Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 1, 2012

Iran Lists War Aims Against Israel

Last year, I visited Mlitta, a town in southern Lebanon which Hezbollah has turned into its version of an evil Disneyworld. One of the displays featured huge poster boards sporting Google Earth images of “the next targets.”

In his Alef article, Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader, goes further. After justifying a war against Israel, Ali Reza Forqani delves into how Iran should conduct its war:

Israel must come under heavy military strikes from the first blows until the last. The first step of the first stage of Iran’s military attack on Israel must lead to the annihilation of ground zero points in Israel. Iran can use its long-range missiles to accomplish this task. The distance from Iran’s eastern most point to western most point of Israel is about 2,600 kilometers. The Israeli targets deep inside Israeli territory are well within the reach of Iran’s conventional missiles.

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Last year, I visited Mlitta, a town in southern Lebanon which Hezbollah has turned into its version of an evil Disneyworld. One of the displays featured huge poster boards sporting Google Earth images of “the next targets.”

In his Alef article, Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader, goes further. After justifying a war against Israel, Ali Reza Forqani delves into how Iran should conduct its war:

Israel must come under heavy military strikes from the first blows until the last. The first step of the first stage of Iran’s military attack on Israel must lead to the annihilation of ground zero points in Israel. Iran can use its long-range missiles to accomplish this task. The distance from Iran’s eastern most point to western most point of Israel is about 2,600 kilometers. The Israeli targets deep inside Israeli territory are well within the reach of Iran’s conventional missiles.

Lest anyone misread Iran’s intent, in a section subtitled “People of Israel must be Annihilated,” Forqani outlines how to conduct genocide:

The residents of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa can be targeted even by Shahab-3 missiles. These three areas which are located very close to each other are very densely populated and the population there accounts for about 60 percent of Israel’s entire population. Therefore, it is possible to use Sajjil missiles to target the infrastructures in this area including power plants, fuel and energy installations, water and sewage treatment facilities, transportation and communication infrastructures; and in the next stage Shahab-3, Ghadr and Ashura missiles can be used to target and strike residential areas in the cities until the final annihilation of the people of Israel.

He then outlines Iran’s missile capability, explaining how Iran could best exploit each missile in its arsenal and bragging that used properly, “Iran Could Destroy Israel in Less Than Nine Minutes.” That the Iranians might soon be able to fit the Sajjil with nuclear warheads should only heighten concern.

Iran may be lots of things; deterrable does not appear to be one of them.

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The Never-Dying Post 9-11 Backlash Myth

Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

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Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

Rosenthal also makes a meal out of the revelation that FBI training material at one time contained statements that might have been inflammatory. The “crude stereotypes” that Rosenthal cites have since been rejected. But he leaves it unclear whether this offensive material was referring to all Muslims or just radical Islamists. It is true that the vast majority of American Muslims are not terrorists, but hard-working law-abiding American citizens. But Islamists, including those that work to fundraise for rationalize the efforts of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and other radicals are not figments of the imagination of over-zealous law enforcement personnel. They are real threats and absent the vigilance of organizations like the NYPD, they would have done far more harm than they already have.

Any rational examination of post-9/11 American society would reveal quite the opposite of Rosenthal’s overheated charges. Despite the fact that the 9/11 terrorists and their allies justified their crimes in their faith, the instinctual response of the overwhelming majority of Americans and their government was to make it clear that they didn’t hold their Muslim neighbors responsible for any of it. Muslims were subjected to no official discrimination and there is no evidence that there was much, if any, unofficial prejudice. If anything, the popular culture of post-9/11 America went out of its way to avoid the depiction of Muslim villains or to connect the dots between al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the Islamist interpretation of that faith that is widely supported in the Middle East.

To allude, as Rosenthal does to the mass detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, actually debunks his own assertion since in the wake of the latter-day Pearl Harbor, not only were Muslims not subjected to anything remotely like the treatment of the Japanese, but were actually actively protected by the government from even the slightest hint of discrimination. Anyone who doubts that should remember how President George W. Bush went weak at the knees at the idea that the U.S. was fighting a war against what he continually described as a “religion of peace.” The notion that Americans have sacrificed their liberties to ensure their security is another myth that was quite popular four years ago when liberals were using the charge to paint the Bush administration as a pseudo-tyranny that needed to be swept away by Barack Obama and the Democrats. But since Obama has largely kept the same policies in place (including keeping Guantanamo open), that is a trope we hear very little of these days.

While many liberals have longed for the world of September 10, 2001 before the attacks uncovered the truth of the Islamist war on the West, Rosenthal goes that mentality one better. He treats every measure taken to defend the country against terror is not merely unnecessary but a deliberate act of bias. By claiming that America only provides “liberty and justice for non-Muslims,” he seems to be trying to pretend the attacks and the hate-filled ideology that brought them about never even happened.

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Yale Should Stand Up to Feds and Stop Babying Students

Yale University and its sister universities have grown increasingly paternalistic over time, infantilizing their student body and saddling them with increasing regulation. Litigiousness has led the university to take the concept of in loco parentis to an extreme. Few universities any more allow the faculty to create policies. Just as university presidents have become fundraisers rather than intellectual leaders, university policies are now crafted in rapidly expanding general counsel shops. Lost is both a culture of accountability that allows students to fail or that hold students responsible for their own stupidity and also a culture that prizes individual freedom and liberty.

A little encouragement from the federal government can be a dangerous thing: A bit over a year ago, some fraternity pledges shouted silly things in front of Yale’s Women’s Center. Their words were stupid, but so too was the Yale Women’s Center’s response which, in effect, sought to criminalize speech—a truly noxious concept at any university. The Women’s Center’s response surprised no one: For decades, the group has marginalized itself by conflating women’s issues with leftism and then staking out positions which even many progressives would find extreme.

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Yale University and its sister universities have grown increasingly paternalistic over time, infantilizing their student body and saddling them with increasing regulation. Litigiousness has led the university to take the concept of in loco parentis to an extreme. Few universities any more allow the faculty to create policies. Just as university presidents have become fundraisers rather than intellectual leaders, university policies are now crafted in rapidly expanding general counsel shops. Lost is both a culture of accountability that allows students to fail or that hold students responsible for their own stupidity and also a culture that prizes individual freedom and liberty.

A little encouragement from the federal government can be a dangerous thing: A bit over a year ago, some fraternity pledges shouted silly things in front of Yale’s Women’s Center. Their words were stupid, but so too was the Yale Women’s Center’s response which, in effect, sought to criminalize speech—a truly noxious concept at any university. The Women’s Center’s response surprised no one: For decades, the group has marginalized itself by conflating women’s issues with leftism and then staking out positions which even many progressives would find extreme.

The University sought to take a middle line—reprimanding the students but also reminding everyone that “the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time.”

Enter the U.S. Department of Education, which a year ago announced that it would investigate the University for creating a “hostile sexual environment” based on the university’s “inadequate” response to the frat pledges’ chants. In response, Yale University panicked. It has since doubled down on its infantilization of students, instituting ever more workshops about consent and communicating with people of the other sex. Mind you, the target audience for these workshops is adults. The university also sought to increase its control of campus culture by more strictly regulating student groups. To register, group leaders would have to submit themselves to further workshops. Now, Yale is going from the sublime to the ridiculous, as the administration considers a policy which would forbid freshmen from attending off-campus fraternity-sponsored events during their first semester.

Now, when I was an undergraduate at Yale back in the early 1990s, fraternities were not my thing, although I did go to a few fraternity parties here and there. Many friends, however, were in fraternities, and despite university administrators’ Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, or Old School fantasies, they focused more on mentoring, community service, and networking. Yale prided itself on attracting students with varied interests, and if some wanted to make fraternities an outlet of their extracurricular time, so be it.

It’s bad enough that Yale administrators seek to so closely regulate student speech and activities on campus, but the idea that they would now try to regulate what students can and cannot do off-campus is deeply troubling: Simply put, it is not the university’s job and it certainly is not the U.S. Department of Education’s job. That a federal department which at most, should administer grants and at least, should not even exist, can bully universities in pursuit of its own social engineering goals is deeply troubling. That university administrators refuse to stand up and fight back is even more so.

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Obama’s Push to Fund UNESCO is No Joke

Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.

There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.

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Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.

There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.

As Rosett writes:

Far from helping the world’s neediest, UNESCO’s top priority is helping itself. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer calculates that 87 percent of UNESCO’s $326 million budget last year was allocated for its own staff, travel, and operating costs. More than half of UNESCO’s staffers are based in Paris, many pulling in tax-exempt six-figure salaries, with plush benefits and 30 days of vacation per year. UNESCO’s auditors reported that on travel costs alone, the organization was squandering more than $3 million annually via bad management and a taste for business-class airline tickets. A program of financial disclosure by senior UNESCO officials has been mysteriously delayed.

To its credit, UNESCO does have an Ethics Office, which in its 2009-2010 annual report bluntly noted “a failure by employees at all levels to take responsibility for their work.” That’s no surprise, given the findings in the same report that many of UNESCO’s employees don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. The Ethics Office further reported receiving “more and more complaints” about UNESCO employees “inappropriately using their diplomatic immunity” to show “non-respect of private legal and financial obligations.” In other words, they were abusing UN privileges to break local laws.

As for Gabon, as Rosett notes:

Apparently [UNESCO’s Washington flack] neglected to mention to Comedy Central’s intrepid reporter that little Gabon is the ninth-largest oil producer in Africa. Gabon’s 1.5 million citizens are poor not because the United States has been snatching their books or defunding UNESCO, but because Gabon has been plundered for more than 40 years by the family of President Ali Bongo Ondimba—the same fellow who showed his support for UNESCO after its Palestinian vote by pledging $2 million from Gabon.

Though UNESCO was supposedly reformed in the last decade after a long history of being one of the most corrupt and politically biased (against Israel) of all the UN’s agencies, the reality is that the rhetoric we have heard from the president and Secretary of State Clinton about its value to the world is largely fluff. It continues to show its prejudice against Israel in efforts to treat Jewish holy sites in Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem as Muslim shrines and to oppose archeological digs in Israel’s capital as attempts to “Judaize” the city.

The Obama campaign to refund UNESCO is one more example of how the president intends to use a second term to show how “flexible” his foreign policy will be. UNESCO doesn’t deserve American funding. But one can bet that a re-elected Obama will spend the next four years finding ways to funnel U.S. support to his pets at the UN.

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Obama, Afghanistan and Life’s Vicissitudes

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he made some ambitious promises about Afghanistan. Under his leadership, we would see the Karzai government reform, greater allied support, a growing economy, improved training among Afghan security forces, a reversal in a deteriorating situation, and eventually success.

“Just as we succeeded in the Cold War by supporting allies who could sustain their own security,” Obama said in a 2008 speech, “we must realize that the 21st century’s frontlines are not only on the field of battle – they are found in the training exercise near Kabul, in the police station in Kandahar, and in the rule of law in Herat.”

So now that we are well more than three years into the Obama presidency, where do things stand?

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When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he made some ambitious promises about Afghanistan. Under his leadership, we would see the Karzai government reform, greater allied support, a growing economy, improved training among Afghan security forces, a reversal in a deteriorating situation, and eventually success.

“Just as we succeeded in the Cold War by supporting allies who could sustain their own security,” Obama said in a 2008 speech, “we must realize that the 21st century’s frontlines are not only on the field of battle – they are found in the training exercise near Kabul, in the police station in Kandahar, and in the rule of law in Herat.”

So now that we are well more than three years into the Obama presidency, where do things stand?

“The gap between Obama and [Afghan President] Karzai is wider than ever,” according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who headed the Obama administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan review in 2010. Riedel “concedes that the growing divide between U.S. and Afghan officials is jeopardizing chances to leave a functioning state and viable economy behind there when America completes its withdrawal.”

Last month, in fact, Karzai demanded that the American-led coalition pull its troops from villages back to bases, undermining our strategy. The Obama administration characterized Karzai’s call for Americans to hand over control in 2013, a year earlier than previously agreed to, as no change in policy – only to have Karzai insist that it was. The Americans in Afghanistan are “demons,” according to the Afghan president. “Never in history has any superpower spent so much money, sent so many troops to a country, and had so little influence over what its president says and does,” one European diplomat marveled to the New York Times.

There’s more. The Taliban have infiltrated Afghan security forces. American troops have been killed by their Afghan partners, eroding trust that is essential to success. The Taliban have suspended all talks with Americans. And here in America, public support for the war is collapsing.

More than two-thirds – 69 percent – believe the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan, while 68 percent believe the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” according to the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll. A CNN/ORC International survey found support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low, with only 25 percent of Americans favoring it and a majority saying the U.S. should withdraw all of its troops.

In recounting all this, my point isn’t simply to level blame at Obama, though I believe he’s made crucial errors. Rather, I want to once again point out that the world is a lot more complicated and untidy when you’re commander-in-chief than when you’re a candidate (or, for that matter, a commentator). Implementing policy is more difficult than critiquing it. Causes-and-effects aren’t so easy to anticipate. It turns out there are a lot of things a president doesn’t have control over (for example, mistaken burnings of the Koran, Army staff sergeants who kill Afghan civilians, and foreign leaders whose patronage systems are extensive, corrupt, and almost impossible to uproot). And what a president does have control over doesn’t always go according to plan.

It’s one thing for a candidate to point the finger of blame at those responsible for governing and to lay out to a Council on Foreign Relations audience all the things he will do if he’s elected. It’s quite another to actually make those things come to pass.

This habit of thought – the belief that events are as easy to shape as candle wax — isn’t the exclusive property of Democrats or Republicans. It is a natural human tendency. In that respect, there’s a lot to be said for what might be called a conservative disposition, one characterized by an understanding for the complexity of human society and the limitations of politics. The danger facing statesmen, Burke warned, is to mistake politics for metaphysics.

Having spent a decade of my life working in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House, I can testify – in my case at least — to the temptation and the truth of Burke’s insight. Acknowledging self-limitations, reassessing one’s views in light of shifting events, discovering the greater knowledge doesn’t always translate into greater wisdom, accepting that life can be a “theatre of vicissitudes,” understanding that we see through a glass darkly and know things only in part; these are rare human traits. They’re even more rare among those who walk the halls of power. But if one is fortunate, over time and during honest moments, these home truths do eventually seep through. I imagine that is something Barack Obama and his aides will discover. And so will their successors.

 

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Emma Thompson Illustrates Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

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Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

As the Times of Israel reports today, the much-loved Thompson joined with 36 other prominent figures in the English theater (including Jews like playwright and director Mike Leigh and director Jonathan Miller) to demand the exclusion of Israel’s prestigious Habima Theater Company from a dramatic festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London next month. The excuse for this crude act of anti-Semitic incitement: the fact that Habima has not joined in efforts to boycott theater productions in the settlements.

Let’s understand what’s at work in this vile letter. Habima, as even Thompson and her cohorts surely know, is not exactly a bulwark of the Israeli right. If anything, it is, like the rest of the Israeli arts community, very much part of the country’s left and no friend to the settlement movement. Indeed, its choice to perform Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic “Merchant of Venice” at the Globe is a decision that many Jews would question. But by not agreeing to join in a boycott of a theater constructed in Ariel (a large town located not far from the green line), Habima is, in the eyes of Israel-haters like Thompson, equally guilty.

That’s one of the problems with Beinart’s “Zionist BDS.” As much as he may think he can draw a bright line between “good Jews” inside the green line and “bad Jews” in the West Bank, it’s one that will never be respected by Israel’s foes. Boycotts of the West Bank and Jerusalem are merely a tactic by which those who believe Israel has no right to exist will gain traction for their larger goal of Israel’s total isolation.

Treating every Jew and every house built by a Jew outside of the 1949 armistice lines as a criminal who must be isolated has nothing to do with peace. As even President Obama conceded, the vast majority of the settlers living in communities that are suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be included inside Israel in the territorial “swaps” he envisions as part of a peace deal. Ariel is one such place. But by placing it, its large population and its theater in anathema, Beinart is lending his approval to efforts to the anti-Zionist BDS campaigns those European intellectuals back.

As most observers have noted of his screeds, democratic Israel does not need saving by American Jews, let alone an intellectual lightweight and opportunist like Beinart. But people like him do serve a purpose for those who wish to bring down the Jewish state. If Beinart can boycott the Jews of Ariel, then it is just as easy for others to boycott those Israelis who won’t do the same.

The slippery slope from Beinart’s version of Zionism to Thompson’s anti-Zionism couldn’t be clearer.

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Is Justice Breyer a Swing Vote?

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was criticized by Obamacare supporters for failing, during his oral argument, to articulate a “limiting principle” on congressional power under the Commerce Clause — because he must have known the justices would ask for one. But Elena Kagan couldn’t answer the question two years ago; prominent Harvard and Georgetown professors couldn’t answer it a year ago; last year, the government conceded the lack of a limiting principle. The problem is a little deeper than Verrilli’s presentation.

The point was demonstrated again in the colloquy Justice Breyer had with Michael A. Carvin. Carvin noted that if Congress exceeded its power under the Commerce Clause, the law “doesn’t somehow become redeemed because it has beneficial policy effects in the health care market.” That would mean Congress could compel everyone to buy anything if Congress thought it beneficial, since “every compelled purchase promotes commerce.” Justice Kagan started to ask a question, but Breyer initiated a long colloquy with Carvin (Transcript, pp. 85-90), which ended as follows:

JUSTICE BREYER: … then the question is when you are born and you don’t have insurance and you will in fact get sick and you will in fact impose costs, have you perhaps involuntarily — perhaps simply because you are a human being — entered this particular market, which is a market for health care?

MR. CARVIN: If being born is entering the market, then I can’t think of a more plenary power Congress can have, because that literally means they can regulate every human activity from cradle to grave. I thought that’s what distinguished the plenary police power from the very limited commerce power. I don’t disagree that giving the Congress plenary power to mandate property transfers from A to B would be a very efficient way of helping B and of accomplishing Congress’s objectives. But the framers —

JUSTICE BREYER: I see the point. You can go back to, go back to Justice Kagan. Don’t forget her question. [Emphasis added].

JUSTICE KAGAN: I’ve forgotten my question. (Laughter).

MR. CARVIN: I — I was facing the same dilemma, Justice Kagan.

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Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was criticized by Obamacare supporters for failing, during his oral argument, to articulate a “limiting principle” on congressional power under the Commerce Clause — because he must have known the justices would ask for one. But Elena Kagan couldn’t answer the question two years ago; prominent Harvard and Georgetown professors couldn’t answer it a year ago; last year, the government conceded the lack of a limiting principle. The problem is a little deeper than Verrilli’s presentation.

The point was demonstrated again in the colloquy Justice Breyer had with Michael A. Carvin. Carvin noted that if Congress exceeded its power under the Commerce Clause, the law “doesn’t somehow become redeemed because it has beneficial policy effects in the health care market.” That would mean Congress could compel everyone to buy anything if Congress thought it beneficial, since “every compelled purchase promotes commerce.” Justice Kagan started to ask a question, but Breyer initiated a long colloquy with Carvin (Transcript, pp. 85-90), which ended as follows:

JUSTICE BREYER: … then the question is when you are born and you don’t have insurance and you will in fact get sick and you will in fact impose costs, have you perhaps involuntarily — perhaps simply because you are a human being — entered this particular market, which is a market for health care?

MR. CARVIN: If being born is entering the market, then I can’t think of a more plenary power Congress can have, because that literally means they can regulate every human activity from cradle to grave. I thought that’s what distinguished the plenary police power from the very limited commerce power. I don’t disagree that giving the Congress plenary power to mandate property transfers from A to B would be a very efficient way of helping B and of accomplishing Congress’s objectives. But the framers —

JUSTICE BREYER: I see the point. You can go back to, go back to Justice Kagan. Don’t forget her question. [Emphasis added].

JUSTICE KAGAN: I’ve forgotten my question. (Laughter).

MR. CARVIN: I — I was facing the same dilemma, Justice Kagan.

Since Justice Breyer saw the point, it would be nice to think of him as a swing vote, possibly adding his vote to a landmark opinion upholding the fundamental constitutional principle of limited government.

But Breyer, as the leading proponent of a “living” Constitution, is unlikely to do that. The guiding principle for such proponents seems to be that the Constitution must contain — somehow, somewhere, maybe in a penumbra, maybe in provisions stretched beyond the framers’ intent — all the rights justices think individuals should have, and all the powers over individuals that justices decide the government needs. If necessary, “commerce” can simply be re-defined to mean, “being born.”

Breyer cut Carvin off as he started to suggest the framers would have rejected that view, and tried to hand the ball back to Kagan. But by then Kagan had forgotten her question, and Breyer had conclusively demonstrated that the problem with the government’s case was not Verrilli’s inability to articulate a limiting principle, but the fact there is no such principle to articulate. The “living” Constitution has you as soon as you are born.

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Recognizing Kurdish Genocide Will Have Repercussions

Almost a quarter-century after Saddam Hussein ordered his forces to utilize chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurdish population, the Kurdistan Regional Government and many in the Kurdish Diaspora are gearing up to demand that the international community recognize the Kurdish genocide. The broader Anfal campaign—of which the bombing of Halabja was just the apex—was certainly ethnic cleansing, but if the Kurdish government succeeds broadly in gaining international recognition of genocide in which up to 182,000 Kurds died, then the repercussions may be wider than it would like.

After all, less than a decade later, Masud Barzani—the president of Iraqi Kurdistan—allied himself with Saddam Hussein and allowed the Iraqi dictator’s tanks and storm troopers into his capital in a devil’s bargain to liquidate his opposition. Saddam’s storm troopers also used Barzani’s open door to hunt down and summarily execute several hundred other Iraqi oppositionists who had escaped his thumb and settled in Kurdistan.

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Almost a quarter-century after Saddam Hussein ordered his forces to utilize chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurdish population, the Kurdistan Regional Government and many in the Kurdish Diaspora are gearing up to demand that the international community recognize the Kurdish genocide. The broader Anfal campaign—of which the bombing of Halabja was just the apex—was certainly ethnic cleansing, but if the Kurdish government succeeds broadly in gaining international recognition of genocide in which up to 182,000 Kurds died, then the repercussions may be wider than it would like.

After all, less than a decade later, Masud Barzani—the president of Iraqi Kurdistan—allied himself with Saddam Hussein and allowed the Iraqi dictator’s tanks and storm troopers into his capital in a devil’s bargain to liquidate his opposition. Saddam’s storm troopers also used Barzani’s open door to hunt down and summarily execute several hundred other Iraqi oppositionists who had escaped his thumb and settled in Kurdistan.

That would make Barzani, in effect, complicit in Saddam’s crimes. Historians will ultimately judge the case, and the U.S. intelligence community should certainly make accessible all of Saddam’s files, even the embarrassing ones.

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