Obama’s borders blunder given the PA an excuse to avoid talking about creating a viable border between Israel and a putative Palestinian state.

Read Less

Palin, Stalin and Alinsky

Just a week ago, some of Sarah Palin’s fans were attempting to give the former Alaska governor a little bit of the credit for Newt Gingrich’s second surge and his victory in South Carolina. Bill Kristol said as much in the Weekly Standard’s blog and wondered what would happen if she “really comes out for Newt.” While I think the evidence of a Palin connection to what happened in the Palmetto state seems to be more the product of the imagination of Palinites than anything else, there was no harm in allowing her to jump on the short-lived Gingrich bandwagon. But the quick decline of the candidate she seemed to be favoring appears to have angered the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and the latest blast from her Wasilla Fortress of Solitude is yet another reminder why many conservatives find it difficult to take her seriously anymore.

In a posting on her Facebook page on Friday, Palin took aim at Gingrich’s critics with the sort of language that says more about her own lack of judgment than anything else. She claimed former Reagan administration officials who noted this week Gingrich was anything but a loyal soldier of the 40th president were engaged in a “Stalin-esque rewriting of history.” This is not merely nonsensical, it is illustrative of the defects in her own character and intellect that have led many of us who once cheered her rise to conclude that she has no business ever putting herself forward for high office again.

Read More

Just a week ago, some of Sarah Palin’s fans were attempting to give the former Alaska governor a little bit of the credit for Newt Gingrich’s second surge and his victory in South Carolina. Bill Kristol said as much in the Weekly Standard’s blog and wondered what would happen if she “really comes out for Newt.” While I think the evidence of a Palin connection to what happened in the Palmetto state seems to be more the product of the imagination of Palinites than anything else, there was no harm in allowing her to jump on the short-lived Gingrich bandwagon. But the quick decline of the candidate she seemed to be favoring appears to have angered the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and the latest blast from her Wasilla Fortress of Solitude is yet another reminder why many conservatives find it difficult to take her seriously anymore.

In a posting on her Facebook page on Friday, Palin took aim at Gingrich’s critics with the sort of language that says more about her own lack of judgment than anything else. She claimed former Reagan administration officials who noted this week Gingrich was anything but a loyal soldier of the 40th president were engaged in a “Stalin-esque rewriting of history.” This is not merely nonsensical, it is illustrative of the defects in her own character and intellect that have led many of us who once cheered her rise to conclude that she has no business ever putting herself forward for high office again.

While Gingrich supported Reagan and Mitt Romney did not, those who pointed out the former speaker’s often petulant and negative comments about the leader of his movement were merely illuminating a little-known aspect of the truth, not “re-writing” it. For Palin to use that over-the-top rhetoric — in effect comparing someone like Elliott Abrams to a communist monster — is contemptible. For her to go on in the same piece to say Gingrich’s critics were employing “Alinsky tactics at their worst” shows again she understands little about either Saul Alinsky’s writings or history.

While Palin and Gingrich have little in common, the one characteristic they do share is hypocrisy. In her posting, Palin claims Mitt Romney needs to be “vetted” more thoroughly because Democrats will attack him in the fall. Yet she considers any attempt to give the same attention to Gingrich, a man with a freight train’s worth of damaging personal and political baggage that renders him unlikely to win a general election, to be above such concerns. According to Palin, examinations of his inconsistent record and leadership failures are examples of “the politics of personal destruction” and should be abhorred.

Palin complains that Romney supporters have attacked Gingrich from the left. But that is actually the tactic Gingrich has used. Indeed, Palin herself echoed some of those ill-advised barbs at Romney’s business career as she played to the mob. That she does so shamelessly and without even a trace of understanding of what she is doing is all part of the odd political persona she has constructed for herself and which limits her influence and dim chances of personal political advancement in the future.

For Palin, this is all part of a little self-destructive drama she has been acting out for years, since she flopped in 2008 when thrust on the national stage and then abandoned her gubernatorial responsibilities in order to become a celebrity. Gingrich’s attack on the so-called Republican establishment is an obvious ploy, as he is as much if not more of a Washington insider than any of his critics. But Palin really seems to believe the alleged “establishment” not only wants to control the party but also wishes to sabotage it. Incredibly, she even claims Republicans who support Romney and who have been leading the charge in the opinion pages and in Washington against the current administration while she spent the last two years doing nothing in Alaska would never attack Obama the way they attack Gingrich. She fails to understand that those that have pointed out the manifest shortcomings of Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul (whom Palin has gone out of her way to praise), have done so because they believe they have no chance to beat Obama.

Palin, who seems far more interested in burnishing her image than actually helping her party, manages to keep her name in the news every now and then with statements such as this one. But her problem is the more she talks, the more she reminds us why she has doomed herself to the margins of political discourse.

Read Less

Gingrich’s Mark of Cain

Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich yesterday was not the story it might have been had it happened far earlier in the race. Had he decided to back Gingrich a couple of months ago in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of his presidential campaign it might have been useful to Gingrich. Cain’s good humor and strong debate performances gave him a brief time at the top of the GOP polls in the fall and enough of the goodwill he engendered lingered even after allegations of sexual harassment and an affair forced the former Godfather Pizza executive out of the race. But the longer the interval between his withdrawal and his endorsement, the less his stamp of approval meant. Even those Tea Party activists who were prepared to accept Cain’s foreign policy ignorance and inability to explain his tax plans have moved on and no longer care much about what he says.

Even worse, Cain’s participation in Stephen Colbert’s comedy antics last week in South Carolina confirmed for anyone who was still paying attention to him that he isn’t a serious person. While the real candidates, including the man he has now endorsed, were campaigning in South Carolina, Cain allowed Colbert to use his name (which was still on the ballot in that state) to be the focus of his faux-presidential run and even appeared with him at a rally. It may have all been in good fun but it was proof, as if any was still needed, that Cain had always considered the GOP race as just another outlet for his outsized ego. But the justification for this belated support for his former rival also diminished its impact.

Read More

Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich yesterday was not the story it might have been had it happened far earlier in the race. Had he decided to back Gingrich a couple of months ago in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of his presidential campaign it might have been useful to Gingrich. Cain’s good humor and strong debate performances gave him a brief time at the top of the GOP polls in the fall and enough of the goodwill he engendered lingered even after allegations of sexual harassment and an affair forced the former Godfather Pizza executive out of the race. But the longer the interval between his withdrawal and his endorsement, the less his stamp of approval meant. Even those Tea Party activists who were prepared to accept Cain’s foreign policy ignorance and inability to explain his tax plans have moved on and no longer care much about what he says.

Even worse, Cain’s participation in Stephen Colbert’s comedy antics last week in South Carolina confirmed for anyone who was still paying attention to him that he isn’t a serious person. While the real candidates, including the man he has now endorsed, were campaigning in South Carolina, Cain allowed Colbert to use his name (which was still on the ballot in that state) to be the focus of his faux-presidential run and even appeared with him at a rally. It may have all been in good fun but it was proof, as if any was still needed, that Cain had always considered the GOP race as just another outlet for his outsized ego. But the justification for this belated support for his former rival also diminished its impact.

While Cain has become something of a sideshow act these days, the pretext for his endorsement may cause more trouble to Gingrich than assistance. Cain says he was moved to endorse Gingrich because of the publicity given to Marianne Gingrich’s charge the former speaker had asked her for an open marriage when he was having an affair with his current wife Callista. “That’s the same crap that they pulled on me, and that’s what’s wrong with politics,” said Cain of Gingrich’s problems.

Politics certainly isn’t beanbag, but the notion that an expression of solidarity between men who cheated on their wives will be of any help to Gingrich’s hopes of winning the presidency seems to be misplaced. Though the Marianne Gingrich story did no immediate damage to her ex-husband, he needs to move on from it as much as possible lest the public focus more on what she said and less on ABC’s bias in airing the interview days before a crucial primary. Seen in that light, an endorsement from a man who was forced to leave the race because of credible charges of his own sexual misbehavior was probably the last thing Gingrich needed this week.

Gingrich thanked Cain and said he would name him co-chairman of a commission on “jobs, economic growth and taxes.” But given the declining fortunes of Gingrich’s campaign, the likelihood of such a commission ever meeting is only a little better than of Congress ever passing Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan.

Read Less

“Mr. Lincoln-Douglas” Fades in Florida

The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

Read More

The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

A defeat in Florida isn’t necessarily fatal for Gingrich. Thanks to some large donors — principally casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — he has enough money to continue. But a bad defeat in Florida, the first big state with a varied population to vote, is an ominous portent of what is likely to happen elsewhere in the country.

Even more importantly, there are no more debates scheduled until later in February. The last time there was a gap in the debate schedule back in December, Gingrich’s first surge in the polls collapsed. Though, as Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, the upcoming caucus states that hold elections in February will be tricky for Romney, he will be the heavy favorite everywhere. But with no upcoming debates and no states coming up in which he will have any advantage, it’s difficult to see how Gingrich can recover from his current predicament.

Read Less

The Most Polarizing President Ever

It’s official now. Barack Obama’s ratings are “historically polarized,” according to a new Gallup survey.

Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization writes, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” Obama, by the way, holds the record for the most polarized first and second years in office, too. Which means Obama has set a record for polarization every year he’s been in office.

Read More

It’s official now. Barack Obama’s ratings are “historically polarized,” according to a new Gallup survey.

Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization writes, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” Obama, by the way, holds the record for the most polarized first and second years in office, too. Which means Obama has set a record for polarization every year he’s been in office.

So now is as good a time as any to remind people one of the core claims made by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign wasn’t simply that he would heal the planet; he would also heal the nation’s political breach. He would elevate the national debate. Reason would prevail over emotion. He would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. Obama would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on a stage in Grant Park on the night of his election, “especially when we disagree.”

His election, he informed us, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” On the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“The time has come to set aside childish things,” he told us on the day of his inauguration. And to paraphrase the Book of Isaiah, a community organizer shall lead us.

Where Obama has led us, it turns out, is to as much polarization as we have ever seen. Our divisions are deeper than they were. Our common ground is less than we could have imagined. Conflict and discord prevail over unity of purpose. Petty bickering characterizes our politics. Obama has wrapped himself in worn-out ideas and the politics of the past. And we have not even fully engaged in the 2012 presidential campaign, which will make our present disunity look like the land of milk and honey.

Whatever the cause of our divisions – and they are many and complicated – it was Barack Obama who said he would bind up the wounds. This promise was at the centerpiece of his campaign, the heart of his appeal, the meaning behind “hope and change.” And now it lies in ashes.

 

Read Less

Who Cares About Penn BDS?

Yesterday, the organizers of an upcoming boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) conference at Penn published an op-ed in the university’s Daily Pennsylvanian explaining their effort, which promotes the economic isolation of the Jewish state. In this, they will near-undoubtedly fail.

They may succeed, perhaps unintentionally, however, in another way: by attracting the attention of campus Israel advocates toward them and away from the more subtle and far-reaching problem Israel faces at American universities.

Read More

Yesterday, the organizers of an upcoming boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) conference at Penn published an op-ed in the university’s Daily Pennsylvanian explaining their effort, which promotes the economic isolation of the Jewish state. In this, they will near-undoubtedly fail.

They may succeed, perhaps unintentionally, however, in another way: by attracting the attention of campus Israel advocates toward them and away from the more subtle and far-reaching problem Israel faces at American universities.

In a decade of efforts, BDS campaigners have practically zero victories at American universities. Only the student governments of Evergreen State College (the alma mater of anti-Israelism’s poster child, Rachel Corrie), Wayne State University, and University of Michigan-Dearborn have passed divestment resolutions directed against Israel. Because they are passed by students and not administration, they have no practical impact on their schools’ finances. The schools’ administrations have also pointedly not followed their students’ advice that they cut whatever slight financial ties they may have to the Jewish state.

Practical effects, of course, aren’t really the intent of BDS, since even an effective divestment of Israel by every American university would likely have little effect on the country’s bottom line. The point is the symbolism of the thing.

But the schools in question are marginal to local and national conversation, the refusal to accept the calls by university administrators has a symbolism of its own, and even these small successes have little chance of being replicated at Penn or any other school. Last year, a laughably watered-down student referendum at Princeton that called only for the dining hall to provide alternatives to Sabra hummus was soundly defeated.

Just as it would be a mistake then to worry too much about campus BDS, though, it would be a mistake to take this record of failure as a sign all is well at America’s universities when it comes to Israel. For while students may not be lining up to sign off on divestment petitions, they are in many cases receiving the clear message the Jewish state is uniquely flawed.

The content of the critique or even its stated aims don’t matter as much as its ability to create, in many places, a campus environment of pervasive negativity toward Israel. Students at most schools these days don’t come away learning much. But many do pick up the idea that to be a member in good standing of the political left positive concern for the Jewish state is beyond the pale.

That is why the ongoing Center for American Progress affair should not be surprising. Many educated in a milieu negative to Israel are now finding themselves increasingly with something to say about the direction of the core institutions of the mainstream political left, and are turning them in a direction less sympathetic to Israel.

This, not BDS, is the true fight on campus. Turning the atmosphere in a more positive direction toward Israel will be a generational effort. It is also an essential one for those who hope to maintain the longstanding bipartisan consensus on the Jewish state.

 

Read Less

Read it and Weep

I had some critical things to say about President Obama’s State of the Union address. But the evening was not a total waste, thanks to the response by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Looking at it simply from the craftsmanship of speechwriting, it’s quite impressive. Several things stand out about it, starting with its tone at the opening, which showed genuine good will toward the president. Grace notes like these are not in oversupply these days. There’s also an economy of words in Daniels’s address, which helps create a sense of movement. One paragraph builds on another.

Read More

I had some critical things to say about President Obama’s State of the Union address. But the evening was not a total waste, thanks to the response by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Looking at it simply from the craftsmanship of speechwriting, it’s quite impressive. Several things stand out about it, starting with its tone at the opening, which showed genuine good will toward the president. Grace notes like these are not in oversupply these days. There’s also an economy of words in Daniels’s address, which helps create a sense of movement. One paragraph builds on another.

But beyond the rhetoric is the analysis, which is both sophisticated and honest. Governor Daniels resists the temptation to overstate the blame that rests with the president, even while offering a substantive, and at times a withering, critique of Obama’s failures. And Daniels offered something the president’s State of the Union address didn’t, which is an actual theory of government. And Daniels did all this in a fraction of the time and words used by Obama.

Mitch Daniels turns out to be not only the best governor in America, but also perhaps the best writer among America’s major political figures. George Will, in describing Daniels, refers to his “low-key charisma of competence.” True enough, but there’s also an understated elegance to Daniels’s words.

Needless to say, those of us who wanted Daniels to run for president this year were reminded why. In that sense, listening to Daniels’s speech left some of us more depressed than listening to Obama’s speech.

 

Read Less

Spencer Ackerman: Progressives Need to Reject “Israel-Firster” Comments

As the months-long debate dragged on over the term “Israel-firsters,” I’ve wondered when someone on the left would actually stand up and directly condemn it as the anti-Semitic charge that it is. Spencer Ackerman, a national security reporter at Danger Room, is the first to do just that. His essay at Tablet today is sure to draw blowback from his fellow progressives, but it’s an honest and important piece that clearly took a lot of guts and integrity to write.

Read it in full, but here’s a key passage:

Throughout my career, I’ve been associated with the Jewish left—I was to the left of the New Republic staff when I worked there, moved on to Talking Points Memo, hosted my blog at Firedoglake for years, and so on. I’ve criticized the American Jewish right’s myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel. But it doesn’t deserve to have its Americanness and patriotism questioned. By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.

This is tiresome to point out. Many of the writers who are fond of the Israel-firster smear are—appropriately—very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they’re used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims. I can’t read anyone’s mind or judge anyone’s intention, but by the sound of it these writers are sending out comparable dog-whistles about Jews.

Read More

As the months-long debate dragged on over the term “Israel-firsters,” I’ve wondered when someone on the left would actually stand up and directly condemn it as the anti-Semitic charge that it is. Spencer Ackerman, a national security reporter at Danger Room, is the first to do just that. His essay at Tablet today is sure to draw blowback from his fellow progressives, but it’s an honest and important piece that clearly took a lot of guts and integrity to write.

Read it in full, but here’s a key passage:

Throughout my career, I’ve been associated with the Jewish left—I was to the left of the New Republic staff when I worked there, moved on to Talking Points Memo, hosted my blog at Firedoglake for years, and so on. I’ve criticized the American Jewish right’s myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel. But it doesn’t deserve to have its Americanness and patriotism questioned. By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.

This is tiresome to point out. Many of the writers who are fond of the Israel-firster smear are—appropriately—very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they’re used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims. I can’t read anyone’s mind or judge anyone’s intention, but by the sound of it these writers are sending out comparable dog-whistles about Jews.

I don’t agree with Spencer on the issues. Attacking Iran’s facilities – a last resort that should be avoided if possible – isn’t “insanity” if we get to the point where the only alternative is a nuclear Iran. And while I also support a peaceful, two-state solution, the barrier is a lack of stable, moderate Palestinian leadership, not Israeli “recalcitrance.” Years of Israel trading land for peace that never came makes that clear.

But disagreement is fine, even if the arguments get heated. This isn’t elementary school, we don’t have to be nice to each other all the time, and name-calling happens.

What’s not okay is mainstreaming anti-Semitic slurs and sending out dog-whistles to Jew-haters in an attempt to bolster your side, or turning a blind eye when your political allies do it. Spencer’s column is important because it draws a line on the left between acceptable discourse – which includes plenty of discourse that may be stupid or inaccurate – and vulgar anti-Semitic fallacies that should be repudiated by all respectable progressive thinkers and writers. Every once in awhile, these lines need to be drawn. Just like William F. Buckley cast out the Birchers, and conservatives sidelined Pat Buchanan, the left needs to drain its own fever swamps. Spencer’s column is a good start.

Read Less

Democrats Irate at Problem-Solving Wyden

The last time a high-profile Democrat worked toward a bipartisan compromise on an important issue, instead of joining his party in using that issue as an opportunistic campaign ploy, he was run out of the party and had to register as an independent. It was Joe Lieberman’s principled support for the troops in the face of a party-wide Democratic flip-flop on the issue that earned him the title of “the last honest man.”

Now Democrats are witnessing a rerun of the episode on Medicare. Democratic leaders are furious at Oregon Senator Ron Wyden for working with Paul Ryan on a bipartisan Medicare fix–angry enough to go on-the-record with Politico about it. Their argument is they had planned to run more ads where they dress up as Paul Ryan and push a wheelchair-bound retiree off a cliff. Thanks to Wyden, however, their violent costumed fantasies may have to be taken off the table–or at least off-camera:

Read More

The last time a high-profile Democrat worked toward a bipartisan compromise on an important issue, instead of joining his party in using that issue as an opportunistic campaign ploy, he was run out of the party and had to register as an independent. It was Joe Lieberman’s principled support for the troops in the face of a party-wide Democratic flip-flop on the issue that earned him the title of “the last honest man.”

Now Democrats are witnessing a rerun of the episode on Medicare. Democratic leaders are furious at Oregon Senator Ron Wyden for working with Paul Ryan on a bipartisan Medicare fix–angry enough to go on-the-record with Politico about it. Their argument is they had planned to run more ads where they dress up as Paul Ryan and push a wheelchair-bound retiree off a cliff. Thanks to Wyden, however, their violent costumed fantasies may have to be taken off the table–or at least off-camera:

Wyden and Ryan are floating an idea to allow seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance programs. Ryan is considering adding provisions in his 2013 budget that would pave the way for this approach….

Asked if there was frustration among Senate Democrats with Wyden over Medicare, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Politico: “I’ve heard that sentiment expressed.”…

Privately, the criticism is more biting.

“Democrats believe in Medicare and, rather than bolster it, Wyden undermined a great issue for us all so he could grab a couple of headlines,” one furious Democratic source said. “Just embarrassing.”

Yes, just imagine the Democrats’ humiliation when a single member of their party decided to try and fix a problem rather than demagogue it in an attempt to oust bipartisan, solution-oriented Republicans in future elections. What this tells you–aside from the crass opportunism of people like Durbin–is probably something you already knew: the “do-nothing” Congress is a misnomer. Republicans have been passing budgets, while the Democratic Senate, led by Harry Reid, have now passed the 1,000-day mark since their last budget. Entitlement reform is going to be a significant part of getting this country’s fiscal house in order, so Republicans like Paul Ryan have been floating solutions, while the Democrats sit back throwing life-size dolls off of cliffs.

The Democrats’ congressional leadership isn’t alone, however. The Obama administration also “lashed out” at Wyden for his bipartisan proposal. So will Wyden win his battle against the do-nothing Democrats and the obstructionist White House? The answer will tell us a lot about Wyden’s own party and the possibility of real reform in Harry Reid’s Senate.

Read Less

A Good Night for Conservative Principles

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had perhaps his best debate last night in Jacksonville. He was, for the most part, forceful and in command. He damaged his main rival, Newt Gingrich, on answers ranging from immigration to Gingrich’s investment portfolio. And Romney was particularly strong at turning the tables on the attacks on his wealth, saying this:

And I know that there may be some who try to make a deal of that [Romney’s wealth and investments], as you have publicly. But look, I think it’s important for people to make sure that we don’t castigate individuals who have been successful and try and, by innuendo, suggest there’s something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments. Speaker, you’ve indicated that somehow I don’t earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America. I’m proud of being successful. I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that. I’m proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions, this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent. So, look, let’s put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let’s get Republicans to say, you know what? What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America.

Read More

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had perhaps his best debate last night in Jacksonville. He was, for the most part, forceful and in command. He damaged his main rival, Newt Gingrich, on answers ranging from immigration to Gingrich’s investment portfolio. And Romney was particularly strong at turning the tables on the attacks on his wealth, saying this:

And I know that there may be some who try to make a deal of that [Romney’s wealth and investments], as you have publicly. But look, I think it’s important for people to make sure that we don’t castigate individuals who have been successful and try and, by innuendo, suggest there’s something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments. Speaker, you’ve indicated that somehow I don’t earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America. I’m proud of being successful. I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that. I’m proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions, this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent. So, look, let’s put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let’s get Republicans to say, you know what? What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America.

This answer reframes the issue of Romney’s success, away from a defensive, apologetic stance to a confident, assertive one. It also helped that Romney was right on the substance. It is quite important to push back against the mindset that assumes success and excellence are things for which one ought to apologize. I understand that many modern-day liberals believe people who are wealthy are by definition of a suspect class (unless, say, their wealth comes via Hollywood). The task of the rest of us is to shatter that myth, which is not only wrong but can also be pernicious. Governor Romney, I think, did a very good job explaining why achievement in business is, in fact, impressive (it’s often the result of hard work, persistence, creativity and drive) and an asset to America. This is a theme Romney needs to continue to build on. Rather than accept the premise of the attack, he decided to shred it.

The best answer of the night in terms of political philosophy, however, belongs to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (who was excellent in the debate from beginning to end). When the candidates were asked by a Jacksonville resident what role religious beliefs would play in decisions they might make as president, Santorum said this:

Faith is a very, very important part of my life, but it’s a very, very important part of this country. The foundational documents of our country — everybody talks about the Constitution, very, very important. But the Constitution is the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual. The “why” of America, who we are as a people, is in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” The Constitution is there to do one thing: protect God-given rights. That’s what makes America different than every other country in the world. No other country in the world has its rights — rights based in God-given rights, not government-given rights. And so when you say, well, faith has nothing to do with it, faith has everything to do with it. If rights come… (applause) if our president believes that rights come to us from the state, everything government gives you, it can take away. The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away. And so the answer to that question is, I believe in faith and reason and approaching the problems of this country but understand where those rights come from, who we are as Americans and the foundational principles by which we have changed the world.

This is a wonderful articulation of America’s founding principle and a nice corrective to those conservatives who tend to focus only on the Constitution at the expense of the document (the Declaration of Independence) that dealt a crushing philosophical blow to tyranny and despotism.

In our time, it’s common for people to argue that religion is a source of political intolerance, and of course it can be. But it can also be a source of political tolerance precisely because it provides a firm grounding for human rights and a belief in human dignity. What Rick Santorum did last night was give voice to what Lincoln called our “ancient faith.”

There have been a lot of complaints made about the number of debates we’ve had in the GOP primary, and it’s certainly true that not all of them have been edifying affairs. But last night was an encouraging one for those of us who care about conservatism, if only because on several occasions we saw candidates for president dilate on important political principles.

 

Read Less

Actions Undermine Obama’s Words on America’s Greatness

It’s comforting to see President Obama resist talk of American decline. In the State of the Union, for example, he said: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Obama is even going so far as to  tout a New Republic essay by Robert Kagan (like me a Romney adviser), based on his forthcoming book “The World America Made.”

Both are an extended–and convincing–argument against the thesis that there is anything inevitable about American decline. Kagan points out that there is nothing new about predictions that our best days are behind us–the same case could have been made, and was made, more convincingly in the 1970s. In fact by most measures of comparative power the U.S. is more powerful than ever today, with only one major rival on the horizon–China–which will have a hard time converting its growing economic power into geopolitical influence to match ours.

Read More

It’s comforting to see President Obama resist talk of American decline. In the State of the Union, for example, he said: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Obama is even going so far as to  tout a New Republic essay by Robert Kagan (like me a Romney adviser), based on his forthcoming book “The World America Made.”

Both are an extended–and convincing–argument against the thesis that there is anything inevitable about American decline. Kagan points out that there is nothing new about predictions that our best days are behind us–the same case could have been made, and was made, more convincingly in the 1970s. In fact by most measures of comparative power the U.S. is more powerful than ever today, with only one major rival on the horizon–China–which will have a hard time converting its growing economic power into geopolitical influence to match ours.

Aside from the logical power of the argument, there is another reason why Obama is embracing the anti-declinist case. As Foreign Policy’s website notes: “For the White House, the Kagan article, and the forthcoming book it’s based on, “The World America Made,” offer the perfect rebuttal to GOP accusations that Obama has willingly presided over a period of American decline or has been ‘leading from behind’ on foreign policy.” But of course, Kagan’s work contains no such rebuttal.

It simply says there is nothing inevitable about our decline–it does not say Obama’s policies are staving off that decline. Kagan’s essay (I haven’t seen the book yet) is entirely silent on the subject of the president’s policies. But even if Obama doesn’t believe the U.S. is fated to decline, one can easily argue that his policies–from racking up trillions of dollars in new federal debt to slashing the defense budget–are leading us in that direction.

I believe Charles Krauthammer is right when he writes “decline is a choice” but, as I have noted before, I dissent from his conclusion that Obama has made a conscious decision to minimize American power because he does not believe it is a force for good. This is utterly contrary to human nature–since Obama is the president of the United States, he has every incentive to maximize the power of his own government. But intentions are one thing; actions another. And even if Obama embraces the rhetoric of American greatness, you can make an excellent case, as Romney has, that his actions are undermining that very objective.

 

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.