Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 13, 2012

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Barack Obama v. the Founders

Two recent interviews with two prominent liberal figures help cast some revealing light on modern liberalism’s attitude toward the Constitution.

Let’s start with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said in an interview earlier this month with Al Hayat television, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done.” She went on to praise Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights as much more recent, and better, models. “Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?” Justice Ginsburg asked. “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”

Then there was President Obama’s interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, in which Lauer said, “I have talked to so many people over the last couple of years, President Obama, who were huge supporters of yours back in 2008. And today they are not sure. I hear more and more that they’re disappointed in you. That you aren’t the transformational political figure they hoped you would be. How does that make you feel when you hear that?”

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Two recent interviews with two prominent liberal figures help cast some revealing light on modern liberalism’s attitude toward the Constitution.

Let’s start with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said in an interview earlier this month with Al Hayat television, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done.” She went on to praise Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights as much more recent, and better, models. “Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?” Justice Ginsburg asked. “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”

Then there was President Obama’s interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, in which Lauer said, “I have talked to so many people over the last couple of years, President Obama, who were huge supporters of yours back in 2008. And today they are not sure. I hear more and more that they’re disappointed in you. That you aren’t the transformational political figure they hoped you would be. How does that make you feel when you hear that?”

To which Obama said, “I think this is the nature of being president. What’s frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” [emphasis added.]

These two comments highlight one of the characteristics of 20th and 21st century liberalism, which is the belief (as Charles Kesler, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, points out so well in this 2009 essay) the Constitution is “time bound,” out-of-step with modernity, a clumsy checks-and-balances, separation-of-powers charter that impedes progressive change. Hence the need to think about the Constitution as a “living Constitution” – a tendency to read the work of the founders as (in the words of Kesler) “a Darwinian document, whose meaning must evolve with the times, and under whose precepts the national government must be allowed and encouraged to outgrow its old limits and blend its powers in novel ways.”

Justice Ginsburg’s colleague Antonin Scalia has offered the best counter-argument to those championing a Living Constitution. “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole anti-evolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution,” according to Justice Scalia. “Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

There are key differences that separate, at the political and philosophical level, modern-day liberals and modern-day conservatives. One is where they stand on equality of opportunity v. equality of outcome. Another is the centralization of power (collectivism v. subsidiarity). And yet another is the American Constitution. Between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Barack Obama on the one side and the founders on the other, count me as standing on the side of the latter. The Federalist Papers still beat any opinion by Justice Ginsburg or any speech by President Obama. By a country mile.

 

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Voter ID is Not Voter Suppression

Democrats have been working overtime lately looking for an issue to excite their base in the same manner that Barack Obama’s symbolic candidacy and post-partisan promises of “hope” and “change” did in 2008. Some liberal pundits have sought to overcome this problem by branding their opponents with the unforgiveable sin of modern American culture: racism. That’s the motive behind the absurd “dog whistle” talk we’ve been hearing about any mention of entitlement spending and the creation of another generation of poor Americans dependent on welfare. Others are ignoring this convoluted and misleading argument and instead going directly for the throat by charging Republicans with attempting to prevent African-Americans from voting.

The main problem with this is there are no such efforts under way, and if there were, they would be both illegal and bad politics. But in order to pursue this fallacious charge, Democrats continually characterize efforts to ensure voting integrity as racist. Thus, in 2012 the requirement that a voter should present a picture ID at the polls is being treated as irrefutable evidence of skullduggery. That’s the conceit behind a disingenuous piece in the online version of the New York Times that doesn’t even bother trying to prove that voter ID is a racist plot. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar simply assumes this is so, and then proceeds to put in a long history of attempt to suppress votes in this country. The problem with this article is not just his false assumption about voter ID but also his unconvincing attempt to conflate actual disenfranchisement with efforts by politicians to discourage supporters of their opponents from voting.

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Democrats have been working overtime lately looking for an issue to excite their base in the same manner that Barack Obama’s symbolic candidacy and post-partisan promises of “hope” and “change” did in 2008. Some liberal pundits have sought to overcome this problem by branding their opponents with the unforgiveable sin of modern American culture: racism. That’s the motive behind the absurd “dog whistle” talk we’ve been hearing about any mention of entitlement spending and the creation of another generation of poor Americans dependent on welfare. Others are ignoring this convoluted and misleading argument and instead going directly for the throat by charging Republicans with attempting to prevent African-Americans from voting.

The main problem with this is there are no such efforts under way, and if there were, they would be both illegal and bad politics. But in order to pursue this fallacious charge, Democrats continually characterize efforts to ensure voting integrity as racist. Thus, in 2012 the requirement that a voter should present a picture ID at the polls is being treated as irrefutable evidence of skullduggery. That’s the conceit behind a disingenuous piece in the online version of the New York Times that doesn’t even bother trying to prove that voter ID is a racist plot. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar simply assumes this is so, and then proceeds to put in a long history of attempt to suppress votes in this country. The problem with this article is not just his false assumption about voter ID but also his unconvincing attempt to conflate actual disenfranchisement with efforts by politicians to discourage supporters of their opponents from voting.

Keyssar is right to note there is a history of disenfranchisement in the United States. As in Britain, the franchise was initially restricted to property holders and those who professed the majority religion in some localities. Gradually those restrictions were discarded. But most people also know women couldn’t vote until after World War One and African-Americans were largely prevented from voting in many states by Jim Crow laws until the 1960s.

These chapters of history are unfortunate but are also closed. Anything that comes even close to restriction of the franchise is illegal. Even those laws which once required citizens to learn English in order to vote, a measure that is not quite the same thing as a racial ban but still discriminatory, are as dead as southern poll taxes intended to keep African-Americans powerless.

However, to compare voter ID laws to such legislation is absurd. In an era when you need a picture ID to drive a car, board a plane, get government benefits or do just about anything in contemporary American society, it takes an active and partisan imagination to claim asking someone who is voting to properly identify themselves is akin to Jim Crow. But one must ask if voter ID requirements are racist because they disproportionately affect the poor, how can similar restrictions anywhere else be deemed non-discriminatory?

Like most who make this allegation, Keyssar dismisses out of hand the possibility that candidates and parties cheat at elections. One would hope that this were so, but as historian he knows very well the record of American electoral corruption is just as long and sordid as that of prejudice. Mobilizing the nation’s graveyards on behalf of urban political machines is just as much a part of the fabric of our electoral history as disenfranchisement.

Stealing elections is a venerable American tradition and stretches from the colonial era to our own time. Indeed, just a few years ago it was liberals who pitched a fit when it became known the leading manufacturers of touch screen voting systems — Diebold, ESS, Sequoia, and a fourth, SAIC, Science Applications International — that had replaced traditional paper or lever machines in some localities had donated money to the GOP. At that time in the aftermath of the “hanging chad” election in Florida (which many Democrats still claim was “stolen” from them), Democrats did not think the integrity of the vote was a minor concern and acted to bar the use of some of the machines simply on the suspicion  they might somehow be manipulated to benefit Republicans.

If in just the last decade distrust between the parties is so great, why should we assume neither side would stoop to attempts at getting unregistered or illegal voters to the polls (though some liberals now also claim barring felons is also racist). Given the Democratic suspicion of Republicans, why do they feign surprise or disbelief when some Republicans think the Democrats are attempting to manipulate the results via undocumented voters? Keyssar claims only the poor are disenfranchised, but when elections are not honest, everybody loses in a democracy.

It should also be added that voter suppression techniques which seek to besmirch an opposing candidate or to frame the issues in such a way as to lower the enthusiasm level of the electorate may be dirty politics but it is not the same thing as a violation of the civil rights laws. To conflate, as Keyssar does, this term with actual attempts to prevent groups from voting is intellectually dishonest.

Honest elections are the foundation of trust in the system. Keyssar is right when he claims democracy is fragile. But it cannot be sustained with the hypocrisy and false charges of racism he has seconded.

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Don’t Blindly Fund Post-Arab Spring Governments

President Obama has reportedly included $770 million for “a Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” which “will provide incentives for long-term economic, political, and trade reforms to countries in transition — and to countries prepared to make reforms proactively.”

The Obama administration has consistently flubbed its Arab Spring policy. Prior to the uprisings, the Obama administration eviscerated outreach to Arab liberals and reformers.

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President Obama has reportedly included $770 million for “a Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” which “will provide incentives for long-term economic, political, and trade reforms to countries in transition — and to countries prepared to make reforms proactively.”

The Obama administration has consistently flubbed its Arab Spring policy. Prior to the uprisings, the Obama administration eviscerated outreach to Arab liberals and reformers.

Then, because of Obama’s desire to lead from behind, he pushed countries like Qatar and Turkey to the diplomatic forefront, a move which because of the agendas of both Doha and Ankara, privileged more militant and Islamist factions inside transitional countries. The White House and State Department then failed to utilize its leverage during the transitional period to achieve election systems that would better preserve checks-and-balances.

Now, in Egypt and elsewhere, Islamists are in the driver’s seat. When the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the “moderate” faction, it’s clear something has gone wrong.

The biggest mistake, however, is the one which the Obama administration now makes.

When I was traveling in the Persian Gulf region a couple of weeks ago, a consistent point made by liberal intellectuals was there might be a silver lining to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and harder line Islamists.

The Islamist parties thrived in opposition because they could promise the world, but faced no economic accountability. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood dominates Egypt and across the region, it owns the fact that its populist statements come at an economic price, one which the Egyptian economy can’t bear. By bailing out the faltering economy, Obama is in effect bailing out the Muslim Brotherhood and undercutting its electoral accountability.

Rather than assist regimes whose incitement makes clear their enmity, a strategically sounder American policy would be to work toward ensuring the sanctity of elections and the democratic process so that if Arab voters come to their senses, they can peacefully remove Islamist despots and not suffer the fate their Iranian brethren now endure.

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Should Gingrich Drop Out?

Newt Gingrich’s arguments for telling Rick Santorum to drop out of the presidential race last month are starting to boomerang on him. The National Review wonders whether it would be better for the Republican Party if Gingrich hung it up and endorsed Santorum:

It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.

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Newt Gingrich’s arguments for telling Rick Santorum to drop out of the presidential race last month are starting to boomerang on him. The National Review wonders whether it would be better for the Republican Party if Gingrich hung it up and endorsed Santorum:

It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.

There’s actually a much stronger argument for Gingrich to drop out now than there was for Santorum to drop out before Florida. Unlike the former House speaker, Santorum is far less likely to self-destruct.

If Gingrich dropped out, it would also significantly boost Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination. A Public Policy Polling survey from last week found that national Republican support for the former Pennsylvania senator would jump to 50 percent, far outpacing Romney at 28 percent.

Even from Gingrich’s perspective, dropping out makes the most sense. If his desire to stay in the race is driven mainly by a personal vendetta against Romney, then he could do more damage outside the race than inside. And if he’s running for egotistical reasons, then stepping down, endorsing Santorum, and becoming a kingmaker could satisfy that purpose, too.

Of course, there’s always the chance Gingrich still actually thinks he has a shot at the nomination and the presidency. If that’s the case, he may stick it out until the bitter end.

But that scenario is looking increasingly unlikely. With his campaign cash dwindling and his top donor closing his wallet, Gingrich is quickly running out of options. It’s certainly possible for him to stay in the race without any money – after all, he managed to do it for the better part of his campaign. But the howls from conservatives for him to drop out will only start getting louder as time goes on. He can either slog through the primaries, broke and antagonizing pro-Santorum conservatives, or he can magnanimously step aside, endorse Santorum, and play the role of the big hero. Say what you will about Gingrich, but he’s no dummy, and he knows a good opportunity when he sees one.

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Audacious Lie v. the Too-Clever-by-Half Lie

New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew– who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Clinton and Obama – made statements yesterday that were flat out false and (more problematically) ones he had to know were false.

To be specific: On CNN yesterday, Lew was asked about the fact that Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. In response, the White House chief of staff said this: “Well, let’s be clear. What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget. But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.” Lew added, “Unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.”

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New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew– who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Clinton and Obama – made statements yesterday that were flat out false and (more problematically) ones he had to know were false.

To be specific: On CNN yesterday, Lew was asked about the fact that Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. In response, the White House chief of staff said this: “Well, let’s be clear. What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget. But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.” Lew added, “Unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.”

Everyone from ABC’s Jake Tapper to the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler have pointed out this is simply false; that a budget requires a simple majority, not 60 votes in the Senate, to pass. And Kessler added this observation: “We might be tempted to think Lew misspoke, except that he said virtually the same thing, on two different shows, when he was specifically asked about the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget resolution… the former budget director twice chose to use highly misleading language that blamed Republicans for the failure of the Democratic leadership.”

Lew’s statement was so transparently untrue that the best the White House could offer up as an explanation to Tapper was “the chief of staff was clearly referencing the general gridlock in Congress that makes accomplishing even the most basic tasks nearly impossible given the Senate Republicans’ insistence on blocking an up or down vote on nearly every issue.”

Except that Lew was clearly not referencing general gridlock; he was making a specific, false claim which he repeated and has yet to back away from. In Washington, what Lew said is known as spin. In the rest of America, it is known as deception, mendacity, and dishonesty. Having worked for Bill Clinton, one might think Lew would have learned to dissemble with some flair, some skill, and some panache (e.g., “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”) Perhaps in the Obama administration, people like Lew prefer the audacious lie to the too-clever-by-half one.

 

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The Absurdity of the Moral Equivalency Proponents

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dismiss those who argue that Israel forfeited its moral standing by allegedly assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. Rather, the fact that some argue Israel “started it” shows moral blindness and ignorance of context.

The Islamic Republic has made no secret of its support and direct sponsorship of terrorism in Israel over the years. The Iranian regime sponsored the Karine-A arms shipment, for example, going so far as to dispatch the ship during an Israel-PLO ceasefire.

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Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dismiss those who argue that Israel forfeited its moral standing by allegedly assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. Rather, the fact that some argue Israel “started it” shows moral blindness and ignorance of context.

The Islamic Republic has made no secret of its support and direct sponsorship of terrorism in Israel over the years. The Iranian regime sponsored the Karine-A arms shipment, for example, going so far as to dispatch the ship during an Israel-PLO ceasefire.

In Flatow vs. the Islamic Republic of Iran, a case arising out of a terrorist attack which killed an American citizen, the judge set damages based upon Iran’s own budget allocation for “resistance” abroad.

Iran’s role in the establishment of Palestine Islamic Jihad and Lebanese Hezbollah is no secret, nor does Iran try to hide its belief that Khomeini’s appeal for “export of the revolution,” a call enshrined in the Islamic Republic’s founding documents, is military in nature.

Interpol currently has a red notice out for Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, for his role in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Some analysts will blame Israel if their next door neighbor sneezes, and others have made clear they seek to exculpate Iran regardless of its actions.

When it comes to the current tit-for-tat, however, there is no doubt as to who is to blame, and when it comes to the silence of those now blaming Israel on all the items listed above and dating back more than three decades, there is no doubt as to their motivation.

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Technology May Reform Education After All

The paper of record alerts us that the geniuses we have put in charge of our children’s education seem to be in the throes of a brilliant epiphany about the electronic generation:  if you give them laptops, they will learn. Well, duh.

“Educators” are flocking in droves to a little school district in North Carolina where elementary, middle, and high schoolers armed with computers are busy exploding some of the most cherished myths of the teachers’ unions. Class sizes in Mooresville, N.C., have gotten larger; teachers have been laid off; the district is 100th out of 115 in the state in per-student spending. And yet . . . miracle of miracles, in the past three years, since the district provided laptops to 4th through 12th graders, the graduation rate has gone from 80 percent to 91 percent; science, math and reading proficiency rates have risen from 73 percent to 88 percent; attendance is up and dropout rates have declined.

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The paper of record alerts us that the geniuses we have put in charge of our children’s education seem to be in the throes of a brilliant epiphany about the electronic generation:  if you give them laptops, they will learn. Well, duh.

“Educators” are flocking in droves to a little school district in North Carolina where elementary, middle, and high schoolers armed with computers are busy exploding some of the most cherished myths of the teachers’ unions. Class sizes in Mooresville, N.C., have gotten larger; teachers have been laid off; the district is 100th out of 115 in the state in per-student spending. And yet . . . miracle of miracles, in the past three years, since the district provided laptops to 4th through 12th graders, the graduation rate has gone from 80 percent to 91 percent; science, math and reading proficiency rates have risen from 73 percent to 88 percent; attendance is up and dropout rates have declined.

Now, digital learning is not unique to Mooresville; in fact, it’s the pedagogic flavor of the day. What’s different is that the district seems to have figured out how to get the teachers to recognize computers as the efficient and interesting information delivery systems students know them to be – rather than as expensive, high-tech-slide-show accompaniments to education-as-usual.

Students work individually with math software programs, with help and guidance as needed from the teacher. (Though, one imagines, when it comes to using computers, the guidance may well be going in the other direction as well.) They work collectively through teacher-monitored chat-rooms. They even — get this — use Google Docs to share information with each other on, say, Transcendentalism!

In other words, instead of fidgeting and nodding off through eight hours a day of droning from teachers as restless and bored as they are, these kids are putting their clever little brains and uncanny (to us old fogeys) Internet skills to work. Is it any wonder fewer of them are ditching?

Yes, this all might make life a little easier for cheaters; but then, there have always been and always will be cheaters. And, yes, as the Times hastens to note, “those concerned about corporate encroachment on public schools would blanch at the number of Apple logos in the hallways, and at the district’s unofficial slogan: “iBelieve, iCan, iWill.” No doubt there will also be parents who will tear themselves away from their smartphones and iPads long enough to make pronouncements about the hazards of too much “screen time.” But look on the bright side:  computers + fewer teachers necessary + weeding out dinosaur burnout teachers = take that, NEA and AFT!

Sadly, my own longstanding prescription for the burlesque disaster that is the U.S. education “system” – nuke it and start from scratch – has never gotten much traction. It looks like Steve Jobs (RIP) may be getting the job done for me.

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Why is a Ted Turner-Funded Mouthpiece Siding with Assad?

Several years ago, Ted Turner gave a great deal of money to the UN Foundation, which supports an online forum called the UN Dispatch. Today, the UN Dispatch publishes a piece by its managing editor Mark Leon Goldberg declaring any peacekeeping mission to Syria “a bad idea” and a “non-starter.”

The author argues that UN peacekeepers are only effective after a truce or peace, and they can then only deter resumption of a conflict. They cannot, however, enter a country without that government’s permission. Therefore, unless Bashar al-Assad blesses any such peacekeeping mission, the UN has no role.

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Several years ago, Ted Turner gave a great deal of money to the UN Foundation, which supports an online forum called the UN Dispatch. Today, the UN Dispatch publishes a piece by its managing editor Mark Leon Goldberg declaring any peacekeeping mission to Syria “a bad idea” and a “non-starter.”

The author argues that UN peacekeepers are only effective after a truce or peace, and they can then only deter resumption of a conflict. They cannot, however, enter a country without that government’s permission. Therefore, unless Bashar al-Assad blesses any such peacekeeping mission, the UN has no role.

As of now, the Assad regime has expressed no intention whatsoever of consenting to foreign troops operating on Syrian soil.  Ergo, there is no chance the UN would even contemplate a peacekeeping mission. If, at some future point the Assad regime agrees to a ceasefire and invites a peacekeeping force to monitor and help implement the ceasefire or peace agreement, then we can start talking about a peacekeeping force. For now, though, the idea is basically a non-starter.

Alas, it seems that neither the United Nations nor self-described progressives have learned anything since UN dawdling over such arguments led it to stand aside as nearly a million died in Rwanda massacres in the mid-1990s. But, so far as Ted Turner’s money speaks, its message is “the UN will look the other way; let the massacres continue.”

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Lincoln in Fiction

Our greatest president has eluded our greatest — and almost all of our better-than-average — novelists. On this list of Lincoln in American fiction drawn up for the Illinois Humanities Council, only Paul Horgan’s A Distant Trumpet (1951), in which Lincoln is a legendary presence rather than an active character, and Thomas Mallon’s Henry and Clara (1994), about a young couple who shared the President’s box at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot, stand out.

The difficulty with representing Lincoln in fiction is pretty much the same as the difficulty facing the young novelist who wrote a pretty silly novel about Henry David Thoreau a couple of years ago. “Even if his voice were not so distinctive,” as I put it then, “the problem is that every reader of him has a scratchy recording of [him] playing in the ear.” No one could hope to duplicate Lincoln’s unmistakable prose style, and would sound foolish if he tried.

Rereading him this morning, I was struck by something I had never known before. In April 1864, Lincoln believed it “exceedingly probable” that he would be defeated for reelection. In such an event, he wrote in a memorandum to himself, “it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.” In public, he assured his fellow citizens that, despite rumblings to the contrary, the November election would not be cancelled or postponed. “I am struggling to maintain government, not to overthrow it,” he said in October. “I am struggling especially to prevent others from overthrowing it.” And if beaten in November, he would surrender the office of the presidency:

This is due to the people both on principle, and under the constitution. Their will, constitutionally expressed, is the ultimate law for all. If they should deliberately resolve to have immediate peace even at the loss of their country, and their liberty, I know not the power or the right to resist them. It is their own business, and they must do as they please with their own.

When, despite his fears, he was reelected over George B. McClellan with 55 percent of the popular vote, Lincoln reflected that the “strife of the election” had been good for the nation:

It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party [to the war], he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.

Forget American fiction! It is difficult to imagine a “living, brave, patriotic man” — a public man — who could get away with such talk in the 21st century. We no longer expect much from our public men except self-interest in the pursuit of power. When we hear what is “due to the people,” we hear little more than a voluble justification for self-interest. That a man would really believe, as Lincoln confided to a correspondent, that “in no other way could I serve myself so well, as by truly serving the Union” — that he really would be willing to sacrifice almost anything, as Lincoln phrased it repeatedly throughout 1864, to make sure that the same liberties he enjoyed were preserved for his children and his children’s children to enjoy — is inconceivable to us. Lincoln is not only missing from our fiction. He is missing from our moral imagination.

Our greatest president has eluded our greatest — and almost all of our better-than-average — novelists. On this list of Lincoln in American fiction drawn up for the Illinois Humanities Council, only Paul Horgan’s A Distant Trumpet (1951), in which Lincoln is a legendary presence rather than an active character, and Thomas Mallon’s Henry and Clara (1994), about a young couple who shared the President’s box at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot, stand out.

The difficulty with representing Lincoln in fiction is pretty much the same as the difficulty facing the young novelist who wrote a pretty silly novel about Henry David Thoreau a couple of years ago. “Even if his voice were not so distinctive,” as I put it then, “the problem is that every reader of him has a scratchy recording of [him] playing in the ear.” No one could hope to duplicate Lincoln’s unmistakable prose style, and would sound foolish if he tried.

Rereading him this morning, I was struck by something I had never known before. In April 1864, Lincoln believed it “exceedingly probable” that he would be defeated for reelection. In such an event, he wrote in a memorandum to himself, “it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.” In public, he assured his fellow citizens that, despite rumblings to the contrary, the November election would not be cancelled or postponed. “I am struggling to maintain government, not to overthrow it,” he said in October. “I am struggling especially to prevent others from overthrowing it.” And if beaten in November, he would surrender the office of the presidency:

This is due to the people both on principle, and under the constitution. Their will, constitutionally expressed, is the ultimate law for all. If they should deliberately resolve to have immediate peace even at the loss of their country, and their liberty, I know not the power or the right to resist them. It is their own business, and they must do as they please with their own.

When, despite his fears, he was reelected over George B. McClellan with 55 percent of the popular vote, Lincoln reflected that the “strife of the election” had been good for the nation:

It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party [to the war], he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.

Forget American fiction! It is difficult to imagine a “living, brave, patriotic man” — a public man — who could get away with such talk in the 21st century. We no longer expect much from our public men except self-interest in the pursuit of power. When we hear what is “due to the people,” we hear little more than a voluble justification for self-interest. That a man would really believe, as Lincoln confided to a correspondent, that “in no other way could I serve myself so well, as by truly serving the Union” — that he really would be willing to sacrifice almost anything, as Lincoln phrased it repeatedly throughout 1864, to make sure that the same liberties he enjoyed were preserved for his children and his children’s children to enjoy — is inconceivable to us. Lincoln is not only missing from our fiction. He is missing from our moral imagination.

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Re: Israel’s Iranian Allies of Convenience

On Thursday, Jonathan Tobin penned an apt defense of alleged Israeli cooperation with “Israel’s Iranian Allies of Convenience,” the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MEK), in which he observes:

While the group denies it is involved with Israel, it is difficult to doubt the truth of the allegation that the Iranian dissidents have been receiving Israeli training and have been used to carry out attacks on Tehran’s nuclear program, in particular the assassination of Iranian scientists.

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On Thursday, Jonathan Tobin penned an apt defense of alleged Israeli cooperation with “Israel’s Iranian Allies of Convenience,” the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MEK), in which he observes:

While the group denies it is involved with Israel, it is difficult to doubt the truth of the allegation that the Iranian dissidents have been receiving Israeli training and have been used to carry out attacks on Tehran’s nuclear program, in particular the assassination of Iranian scientists.

Jonathan then argues:

Under these circumstances, Israel is entirely justified in using whatever means it has to prevent Khameini’s government from achieving its genocidal ends. The MEK may be an unattractive ally, but with its Iranian members and infrastructure of support inside the country, it is an ideal weapon to use against the ayatollahs.

Jonathan is correct that Israel cannot ignore the Iranian regime’s genocidal intent, and he is also correct that there is no moral equivalence between alleged Israeli targeting of Iranian nuclear scientists and Iranian assassination attempts upon Israeli diplomats.

Still, I must disagree on any embrace of the MEK.

While American diplomats and many analysts counsel ignoring rogue regimes’ rhetorical excesses, the lesson of complacency ahead of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait should have mooted that debate long ago. Saddam had signaled his intention for weeks, and was roundly dismissed by career Arabists who dismissed his statements as rhetorical flourish. It is negligent in the extreme for any policymaker to ignore genocidal statements coming from any world leader.

Nor is it wise to simply dismiss Ahmadinejad’s statement as a mistranslation. Juan Cole, a popular academic in leftist circles, has made a cottage industry out of denials that Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Cole often allows his own political biases to corrupt his analysis. After all, Ahmadinejad’s statement was only one of many, and in order to ensure he was not misunderstood, his office doubled down on the slogan, even offering the correct English translation.

So why then should Israel avoid the Mujahedin al-Khalq’s Iranian network? The problem facing Israel is not only Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, but rather the regime that would wield them.

By utilizing the MEK—a group which Iranians view in the same way Americans see John Walker Lindh, the American convicted of aiding the Taliban—the Israelis risk winning some short-term gain at the tremendous expense of rallying Iranians around the regime’s flag. A far better strategy would be to facilitate regime change. Not only would the MEK be incapable of that mission, but involving them even cursorily would set the goal back years.

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Obama’s Budget a “Re-election Plan”

President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.
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President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.

On a conference call today, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan slammed the president’s plan as a purely political move that does nothing to address the country’s fiscal problems. “This is not a fiscal plan to save America from a debt crisis,” said Ryan. “It’s a political plan for the president’s re-election.”

According to Ryan, the plan will lead America to the point of painful forced austerity. Sessions, who was also on the call, said the idea that “next year the United States could be like Greece” may not be so far off.

Ryan promised that House Republicans will address the debt crisis in their budget plan, and said they will present the public with a clear choice between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.

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Romney Should Run Scared in Michigan

Mitt Romney’s victories in the Maine Republican caucus and the CPAC straw poll may have, as I wrote yesterday, stopped the bleeding after a week in which Rick Santorum’s sweep of three states halted the frontrunner’s momentum. But a pair of polls from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm as well as one from the American Research Group ought to be scaring the pants off of Romney’s camp. As I wrote yesterday, PPP’s national poll of Republicans shows, in distinction to other surveys, Santorum taking a huge lead over Romney in the wake of his wins last Tuesday. But far more interesting are new polls of Michigan Republicans that also show Santorum leading Romney in his home state. A PPP Michigan poll shows Santorum leading there by a 39-24 percent margin. The ARG poll also has him ahead, though by a smaller 33-27 percent differential.

Bigger leads than that have evaporated in less time than the two weeks Romney has to make up this deficit, so there is no reason for him to panic. But if any in his campaign were inclined to dismiss Santorum’s surge as a mere bump in the road, this poll is proof they are dead wrong. Despite Romney’s huge advantage in money and endorsements as well as delegates, a loss in Michigan would be fatal to his presidential hopes. If he is beaten there, the air would go out of his inevitability balloon and Santorum would, despite his threadbare national campaign, assume the unlikely role of frontrunner.

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Mitt Romney’s victories in the Maine Republican caucus and the CPAC straw poll may have, as I wrote yesterday, stopped the bleeding after a week in which Rick Santorum’s sweep of three states halted the frontrunner’s momentum. But a pair of polls from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm as well as one from the American Research Group ought to be scaring the pants off of Romney’s camp. As I wrote yesterday, PPP’s national poll of Republicans shows, in distinction to other surveys, Santorum taking a huge lead over Romney in the wake of his wins last Tuesday. But far more interesting are new polls of Michigan Republicans that also show Santorum leading Romney in his home state. A PPP Michigan poll shows Santorum leading there by a 39-24 percent margin. The ARG poll also has him ahead, though by a smaller 33-27 percent differential.

Bigger leads than that have evaporated in less time than the two weeks Romney has to make up this deficit, so there is no reason for him to panic. But if any in his campaign were inclined to dismiss Santorum’s surge as a mere bump in the road, this poll is proof they are dead wrong. Despite Romney’s huge advantage in money and endorsements as well as delegates, a loss in Michigan would be fatal to his presidential hopes. If he is beaten there, the air would go out of his inevitability balloon and Santorum would, despite his threadbare national campaign, assume the unlikely role of frontrunner.

The danger for Romney in Michigan is a defeat there would be considered a personal repudiation of his candidacy in a state that has long been assumed to be in his pocket. Were that to happen, his campaign would fall apart like a house of cards.

There are four obvious reasons for Santorum’s surge in Michigan.

First is his likeability factor. As I’ve written previously, the Pennsylvanian’s decision to avoid getting into the middle of the Gingrich-Romney mud-wrestling match helped position him as the good guy in the race. So did the sympathy that arose for Santorum after his daughter’s illness, that highlighted his status as a family man.

Second is his appeal to working class voters. Many conservatives may have scoffed when Santorum spoke of the need for Republicans to go back to appealing to working class Reagan Democrats via economic populism and made an appeal to bring back labor-intensive industries to the Rust Belt. But whatever the virtues of this approach, it is designed to work well in a state like Michigan where such voters abound.

Third, is the new importance being given to social issues in the campaign as a result of President Obama’s attack on the Catholic Church on the issue of forcing religious institutions to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. Santorum’s image as a scourge of the gay community may be a liability in a general election, but it can do him no harm in a Republican primary where social conservatives and evangelicals predominate because Romney cannot compete with Santorum in pleasing such voters. Indeed, his flip-flops on such issues are a distinct liability. An election in which GOP voters are thinking about abortion, gay marriage and even contraception insurance coverage is one in which Romney is bound to lose.

Fourth, is the collapse of Newt Gingrich. The former speaker is roaming the countryside seeking new donors to keep his candidacy going now that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have stopped writing him checks. He’s hoping he can stay in until Super Tuesday, when victories in southern states might give him new life. But he appears to be bottoming out in the polls. In some cases, as in PPP’s Michigan poll, he’s even fallen behind Ron Paul. If this trend continues, it will leave Santorum as the only viable conservative left in the race. That’s a formula Romney, who rose to the top because of the division of the conservative vote, must fear.

Of course, as we have witnessed several times during the GOP race, Santorum’s momentum can vanish as quickly as it gathered steam. Attacks on his record in the Senate may decrease his popularity. Gingrich could mount a comeback (as unlikely as that may seem, he’s risen from the dead twice already). And Romney could shake off his lethargy, quit making gaffes and blatantly insincere statements that do more to alienate conservatives than engage them such as his claim to have been a “severely conservative” governor of Massachusetts.

Perhaps an avalanche of campaign spending by Romney and the realization that nominating a culture warrior will doom GOP efforts to win independents in the fall will reverse Santorum’s momentum. A lot can happen in two weeks and probably will. But if Romney doesn’t get his act together in Michigan, he’s in bigger trouble than he realizes.

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Israeli Official: “We Have Every Intention of Defending Ourselves”

Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

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Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

Earlier, Netanyahu pointed the finger at Iran and its terror proxies, though Iran denies any involvement:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran and Hezbollah of being behind Monday’s double terror attack on the Israeli embassies in India and Georgia.

Earlier, an explosion hit an Israeli diplomatic car near the embassy in New Delhi, injuring the wife of a diplomat stationed with the Defense Ministry’s mission in India. In Georgia, an explosive device was found in a Tbilisi embassy employee’s car and was neutralized safely.bi

The coordinated attack is believed to be linked to the fourth anniversary marking the assassination of Hezbollah arch-terrorist Imad Mugniyah.

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What Obama’s Reelection Would Mean for Iran’s Nuclear Program

Newsweek has a must-read today on the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on halting Iran’s nuclear program. The detail getting the most attention is the Obama administration’s decision to keep crucial intelligence from Israel regarding the locations of nuclear scientists. But the lack of intelligence-sharing goes both ways – Israel is also staying mum about when it will strike Iran, if it decides to take that course.

The reason for the silence seems to be a breakdown of trust between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. While the U.S. has the capability to attack the program after it goes fully underground, Israel’s window of time for carrying out a successful attack is much shorter. And the Israelis have reason to doubt Obama would take military action if he wins reelection, Newsweek reports:

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Newsweek has a must-read today on the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on halting Iran’s nuclear program. The detail getting the most attention is the Obama administration’s decision to keep crucial intelligence from Israel regarding the locations of nuclear scientists. But the lack of intelligence-sharing goes both ways – Israel is also staying mum about when it will strike Iran, if it decides to take that course.

The reason for the silence seems to be a breakdown of trust between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. While the U.S. has the capability to attack the program after it goes fully underground, Israel’s window of time for carrying out a successful attack is much shorter. And the Israelis have reason to doubt Obama would take military action if he wins reelection, Newsweek reports:

One former Israeli official tells Newsweek he heard this explanation directly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “If Israel will miss its last opportunity [to attack], then we will have to lean only on the United States, and if the United States decides not to attack, then we will face an Iran with a bomb,” says the former Israeli official. This source says that Israel has asked Obama for assurances that if sanctions fail, he will use force against Iran. Obama’s refusal to provide that assurance has helped shape Israel’s posture: a refusal to promise restraint, or even to give the United States advance notice.

Could there be a clearer example of “leading from behind” than this? A nuclear Iran is perhaps the biggest threat the world currently faces, and yet Obama can’t provide reassurances he’ll take military action if necessary – knowing this will lay the brunt of the responsibility on Israel.

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Santorum’s “Women in Combat” Comments Under Fire

The media vetting process on Rick Santorum is kicking into high gear this week, and his comments on women serving in combat are the latest to come under scrutiny:

Mr. Santorum had faced a brief storm of criticism after saying on Thursday in a CNN interview that to put more women in combat roles “could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”

He managed to quell some of the criticism – if not all – by saying later that he was referring to the emotional reactions of male soldiers. “Men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way,” he told NBC News on Friday, adding that “the natural inclination” is “to not focus on the mission but to try to be in a position where you might want to protect someone.”

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The media vetting process on Rick Santorum is kicking into high gear this week, and his comments on women serving in combat are the latest to come under scrutiny:

Mr. Santorum had faced a brief storm of criticism after saying on Thursday in a CNN interview that to put more women in combat roles “could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”

He managed to quell some of the criticism – if not all – by saying later that he was referring to the emotional reactions of male soldiers. “Men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way,” he told NBC News on Friday, adding that “the natural inclination” is “to not focus on the mission but to try to be in a position where you might want to protect someone.”

The “controversy” over the remark is overblown. Not only is Santorum making a fairly standard argument against women in combat, it’s also one that’s made by women who have actually served in the U.S. military. That said, this line of reasoning has always seemed a little weak. Emotions will always play a role in combat; many times the men fighting alongside each other are close friends. Doesn’t this add an element of emotion that could impact the mission? And yet members of the military still manage to carry on and get the job done.

There’s also a shade of condescension in the idea that women shouldn’t serve in combat roles because men have a “natural inclination” to protect them. After all, what types of women seek out or qualify for combat roles? These aren’t delicate flowers. They need the size and physical strength necessary for the position.

Which brings us to the central problem of women in military combat: there are few who actually have the requisite strength. It’s not an argument that’s politically correct for politicians to make – in fact, women in combat is probably a subject Santorum should strive to avoid altogether – but it’s an objective fact that plays much more of a role than male emotions do.

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The Israel-Iran Moral Equivalence Trap

Those who have expressed grim satisfaction at the reports of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have been told they will sing a different tune if Israelis or Jews are targeted by Iran. Today’s news of attacks on the Israeli embassies in Georgia and India will, no doubt, lead some to assume those responsible are in some way taking revenge for the Iranians. But the assumption that Israel is reaping what it sowed is off the mark. So, too, is the attempt by Israel’s critics on both the right and the left to claim there is some moral equivalence between Israel and Iran.

The first problem with this equation is that Iran and its various terrorist auxiliaries need no new excuse to attack Israelis or Jews. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have been doing this for many years. When it comes to the question of whether or when Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will strike, the assumption ought to be they are doing their worst at all times. Second, and more important, is that squeamishness about the attacks on Iranian scientists is entirely misplaced if not completely disingenuous.

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Those who have expressed grim satisfaction at the reports of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have been told they will sing a different tune if Israelis or Jews are targeted by Iran. Today’s news of attacks on the Israeli embassies in Georgia and India will, no doubt, lead some to assume those responsible are in some way taking revenge for the Iranians. But the assumption that Israel is reaping what it sowed is off the mark. So, too, is the attempt by Israel’s critics on both the right and the left to claim there is some moral equivalence between Israel and Iran.

The first problem with this equation is that Iran and its various terrorist auxiliaries need no new excuse to attack Israelis or Jews. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have been doing this for many years. When it comes to the question of whether or when Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will strike, the assumption ought to be they are doing their worst at all times. Second, and more important, is that squeamishness about the attacks on Iranian scientists is entirely misplaced if not completely disingenuous.

Last week, I wrote about the NBC news report about Israel’s alleged employment of an Iranian dissident group to help carry out covert operations inside the Islamic state. The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (also known by their Farsi acronym MEK) has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. Some prominent Americans on both sides of the aisle dispute this label. Others have told me in the last week  they doubt the veracity of NBC’s allegations. I took no position on the virtues of the MEK or on the quality of NBC’s reporting. What I did say was because Israel is locked in a war with Iran in which its existence is at stake, the use of the Iranian’s regime’s enemies to aid operations designed to forestall a nuclear threat is justified.

This provoked angry denunciations of my position from both the left by Glenn Greenwald at Salon and Robert Wright at The Atlantic, and the paleo right by Daniel Larison at the American Conservative. All seem to agree Israel’s alleged use of the MEK to kill Iranian scientists is an act of terrorism, and this makes Israel a state sponsor of terrorism. They also believe it is terribly hypocritical of those of us who denounce terrorist attacks on Jews and Israelis to think it is okay to knock off those working on Iran’s nuclear program.

This stance is not so much based on a devotion to an inflexible legal definition of terror as it is with delegitimizing concern about threats to Israel’s existence. Larison writes that a belief an Iranian nuclear weapon “has something to do with averting a second Holocaust … is a deeply irrational and unfounded assumption.” He bases that on the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons and this nuclear deterrent should put to bed any worries about Iran’s leadership thinking about a first strike on the Jewish state. Thus, in his view, any attempt to stop the Iranians from having the capacity to kill millions in a single stroke is just a criminal endeavor spurred on by an Israeli “fantasy” about Iran’s intentions.

But one needn’t step into the world of fantasy to understand what Iran’s intentions might be toward Israel. Their leaders spell it out, leaving little to the imagination. As Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said earlier this month while defending his country’s nuclear ambitions, Israel is a “cancer” that must be removed from the region. There is an interesting debate as to whether the fanatical religious figures who run Iran are prepared to risk attacks in kind from Israel should they use nukes to make good on their threats. But while it is not possible to predict Iran’s conduct in advance with certitude, the notion that Israel should simply sit back and wait and see what will happen while a government that actively promotes anti-Semitism acts on their threats is not advice any rational or responsible government can take when the lives of millions of citizens are at stake.

Above all, what Greenwald, Wright and Larison have a problem with is the entire idea of drawing a moral distinction between Iran and Israel. That is why their entire approach to the question of the legality of Israel’s attacks is morally bankrupt. Underneath their preening about the use of terrorists, what Greenwald, Wright and Larison are aiming at is the delegitimization of the right of Israel — or any democratic state threatened by Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors — to defend itself. They do so by dismissing the idea there is any credible threat to Israel and then by labeling those who are using their expertise to put a genocidal weapon in the hands of those who have made repeated threats of genocide as innocent civilians. However, at this point, doubts expressed about Iran’s intentions are mere sophistry cynically taken up by those who wish to hamstring the effort to avert a catastrophe.

Undeclared wars, even those between evil regimes and democracies, are necessarily messy. But the idea that the United States or Israel must forebear from acting in defense of humanity against a regime such as that of Iran because the Iranian scientists have not been convicted in a court of law is a moral absurdity. Contrary to the disingenuous arguments of Iran’s intellectual defenders, it really is quite easy to make a distinction between an Iranian nuclear scientist and an innocent American, Israeli or Jewish victim of the anti-Semitic terror sponsored by that regime. Greenwald, Wright and Larison are unmoved by the prospect of Khamenei having his finger on a nuclear button and are aghast at Israel’s resort to cloak and dagger methods to avert the possibility. But the only really immoral thing for either the United States or Israel to do is to fail to act.

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Without Regime Change, Foreign Jihadists Will Flock to Syria

Does the fact that al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has urged the overthrow of Syria’s “pernicious, cancerous regime” serve to discredit the revolt against Bashar al-Assad? Is this a reason for the West to stand on the sidelines and tacitly allow Assad to remain in power? Hardly. It argues for the opposite policy: Hastening Assad’s fall so as not to create the conditions that would allow al-Qaeda to establish itself in Syria.

Groups like al-Qaeda are supreme opportunists–they will take advantage of any chaos, any unrest to try to spread their poisonous philosophy and organization.

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Does the fact that al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has urged the overthrow of Syria’s “pernicious, cancerous regime” serve to discredit the revolt against Bashar al-Assad? Is this a reason for the West to stand on the sidelines and tacitly allow Assad to remain in power? Hardly. It argues for the opposite policy: Hastening Assad’s fall so as not to create the conditions that would allow al-Qaeda to establish itself in Syria.

Groups like al-Qaeda are supreme opportunists–they will take advantage of any chaos, any unrest to try to spread their poisonous philosophy and organization.

They had some success doing this in Iraq after 2003 because international troops stood by and allowed a civil war to rage. Al-Qaeda had no such success in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s where international troops intervened to end the war and establish order. Granted, there are other differences between the Balkans and Iraq, but Islamist terrorists have shown they can establish themselves in any ungoverned space from Africa to Southeast Asia. The longer the fighting goes on in Syria, the more opportunities there will be for extremists.

Our best bet is to help organize the opposition into an effective shadow government and work with its military arm, the Free Syrian Army, to hasten a change of regime in Damascus so as to reestablish order–something the Assad regime has singularly failed to do over the course of the last year. The longer Assad tries to hang on, the more foreign jihadists will flock to Syria and the more Syria’s conflict will turn into a de facto regional civil war as already happened in Lebanon and Iraq. Those are sobering examples that we should strive to avoid at every cost.

 

 

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The President’s “Accommodation”

Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

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Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

And yet on Friday afternoon, the president of the United States (B.A., Columbia, J.D., Harvard) declared Friedman’s dictum null and void. He ordered insurance companies covering institutions run by organizations morally opposed to contraception to provide it for free to the employees of those institutions who want it.

But birth control pills cost money to develop, manufacture, package and distribute. Doctors must prescribe what are, after all, powerful drugs. Doctors, drug companies and pharmacists expect to be paid. So if the insurance companies are going to pay them, where does the money come from?

Thin air, says the president of the United States. Higher premiums, say everyone who lives beyond the Beltway. And who would pay the higher premiums? Well, partly the institutions who object to birth control and partly other institutional customers of the same insurance company who don’t. If the institution self-insures, however, as most large organizations do, then it will still indeed be paying for a product to which it morally objects.

In other words, the birth control won’t be free, it will cost just as much as it ever did. It’s just that paying for it will, sometimes, be partly shifted away from those who are making a political ruckus and partly toward innocent bystanders.

I’m delighted to see the Catholic bishops weren’t fooled by the White House sleight-of-hand, unlike almost all of the Washington press corps. I suspect this story still has a lot of legs, and not only because the bishops aren’t buying. It also lays bare the dark heart of Obamacare, with its massive shift of power–economic, medical, and, now, moral–to Washington. And his “accommodation” to the moral scruples of the Catholic Church raises troubling constitutional issues as well.

From where, exactly, does the president derive the power to order a company to provide something of value for “free”? If he has that power, perhaps he might be so kind as to tell Subaru to provide me with a new Outback. The one I have, much as I love it, is getting a little old.

 

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Faith in Sports, “Linsanity” Edition

What is the clearest sign Jeremy Lin has made the whirlwind journey from anonymous bench player to basketball phenomenon to pop culture obsession? The Forbes headline, “Jeremy Lin Is Raising Ticket Prices Across The NBA,” would have made no sense even to sports fans before last Saturday, February 4. Another good candidate would be the New York Times’s in-house political statistician Nate Silver’s piece headlined, “Jeremy Lin Is No Fluke.” Perhaps the most telling one is Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article at GetReligion.org, “Jeremy Lin, The Knicks’ Tim Tebow?”

First, some background for those still unfamiliar with the condition afflicting the sports world known as “Linsanity.” Jeremy Lin is the Knicks undrafted, Harvard-educated point guard. He is the first American-born Taiwanese or Chinese-American player in the NBA. On February 4, he came off the bench against the New Jersey Nets and scored 25 points to lead the Knicks, who were then 8-15, to the win. But that doesn’t really describe the extent of Lin’s performance. The miserable Knicks have been without their superstar forwards Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony. Lin didn’t lead the Knicks to victory so much as carry the team. Lin immediately became a starter, and the Knicks won the next four games with Lin at the helm, including a 38-point performance Friday night against the Lakers and then scoring the winning bucket on the road at Minnesota.

Lin is also a devout Christian, wants to be a pastor, and has been sleeping on his brother’s couch in downtown Manhattan. He has created a charming, bookworm’s handshake with Landry Fields, another Knicks player who is Lin’s best friend on the team, that goes as follows: The two shake hands, then Fields presents his hands palms-up like a book; Lin makes a motion as if he is flipping through the pages of the book; Fields “closes” the book; and the two make goggles with their hands and make a motion as if they are putting glasses on; then they nod, point to God, and walk away. He is modest, refusing to take the credit he is obviously due, instead telling reporters how great his teammates and his coach are. In other words, it is virtually impossible not to like Jeremy Lin.

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What is the clearest sign Jeremy Lin has made the whirlwind journey from anonymous bench player to basketball phenomenon to pop culture obsession? The Forbes headline, “Jeremy Lin Is Raising Ticket Prices Across The NBA,” would have made no sense even to sports fans before last Saturday, February 4. Another good candidate would be the New York Times’s in-house political statistician Nate Silver’s piece headlined, “Jeremy Lin Is No Fluke.” Perhaps the most telling one is Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article at GetReligion.org, “Jeremy Lin, The Knicks’ Tim Tebow?”

First, some background for those still unfamiliar with the condition afflicting the sports world known as “Linsanity.” Jeremy Lin is the Knicks undrafted, Harvard-educated point guard. He is the first American-born Taiwanese or Chinese-American player in the NBA. On February 4, he came off the bench against the New Jersey Nets and scored 25 points to lead the Knicks, who were then 8-15, to the win. But that doesn’t really describe the extent of Lin’s performance. The miserable Knicks have been without their superstar forwards Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony. Lin didn’t lead the Knicks to victory so much as carry the team. Lin immediately became a starter, and the Knicks won the next four games with Lin at the helm, including a 38-point performance Friday night against the Lakers and then scoring the winning bucket on the road at Minnesota.

Lin is also a devout Christian, wants to be a pastor, and has been sleeping on his brother’s couch in downtown Manhattan. He has created a charming, bookworm’s handshake with Landry Fields, another Knicks player who is Lin’s best friend on the team, that goes as follows: The two shake hands, then Fields presents his hands palms-up like a book; Lin makes a motion as if he is flipping through the pages of the book; Fields “closes” the book; and the two make goggles with their hands and make a motion as if they are putting glasses on; then they nod, point to God, and walk away. He is modest, refusing to take the credit he is obviously due, instead telling reporters how great his teammates and his coach are. In other words, it is virtually impossible not to like Jeremy Lin.

And that last point is worth considering further. “Linsanity” has picked up so much steam because the Knicks and their fans desperately needed a good story. No one—not the Knicks’ management, owners, players, or head coach—has been anything but a disappointment this season. The Knicks were not 8-15 because the roster was made up of a bunch of undrafted young journeymen from Harvard. They stacked the team with high-priced stars and a high-priced coach and were terrible anyway. In addition, the Knicks’ owners also own Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, the cable television giant and New York sports channel, respectively. MSG has pulled its channel from the lineup of Cablevision’s rival provider, Time Warner, in an attempt to significantly raise the price it charges Time Warner. As a result, many Knicks fans in the New York area cannot watch the team. (Before the arrival of Jeremy Lin, this actually might have been considered a humanitarian gesture.) So the fans are justifiably irate at the Knicks’ ownership, management, and team. Linsanity could not have come a moment too soon.

But there is one possible obstacle awaiting Lin, whose ascent to popular stardom has been so complete that fans are showing up to games wearing Jeremy Lin masks. In a word, that challenge is Tebow. The vehemence of Tim Tebow’s critics was at times shocking, and we don’t need to review it here. Bailey’s GetReligion article was largely examining New York Times reporter Michael Luo’s personal essay in which he explained why Lin’s popularity was so mesmerizing and inspiring to him. (Luo is also an Asian-American Christian and a Harvard grad.)

Luo contends that, in comparison to Tebow’s, Jeremy Lin’s “is a quieter, potentially less polarizing but no less devout style of faith.” Yet Bailey takes a look at Lin’s Twitter stream and finds Lin is actually quite vocal—he quotes biblical passages and talks about church services and his love for God. The more obvious differences, then, are the commercial Tebow filmed about his mother’s decision to carry Tebow to term despite the risk (she was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery) and his habit of dropping to his knee to say a prayer on the football field.

Another difference is the polarizing nature of the Tebow debate had as much to do with his faith as with his abilities. All season, even as Tebow led his team to the playoffs, often thanks to his own fourth-quarter heroics, NFL fans were still split over whether Tebow was actually any good. Statistically, it was an open question. And many contended that Tebow’s game-saving comeback drives would have been unnecessary if he would’ve thrown the ball better throughout the game—that he was, in effect, saving the team from himself. Add to this the fact that Tebow won the Heisman trophy, which brings certain expectations that Lin, as an undrafted bench player, came without. Whatever Lin does in the future, his first four games as a starter broke Allen Iverson’s record for points in that span, making it difficult to argue that you didn’t see what you thought you just saw this past week.

It’s an open question where Lin’s season goes from here, especially when the team’s so-called “stars” come back and the Knicks must integrate them into an offense they won’t recognize but will be expected to lead. As for Lin’s faith, we can only hope he can express it without attracting the taunting bigotry that greeted Tebow. Perhaps Tebow even paved the way for Lin by exposing his critics’ behavior, which they would hopefully be too ashamed to repeat.

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