Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 13, 2012

Condi Could KO Romney’s Jewish Appeal

Put me down as being among those who are highly skeptical about the prospect of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. The media frenzy about the possibility is understandable but despite all the arguments weighing her possible impact on the general election, you really don’t have to go further than the impact of the issue of abortion. Simply put, Mitt Romney needs a united Republican Party and given the questions that were raised about whether he was a genuine conservative and his late conversion to the anti-abortion cause, the idea that he will pick someone who is pro-choice rather than pro-life seems utterly improbable.

As some wags pointed out during the prelude to the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision, covering a story like Romney’s vice presidential pick is like covering an election without opinion polls. Nobody knows what’s really going on except for Romney. Both Michael and Alana have discussed some of the problems that Rice would create for Romney. The list is already long but there’s one more point to be raised. If Romney is planning on taking advantage of President Obama’s questionable record on Israel in order to eat into the Democrats’ historic monopoly on the Jewish vote, Rice will make that task harder. During her tenure as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration, Rice consistently took stands that were viewed with suspicion by the pro-Israel community. Indeed, it could be said that during Bush’s last two years of office, which was the period during which was ascendant on foreign policy, Rice had reversed the president’s tilt toward Israel as she embarked upon another failed attempt to revive the peace process.

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Put me down as being among those who are highly skeptical about the prospect of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. The media frenzy about the possibility is understandable but despite all the arguments weighing her possible impact on the general election, you really don’t have to go further than the impact of the issue of abortion. Simply put, Mitt Romney needs a united Republican Party and given the questions that were raised about whether he was a genuine conservative and his late conversion to the anti-abortion cause, the idea that he will pick someone who is pro-choice rather than pro-life seems utterly improbable.

As some wags pointed out during the prelude to the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision, covering a story like Romney’s vice presidential pick is like covering an election without opinion polls. Nobody knows what’s really going on except for Romney. Both Michael and Alana have discussed some of the problems that Rice would create for Romney. The list is already long but there’s one more point to be raised. If Romney is planning on taking advantage of President Obama’s questionable record on Israel in order to eat into the Democrats’ historic monopoly on the Jewish vote, Rice will make that task harder. During her tenure as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration, Rice consistently took stands that were viewed with suspicion by the pro-Israel community. Indeed, it could be said that during Bush’s last two years of office, which was the period during which was ascendant on foreign policy, Rice had reversed the president’s tilt toward Israel as she embarked upon another failed attempt to revive the peace process.

Rice, who seems cut from the “realist” school that was most comfortable during the presidency of the elder George Bush, was a persistent critic of Israel even once falsely comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African-Americans prior to the Civil Rights era. Though the second President Bush had formally committed the United States to an endorsement of Israel’s right to hold onto various parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem in a peace accord in 2004, Rice seemed to distance herself from that pledge as she foolishly sought to revive the peace process despite a lack of interest in the idea on the part of the Palestinians. Slipping into the pattern that had been a keystone of U.S. foreign policy under both the first Bush and Bill Clinton, Rice seemed uninterested in holding the Palestinian Authority accountable for its behavior or even its rejection of the offer of a state that it got from Israel at the time of the Annapolis summit that she promoted.

Though Rice’s stands were not aimed at distancing the United States from Israel, as was the intent of President Obama’s constant fighting with Jerusalem prior to his current election-year Jewish charm offensive, she nevertheless developed a reputation as someone who was less committed to the alliance than her boss in the Oval Office.

Rice’s presence on the ticket will cost Romney far more evangelical votes than she could possibly lose in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, Rice will give Jewish Democrats a chance to fire back at Republicans who have been touting the contrast between Obama and Romney. Though Rice is a brilliant and accomplished woman whose personal story will be an inspiration to the country, she will diminish the chances that Romney will, as some expect, gain more Jewish votes than any Republican since Ronald Reagan. That’s not as nearly as important as the problems she will create with the conservative base of the Republican Party but it is one more reason to believe that the Rice boomlet isn’t real.

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Germany Must Do More Than Reverse Circumcision Ban

Last week, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, wrote in the Jerusalem Post about a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 at which he said it was up to her and other leaders as to whether the rising tide of anti-Semitism would determine the future of Jewish life in Europe. He said afterwards she asked him what she could do to help. Thinking back on the question, he said he now had an answer: override the ban on circumcision handed down by a judge in Cologne last month.

While the ruling, along with the troubling growth of Jew-hatred throughout Western Europe and violence in France has raised questions about the viability of Jewish life in Europe, Merkel has answered the rabbi’s challenge. As Reuters reports, the chancellor’s office has issued a statement telling both Jews and Muslims in Germany that they should not be deterred from practicing their faith despite the court ruling. The Berlin government said it would seek a quick resolution that would enable it to override the Cologne decision that banned the circumcision of infants. Yet, while Merkel is to be commended for speaking up for religious freedom in Germany, the bris ban remains a bitter reminder of the history of German anti-Semitism. But it also shone a spotlight on the way in which Jews have been targeted not just by thugs or terrorists but also by European elites in recent years.

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Last week, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, wrote in the Jerusalem Post about a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 at which he said it was up to her and other leaders as to whether the rising tide of anti-Semitism would determine the future of Jewish life in Europe. He said afterwards she asked him what she could do to help. Thinking back on the question, he said he now had an answer: override the ban on circumcision handed down by a judge in Cologne last month.

While the ruling, along with the troubling growth of Jew-hatred throughout Western Europe and violence in France has raised questions about the viability of Jewish life in Europe, Merkel has answered the rabbi’s challenge. As Reuters reports, the chancellor’s office has issued a statement telling both Jews and Muslims in Germany that they should not be deterred from practicing their faith despite the court ruling. The Berlin government said it would seek a quick resolution that would enable it to override the Cologne decision that banned the circumcision of infants. Yet, while Merkel is to be commended for speaking up for religious freedom in Germany, the bris ban remains a bitter reminder of the history of German anti-Semitism. But it also shone a spotlight on the way in which Jews have been targeted not just by thugs or terrorists but also by European elites in recent years.

Swift action by Berlin is necessary, and it is likely the chancellor will get her way. Though many intellectuals throughout Western Europe appear to be slipping back into the continent’s old habits with regard to Jew-hatred, Merkel has demonstrated an understanding of her nation’s historic responsibility. But it will take more than the much needed trashing of the circumcision ruling to reassure European Jewry that they are well and truly safe.

The embrace by European elites of a brand of anti-Zionism that seeks to delegitimize all expressions of Jewish identity has complicated the defense of the rights of religious minorities in Western Europe. Where decades ago, the memory of the Holocaust might have served to deter even the most perverse judge from seeking to curtail religious freedom in Germany, today it increasingly seems as if it is open season on the Jews.

If Merkel is to answer Rabbi Sacks’ challenge, she and her fellow European leaders will have to do more than merely quash the Cologne decision. They must speak up in opposition to the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish identity. If not, the bris ban will be seen as just the beginning of attacks on Jewish rights rather than a regrettable but reversible episode.

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Netanyahu Urges Romney Tisha B’Av Visit

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol confirms new details of Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel:

During discussions about the trip over the last month, advisers to Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the appropriateness of a Romney visit to Israel on this date [Tisha B’Av]. But Netanyahu, the Weekly Standard has confirmed from top aides in Jerusalem and Boston, encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day, one that recalls the tragedies of Jewish history and calls to mind current threats to the Jewish people.

Indeed, the Weekly Standard can report that Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have invited the Romneys to join them for the traditional meal breaking the fast following sundown after Tisha B’Av. This gesture suggests that what may have started out as a routine candidate touchdown in Israel has become a more serious and significant moment for both Netanyahu and Romney.

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At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol confirms new details of Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel:

During discussions about the trip over the last month, advisers to Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the appropriateness of a Romney visit to Israel on this date [Tisha B’Av]. But Netanyahu, the Weekly Standard has confirmed from top aides in Jerusalem and Boston, encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day, one that recalls the tragedies of Jewish history and calls to mind current threats to the Jewish people.

Indeed, the Weekly Standard can report that Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have invited the Romneys to join them for the traditional meal breaking the fast following sundown after Tisha B’Av. This gesture suggests that what may have started out as a routine candidate touchdown in Israel has become a more serious and significant moment for both Netanyahu and Romney.

Some media reports criticized Mitt Romney for scheduling a Jerusalem fundraising event shortly after the conclusion of Tisha B’Av, the day of Jewish mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. But it sounds like the event will now be postponed due to Romney’s dinner with Netanyahu.

Romney could not have chosen a more important and symbolic time to visit Israel this summer. Tisha B’Av and the nine days leading up to it is a time of mourning not just for the temples, but for all the historical atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on that date, from the Alhambra Decree issued in Spain in 1492 to the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to a Nazi extermination camp. Breaking the fast with Netanyahu and his wife will add to the weightiness of Romney’s visit. Politically, it will also sharpen the contrast between Romney and President Obama — it’s hard to imagine Netanyahu and Obama sitting down for any meal together, let alone a meal as intimate and meaningful as this one.

UPDATE: For those interested in additional historical context on Tisha B’av, Rabbi Josh Yuter tweets at me:

Interesting post on Romney’s Israel speech – One quibble, not as much happened on 9Av as many believe

Click the last link to read Rabbi Yuter disputing some common assumptions about Tisha B’av.

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Hamas Summer Camps Are Child Abuse

For several years, the international human rights “community” has been claiming the situation in Hamas-run Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe. This is a lie, because the flow of food and medicine into Gaza has not been halted by Israel and residents of the terrorist enclave are not in danger of perishing for lack of essential materials (unless you think the munitions and construction materials needed for Hamas fortifications qualify under that category). But there is a human rights crisis in the Strip, although it is not the result of any Israeli action. Rather, it is the mass child abuse going under the guise of a summer camp program being run by Hamas.

As the Times of Israel reports, Hamas has replaced UNRWA, the UN agency devoted to caring for and perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem, as the main provider of summer programs for children in the Strip. But rather than fun activities or education designed to promote peace or productive skills, the Hamas camps are geared toward indoctrinating and training the terrorists of the future. The 70,000 children taking part in the “We Will Live Honorably” camps are forced to undergo paramilitary training that apparently includes forcing them to walk on nails and knife blades as well as preparing them for prison. Rather than worrying about what Israel is doing to protect the people living near the Gaza border from terrorist missile fire, human rights groups should be investigating and condemning what appears to be activities that would be labeled as abuse were it taking place in the West.

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For several years, the international human rights “community” has been claiming the situation in Hamas-run Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe. This is a lie, because the flow of food and medicine into Gaza has not been halted by Israel and residents of the terrorist enclave are not in danger of perishing for lack of essential materials (unless you think the munitions and construction materials needed for Hamas fortifications qualify under that category). But there is a human rights crisis in the Strip, although it is not the result of any Israeli action. Rather, it is the mass child abuse going under the guise of a summer camp program being run by Hamas.

As the Times of Israel reports, Hamas has replaced UNRWA, the UN agency devoted to caring for and perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem, as the main provider of summer programs for children in the Strip. But rather than fun activities or education designed to promote peace or productive skills, the Hamas camps are geared toward indoctrinating and training the terrorists of the future. The 70,000 children taking part in the “We Will Live Honorably” camps are forced to undergo paramilitary training that apparently includes forcing them to walk on nails and knife blades as well as preparing them for prison. Rather than worrying about what Israel is doing to protect the people living near the Gaza border from terrorist missile fire, human rights groups should be investigating and condemning what appears to be activities that would be labeled as abuse were it taking place in the West.

Israel’s detractors have begun to talk about Hamas as a “moderate” group that is embracing non-violence as it attempts to expand its reach into the Fatah-run West Bank. But Hamas is an Islamist group whose religious fundamentalism and commitment to violence remains undiminished. While UNRWA has been infiltrated by Hamas, its Summer Games program was clearly an improvement over what Hamas could offer. But under pressure from Hamas, UNRWA canceled the program this year, leaving the Islamist terror group the only provider of summer programs in Gaza.

Just as the Palestinian media (both that of Hamas and the supposedly more moderate Fatah-run Palestinian Authority) is a major source of incitement against Jews and Israel, Hamas summer camps play the same role in breeding hatred and violence. The Hamas camps are not just training the terrorists of the future. They are also helping to create a natural Islamist constituency to perpetuate their rule as well as to prevent any hope of peace or coexistence with Israel. This is an ongoing tragedy that should alarm the world. Unfortunately, the so-called human rights community is too busy trying to indict Israel for defending itself to care.

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Humblebrag: Obama’s Mistake Was Being Too Good at Policy

The first time I watched this, I thought it was just Obama trying to fudge his way out of a difficult question, the way people tend to spin the “what’s your biggest weakness?” answer during job interviews. (Nobody’s buying that claim you’re “sometimes too much of a team player.”)

But after watching a second time, I’m now wondering whether Obama actually believes his own fables. His political team is notoriously insular, and the cult of personality surrounding him would tell him that his biggest problem is he just hasn’t explained his policies to the American people well enough, goshdarnit. The scary news is Obama may truly be as out-of-touch as he appears in this CBS News interview:

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The first time I watched this, I thought it was just Obama trying to fudge his way out of a difficult question, the way people tend to spin the “what’s your biggest weakness?” answer during job interviews. (Nobody’s buying that claim you’re “sometimes too much of a team player.”)

But after watching a second time, I’m now wondering whether Obama actually believes his own fables. His political team is notoriously insular, and the cult of personality surrounding him would tell him that his biggest problem is he just hasn’t explained his policies to the American people well enough, goshdarnit. The scary news is Obama may truly be as out-of-touch as he appears in this CBS News interview:

“When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well,” the president said, “the mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Mr. Obama acknowledged the dissonance between others’ perception of his strength as an expert orator, and his own.

“It’s funny – when I ran, everybody said, well he can give a good speech but can he actually manage the job?” he said. “And in my first two years, I think the notion was, ‘Well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?’ And I think that was a legitimate criticism.”

When did anybody ever criticize Obama for being a great policy wizard who just didn’t spend enough effort communicating his accomplishments to the American people? Can you name one serious pundit who has made this argument? (The White House cheering section at Think Progress and the New York Times editorial page don’t count.) If anything, Obama’s critics — the ones who rightly pointed out that cliche-riddled speeches don’t translate into good governance — have hammered him for a lack of leadership on policy issues. Even Obama’s legislative victories were based on policy drafted by congressional Democrats, not the White House. His budget plans have been voted down unanimously for the last two years by members of his own party in Congress.

And the notion that Obama hasn’t spent enough effort communicating his ideas to the American people is fantasy. This is a president who’s never missed an opportunity to give a speech. The problem is the lack of substance and follow-through. If this is really the Obama campaign’s assessment of its candidate’s weaknesses, then they have much bigger problems than previously thought.

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Brits: Two Years Until Iran Gets a Nuke

In 2007, the American intelligence establishment issued a National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran was not working toward a nuclear weapon. The finding was criticized around the world and was soon disavowed by the Bush administration. Since then, the evidence compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it clear the NIE was more a reflection of the post-Iraq caution on the part of U.S. intelligence in which they are reluctant to sound the alarms about potential threats than an actual belief in Iran’s good intentions. The refinement of uranium at increasingly high rates and other clues as to work on the military applications of nuclear technology have reinforced the widespread conviction that it is only a matter of time before the Iranians achieve their goal. The only serious debate has been about when that day will arrive.

Thus, the statement by the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, that Iran will achieve nuclear capability within two years is sobering news. Sir John Sawyer’s reported remarks give the lie to those who have been attempting to deny the existence of the threat. It also makes clear that whoever wins the U.S. presidency this fall will be faced with a momentous decision that is not being fully discussed in the campaign. Both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have said they will not allow Iran to go nuclear. But putting a date on the expected time that Iran will realize its deadly ambition means that by 2014, either man will have to decide whether to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make good on their pledge to eliminate Israel and to exercise hegemony over the Middle East. Given the utter failure of the president’s feckless attempts at engagement and diplomacy to deal with the problem, Americans must ask themselves whether he or his challenger can be relied upon to act.

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In 2007, the American intelligence establishment issued a National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran was not working toward a nuclear weapon. The finding was criticized around the world and was soon disavowed by the Bush administration. Since then, the evidence compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it clear the NIE was more a reflection of the post-Iraq caution on the part of U.S. intelligence in which they are reluctant to sound the alarms about potential threats than an actual belief in Iran’s good intentions. The refinement of uranium at increasingly high rates and other clues as to work on the military applications of nuclear technology have reinforced the widespread conviction that it is only a matter of time before the Iranians achieve their goal. The only serious debate has been about when that day will arrive.

Thus, the statement by the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, that Iran will achieve nuclear capability within two years is sobering news. Sir John Sawyer’s reported remarks give the lie to those who have been attempting to deny the existence of the threat. It also makes clear that whoever wins the U.S. presidency this fall will be faced with a momentous decision that is not being fully discussed in the campaign. Both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have said they will not allow Iran to go nuclear. But putting a date on the expected time that Iran will realize its deadly ambition means that by 2014, either man will have to decide whether to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make good on their pledge to eliminate Israel and to exercise hegemony over the Middle East. Given the utter failure of the president’s feckless attempts at engagement and diplomacy to deal with the problem, Americans must ask themselves whether he or his challenger can be relied upon to act.

Sawyer apparently alluded to British involvement in a covert campaign  — presumably conducted with or alongside U.S. and Israeli intelligence — against Iran was the only reason Tehran hadn’t obtained nuclear weapons years ago. But such tactics cannot hold up a state determined to go nuclear indefinitely. The MI6 head said when Iran becomes a “nuclear weapons state,” at that point, the leaders of both the United States and Israel would have a decision to make about the problem.

While Sawyer said the West would have a choice once Iran is a “nuclear weapons state,” there will, in fact, be very little leeway for action then. Sawyer’s timetable may be correct, but he’s wrong to say the West and Israel have two years to think about what they will do. If they wait until Iran already has nuclear capability, it will be too late. The point that must be brought home to both Obama and Romney is that the schedule for taking action must long precede the day Iran can announce its achievement. If they delay until then, it will be too late. Containment of a nuclear Iran is, as President Obama said earlier this year, an unacceptable option.

Though diplomatic sources are still pretending the P5+1 talks still have a chance of success, Iran has demonstrated it is not interested even in a compromise that would probably allow them to eventually get to their nuclear goal. It’s also clear that though the latest round of international sanctions are hurting the Iranian economy, the ayatollahs believe they can withstand the pressure coming from inside and outside the country to give in. More to the point, with the U.S. granting widespread exemptions to the oil boycott and not even enforcing earlier sanctions on Iran, Tehran remains convinced President Obama hasn’t the will to confront them.

If the United States is to avoid waking up sometime in 2014 to learn Iran has gone nuclear, it will be up to Obama or Romney to convince the Islamist regime it will be attacked if it doesn’t give in. While the use of force is a last resort, time is rapidly running out for any other option.

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Penn State’s Shift Toward Evil

During the last half-century, you’d be hard-pressed to find many programs in college football that were more respected than Penn State or a coach who was more revered than Joe Paterno. But all that they had achieved now lies in ashes. To understand why, one need only read the results of this investigation into Penn State’s sexual abuse scandal.

The seven-month investigation,  based on 430 interviews and some 3.5 million documents, excoriates the university’s leadership – including then-Head Coach Joe Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz – for covering up allegations of sexual abuse by Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. (Last month Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 sex abuse counts.) This happened in part because they were concerned about negative publicity.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who led the investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.” The report highlights a “striking lack of empathy” for the victims. And the investigation shows that Paterno, who died in January, was an integral part of an “active decision to conceal.” It appears as if the former coach of the Nittany Lions not only lied to reporters but to a grand jury as well. (Paterno insisted he had no knowledge of a 1998 police inquiry into child molestation accusations against Sandusky, his assistant coach.)

The report is a horrifying account of individual and institutional failure, based in part on a “culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus.”

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During the last half-century, you’d be hard-pressed to find many programs in college football that were more respected than Penn State or a coach who was more revered than Joe Paterno. But all that they had achieved now lies in ashes. To understand why, one need only read the results of this investigation into Penn State’s sexual abuse scandal.

The seven-month investigation,  based on 430 interviews and some 3.5 million documents, excoriates the university’s leadership – including then-Head Coach Joe Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz – for covering up allegations of sexual abuse by Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. (Last month Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 sex abuse counts.) This happened in part because they were concerned about negative publicity.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who led the investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.” The report highlights a “striking lack of empathy” for the victims. And the investigation shows that Paterno, who died in January, was an integral part of an “active decision to conceal.” It appears as if the former coach of the Nittany Lions not only lied to reporters but to a grand jury as well. (Paterno insisted he had no knowledge of a 1998 police inquiry into child molestation accusations against Sandusky, his assistant coach.)

The report is a horrifying account of individual and institutional failure, based in part on a “culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus.”

Consider just one incident. In 2000, a janitor at the football building saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers. According to Freeh, “The janitor who observed it says it’s the worst thing he ever saw. He’s a Korean War veteran. … He spoke to the other janitors. They were awed and shocked by it. But, what did they do? They said they can’t report this because they’d be fired. They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the president of the United States. If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top.”

What appears to have happened is that otherwise good men, when confronted with evidence that they had a monster in their midst, decided to cover up the crimes in hopes of protecting their reputations and those of their university. That decision began a chain of events that made them complicit in unspeakable acts.

This is not the first time individuals and institutions have turned a blind eye toward, and then become complicit in, malevolence. It occurred in the Catholic Church as well, as this 2004 report showed. The reasons such things happen are extremely complicated. It starts, I suppose, with — to invoke a word that is increasingly out of fashion these days — sin, which touches all of us to one degree or another. Human beings are a mixture of virtue and vice, of nobility and corruption, of good intentions and depraved motivations. Within every person lies competing and sometimes contradictory moral impulses and currents. It was Solzhenitsyn, in reflecting on his time in the Gulag, who wrote:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

The challenge of civilizations has been to set up institutional arrangements that take into account the human condition and channel it in ways that encourage the good and place a check on evil. What this means is that in our universities, in our churches, and in our political systems – in virtually every human institution – we need checks and balances. We need accountability. And we need transparency. The concentration of power — when combined with pride, arrogance, ambition, and fear — can lead even impressive people to act in unjust and repellant ways.

What happened at Penn State was a massive institutional failure combined with massive personal failures. In the process, crimes were committed. Reputations were destroyed. A university was shamed. And worst of all, children were abused and scarred for life.

This is not a new story, or even the worst story we have seen. But it is sickening enough. At Penn State, the line through the human heart shifted dramatically in the direction of evil.

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Religious Venues as Partisan Outposts?

Back in May, I wrote about the controversy that ensued when a Miami synagogue invited Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to speak at a Friday evening Sabbath service. When members protested about the hijacking of a religious observance for partisan purposes, Miami’s Temple Israel disinvited her, leading to some spurious charges that local Republicans had “bullied” the shul. As Bryan Schwartzman of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports, DWS is back in the news this week for another synagogue appearance, this time at Reform Congregation Knesseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and again, Republicans are complaining.

While this event is far more defensible than the Miami appearance, it still raises some important questions about the way religious institutions get dragged into partisan politics. With polls showing President Obama losing popularity among Jewish voters, Democrats are going all out to try to prevent a precipitous drop in support in this otherwise solidly liberal community. Which means synagogues are on the front lines of a nasty partisan argument that they would do well to avoid.

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Back in May, I wrote about the controversy that ensued when a Miami synagogue invited Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to speak at a Friday evening Sabbath service. When members protested about the hijacking of a religious observance for partisan purposes, Miami’s Temple Israel disinvited her, leading to some spurious charges that local Republicans had “bullied” the shul. As Bryan Schwartzman of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports, DWS is back in the news this week for another synagogue appearance, this time at Reform Congregation Knesseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and again, Republicans are complaining.

While this event is far more defensible than the Miami appearance, it still raises some important questions about the way religious institutions get dragged into partisan politics. With polls showing President Obama losing popularity among Jewish voters, Democrats are going all out to try to prevent a precipitous drop in support in this otherwise solidly liberal community. Which means synagogues are on the front lines of a nasty partisan argument that they would do well to avoid.

We should specify first that there is a big difference between the Miami dustup and the one that is stirring in Pennsylvania. The Elkins Park event is scheduled for a Monday evening and is not part of a synagogue religious observance, meaning that Wasserman Schultz won’t be speaking from the pulpit. The synagogue’s religious leader, Rabbi Lance Sussman, is doing his best to represent the event, which will also feature local Jewish Democratic politicians, as informational. (Full disclosure: I am a member of a Conservative synagogue that shares space at the Knesseth Israel building but is not a co-host of this event.) Sussman, a respected historian, also says he thinks it’s better to hold two separate events in which the major parties will conduct outreach to the community rather than hosting a debate at which the two sides can have at each other.

There is something to be said for that point of view, but the problem is that very little if any effort seems to have been made to schedule a Republican event at the synagogue and, as of this writing, there is nothing in the works. So while the synagogue’s intention may not have been to create the impression of a partisan endorsement, at least for the moment, that is exactly what has happened.

Appearances aside, some question whether the synagogue providing a venue for what is, for all intents and purposes, a partisan political rally, is appropriate or a violation of their tax exempt status. While witch hunts aimed at punishing non-profits for perceived partisanship should be avoided, part of the specific problem here is that, as Adam Kredo reports in the Washington Free Beacon (who obtained an invitation to the event), rather than the Wasserman Schultz appearance being part of a program organized by the synagogue, it appears to be directly staffed by President Obama’s campaign. Theoretically, a Republican event, should one ever occur, could be similarly run by the Romney campaign or its Jewish surrogates. But even if that is true, the spectacle of a political party taking over a religious institution — as opposed to renting its catering hall or public area—is unsettling.

In its defense, Knesseth Israel, which is the largest synagogue in the region, believes it has an obligation to provide programming for its members about important issues where they can hear directly from newsmakers rather than hearing it through the filter of the media. They are right about that. But this is not just one event in a lecture series in which a number of different points of view or issues will be heard. It is a one-off political rally.

It has become all too commonplace for religious venues to become partisan outposts during election years. Sunday services at inner city African-American churches are regular campaign stops for Democrats. Republicans have used evangelical churches in other areas for similar purposes. That is wrong no matter who is the offender. While religious institutions should not be aloof from politics and issues, they should be careful about crossing the line into partisanship. Unlike the Miami dustup, this event falls into a gray area rather than an expression of open partisanship. But given the close identification of Reform Judaism with liberal stands on most of the political issues of the day, all Reform synagogues need to be doubly careful not to reinforce the movement’s proverbial image as a group whose definition of Judaism is the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in. That is not a fair characterization of Reform Judaism, but when synagogues blunder into partisan thickets, they can’t be surprised when they wind up in the middle of disputes in which they have no proper place.

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Arab World Now Nation-Building Challenge

It is certainly good news, as I have previously noted, that Mahmoud Jibril’s secular National Forces Alliance is the big winner in the recent Libyan legislative election–better news certainly than the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has dominated Egypt’s elections or that the more moderate Islamist party Ennahda has taken taken power in Tunisia. It suggests that free elections in the Middle East need not be synonymous with an Islamist takeover; indeed, Libyan voters seemed to recoil from the Islamists’ message that they were somehow better Muslims than anyone else.

But we must not lose sight of the big picture: We are talking about one election only in each country. No matter which path they set down–Islamist or secular–their ultimate destination remains very much unknown. Much will be determined by the success or failure of the new governments, of whatever ideological stripe, in addressing the basic pocketbook issues that people everywhere care about.

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It is certainly good news, as I have previously noted, that Mahmoud Jibril’s secular National Forces Alliance is the big winner in the recent Libyan legislative election–better news certainly than the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has dominated Egypt’s elections or that the more moderate Islamist party Ennahda has taken taken power in Tunisia. It suggests that free elections in the Middle East need not be synonymous with an Islamist takeover; indeed, Libyan voters seemed to recoil from the Islamists’ message that they were somehow better Muslims than anyone else.

But we must not lose sight of the big picture: We are talking about one election only in each country. No matter which path they set down–Islamist or secular–their ultimate destination remains very much unknown. Much will be determined by the success or failure of the new governments, of whatever ideological stripe, in addressing the basic pocketbook issues that people everywhere care about.

That is an especially serious challenge in Egypt, a giant country (population 83 million) whose economy is a government-dominated basket case. Libya, by contrast, is much smaller (population 6.7 million) and much richer because of its oil deposits. (Libya’s GDP per capita is more than $14,000 when calculated for purchasing power parity; Egypt’s is only $6,500.) Thus, on the face of it, Jibril has a better chance of success than Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi. But Jibril will also have his work cut out for him–after all, he was interim prime minister last year and had to step down because he was not having much success in disarming militias, reestablishing order, or helping Libya recover from the conflict that toppled Qaddafi.

Ultimately–unless one of the recent election winners installs a dictatorship, which seems unlikely in the near future–the newly formed Arab governments will be judged on performance, not on election rhetoric or airy promises. And that’s a good thing. But it is also a severe challenge because of the ramshackle nature of the state across the Arab world: for generations, the region has been ruled by autocrats who were only good at one thing–repressing dissent–and even in that area they are looking increasingly incompetent.

The Arab world now presents a giant nation-building challenge. It cries out for an Ataturk, Adenauer, Bismarck, Cavour, Lee Kuan Yew, or Washington–a great leader who can forge a strong state out of unpromising materials. The U.S. and other outside powers can play a role in helping these new state-builders, but only a small one; ultimately, it is up to them.

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Romney Considering Condi?

Yesterday morning, the idea that Condoleezza Rice was topping Mitt Romney’s VP list would have seemed wildly unlikely. It’s amazing what a Drudge scoop and banner headline can do in just a few short hours:

Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Meet The VP’ — just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal.

And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!

The timing of the announcement is now set for “coming weeks.”

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Yesterday morning, the idea that Condoleezza Rice was topping Mitt Romney’s VP list would have seemed wildly unlikely. It’s amazing what a Drudge scoop and banner headline can do in just a few short hours:

Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Meet The VP’ — just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal.

And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!

The timing of the announcement is now set for “coming weeks.”

Ann Romney did say her husband was considering a female candidate, though the initial assumption at the time was that she was referring to Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Sure, Condoleezza has come up in the VP speculation, but it never seemed like a serious consideration for either side. Plus, Condi shut down rumors pretty thoroughly late last month:

Rice told “CBS This Morning” she’s not interested in joining Romney, who has more than enough delegates to win the presidential nod at the party convention in Tampa.

Rice said, “I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elective office.”

Rice also said, “There is no way that I will do this because it’s really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses.” She said Romney will pick a strong running mate and she’ll support the ticket.

That was a pretty straightforward rejection. But it’s always possible she could change her mind, a la Chris Christie.

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol stops short of endorsing the idea, but seems to think Condi’s a possibility:

Who’s the woman? It could be Kelly Ayotte or New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. But as much as I like both of them, I suspect Mitt Romney will see them as risky picks, lacking sufficient high-level government experience to unequivocally answer the question of whether they’d be qualified to take over. No, the woman Ann Romney likely has in mind is Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.

Rice wowed the crowd—and seemed to impress Mitt Romney, who was standing beside her—when she spoke in a featured role at a Romney campaign event two weeks ago in Park City, Utah. Rice is qualified, would be a poised (if novice) candidate, and would complement Romney in terms of area of expertise, gender (obviously!), and life experience. Rice offers an unusual combination of being at once a reassuring pick (she served at the highest levels of the federal government for eight years) and an exciting one.

What’s more, while the other VP possibilities have decent but middling favorable/unfavorable ratings (and are mostly unknown), Rice’s favorable/unfavorable, according to a Rasmussen poll a couple of months ago, is a pretty staggering 66-24. Rice has said she’s not interested—but Dick Cheney said he wasn’t interested at this point in 2000.

There would be many benefits of choosing Rice (particularly the “exciting” but “reassuring” qualities that Kristol notes), but she also carries her own risks. She has little practice on the campaign trail, and Romney seems to want someone who is capable of campaigning independently. It’s hard to tell at this point if Rice is a serious consideration for Romney, or if this is a way to change the subject during a difficult week for the campaign.

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Human Rights Groups Sacrifice Syrians for Misguided Principle

There is no doubt whatsoever that what is occurring in Syria is a humanitarian tragedy. The Assad regime has concluded that Western governments do not have the will to back up their rhetoric with action, and so have accelerated the atrocity and mass slaughter to new levels.  While reports once spoke of a dozen people being killed in a day, some recent reports from Syria suggest an order of greater magnitude is now the norm.

Human rights groups wring their hands that Russia and China are not on the same page at the UN Security Council, but representatives from several prominent groups hold out hope that there can be some sort of magic formula that will bring Moscow and Beijing onboard. Such hope is, of course, misplaced. Syria hosts Russia’s only military base outside the confines of the former Soviet Union, and Vladimir Putin will always prioritize strategic position above averting humanitarian tragedy.

The questions human rights groups need to face is whether it is moral to, in effect, sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians upon the principle that no action is legitimate unless the United Nations says it is. They may not like the question framed in that way, but there is no avoiding it.

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There is no doubt whatsoever that what is occurring in Syria is a humanitarian tragedy. The Assad regime has concluded that Western governments do not have the will to back up their rhetoric with action, and so have accelerated the atrocity and mass slaughter to new levels.  While reports once spoke of a dozen people being killed in a day, some recent reports from Syria suggest an order of greater magnitude is now the norm.

Human rights groups wring their hands that Russia and China are not on the same page at the UN Security Council, but representatives from several prominent groups hold out hope that there can be some sort of magic formula that will bring Moscow and Beijing onboard. Such hope is, of course, misplaced. Syria hosts Russia’s only military base outside the confines of the former Soviet Union, and Vladimir Putin will always prioritize strategic position above averting humanitarian tragedy.

The questions human rights groups need to face is whether it is moral to, in effect, sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians upon the principle that no action is legitimate unless the United Nations says it is. They may not like the question framed in that way, but there is no avoiding it.

There are many military strategies which might provide immediate protection to the Syrian people. Max Boot and Reuel Marc Gerecht have discussed some of them. Syrians point out to me that limited airpower would be effective in stopping the pulverization of neighborhoods and towns by Syrian artillery. Syrian forces are afraid to set up mortars and artillery too close to urban areas, because residents will attack and lynch them. So much of the artillery barrages are launched from open fields, meaning that Western air forces could target the perpetrators with little risk of collateral damage.

It is time human rights groups recognize that the embrace of human rights and support for predominance of the United Nations in the international system are often mutually exclusive values, and be open about whether human rights advocates now place a political agenda above protecting and preserving human rights.

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Reservations About Rice

Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.

Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.

Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

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Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.

Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.

Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

While Rice will be great at advocating for Romney’s record, behind the scenes she may once again sow the seeds of rebellion. Bush administration officials used to joke that Rice’s personnel picks represented 2004 Democratic challenger John Kerry’s farm team. She appointed a number of officials—Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann, and Rand Beers, to name just a few—who may be very competent in their fields of expertise—but used the credibility gained from their perch in the Old Executive Office Building to work against the Bush agenda both privately and then publicly, often directly on behalf of Kerry.

So, Rice was not a great administrator, but the job of the vice president is not to run bureaucracy, so perhaps Romney will forgive her. He should, however, worry about her instincts given her lead on the North Korea issue. In the waning days of the Bush administration, with both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going poorly, Rice was desperate to leave Bush with a foreign policy legacy about which he could brag. Somewhat arbitrarily, she chose North Korea to be that issue, and almost single handedly pushed reconciliation with North Korea through the bureaucracy, regardless of North Korean behavior. For example, she led the drive to lift North Korea’s state sponsor of terror designation, even though, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Pyongyang was still aiding the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Hezbollah in Lebanon (where North Korean engineers have helped Hezbollah build their network of underground tunnels and arms caches). Like Madeleine Albright before her, Rice’s outreach to the Dear Leader was poorly conceived and motivated, and did little but to cede America’s strategic leverage and make North Korea more dangerous.

This election will not be about foreign policy. The repairs Romney will need to make to the American economy and defense must begin on day one. Rice is a talented individual, and her voice as a senior statesman is one that should be listened to, but her track record of management, while at the National Security Council, and her policy decisions while secretary of state are both topics which she has never adequately addressed.

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The Administration Begs Three Questions

Yesterday — for the third time this week — AP reporter Matt Lee asked the State Department spokesperson what the U.S. had done to meet its June 8 commitment to include Israel in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which the U.S. established and co-chairs.

Monday, the spokesman said he was unfamiliar with the issue; Tuesday, he was unable to provide any details; yesterday, Lee pitched the question again:

QUESTION: So I’m led to believe that you have an answer to my question about Israel and the Global Counterterrorism Cooperation Forum or whatever it’s called?

MR. VENTRELL: I do, Matt.

QUESTION: Yes?

MR. VENTRELL: We believe that Israel would make a valuable contribution to the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We have raised the issue of Israeli participation in relevant GCTF activities with a number of GCTF partners at very senior levels. We will continue to do so as we move forward. Our discussion with Israel concerning the GCTF – our discussions have focused on Israeli participation and relevant activities to allow Israel to share its counterterrorism expertise with CT practitioners from GCTF-member and other countries.

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Yesterday — for the third time this week — AP reporter Matt Lee asked the State Department spokesperson what the U.S. had done to meet its June 8 commitment to include Israel in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which the U.S. established and co-chairs.

Monday, the spokesman said he was unfamiliar with the issue; Tuesday, he was unable to provide any details; yesterday, Lee pitched the question again:

QUESTION: So I’m led to believe that you have an answer to my question about Israel and the Global Counterterrorism Cooperation Forum or whatever it’s called?

MR. VENTRELL: I do, Matt.

QUESTION: Yes?

MR. VENTRELL: We believe that Israel would make a valuable contribution to the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We have raised the issue of Israeli participation in relevant GCTF activities with a number of GCTF partners at very senior levels. We will continue to do so as we move forward. Our discussion with Israel concerning the GCTF – our discussions have focused on Israeli participation and relevant activities to allow Israel to share its counterterrorism expertise with CT practitioners from GCTF-member and other countries.

So the U.S. has “raised the issue,” and “will continue to do.” The spokesperson added that “our strong hope” is that Israel will be involved in a working group, and then “potentially become a full member.” Lee’s follow-up confirmed that Israel has not yet participated in the GCTF.

The administration’s third-try answer begged three obvious questions: Why wasn’t Israel included in the GCTF originally? Why wasn’t it included in the 29-nation GCTF conference this week, notwithstanding the U.S. raising the issue “at very senior levels”? How did the specific pre-conference commitment become only a post-conference “hope”? Perhaps Lee or some other reporter should give this a fourth try.

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