Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 1, 2012

Is Syria the New Vietnam?

There are strong arguments for and against American military intervention in Syria. And everyone is weighing in. An editorial in the Jewish Daily Forward asks: ‘‘What is to be done about Syria,’’ and asserts that, ‘‘passivity [is] impossible.’’ And so the piece sets out to consider some of those arguments. However, its intention comes to naught, and instead the editorial finds itself reduced to precisely the equivocation that it claims is so unacceptable.

That alone wouldn’t be worth comment. But it gets worse: the editorial not only fails to confront the arguments seriously, but has the further audacity to criticize from its transcendent perch those who have actually staked positions on the matter. And not only that either: it ends with the self-righteous assertion that only the Forward’s editors really appreciate the true complexity of the issue. Their sentiments are best communicated in their own words, so here are the particularly offending concluding paragraphs:

But how should the international community channel this new indignation? Is the answer as simple as military intervention? It appears not. Even the human rights organizations are cautioning against such a move. Though the Holocaust and the genocides of the 1990s make passivity impossible, there are even more recent precedents that do and should give us pause: Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are those who, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, offer cavalier solutions, such as providing arms to the fractious band of rebels. Others demand a NATO-led air war. But these hawks can’t answer basic questions about who exactly could take power in Syria after Assad, which of the various factions of warring opposition groups to even support, or how to avoid turning an intervention into a regional conflagration. Legions of experts keep making the same point that what worked for Libya won’t work in Syria. After the interventions of the past decade and their Sisyphean aftermaths, it would be irresponsible to imagine we could dip our toe into this conflict without considering the consequences.

But this complexity should not be an invitation to sit on our hands, nor is it acceptable to simply give Assad more time to kill by settling for half-measures like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s ineffectual peace plan or sending a few powerless UN observers.

What we can do is use this moment for the moral clarity it provides. If, before Houla, it was still conceivable for Assad’s remaining defenders to imagine they were witnessing in Syria an internal power struggle between pro- and anti-government forces, it should now be clear that Assad is a murderer, capable of ever worse brutalities and willing to cravenly exploit ethnic divisions to hold on to his power. This is now plain and simple to see. Perhaps if Russia and China — and, one can always hope, Iran as well — start to feel his bloody hands staining theirs, the path might be open to the sort of isolation that will make a difference.

Our responsibility, in the meantime, is now more apparent than ever. Don’t forget the massacred children of Houla, and don’t let the world forget them, either.

Read More

There are strong arguments for and against American military intervention in Syria. And everyone is weighing in. An editorial in the Jewish Daily Forward asks: ‘‘What is to be done about Syria,’’ and asserts that, ‘‘passivity [is] impossible.’’ And so the piece sets out to consider some of those arguments. However, its intention comes to naught, and instead the editorial finds itself reduced to precisely the equivocation that it claims is so unacceptable.

That alone wouldn’t be worth comment. But it gets worse: the editorial not only fails to confront the arguments seriously, but has the further audacity to criticize from its transcendent perch those who have actually staked positions on the matter. And not only that either: it ends with the self-righteous assertion that only the Forward’s editors really appreciate the true complexity of the issue. Their sentiments are best communicated in their own words, so here are the particularly offending concluding paragraphs:

But how should the international community channel this new indignation? Is the answer as simple as military intervention? It appears not. Even the human rights organizations are cautioning against such a move. Though the Holocaust and the genocides of the 1990s make passivity impossible, there are even more recent precedents that do and should give us pause: Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are those who, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, offer cavalier solutions, such as providing arms to the fractious band of rebels. Others demand a NATO-led air war. But these hawks can’t answer basic questions about who exactly could take power in Syria after Assad, which of the various factions of warring opposition groups to even support, or how to avoid turning an intervention into a regional conflagration. Legions of experts keep making the same point that what worked for Libya won’t work in Syria. After the interventions of the past decade and their Sisyphean aftermaths, it would be irresponsible to imagine we could dip our toe into this conflict without considering the consequences.

But this complexity should not be an invitation to sit on our hands, nor is it acceptable to simply give Assad more time to kill by settling for half-measures like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s ineffectual peace plan or sending a few powerless UN observers.

What we can do is use this moment for the moral clarity it provides. If, before Houla, it was still conceivable for Assad’s remaining defenders to imagine they were witnessing in Syria an internal power struggle between pro- and anti-government forces, it should now be clear that Assad is a murderer, capable of ever worse brutalities and willing to cravenly exploit ethnic divisions to hold on to his power. This is now plain and simple to see. Perhaps if Russia and China — and, one can always hope, Iran as well — start to feel his bloody hands staining theirs, the path might be open to the sort of isolation that will make a difference.

Our responsibility, in the meantime, is now more apparent than ever. Don’t forget the massacred children of Houla, and don’t let the world forget them, either.

What is interesting about this is that it is not the first time we have been forced to endure the unjustified pietistic vainglory of the Left. Norman Podhoretz, in his Ex-Friends, recalled his earlier analysis of the Vietnam War, where he had famously observed this same phenomenon:

Certain people took the position that they were against both Saigon and Hanoi. What then were they for? The answer given in a piece written jointly by Irving Howe and the political theorist Michael Walzer, the editors of Dissent, after the war was over was that they had ‘‘hoped for the emergence of a Vietnamese ‘third force’ capable of rallying the people in a progressive direction by enacting land reforms and defending civil liberties.’’ But since, as they themselves admitted, there was very little chance that this would happen, to have thrown their energies into opposing the American effort was tantamount to working for the Communist victory they said (in all sincerity) they did not want. Nothing daunted by this contradiction, they still awarded themselves moral congratulations on having been against the evils on both sides of the war:

‘‘Those of us who opposed American intervention yet did not want a Communist victory were in the difficult position of having no happy ending to offer…And we were in the difficult position of urging a relatively complex argument at a moment when most Americans, pro- and anti-war, wanted blinding simplicities.’’

Yet considering the actual alternatives that existed, what did the urging of ‘‘a relatively complex argument’’ avail other than to make those who urged it feel pleased with themselves?

There we see that oppressive ‘‘complexity’’ again, and the self-congratulatory self-pity of those isolated few who, unlike everyone else, perceive it. And, once again, we see that convenient combination of equivocation and fantasy – ‘‘the emergence of a ‘third force’’’ or the hope that Russia, China, and Iran will pressure Syria so that we don’t have to – that all but disqualifies these commentators from being taken seriously.

To reiterate, there are strong arguments for and against intervention, and no serious thinker on either side of this debate believes that their policy is straightforward or without cost, but at least their arguments aren’t smug and are based on real, and not imaginary, circumstances.

Read Less

Obama Is Simply Overmatched by Events

It’s difficult to overstate just how depressing May’s job report is – and how much damage it will inflict on President Obama’s chances for re-election.

It’s not simply that the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, or that it’s remained above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months, or that in May we gained less than 70,000 new jobs. Nor is it simply the fact that in May the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) increased from 5.1 million to 5.4 million. Or that the average work week fell to 34.4 hours. Or that, as John points out,  March and April’s jobs reports were revised downward. Or that in May, stocks suffered through their worst month in two years.

All of this matters quite a lot, of course. But what’s particularly injurious to the president’s re-election prospects is that May was the worst economic month in what is turning out to be a very bad economic year. The trajectory of events is down, not up. The economy is slowing down. Consumer confidence is dropping. Virtually every economic indicator is getting worse, not better.

This would be very troubling news for any incumbent president – but for one who has virtually no achievements he can point to with pride, it is triply damaging. Whatever fault one wants to ascribe to Obama’s predecessor, and whatever excuses the president can dream up, what is now beyond any reasonable dispute is that Obama has no clue how to fix things. That is not a political judgment; it’s an empirical one.

Read More

It’s difficult to overstate just how depressing May’s job report is – and how much damage it will inflict on President Obama’s chances for re-election.

It’s not simply that the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, or that it’s remained above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months, or that in May we gained less than 70,000 new jobs. Nor is it simply the fact that in May the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) increased from 5.1 million to 5.4 million. Or that the average work week fell to 34.4 hours. Or that, as John points out,  March and April’s jobs reports were revised downward. Or that in May, stocks suffered through their worst month in two years.

All of this matters quite a lot, of course. But what’s particularly injurious to the president’s re-election prospects is that May was the worst economic month in what is turning out to be a very bad economic year. The trajectory of events is down, not up. The economy is slowing down. Consumer confidence is dropping. Virtually every economic indicator is getting worse, not better.

This would be very troubling news for any incumbent president – but for one who has virtually no achievements he can point to with pride, it is triply damaging. Whatever fault one wants to ascribe to Obama’s predecessor, and whatever excuses the president can dream up, what is now beyond any reasonable dispute is that Obama has no clue how to fix things. That is not a political judgment; it’s an empirical one.

Barack Obama may be well-intentioned. He may be a fine father. He may have an excellent jump shot. And he may be a first-rate community organizer. But as president, he is simply — and by now almost undeniably — overmatched by events. By Obama’s own standards – by what he said and by what he promised — he is a failure.

For Obama, that is a politically lethal conclusion for a majority of the American people to come to. They were well on their way to arriving at this conclusion before today. They’re now further along than they were. And soon, very soon, there will be no way to undo it.

Read Less

DOJ Blocks Effort to Enforce Voting Laws

The New York Times editorial board members aren’t the only ones hyperventilating over the Florida voting roll purge, as John Steele Gordon noted earlier. The Department of Justice is now demanding that state election officials halt efforts to remove ineligible felon and illegal immigrant voters from its registration rolls, claiming the process may discriminate against minorities:

Florida’s effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act – which governs voter purges – T. Christian Herren Jr., the Justice Department’s lead civil rights lawyer, wrote in a detailed two-page letter sent late Thursday night.

State officials said they were reviewing the letter. But they indicated they might fight DOJ over its interpretation of federal law and expressed frustration that President Barack Obama’s administration has stonewalled the state’s non-citizen voter hunt for nine months.

“We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott to conduct the search for potentially ineligible voters.

Read More

The New York Times editorial board members aren’t the only ones hyperventilating over the Florida voting roll purge, as John Steele Gordon noted earlier. The Department of Justice is now demanding that state election officials halt efforts to remove ineligible felon and illegal immigrant voters from its registration rolls, claiming the process may discriminate against minorities:

Florida’s effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act – which governs voter purges – T. Christian Herren Jr., the Justice Department’s lead civil rights lawyer, wrote in a detailed two-page letter sent late Thursday night.

State officials said they were reviewing the letter. But they indicated they might fight DOJ over its interpretation of federal law and expressed frustration that President Barack Obama’s administration has stonewalled the state’s non-citizen voter hunt for nine months.

“We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott to conduct the search for potentially ineligible voters.

Florida has found 2,700 registered voters so far that it believes may not be U.S. citizens. It has sent the list to local election supervisors for further investigation, which includes contacting the potential non-citizens by mail. If the individuals don’t respond within a two-month time frame, they may be removed from the voting rolls — which seems like a fairly logical request.

According to the Miami Herald, the problem is the Florida purge may be discriminatory because the list of potential illegal immigrant voters “disproportionately hits” the Hispanic community:

About 58 percent of those flagged as potential non-citizens are Hispanics, Florida’s largest ethnic immigrant population, a Miami Herald analysis found. Hispanics make up 13 percent of the overall 11.3 million active registered voters.

The DOJ could solve this entire problem by simply supporting voter ID laws. It would save state election officials the time and energy of figuring out who is and is not a legitimate citizen, and reduce the chances of human error during voter roll purges. Instead, the DOJ is doing the exact opposite, which just goes to show how serious this administration is about voting integrity.

Read Less

Pakistan Gloats About U.S. Defeat

During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

Read More

During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

There is an inverse relationship between pretensions of sophistication and the clarity of goals. Decades ago, the concept of victory was simple: To defeat the enemy. But today, diplomats  and Democrats convince themselves that rhetoric can substitute for victory, even with fundamental goals left unmet and the enemy unchastened. Alas, national security will never be built on rhetoric alone.

Read Less

Turkey Segregates Summer Camps

President Obama once said that he solicited parenting advice from his pal, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Let’s hope, then, that President Obama’s daughters don’t want to go to a co-ed summer camp.  According to the Turkish press, Erdoğan’s government has just segregated summer camps by fiat:

The General Directorate of Youth and Sports has just written a new regulation which will oversee gender organized camps, where boys and girls are hosted at different periods of time in an effort to keep them segregated. The camps host participants between the ages of 13 and 22 and for the last 6 years have operated in a coed manner, hosting girls and boys at the same time. The new regulation will be applied to camps on June 11.

Read More

President Obama once said that he solicited parenting advice from his pal, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Let’s hope, then, that President Obama’s daughters don’t want to go to a co-ed summer camp.  According to the Turkish press, Erdoğan’s government has just segregated summer camps by fiat:

The General Directorate of Youth and Sports has just written a new regulation which will oversee gender organized camps, where boys and girls are hosted at different periods of time in an effort to keep them segregated. The camps host participants between the ages of 13 and 22 and for the last 6 years have operated in a coed manner, hosting girls and boys at the same time. The new regulation will be applied to camps on June 11.

Turkish diplomats still suggest that Turkey strives to be like Europe. Almost a decade into the Justice and Development Party’s rule, that rhetoric is sounding increasingly empty. Rather, it seems, Turkey’s leaders seek to tie Turkey more firmly to Islamist orthodoxy.

Read Less

Wisconsin Union Membership Tanks

It’s simple logic. When public employees have the choice of whether or not to pay union dues — as opposed to having them automatically pulled from their paychecks — the number of dues-paying union members shrinks. But these dramatic numbers out of Wisconsin are still remarkable:

The state’s second-largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, the Journal said Thursday. The organization’s Afscme Council 24, composed of state workers, fell more than two thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A key reason that membership dropped was because the labor law, championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, forbids automatic collection of union dues. Instead, workers must voluntarily say that they want to continue to continuing paying dues to remain members of the union.

Union workers have also dropped out because of high pension and healthcare costs, and others believe that the unions are no longer influential.

Read More

It’s simple logic. When public employees have the choice of whether or not to pay union dues — as opposed to having them automatically pulled from their paychecks — the number of dues-paying union members shrinks. But these dramatic numbers out of Wisconsin are still remarkable:

The state’s second-largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, the Journal said Thursday. The organization’s Afscme Council 24, composed of state workers, fell more than two thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A key reason that membership dropped was because the labor law, championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, forbids automatic collection of union dues. Instead, workers must voluntarily say that they want to continue to continuing paying dues to remain members of the union.

Union workers have also dropped out because of high pension and healthcare costs, and others believe that the unions are no longer influential.

If the latest polls showing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a solid lead are to be believed, then union influence will take another major hit after Tuesday’s recall election. NRO’s Jim Geraghty explains what Walker’s reforms would mean on a national scale:

Apply this across the country . . . and you’re talking about the evisceration of one of the Democratic Party’s most important political allies – a game-changer in politics in so many states. Compulsory union-dues collection was the glue that kept the whole operation together. Ed Schultz may be exaggerating when he says a Republican win means America will never elect a Democratic president again . . . but his vision might not be that wildly exaggerated.

National Democrats have been trying to keep their distance from Wisconsin, apparently because they don’t want to throw money into a losing cause and are concerned about how a loss could reflect on President Obama and the national political zeitgeist. The irony is that a loss in Wisconsin could speed the destruction of one of the party’s key financial and political support groups.

Read Less

On Assad, Obama is Repeating Bush 41′s Saddam Mistake

On February 15, 1991, at a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called for “the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam was a dangerous tyrant and would have to go. But, Bush’s re-election campaign was hot and heavy at the time and focused on the economy, not foreign policy. Bush’s national security advisers—some of whom now praise President Obama and castigate Mitt Romney’s team—did not want to entangle the United States in a prolonged conflict, and so the United States stood aside as Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards—many just days after their release from U.S. custody—mowed down Iraqi Shi’ites.

Fast forward a decade. The Syrian people rise up. At first, Secretary of State Clinton maintains the fiction that Bashar al-Assad is a reformer. If that’s what career diplomats were telling her, it should put an end to the nonsense that having an embassy in the country improves intelligence about it. But then again, diplomats said the same thing about Saddam Hussein. As a young Iraq desk officer, for example, Frank Ricciardone—today serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey—pushed relentlessly for U.S. rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

Clinton, however, changed tack as Assad’s massacres accelerated. “We think Assad must go,” she told ABC News two months ago in the wake of the Istanbul “Friends of the Syrian People Conference.” Just over a week ago, she said, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end.”  There is nothing more dangerous than promoting Assad’s ouster and then standing by when the Syrian people rise up and get massacred.

Read More

On February 15, 1991, at a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called for “the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam was a dangerous tyrant and would have to go. But, Bush’s re-election campaign was hot and heavy at the time and focused on the economy, not foreign policy. Bush’s national security advisers—some of whom now praise President Obama and castigate Mitt Romney’s team—did not want to entangle the United States in a prolonged conflict, and so the United States stood aside as Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards—many just days after their release from U.S. custody—mowed down Iraqi Shi’ites.

Fast forward a decade. The Syrian people rise up. At first, Secretary of State Clinton maintains the fiction that Bashar al-Assad is a reformer. If that’s what career diplomats were telling her, it should put an end to the nonsense that having an embassy in the country improves intelligence about it. But then again, diplomats said the same thing about Saddam Hussein. As a young Iraq desk officer, for example, Frank Ricciardone—today serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey—pushed relentlessly for U.S. rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

Clinton, however, changed tack as Assad’s massacres accelerated. “We think Assad must go,” she told ABC News two months ago in the wake of the Istanbul “Friends of the Syrian People Conference.” Just over a week ago, she said, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end.”  There is nothing more dangerous than promoting Assad’s ouster and then standing by when the Syrian people rise up and get massacred.

We still pay for the legacy of the elder Bush’s error. The Iraqi Shi’ites, who celebrated their liberation from Saddam and who just three years earlier had been fighting Iran, had little choice but to seek Iran’s protective embrace. Saddam put down the revolt and, during the subsequent 12 years, organized some Shi’ites into the Badr Corps and other radically anti-American militias.

By encouraging—however belatedly—a revolt in Syria and then stepping aside, the Obama administration is following the elder Bush’s playbook to the letter. While many in the Iraqi opposition fell under Iran’s sway, the longer the Obama administration waits in Syria, the more entrenched al-Qaeda ideologues become. And, if history repeats itself, then by allowing such a huge gap to develop between his administration’s rhetoric and the reality of its policy, President Obama is encouraging the most cynical anti-American conspiracy theories to become public perception, and risking Syria becoming a source of instability for years to come.

Read Less

Academia’s Bigoted Feedback Loop

Yesterday, James Taranto discussed the left’s cultural contempt for middle America. He quotes the American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord, who argued that the Democratic Party’s elite around John F. Kennedy had built up a river of resentment against the non-elite–such as, at the time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson–but that Kennedy served as something of a dam, keeping it in check. Après JFK, le deluge:

Slowly this contempt for the American people spread to institutions that were not government, manifesting itself in a thousand different ways. It infected the media, academe and Hollywood, where stars identified with middle-America like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball were eclipsed in the spotlight by leftists like Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda.

This is certainly problematic enough, both for liberalism and the American culture it relentlessly targeted. But it’s also worth pointing out that the corrupting of cultural institutions creates a feedback loop, producing political personalities who feed on the spite and bigotry of the institutions from which they emerged. And this is the feedback loop with which Mitt Romney, as a high-profile Mormon candidate, will have to contend, as Idaho State professor Thomas C. Terry writes in Inside Higher Ed.

Read More

Yesterday, James Taranto discussed the left’s cultural contempt for middle America. He quotes the American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord, who argued that the Democratic Party’s elite around John F. Kennedy had built up a river of resentment against the non-elite–such as, at the time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson–but that Kennedy served as something of a dam, keeping it in check. Après JFK, le deluge:

Slowly this contempt for the American people spread to institutions that were not government, manifesting itself in a thousand different ways. It infected the media, academe and Hollywood, where stars identified with middle-America like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball were eclipsed in the spotlight by leftists like Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda.

This is certainly problematic enough, both for liberalism and the American culture it relentlessly targeted. But it’s also worth pointing out that the corrupting of cultural institutions creates a feedback loop, producing political personalities who feed on the spite and bigotry of the institutions from which they emerged. And this is the feedback loop with which Mitt Romney, as a high-profile Mormon candidate, will have to contend, as Idaho State professor Thomas C. Terry writes in Inside Higher Ed.

Terry begins the article with a story: He attended an academic conference in 2008, and when the lunch conversation turned to the election, and Mitt Romney, it took a sadly predictable turn:

“I couldn’t vote for a Mormon,” one professor said. There was some polite (or perhaps impolite) head-bobbing. “It’s a cult. Very intolerant, and their opinions about women, and, well … ” and his voice trailed off.

This, in academia, is apparently the norm, not the exception, Terry writes:

Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost. Hmmm. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were misplaced, too. And a burning bush talking? Really? It comes down to faith, as it should. Not some sort of ignorant bigotry.

Many of the academics consider themselves liberal, socially responsible, and broad-minded individuals, the repository of the best in America. They’re proud of themselves for voting for Barack Obama (a bit too smug maybe?). They would splutter and bluster and be generally outraged to be considered prejudiced. None would consider saying anything similar about African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans . . . well, you get the idea. But anti-Mormonism is part of the same continuum that contains discrimination against any group. Why, then, is it allowable to publicly express bias against Mormons?

Walter Russell Mead responds by reminding readers the mainstream media has reflected this same anti-Mormon bias. He lists just a few of recent memory, such as Harold Bloom’s New York Times piece on his fears of a theocracy–though Mead thinks Bloom is probably “more elitist misanthrope than bigot; his hatred and loathing for Mormonism is part of a broader and deeper disgust with almost everything that the common people think or do in the contemporary United States.”

The Times is, of course, a repeat offender. Columnist Charles Blow expressed his own venomous bigotry on Twitter, and the Times stood behind Blow rather than discipline him, showing such bigotry to have a comfortable home at the Times. But in the Times’s defense, Maureen Dowd got in on the act too and, well, they can’t fire everybody, can they?

Salon’s Joan Walsh and Sally Denton joined in too, among others. As Mead asks in another post on the subject: “Bigotry is bad; how hard is that to remember?”

More difficult than it should be, certainly, for the “tolerant” left. And it is so difficult precisely because of the feedback loop. University professors shaping young minds casually express this bigotry, as do columnists and editorialists at major newspapers and online magazines. And David Axelrod, the Obama campaign strategist, has continued stoking these fires even after he promised to help put them out.

Perhaps he doesn’t mean to instigate widespread bigotry. But that’s the problem with acceptable ethnic and religious hate, isn’t it? The ignorance becomes so profound that the products of these institutions may not fully understand their own sheer moral failure.

Read Less

Intimidating Voters in Florida

The New York Times editorial page has another of its endless series of editorials on “voter intimidation” by those awful Republicans. It seems that conservatives have this strange idea that the voter rolls should only list living people who are eligible to vote. Any attempt to achieve such a list, according to the Times, is an unwarranted burden on the poor and the downtrodden. Even making a voter demonstrate that he is who he says he is by showing the same sort of identification that is needed to board an airplane, enter a major office building (including all federal ones), cash a check, adopt a pet from an animal shelter, or buy several over-the-counter drugs is unacceptable.

The editorial states, “Then, a few weeks ago, the state [of Florida] pressed the Department of Motor Vehicles into comparing the voter rolls to its list of driver’s licenses, which often has out-of-date citizenship information. It came up with nearly 2,700 voters considered suspicious and sent them letters demanding that they produce proof of citizenship within 30 days if they wanted to vote.”

Read More

The New York Times editorial page has another of its endless series of editorials on “voter intimidation” by those awful Republicans. It seems that conservatives have this strange idea that the voter rolls should only list living people who are eligible to vote. Any attempt to achieve such a list, according to the Times, is an unwarranted burden on the poor and the downtrodden. Even making a voter demonstrate that he is who he says he is by showing the same sort of identification that is needed to board an airplane, enter a major office building (including all federal ones), cash a check, adopt a pet from an animal shelter, or buy several over-the-counter drugs is unacceptable.

The editorial states, “Then, a few weeks ago, the state [of Florida] pressed the Department of Motor Vehicles into comparing the voter rolls to its list of driver’s licenses, which often has out-of-date citizenship information. It came up with nearly 2,700 voters considered suspicious and sent them letters demanding that they produce proof of citizenship within 30 days if they wanted to vote.”

In other words, the state found discrepancies between two of its lists as to citizenship status and asked the people involved to clear things up. Oh, the horror! The dark night of tyranny has fallen on the state of Florida.

It’s hard not to conclude the New York Times and its liberal allies would like to see no voter rolls at all. In the interest of “democracy,” people should just be able to go into a voting booth and vote. It is equally hard not to conclude that liberals increasingly need fraudulent votes in order to win elections.

Read Less

Clinton’s Motivation for Killing Bain Attack

To be fair, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick were really the ones who killed Obama’s Bain Capital strategy. But last night on CNN, Bill Clinton basically dipped it in cement and threw it in the East River:

Bill Clinton, in an appearance on CNN last night, said that Mitt Romney has a “sterling business career” and that the campaign shouldn’t be about what kind of work Romney did.

“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work; this is good work,” Clinton said, adding: “There’s no question that, in terms of getting up, going to the office, and basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Clinton urged the Obama campaign to instead focus on contrasting its vision for the country with Romney’s. His comments came at the tail end of a day in which another Obama surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), called Bain a “a perfectly fine company.”

Read More

To be fair, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick were really the ones who killed Obama’s Bain Capital strategy. But last night on CNN, Bill Clinton basically dipped it in cement and threw it in the East River:

Bill Clinton, in an appearance on CNN last night, said that Mitt Romney has a “sterling business career” and that the campaign shouldn’t be about what kind of work Romney did.

“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work; this is good work,” Clinton said, adding: “There’s no question that, in terms of getting up, going to the office, and basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Clinton urged the Obama campaign to instead focus on contrasting its vision for the country with Romney’s. His comments came at the tail end of a day in which another Obama surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), called Bain a “a perfectly fine company.”

Obviously, Clinton can’t be excused as a political neophyte and probably knew exactly what he was doing when he made that comment. The choice of words — lauding Romney’s “sterling business career” — went beyond what even Patrick or Booker have said about Romney. If Clinton wanted to merely express his disapproval of Obama’s strategy, he could have done it more subtly and without praising Romney’s career. He had to know he was giving Romney a priceless campaign soundbite that it will play on a loop whenever the Obama campaign tries to drag out the Bain attack again, effectively destroying any possibility that the strategy can be salvaged.

The question is, why? In the best case scenario, maybe Clinton was actually trying to help Obama. The former president is extremely well attuned to political trends, and maybe he senses that the Bain strategy will continue to bog down the Obama team if they keep pursuing it. Clinton’s argument that the election has to be about the big picture was similar to an argument his former pollster Douglas Schoen has made: Obama needs a clear, sweeping message for his campaign, a vision for a second term that transcends attack politics. Maybe Clinton was hoping his comments last night would be a sharp nudge in that direction.

Or, more cynically, maybe this wasn’t about helping Obama at all. Clinton has caused some headaches for this White House, and maybe he just doesn’t feel he has much to gain from Obama’s reelection, particularly if he wants Hillary to try again in 2016.

Read Less

China Tests Law of the Sea Treaty

I confess I don’t understand the fervor of proponents and opponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which is still awaiting Senate ratification and has been since 1982. The former seem to imagine that it will be a vast advance for American interests; the latter that it will be a vast infringement on American sovereignty. Both views seem overblown to me. I have no problem with ratifying the treaty, but at the same time I have no great expectations for what ratification will achieve.

Case in point: the South China Sea, the subject of a long New York Times article today. China has actually signed the Law of the Sea Treaty, but that is not preventing it from asserting a cockamamie “right” to do what it wants within 200 miles of its coast–and within 200 miles of each group of tiny rocks and islands in the South China Sea that Beijing implausibly claims as its national territory. If taken seriously, China’s claims would give it access to the entire sea, even though those waters are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei. The Law of the Sea Treaty, by contrast, recognizes freedom of navigation for any nation only 12 miles beyond a country’s shoreline.

This is more than an academic dispute–armed with its off-the-wall legal theories, China is sending its naval ships and paramilitary “fishing trawlers” to assert ownership of disputed territories such as Scarborough Shoal, where a group of Chinese ships have recently been in a standoff with the Philippine Navy. The stakes are high. As the Times notes: “Two-thirds of the world’s natural gas trade passes through the waters of the South China Sea” and “the sea itself is believed to hold a substantial reservoir of energy, with some experts predicting that under the seabed lies as much as 130 billion barrels of oil and 900 trillion cubic feet of gas.”

Read More

I confess I don’t understand the fervor of proponents and opponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which is still awaiting Senate ratification and has been since 1982. The former seem to imagine that it will be a vast advance for American interests; the latter that it will be a vast infringement on American sovereignty. Both views seem overblown to me. I have no problem with ratifying the treaty, but at the same time I have no great expectations for what ratification will achieve.

Case in point: the South China Sea, the subject of a long New York Times article today. China has actually signed the Law of the Sea Treaty, but that is not preventing it from asserting a cockamamie “right” to do what it wants within 200 miles of its coast–and within 200 miles of each group of tiny rocks and islands in the South China Sea that Beijing implausibly claims as its national territory. If taken seriously, China’s claims would give it access to the entire sea, even though those waters are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei. The Law of the Sea Treaty, by contrast, recognizes freedom of navigation for any nation only 12 miles beyond a country’s shoreline.

This is more than an academic dispute–armed with its off-the-wall legal theories, China is sending its naval ships and paramilitary “fishing trawlers” to assert ownership of disputed territories such as Scarborough Shoal, where a group of Chinese ships have recently been in a standoff with the Philippine Navy. The stakes are high. As the Times notes: “Two-thirds of the world’s natural gas trade passes through the waters of the South China Sea” and “the sea itself is believed to hold a substantial reservoir of energy, with some experts predicting that under the seabed lies as much as 130 billion barrels of oil and 900 trillion cubic feet of gas.”

China seems bent on laying claim to those resources, no matter what the Law of the Sea Treaty says, which highlights the chief problem with international law: the difficulty of actually enforcing it. That will require the U.S. to take an increasingly assertive stance to back up, with naval and air power if need be, the rights of our allies against China’s resources-grab. Sending a U.S. Navy cruiser or destroyer to Scarborough Shoal to support our Philippine friends would have sent a far more powerful message of compliance with international law than Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Read Less

Latest Leak: Obama the Computer Warrior

New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

Read More

New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

While the president deserves credit for following the advice President Bush gave him about continuing the secret program (or at least what used to be secret before the president and his staff decided they needed to spill the beans so as to enhance his chances for re-election) code-named “Olympic Games,” the subtext of the story is that the effort hasn’t really succeeded.

Though the administration gives itself great credit for proceeding with the Stuxnet virus attack even after it became public knowledge, the results do not seem to have been as impressive as the president’s cheering section would like us to think. As even Sanger notes:

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

If that is true then it must be acknowledged that though both Bush and Obama were right to try Stuxnet and other cyber attacks, they aren’t the solution. As smart as the American and Israeli computer geeks might be, the assumption that the Iranians are too stupid or backward to defend their systems is absurd. As has always been the case with every sort of military technology invented, for every offensive tactic developed there is a defense. The fact is, despite Stuxnet and Flame, the Iranian centrifuges are still turning. The military research at Parchin has already been conducted and may now have been removed to a site Western sources don’t know about. Despite the cyber attacks and the inherent flaws that may exist in the Iranian program, they have managed to develop facilities and technology that is getting them closer to a bomb.

The covert action undertaken by the administration was appropriate and should be continued. But for all of the breathless patting themselves on the back that comes through in the Sanger piece, another familiar theme to observers of the Obama administration emerges: hostility to Israel. Sanger’s sources claim that Stuxnet’s failure was Israel’s fault.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

We don’t really know whether this true and neither does Sanger or Vice President Biden, but it is telling that in a piece dedicated to promoting the idea of President Obama as a ground-breaking cyber warrior, there would have to be a passage trashing the Israelis.

Leaks like these can only add to the level of distrust the Israelis feel for the administration’s intentions on Iran. The administration’s effort to enhance its image via these stories is a poor substitute for a genuine commitment to do whatever it takes to end the nuclear threat that can’t be stopped by viruses alone.

Read Less

Who Will Secure Syria’s Chemical and Biological Weaponry?

Just days before the 2004 presidential election, the New York Times sought to spring an October Surprise. It breathlessly broke a story that the U.S. military failed to guard an Iraqi weapons depot at al-Qa’qaa, allowing insurgents to make off with tons of weaponry. Subsequent reporting suggested problems with the Times’ story, but the larger point remains: As regimes collapse, militias and insurgents consider their caches of weaponry up for grabs.

In Libya, the Obama administration sought to “lead from behind” and so did little to stop militiamen—some affiliated with al-Qaeda—from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

Read More

Just days before the 2004 presidential election, the New York Times sought to spring an October Surprise. It breathlessly broke a story that the U.S. military failed to guard an Iraqi weapons depot at al-Qa’qaa, allowing insurgents to make off with tons of weaponry. Subsequent reporting suggested problems with the Times’ story, but the larger point remains: As regimes collapse, militias and insurgents consider their caches of weaponry up for grabs.

In Libya, the Obama administration sought to “lead from behind” and so did little to stop militiamen—some affiliated with al-Qaeda—from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

In Syria, the problem of insecure weaponry looms. The longer fighting continues, the more al-Qaeda-affiliated groups entrench themselves in Syria. Bashar al-Assad sought to build a covert nuclear plant; it is far from clear that all nuclear material is under control. While the Central Intelligence Agency got pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program wrong, there are still open questions about whether an Iraqi convoy that drove to Syria in the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom carried chemical and/or biological weapons. Regardless, Syria had its own stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons prior to that conflict, and presumably still does.

The Obama administration is correct to say that a military option in Syria would be complicated—Syria hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union; Iran is drooling at the prospect of embroiling America in another insurgency, and the Syrian opposition is fractured. But, it must also recognize that the cost of doing nothing will not only be a tragedy for the Syrian people, but will also come at a real cost for U.S. national security. At the very least, the Obama administration should actively plan to secure Syrian weaponry, if it is not already too late.

Read Less

The Dismal May Employment Figures

Only 69,000 jobs were created in May, the worst number in a year, and far below what economists had been expecting (the consensus forecast was for about 150,000 new jobs). Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2 percent from 8.1. That’s the first actual increase in unemployment in 11 months. Stock market futures, already considerably down, plunged further with the news. Gold ticked up, and the ten-year bond fell to a record low of 1.46 percent (i.e., lend the federal government $1,000 and they will pay you a snappy $14.60 in interest per year).

The recovery, mediocre at best, has now appeared to stall, especially with jobs numbers for March and April revised downward (April’s were cut from 115,000 to 77,000, March’s from 154,000 to 143,000.) Europe’s numbers were even more dismal, with euro-zone unemployment now at 11 percent, the worst since the number was first calculated in 1995.

With Europe teetering on the edge of a financial meltdown, the head of the European Central Bank is telling political leaders to do something and do it now:

In a warning to political leaders, Mr. Draghi told members of the European Parliament on Thursday that the central bank is reaching the limits of its powers and now it is up to politicians to move quickly and decisively because the survival of the euro, the Continent’s common currency, is at stake. The structure of the currency union, he said, had become “unsustainable unless further steps are undertaken.”

These numbers are a disaster for the Obama re-election campaign. Indeed, unless they improve and improve soon, and unless European leaders take Lady Macbeth’s advice and screw their courage to the sticking place—not something for which European leaders have been noted of late—a year from now a Romney administration may be talking about the difficulty of dealing with the mess they inherited.

Only 69,000 jobs were created in May, the worst number in a year, and far below what economists had been expecting (the consensus forecast was for about 150,000 new jobs). Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2 percent from 8.1. That’s the first actual increase in unemployment in 11 months. Stock market futures, already considerably down, plunged further with the news. Gold ticked up, and the ten-year bond fell to a record low of 1.46 percent (i.e., lend the federal government $1,000 and they will pay you a snappy $14.60 in interest per year).

The recovery, mediocre at best, has now appeared to stall, especially with jobs numbers for March and April revised downward (April’s were cut from 115,000 to 77,000, March’s from 154,000 to 143,000.) Europe’s numbers were even more dismal, with euro-zone unemployment now at 11 percent, the worst since the number was first calculated in 1995.

With Europe teetering on the edge of a financial meltdown, the head of the European Central Bank is telling political leaders to do something and do it now:

In a warning to political leaders, Mr. Draghi told members of the European Parliament on Thursday that the central bank is reaching the limits of its powers and now it is up to politicians to move quickly and decisively because the survival of the euro, the Continent’s common currency, is at stake. The structure of the currency union, he said, had become “unsustainable unless further steps are undertaken.”

These numbers are a disaster for the Obama re-election campaign. Indeed, unless they improve and improve soon, and unless European leaders take Lady Macbeth’s advice and screw their courage to the sticking place—not something for which European leaders have been noted of late—a year from now a Romney administration may be talking about the difficulty of dealing with the mess they inherited.

Read Less

Still More Liberal Legal Meltdown

A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

Read More

A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

As for conceptual and economic sophistry, nothing is likely to top Justice Breyer’s suggestion during oral argument that, on the day you were born, “because you are a human being, [you] entered this particular market, which is a market for health care.” Being born, as the trigger for power under the Commerce Clause, seems a bit of a stretch even for a liberal constitutionalist.

In any event, today’s WSJ letter, dismissing the challenge to ObamaCare as “sophistry,” is another example (to use John Podhoretz’s words) of “the unerring liberal inability” to credit the arguments of opponents – and another pre-emptive libel of a Court that may be about to moor Congress’s power to the text.

Read Less

Refugee Definition Promotes Conflict

The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo has been doing yeoman’s work covering Senator Mark Kirk’s efforts to force the State Department to define Palestinian refugees in the same manner that the international community defines non-Palestinian refugees.

The problem about definitions exists because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) applies one definition of refugees around the world, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) applies a different definition only to Palestinian refugees. The State Department sides with UNRWA. In a 2006 article, University of Illinois economist Fred Gottheil explained the difference between the UNHCR and UNRWA approach:

The refugee population that UNHCR serves, at any time, is the number who fled their homelands minus those refugees repatriated or resettled. Because there was virtually no repatriation or resettlement among UNRWA’s refugee population, its size includes not only those who fled their homes but also during the course of over a half-century and in considerably larger numbers their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, regardless of where and under what social, political, and economic conditions they live. Another distinction between UNRWA and UNHCR on population counts is this: Palestinians who had fled their homes from one location within Palestine to another location within Palestine – say, from a village in what became Israel to a location in the West Bank – are nonetheless defined by UNRWA as refugees, even though they had not fled their homeland. By UNHCR reckoning, they are not refugees. And counted as well among the Palestinian refugees are descendants of refugees born, raised, and living elsewhere in the Middle East and abroad, who, never having seen the Palestinian homeland, are free nonetheless to return to it and to live there permanently but choose not to do so. Their decision to reject repatriation to the Palestinian homeland had nothing to do with the principles of non-refoulement since persecution of returnees was at no time a perceived threat. They do not satisfy UNHCR’s definition of refugee.

Read More

The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo has been doing yeoman’s work covering Senator Mark Kirk’s efforts to force the State Department to define Palestinian refugees in the same manner that the international community defines non-Palestinian refugees.

The problem about definitions exists because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) applies one definition of refugees around the world, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) applies a different definition only to Palestinian refugees. The State Department sides with UNRWA. In a 2006 article, University of Illinois economist Fred Gottheil explained the difference between the UNHCR and UNRWA approach:

The refugee population that UNHCR serves, at any time, is the number who fled their homelands minus those refugees repatriated or resettled. Because there was virtually no repatriation or resettlement among UNRWA’s refugee population, its size includes not only those who fled their homes but also during the course of over a half-century and in considerably larger numbers their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, regardless of where and under what social, political, and economic conditions they live. Another distinction between UNRWA and UNHCR on population counts is this: Palestinians who had fled their homes from one location within Palestine to another location within Palestine – say, from a village in what became Israel to a location in the West Bank – are nonetheless defined by UNRWA as refugees, even though they had not fled their homeland. By UNHCR reckoning, they are not refugees. And counted as well among the Palestinian refugees are descendants of refugees born, raised, and living elsewhere in the Middle East and abroad, who, never having seen the Palestinian homeland, are free nonetheless to return to it and to live there permanently but choose not to do so. Their decision to reject repatriation to the Palestinian homeland had nothing to do with the principles of non-refoulement since persecution of returnees was at no time a perceived threat. They do not satisfy UNHCR’s definition of refugee.

If the State Department accepts the UNRWA definition, there are about 5 million Palestinian refugees, but if one accepts the standard UNHCR definition, there are about 30,000.

To understand how dangerous it is to accept an expansive, political definition of refugees, consider India: The 1947 partition of India created about 14.5 million refugees, as those born in what became Pakistan fled to India and vice versa. At a 2002 speech at Hebrew University, Bernard Lewis suggested that applying the same definition to refugees created by the partition of India that UNRWA and the State Department apply to refugees created by the partition of Palestine meant that there existed 140 million refugees in South Asia. Today, that might equate to 170 million refugees or so. Had the international community adopted the same strategy in South Asia that it does in the Levant, this would guarantee the impossibility of any peace and reconciliation. Secretary of State Clinton knows this. By pandering to UNRWA, therefore, she is in effect choosing war over any hope of peace.

Read Less