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Posts For: February 20, 2012

Put Palestinian Tactics, Not Israeli Military Justice, On Trial

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.

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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.

Getting arrested and questioned by the Israeli military was probably no picnic for Ayyoub. Yet, as the Times reported, he was not tortured. His interrogation was videotaped and reveals nothing the Palestinians could claim was an atrocity. Like many another culprit, he got scared and talked. The result was not an injustice but the arrest of an adult Palestinian who exploited Ayyoub and other village kids in an effort to keep the war against Israel alive. Tamim and other Palestinian terror facilitators train kids to attack soldiers and hope some will be hurt. They are not promoting non-violence but instead are deliberately placing teenagers into harm’s way so as to provide more martyrs for their cause.

As France’s World War One leader, Georges Clemenceau, said, “military justice is to justice as military music is to music.” But the situation on the West Bank is complicated because Israel is still forced to have a security presence in the region in order to prevent attacks on its forces and civilians. Because it is impossible to apply Israel’s own civilian laws in the area, the military uses the laws that existed there before Israeli rule from the British and Jordanian eras. But unlike the courts run by the Palestinian Authority, all terror and violence suspects are given trials and have the chance to defend themselves. The system is, like all justice systems, imperfect, but despite the assumption that Israel’s actions are unfair, there was nothing in the story that doesn’t pass the smell test.

We are told in the conclusion to the piece that Ayyoub, who has been released unharmed and is free to go to school, is afraid of the soldiers. More likely, he is afraid of revenge from other Palestinians who treat people who inform on those involved in violence as “traitors.”

Until the Palestinian leadership is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and make peace, Israel will be forced to keep order in the region and to do its best to fend off terrorism and the orchestrated riots that were at the core of the Ayyoub case. The real scandal is the willingness of Palestinians to sacrifice children like Islam Ayyoub on the altar of hate for Israel.

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How Republicans are Losing Control of the Contraception Debate

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?

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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?

First, blame the media, which is always willing to do the Democrats’ heavy lifting on social issues (case in point: Darrell Issa’s hearing on religious freedom and the birth control mandate last week snowballed into a fake “scandal”about the lack of women on his first panel).

But Rick Santorum’s long-time opposition to birth control, and his newfound prominence in the primary race, has also helped Democrats take hold of the narrative, by presenting them with the perfect “anti-contraception” boogeyman.

It’s not Santorum’s fault. He’s gamely trying to stick to the real issue – religious freedom for Catholic employers – while pointing out that he has no intention of banning birth control. But he also responded to questions about his own personal views on contraceptives last week. And his comments don’t just put him at odds with most Americans, they’re also helping fuel the Democrat-and-media-manufactured dispute about the merits of birth control access.

Democrats are winning the debate by changing it to one that Republicans never even wanted to have and have no chance of winning. If the GOP wants to get back to the real debate about religious freedom, they’ll have to stop taking the bait on the contraception question. It’s a losing issue.

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The Messy Results of Self-Government

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.”

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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.”

We’ll see what the 2012 election brings. But there’s no doubt the public is complicit in the mess we’re in, and some of its disdain for Congress should reflect back on the polity. Consider politics on a national level since 2008. The public voted for Democratic control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Democrats then passed legislation many Americans didn’t like (and none of which was particularly surprising). Then, in 2010, the public — unhappy with the way things were going — registered its unhappiness, resulting in an epic mid-term win for Republicans. As a result, Republican won control of the House. And that, in turn, has led to gridlock, which was the inevitable outcome of the 2010 election. Yet, now many Americans are frustrated with gridlock and the fact that politicians can’t agree on things.

The legendary NFL football coach Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are.” Similarly, the American people are what the government we voted for says we are. It’s the result of our hands, our voices, and our votes. No one ever said that self-government was easy or pretty.

 

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Afghan Security Forces Cuts Likely to be “Catastrophic,” Warns General

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.

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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.

To then cut the already barely adequate number of troops and police will make it essentially impossible for the Afghan government to control its own territory barring some miraculous decision by the Taliban and Haqqani Network to discontinue their war. But why should they stop fighting when they know that in a few years most U.S. troops will be withdrawn and the Afghan Security Forces will downsize as well?

Moreover, the fighting quality and morale of the remaining Afghan forces, after what is essentially their abandonment by the West, is to be highly doubted. Add in the fact that under this plan the government of Afghanistan will have to lay off 130,000 trained security personnel. Where will they find employment in an economy that is already in rapid decline because of the loss of foreign aid? Many, it seems safe to surmise, may join the other side.

In short, Minister Wardak is not being hyperbolic in warning of catastrophe. Does anyone in Washington notice or care? The answer seems to be no. The political class, led by the president, is so bent on withdrawing from Afghanistan and reducing defense spending that no one seems to be particularly exercised by the fact that this could result in the collapse of all that U.S. troops have fought so hard to accomplish during the past decade, at such great cost to life and limb. I doubt that Lincoln and Washington, who persevered through far costlier and more politically divisive conflicts, would have approved.

 

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Has Santorum Peaked Too Soon?

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.

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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.

The good news for Santorum is his net favorability numbers in Michigan have remained positive despite the increasingly negative attention his views on contraception and other social issues are starting to get. He’s still viewed positively by 67 percent of Republicans and negatively by only 23 percent. The difference between this week’s poll and last week’s is that for some reason Romney’s favorability has gone up by 10 points in that time. That’s a vital statistic for Romney. Up until now, it has been assumed the only way for him to do well was by trashing the reputations of other candidates as he did with Newt Gingrich in Iowa and Florida.

Romney has a huge lead over Santorum in money, a better organization and a truly national campaign that can be competitive across the country. But up until the recent spate of stories that have sought to portray Santorum as a rabid social conservative, Romney had seemed to be about to go into a free fall. Indeed, the latest Gallup tracking poll shows him trailing the former senator by a 36-28 point margin nationally.

But Romney has two key factors in his favor in the upcoming week.

One is the sheer volatility of the GOP race. Republicans have changed their minds more in the last nine months than anyone could have thought possible. Frontrunners have come and one with a shocking rapidity that should have taught political pundits to be wary of assuming that just because one candidate is up now that he will still be in the driver’s seat a week later. Santorum’s surge has been the result of dazzling timing that capitalized on his personal life (his daughter’s illness that generated sympathy for the candidate and shown a light on his image as a family man), the way Romney and Newt Gingrich eviscerated each other in dueling negative ad campaigns and President Obama’s attack on the Catholic Church that concentrated GOP minds on social issues. But a week can be a lifetime in politics. If the focus on abortion, gay rights and contraception helped Santorum in one sense, it is his Achilles’ heel in another as the media’s demonization of him can serve to remind Republicans that he will be brutalized by the left on these issues in a general election.

The other factor that gives Romney hope he can turn his current difficulties around is Newt Gingrich’s persistence. Gingrich may be motivated in large measure by his hatred of Romney as much as by his own ambition. But by hanging around even after it has become clear Gingrich is an afterthought in the race (he has fallen far behind and PPP has him in dead last trailing Ron Paul for third place by 5 percentage points for third place), the former speaker may prevent Santorum from sweeping the upcoming primaries. Romney’s success so far has been based on a divided conservative field, and so long as Gingrich stays in even at a diminished level, he makes it much more difficult for Santorum to win.

If the other Michigan polls in the next few days show a similar swing back to Romney, it may be a sign Santorum has peaked a bit too soon. The former Massachusetts governor may well weather the most difficult challenge to his candidacy yet.

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Why Don’t They Like Ike?

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.

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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.

Gehry’s design seems to be a revolt against classical Washington architecture with its most prominent feature being a series of large stainless steel woven tapestries depicting events in Eisenhower’s life being gazed at by a statue of the president as a barefoot boy. The president’s family is aghast at a decision to depict one of the country’s great heroes in this condescending manner. But as Will notes, Phillip Kennicott, the Washington Posts’ cultural critic, provided the key to understanding this wrongheaded choice.

Kennicott praised the design as innovative because Gehry “has “re-gendered” the vocabulary of memorialization, giving it new life and vitality just at the moment when the old, exhausted “masculine” memorial threatened to make the entire project of remembering great people in the public square seem obsolete.” The critic goes on to say the Eisenhower family’s objections are due to Gehry’s “feminization” of the memorial. Kennicott likes the design specifically because it neuters the man it is supposedly commissioned to honor by cutting a “man of action” down to size into a “more contemplative figure” who will be depicted in the “traditionally feminine passivity of reading.”

This goes beyond an effort to transcend a “heroic” depiction of the man. It is also, as Kennicott helpfully points out, an effort to diminish the memorial’s subject and even to highlight his flaws:

Few great men are absolutely great, without flaws and failings. Although Eisenhower is remembered more fondly now than he was in the 1960s and ’70s, there are still debates about his strategy in the Second World War (was he too cautious, thus prolonging the war?), his role during the McCarthy witch hunts (why didn’t he more publicly confront the congressional Torquemadas?) and his role in foreign adventures (bloody CIA interventions and the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion). The young Eisenhower is both innocent of and yet pregnant with whatever failings history ultimately attributes to his career.

Leaving aside the fact that the Bay of Pigs took place during the Kennedy administration, not that of Eisenhower, this tells us all we need to know about what it wrong about the design and its defenders. While Eisenhower was not perfect as either a general or a president, the same comment can be made of any other great man, including those whose memorials are scattered around Washington. But, unlike the Eisenhower plan, the two most recent additions to the D.C. pantheon — the memorials to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. — were not treated as an invitation for critics or historical revisionists to rethink their subject’s legacies. Nor should they have been. Instead, that disdainful treatment was reserved for the modest Republican who would deserve his country’s highest honors even if he had not been a successful two-term president.

Eisenhower was, after all, not just a flawed politician who made some good decisions and some bad ones, like many other presidents. His place in history is secured as much if not more so by his key role in the great struggle to save Western civilization during World War Two than his presidency. Eisenhower’s talents were exactly what both our republic and the world needed at a moment when everything hung in the balance. If there is anyone who deserves a heroic statue/memorial on the Mall, it is the low-key man who led the Allied armies on D-Day and ended the Nazi reign of terror.

Given the poor treatment Eisenhower is getting from those in charge of this project, his family must be thinking they would have been better off having no memorial at all. The National Capitol Planning Commission should not only scrap Gehry’s ideas but should also re-think the closed process by which the celebrity artist was chosen and open it up to more competition.

The argument that Gehry’s design should be rushed into production so the dwindling band of World War Two veterans will be alive to see it is a poor one. Subsequent generations need to be given an Eisenhower memorial that will depict his achievements and soldierly virtues without reinterpretation via the bizarre intellectual fashions of our day that demand he be “feminized.”

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