Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 15, 2012

Santorum and His Case Against Contraception

Now that he’s surging in the polls, Rick Santorum’s words are being scrutinized not just by his political opponents but also by members of the press. For example, Michael Scherer of Time magazine highlights this October 2011 quote from Santorum:

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also unitive, but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.

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Now that he’s surging in the polls, Rick Santorum’s words are being scrutinized not just by his political opponents but also by members of the press. For example, Michael Scherer of Time magazine highlights this October 2011 quote from Santorum:

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also unitive, but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.

The problem here isn’t so much Santorum’s religious views on contraception, which are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is that Santorum said as president he would make the moral and utilitarian case against contraception because he believes it’s having a profoundly negative impact on the health of our society.

I disagree with Santorum’s theology, and it’s certainly not clear to me how contraception among married couples is undermining American society. But Senator Santorum obviously believes deeply in this issue, and he’s made it clear it’s something he wants to talk about and thinks we should talk about. In October 2011, Santorum was making the discussion about contraception evidence of political courage, which means it won’t be easy for him in February 2012 to avoid the subject or brush it off as a distraction or a liberal “gotcha” question. After all, it’s important that you are who you are.

Rick Santorum now has his chance to make his case for contraception in Michigan, Arizona, and elsewhere. We’ll see how he does.

 

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New Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Doubles Down on Bias

When I wrote yesterday I hoped the incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief wouldn’t be any worse than outgoing chief Ethan Bronner, little did I know that within 24 hours we would learn those hopes were already in vain. As Alana wrote earlier today, Jodi Rudoren had begun exhibiting not only questionable judgment but also an overt bias against Israel even before she landed in the country. Her praise of extremists like the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and her laudatory references to Peter Beinart’s book trashing Israel indicated that she saw no reason why the public should have to wait until she started filing slanted stories to understand where she stood on the issues.

In an attempt to do some quick damage control, Rudoren submitted to an interview today with Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers to explain herself. But it did little to repair her image or to undermine the notion she has already made up her mind about how to report the conflict. Instead, she demonstrated the same naïveté about what constitutes bias on Israel as well as showed herself woefully unprepared for the political maelstrom in Jerusalem.

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When I wrote yesterday I hoped the incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief wouldn’t be any worse than outgoing chief Ethan Bronner, little did I know that within 24 hours we would learn those hopes were already in vain. As Alana wrote earlier today, Jodi Rudoren had begun exhibiting not only questionable judgment but also an overt bias against Israel even before she landed in the country. Her praise of extremists like the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and her laudatory references to Peter Beinart’s book trashing Israel indicated that she saw no reason why the public should have to wait until she started filing slanted stories to understand where she stood on the issues.

In an attempt to do some quick damage control, Rudoren submitted to an interview today with Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers to explain herself. But it did little to repair her image or to undermine the notion she has already made up her mind about how to report the conflict. Instead, she demonstrated the same naïveté about what constitutes bias on Israel as well as showed herself woefully unprepared for the political maelstrom in Jerusalem.

First of all, Rudoren claimed her tweet to Abunimah was meant to be private, not public. But the Anthony Weiner excuse doesn’t cut it. No matter what her intentions, the idea that she considers Electronic Intifada “important” already shows her frame of reference about Israel. It is one thing to say, as she does, a reporter must talk to all sides. It is quite another to make nice in this manner with advocates of economic warfare on Israel. Her promise to reach out “to extremists on all sides” hardly makes up for the fact that she has already put herself on record as thinking well of one group of anti-Israel extremists.

Even worse is her insistence that her praise of Peter Beinart’s tendentious attack on Israel isn’t an indication she supports his point of view. Indeed, she doubles down on her praise for Beinart:

In terms of Peter Beinart’s book, I will absolutely not apologize for thinking that this is a good book. Peter is someone I’ve known for 20 years, he’s a journalist, he’s written a really interesting book. I don’t agree with everything in the book, I don’t even have an opinion about the arguments in the book, but it’s really well-written, it’s really provocative, there’s tons of reporting in it with things people don’t know. I think people should read it. I think hard-right Zionists should read it and Palestinian activists should read it. And young American Jews, who are really the audience for the book, should read it.

I will not apologize for tweeting about the book at all. Will I tweet about books written by people more closely aligned with Netanyahu? Absolutely. I’m reading one book at a time. I expect to have a long and robust and diverse reading list, and when the spirit moves me I may tweet about it.

The very fact that she thinks Beinart’s book filled with left-wing clichés contains original reporting demonstrates that she has a poor grasp of what constitutes good journalism but also that she has come into this post knowing little about the conflict or the literature about it. Moreover, her claim she doesn’t agree with everything in the book is a weasel-worded excuse that will convince no one. You don’t give a gushing endorsement to a polemic such as Beinart’s if you are neutral about its thesis.

As for her claim she is reading “one book at a time,” that reminds me of Herman Cain’s similar pledge to read up about foreign policy after he was called out for being an ignoramus on the subject.

The Times has clearly made a mistake in appointing someone to this post with a clear bias against Israel. But the fact that she has been so indiscreet about her bias ought to alert her editors to not only her lack of political savvy but also her complete unsuitability for such a delicate position. But given the drift of the paper towards an openly anti-Israel editorial position and its unbalanced opinion pages, perhaps the editors have come to the conclusion there is really no need to even pretend to be objective on their news pages anymore.

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Romney’s Biography Is Not Enough

The Romney campaign is now turning its attacks on the GOP candidate, Rick Santorum, who poses a greater threat to the former Massachusetts governor than any so far. Will it work? Perhaps, though I doubt it will work as well as the attacks on Newt Gingrich. The criticisms of the former House speaker succeeded because they seemed to conform to reality, with Gingrich himself confirming concerns about his emotional state and erratic style. It won’t be as easy to portray Santorum as a faux conservative, especially when the charge is being leveled by Romney, who has his own history of deviations from conservative orthodoxy. There’s also a chance Romney’s tactics will begin to backfire (which is what the Santorum campaign is hoping for in putting out this ad).

At some point, though, Romney has to begin making an (effective) affirmative case for his nomination. That remains his chief weakness so far – the inability to tie his campaign to a great cause. Right now, Governor Romney’s reflex is to rely on his biography, to portray himself as a successful businessman, a competent fixer, and a man who has never worked a day in his life in Washington. That simply isn’t enough. Both John McCain and Bob Dole had far more vivid and moving life stories than Romney – and they were wiped out by Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008.

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The Romney campaign is now turning its attacks on the GOP candidate, Rick Santorum, who poses a greater threat to the former Massachusetts governor than any so far. Will it work? Perhaps, though I doubt it will work as well as the attacks on Newt Gingrich. The criticisms of the former House speaker succeeded because they seemed to conform to reality, with Gingrich himself confirming concerns about his emotional state and erratic style. It won’t be as easy to portray Santorum as a faux conservative, especially when the charge is being leveled by Romney, who has his own history of deviations from conservative orthodoxy. There’s also a chance Romney’s tactics will begin to backfire (which is what the Santorum campaign is hoping for in putting out this ad).

At some point, though, Romney has to begin making an (effective) affirmative case for his nomination. That remains his chief weakness so far – the inability to tie his campaign to a great cause. Right now, Governor Romney’s reflex is to rely on his biography, to portray himself as a successful businessman, a competent fixer, and a man who has never worked a day in his life in Washington. That simply isn’t enough. Both John McCain and Bob Dole had far more vivid and moving life stories than Romney – and they were wiped out by Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008.

The temptation will be to rely on the Romney Death Star to do to Santorum what it has done to others. And it may work. But one can sense a growing weariness within the GOP with this approach. Romney is a smart and able man. If he believes he would be a better president than Rick Santorum (and Barack Obama), as he clearly does, then he has to find a way to make that case. He could, for example, make a persuasive case that he is the person best equipped to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. (Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, infrastructure, immigration policies, and regulatory regime are outdated, worn down, and insanely out of touch with the needs of our time.) Playing off the line attributed to Chekhov, that you don’t become a saint through other people’s sins, the Romney campaign needs to operate from the awareness that you don’t become the GOP nominee through Rick Santorum’s earmarks or his votes to raise the debt ceiling.

Republican voters want more than that, and they are right to want it.

 

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Partisan Divide About Israeli Strike on Iran

A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

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A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

First, two items to note: the percentage of Americans who would want the U.S. to oppose an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program is in the single-digits, which leaves groups like J Street far outside the mainstream. Also note that Republicans are far more likely to want the U.S. to support an Israeli strike, while Democrats and independents are more likely to want to stay neutral.

Next, there’s bit of a discrepancy here. While the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the majority would also prefer to stay neutral if Israel is the country taking the action. It almost seems contradictory.

One reason could be because there’s no option for neutrality on the first question. You either support taking military action to prevent Iranian nukes, or you don’t. In contrast, the Israel question provides three response choices: support, oppose, or stay neutral.

Overall, the poll confirms what we’ve been seeing lately, which is that the public supports all options on the table when it comes to preventing a nuclear Iran. And the partisan gap on the Israel question highlights once again that Republicans tend to be the more reliable party when it comes to support for the Jewish state and seriousness about national security.

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Iran Thinks the West is Bluffing

One of the ironies of the last few months of international efforts to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions has been the fact that Western Europe has generally been much more aggressive about its willingness to put the screws to Tehran than the United States. Britain and especially France have been willing to talk about an oil embargo of Iran while the Obama administration has been much more circumspect about both the possibility of such a measure and its enforcement. But apparently, the Iranians are not quite convinced by the bluster coming from French President Sarkozy and other Europeans. Tehran’s official news agency announced today the regime called in the ambassadors of France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and Portugal to tell them if they don’t shut up about the nuclear issue, the Iranians will pre-empt them and cut off the flow of their oil to Europe.

Tehran’s hope is the Europeans will take the bait laid out for them in the form of a message to the EU about a willingness to resume negotiations on the issue. In today’s New York Times, Dennis Ross, the former Obama staffer who continues to consult with the administration, wrote an op-ed in which he claimed the time is ripe to resume talks. But while the administration may see the article as a signal to Iran that talks are the only way for Iran to avoid an embargo or worse, Iran may interpret it as a sign of weakness by the United States.

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One of the ironies of the last few months of international efforts to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions has been the fact that Western Europe has generally been much more aggressive about its willingness to put the screws to Tehran than the United States. Britain and especially France have been willing to talk about an oil embargo of Iran while the Obama administration has been much more circumspect about both the possibility of such a measure and its enforcement. But apparently, the Iranians are not quite convinced by the bluster coming from French President Sarkozy and other Europeans. Tehran’s official news agency announced today the regime called in the ambassadors of France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and Portugal to tell them if they don’t shut up about the nuclear issue, the Iranians will pre-empt them and cut off the flow of their oil to Europe.

Tehran’s hope is the Europeans will take the bait laid out for them in the form of a message to the EU about a willingness to resume negotiations on the issue. In today’s New York Times, Dennis Ross, the former Obama staffer who continues to consult with the administration, wrote an op-ed in which he claimed the time is ripe to resume talks. But while the administration may see the article as a signal to Iran that talks are the only way for Iran to avoid an embargo or worse, Iran may interpret it as a sign of weakness by the United States.

While the threat to the Europeans may be dismissed as bluster, the Iranians are acting as if they think the European Union is bluffing about going to the mat over the nuclear issue by scheduling an embargo to begin on July 1. Moreover, the Iranian threat, which noted that the regime can “find other customers for its oil” is no lie. As we noted last week, China has been negotiating oil deals at cut-rate prices intended to take advantage of the pressure building on Iran. Though Saudi Arabia has vowed to make up any shortfall in the supply of oil as a result of this standoff, the Iranians may reason that when push comes to shove the Europeans won’t be willing to risk the impact such a confrontation might have on their economies.

Of even greater concern is that Ross’s article may reinforce Tehran’s belief it can lure the West back into dead-end negotiations.

Ross’s premise is the sanctions orchestrated by President Obama have brought the Iranians to their knees and made them ready to back down on the nuclear issue. The obvious drawback to a Western assent to resumed negotiations is Iran would have every incentive to drag out the process and run out the clock until their program succeeds. Ross’s answer to this concern is the European threat of an oil embargo this summer would ensure Tehran could not play that game.

But Ross, who is a veteran of two decades of failure on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating track, fails to take into account the very real possibility  a new round of talks would give the Europeans the excuse many of them have been waiting for to back away from a confrontation. Their main concern has been to heighten the pressure on Iran so as to convince the Israelis not to launch an attack that might create an international crisis with unforeseen circumstances.

Unlike Ross, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has shown he doesn’t take either President Obama or the Europeans seriously when it comes to their threats. He may be gambling that both are far more interested in avoiding the use of force than they are in actually stopping Iran’s nuclear plans. Unfortunately, the Ross op-ed, which will rightly be viewed as an open peace feeler from Obama to Iran, will only reinforce Khamenei’s belief the U.S. doesn’t mean business. Moreover, there is no reason to believe a fanatical regime such as the Islamist government in Tehran would be willing to give up on its nuclear dream.

President Obama’s rhetoric on the necessity of stopping Iran has been faultless. But after more than three years of irresolute American diplomacy, the Iranians have come to believe both the U.S. and Europe are bluffing about an oil embargo. Iranians may think a dead-end negotiation will allow them to avoid more sanctions while bringing them closer to a nuclear weapon.

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It’s Time to Take Incitement Seriously

Shortly after the Clinton administration ended and George W. Bush took office, and amidst the ashes of the Oslo process, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s Middle East envoy, was asked at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy talk what in hindsight he would identify as the greatest U.S. mistake in the long process to broker Arab-Israel peace. He was correct to identify incitement.

Whether it was the tendency of Yasser Arafat to say one thing in English and the opposite in Arabic, or the constant barrage of hatred which Palestinian textbooks and media indoctrinate, the State Department turned a deaf ear. Incitement was seen as secondary to diplomatic progress and was a headache which, if dealt with, might hamper the ability to get to yes on whatever interim agreement loomed at the time.

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Shortly after the Clinton administration ended and George W. Bush took office, and amidst the ashes of the Oslo process, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s Middle East envoy, was asked at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy talk what in hindsight he would identify as the greatest U.S. mistake in the long process to broker Arab-Israel peace. He was correct to identify incitement.

Whether it was the tendency of Yasser Arafat to say one thing in English and the opposite in Arabic, or the constant barrage of hatred which Palestinian textbooks and media indoctrinate, the State Department turned a deaf ear. Incitement was seen as secondary to diplomatic progress and was a headache which, if dealt with, might hamper the ability to get to yes on whatever interim agreement loomed at the time.

Diplomats reached agreements but, in practice, they meant little. Rather than prepare Palestinians for compromise, the Palestinian Authority used incitement to fan the flames of hatred, and then used that public disapproval of any peace as an excuse to avoid the difficult steps necessary.

It is not only the Palestinians who have been guilty of incitement. For many diplomats, the 1978 Camp David Accords suggest that perseverance against all odds can lead to peace. And, with Egypt-Israel peace now in doubt, some Israeli officials and scholars long for a return to Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Mubarak, however, bears much culpability for the current actions of the Egyptian public. As president, he oversaw a regime which used its state media to perpetuate anti-Semitism and crass conspiracies, and used its bureaucracy to quash any attempts by civil society to promote tolerance and interchange. The hatred which populists now channel against Israel is the result of more than three decades of unchecked incitement.

Alas, having turned a blind eye to incitement for so long, Americans will now feel its bite. After squandering the opportunity for four decades to reform, professionalize, and free the Egyptian media, Egypt’s new government now uses its media to incite against the United States and, specifically, the Americans the transitional Egyptian regime holds hostage.

Years of neglect suggest there will be no happy ending to the current crisis which increasingly appears as a repeat of the Iran hostage drama, but in slow motion. Perhaps it’s time for the State Department and Congress to have a fundamental rethink about the priority incitement has in its calculations. Should any country use public media to promote religious hatred or anti-Americanism, that country is not serious about peace nor is it deserving of American aid. Rather than treat incitement as a hiccup to ignore on the road to an agreement, perhaps it is time to address incitement as the primary hurdle which must be overcome before any aid can be expended or serious peacemaking can begin.

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Israel Makes Preparations for War

Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

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Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

If Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran has three major targets: the atomic reactor at Dimona, Haifa’s port and refineries, and the area of Zakariya, where Israel stored its missile arsenal. Eyal Eisenberg, head of the Home Front Command, recently declared, “Haifa will be flooded with 12.000 missiles.” Israel’s army estimates that Hamas and Hezbollah have 1,600 rockets capable of hitting targets with high precision. In the words of former Minister Matan Vilnai, in the event of such a war, Israel’s Defense Ministry building “will not remain standing.”

But Israel is no stranger to missile fire. Since 1948, the year of the founding of the state, more than 60,000 rockets have fallen on Israel. In 2006 during the second Lebanon war when Hezbollah rained missiles down on the north of the country, one million Israelis were forced to live in shelters for more than a month. There are estimated to be 200,000 missiles pointed at the country today. The situation is such that, according to a survey conducted by Tel Aviv University, 30 percent of those Israelis with a foreign passport are willing to leave the country. A few days ago, Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, published a list of “cities of refuge” where it is better to live “in case of emergency.”

Tel Aviv, where 60 percent of Israel’s population reside, is now facing Iran’s “judgment day.” Many security drills are termed “NBC:” nuclear, biological and chemical threats.

Syria is the “most advanced Arab country in the production of chemical weapons,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. Though Syria’s government is preoccupied with the rebellion against the Assad regime, it is still an ally of Iran and might decide that joining in an attack on Israel would be a good way to divert public anger against the massacres of dissidents. Syria has produced hundreds of tons of chemical weapons and bombs filled with sarin and another lethal gas, VX. The idea is that botulinum, anthrax and other lethal pathogens can be used in conjunction with explosives. Just 100 grams of mustard gas would be enough to kill 500 Israelis.

With this sort of threat in view, Israel is preparing its bomb shelters. This week, the Foreign Ministry gave the embassies a list of bunkers available for the diplomats. Only Tel Aviv has as many as 240 bunkers. The Jerusalem railway station is able to accommodate 5,000 people. Even theaters, like Habima in Tel Aviv, will host thousands of people. In Safed, the first hospital-bunker for children is being prepared. Evacuation plans are ready for Ramat Gan, the populous suburb of Tel Aviv hit by Saddam Hussein’s rockets in 1991.

While many Israelis may take shelter in the Negev, up to half a million could take refuge in the Jewish settlements of Samaria. The commander of the Home Front, General Yair Golan, declared that “cities can be transformed into a battlefield” and that masses of people will be forced to flee to a “national refuge” in Samaria in the West Bank. The hospitals have emergency plans. The most important industries, such as the banks and the Bezeq phone company, are preparing alternative technologies in case of national collapse.

Meanwhile, in southern Israel, where Gaza-based terrorists have rained down thousands of missiles in recent years, bulldozers are hard at work building new shelters for the expected next round of shelling. In Sderot, the town that has been hardest hit by Hamas missile fire, virtually every street is already dotted with concrete huts. The government has promised to put a missile-proof security room in every home. Five thousand shelters are planned for a place with just 20,000 inhabitants.

In addition to the shelters, a new alarm system, located in the Negev desert, can calculate the exact trajectory of a missile. The plan is to use this information to alert all the mobile phones in the area via SMS, audio alert and display lighting.

Given the level of preparation for these attacks, these days the State of Israel looks like a bunkered Western outpost threatened with destruction by Iran. The countdown for war may have already begun. But as Israelis start thinking about heading to shelters, the question in their minds is: once the assault on their nation begins, will the West come to their aid?

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Will Social Issues Sink Santorum?

Last week, Rasmussen Reports polled likely voters in the swing state of Ohio to gauge how the three GOP candidates matched up against President Obama. Somewhat surprisingly, Rick Santorum polled in a dead heat with Obama and Mitt Romney was slightly edged out by the incumbent president. Can Santorum withstand a full-scale assault on his conservative social values as the GOP frontrunner until the November elections and keep that edge?

Throughout his candidacy, Santorum has made a point to emphasize his pro-life, pro-family platform. He has made controversial comments on gay marriage, the role of women in the military, abortion and contraception which have been, until recently, largely ignored by the media and voters. While the GOP base may not mind his focus on social conservatism, liberals in the news and entertainment media will see his comments as so abhorrent they may take it upon themselves to ensure his campaign is over before it starts.

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Last week, Rasmussen Reports polled likely voters in the swing state of Ohio to gauge how the three GOP candidates matched up against President Obama. Somewhat surprisingly, Rick Santorum polled in a dead heat with Obama and Mitt Romney was slightly edged out by the incumbent president. Can Santorum withstand a full-scale assault on his conservative social values as the GOP frontrunner until the November elections and keep that edge?

Throughout his candidacy, Santorum has made a point to emphasize his pro-life, pro-family platform. He has made controversial comments on gay marriage, the role of women in the military, abortion and contraception which have been, until recently, largely ignored by the media and voters. While the GOP base may not mind his focus on social conservatism, liberals in the news and entertainment media will see his comments as so abhorrent they may take it upon themselves to ensure his campaign is over before it starts.

For the first time since his failed 2006 reelection campaign for Senate, journalists are pouring over Santorum’s book It Takes A Family and picking out what, in their minds, are the most offensive parts. Santorum is currently under fire for comments in the book (which he attributes to his wife) that discuss how “radical feminists” have devalued women who choose motherhood over going into the work force. With journalists at every major news organization waiting on their own copies to arrive since Santorum’s unlikely sweep last week, there will certainly be more potentially explosive tidbits from the book. The year after the book’s release, we saw the most conservative excerpts of the book quoted in and out of context in his opponent’s attack ads, and many analysts have cited these as a contributing factor in Santorum’s 18-point loss, a historic margin for an incumbent Republican Pennsylvania U.S. senator. In Business Week, G. Terry Madonna, a polling expert and public affairs professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, explained, “Santorum was putting an emphasis on the cultural issues, which didn’t sit well with independent, suburban swing voters in this state.”

recent poll conducted by Winthrop University of South Carolina residents showed almost 30 percent were unable to name Joe Biden as our vice president. How many Americans would be able to understand Santorum’s comments on the possibility of states banning contraception were based on the premise of states’ rights verses a Draconian desire to institute a Catholic theocracy in the United States? When Salon.com‘s warnings that “Rick Santorum really is after your birth control” go mainstream along with a Santorum candidacy, would a Santorum campaign outspent in advertisements and reviled in the liberal media be able to withstand the firestorm and clearly explain the nuances of his social conservatism?

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Barack Obama’s Theory of Government

The most recent budget submitted by President Obama continues his amazing streak. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is some of the data: Four years of spending of more than 24 percent of GDP, which translates into the four highest spending years since before the mid-point of the last century. A record four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits ($1.327 this year, an increase from last year). Revenues at historic lows because of an anemic recovery, including four years in a row when revenues won’t reach 16 percent of GDP. A record of more than $5 trillion in debt in a single presidential term. (During George W. Bush’s two terms, total deficit spending was $3.4 trillion.)

Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard points out that prior to Obama, our annual deficit spending had only exceeded 6 percent of GDP during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But during Obama’s four years in the White House, annual deficit spending will average 8.4 percent of GDP (the figure is higher – 9.1 percent – if you count 2009, which some argue you should because Obama’s $800 billion stimulus passed in February).

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The most recent budget submitted by President Obama continues his amazing streak. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is some of the data: Four years of spending of more than 24 percent of GDP, which translates into the four highest spending years since before the mid-point of the last century. A record four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits ($1.327 this year, an increase from last year). Revenues at historic lows because of an anemic recovery, including four years in a row when revenues won’t reach 16 percent of GDP. A record of more than $5 trillion in debt in a single presidential term. (During George W. Bush’s two terms, total deficit spending was $3.4 trillion.)

Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard points out that prior to Obama, our annual deficit spending had only exceeded 6 percent of GDP during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But during Obama’s four years in the White House, annual deficit spending will average 8.4 percent of GDP (the figure is higher – 9.1 percent – if you count 2009, which some argue you should because Obama’s $800 billion stimulus passed in February).

These numbers are important, but they need to be understood above all as a manifestation of a particular philosophy, which some have called reactionary liberalism. Barack Obama has an almost undiluted attachment for and belief in the wondrous powers of the federal government. He believes the role of the state is to redistribute wealth and level out differences. He would trade off greater prosperity in all classes and income brackets in order to narrow the gap in income inequality, which he considers to be a moral offense. Obama wants to punish wealth creators, empower unelected bureaucrats, undermine private enterprise and centralize power.

Beyond even that, Obama wants government to weaken, and eventually replace, civil society, create greater dependency, and expand the state’s reach into every nook and cranny of life, including into the internal life of the church. And at a time when Medicare in particular is driving us toward a Greece-like crisis, the president opposes any modernization of our entitlement state and savages those who are offering up reforms.

More than any president in our lifetime, Barack Obama identifies the state with society and wants society absorbed by the state.

This is what is at the heart of the progressive project, and leading that project in the 21st century is the president of the United States. It is quite a thing to behold.

 

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Dershowitz: I Can’t Vote for Obama Unless He Cuts Ties with Media Matters

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was a key supporter of Obama in 2008, told WOR710 today that he could not vote for President Obama’s re-election unless the president cuts ties with the controversial anti-Israel group Media Matters. He also warned that Obama’s association with Media Matters – which was raised by the Daily Caller in an investigative series this week – will lose him support in the pro-Israel community:

Let’s have a full and open debate on this, but to the extent that the Obama administration associates with these bigots [at Media Matters], they’re going to lose a lot of support among Christians, Jews and others who think that American support for Israel is in the best interest of the United States…So don’t confuse these bigots with liberals. They’re not. They’re extremists, they’re way, way beyond the pale. And any association with the Obama administration is going to hurt the Obama administration. There is not enough room under the big tent for people like me…and the bigots of Media Matters. The Obama administration is going to have to choose. …

I could not vote for anyone who has anything to do with Media Matters, that’s clear. That’s just clear as can be. I will take an oath here that I will not vote for a candidate that has any direct association with Media Matters. That’s like asking me to vote for Hezbollah or asking me to vote for Hamas or asking me to vote for the Fascist Party. I won’t do it…That association has to stop. Just in the same way that President Obama totally terminated his association with the Reverend Wright, he has to terminate any association with Media Matters and with the intellectual thugs who are behind it.

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Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was a key supporter of Obama in 2008, told WOR710 today that he could not vote for President Obama’s re-election unless the president cuts ties with the controversial anti-Israel group Media Matters. He also warned that Obama’s association with Media Matters – which was raised by the Daily Caller in an investigative series this week – will lose him support in the pro-Israel community:

Let’s have a full and open debate on this, but to the extent that the Obama administration associates with these bigots [at Media Matters], they’re going to lose a lot of support among Christians, Jews and others who think that American support for Israel is in the best interest of the United States…So don’t confuse these bigots with liberals. They’re not. They’re extremists, they’re way, way beyond the pale. And any association with the Obama administration is going to hurt the Obama administration. There is not enough room under the big tent for people like me…and the bigots of Media Matters. The Obama administration is going to have to choose. …

I could not vote for anyone who has anything to do with Media Matters, that’s clear. That’s just clear as can be. I will take an oath here that I will not vote for a candidate that has any direct association with Media Matters. That’s like asking me to vote for Hezbollah or asking me to vote for Hamas or asking me to vote for the Fascist Party. I won’t do it…That association has to stop. Just in the same way that President Obama totally terminated his association with the Reverend Wright, he has to terminate any association with Media Matters and with the intellectual thugs who are behind it.

Click the last link over to BreitbartTV for the full audio to hear Dershowitz give the history of the Jewish dual-loyalty charge that’s now being used by Media Matters writers. As an interesting aside, Dershowitz also explains that he discovered Media Matters was using anti-Semitic tropes after he saw them quoted by a Holocaust denial group that regularly spams his email box.

Could Media Matters become as toxic for Obama as his association with Rev. Wright was in 2008? As far as I recall, Dershowitz is the first to make that comparison. In many ways, Media Matters’ rhetoric is just as offensive as the garbage Wright was preaching. The difference is Media Matters has extensive ties within the Democratic Party. Even if Obama disassociates from the group, he can’t count on his fellow Democrats to follow suit. He also can’t discount the fact that Media Matters has a lot of sway with the progressive left. His re-election campaign will require support, and potentially even coordination, with the group.

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Should Romney Tell Mormon Church to Stop Proxy-Baptizing Jews?

Keep a close eye on this issue, because if Mitt Romney wins the nomination it’s going to be a big component of Democratic attacks. Elie Wiesel has been a longtime critic of the Mormon Church’s proxy-baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, a practice the church has now officially prohibited. But apparently there was a breakdown in the safeguards used to prevent Holocaust victims from being entered into the Mormon Church database, and the deceased parents of Simon Wiesenthal, the notorious Nazi-hunter, were recently proxy-baptized:

Nobel-laureate Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and a top official from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should use his stature in the Mormon Church to block its members from posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Their comments followed reports that Mormons had baptized the deceased parents of Wiesenthal, the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter. Wiesel appeared in a church database used to identify potential subjects of baptisms. …

Romney “is now the most famous and important Mormon in the country,” Wiesel said. “I’m not saying it’s his fault, but once he knows, morally he must respond. . . . He should come out and say, ‘Stop it.’”

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Keep a close eye on this issue, because if Mitt Romney wins the nomination it’s going to be a big component of Democratic attacks. Elie Wiesel has been a longtime critic of the Mormon Church’s proxy-baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, a practice the church has now officially prohibited. But apparently there was a breakdown in the safeguards used to prevent Holocaust victims from being entered into the Mormon Church database, and the deceased parents of Simon Wiesenthal, the notorious Nazi-hunter, were recently proxy-baptized:

Nobel-laureate Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and a top official from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should use his stature in the Mormon Church to block its members from posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Their comments followed reports that Mormons had baptized the deceased parents of Wiesenthal, the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter. Wiesel appeared in a church database used to identify potential subjects of baptisms. …

Romney “is now the most famous and important Mormon in the country,” Wiesel said. “I’m not saying it’s his fault, but once he knows, morally he must respond. . . . He should come out and say, ‘Stop it.’”

As a Jew, getting “proxy-baptized” by the Mormon Church seems akin to somebody casting a magic spell on you or sticking needles in a voodoo doll. But for historical reasons, the practice is seen as disrespectful to Holocaust victims from a symbolic perspective, and the church has rightly promised to avoid it.

It’s an issue Democrats will undoubtedly raise if Romney’s the nominee, as it’s a way to bring up the unorthodox practices of the Mormon Church under the auspices of religious tolerance and respect for Holocaust victims.

So why hasn’t Romney come out and condemned the baptism of the Wiesenthal parents yet? He has every reason to do so. The church has already officially prohibited them, and Romney’s family has a history of standing up to controversial practices in the Mormon Church.

Then again, he may be nervous about drawing attention to his Mormon faith during the primary out of concern GOP voters will hold it against him. There’s also this:

The practice of baptizing Holocaust victims has long been offensive to Jews. After years of negotiations, Mormon officials have prohibited posthumous baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims.

There is no indication that Romney has ever been involved in the proxy baptism of a Holocaust victim. Asked if he had ever participated in posthumous baptisms, Romney told Newsweek in 2007 that “I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.”

Again: There’s “no indication” that Romney’s been involved in proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims. But that doesn’t mean it’s never happened. If Romney comes out and condemns them, and it’s later revealed he was involved – that would be a big, big problem.

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Review: The Last and Final Way of Loving

Peter Cameron, Coral Glynn (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). 210 pp. $24.00.

Peter Cameron’s sixth novel is strangely irrelevant and completely unnecessary. It meets no demand, fills no need, gratifies no craving, strokes no ideology. Coral Glynn is very little more than a wonderful delicious treat for readers who feasted on the novels of Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor years ago and despaired of ever finding anything like them again.

Cameron is remarkably open about the influence of these “British women writers,” as he describes them on his website. But it’s one thing to be influenced by them and another thing entirely to attempt (and to pull off) what he has done here. It’s as if a living composer were to write a new symphony in the style of Haydn. In his latest novel, Cameron faithfully revives a fictional mode that disappeared at least three decades ago without ever finding a warm reception on these shores.

Coral Glynn is his loving homage to this mode of English fiction, an adventurous striking out into a real world created wholly by books and not by personal experience. A New Jersey boy (except for two years with his parents in London), Cameron sets the novel in an English country house located in a Midlands provincial town. Although he is known as a gay writer (and though one character in the novel is a gay man), he is interested in homosexuality here only in as far as it is perhaps the clearest example of love that leads to cruelty and makes cowards of lovers.

His title character is a 20- or 21-year-old nurse who arrives at Hart House in the spring of 1950 to care for the mistress, who is dying of cancer. Standing a few miles outside of Harrington, a fictional village that Cameron locates in Leicestershire, Hart House is undistinguished, containing “nothing of anybody’s; it was that kind of house: the people who lived in it made no real impression upon it.” Except for a housekeeper, the only other person living there is Major Hart — his Christian name is Clement — the sole surviving son, who was wounded in the war under mysterious circumstances (or at least he doesn’t want to talk about them).

Within a few days of her arrival, Major Hart conceives the “idea” of marrying Coral. “She is a lovely girl,” he tells his friend Robin, with whom he seems to have had a brief affair several years before. “I rather like her.” And besides, he is convinced that she is his “last chance.” After his mother’s death, deeply ashamed of the wound that has left him with a burned and useless leg, he expects to become a hermit. “I will never meet another girl again,” he remarks, “if I become a hermit.”

Old Mrs Hart dies while Coral is on her day off. The housekeeper blames her (“If you’d’ve been here you could have done something”), but Coral comforts Clement while he sobs in grief. And the next day he asks if she would like to stay on at Hart House. “As my wife,” he quickly adds. She is naturally surprised. She hadn’t even realized that he had feelings for her. “Very warm and tender feelings,” he assures her. “Of course, you deserve more than that,” he goes on. She deserves love. “And you!” Coral interrupts. Clement disagrees:

No, I don’t. And I’m not asking for love, or even wanting it. I just want not to go all bitter and dead inside like my mother. And living here, alone, I know that I would. I can feel it already, something inside me, someone inside me, moving from room to room, shutting all the doors, shuttering the windows.

Coral is alone in the world too, an only child whose mother and father are both dead. And so she marries Clement.

The sequel is perhaps the briefest marriage — if not the oddest — in fiction. Before her wedding day is over, Coral falls under suspicion for murder and flees to London. She finds work at a Catholic hospital and rooms in the house of a Polish woman who had once been a classical pianist. She writes three letters to Clement in care of his friend Robin, but he never answers. And so she settles into a life that, upon reflection, is not really a bad life:

This is more happiness than I deserve, even if it is not exactly happiness. But it was a sort of freedom: there had been so many problems — it had all been problems, everything had been a problem for such a long time — and to be released from that perpetually increasing darkness was a kind of joy.

Not quite a year later Robin’s wife discovers the letters hidden in a chest. Robin defends himself by saying that he has saved Clement from a “hell” of loneliness and misery that Coral would have increased “a ten — a thousand — fold.” He accuses Clement of “cowardice and cruelty” in not returning Robin’s love. He hid the letters from Clement, and then he burned them, out of love: “It is my last and final way of loving you,” he swears.

Clement is a coward, but not because he is afraid to live openly as a “pouf,” as he degradingly calls Robin later on. He is a coward because he bows his head to a self-imposed sentence without even questioning it, let alone raging against it. A hermit’s life, loneliness and misery, love and tenderness — they are all one to Clement, because they are equally to be suffered. What he wanted was to separate himself from the world, and thus to surrender any claim (and duck any responsibility) over what occurs within it. When he finally bestirs himself to seek out Coral in London, it comes as little surprise that she has embraced Clement’s vision of life: “Well, whatever happened, I think we both saw right to give it up,” she tells him. “Everything has happened as it ought.”

Or has it? Cameron has one more surprise in store for his lucky readers — a coda, many years later, in which Coral and Clement, divorced in 1954 “on the basis of three years’ desertion,” find love at last. And from unexpected quarters. Both find someone who catches them fast to the world and its unpredictable life, “for what is love,” Cameron wonders, “if not wanting someone alive?” That — not a homosexuality that dares to speak its name, nor marriage that is a lasting substitute for a hermit’s life — that is the last and final way of loving. And as Coral Glynn masterfully shows, it never happens as it ought.

Peter Cameron, Coral Glynn (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). 210 pp. $24.00.

Peter Cameron’s sixth novel is strangely irrelevant and completely unnecessary. It meets no demand, fills no need, gratifies no craving, strokes no ideology. Coral Glynn is very little more than a wonderful delicious treat for readers who feasted on the novels of Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor years ago and despaired of ever finding anything like them again.

Cameron is remarkably open about the influence of these “British women writers,” as he describes them on his website. But it’s one thing to be influenced by them and another thing entirely to attempt (and to pull off) what he has done here. It’s as if a living composer were to write a new symphony in the style of Haydn. In his latest novel, Cameron faithfully revives a fictional mode that disappeared at least three decades ago without ever finding a warm reception on these shores.

Coral Glynn is his loving homage to this mode of English fiction, an adventurous striking out into a real world created wholly by books and not by personal experience. A New Jersey boy (except for two years with his parents in London), Cameron sets the novel in an English country house located in a Midlands provincial town. Although he is known as a gay writer (and though one character in the novel is a gay man), he is interested in homosexuality here only in as far as it is perhaps the clearest example of love that leads to cruelty and makes cowards of lovers.

His title character is a 20- or 21-year-old nurse who arrives at Hart House in the spring of 1950 to care for the mistress, who is dying of cancer. Standing a few miles outside of Harrington, a fictional village that Cameron locates in Leicestershire, Hart House is undistinguished, containing “nothing of anybody’s; it was that kind of house: the people who lived in it made no real impression upon it.” Except for a housekeeper, the only other person living there is Major Hart — his Christian name is Clement — the sole surviving son, who was wounded in the war under mysterious circumstances (or at least he doesn’t want to talk about them).

Within a few days of her arrival, Major Hart conceives the “idea” of marrying Coral. “She is a lovely girl,” he tells his friend Robin, with whom he seems to have had a brief affair several years before. “I rather like her.” And besides, he is convinced that she is his “last chance.” After his mother’s death, deeply ashamed of the wound that has left him with a burned and useless leg, he expects to become a hermit. “I will never meet another girl again,” he remarks, “if I become a hermit.”

Old Mrs Hart dies while Coral is on her day off. The housekeeper blames her (“If you’d’ve been here you could have done something”), but Coral comforts Clement while he sobs in grief. And the next day he asks if she would like to stay on at Hart House. “As my wife,” he quickly adds. She is naturally surprised. She hadn’t even realized that he had feelings for her. “Very warm and tender feelings,” he assures her. “Of course, you deserve more than that,” he goes on. She deserves love. “And you!” Coral interrupts. Clement disagrees:

No, I don’t. And I’m not asking for love, or even wanting it. I just want not to go all bitter and dead inside like my mother. And living here, alone, I know that I would. I can feel it already, something inside me, someone inside me, moving from room to room, shutting all the doors, shuttering the windows.

Coral is alone in the world too, an only child whose mother and father are both dead. And so she marries Clement.

The sequel is perhaps the briefest marriage — if not the oddest — in fiction. Before her wedding day is over, Coral falls under suspicion for murder and flees to London. She finds work at a Catholic hospital and rooms in the house of a Polish woman who had once been a classical pianist. She writes three letters to Clement in care of his friend Robin, but he never answers. And so she settles into a life that, upon reflection, is not really a bad life:

This is more happiness than I deserve, even if it is not exactly happiness. But it was a sort of freedom: there had been so many problems — it had all been problems, everything had been a problem for such a long time — and to be released from that perpetually increasing darkness was a kind of joy.

Not quite a year later Robin’s wife discovers the letters hidden in a chest. Robin defends himself by saying that he has saved Clement from a “hell” of loneliness and misery that Coral would have increased “a ten — a thousand — fold.” He accuses Clement of “cowardice and cruelty” in not returning Robin’s love. He hid the letters from Clement, and then he burned them, out of love: “It is my last and final way of loving you,” he swears.

Clement is a coward, but not because he is afraid to live openly as a “pouf,” as he degradingly calls Robin later on. He is a coward because he bows his head to a self-imposed sentence without even questioning it, let alone raging against it. A hermit’s life, loneliness and misery, love and tenderness — they are all one to Clement, because they are equally to be suffered. What he wanted was to separate himself from the world, and thus to surrender any claim (and duck any responsibility) over what occurs within it. When he finally bestirs himself to seek out Coral in London, it comes as little surprise that she has embraced Clement’s vision of life: “Well, whatever happened, I think we both saw right to give it up,” she tells him. “Everything has happened as it ought.”

Or has it? Cameron has one more surprise in store for his lucky readers — a coda, many years later, in which Coral and Clement, divorced in 1954 “on the basis of three years’ desertion,” find love at last. And from unexpected quarters. Both find someone who catches them fast to the world and its unpredictable life, “for what is love,” Cameron wonders, “if not wanting someone alive?” That — not a homosexuality that dares to speak its name, nor marriage that is a lasting substitute for a hermit’s life — that is the last and final way of loving. And as Coral Glynn masterfully shows, it never happens as it ought.

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Obama Sending Wrong Message on the Falklands

I wrote yesterday about the Obama administration’s course correction in Burma, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showing signs the White House has begun to think strategically in Asia. But while that failure seems to be well on its way to being fixed, the administration has doubled down on another of its early foreign policy mistakes, and the results could be disastrous.

Robert C. O’Brien, a former American representative to the UN, argues today in The Diplomat that the Obama administration has again turned its back on the United Kingdom in its dispute with Argentina over the Falklands. This is a rather easy call–British sovereignty there is lawful and the clear choice of Falklands residents. But Argentina is stirring up trouble there once again, and O’Brien suggests Obama’s behavior is indefensible and will have consequences:

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I wrote yesterday about the Obama administration’s course correction in Burma, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showing signs the White House has begun to think strategically in Asia. But while that failure seems to be well on its way to being fixed, the administration has doubled down on another of its early foreign policy mistakes, and the results could be disastrous.

Robert C. O’Brien, a former American representative to the UN, argues today in The Diplomat that the Obama administration has again turned its back on the United Kingdom in its dispute with Argentina over the Falklands. This is a rather easy call–British sovereignty there is lawful and the clear choice of Falklands residents. But Argentina is stirring up trouble there once again, and O’Brien suggests Obama’s behavior is indefensible and will have consequences:

There’s a clear analogy between Argentina’s response to the U.K.’s defense cuts and what we can expect in the South China Sea and Persian Gulf from China and Iran, respectively, as massive sequestration cuts threaten to decimate the United States military. Indeed, the Obama administration announced this week that the U.S. Navy will decommission 7 Ticonderoga class cruisers and 2 amphibious warships in 2012 alone. There’s no doubt that Beijing, Tehran and even Moscow are watching the slashing of the U.S. defense budget with the same attention that Buenos Aires is paying to the decline of the Royal Navy.

Second, the Obama administration has made the United States an unreliable ally for our closest friends. Britain has been a stalwart ally of the U.S. in both Iraq and Afghanistan, notwithstanding the tremendous domestic political pressure on Labour and Conservative governments not to participate in those unpopular wars. However, in 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for talks over the dispute and even appeared to side with Argentina during a press conference with President Kirchner in Buenos Aires. Last month, as the current situation developed, rather than send a clear message to Argentina that the United States supported its longtime ally, a State Department spokesman demurred: “[t]his is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom…We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration of the islands, but take no position regarding sovereignty.”  Nile Gardiner, the Telegraph’s Washington correspondent, wrote in response that the “Obama administration knife[d] Britain in the back again over the Falklands.”

O’Brien says this treatment comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been watching the Obama administration’s interaction with our allies, such as Israel, Georgia, Taiwan, Colombia, Poland, and the Czech Republic, to name a few. Many of them, O’Brien points out, live in dangerous neighborhoods, and an unreliable America is a frightening prospect. Expect the shifting balance of power in the Middle East and the Baltics to reflect the vacuum this administration is creating.

Beyond power, O’Brien warns our credibility is in question at a time when it is greatly needed:

Third, failing to promote the rule of law, democracy and self-determination in the Falklands will damage the United States’ ability to promote those goals in other nations.  The 3,200 residents of the Falklands have been there for over 175 years.  They descend from people who have inhabited the Islands for far longer than many Argentines have inhabited their own country.  They are, apparently without exception, in favor of maintaining their local parliamentary government and association with Britain. There are no Argentines on the islands and there are no “displaced” Las Malvinas (as Argentina has labeled the islands) refugees in Argentina seeking a “right of return.” The current diplomatic crisis follows the nationalistic playbook that President Kirchner borrowed from the former military junta and that is promoted by her mentor in Caracas. The fact that there are large oil reserves off the Falklands is also fueling Argentine territorial ambitions as its government would love to get control of such resources.

That the Obama administration would display such amateurish–and, it must be said, somewhat offensive–incompetence on the Falklands does not bode well for the more exigent and nuanced trials the U.S. faces elsewhere.

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Caution Urged About Excessive Reliance on SOCOM

President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

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President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

I join President Obama, and indeed all Americans, in expressing admiration and gratitude for the skills, dedication and heroism of our Special Operators–especially those on the pointy end of the spear. (In SOCOM, as in the rest of the military, most personnel are in support functions and are not actual trigger-pullers.) But I would also urge caution about relying too much on these warriors and granting them too much authority to run their own operations free of oversight.

In the first place, as retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno and Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security, point out, two of the essential “SOF truths” are ”quality is better than quantity” and the special operations forces “cannot be mass-produced.” Already SOCOM has experienced explosive growth since 2001. As Barno and Sharp note, “Its manpower has nearly doubled, its budget has nearly tripled, and its overseas deployments have quadrupled.” How much larger can SOCOM possibly get without compromising its high quality? In fact, the past decade’s expansion has already raised painful questions about whether incoming troopers are up to the standards of their predecessors, especially when it comes to the non-kinetic skills, such as knowledge of languages and cultures. These are a hallmark of the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, who comprise the single biggest group of “operators” within the Special Operations community even if their work is not as glamorous as that of the SEALS or Delta Force, which are sent after the highest value targets.

Moreover, for all of SOCOM’s impressive achievement in hunting down terrorists, there is another essential truth to be kept in mind regarding any counterinsurgency campaign: We cannot kill our way to victory. If they are left alone in ungoverned territory, terrorist groups are likely to regenerate themselves no matter how many top leaders they lose. To succeed in the Global War on Terror–that now-forbidden term–we must engage not only in manhunting but in nation-building–another verboten term. Otherwise, we will not be able to change the conditions that allow terrorist groups to flourish.

Unfortunately, Special Operations Forces, while very good at manhunting, are less useful for nation-building. That is especially true of the top-tierdoor-kickers, such as the SEALs, who get so much publicity. Bolstering weak states may be a job for Green Berets, but it is also a job for conventional military forces, albeit in small numbers, for example, on training teams. It is, in addition, a job for diplomats, intelligence operatives, information warriors, and development officials. Alas, we are much weaker in all those skill sets than we are at kinetic Special Operations, and indeed it is possible in some instances SOCOM’s propensity to target individuals may actually further destabilize a country and prove counterproductive in the end.

The use of force needs to be managed carefully and should not be freed from the normal oversight mechanisms of the Pentagon. Nor should we be growing SOCOM while eviscerating the conventional forces and failing to bolster our ability to project soft power. We need a more balanced approach to the security challenges of the 21st century; one that does not place excessive or exclusive reliance on an already-overstretched Special Operations community.

 

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Lies Propagated out of Ignorance

Michael Rubin offered a shocking example yesterday of the kind of warped analysis that results when a journalist “goes native” by adopting the biases of the country in which he is stationed. I agree this can be a serious problem when diplomats, journalists and other international officials spend too long in a given country, but I’m no less concerned by the opposite problem: Frequent rotations mean journalists and diplomats have no incentive to develop real expertise in any foreign country. The result is they are often parachuted in with no knowledge of the local languages, history or other information needed to actually understand what’s going on, leaving them dependent on local “fixers” – who may well be pursuing their own agendas.

This point was brought home to me last Friday, when I happened to have dinner at the home of a friend whose eldest son is doing his army service. He had recently returned from a stint in Hebron, and related the following story:

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Michael Rubin offered a shocking example yesterday of the kind of warped analysis that results when a journalist “goes native” by adopting the biases of the country in which he is stationed. I agree this can be a serious problem when diplomats, journalists and other international officials spend too long in a given country, but I’m no less concerned by the opposite problem: Frequent rotations mean journalists and diplomats have no incentive to develop real expertise in any foreign country. The result is they are often parachuted in with no knowledge of the local languages, history or other information needed to actually understand what’s going on, leaving them dependent on local “fixers” – who may well be pursuing their own agendas.

This point was brought home to me last Friday, when I happened to have dinner at the home of a friend whose eldest son is doing his army service. He had recently returned from a stint in Hebron, and related the following story:

An Israeli soldier at a checkpoint had asked a Palestinian, in Hebrew, to show some identification. An observer from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron was standing nearby, along with a local Palestinian translator, as the observer speaks neither Hebrew nor Arabic. The translator duly explained, in English, that the soldier had asked the Palestinian for his ID – then added the soldier had threatened to beat him up if he didn’t produce it.

The TIPH observer had no way of knowing this “threat” was the product of the translator’s imagination rather than the truth; he was utterly dependent on his translator. Nor would it have made much difference had my friend’s son disputed the translator’s account (which he couldn’t due to army regulations aimed at avoiding confrontations with the observers): In a classic “he said, she said” situation, the overseas visitor would naturally believe his regular translator rather than an unknown Israeli soldier. So the nonexistent threat will doubtless be duly included in the observer’s report, one more in a string of lies promulgated over the years by foreigners who may be genuinely well-meaning, but are irretrievably hampered by their own ignorance.

Nor is linguistic ignorance the only problem: Historical ignorance is equally problematic. This is evident in numerous standard media tropes about Israel –like the claim the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks stems from Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement construction, or that the crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations stems from Israel’s May 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Of course, the Palestinians also refused to talk during the 10 months when Israel did freeze settlement construction, and Turkey turned against Israel long before the flotilla raid, even barring it from NATO drills in which it had participated for years. But all that happened years ago, and given the frequent rotations in media and diplomatic personnel, many genuinely don’t know. So when fed the standard line by Palestinians or Turks, they don’t even know what questions they should be asking.

If we really want our diplomats and journalists to provide useful information, we should insist they know the relevant languages and history. As long as they don’t, they are little better than conduits for whatever propaganda others choose to feed them.

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New NYT Jerusalem Chief Reaches Out to Israel-Bashers

The ink has barely dried on the New York Times announcement that Jodi Rudoren will replace Ethan Bronner as Jerusalem bureau chief, and the move is already generating controversy. As Jonathan wrote yesterday, Bronner was attacked by Israel-bashers for having a son who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces. And now Rudoren is apparently reaching out to these same anti-Israel activists, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reports:

Already, Rudoren is beaming out cutesy missives to prominent, self-described anti-Zionist players such as Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that contains a treasure trove of writings highly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

Rudoren also Tweeted yesterday with the website Mondoweiss, an online portal that is known to traffic in Israel-bashing.

Early yesterday afternoon, Rudoren Tweeted a friendly dispatch to Abunimah, who has referred to Zionism as “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today.” …

“Hey there. Would love to chat sometime. About things other than the house. My friend Kareem Fahim says good things,” Rudoren responded, referencing her Times colleague who covers Syria.

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The ink has barely dried on the New York Times announcement that Jodi Rudoren will replace Ethan Bronner as Jerusalem bureau chief, and the move is already generating controversy. As Jonathan wrote yesterday, Bronner was attacked by Israel-bashers for having a son who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces. And now Rudoren is apparently reaching out to these same anti-Israel activists, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reports:

Already, Rudoren is beaming out cutesy missives to prominent, self-described anti-Zionist players such as Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that contains a treasure trove of writings highly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

Rudoren also Tweeted yesterday with the website Mondoweiss, an online portal that is known to traffic in Israel-bashing.

Early yesterday afternoon, Rudoren Tweeted a friendly dispatch to Abunimah, who has referred to Zionism as “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today.” …

“Hey there. Would love to chat sometime. About things other than the house. My friend Kareem Fahim says good things,” Rudoren responded, referencing her Times colleague who covers Syria.

Electronic Intifada’s toxic anti-Israel rhetoric goes so far beyond mere political criticism, publishing articles that equate Israel to Nazi Germany and calling Zionism a form of anti-Semitism. It’s hard to imagine what “good things” the incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief could have heard about EI, or why she would “love to chat sometime” with the site’s founder.

Rudoren’s exchanges with Abunimah, and with the vehemently anti-Israel Mondoweiss blog, have already raised concerns within the pro-Israel community:

“Obviously a New York Times reporter is expected to talk to everyone in the context of reporting a story, perhaps even terrorists at times. But it’s concerning to see the tone of these exchanges,” said Josh Block, a Middle East analyst and former top official at a pro-Israel group. “These are not people you engage like this, especially your first day as Jerusalem bureau chief for the paper of record. You really don’t even want to be seen in public with them—it’s just a mistake.”

Was the friendly outreach to Israel-bashers an honest mistake? Or a sign of where the New York Times wants to take its Israel coverage? The reporting at the Times has never been particularly favorable toward Israel, and the comments from the new Jerusalem chief indicate that it could get much worse before it gets better.

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