Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 12, 2012

Dismantling Settlements Won’t Stop Iran

The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

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The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

What Levy’s critics are doing is, as I wrote earlier this week, conflating the issue of legality with that of the wisdom of the settlement enterprise. But what the Times editorial, as well as most of the comment about this issue ignores is that the question of the continued Israeli presence in the territories is not one that is controlled by Levy or even Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rather, it is the Palestinians and their refusal to make peace even when offered most of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem for an independent state. So long as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas allies refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, the settlements will remain since withdrawal would remain of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal disaster. Should they ever truly choose peace, there is no question that many will be dismantled. That’s why the obsessive desire to brand the settlements as illegal and to depict the Jews as foreign colonizers in areas in places where Jewish civilization was born and thrived does nothing to advance the cause of peace. So long as the Palestinians think that they don’t have to negotiate over the territories, the status quo will remain in place.

There is a connection between the question of the settlements and Iran but it is not the one the Times thinks it is. In the minds of those Islamists who wish to destroy Israel— be they in Tehran, Gaza or here in the United States agitating against Israel — the West Bank settlers are no different from the cosmopolitan urban dwellers of Tel Aviv. To them, every Jew in the country, whether in the coastal cities or hilltop settlements is an illegal settler. From their point of view the whole idea of Israel, be it within the 1949 armistice lines or one that would incorporate some of the settlements in the sort of territorial swap that even President Obama has recognized as the only possible formula for a two-state solution is anathema.

Far from discouraging Israel’s foes, the push to brand the settlements as not just unwise but illegal gives encouragement to those Arabs and Muslims who still nurture the fantasy that Israel is on the brink of collapse. While the majority of Israelis do not wish to rule over Arabs in the West Bank any more than they did to control those of Gaza, from which Israel completely withdrew in 2005, until the Palestinians give up the dream of the end of the Jewish state, there will be no peace. Those who decry Levy’s report upholding Jewish rights while not saying that they must be exercised are only feeding this delusion rather than promoting peace. Nor are they doing anything to give Western leaders the guts to stand up to Iran.

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Obama’s Tax Plan Irking Donors?

You don’t have to look far for the source of Obama’s fundraising problems. His class warfare strategy, attacks on Romney’s wealth and plan to raise taxes on people making over $250,000 a year isn’t the best bait to reel in big donors. Even one top Obama bundler, R. Donahue Peebles, is opening fire on Obama’s tax plan, according to the Huffington Post. Peebles says he still supports the president, but is sick of hearing that he doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes (h/t Washington Examiner):

“I’m so tired of hearing that the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes. Yeah we are,” Peebles said. “The super vast majority of wealthy Americans do not wake up every day and say, ‘Let’s see how we can pay less than our fair share of taxes.’ They say, ‘We’re going to follow the law and we’re going to hire some good accountants to tell us how to do it. And we’re going to pay no more or no less than our fair share.’

“So to say that wealthy individuals are not paying their fair is unfair and delusional,” he said. “So what should be said is that the wealthy Americans should have their tax rates raised because we need more money. Now by the way, if they got all these tax raises it still wouldn’t put a dent in the national debt.”

Is Peebles sure he still supports Obama? Judging from his comments, it’s hard to understand why.

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You don’t have to look far for the source of Obama’s fundraising problems. His class warfare strategy, attacks on Romney’s wealth and plan to raise taxes on people making over $250,000 a year isn’t the best bait to reel in big donors. Even one top Obama bundler, R. Donahue Peebles, is opening fire on Obama’s tax plan, according to the Huffington Post. Peebles says he still supports the president, but is sick of hearing that he doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes (h/t Washington Examiner):

“I’m so tired of hearing that the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes. Yeah we are,” Peebles said. “The super vast majority of wealthy Americans do not wake up every day and say, ‘Let’s see how we can pay less than our fair share of taxes.’ They say, ‘We’re going to follow the law and we’re going to hire some good accountants to tell us how to do it. And we’re going to pay no more or no less than our fair share.’

“So to say that wealthy individuals are not paying their fair is unfair and delusional,” he said. “So what should be said is that the wealthy Americans should have their tax rates raised because we need more money. Now by the way, if they got all these tax raises it still wouldn’t put a dent in the national debt.”

Is Peebles sure he still supports Obama? Judging from his comments, it’s hard to understand why.

The president has spent the last year promoting the “Buffet rule” and claiming that raising taxes on high earners is crucial for fairness and closing the deficit. If Peebles thinks both of those positions are “unfair and delusional,” why is he bundling money for the president in the first place?

It also makes you wonder how many 2008 Obama supporters feel the same way Peebles does, but are expressing their dissatisfaction by shutting their wallets instead of talking to the press:

“What I get concerned about is the message from the Obama campaign that we only want someone who has not been successful to run for president. What do we want here? You can’t be successful and run the country? We don’t want somebody who has been successful to run it? That doesn’t make sense,” Peebles said. “So I look at that and I see that those things are becoming offensive to some of his strongest supporters, financially.

“It would be unrealistic to think that that kind of thing would not impact the enthusiasm for those who are supportive of the president, financially, and certainly would turn off others who were on the fence to say, ‘You know, what the heck with it. I’m done,'” Peebles continued. “And they go on to Romney.

Even Senate Democrats can’t bring themselves to support the president’s tax plan, which is why they blocked a vote on it this week. If Obama can’t scrape together enough votes from his own party to pass his plan yet, he’s going to have a hard time convincing the donors who would actually get hit with the tax.

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Would Bloomberg Mock Islam Like That?

Two years ago when the Ground Zero mosque controversy was at its height, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not only among the most ardent defenders of the plan to put an Islamic center in the shadow of the site of the 9/11 attack, he was also among the loudest of those accusing the project’s critics of bigotry. Saying that those who questioned the appropriateness of the plan should be “ashamed of themselves,” the mayor proclaimed that nothing less than the principle of religious liberty was at stake in building the center. But as the cover of the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek demonstrates, squeamishness among our elites — even those who run a magazine that is named for the mayor’s business empire — about even the appearance of prejudice is often limited these days to things that might offend Muslims. When it comes to Mormons, anything still goes.

The cover, which takes a piece of Mormon iconography in which Jesus is depicted as speaking to Mormon prophets, provides a caption bubble in which he instructs them, “And thou shalt build a shopping mall, buy stock in Burger King and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax…” to which one of the prophets responds, “Hallelujah.”

While the business affairs of the Mormon church are fair game for coverage, one has to ask the same question about this cover that can be posed about many of the cheap shots at the Mormons (or Catholics, for that matter): Would Businessweek be any more likely to mock the Prophet Mohammad in this manner than the veterans of the South Park comedy series were when they produced a Broadway hit satirizing the church?

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Two years ago when the Ground Zero mosque controversy was at its height, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not only among the most ardent defenders of the plan to put an Islamic center in the shadow of the site of the 9/11 attack, he was also among the loudest of those accusing the project’s critics of bigotry. Saying that those who questioned the appropriateness of the plan should be “ashamed of themselves,” the mayor proclaimed that nothing less than the principle of religious liberty was at stake in building the center. But as the cover of the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek demonstrates, squeamishness among our elites — even those who run a magazine that is named for the mayor’s business empire — about even the appearance of prejudice is often limited these days to things that might offend Muslims. When it comes to Mormons, anything still goes.

The cover, which takes a piece of Mormon iconography in which Jesus is depicted as speaking to Mormon prophets, provides a caption bubble in which he instructs them, “And thou shalt build a shopping mall, buy stock in Burger King and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax…” to which one of the prophets responds, “Hallelujah.”

While the business affairs of the Mormon church are fair game for coverage, one has to ask the same question about this cover that can be posed about many of the cheap shots at the Mormons (or Catholics, for that matter): Would Businessweek be any more likely to mock the Prophet Mohammad in this manner than the veterans of the South Park comedy series were when they produced a Broadway hit satirizing the church?

The article that the cover illustration teases actually doesn’t do much, if any, harm to the Mormons. Despite the best efforts of the magazine to find disgruntled ex-employees who would dish some juicy dirt about Mormon skullduggery, there’s little here to disgrace the church. If anything, what comes across is the portrait of a prosperous faith community that has applied the values of its church to the business world and produced entities that are largely successful as well as popular.

Much of the scrutiny of the Mormons is clearly the product of Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. But rather than the prospect of the first Mormon president being the subject of stories emphasizing the historic nature of this potential breakthrough for a minority group that comprises slightly more than one percent of the population and which suffered terrible discrimination in its early years, the tenor of most of the coverage comes from a very different frame of reference. Much like the Obama campaign’s desire to portray the Republican candidate as “weird,” the notion that there is something unwholesome or unusual about a faith group that runs thriving businesses is rooted in a view of the otherwise all-American Mormons as aliens in our midst.

Unlike Muslims who have reacted to even the mildest of satire about their faith with terror and violence, the Mormons are too smart and too sane to even take much notice of insults directed at their faith. But while the Mormon business empire should not be exempt from scrutiny, the attitude that treats anti-Mormon prejudice as a species of prejudice that is somehow acceptable in mainstream and even liberal publications is an indication of the selective definition of religious bias practiced by some in our chattering classes. Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t make decisions about the magazine that bears his name. Yet when you put the cover in the context of the mayor’s speech about the mosque, the double standard about religious prejudice that is the norm these days is all too obvious.

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Iranian UAVs Pose Growing Threat

Pentagon officials and journalists have been speaking publicly about their concerns regarding advances in Iranian missile technology. No one should underestimate Iran’s indigenous armament industry or the capabilities of Iranian engineers and scientists. Given enough time and, when needed, assistance from North Korean, Pakistani, and Turkish scientists, they are capable of reverse-engineering any military system.

It is against this backdrop that the increasing production of Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should pose a concern. The issue is not simply Iranian bluster about their capabilities to replicate the technology in the state-of-the-art U.S. drone seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after landing inside Iran. (Why President Obama did not order it to be destroyed on the ground in Iran is a question that will haunt families of future Iranian terror victims).

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Pentagon officials and journalists have been speaking publicly about their concerns regarding advances in Iranian missile technology. No one should underestimate Iran’s indigenous armament industry or the capabilities of Iranian engineers and scientists. Given enough time and, when needed, assistance from North Korean, Pakistani, and Turkish scientists, they are capable of reverse-engineering any military system.

It is against this backdrop that the increasing production of Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should pose a concern. The issue is not simply Iranian bluster about their capabilities to replicate the technology in the state-of-the-art U.S. drone seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after landing inside Iran. (Why President Obama did not order it to be destroyed on the ground in Iran is a question that will haunt families of future Iranian terror victims).

Rather, the Iranian military has been making great strides in constructing and putting into operation smaller UAVs. The Iranian military, for example, now operates the Sobakbal, which can fly at attitudes of 20,000 feet, has a range of 13 miles, and can be used for surveillance; and the Ababil, which flies only at a ceiling of 4,200 feet, but has a range exceeding 200 miles. The longer the United States waits to tackle the Iranian problem, the stronger Iran will become and the more crowded the skies over the Persian Gulf will become. Iranian air traffic control de-conflicts manned flights with a great deal of professionalism, but the smaller, unmanned aircraft are another matter. The armaments on the Ababil may not be much more powerful than a rocket-propelled grenade, but the presence of Iranian UAVs buzzing American aircraft carriers or sharing the skies with civilian traffic, American fighter-jets, and helicopters suggests that they are an accident waiting to happen.

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Bain Story Recycled From Primaries

The Obama campaign managed to get the Boston Globe to pick up the story nobody else was buying: that Mitt Romney lied about leaving Bain Capital in 1999, based on documents filed with the SEC. As WaPo’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, these claims had already been picked over and rejected by numerous outlets:

But now the Boston Globe has raised the issue again. The story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership.)

We’re considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again. There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)

To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense. Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.

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The Obama campaign managed to get the Boston Globe to pick up the story nobody else was buying: that Mitt Romney lied about leaving Bain Capital in 1999, based on documents filed with the SEC. As WaPo’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, these claims had already been picked over and rejected by numerous outlets:

But now the Boston Globe has raised the issue again. The story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership.)

We’re considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again. There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)

To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense. Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.

The SEC documents in the Globe piece don’t appear to be new. Here’s WaPo’s Kessler from last January, throwing cold water on a document that the Globe seems to treat as a smoking gun:

In the [2002] Massachusetts [SEC] document, Romney is also listed as 100 percent owner of “Bain Capital Inc.” But there is less than meets the eye here. Bain Capital Inc. was the management firm, which was paid a management fee to run the funds and actually made virtually no profit, since it existed to pay salaries and expenses. After Romney formally left Bain in 2001, a new entity called “Bain Capital LLC” took over the management function.

By virtually all accounts, Romney was focused on the Olympics in the 1999-2002 period. Yet because Romney had not legally separated from Bain, his name is littered across Securities and Exchange Commission filings concerning Bain Capital deals during this period. The crazy quilt of private-equity structures, in some ways, makes his ownership appear even more ominous, as the filings list hundreds of thousands of shares controlled by Romney.

Even so, it is a real stretch to claim that Romney — himself — “closed” these stores. No evidence has emerged that he was involved in the KB Toys transaction. Indeed, when creditors sued over the dividend payment, they named six Bain-controlled entities and three Bain executives who had served on the board of KB Holdings.

The Globe is responsible for its own reporting, but clearly this was a story the Obama campaign has been trying to resurrect. The campaign has been blasting out the Globe article — and strongly-worded comments accusing Romney of either lying or being a criminal — for most of the day. The story is being dutifully picked up by news outlets, but most political reporters can probably see what’s going on here. The Obama campaign is playing dirty pool, planting flimsy stories that had already been settled months ago. Now the media will wade through the SEC documents again, and the Romney campaign will have to answer the same questions it answered last January. Even if this is thoroughly debunked, it hurts the Romney campaign simply because it’s in the news.

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The First Good-News Poll for Obama? Not So Fast.

A huge Pew Forum survey just released shows what President Obama desperately needs to see in the polling: He’s at 50 percent among registered voters, with Mitt Romney at 43 percent. This is very important for Obama and his campaign, because they know full well an incumbent president at 45 or 46 percent in the polls is far more likely to lose than win. In the history of public-opinion surveys, no first-term president has won a second term without polling at 50 percent or higher near election day.

But wait. What’s this? Scroll to the final page and you learn that of the 2373 registered voters, 837 identify as Democrats and only 636 as Republicans. That translates to a sample that’s 35% Democrat vs. 28% Republican (36% are said to be independents). That 7-point gap between Democrats and Republicans is the same 7-point gap that showed up in the 2008 exit polls, in which Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate and Republicans only 32. Does anyone really believe that will be the case in 2012, which is certain to be a much closer election however it goes with a far more revved-up Republican electorate than in 2008?

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A huge Pew Forum survey just released shows what President Obama desperately needs to see in the polling: He’s at 50 percent among registered voters, with Mitt Romney at 43 percent. This is very important for Obama and his campaign, because they know full well an incumbent president at 45 or 46 percent in the polls is far more likely to lose than win. In the history of public-opinion surveys, no first-term president has won a second term without polling at 50 percent or higher near election day.

But wait. What’s this? Scroll to the final page and you learn that of the 2373 registered voters, 837 identify as Democrats and only 636 as Republicans. That translates to a sample that’s 35% Democrat vs. 28% Republican (36% are said to be independents). That 7-point gap between Democrats and Republicans is the same 7-point gap that showed up in the 2008 exit polls, in which Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate and Republicans only 32. Does anyone really believe that will be the case in 2012, which is certain to be a much closer election however it goes with a far more revved-up Republican electorate than in 2008?

In the midterm election of 2010, Democrats and Republicans each made up 35 percent of the electorate. The latest data, reported here by Bloomberg News, suggest voters who formerly identified as Democrats are leaving the party in substantial numbers in swing states to affiliate as independents—while Republicans are gaining registrants.

Not to mention the Pew poll is of registered voters only, not likely voters—and at this point in the race, it’s really time to start looking for likely voters only.

Good news for the president? Well, it’s better than nothing, but he and his team and his partisans shouldn’t take much comfort from it.

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Illustrating Iranian Anti-Semitism

Fars News Agency is the go-to place for foreign media outlets to find out what’s going on in Iran or at least what the government in Tehran wants us to think is going on there. But lest anyone think the journalists at Fars are untainted by the demented anti-Semitism that is the hallmark of much of the discourse we hear from that government, a contest run by the news service should remind us how deep the virus of hate runs in Iranian society. Fars has just held an “International Wall Street Downfall Cartoon Festival” in which illustrators were invited to draw something that would demonstrate sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The winner was one Mohammad Tabrizi, who earned 5,000 euros for drawing a depiction of a monumental-style building labeled “New York Wall Street,” which was a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem before which figures dressed as Orthodox Jews worshiped.

The cartoon is, as the Anti-Defamation League noted, “offensive on many levels.” But the main point here must be to point out that this drawing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Iranian anti-Semitism. Far from being an outlier, the cartoon is just the latest in a series of incidents and statements that show how Jew-hatred has become an integral factor in Iranian discourse. While this is damning by itself, it puts the struggle to stop the Islamist regime from obtaining nuclear weapons in a frightening context. It ought to give pause to those who claim Iran’s leaders are too responsible to even think of using such weapons against the Jewish state they have also pledged to eliminate.

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Fars News Agency is the go-to place for foreign media outlets to find out what’s going on in Iran or at least what the government in Tehran wants us to think is going on there. But lest anyone think the journalists at Fars are untainted by the demented anti-Semitism that is the hallmark of much of the discourse we hear from that government, a contest run by the news service should remind us how deep the virus of hate runs in Iranian society. Fars has just held an “International Wall Street Downfall Cartoon Festival” in which illustrators were invited to draw something that would demonstrate sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The winner was one Mohammad Tabrizi, who earned 5,000 euros for drawing a depiction of a monumental-style building labeled “New York Wall Street,” which was a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem before which figures dressed as Orthodox Jews worshiped.

The cartoon is, as the Anti-Defamation League noted, “offensive on many levels.” But the main point here must be to point out that this drawing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Iranian anti-Semitism. Far from being an outlier, the cartoon is just the latest in a series of incidents and statements that show how Jew-hatred has become an integral factor in Iranian discourse. While this is damning by itself, it puts the struggle to stop the Islamist regime from obtaining nuclear weapons in a frightening context. It ought to give pause to those who claim Iran’s leaders are too responsible to even think of using such weapons against the Jewish state they have also pledged to eliminate.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Iran’s vice president shocked some diplomats by opening a United Nations conference by blaming the international drug trade on the Jews and the Talmud. Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi was just the latest proof of the hold Jew-hatred has over Iran’s political class. But if people believe this virus is confined to the ayatollahs and doesn’t have much impact on the rest of the culture, then they haven’t been paying attention. In April, Iranian TV commemorated Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — by running anti-Semitic cartoons. And, of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, as the ADL pointed out, the Iranian government itself sponsored a Holocaust cartoon contest whose entries mocked the Jewish victims while also denying the crime.

Foreign policy realists who think a nuclear Iran can be contained or that it can be trusted not to use nukes simply ignore the incitement and hatred against Jews that is commonplace in Iranian culture. Similarly, those who believe diplomacy can sweet talk the ayatollahs into giving up their nuclear ambitions are not taking into account the way their enmity for Jews has come to define Iran’s view of the world. This Iranian take on the Occupy movement isn’t a joke. It’s a clear signal of the genocidal direction in which Iran is heading if it isn’t stopped first.

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Remembering the Evils of Communism

An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

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An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

The site at present is a tourist destination, complete with food vendors selling–apologies in advance–“Checkpoint Curry.” It may sound insensitive, and obviously so, but it’s not all that straightforward. I recently visited the new 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan, and due to its park-like atmosphere and city location, it does not feel solemn, somber, or especially evocative of the magnitude of the tragedy. It has also, predictably, become a tourist destination–though that is not an entirely bad thing, as many people from all over the world pay their respects regularly.

But Professor Jarausch has made the essential point: historical crimes must be honestly reckoned with. Though this can heal a society’s old wounds in a way time alone cannot, it’s also painful. In his profoundly moving new history of the run-up to the Soviet Union’s collapse, which I reviewed for the current issue of COMMENTARY, Leon Aron tackles this with precision. I wrote:

Aron offers a fully rounded portrait of the moment when the Russian people, for the first time in nearly a century, were directed by their own modernizing regime to look in the mirror of glasnost. Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration said there was no way the country could move forward with the restructuring Gorbachev sought without first understanding its past. The problem was that “the road to self-discovery, now deemed vital to the country’s revival—indeed, her survival—was found to be full of vast gaps.” Censorship had been locked in place since 1921; secrecy had been the foundational doctrine of the empire.

That empire of secrecy and lies was Lenin’s foremost legacy. It is why fully burying that legacy may in fact require fully burying Lenin himself. Though Germany may seem farther along this road, the discussion has brought to the surface lingering resentments on both sides. The pro-democracy side wants to call Communism and its crimes heinous; but that would mean so designating the operational ideology of the East German state, and its citizens, many of whom are still alive. Unification itself was far from unanimous, and therefore solidified, rather than soothed, many an East German’s bitterness.

Are they just being sore losers? They will say they have been gracious enough in defeat, and that this is more they can say for the victors now asking to pour salt in their wounds. “Everything has its history, including history,” John Lukacs wrote. And the history of Communism is monstrous; it should be remembered this way.

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Will Americans Forgive Mitt for Being Rich?

The debate about who is the real jobs outsourcer — Mitt Romney or Barack Obama — may be turning against the Republican with the publication of a Boston Globe report alleging he didn’t really leave Bain Capital in 1999 as he has said. If true, that might allow Democrats to pin responsibility on Romney for actions the company took after his departure. More to the point, this story along with a far murkier attempt to claim that there was something fishy about his personal investments and tax returns published in Vanity Fair makes it clear that liberals are determined to put Romney on trial for the crime of being wealthy, even if there are no credible allegations that he has ever broken any laws or behaved in an unethical manner.

This ought to be enough to persuade Romney that if he wants to win in November he’s going to have to do more than merely point out that the president has run the economy into a ditch without any plan for extricating it. Rather than run away from the charge of being a rich man, perhaps it’s time for him to start focusing his campaign on a defense of economic freedom and capitalism. This will enable Romney to provide a positive context for the smears about his record that isn’t coming across in the media. If the progress of the questionable outsourcing story line has shown, playing it safe and merely critiquing Obama’s failures is not going to be enough to put him over the top in a media environment in which the deck is always going to be stacked against him.

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The debate about who is the real jobs outsourcer — Mitt Romney or Barack Obama — may be turning against the Republican with the publication of a Boston Globe report alleging he didn’t really leave Bain Capital in 1999 as he has said. If true, that might allow Democrats to pin responsibility on Romney for actions the company took after his departure. More to the point, this story along with a far murkier attempt to claim that there was something fishy about his personal investments and tax returns published in Vanity Fair makes it clear that liberals are determined to put Romney on trial for the crime of being wealthy, even if there are no credible allegations that he has ever broken any laws or behaved in an unethical manner.

This ought to be enough to persuade Romney that if he wants to win in November he’s going to have to do more than merely point out that the president has run the economy into a ditch without any plan for extricating it. Rather than run away from the charge of being a rich man, perhaps it’s time for him to start focusing his campaign on a defense of economic freedom and capitalism. This will enable Romney to provide a positive context for the smears about his record that isn’t coming across in the media. If the progress of the questionable outsourcing story line has shown, playing it safe and merely critiquing Obama’s failures is not going to be enough to put him over the top in a media environment in which the deck is always going to be stacked against him.

While Democrats may think they’ve finally gotten Romney by digging up the fact that he was still listed on tax filings as the owner of Bain after he left, there is no real dispute that when he departed the firm to run the 2002 Winter Olympics he ceased to play a role in its activities or decisions. The Obama campaign ads claiming Romney was a “pioneer” in outsourcing are obviously false. In response, the Republicans have counter-punched with generally accurate charges that show how the president’s trillion-dollar stimulus package helped fund “green” companies that actually shipped jobs overseas. The mainstream media has largely resisted taking up this story, but Romney’s real problem is not the outsourcing charge so much as it is the Democrats’ successful attempt to brand him as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

The Vanity Fair feature by leftist author Nicholas Shaxson is part and parcel of this same effort to cast aspersions on Romney’s wealth. Read it through, and you won’t find one single firm allegation that points to illegality or a genuine ethical transgression. The best he can do is to claim Romney invested some of his money abroad, and that due to the technical difficulties of assessing the value of many of his assets, we don’t know exactly how much he is worth. Of course, Romney probably doesn’t know either, but the point of all of Shaxson’s talk about “grey areas,” tax shelters and off-shore accounts is not so much to prove anything about the Republican candidate as it is to paint a picture of the complicated accounting that an investment portfolio of that size requires so as to make Americans suspicious.

Shaxson also throws around the names of the late English newspaper tycoon and scammer Robert Maxwell who invested in one of the early Bain funds back in the 1980s before the collapse of his empire. There’s no wrongdoing here, but it does allow the author to play a little guilt by association with Romney. As for how Romney amassed his wealth, Vanity Fair allows Shaxson to treat the failures of some of the companies Bain invested in as typical of a tactic he says was designed to destroy the firms without providing any of the far more numerous examples of those who prospered under its guidance.

The result is a thin tissue of innuendo spread over a few thousand words that provides little light about Romney’s financial life but speaks volumes about the desire of the left to smear him even though there is very little material for mud slinging in his life.

Yet rather than sit back and let Democrats and their allies in the media define him as a shadowy creature of a sinister Wall Street, this might be a good time for Romney to go on the offensive and start speaking more in defense of free market economics. Stuck with a sagging economy, bad news about employment and bereft of any ideas about what to do about any of this other than spend more money the Treasury doesn’t have, the Democrats might be in a tough spot. But they just may get away with it by putting Mitt Romney on trial for the crime of being wealthy. The question now is whether the Republican is so worried about the focus on his money that he’ll allow himself to be spooked into merely playing defense on the issue. In spite of the way Democrats have exploited the politics of jealousy and resentment, America remains an aspirational society. Instead of fleeing from the charge of being wealthy, Romney needs to emphasize that his success shows the genius of American capitalism and why it must be defended against the party of big government. The public will forgive Romney for being rich but not for ignoring the issue.

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Romney Respect is Labeled Race-Baiting

You might think it would be more offensive for Mitt Romney to skip the NAACP convention entirely than to show up and give a respectful speech as he did yesterday — but you’d be wrong. (Well, actually you’d be half-right: the left probably would have accused Romney of racism either way.)

According to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Romney outed himself as a race-baiter just by showing up at the NAACP. As this theory goes, Romney apparently knew that getting booed would send a subtle signal to racists that he was on their side (via Washington Examiner):

Speaking to TheGrio.com’s Goldie Taylor, O’Donnell said, “Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.”

Taylor agreed with O’Donnell’s assessment, adding Romney appeared “paternalistic” and criticized him for using a “derisive word” like “ObamaCare” to describe the President’s Affordable Health Care act.

Okay, but why would Romney even need to send some sort of clandestine signal to these “racist precincts” O’Donnell mentions? I assume that many of the people in these “racist precincts” possess eyes, and have already caught on to the fact that Obama is African-American and Romney is white. For racists, that choice would probably be self-explanatory. No need for any secret dog whistle there.

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You might think it would be more offensive for Mitt Romney to skip the NAACP convention entirely than to show up and give a respectful speech as he did yesterday — but you’d be wrong. (Well, actually you’d be half-right: the left probably would have accused Romney of racism either way.)

According to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Romney outed himself as a race-baiter just by showing up at the NAACP. As this theory goes, Romney apparently knew that getting booed would send a subtle signal to racists that he was on their side (via Washington Examiner):

Speaking to TheGrio.com’s Goldie Taylor, O’Donnell said, “Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.”

Taylor agreed with O’Donnell’s assessment, adding Romney appeared “paternalistic” and criticized him for using a “derisive word” like “ObamaCare” to describe the President’s Affordable Health Care act.

Okay, but why would Romney even need to send some sort of clandestine signal to these “racist precincts” O’Donnell mentions? I assume that many of the people in these “racist precincts” possess eyes, and have already caught on to the fact that Obama is African-American and Romney is white. For racists, that choice would probably be self-explanatory. No need for any secret dog whistle there.

And yet for some reason this absurd MSNBC claim seems to have caught on. At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky also chimed in:

But [Romney] wasn’t a race-baiter until yesterday. That speech wasn’t to the NAACP. It was to Rush Limbaugh. It was to Tea Party Nation. It was to Fox News. Oh, he said some nice things. And sure, let’s give him one point for going there at all. But listen: You don’t go into the NAACP and use the word “ObamaCare” and think that you’re not going to hear some boos. It’s a heavily loaded word, and Romney and his people know very well that liberals and the president’s supporters consider it an insult. He and his team had to know those boos were coming, and Romney acknowledged as much a few hours later in an interview with . . . guess which channel (hint: it’s the one whose web site often has to close articles about race to commenters because of the blatant racism). Romney and team obviously concluded that a little shower of boos was perfectly fine because the story “Romney Booed at NAACP” would jazz up their (very white) base.

Again — why would Romney even need to wink-nudge pander to this large group of mythical white racists Tomasky speaks of? And if Romney really wanted to show his solidarity with racists, why wouldn’t he just skip the NAACP altogether? That’s like going to address a NARAL conference in order to send a message to the pro-life movement that you’re on their side. No matter how chilly the reception, abortion opponents aren’t going to appreciate it.

In the end, Romney did the brave thing. He addressed a group that he knew he had political differences with and little chance of winning over. He put forward his best case without compromising his political message, and he did it respectfully. That’s more than can be said about President Obama, who didn’t even take the time to attend the conference.

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U.S. Must Nurture Successor to Karzai

Mike O’Hanlon is absolutely right to argue that the U.S. needs to nurture a reformist successor to Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s president. I made the same point in this Council on Foreign Relations Policy Innovation Memorandum.

The suggestion that the U.S. should throw its weight behind a presidential candidate in the 2014 election will jar many who view this as antithetical to democracy. It is not. Indeed, nothing will do more to undermine Afghanistan’s democracy than if the U.S. were to stand by and let malign actors such as various warlords, drug traffickers, and Pakistani intelligence agents anoint their favored candidate, whoever that is, to succeed Karzai. They will have no compunctions about throwing their weight around; neither should we. With 68,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan even after September, we will have a large say in what happens no matter what. Better to use that influence to try to push for the best candidate possible rather than stand by and let someone transparently dishonest or sectarian take power.

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Mike O’Hanlon is absolutely right to argue that the U.S. needs to nurture a reformist successor to Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s president. I made the same point in this Council on Foreign Relations Policy Innovation Memorandum.

The suggestion that the U.S. should throw its weight behind a presidential candidate in the 2014 election will jar many who view this as antithetical to democracy. It is not. Indeed, nothing will do more to undermine Afghanistan’s democracy than if the U.S. were to stand by and let malign actors such as various warlords, drug traffickers, and Pakistani intelligence agents anoint their favored candidate, whoever that is, to succeed Karzai. They will have no compunctions about throwing their weight around; neither should we. With 68,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan even after September, we will have a large say in what happens no matter what. Better to use that influence to try to push for the best candidate possible rather than stand by and let someone transparently dishonest or sectarian take power.

Granted, the U.S. has not had the greatest track record in choosing candidates; Karzai was anointed by the U.S. and our allies at the end of 2001 and, while not as bad as some imagine, he has not been the George Washington, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Lee Kuan Yew, or Konrad Adenauer that Afghanistan desperately needs. Is there such a man (or woman) among the current contenders? Perhaps not, but some are obviously better than others, and with a decade of experience in Afghanistan, American diplomats, political leaders, and intelligence operatives have a much broader base of experience upon which to make a judgment about the contenders than they had in 2001.

The bottom line is that if we fail to anoint a candidate that will be making a choice too—we will be choosing to let the worst elements in Afghanistan control the electoral process. That would be a disaster that would undermine all of the progress our troops have made since 2010.

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Libya and Liberty

The Wall Street Journal has published a story, an editorial, and an op-ed on Libya’s first multi-party elections since the early 1950s. And while complex election rules make it difficult to know the precise outcome, the Journal reports that “Libya’s vote is expected to curb the sway of Islamic groups.”

“Ideology is dead,” according to Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated former Qaddafu-era economic official who defected to become the face of Libya’s revolution last year. “We stand for inclusiveness,” he said of the coalition he leads. According to Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute, “this coalition is not liberal or secular in the Western sense, but it supports a civil state and is opposed to the values of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.”

“This is the day that we fix the past,” Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old medical student told the Journal’s Margaret Coker. “We’ve come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom.”

About these developments, several things can be said. The first is that some critics of the Libyan intervention can still find dark linings in what has occurred. The second is that the Obama administration deserves praise for having intervened. The president’s actions, in concert with our European allies, toppled a brutal dictator and prevented slaughter at minimal human and financial cost to America and the West. Third, Libya’s transition to self-government has a very long way to go and much can go wrong. Still, at this early juncture, the intervention can be fairly judged to have been a success.

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The Wall Street Journal has published a story, an editorial, and an op-ed on Libya’s first multi-party elections since the early 1950s. And while complex election rules make it difficult to know the precise outcome, the Journal reports that “Libya’s vote is expected to curb the sway of Islamic groups.”

“Ideology is dead,” according to Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated former Qaddafu-era economic official who defected to become the face of Libya’s revolution last year. “We stand for inclusiveness,” he said of the coalition he leads. According to Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute, “this coalition is not liberal or secular in the Western sense, but it supports a civil state and is opposed to the values of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.”

“This is the day that we fix the past,” Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old medical student told the Journal’s Margaret Coker. “We’ve come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom.”

About these developments, several things can be said. The first is that some critics of the Libyan intervention can still find dark linings in what has occurred. The second is that the Obama administration deserves praise for having intervened. The president’s actions, in concert with our European allies, toppled a brutal dictator and prevented slaughter at minimal human and financial cost to America and the West. Third, Libya’s transition to self-government has a very long way to go and much can go wrong. Still, at this early juncture, the intervention can be fairly judged to have been a success.

But there are some additional points worth considering, and I’ll do so in the context of Peter Collier’s superbly written biography Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. In it, Collier points out that during the Reagan years, Kirkpatrick was “slightly agnostic” about democracy promotion, that she was skeptical of America’s power “to democratize the world,” and that she was fearful we would be drawn into “expansive, expensive” global projects. She was critical of the Iraq war in part because Iraq lacked “the requirements for a democratic government: rule of law, an elite with a shared commitment to democratic procedures, a sense of citizenship and habits of trust and cooperation.”

On Iraq, Jeane might (or might not) have been correct. It’s too early to tell, just as it is in Egypt, where right now the path to freedom appears to be rockier than what we’re seeing in Libya. It’s certainly true that not every nation on earth is ready for self-government. There are prerequisites, and often outside assistance, that are necessary. But it’s also the case that many nations that have moved successfully toward self-government over the decades didn’t start out with all the “requirements for a democratic government” firmly in place. Even successful journeys can be slow and characterized by setbacks (for more, see America and its Civil War). In addition, as Robert Kagan pointed out in his 1997 essay in COMMENTARY, Kirkpatrick’s brand of realism represented a “strong repudiation of the policy followed by the Reagan administration, which made a very high priority out of promoting democracy in such places as El Salvador, Chile, the Philippines, and South Korea.”

So if elections are not an elixir, it’s also the case that any prudent American strategy needs to accommodate itself to the fact that people in other lands do not want to live in chains. They aren’t keen to live in a police state. The Egyptians overthrew Hosni Mubarak without us lifting a finger. It was an organic uprising, one Mubarak might have averted if years earlier he had put in place reforms.

One final observation: most of us come to these debates with a predisposition for or against democracy promotion (my tropism is toward it while Jeane’s was away from it). It shapes the way we interpret things. But what we tend to learn is that human societies are enormously complicated, and no theory or ideology has perfect predictive powers. There are unintended consequences – some good, some bad – to almost every large undertaking. And human beings, let alone tribes and entire nations, often act in ways we can’t anticipate. Which means that in some places, Kirkpatrick’s skepticism about democracy was misplaced, just as in some places my advocacy for democracy may well hit the rocks.

Conservatism properly understood is skeptical about elevating creeds above human experience. It takes into account habits and customs, what Burke referred to (not unfavorably, by the way) as “prejudices” and “superstitions.” That doesn’t mean conservatism should ever be agnostic about human freedom, as freedom is (I would argue) based on the teleology and design of human nature. It simply means that in anticipating unfolding events, some degree of humility – on all sides – is in order.

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Great Danger in a Post-Assad Syria

Reuel Marc Gerecht has a typically perspicacious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today advocating a stepped-up CIA campaign to oust Bashar al-Assad. He notes: “A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime’s border security wouldn’t be hard.”

Not only would this help to end the bloodshed (estimates are that close to 20,000 people have already been killed), as Gerecht argues, but it would also, as I have previously argued, give the U.S. the ability to shape a post-Assad regime. There is great danger not only in the continuing consequences of all-out civil war in Syria, which could give al-Qaeda and other extremists room to operate, but also great danger in a splintered, chaotic post-Assad environment where the most organized groups could be composed of Sunni fundamentalists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. An active American role now, whether overt or covert, could give us great influence with the rebels and help to avert some of the worst dangers if and when Assad is eventually topped. That is what happened in Libya, and the result is that a secular coalition has won its recent election.

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Reuel Marc Gerecht has a typically perspicacious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today advocating a stepped-up CIA campaign to oust Bashar al-Assad. He notes: “A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime’s border security wouldn’t be hard.”

Not only would this help to end the bloodshed (estimates are that close to 20,000 people have already been killed), as Gerecht argues, but it would also, as I have previously argued, give the U.S. the ability to shape a post-Assad regime. There is great danger not only in the continuing consequences of all-out civil war in Syria, which could give al-Qaeda and other extremists room to operate, but also great danger in a splintered, chaotic post-Assad environment where the most organized groups could be composed of Sunni fundamentalists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. An active American role now, whether overt or covert, could give us great influence with the rebels and help to avert some of the worst dangers if and when Assad is eventually topped. That is what happened in Libya, and the result is that a secular coalition has won its recent election.

Such action would, however, require a level of commitment that the administration has not hitherto displayed. As Gerecht notes, the administration seems to be hoping that Russia can somehow be persuaded to abandon Assad, which seems unlikely. Or else the administration may simply be hoping that Assad will be overthrown even absent much action on the part of the U.S. But, even though there have been a few more defections from the regime in recent days, the Assad inner circle seems to be holding firm. And even though the rebels increasingly control the countryside, the regime appears firmly ensconced in the major cities. With Russian and Iranian support, the regime could stay in power, in at least part of Syria, for a considerable time to come. That is a terrible outcome and one that vigorous American action can help to avert.

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NJDC Backs Down on Adelson Attacks

I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):

Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.

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I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):

Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.

As embarrassing as it is for the NJDC to walk the campaign back, it’s better for them than letting it drag on. Remember, this was the same group that claimed any criticism of Obama’s Israel record amounted to using Israel as a “partisan wedge issue.” Unless the NJDC was willing to publicly call on Alan Dershowitz, the Anti-Defamation League, the Birthright Israel program, AIPAC, and Yad Vashem to cut ties with Adelson, they had no standing to demand Mitt Romney and Republicans to stop taking his donations.

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It’s Paul Krugman on Line Two, Calling With More Free Advice

At the London Review of Books, of all places, Christian Lorentzen has a less-than-admiring portrait of Paul Krugman, who was in London in May plugging his latest book. Krugman went on the BBC’s “Hardtalk” to take questions from journalist Sarah Montague:

A strange theatre ensues whenever Krugman is engaged by a journalist rather than a peer with similar expertise or a politician with actual if undeserved authority. The journalist reminds him of the people who’ve dismissed his ideas and he just shakes his head and says these Very Serious People are wrong. When the journalist goes the other way and flatters him, his ego creeps out:

Montague: If you were advising the Greek government now, what would you say to them?

Krugman: Ah well, you know, I’ve actually had conversations, not with them, but you know, with European politicians.

Montague: With whom?

Krugman: Um, I can’t tell you that.

Montague: But has there been a European government that’s asked for your advice?

Krugman: No, no, I’ve just had conversations.

His face takes on a pained expression, he stammers, puts his finger to his cheek, and for a moment shuts his eyes. You get the sense he’s thinking, why am I not in charge? There’s something sad about the spectacle.

It is, as James Taranto might say, the sad spectacle of a former Enron adviser.

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At the London Review of Books, of all places, Christian Lorentzen has a less-than-admiring portrait of Paul Krugman, who was in London in May plugging his latest book. Krugman went on the BBC’s “Hardtalk” to take questions from journalist Sarah Montague:

A strange theatre ensues whenever Krugman is engaged by a journalist rather than a peer with similar expertise or a politician with actual if undeserved authority. The journalist reminds him of the people who’ve dismissed his ideas and he just shakes his head and says these Very Serious People are wrong. When the journalist goes the other way and flatters him, his ego creeps out:

Montague: If you were advising the Greek government now, what would you say to them?

Krugman: Ah well, you know, I’ve actually had conversations, not with them, but you know, with European politicians.

Montague: With whom?

Krugman: Um, I can’t tell you that.

Montague: But has there been a European government that’s asked for your advice?

Krugman: No, no, I’ve just had conversations.

His face takes on a pained expression, he stammers, puts his finger to his cheek, and for a moment shuts his eyes. You get the sense he’s thinking, why am I not in charge? There’s something sad about the spectacle.

It is, as James Taranto might say, the sad spectacle of a former Enron adviser.

Krugman went on another show to argue against Jon Moulton, chairman of Better Capital, and Andrea Leadsom, a Tory MP and former banker. Lorentzen recounts the following exchange:

“I find his view reckless, frankly,” Leadsom said, “I can’t believe that somebody as incredibly highly regarded as you could honestly think that the answer is to go and borrow more money.” Krugman told her she was confusing an economy with a household.

Late yesterday afternoon, Krugman posted a mini-classic of Krugmanesque analysis on his New York Times blog. It seems “totally obvious to me,” he wrote, that economists and Fed officials are making erroneous assumptions “without realizing it.” They’re making “exactly the same mistake” he demonstrated in 1998 with a chart. We should “pursue unconventional policies on a sufficient scale,” by which I think he means going out and borrowing a lot more money: totally obvious to him.

Back in Europe, a lot of countries are learning that the comparison of a country’s budget to that of a household is not quite as irrelevant as Krugman suggested. In fact, for some of them, the analogy may now be totally obvious.

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