Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.
Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.
The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.
But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.
How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?
You can count on one hand (and maybe less) the number of public policy issues with which I agree with Barney Frank. But in an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week, Representative Frank made some sense.
When asked about what’s wrong with the budget process, Frank said the problem, at its core, is “indecision on the part of the voters.” He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. “The public has a question it has to resolve,” according to Frank. “The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.” The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s “a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.” And his hope in 2012 is that we see “a resolution on the part of the public.”
Maybe it’s only because of the holiday weekend (Happy Birthday Abe! You too, George!), but this front-page article from Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has caused curiously little comment. It reveals that the U.S. is developing plans to cut the Afghan Security Forces from 352,000 men today to just 230,000 in 2014 in order to save a few billion dollars in a federal budget of almost $4 trillion. The Afghan Security Forces budget, almost all of it paid for by the U.S., is currently more than $11 billion; the administration would like to reduce that figure to $4.1 billion. While the administration’s desire for cost savings is admirable (were that it extended to domestic programs!), the consequences of this decision, if it’s finalized, are likely to be “catastrophic,” as Afghanistan’s Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak warns.
Keep in mind the Obama administration is also rapidly cutting the number of U.S. troops–32,000 will be withdrawn by September, faster than commanders had recommended. That will leave 68,000 U.S. troops barring further cuts–but more such cuts are likely. The administration appears determined to withdraw all or almost all of the troops by 2014. That places a great burden on the Afghan Security Forces which are still in the process of being stood up. The current figure, of roughly 352,000, is the minimum necessary to police a country of 30 million; Afghanistan would actually be more secure if it had a force the size of the one in Iraq, where the security forces are over 600,0000.
In a Republican presidential race in which no candidate has ever been able to hold onto a lead for more than a couple of weeks, it has been difficult to tell whether Rick Santorum’s recent surge would last until next week’s crucial Michigan primary. Santorum’s star has been rising ever since he swept the February 7 trifecta in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. But after a few days in which his hard line stands on social issues started to become the focus of mainstream media attention, what happens in the next week will tell us a lot about whether the Pennsylvanian has what it takes to become his party’s presidential nominee. The first indication that the Santorum tide may be ebbing a bit came yesterday with a Public Policy Polling survey that shows his lead in Michigan might be slipping.
PPP’s previous Michigan poll was an outlier in that it gave Santorum a 15-point lead in Romney’s birthplace, far more than others taken in the state (though all had Santorum ahead in the race). So Romney’s camp may take heart from the Democratic-leaning firm’s latest effort that shows him down by only a 37 to 33 percentage-point margin. Though PPP’s breakdown of the numbers doesn’t seem to show much leakage for Santorum because of the abuse he’s been taking about his views on religion and sex, Romney’s intensive campaigning in Michigan seems to have improved his numbers there. The question for Santorum is whether he can maintain his momentum now that he, rather than his opponent, is in the glare of the spotlight.
During his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower suffered the disdain of American intellectuals who looked down their noses at the war hero. Secure in the adulation of the American public, Eisenhower never took much notice of these detractors. But unless the National Capitol Planning Commission acts to reject the plans already approved by the United States Commission on Fine Arts and the National Parks Service for a new Eisenhower Memorial scheduled to open in 2015, those who would wish to diminish the legacy of the 34th president will have their way.
George Will added his voice to the growing chorus of critics of the proposed design of the memorial on Friday when he rightly noted, “The proposal is an exhibitionistic triumph of theory over function — more a monument to its creator, Frank Gehry, practitioner of architectural flamboyance, than to the most underrated president.” The simmering controversy was ignited by the decision last month of the Eisenhower family to make public their dismay at a memorial that will portray the architect of the victory over the Nazis as a naive farm boy rather than as a leader of armies and nations. President’s Day is an apt moment to consider why in a city full of grandiose tributes to the past Eisenhower is being treated in this way.