Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 24, 2012

Looking For … and Finding … Richard

Students of English history have to be thrilled by the news that a skeleton found at an archeological dig in the city of Leicester may be the last remains of one of the greatest villains in literature as well as a great enigma: Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. Richard III was immortalized in Shakespeare’s play of the same name as the hunchback evildoer who plots and murders his way to the throne only to be struck down by the forces of the righteous Henry Tudor. We know that although Shakespeare’s history plays are brilliant theater, they are far from being objective about their subjects. Shakespeare was, after all, determined to ingratiate himself with Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of the man who deposed Richard.

The revisionists have been busy for the past two hundred years seeking to rehabilitate Richard and portraying him as a modern, even liberal monarch who promoted justice and the welfare of his subjects. But whether you believe him to have been a 15th century version of Bobby Kennedy or not, the discovery of what may well be his bones will open up what should be an entertaining debate about the rights and wrongs of the last battles of England’s War of the Roses as well as about the role of historical myths in shaping a country’s national identity. Though Richard may have been nothing like Shakespeare’s portrait, it must be understood that the play’s contribution to the English — and by extension, American — belief that evil rulers should be overthrown played a part in the formation of a mindset that paved the way for modern democracy.

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Students of English history have to be thrilled by the news that a skeleton found at an archeological dig in the city of Leicester may be the last remains of one of the greatest villains in literature as well as a great enigma: Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. Richard III was immortalized in Shakespeare’s play of the same name as the hunchback evildoer who plots and murders his way to the throne only to be struck down by the forces of the righteous Henry Tudor. We know that although Shakespeare’s history plays are brilliant theater, they are far from being objective about their subjects. Shakespeare was, after all, determined to ingratiate himself with Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of the man who deposed Richard.

The revisionists have been busy for the past two hundred years seeking to rehabilitate Richard and portraying him as a modern, even liberal monarch who promoted justice and the welfare of his subjects. But whether you believe him to have been a 15th century version of Bobby Kennedy or not, the discovery of what may well be his bones will open up what should be an entertaining debate about the rights and wrongs of the last battles of England’s War of the Roses as well as about the role of historical myths in shaping a country’s national identity. Though Richard may have been nothing like Shakespeare’s portrait, it must be understood that the play’s contribution to the English — and by extension, American — belief that evil rulers should be overthrown played a part in the formation of a mindset that paved the way for modern democracy.

Non-Tudor sponsored histories of Richard’s life have always noted that although he may have had what we now understand to be a form of scoliosis, he was not the malevolent hunchback of Shakespeare’s plays. His short reign is notable for the creation of courts that were accessible to the poor as well as to institution of bail for those accused of crimes. He was also a valiant soldier, something that even Shakespeare acknowledges, and died while seeking during the course of the Battle of Bosworth Field to find and kill his rival in single combat, a gesture of Medieval chivalry that Henry VII wanted no part of.

However, even his contemporary supporters must still explain the disappearance and presumed murder of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, whose deposition allowed him to ascend to the throne. They were never heard from after they were locked up after his coronation. Most people have always assumed they were killed at their uncle’s behest. But Richard’s defenders assert there is no proof he killed them and that if they were still alive after Bosworth Field, it was Henry VII who had them executed just as he wiped out every other living male member of the defunct Plantagenet dynasty.

Does any of this matter to us today other than as a purely intellectual diversion? Perhaps not. The Tudors are as dead as the Plantagenets and other than the editors of People Magazine and similar publications, it’s not clear to me if anyone actually cares who sits on the throne of the United Kingdom, though most Brits would be upset if someone weren’t sitting on it.

But what does matter is the role that Shakespeare’s play had in shaping the Western intellectual tradition. The earlier history plays center on what was considered to be the great sin of the deposition of a legitimate if unpopular king. They end with the overthrow of an evil king and his replacement by one we are supposed to think was good. When Shakespeare wrote Richard III in 1591, the assumption that kings ruled by divine right was nearly universal. But a generation or two later, the principle would be challenged in a Puritan Revolution that ended with a king having, as Oliver Cromwell put it, his “head cut off with the crown upon it.”

Though it cannot be said that Shakespeare was much of an influence on the Parliamentary armies during the Civil War that ended the reign of Charles I, his plays were rapidly becoming part of the country’s intellectual foundation. Though we can point to many others sources of the mindset that led to Britain’s evolution to constitutional monarchy, Richard III is one of the mileposts along the way that posited a social compact between the ruler and his realm that redefined divine right as being dependent on good behavior.

The point is not whether Richard III was good or bad. We may all now shrug our shoulders at the rather thin distinctions between the heads of the rival factions of England at the time and declare that Richard is deserving of a reburial in a place of honor. Richard’s white rose of York was no better or worse than his opponent’s Lancastrian red one. But the concept that evil kings must inevitably fall and be replaced by good ones is one that helped pave the way for the Western tradition of government by the consent of the governed. Sometimes myth is just as important as history. In that sense we can all hope that the image of evil Richard is never quite extinguished, even if the anti-Shakespeare revisionists are right.

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Obama’s “Noise” Explanation Doesn’t Cut it

You might have thought you heard President Obama dismissing Israeli concerns about Iranian nukes as “noise” on 60 Minutes last night. But according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, what you really heard was Obama professing his deep and unwavering affection for Israel, his his best friend in the world:

“The president was making clear that his commitment and this country’s commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is as strong as ever and unbreakable in nature,” Carney said. “There’s obviously a lot of noise around this issue at times. His point was clearly that his objective is to take every step possible to enhance Israel’s security as part of our strong relationship with Israel. It is demonstrated by the unprecedented level of cooperation this administration has had with Israel on matters of defense and security.”

Carney’s explanation bears little resemblance to what Obama actually said, but it doesn’t matter — we expect the press to report this uncritically, then lose interest in the story until it’s time to “fact-check” a Republican for taking Obama’s remarks “out of context.”

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You might have thought you heard President Obama dismissing Israeli concerns about Iranian nukes as “noise” on 60 Minutes last night. But according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, what you really heard was Obama professing his deep and unwavering affection for Israel, his his best friend in the world:

“The president was making clear that his commitment and this country’s commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is as strong as ever and unbreakable in nature,” Carney said. “There’s obviously a lot of noise around this issue at times. His point was clearly that his objective is to take every step possible to enhance Israel’s security as part of our strong relationship with Israel. It is demonstrated by the unprecedented level of cooperation this administration has had with Israel on matters of defense and security.”

Carney’s explanation bears little resemblance to what Obama actually said, but it doesn’t matter — we expect the press to report this uncritically, then lose interest in the story until it’s time to “fact-check” a Republican for taking Obama’s remarks “out of context.”

Speaking of which, several Romney surrogates took Obama to task for the “noise” comment today. On a conference call with reporters, Rep. Eric Cantor said he was stunned Obama suggested that Israel wasn’t our closest ally in the Middle East (via NRO):

Reacting to President Obama’s comment in his 60 Minutes interview last night, when Obama referred to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region,” House majority leader Eric Cantor criticized Obama for showing a lack of regard for Israel.

“That took me off guard,” Cantor said of Obama’s remark in a conference call with reporters organized by the Romney campaign, “because I think clearly most Americans would say Israel is undoubtedly our best ally in the region, the one who stands for the same things that we do, and that is, human progress, universal rights, rights of the minority, rights of free speech, and downright democracy and freedom.”

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton also sent out a press statement criticizing Obama:

“President Obama recently characterized Israel’s concern about the prospect of a nuclear Iran as ‘noise,’ and, to add insult to injury, knocked Israel down a notch to simply ‘one of our closest allies in the region.’ But the fact of the matter is that Israel is without a doubt our closest and most reliable ally in the region. Its concerns about an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon aren’t simply noise; they are central not only to self-preservation and security, but also to peace. These comments offer just the latest indication that President Obama doesn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the foreign policy challenges facing our nation.”

Obama supporters may just think his “noise” remark was a case of poorly-chosen words, but it’s actually very revealing. If Obama had just said he was going to focus on doing what’s right for the American people, and left it at that, that would have been fine. Even if he had added that he was going to “block out any other factors,” it wouldn’t have caused such an outcry. The term “noise” is derisive; it suggests that Israel’s concerns are both irritating and unimportant, that they’re not a legitimate part of the debate. That, in addition to Obama’s mild criticism of Iran and reference to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the Middle East,” was what made his comment so troubling. The Romney campaign has rightly seized on it, but we’ll see if the media gives Obama yet another pass.

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Ahmadinejad’s Circus Act Is No Joke

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

It is true, as we hear from those who often urge us not to bother listening to what Ahmadinejad says, that he is not the supreme leader of his country. That is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds his post for life. but he is an important enough player in Iran that the regime felt it necessary to ensure his re-election in 2009 by cooking the books and then violently suppressing the protests that ensued.

Ahmadinejad will, we are told, leave his office at the end of his second term. But while he has become the poster child for Islamist extremism, those journalists who will mourn what is supposed to be the end of his international career need to understand that far from being exceptional, his views perfectly reflect the political culture of the regime.

The inciting of hatred against Jews and other religious minorities in Iran is, after all, not the work of one individual. It is the product of the ayatollah’s religious and political philosophy. The vast terrorist network that starts in Tehran and stretches to Damascus, Beirut, Gaza and anywhere else where Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries can reach (such as Bulgaria, where Israeli tourists were murdered this past summer) is not a figment of Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical flights of fancy. It is a real and deadly threat to the world.

It is natural for even those who are genuinely outraged by Ahmadinejad to make a joke of his New York visit. We can all get a good laugh from the New York Post’s stunt in which they sent a Jewish-themed gift basket to his hotel including gefilte fish, bagels, and a brochure from a Holocaust museum and a free ticket to the show “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”

But the day Iran gets its bomb because the United States spent years pretending that diplomacy would work, instead of setting red lines that might convince the regime the administration meant business, won’t be very funny. Perhaps then those Americans who treated Iran as merely an extension of Ahmadinejad’s comedy act will realize that his anti-Semitism and bluster was no joke.

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Bill Clinton’s Disgraceful Comments About George W. Bush

Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

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Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

In reality, what was “going on” when the “death rate went up” at the beginning of the Bush administration? It was actually the Second Intifada, which began under… President Bill Clinton. Clinton is right that the “death rate” went up. Thousands died in the Palestinian terror war against Israelis civilians that began after the failure of the Clinton Camp David peace talks.

Nonetheless, was Clinton’s position that George W. Bush should encourage more peace talks between the Israelis and Yasser Arafat, despite the violence? It most certainly was not; in fact Clinton’s opinion was decidedly the opposite of that—and that’s exactly what he told Bush. From Martin Indyk’s memoir of the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy—a book that is extremely positive toward Clinton:

On January 23, 2001, Bill Clinton was in his final hours as president. There was one piece of unfinished business he was determined to take care of: it was payback time for Yasser Arafat….

Now Clinton wanted to make it clear to the incoming administration just who they would be dealing with. He had already dwelt at length on Arafat’s perfidy while briefing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that morning. Now he called Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate, who had earlier served as Clinton’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the phone rang, Powell was dressing for a pre-inaugural concert. He was surprised to hear Clinton’s voice. “I just wanted to wish you all the best in your new position,” the president said. Then he launched into a vituperative, expletive-filled tirade against Arafat. Powell understood the real motive for the call. As he would recount it to me, the president warned him, “Don’t you ever trust that son of a bitch. He lied to me and he’ll lie to you.” Arafat had failed his people and destroyed the chances for peace, Clinton emphasized. “Don’t let Arafat sucker punch you like he did me.”

Clinton called everyone he could get an audience with to tell the administration not to deal with Arafat. The Palestinian chairman was a liar, and he “destroyed the chances for peace.” The Bush administration recognized this as well, but made a push for peace once Arafat was gone and the Palestinians had a chance to recalibrate after the succession of Mahmoud Abbas to Arafat’s place and the Gaza disengagement.

Why is it so important to call Clinton out on this every time he repeats it? Because in his quote to Zakaria he blames the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians during the Intifada on Bush. If that’s not what he meant to say, he should clarify immediately. But either way, he owes George W. Bush an apology.

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Senator Dirksen, Call Your Office

Everett Dirksen, the late Republican senator from Illinois, is famous for saying (on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” of all places) about government spending, “a billion here, a billion there and the first thing you know, you’re talking about real money.”

The senator died in 1969, when the national debt stood at $352.7 billion ($2.214 trillion in 2012 dollars, as measured by the CPI), and equal to 39 percent of 1969 GDP. Today, 43 mostly prosperous years later (many of them exceedingly so), the national debt is over $16 trillion–eight times as great in constant dollars–and two and half times as great in terms of GDP.

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Everett Dirksen, the late Republican senator from Illinois, is famous for saying (on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” of all places) about government spending, “a billion here, a billion there and the first thing you know, you’re talking about real money.”

The senator died in 1969, when the national debt stood at $352.7 billion ($2.214 trillion in 2012 dollars, as measured by the CPI), and equal to 39 percent of 1969 GDP. Today, 43 mostly prosperous years later (many of them exceedingly so), the national debt is over $16 trillion–eight times as great in constant dollars–and two and half times as great in terms of GDP.

You’d think it might be an issue in the present campaign. But President Obama is not concerned. Indeed, he is so unconcerned that he can’t even remember what the size of the debt is these days. On “The Late Show with David Letterman” (these late-night talk shows, it seems, have become the agora of modern American politics), Letterman asked if it was now about $10 trillion. That, in fact, was the figure when Obama became president. Today, three and a half years later, it has grown by 60 percent, but Obama can’t remember exactly what it is. My friends at Power Line have the tape.

If Obama is re-elected he will have to be concerned at some point, such as when, to paraphrase Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, the government holds a bond auction and nobody shows up.

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Pro-Israel Dems Turn Against Netanyahu

You would think pro-Israel Democrats would be irate at President Obama’s dismissive attitude toward Israel and his refusal to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. But with the election a month away, partisanship has won over:

”I don’t think it’s necessary for the president to rearrange his schedule,” Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill. ”I didn’t think it was appropriate for the prime minister to publicly get into a dispute with the president of the United States, since we’re both very closely working together to impose sanctions and to force Iran to stop its development of a nuclear weapon.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, blamed ”internal Israeli politics” for the spat.

”Maybe Netanyahu’s for [Republican candidate Mitt] Romney. And he’s making a mistake if he is,” Frank told The Hill when asked why he thought Israel had leaked the news of a perceived ”snub” to the Reuters wire service.

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You would think pro-Israel Democrats would be irate at President Obama’s dismissive attitude toward Israel and his refusal to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. But with the election a month away, partisanship has won over:

”I don’t think it’s necessary for the president to rearrange his schedule,” Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill. ”I didn’t think it was appropriate for the prime minister to publicly get into a dispute with the president of the United States, since we’re both very closely working together to impose sanctions and to force Iran to stop its development of a nuclear weapon.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, blamed ”internal Israeli politics” for the spat.

”Maybe Netanyahu’s for [Republican candidate Mitt] Romney. And he’s making a mistake if he is,” Frank told The Hill when asked why he thought Israel had leaked the news of a perceived ”snub” to the Reuters wire service.

Yes, you read that right. Obama rejects a meeting with Netanyahu, and Netanyahu is to blame for the “dispute” because he supposedly allowed this news to leak to the media. Frank and Waxman seem more concerned that Obama’s snub went public than by the snub itself. In fact, Waxman doesn’t seem to think it was a snub at all — “I don’t think it’s necessary for the president to rearrange his schedule [for Netanyahu],” he told The Hill. If that’s the case, what exactly is Waxman annoyed at Bibi about? It’s not like the prime minister has been out there blasting Obama for rejecting the meeting. Contrary to the claims of conspiracy theorists, Netanyahu can’t control what Republicans say on the campaign trail, and their attacks on Obama over this are not his responsibility.

But not all pro-Israel Democrats are siding with Obama on this one. Ed Koch is once again furious with the president for the snub, Michael Goodwin reports:

“I’m pissed,” [Koch] told me. “I’m not off the bus yet, but I’m pissed and I’m going to harangue them.”

The anger has a familiar, even circular ring: Obama’s making America look like a paper tiger in the face of Islamic violence, and his policy toward Israel is wrong. Obama’s refusal to meet last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “unacceptable.”

“There should be a certain courtesy involved,” Koch said. “You don’t just say we can’t fit him into our schedule.”

Exactly. Obama’s rejection isn’t just troubling for the U.S.-Israel relationship, it also sends a detrimental message to the countries that have knives out for Israel. In his interview with the Washington Post yesterday, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed Israeli threats as mere bluster. The cracks in the U.S.-Israeli relationship must be giving him great encouragement.

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Olmert’s No Threat to Netanyahu

American critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spent the time since his election in early 2009 longing for someone who could knock the Likud leader off his perch. But luckily for Netanyahu, his most likely rivals, such as former Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, have crashed and burned in the intervening years. Ironically, the latest figure to raise the hopes of American Bibi-bashers is someone who actually crashed and burned before Netanyahu’s second term as prime minister began. His predecessor Ehud Olmert has been the subject of a mini-boomlet among some Americans desperate for a new challenger to the incumbent, but you have to take a pretty cynical view of Israeli society to believe that the suspended sentence and fine he was given today by a judge for his conviction for breach of public trust will act as a springboard for a comeback.

Though left-wing American groups like J Street have treated him like a hero, his checkered ethical record as well as the fact that he is widely considered his country’s least successful leader in history are the sort of handicaps that ought to daunt even the boldest of politicians. Though Netanyahu is going through a rough patch right now after a few years of being unchallenged, if the best his liberal American detractors can come up with is someone like Olmert, then he has little to worry about at the next election.

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American critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spent the time since his election in early 2009 longing for someone who could knock the Likud leader off his perch. But luckily for Netanyahu, his most likely rivals, such as former Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, have crashed and burned in the intervening years. Ironically, the latest figure to raise the hopes of American Bibi-bashers is someone who actually crashed and burned before Netanyahu’s second term as prime minister began. His predecessor Ehud Olmert has been the subject of a mini-boomlet among some Americans desperate for a new challenger to the incumbent, but you have to take a pretty cynical view of Israeli society to believe that the suspended sentence and fine he was given today by a judge for his conviction for breach of public trust will act as a springboard for a comeback.

Though left-wing American groups like J Street have treated him like a hero, his checkered ethical record as well as the fact that he is widely considered his country’s least successful leader in history are the sort of handicaps that ought to daunt even the boldest of politicians. Though Netanyahu is going through a rough patch right now after a few years of being unchallenged, if the best his liberal American detractors can come up with is someone like Olmert, then he has little to worry about at the next election.

It is true that Olmert is attempting to spin his evasion of jail time on corruption charges as a vindication. But even by the rough and tumble standards of Israeli politics, it’s hard to imagine that his public apology for misbehavior will be seen as a good reason to put him back into the prime minister’s office. As the judge said at his sentencing, the reason he got such a light sentence (which may be appealed by prosecutors) was because he had already suffered the serious penalty of being driven from office under an ethical cloud.

The fact that his suspended sentence will almost certainly be still in effect when Israeli voters go to the polls sometime next year is also a problem. So, too, is the fact that he faces trial on other serious corruption charges relating to bribery and influence peddling during his years as mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert is a slippery character and his luck may hold in the coming trial as it did in the last one when, despite a large body of evidence pointing to his guilt, he was only convicted on a lesser charge. But as much as he may pretend to be the victim of a political witch-hunt, these are not the sorts of resume items that help you win elections.

Those who speak of an Olmert comeback can point to the way Benjamin Netanyahu rose from the political dead after his ignominious defeat in 1999 after three not terribly popular years as prime minister. It’s true that given time, all political sins might be forgiven. But Netanyahu spent the interim between his two terms rebuilding his reputation with a successful term as finance minister, not dodging jail. For all of his drawbacks, it should also be pointed out that unlike Olmert, Netanyahu did not preside over a disastrous military campaign such as the 2006 Lebanon War. Nor did his poll numbers ever drop as low as those of Olmert, who at one point had a favorability rating that was so miniscule it was actually within the survey’s margin of error raising the theoretical possibility that no one in the country thought he was doing a good job.

Netanyahu probably made a mistake this past spring when he chose to create a grand coalition with the remnants of Kadima rather than going straight to new elections on his own. That alliance didn’t last and he is now locked in a difficult fight with President Obama over Iran that, while not politically fatal, is certainly not to his advantage. But no one currently on the Israeli political scene, like Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, or those who are currently off it, like Olmert and Tzipi Livni–another failed Kadima leader–have much of a shot to beat him at the next election. While a resurgent Labor is bound to replace Kadima as the main opposition, its head Shelly Yachimovich isn’t seen as someone who’s ready to be prime minister.

Like it or not, American Jewish liberals who loathe Netanyahu are still probably going to be stuck with him as Israel’s leader for the foreseeable future. Though his missteps in recent months show he isn’t bulletproof, potential challengers like Olmert show how puny his opposition has become.

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Morsi Advisor: We’re Planning to Amend Camp David

The Egyptian government is looking to scrap parts of its peace treaty with Israel, according to an advisor to President Morsi, claiming a “strategic and security need.” As Jonathan noted yesterday, Morsi has let the Sinai disintegrate into lawlessness, paving the way for incidents like last week’s terrorist attack on Israel. Now Morsi advisors appear to be using the lack of security in the Sinai as a justification for amending the treaty:

In comments published in the online Dostor newspaper, one of Egypt’s independent dailies, a Morsi adviser, Mohammed Seif el-Dawla, was quoted as saying he will soon give the president a proposal on amending the treaty between Egypt and Israel.

El-Dawla provided no details of the proposal, which he said would be drawn up by a panel of consultants. Amending the treaty, he said, was ‘‘a popular demand and a strategic and security need.’’

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The Egyptian government is looking to scrap parts of its peace treaty with Israel, according to an advisor to President Morsi, claiming a “strategic and security need.” As Jonathan noted yesterday, Morsi has let the Sinai disintegrate into lawlessness, paving the way for incidents like last week’s terrorist attack on Israel. Now Morsi advisors appear to be using the lack of security in the Sinai as a justification for amending the treaty:

In comments published in the online Dostor newspaper, one of Egypt’s independent dailies, a Morsi adviser, Mohammed Seif el-Dawla, was quoted as saying he will soon give the president a proposal on amending the treaty between Egypt and Israel.

El-Dawla provided no details of the proposal, which he said would be drawn up by a panel of consultants. Amending the treaty, he said, was ‘‘a popular demand and a strategic and security need.’’

The Egyptian government’s failure to secure the Sinai puts Israel in a tricky position regarding the peace treaty, and it appears that’s the intention. Egypt will point to each cross-border attack on Israel as a reason for why it needs to militarize the area. Meanwhile, efforts by Israel to fight back against the attacks will be criticized by Egypt as a violation of the treaty.

It’s yet another reason why the U.S. should put stipulations on Egypt’s foreign aid, with one of these demands being heightened border security. The aid has given us visibility into the government and the military, which is helpful, but why not get some more political leverage out of it? There’s no point in having leverage if we don’t use it.

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Griping About Ryan All About Romney

When two of the nation’s leading dailies publish major articles on the same sidebar topic on the same day it’s more than a coincidence. The fact that both the New York Times and the Washington Post are both running features about conservative dissatisfaction about the way Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is being utilized in the campaign can be interpreted as just another mainstream media attempt to find fault with the GOP, and perhaps to produce some juicy signs of distrust between supporters of Romney and Ryan in the manner of the John McCain-Sarah Palin “Game Change” fiasco. But while that aspect of the story must have appealed to editors at both papers, there’s no question that it is primarily a function of the dismay in some precincts of the right about Romney.

Despite the attempts by both papers to entice the two members of the Republican ticket and their staffs to backstab each other, neither the Romney nor the Ryan entourages were willing to play that game. That means there’s no “Game Change” shtick to unravel, which makes both stories less interesting than their headlines promised. The two candidates like and admire each other and Ryan has had no problem playing the traditional veep role of attack dog and surrogate while tempering his own positions on the issues to put forward a united front with the boss. Nor is it fair to say that Ryan has not been properly deployed. He’s been beating the bushes in swing states as he should. What’s really going on here is that a lot of people who like Ryan and his intellectual and ideological strengths are starting to worry that the interests of their man as well as his issues are not necessarily going to be advanced if Romney loses.

That there were enough conservatives willing to go on the record about this and to second-guess Romney in this manner tells us a lot about the continuing lack of love he gets from some of his party’s leading lights. The grousing about Ryan’s place in the campaign ought to be a matter of some concern for Romney and his top strategists since it is sign that some Republicans are already preparing for the aftermath of his defeat in November.

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When two of the nation’s leading dailies publish major articles on the same sidebar topic on the same day it’s more than a coincidence. The fact that both the New York Times and the Washington Post are both running features about conservative dissatisfaction about the way Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is being utilized in the campaign can be interpreted as just another mainstream media attempt to find fault with the GOP, and perhaps to produce some juicy signs of distrust between supporters of Romney and Ryan in the manner of the John McCain-Sarah Palin “Game Change” fiasco. But while that aspect of the story must have appealed to editors at both papers, there’s no question that it is primarily a function of the dismay in some precincts of the right about Romney.

Despite the attempts by both papers to entice the two members of the Republican ticket and their staffs to backstab each other, neither the Romney nor the Ryan entourages were willing to play that game. That means there’s no “Game Change” shtick to unravel, which makes both stories less interesting than their headlines promised. The two candidates like and admire each other and Ryan has had no problem playing the traditional veep role of attack dog and surrogate while tempering his own positions on the issues to put forward a united front with the boss. Nor is it fair to say that Ryan has not been properly deployed. He’s been beating the bushes in swing states as he should. What’s really going on here is that a lot of people who like Ryan and his intellectual and ideological strengths are starting to worry that the interests of their man as well as his issues are not necessarily going to be advanced if Romney loses.

That there were enough conservatives willing to go on the record about this and to second-guess Romney in this manner tells us a lot about the continuing lack of love he gets from some of his party’s leading lights. The grousing about Ryan’s place in the campaign ought to be a matter of some concern for Romney and his top strategists since it is sign that some Republicans are already preparing for the aftermath of his defeat in November.

Those like Governor Scott Walker and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol are not wrong when they advocate for a bolder stance from the GOP campaign on entitlement reform and other issues. But while the addition of the Wisconsin congressman to the ticket was a telling statement about Romney’s love of ideas and his willingness to embrace the reformist wing of the party, it didn’t mean that Ryan was going to be become the centerpiece of the campaign. Nor should he be. Each party gets only one candidate for president and no matter how much the running mate may add to that, the focus must be on the name on the top, not the bottom, of the bumper sticker.

If Romney is being perceived as being not as much of a reformer as Ryan or having, as Jonah Goldberg put it, “retreated into an ideological and even intellectual crouch,” it is not because he is ignoring the Ryan magic or his ideas. It’s because the Republican effort must center on Mitt Romney, and for all of his many strengths and flaws, he is not Paul Ryan and never will be.

As for Paul Ryan’s future, those who worry that his association with what could turn out to be a losing presidential campaign will harm his long-term prospects need to calm down. Accepting the nomination was always something of a gamble. If Romney wins, Ryan will not only be vice president but will be put in position to succeed him. But being on a losing ticket is only a long-term liability if the candidate is perceived as having helped ruin its chances. No matter what happens in the final weeks of the campaign, it isn’t likely that anyone will blame Ryan for Romney losing.

Running with Romney has exposed Ryan to the brickbats of the liberal media attack machine but that isn’t likely to stop him from running for president in 2016 if he is so inclined. It may be that some will think that a future Ryan effort to run on an entitlement reform platform will be compromised by Romney’s somewhat half-hearted embrace of some of his ideas. But if Romney does lose, the odds are that the debt and fiscal crisis will be just as urgent then as it is today.

Win or lose, Paul Ryan is probably going to be a major player in national politics for the foreseeable future. All the griping about the campaign tells us is that more than a few Republicans are scared that Romney is losing. If so, they should spend the next few weeks trying to help him. If their fears are justified, there will be plenty of time to start handicapping 2016 after November.

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Ashrawi’s Revealing Statement on Refugees

You know Israel is doing something right when it manages to put both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the PR defensive. And it evidently did exactly that with last week’s conference in New York to raise awareness of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Yesterday, Hamas lambasted the conference as a “dangerous, unprecedented move,” clearly outraged by anything that could undermine the false idea Palestinians have successfully implanted in the world’s consciousness for decades: that they are the only refugees, the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict; hence the world should grant them endless sympathy while treating Israel as the villain.

But Hamas’s pathetic attempt to rewrite history — it claimed the Jews “secretly migrated from Arab countries” before Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and were responsible for the Palestinians’ displacement during that war, whereas in truth, most arrived only after 1948, driven by persecution in their former homes – is far less interesting than the response of Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran PA legislator, member of the PLO’s executive committee and former minister, who once served as spokeswoman of the Palestinian negotiating team and currently functions as a PA envoy-at-large.

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You know Israel is doing something right when it manages to put both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the PR defensive. And it evidently did exactly that with last week’s conference in New York to raise awareness of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Yesterday, Hamas lambasted the conference as a “dangerous, unprecedented move,” clearly outraged by anything that could undermine the false idea Palestinians have successfully implanted in the world’s consciousness for decades: that they are the only refugees, the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict; hence the world should grant them endless sympathy while treating Israel as the villain.

But Hamas’s pathetic attempt to rewrite history — it claimed the Jews “secretly migrated from Arab countries” before Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and were responsible for the Palestinians’ displacement during that war, whereas in truth, most arrived only after 1948, driven by persecution in their former homes – is far less interesting than the response of Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran PA legislator, member of the PLO’s executive committee and former minister, who once served as spokeswoman of the Palestinian negotiating team and currently functions as a PA envoy-at-large.

In an article published in several Arab media outlets, Ashrawi said that terming Jews from Arab lands “refugees” is a “deception and delusion,” because they “migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland.” And “if Israel is their homeland, then they are not ‘refugees;’ they are emigrants who returned either voluntarily or due to a political decision.”

What makes this so interesting isn’t just that this argument only works if Israel is in fact the Jewish homeland – something the PA routinely denies, insisting instead that millennia of Jewish history are a fabrication and that Jews therefore have no rights in the land of Israel. Even more interesting is that the PA rejects this argument with regard to Palestinian refugees.

Though every serious peace plan has proposed resettling Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state-to-be, the PA has consistently demanded that they relocate to Israel instead, saying that otherwise, they would remain refugees. Indeed, its ambassador to Lebanon has said a Palestinian state would even deny citizenship to refugees already living in its territory: They, too, would remain refugees.

By Ashrawi’s logic, what this means is that the Palestinian state won’t be the Palestinian homeland: If it were, then both refugees already in its territory and any who subsequently immigrated to it would cease to be refugees. Hence there would be no reason to demand that they relocate to Israel instead.

But if a Palestinian state won’t be the Palestinian homeland, what conceivable justification could there be for its existence? After all, the point of creating a Palestinian state is supposedly to give the Palestinians a homeland where they can run their own lives and cease to be dependent refugees; if it won’t accomplish that, why bother?

Ashrawi’s statement shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere slip of the tongue, because it reflects something opinion polls have long revealed: To many Palestinians, a Palestinian state really isn’t a longed-for homeland. It’s just a vehicle for destroying Israel.

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What Adelson Wants

There’s been plenty of speculation about what top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson wants out of his massive campaign contributions to Mitt Romney. While the left sees some sinister financial motivation, that idea has always seemed absurd. Is it possible that Adelson’s business would see some benefit under a Romney administration? Maybe, in some minor ways. But he’s the seventh richest man in America, and he’s 79 years old — how much higher can he really go at this point?

Then there’s the related idea, pushed by the New York Times editorial board, that Adelson is trying to get Romney elected so that he can squash the Obama Justice Department’s investigation into his Macau casino operation. But if Adelson was truly just interested in having that investigation disappear, wouldn’t he be better off giving that $100 million to the Obama campaign instead? Why take the risk on Romney, when he could curry favor with the administration that actually has control over the investigation?

No, Adelson’s motivations are far simpler. He is a conservative ideologue, and he’s working to get Romney elected because he supports his politics. He acknowledged as much in today’s interview with Politico’s Mike Allen:

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There’s been plenty of speculation about what top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson wants out of his massive campaign contributions to Mitt Romney. While the left sees some sinister financial motivation, that idea has always seemed absurd. Is it possible that Adelson’s business would see some benefit under a Romney administration? Maybe, in some minor ways. But he’s the seventh richest man in America, and he’s 79 years old — how much higher can he really go at this point?

Then there’s the related idea, pushed by the New York Times editorial board, that Adelson is trying to get Romney elected so that he can squash the Obama Justice Department’s investigation into his Macau casino operation. But if Adelson was truly just interested in having that investigation disappear, wouldn’t he be better off giving that $100 million to the Obama campaign instead? Why take the risk on Romney, when he could curry favor with the administration that actually has control over the investigation?

No, Adelson’s motivations are far simpler. He is a conservative ideologue, and he’s working to get Romney elected because he supports his politics. He acknowledged as much in today’s interview with Politico’s Mike Allen:

Adelson said he recently told Romney: “I want to tell you something: I’m not looking for an ambassadorship. I’m not looking for anything, except if I’m fortunate enough to be invited to another [White House] Hanukkah party, I want two potato pancakes, because last time I was there, they ran out of them.” He explained that he went “to all the Hanukkah parties for the eight years of Bush … but the last time I was there, they ran out of … latkes.” …

Adelson’s political network grew in part through the trips that he and his wife took to Israel with lawmakers through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I’ve accompanied 205 congressmen and senators to Israel,” he recalled. “So, I spend a week with each one of ’em. So, you must know that I have a lot of friends. And why do I have a good friendship with them? Because I never ask ’em for anything — never. And everybody says to me, ‘You’re the only guy that does something for us that never asks for anything.’”

It’s notable that the left can’t seem to grasp the concept that Adelson — and the Koch brothers, for that matter — do what they do because they believe in it. While conservatives are perfectly willing to acknowledge that George Soros is ideologically-driven, many on the left are perplexed by the idea that Republican donors aren’t all motivated by personal financial interests. Because that would mean that conservatives actually believe their policies are beneficial for society, not just their own pockets — an idea that many liberals, including the Times editorial board, just aren’t willing to accept.

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Ahmadinejad’s Stale Script

Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

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Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

Ignatius: Mr. President, can I ask you to turn to the P5+1 negotiations.

Ahmadinejad; “We are sincerely and truly ready. We have given many sound proposals as well. Fundamentally, we have no concerns about moving forward with the dialogue, we have always wanted a dialogue. We have a very clear logic: We do believe that if everyone adheres to the rule of law and everyone respects all parties, that there will be no problems.”

Of course the Iranians want to talk. Their strategy is to buy time, and prolonging failed negotiations that the Iranians conduct in bad faith is forever at the top of the Iranian wish list. But I suppose one question about negotiations is standard. So why does Ignatius take the interview in that direction and rarely veer back onto more concrete items?

The two talk about the P5+1 issue for a bit, but then just as soon as the two have moved on, they come right back to it and have this exchange:

Ignatius: So you wouldn’t expect significant progress until our election is over?

Ahmadinejad: “About the nuclear issue, you mean?”

Ignatius: Yes, dialogue between our two countries, significant progress in any of these negotiations.

Why would there be significant progress after a theoretical Obama re-election? Is Obama the problem? Has Obama been too tough in negotiations with the Iranians? Has the president shown insufficient “flexibility”–the new watchword for Obama’s diplomacy? Isn’t the answer to these questions an obvious “no”? Here is what comes next in the interview:

Ahmadinejad: “I firmly believe that the best type of government is the government that firmly pursues the wishes of her people. We have always been ready and we are ready. But experience has shown that important and key decisions are not made in the U.S. leading up to national elections. Am I right?”

Ignatius: You are correct. …So let me ask you about two issues where everyone wants to make peace and the interests of the United States and Iran might be similar. And the first is Syria. There’s a terrible war eating Syria alive, and I wonder if you, as head of your government, have any proposals that might lead to a just ceasefire. Not the status quo, but something different.

Yes, Mr. Ahmadinejad, you’ve wisely diagnosed the malady afflicting American democracy; now let us negotiate about the Syrian slaughter you’re aiding and abetting: any ideas?

When they finish solving Syria, they come around to this exchange:

Ignatius: What I’m hearing is that perhaps after the U.S. election, if the U.S. is interested in dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, direct discussions might be welcome.

Ahmadinejad: Yes, as I stated we have been the main architects of several regional meetings, three of which have already taken place. And we are very willing to give them green light for their involvement in these gatherings, as well. But the condition is any country’s respect for self-governance and self-rule of Afghanistan, and the independence of Afghanistan.”

More negotiations, this time on Afghanistan.

I’m not suggesting Iran would not, in a more perfect world, have a serious role to play in the stability of the Mideast. But under current conditions, Iran’s concept of a stable Middle East is very different from ours, and its leaders have given us no indication that they take negotiations seriously or mean what they say. The conversation now goes around in circles: Ahmadinejad is asked for his help, he says sure, let’s talk, and then goes back to brutally suppressing his people, executing gays, working toward the annihilation of the Jewish people, and ordering terrorist attacks on Western targets across the globe. Then we ask for his help again.

Do the U.S. and Iran have anything left to say to each other? If they do, you won’t find it in Ahmadinejad’s interviews.

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Does the Mideast Want an Isolationist U.S.?

Anglo-Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, the darling of the moment among the anti-Western intellectual set, has a New York Times op-ed today which seems to translate his wishful thinking–he desires America to leave the Middle East to its own devices–into a prediction that we will in fact do what he desires. I very much doubt that we will do so, no matter who is elected president in November–and if we do the entire region will pay a devastating price. His history is as shaky as his prognosticating.

It is hardly reassuring that Mishra compares the U.S. departure from the Middle East to our defeat in Vietnam in 1975. He seems to imagine we were evicted from South Vietnam by a spontaneous nationalist demonstration. In reality, of course, South Vietnam was conquered by a North Vietnamese armored blitzkrieg. There was never a popular uprising in South Vietnam to express preference for rule from Hanoi; indeed southerners remain resentful to this day of the northern-dominated government (as I discovered on a recent trip to Vietnam).

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Anglo-Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, the darling of the moment among the anti-Western intellectual set, has a New York Times op-ed today which seems to translate his wishful thinking–he desires America to leave the Middle East to its own devices–into a prediction that we will in fact do what he desires. I very much doubt that we will do so, no matter who is elected president in November–and if we do the entire region will pay a devastating price. His history is as shaky as his prognosticating.

It is hardly reassuring that Mishra compares the U.S. departure from the Middle East to our defeat in Vietnam in 1975. He seems to imagine we were evicted from South Vietnam by a spontaneous nationalist demonstration. In reality, of course, South Vietnam was conquered by a North Vietnamese armored blitzkrieg. There was never a popular uprising in South Vietnam to express preference for rule from Hanoi; indeed southerners remain resentful to this day of the northern-dominated government (as I discovered on a recent trip to Vietnam).

Mishra falls for the old Communist propaganda line that Ho Chi Minh was happy to work with the United States but that, in a fit of anti-Communist paranoia, we foolishly rebuffed his overtures: “As early as 1919,” he writes, “Ho Chi Minh, dressed in a morning suit and armed with quotations from the Declaration of Independence, had tried to petition President Woodrow Wilson for an end to French rule over Indochina.” Mishra seems blissfully unaware that just a year later, in 1920, Ho Chi Minh (or, as he was then known, Nguyen Ai Quoc) was a delegate at the Congress which founded the French Communist Party and just a few years after that he went to work as agent of the Russian-run Comintern (Communist International).

If he had bothered to read William Duiker’s definitive biography, “Ho Chi Minh,” he would have found out that, while Ho was a dedicated nationalist, he was an equally dedicated communist–and one who did not hesitate to kill and lock up large numbers of domestic enemies. In other words, hardly an ideal American ally. Ho was willing to work with the U.S. in a common cause (fighting Japan) and he surely hoped for U.S. aid after the war–but then Stalin was willing to receive American aid too. That did not mean that he was a good bet as a long-term American ally. Neither was Ho. Ironically, Mishra goes on to write of the Middle East: “Given its long history of complicity with dictators in the region, from the shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak, the United States faces a huge deficit of trust.” Apparently he does not consider what views of the U.S. would have been in Southeast Asia if we had spent decades cooperating with a Communist dictator like Ho or his even more brutal successor, Le Duan.

He seems to imagine that the Middle East will do as well as Vietnam did after the American defeat in 1975–conveniently ignoring the boat people of Vietnam, the reeducation camps, and the killing fields of Cambodia, all the direct result of American withdrawal. “Although it’s politically unpalatable to mention it during an election campaign,” he writes, “the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling. It’s especially strong as growing energy independence reduces America’s burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon.”

There are multiple levels on which one can object to this astonishing statement (what, exactly, has Israel, a true and not “supposed” ally, done to be termed a “loose cannon”–expressing alarm about the Iranian nuclear program?). But what is most striking to me is the way in which a self-styled spokesman on behalf of the Third World ignores what people in the Middle East are saying. What, exactly, is his evidence that the people of the Middle East want us to leave?

He writes: “It is not just extremist Salafis who think Americans always have malevolent intentions: the Egyptian anti-Islamist demonstrators who pelted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s motorcade in Alexandria with rotten eggs in July were convinced that America was making shady deals with the Muslim Brotherhood.” But do the anti-Islamist activists in Egypt want the U.S. to sever our relations with their country? Hardly. They want a more active American role. So, too, Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, does not want America to leave–he wants our aid, especially our financial aid.

The same case could be extended across the region–from the United Arab Emirates in the east to Morocco in the west, the Middle East is mainly made up of governments that desire close relations with the U.S. and are petrified of the consequences of American withdrawal, which they know will give a free hand to the Iranian mullahs, al-Qaeda, and other malevolent forces. Mishra might dismiss the desires of these governments because many of them are unelected, but even in Libya, the region’s newest democracy, the dominant desire is clearly to ally with the United States, which is why we saw anti-extremist demonstrations in Benghazi recently to protest the killing of the U.S. ambassador.

Mishra should not make the mistake of confusing his own desire (for a post-American world) with the actual views of the people he arrogantly claims to speak for.

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“Morte D’Urban” at Fifty

Fifty years ago this week J. F. Powers published his first novel and masterpiece Morte D’Urban, a satirical study of a Catholic priest who, tempted by the worldly rewards of popular preaching, nevertheless remains “true to his vow of poverty — to the spirit, though, rather than the letter.”

Powers (1917–1999) wrote about parish priests, wrote about them almost exclusively, from the first publication of his first story in a little magazine in 1944. His priests are now familiar types in popular culture, but Powers was the first to dramatize the man of God whose spiritual vocation has disappeared into fundraising and “pastoral” work, which is a fancy name for social visits with aging congregants. “What gave his fiction its force,” Joseph Bottum wrote in calling Powers the greatest Catholic writer of the 20th century, “was the contrast between those little foibles of priestly life and the constantly looming reality of what a priest actually does in the sacraments.”

Nowhere does Power display the contrast more powerfully than in Morte D’Urban. The main character, “fifty-four, tall and handsome but a trifle loose in the jowls and red of eye,” belongs to the Order of St. Clement (a religious order founded by J. F. Powers):

In Europe, the Clementines hadn’t (it was always said) recovered from the French Revolution. It was certain that they hadn’t even really got going in the New World. Their history revealed little to brag about — one saint (the Holy Founder [Powers’s private joke]) and a few bishops of missionary sees, no theologians worthy of the name, no original thinkers, not even a scientist. The Clementines were unique in that they were noted for nothing at all. They were in bad shape all over the world.

Father Urban’s job is to improve their shape, if only financially: He “stumped the country, preaching retreats and parish missions, and did the work of a dozen men.”

The novel begins, appropriately enough, with a fundraising appeal. “For nineteen cents a day, my friends, you can clothe, feed, and educate a young man for the priesthood,” Father Urban says. “For nineteen cents a day, my friends. Tax deductible. By the way, should you want them later, you’ll find pledge cards and pencils in the pew beside you.” He is afraid that Rome is about to begin a “re-evaluation of religious orders, a culling of the herd.” (Powers was prescient in anticipating Pope Paul VI’s and 1965 decree on religious orders, which directed them to “promote among their members an adequate knowledge of the social conditions of the times they live in and of the needs of the Church,” so that “they may be able to assist men more effectively.”) The Clementines exert little influence. Without a “new approach,” Father Urban fears they will be among the first to go. The rest of the novel is the chronicle of his attempts, increasingly hilarious, increasingly baffled, to prod his order closer to “the fast-changing world of today.”

Powers’s subject is usually described as a uniquely Catholic subject, although elsewhere I have called it the basic problem of being religious. Brian Fallon, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, gives a good Catholic wording to it: “why would God entrust His Church to a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors?” The problem is not a uniquely Catholic problem, but Powers catches the uniquely Catholic angle on it and in a uniquely Catholic idiom. Perhaps this explains why, after struggling against the designation “Catholic writer,” Powers eventually acquiesced to it. [Editor’s note: But see below.]

Morte D’Urban is not a novel for Catholics only, however. It is a personal favorite of mine, and always will be, because I read it while sickest from chemotherapy. Afraid of death, I was diverted by Father Urban’s.

The novel won the National Book Award for fiction in 1963, although Robert Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times said the year half a century ago was “an arid year for fiction” (Powers beat out Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, Dawn Powell’s The Golden Spur, Clancy Sigal’s Going Away, and John Updike’s Pigeon Feathers). In his acceptance speech Powers told an anecdote about his daughter Jane, who brought a story she had written for her father’s reaction. “A good, strong story line, dialogue, description, and characterization,” he recalled — “all excellent. But I was beginning to wonder, as the story got better and better, how it would all end. To wonder, yes, and to worry.” Jane’s story stopped in the middle of a sentence. “There, in that little scene,” Powers continued, “I can see the power and the glory of the storyteller — and the responsibility evaded. ‘The man of letters,’ Allen Tate has said, ‘must recreate for his age the image of man, and he must propagate standards by which other men may test that image, and distinguish the false from the true.’ ”

A profound truth, profoundly understated: the novelist carries out his responsibility, recreates his image of man, in how it all ends. By the end of the novel, Father Urban has become Father Provincial (a Jesuit term, which Powers borrows for rather different purposes), the head of the Clementines’ Midwest territory. Debilitated by headaches that leave him disoriented and mute, he takes to opening his breviary and closing his eyes between the waves of the attacks. “Thus he tried to disguise his condition from others,” Powers says, “and thus, without wishing to, he gained a reputation for piety he hadn’t had before, which, however, was not entirely unwarranted now.” This sentence, with its most important content tucked away in an afterthought, is characteristic of his style — as is Powers’s disinclination to say anything more about Father Urban’s newfound piety. The message is pretty clear, though. In the end, Father Urban abandons “the fast-changing world of today” for the presence of grace (that’s the title of Powers’s second collection of stories, published seven years after Morte D’Urban). The mysteries of the sacraments prove to be his vocation, and the Church’s true reality.

Mary Gordon predicts sadly that Powers will not be remembered. He belongs, after all, to the Glossy Age of American fiction when more writers than ever before were adept at perfecting a verbal surface. Powers’s prose is not loud and insistent: his mode is irony, and if Bottum is to be believed, the tenor of his irony, the social institution of the American priesthood in the second half of the 20th century, is gone for good. Yet readers still manage to stumble across Morte D’Urban, 50 years after its publication (thanks to NYRB Classics, it remains in print). And I wouldn’t bet against readers continuing to stumble across copies of it in another 50 years.

Update: J. F. Powers’s daughter Katherine A. Powers, who is editing a collection of her father’s letters to be called Suitable Accommodations: An Unwritten Story of Family Life (and herself a distinguished literary critic who writes a book column for the Barnes & Noble Review known as “A Reading Life”), wrote to correct one thing I say above. J. F. Powers, she writes, “never did reconcile himself to the label of ‘Catholic writer,’ but only occasionally rejected it publicly as such rejections were certain to be construed (he believed) as rejecting the Church — which he did not, though her embrace of mediocrity and banality, especially in the liturgy, and dereliction of duty in the matter of predatory priests was an increasingly difficult thing to bear.”

Fifty years ago this week J. F. Powers published his first novel and masterpiece Morte D’Urban, a satirical study of a Catholic priest who, tempted by the worldly rewards of popular preaching, nevertheless remains “true to his vow of poverty — to the spirit, though, rather than the letter.”

Powers (1917–1999) wrote about parish priests, wrote about them almost exclusively, from the first publication of his first story in a little magazine in 1944. His priests are now familiar types in popular culture, but Powers was the first to dramatize the man of God whose spiritual vocation has disappeared into fundraising and “pastoral” work, which is a fancy name for social visits with aging congregants. “What gave his fiction its force,” Joseph Bottum wrote in calling Powers the greatest Catholic writer of the 20th century, “was the contrast between those little foibles of priestly life and the constantly looming reality of what a priest actually does in the sacraments.”

Nowhere does Power display the contrast more powerfully than in Morte D’Urban. The main character, “fifty-four, tall and handsome but a trifle loose in the jowls and red of eye,” belongs to the Order of St. Clement (a religious order founded by J. F. Powers):

In Europe, the Clementines hadn’t (it was always said) recovered from the French Revolution. It was certain that they hadn’t even really got going in the New World. Their history revealed little to brag about — one saint (the Holy Founder [Powers’s private joke]) and a few bishops of missionary sees, no theologians worthy of the name, no original thinkers, not even a scientist. The Clementines were unique in that they were noted for nothing at all. They were in bad shape all over the world.

Father Urban’s job is to improve their shape, if only financially: He “stumped the country, preaching retreats and parish missions, and did the work of a dozen men.”

The novel begins, appropriately enough, with a fundraising appeal. “For nineteen cents a day, my friends, you can clothe, feed, and educate a young man for the priesthood,” Father Urban says. “For nineteen cents a day, my friends. Tax deductible. By the way, should you want them later, you’ll find pledge cards and pencils in the pew beside you.” He is afraid that Rome is about to begin a “re-evaluation of religious orders, a culling of the herd.” (Powers was prescient in anticipating Pope Paul VI’s and 1965 decree on religious orders, which directed them to “promote among their members an adequate knowledge of the social conditions of the times they live in and of the needs of the Church,” so that “they may be able to assist men more effectively.”) The Clementines exert little influence. Without a “new approach,” Father Urban fears they will be among the first to go. The rest of the novel is the chronicle of his attempts, increasingly hilarious, increasingly baffled, to prod his order closer to “the fast-changing world of today.”

Powers’s subject is usually described as a uniquely Catholic subject, although elsewhere I have called it the basic problem of being religious. Brian Fallon, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, gives a good Catholic wording to it: “why would God entrust His Church to a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors?” The problem is not a uniquely Catholic problem, but Powers catches the uniquely Catholic angle on it and in a uniquely Catholic idiom. Perhaps this explains why, after struggling against the designation “Catholic writer,” Powers eventually acquiesced to it. [Editor’s note: But see below.]

Morte D’Urban is not a novel for Catholics only, however. It is a personal favorite of mine, and always will be, because I read it while sickest from chemotherapy. Afraid of death, I was diverted by Father Urban’s.

The novel won the National Book Award for fiction in 1963, although Robert Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times said the year half a century ago was “an arid year for fiction” (Powers beat out Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, Dawn Powell’s The Golden Spur, Clancy Sigal’s Going Away, and John Updike’s Pigeon Feathers). In his acceptance speech Powers told an anecdote about his daughter Jane, who brought a story she had written for her father’s reaction. “A good, strong story line, dialogue, description, and characterization,” he recalled — “all excellent. But I was beginning to wonder, as the story got better and better, how it would all end. To wonder, yes, and to worry.” Jane’s story stopped in the middle of a sentence. “There, in that little scene,” Powers continued, “I can see the power and the glory of the storyteller — and the responsibility evaded. ‘The man of letters,’ Allen Tate has said, ‘must recreate for his age the image of man, and he must propagate standards by which other men may test that image, and distinguish the false from the true.’ ”

A profound truth, profoundly understated: the novelist carries out his responsibility, recreates his image of man, in how it all ends. By the end of the novel, Father Urban has become Father Provincial (a Jesuit term, which Powers borrows for rather different purposes), the head of the Clementines’ Midwest territory. Debilitated by headaches that leave him disoriented and mute, he takes to opening his breviary and closing his eyes between the waves of the attacks. “Thus he tried to disguise his condition from others,” Powers says, “and thus, without wishing to, he gained a reputation for piety he hadn’t had before, which, however, was not entirely unwarranted now.” This sentence, with its most important content tucked away in an afterthought, is characteristic of his style — as is Powers’s disinclination to say anything more about Father Urban’s newfound piety. The message is pretty clear, though. In the end, Father Urban abandons “the fast-changing world of today” for the presence of grace (that’s the title of Powers’s second collection of stories, published seven years after Morte D’Urban). The mysteries of the sacraments prove to be his vocation, and the Church’s true reality.

Mary Gordon predicts sadly that Powers will not be remembered. He belongs, after all, to the Glossy Age of American fiction when more writers than ever before were adept at perfecting a verbal surface. Powers’s prose is not loud and insistent: his mode is irony, and if Bottum is to be believed, the tenor of his irony, the social institution of the American priesthood in the second half of the 20th century, is gone for good. Yet readers still manage to stumble across Morte D’Urban, 50 years after its publication (thanks to NYRB Classics, it remains in print). And I wouldn’t bet against readers continuing to stumble across copies of it in another 50 years.

Update: J. F. Powers’s daughter Katherine A. Powers, who is editing a collection of her father’s letters to be called Suitable Accommodations: An Unwritten Story of Family Life (and herself a distinguished literary critic who writes a book column for the Barnes & Noble Review known as “A Reading Life”), wrote to correct one thing I say above. J. F. Powers, she writes, “never did reconcile himself to the label of ‘Catholic writer,’ but only occasionally rejected it publicly as such rejections were certain to be construed (he believed) as rejecting the Church — which he did not, though her embrace of mediocrity and banality, especially in the liturgy, and dereliction of duty in the matter of predatory priests was an increasingly difficult thing to bear.”

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“60 Minutes” Liberal Bias on Display Again

As I wrote earlier, the headline coming out of the dueling interviews of President Obama and Mitt Romney on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night was the president’s assertion that he wasn’t going to be diverted from defending the interests of the American people by any “noise” coming from Israel about Iran. This was a clear statement that the administration didn’t have the honesty to admit that its Iran policies have failed and that a course correction was needed. But the show’s producers weren’t content with merely contrasting the president’s position with that of Romney, who strongly criticized Obama for his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel. Instead, seeking to capitalize on the increasing tension between the two countries, they dug up an interview with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan out of their archive.

Dagan is a bitter critic of Netanyahu, and in the piece first broadcast in March he disparaged the prime minister’s sense of urgency about the threat from Iran, claiming more covert operations as well as efforts to promote regime change in Tehran would be smarter than a direct attack on its nuclear facilities. While Dagan is someone whose views on the subject deserve a hearing, the re-rerun of his interview is problematic for several reasons. As I first wrote after the original broadcast back in March, Dagan has personal motives for his public vendetta against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that are not referred to in the segment. But the real problem is that as shaky as Dagan’s case was in March, it is barely relevant today.

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As I wrote earlier, the headline coming out of the dueling interviews of President Obama and Mitt Romney on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night was the president’s assertion that he wasn’t going to be diverted from defending the interests of the American people by any “noise” coming from Israel about Iran. This was a clear statement that the administration didn’t have the honesty to admit that its Iran policies have failed and that a course correction was needed. But the show’s producers weren’t content with merely contrasting the president’s position with that of Romney, who strongly criticized Obama for his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel. Instead, seeking to capitalize on the increasing tension between the two countries, they dug up an interview with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan out of their archive.

Dagan is a bitter critic of Netanyahu, and in the piece first broadcast in March he disparaged the prime minister’s sense of urgency about the threat from Iran, claiming more covert operations as well as efforts to promote regime change in Tehran would be smarter than a direct attack on its nuclear facilities. While Dagan is someone whose views on the subject deserve a hearing, the re-rerun of his interview is problematic for several reasons. As I first wrote after the original broadcast back in March, Dagan has personal motives for his public vendetta against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that are not referred to in the segment. But the real problem is that as shaky as Dagan’s case was in March, it is barely relevant today.

The release of the latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s progress in the last year makes his belief that Israel has “more time” than Netanyahu believed then sound foolish. So, too, does the fact that another round of Western diplomacy with Iran flopped in the intervening months. But the network ran the interview anyway, juxtaposed with those of Obama and Romney in order to make the president look wise and the prime minister and Romney look foolish.

As I wrote in March:

Those who are promoting Dagan as a counterpoint to Netanyahu should remember a few key facts about his unprecedented public advocacy on the Iran issue that are not well known in the United States. Far from being an entirely dispassionate intelligence professional, Dagan’s anger at Netanyahu and Barak stems in no small part from the fact that the pair are the ones responsible for his being fired from his job. This happened after a series of intelligence failures–the most public of which was the disastrous hit on a Hamas official in Dubai.

Second, though interviewer Leslie Stahl focuses her attention on Dagan’s opposition to a strike on Iran now, the subtext to his position is that he spent much of his time at the head of the Mossad working on efforts to spike the ayatollah’s nuclear ambition. Under his leadership, Israeli intelligence concentrated much of its resources on covert activities whose purpose was to slow or stop progress toward an Iranian bomb. Although he says he considers the Iranian regime “rational” (though he added “not exactly our [idea of] rational”), that doesn’t mean he thinks containing a nuclear Iran (something President Obama has now specifically rejected) is a good idea.

Instead, as one might expect from a veteran spook, Dagan wants more emphasis on covert activities and other efforts that are aimed at an even more ambitious project than a mere surgical taking out of Iran’s nuclear facilities: regime change. In the sense that a democratic Iran, or at least one not ruled by Islamist fanatics, would be much safer for Israel and the rest of the world, he is, of course, right. But to say his opinions on this subject are somehow more realistic than the less grandiose intentions of Netanyahu and Barak, who only wish to make sure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t get his hands on a nuke, is obviously a stretch.

The question of how much time Israel has before it is too late to do anything about an Iranian nuclear weapon is not unimportant. Dagan is clearly of the opinion the situation is not yet critical. But, as he was careful to point out to Stahl, “I never said a lot of time. [There is] more time.”

Whatever news value the Dagan interview had six months ago has vanished in the intervening time. The Iranians have proven even more conclusively in this time that cyber attacks on their system have failed. The IAEA report that showed that the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them underground makes the time factor critical. An argument for further delay is tantamount to a concession that Iran will go nuclear and that there is nothing Israel or the West can do about it. As for his hopes for regime change, the idea that the Israelis could ever get President Obama to buy into that idea is comical. The real “noise” here is coming from CBS and Dagan, not Netanyahu.

The only point in running the Dagan interview alongside the Obama/Romney segments was to bolster the president and make Romney’s support of Netanyahu look craven. This is hardly the first time the show has tipped its hand, but the conspicuous nature of this decision ought to embarrass anyone associated with the network. Anyone wishing to argue that “60 Minutes” is not a principal organ of the mainstream liberal media’s partisan agenda is being disingenuous.

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Friends and Foes Dismiss Israeli Concerns

Both President Obama and Iranian election thief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked about the Iranian nuclear situation in separate interviews yesterday. And, as Algemeiner’s Dovid Efune points out, both compared Israel’s concern over the nuclear program to “noise.” First, here is Obama’s comment during an interview that aired on 60 Minutes last night:

 “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis—on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”

And here’s Ahmadinejad, in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

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Both President Obama and Iranian election thief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked about the Iranian nuclear situation in separate interviews yesterday. And, as Algemeiner’s Dovid Efune points out, both compared Israel’s concern over the nuclear program to “noise.” First, here is Obama’s comment during an interview that aired on 60 Minutes last night:

 “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis—on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”

And here’s Ahmadinejad, in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

AHMADINEJAD: “I have spoken about this topic at length, previously. We generally speaking do not take very seriously the issue of the Zionists and the possible dangers emanating from them. Of course they would love to find a way for their own salvation by making a lot of noise and to raise stakes in order to save themselves. But I do not believe they will succeed. Iran is also a very well recognized country and her defensive powers are very clear.”

Notice that Obama also appears to have “downgraded” Israel’s ally status with the U.S. in his interview, as the Washington Free Beacon reports. Israel, said Obama, is “one of our closest allies in the Middle East.” Just one of them? Israel’s status as our closest ally in the region was, up until now, a given. Was this an off-handed error, or is Obama trying to suggest that some recent events in the region put that status into question?

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Turkish Air Sponsoring Anti-Israel Hatefest

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has embraced often crude anti-Semitism and religious incitement. Erdoğan, whom President Obama has identified as one of is his closest foreign friends, has not changed much since he delivered this anti-American and anti-Semitic rant almost 20 years ago.

Now, it seems that Turkish Airlines—Turkey’s state carrier and a member of the Star Alliance—is getting in on the action. While American Muslims for Palestine’s list of sponsors is not online, according to literature at the group’s booth at the recent Islamic Society for North America conference, Turkish Airlines is a major corporate sponsor of American Muslims for Palestine’s forthcoming conference, in addition to which it is encouraging attendance by announcing that the “first 200 Registrants will be entered into a raffle to win an international airline ticket from Turkish Airlines.”

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Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has embraced often crude anti-Semitism and religious incitement. Erdoğan, whom President Obama has identified as one of is his closest foreign friends, has not changed much since he delivered this anti-American and anti-Semitic rant almost 20 years ago.

Now, it seems that Turkish Airlines—Turkey’s state carrier and a member of the Star Alliance—is getting in on the action. While American Muslims for Palestine’s list of sponsors is not online, according to literature at the group’s booth at the recent Islamic Society for North America conference, Turkish Airlines is a major corporate sponsor of American Muslims for Palestine’s forthcoming conference, in addition to which it is encouraging attendance by announcing that the “first 200 Registrants will be entered into a raffle to win an international airline ticket from Turkish Airlines.”

American Muslims for Palestine is not any ordinary organization. Its home page depicts the conference logo—a map of Palestine made from birds showing the Palestinian state encompassing all of Israel. So much for the two-state solution. The AMP conference is due to feature Fadwa Barghouti, wife of imprisoned terrorist Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences for murder. The AMP has for several years worked to promote nakba (catastrophe) commemorations on college campuses, with a goal to delegitimize Israel’s existence. The group’s national campus coordinator moved to disrupt a speech by the Israeli ambassador at UC-Irvine back in 2010. Then again, with a press freedom record worse than Russia’s, the Turkish government and state-owned companies can’t be expected to prioritize free speech over censorship. At the opening ceremony to last year’s AMP conference, a Chicago imam praised “the activists and freedom fighters who gave up their personal ambitions and their own lives so our cause may live.”

Lest Turkish Airlines support of the AMP conference be dismissed on the grounds that the AMP is merely anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, the media coordinator for AMP earlier this month claimed that “The film was financed by 100 Jews, according to the Israeli. Let this be a lesson to our Muslim organizations that still insist it is in our best interest to work with Zionist organizations.”

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. It was bad enough when Turkish Airlines employees sacrificed a camel at the Istanbul airport. It is certainly revealing of the airlines’ disdain not only for its Jewish passengers and for those who seek a peaceful, two-state solution, but also for victims of past terrorism and hijackings. How strange it is that Turkish Airlines’ charity of choice is a group that seeks to pump money into a group which apologizes, if not expresses sympathy, for terrorists.

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Obama Blocks Out Israeli “Noise” on Iran

In separate interviews broadcast last night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama and Mitt Romney aired their differences on a host of issues. While much of the exchange consisted of the usual talking points on the economy from the two candidates, perhaps the most significant statement uttered (the complete transcript can be read here) was when the president was asked about the calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state specific red lines about Iran’s nuclear threat that would trigger U.S. action:

When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

While the second half of that answer sought to paper over the differences between his administration and Israel, there can be no doubt about the import of the first half. It was not only a clear statement from the president that he will not allow himself to be influenced by Netanyahu’s sense of urgency about Iran, but a not-so-subtle attempt to play the “Israel Lobby” card by asserting that he would do “what’s right for the American people.” The implication of this is that what’s good for America is not what’s good for Israel and if Netanyahu doesn’t like it, he can lump it.

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In separate interviews broadcast last night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama and Mitt Romney aired their differences on a host of issues. While much of the exchange consisted of the usual talking points on the economy from the two candidates, perhaps the most significant statement uttered (the complete transcript can be read here) was when the president was asked about the calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state specific red lines about Iran’s nuclear threat that would trigger U.S. action:

When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

While the second half of that answer sought to paper over the differences between his administration and Israel, there can be no doubt about the import of the first half. It was not only a clear statement from the president that he will not allow himself to be influenced by Netanyahu’s sense of urgency about Iran, but a not-so-subtle attempt to play the “Israel Lobby” card by asserting that he would do “what’s right for the American people.” The implication of this is that what’s good for America is not what’s good for Israel and if Netanyahu doesn’t like it, he can lump it.

Of course, even the closest of allies do have separate interests. But on Iran, as even the president has admitted, there is no real difference since a bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs is a threat to both the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” as the Islamist regime’s leadership refers to the United States and Israel.

The issue at hand is not Obama standing up for the American people against “the noise” coming from Israel but whether the president is actually defending those interests by a policy of failed diplomacy combined with belated and ineffective sanctions that no serious person believes can convince Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

While Netanyahu’s statements have been interpreted as an attempt to intervene in American politics, the difference between the two countries centers on the administration’s refusal to concede that its policies have failed. For four years, Obama has tried a strategy of “engagement” and endless negotiations with Iran that flopped badly. The Iranians have used these years to get closer to their nuclear goal.

As the most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed, the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them in underground bunkers that may be invulnerable to air attack. That means that more rounds of futile negotiations in which Iran’s representative can stall the West are likely to mean it will be too late to use force even if the president ever really decides that the game is up.

By refusing to meet with Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York this month (though he will make time to chat with Whoopi Goldberg and the other yentas on “The View” while there), Obama is sending a pointed message to the Israelis that he will kick the can down the road on Iran for as long as he likes. The implication is that once re-elected, it is entirely likely that he will reverse course on containment of a nuclear Iran.

While most observers are blaming the trouble on Netanyahu, the problem remains Obama’s feckless Iran policy. More to the point, if the president considers the plea of Israel’s prime minister to get serious about Iran mere “noise” that is attempting to divert him from defending American interests while he is running for re-election, it isn’t hard to imagine how hostile he will be to the Jewish state during a second term.

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