Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 18, 2012

Rand Paul and Israel: An Exchange

Last week, I wrote about the potential impact that the growing influence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will have on the ability of Republicans to portray themselves as a solidly pro-Israel party. Senator Paul has written to respond to that piece. My response follows.

Jonathan S. Tobin’s Nov. 9 column, “Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?” makes some wildly speculative assumptions about me, my positions concerning our ally, Israel, and the Republican Party’s future. Since Mr. Tobin took it upon himself to image some of my positions, I thought it best to set the record straight by stating what they actually are.

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Last week, I wrote about the potential impact that the growing influence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will have on the ability of Republicans to portray themselves as a solidly pro-Israel party. Senator Paul has written to respond to that piece. My response follows.

Jonathan S. Tobin’s Nov. 9 column, “Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?” makes some wildly speculative assumptions about me, my positions concerning our ally, Israel, and the Republican Party’s future. Since Mr. Tobin took it upon himself to image some of my positions, I thought it best to set the record straight by stating what they actually are.

Israel is a strong and important ally of the United States, and we share many mutual security interests. I believe we should stand by our ally, but where I think sometimes American commentators get confused is that I do not think Israel should be dictated to by the United States. I think that has happened too often, and it has been to the detriment of Israel. Too often we have coerced Israel into trading land for peace, or other false bargains. When President Obama stood before the world in 2011 to demand that Israel act against her own strategic interest, I denounced this as unnecessary meddling. As I wrote in May of that year: “For President Obama to stand up today and insist that Israel should once again give up land, security and sovereignty for the possibility of peace shows an arrogance that is unmatched even in our rich history of foreign policy.”

Israel will always know what’s best for Israel. The United States should always stand with its friends. But we should also know, unlike President Obama, when to stay out of the way.

Foreign aid is another example of how our meddling often hurts more than its helps. In my proposals to end or cut back on foreign aid, some have made accusations that my proposals would hurt Israel. Actually, not following my proposals hurt Israel. We currently give about $4 billion annually to Israel in foreign aid. But we give about $6 billion to the nations that surround Israel, many of them antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

Giving twice as much foreign aid to Israel’s enemies simply does not make sense. Our aid to Israel has always been to a country that has been an unequivocal ally. Our aid to its neighbors has purchased their temporary loyalty at best.

These countries are not our true allies and no amount of money will make them so. They are not allies of Israel and I fear one day our money and military arms that we have paid for will be used against Israel.

Mr. Tobin speculates that calls by me and others within the Republican Party for Pentagon cuts somehow would hurt our national defense. It is always sad to see conservatives making liberal arguments. Cutting waste in our military would no more hurt our defense than getting rid of No Child Left Behind would hurt education. Every government agency can withstand a little belt-tightening, especially if we scale back on our overseas presence and focus more on true defense and security.

I voted against the original sequester agreement last year. It amused me to watch many of my colleagues who vote for it now wringing their hands over what they’ve wrought. The problem is, if we don’t keep these cuts, where will they come from? My colleagues have shown no greater stomach for domestic cuts than military ones. And with a now $16 trillion national debt and annual deficits between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, the supposed grown-ups in Washington need to man-up and figure out where to cut. An automatic cut that would disproportionately target military spending was no one’s first choice—but was also the direct result of not enough people getting specific or serious about cuts to begin with.

I am not one of those people. I proposed a fully balanced five-year budget that restored the sequester funds. That path is still open to all Senators so concerned about our defense spending.

But absent the equivalent cuts from elsewhere, I cannot support simply scrapping the sequester.

That’s because the cuts really aren’t that big of a problem, if we also include reform.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and I are now both calling for legislation to audit the Pentagon, believing that a federal department with zero oversight is a good place to start when targeting government waste. We are not the only Republicans to make this observation and I suspect that number will continue to grow. The age of austerity will require as much common sense as possible.

Mr. Tobin is right to note that these are questions that a Republican Party serious about limited government and fiscal responsibility will continue to ask moving forward. But it is absurd to suggest that conservatives who ask these questions are somehow for a weaker defense, or worse, somehow stand on the wrong side of our friend Israel.

Portraying me as being against Israel in any fashion, as Mr. Tobin’s title implies, is as nonfactual as it is offensive. There are many differing opinions about both foreign and domestic policy within Israel. Any healthy, self-governing people necessarily must have robust debate. This is as true in Israel as it is in the United States. The notion that there is an unassailable consensus concerning Israel’s best interests, within the Republican Party, the United States, and even Israel itself, is simple not true and never has been. It assumes too much and asks too little, to the detriment of both countries.

Israel has long been, and will continue to be, one of our greatest allies. I will always fight to maintain the health and strength of this relationship, just as I will always fight for the health, security and best interests of the United States.

Senator Rand Paul, Washington, D.C.

 

Jonathan Tobin Responds:

In a world full of foes of the state of Israel, far be it from me to reject the wish of any prominent politician to be depicted as a friend of the Jewish state. It may be reasonable to suspect that this desire may have more to do with the senator’s possible presidential ambitions (indeed, the fact that he should take the trouble to defend his record on Israel in COMMENTARY can fairly be construed as a clear indication of his plans) but it is welcome nonetheless. However, his record is a little more complicated than he indicates. While the senator may not be as reflexively hostile to Israel as his father Ron or many of their extremist libertarian fans, it is difficult to reconcile his positions on assistance to Israel or his constricted ideas about the role of America in the world with one that is readily identified as supportive of a strong and secure Israel.

First, let’s give Senator Paul credit for saying that Israel ought not to be pressured into making concessions to its antagonists. Paul criticized President Obama for his ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2011 over the 1967 lines. But it should also be pointed out that Paul was conspicuous by his absence from Netanyahu’s address to Congress that earned bipartisan ovations.

Let’s also specify that the senator is right when he notes that at this point in time, Israel would do well to wean itself from any from of foreign assistance. That is a goal that was first articulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1996 during an address to Congress. But when Netanyahu made that speech, Israel was getting as much economic aid as it was military help. That is no longer the case.

When Paul called for an end to “welfare” to Israel, he said that the country’s relative wealth ought to render it ineligible for aid. But almost all the assistance Israel gets nowadays is necessary to redress the imbalance in strength between the Jewish state and the entire Arab and Muslim world that is arrayed against it. Though Paul would accompany an end to military aid to Israel with a ban on assistance to any country that is hostile to it, that wouldn’t undo the harm that a stoppage from the country’s only military ally would cause to a nation that is forced to spend exorbitant amounts on defense in order to cope with foes supported by Iran and even Russia. Nor would it offset the encouragement that such a measure would give Israel’s enemies.

Paul’s position ignores the fact that most of the military assistance is spent right here in the United States. But his willingness to characterize the issue as one in which American kids are being asked to go into debt to pay for “rich” Israel showed his willingness to play the same isolationist cards that won his father the applause of a radical fringe.

But just as troubling are Paul’s positions on U.S. defense and foreign policy, irrespective of the warm feelings he says he harbors for Israel.

An essential part of the U.S.-Israel alliance is the assumption that the United States will maintain its military strength as well as be willing to act to defend its interests abroad. Paul’s isolationist wing of the party acts as if America can afford to more or less withdraw its forces to its own borders and ignore the rest of the world. Paul pretends that the draconian cuts he advocates will not materially affect America’s defense capabilities, but that is mere rhetoric. Just as it would be impossible for the United States to assert its influence abroad in ways that are important to making Israel safer, so, too, will a diminished U.S. military undermine the strategic balance in the region in a way that will hurt it.

It is no small thing that the putative leader of a faction of the Republican Party that is virulently isolationist should wish to be seen as a friend of Israel. But he has a long way to go before his positions can be considered particularly supportive of Israel or the sort of American foreign policy stance that is consistent with maintaining the alliance. Barring an unexpected change of heart, Senator Paul’s higher profile must be considered bad news for Jewish Republicans.

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Murdoch, “Jewish-Owned Press” and Israel

It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

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It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

I imagine Beinart was not incorrect to assume that the primary “Jewish owned press” outlet that Murdoch was thinking of was the New York Times that yesterday led with a front-page op-ed masquerading as a news analysis that mischaracterized the reasons for Israel’s “toughness.” He might also have been thinking about the Jewish ties of the family that has long owned the Washington Post that published this front page the other day. In that context, it wasn’t unreasonable for the non-Jewish Murdoch to wonder why these papers as well as much of the liberal media are often so reflexively hostile to Israel’s cause even when it is clearly the aggrieved party, as it is this week after Hamas rocket attacks set off the current conflict.

In response, Beinart only sees a foolish observer assuming that Jewish publishers should sacrifice their journalistic integrity when covering Israel and assume the pose of Zionist cheerleaders.

But that is not what Murdoch or many other media critics are talking about. Quite the contrary; in the last 30 years we have often seen mainstream publications ditching their integrity to unfairly bash Israel.

Part of Beinart’s own pose as a Jewish critic of Israel is the claim that taking the position that the Jewish state must be saved from itself is so unpopular that it takes courage to stray from the AIPAC playbook. But anyone who has observed the way the media works knows that the opposite is true. The easiest way for any self-identified Jewish writer to get published on the op-ed page of the Times or to get prominent notice in most other mainstream publications is to attack Israel. Indeed, at times it seems the only papers that do regularly publish defenses of Israel against these unfair attacks are the ones Murdoch owns.

Let’s assume that all those who treat Israel unfairly or show bias against it are doing so with motives that are pure as the driven snow. Let us further assume, as we probably should, that all those Jews who do so are not self-hating Jews but just ignorant, blinded by ideology or just as misguided as Beinart.

But let’s not pretend that any journalist who takes such a stance, or a publisher who puts out a newspaper or magazine where Israel is harshly treated, is being brave. Far from it, running with the pack baying for Israel’s blood is the path of least resistance in mainstream media culture.

Under these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that many Jews as well as some non-Jews like Murdoch are given to wondering aloud about why so many Jews in the business are so little moved by Israel’s predicament and so inclined to rationalize the actions of the Jewish state’s foes.

As usual, Beinart has it backwards. Far from wanting Jews in journalism to jettison their professional obligations, what media critics want is for them to return to a position of integrity and to tell the story of the Middle East conflict more accurately. If they did, media bias against Israel wouldn’t be as much of a factor as it is today.

Though Murdoch expressed this sentiment poorly, he was a lot closer to the truth of the situation than the bile that Beinart directed at him.

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Mike Huckabee and the Mind of God

Shortly before the election, former Governor Mike Huckabee narrated an ad urging Americans to vote according to conservative biblical principles.

“Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity,” he says in a Value Voters USA ad. “Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?” Governor Huckabee goes on to pinpoint the issues that will be recorded in eternity.

“Many issues are at stake, but some issues are not negotiable,” Huckabee says. “The right to life from conception to natural death. Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined. It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for the government to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life.”

This ad sparked some lively discussion, including in this interview with Jon Stewart.

Now I’m quite sympathetic to those who believe religious faith has a place in the public square. But I find the ad Governor Huckabee appeared in to be problematic, perhaps because I tend to be wary of those who claim we know which votes will have eternal significance and, in the process, can provide us with the hierarchy of God’s concerns.

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Shortly before the election, former Governor Mike Huckabee narrated an ad urging Americans to vote according to conservative biblical principles.

“Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity,” he says in a Value Voters USA ad. “Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?” Governor Huckabee goes on to pinpoint the issues that will be recorded in eternity.

“Many issues are at stake, but some issues are not negotiable,” Huckabee says. “The right to life from conception to natural death. Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined. It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for the government to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life.”

This ad sparked some lively discussion, including in this interview with Jon Stewart.

Now I’m quite sympathetic to those who believe religious faith has a place in the public square. But I find the ad Governor Huckabee appeared in to be problematic, perhaps because I tend to be wary of those who claim we know which votes will have eternal significance and, in the process, can provide us with the hierarchy of God’s concerns.

It’s not at all clear to me, for example, that a vote against the same-sex marriage initiative in Maryland has more eternal significance that our policies on genocide, world hunger, sexual trafficking, slavery, religious persecution in Islamic and Communist nations, and malaria and global AIDS. A study at the University of British Columbia found that George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years. Might that have more eternal significance than knocking on doors for Todd Akin? 

My point isn’t that Mike Huckabee’s troika of issues aren’t important; it’s that I don’t have confidence that we know the mind of God well enough to declare which legislative votes or particular initiatives matter most to Him.

Nor am I saying that people of faith shouldn’t focus on different issues, given their particular interests, expertise, and calling. That is one thing, and often a good thing; but it’s quite another running an ad announcing with precision the three issues that will be recorded in eternity. Doing so places one right in the thicket of what a “faithful” and “unfaithful” Christian should believe in politics. It begins to move us down the path of a “Christian scorecard,” which I think is a bad idea, and implies that you can’t be a faithful Christian and be a progressive, which is absurd and self-refuting.  

Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t argue for our positions based on what we understand to be biblical principles. But there should be some humility when we do so, and some sense that while justice is a very serious matter, our prudential judgments on the application of justice tend to be imperfect and clouded by our bias and political predispositions. That is, for a complicated set of reasons, we’re drawn to some issues more than others — and those of us who are people of faith tend to build a theological case around the issues we’re instinctively drawn to rather than allow the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to shape our deepest concerns and commitments.

When people of faith engage in politics, then, it requires them to walk a tightrope. There are responsibilities and temptations, which is why it’s important to act with a special measure of care and thoughtfulness. In this instance, in my judgment, Governor Huckabee fell short. 

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The Real Test of Obama’s Support

I think it’s fair to say that most friends of Israel were deeply unhappy with President Obama’s relations with the Jewish state during his first term and deeply fearful of what the second term would bring, now that he was freed of any need to court pro-Israel votes in the future. His reaction to the new Gaza war has, therefore, been as welcome as it is unexpected. He has been whole-hearted in his support of Israel’s right to defend itself against missile attacks. During a press conference today in Thailand he said: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”

That’s an excellent start and will help to reassure Israelis (as Obama no doubt hopes) that he is a reliable ally—which in turn would give him more credibility to forestall an Israeli air strike on the Iranian nuclear program. The question is whether his support will hold if Israel feels compelled to order a ground offensive to clear out the Hamas infrastructure responsible for terrorizing much of southern Israel—something that is notoriously difficult to accomplish from the air.

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I think it’s fair to say that most friends of Israel were deeply unhappy with President Obama’s relations with the Jewish state during his first term and deeply fearful of what the second term would bring, now that he was freed of any need to court pro-Israel votes in the future. His reaction to the new Gaza war has, therefore, been as welcome as it is unexpected. He has been whole-hearted in his support of Israel’s right to defend itself against missile attacks. During a press conference today in Thailand he said: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”

That’s an excellent start and will help to reassure Israelis (as Obama no doubt hopes) that he is a reliable ally—which in turn would give him more credibility to forestall an Israeli air strike on the Iranian nuclear program. The question is whether his support will hold if Israel feels compelled to order a ground offensive to clear out the Hamas infrastructure responsible for terrorizing much of southern Israel—something that is notoriously difficult to accomplish from the air.

Obama did go on to issue a veiled warning against a possible Israeli ground offensive: “If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable. It’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It’s also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”

There is nothing in that statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could disagree with on its face—he too is very wary of sending Israeli troops into Gaza, not only because of the risk of casualties on both sides but also because of the diplomatic risks involved: A Gaza incursion could lead Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood government to sever or at least suspend ties with Israel.

But, much as Israel may be reluctant to move ground troops into Gaza, it may be unavoidable unless Hamas can be convinced to stop firing rockets in the meanwhile. If a Gaza ground incursion were to occur, Israel will need the U.S. to run diplomatic interference at the United Nations and elsewhere to buy time for its troops to finish the job. This is always a difficult undertaking and even the George W. Bush administration–led by the most pro-Israeli president in U.S. history—put considerable pressure on Israel in 2006 to end its incursion into Lebanon after a few weeks. The real test of President Obama’s attitudes will come if there is indeed a ground war. But in the meantime, his full-throated backing for Israel is certainly welcome.

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“Tough” Israelis Understand Region Better than the New York Times

The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.

The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.

As Bronner writes:

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.

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The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.

The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.

As Bronner writes:

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.

At the heart of this critique is a belief that Israelis don’t care about peace. This is ridiculous since, even now, it is probable that a comfortable majority could be found for even the most far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians if it could be reasonably asserted that such a treaty would actually end the conflict rather than merely continue on terms that are less advantageous for the Jewish state. Unfortunately, that is all the Oslo peace process turned out to be. Both the collapse of Oslo in the terror of the second intifada and the transformation of Gaza after Israel’s complete withdrawal from that territory in 2005 into a missile launching pad has convinced the overwhelming majority of Israelis that peace is not possible in the foreseeable future.

That leaves them with no choice but to hang tough until a sea change in the political culture of Palestinians enables them to produce a leadership that might dare to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That angers deluded observers who cling to the idea that the only real obstacles to peace are those created by Israeli policies. But unless you believe, as one Arab academic quoted in Bronner’s piece asserts, that Israel’s creation was a “crime” that must be rectified for there to be peace, the only rational response to Hamas attacks is a periodic effort to “cut the grass” that will make it harder for the terrorists to kill more Jews.

Taken out of the context of Arab intransigence and a fanatical Islamist determination to continue the conflict until Israel is weakened and ultimately destroyed, talk of “cutting the grass” in Gaza seems cynical and hard-hearted. That depiction dovetails with a mindset that views Israelis as military aggressors and out of touch with their neighbors. But it is Bronner’s piece that is detached from reality, not the Israeli grass cutters.

Israel tried repeatedly to make peace in the last 20 years, but only a tiny minority in the country has failed to comprehend that all they accomplished was to trade land for terror and to empower Hamas in the process. The decision of Turkey to abandon its alliance with Israel in pursuit of pan-Islamic glory and the transformation of Egypt from cold peace partner to active ally of Hamas (as well as the tacit acceptance of these developments by the United States) has rendered talk of more concessions even more absurd.

Most Israelis understand the choice facing their country is not between holding onto territory or settlements and peace. It is between death and survival in a war with Palestinian Islamists that has no end in sight. That is a reality that Israel’s liberal critics at the Times and elsewhere haven’t yet come to terms with.

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Reagan Vindicated: Missile Defense Works

The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.

For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.

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The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.

For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.

The U.S. has also cooperated with numerous allies to develop more tactical missiles defenses designed to stop rockets, not in their boost phase, but just before they hit. One of those projects is the Iron Dome system that Israel launched after the 2006 war in Lebanon, during which Hezbollah bombarded northern Israel with thousands of rockets. Today Iron Dome, which is still officially listed as experimental, is operational–and it is blunting Hamas’s missile-offensive against Israel.

According to the Israeli Embassy in Washington: “In the last 4 days: 544 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel + 302 Iron Dome interceptions = 846 rockets fired at us.” The fact that only 302 of 846 rockets were intercepted (36 percent) might indicate that Iron Dome is ineffective. But in fact it is expressly designed to ignore rockets headed for uninhabited areas. Israeli officials say that 90 percent of the attempted interceptions have worked, thus providing critical protection for civilian areas including Tel Aviv, where an Iron Dome battery has just been moved.

Somewhere, wherever he is now, the Gipper must be smiling.

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Are Journalists Paying Hamas Fixers?

I was doing a post-doc and living in Jerusalem during the 2001-2002 terror campaign that preceded Operation Defensive Shield, a military campaign best remembered for the media’s false accusations of a “Jenin Massacre.” As the campaign ramped up, many journalist friends came to Israel to report for CNN, BBC, and other major networks. Sometimes we’d meet up for drinks afterwards and talk about work. I was surprised to learn that most paid “fixers” to work in Gaza.

Producers explained—privately—that the implication for not hiring a fixer was that not only would Fatah (at the time still in control of Gaza) and more extreme factions not grant interviews, but they would also not grant “protection.” The flip side of this, of course, was that networks were effectively paying for stories and were also self-censoring based on their fixers’ affiliation.

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I was doing a post-doc and living in Jerusalem during the 2001-2002 terror campaign that preceded Operation Defensive Shield, a military campaign best remembered for the media’s false accusations of a “Jenin Massacre.” As the campaign ramped up, many journalist friends came to Israel to report for CNN, BBC, and other major networks. Sometimes we’d meet up for drinks afterwards and talk about work. I was surprised to learn that most paid “fixers” to work in Gaza.

Producers explained—privately—that the implication for not hiring a fixer was that not only would Fatah (at the time still in control of Gaza) and more extreme factions not grant interviews, but they would also not grant “protection.” The flip side of this, of course, was that networks were effectively paying for stories and were also self-censoring based on their fixers’ affiliation.

It was a year after this and after the invasion that ended Saddam Hussein’s grip on power in Iraq that CNN executive Eason Jordan penned a New York Times op-ed in which he acknowledged the network’s self-censorship in pre-war Iraq in order to maintain access. While critics focused on CNN’s behavior in Iraq, they did not ask the network to come clean about what news they sanitized in other countries and, in the case of Gaza, territories.

Perhaps it’s time for the news media to explain alongside their broadcasts what money changed hands for fixers and in which countries they feel their access will suffer if they do not please their hosts.

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Daqduq’s Release

I largely agree with Max Boot’s post from Friday evening. Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq’s release from an Iraqi prison and apparent return to Lebanon is a rebuff for President Barack Obama. Certainly, his release is a sign of Iranian pressure on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally and on Iraq in general. While it’s easy to blame Maliki, with American forces withdrawn and so little ability to counter Iranian pressure, his options were limited. Certainly, he might have extradited Daqduq, but having been thrown to the Iranian wolves, doing so might have engendered a response Maliki feared more than Joe Biden’s bluster. For what it’s worth, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement here explaining its decision.

Let me say that I hope there is a Predator with Daqduq’s name on it. If a targeted assassination happens to take out his known associates, all the better. Let’s hope that the intelligence community has the ability to track Daqduq, and that Obama has the wherewithal to order such a strike. The alternative would be waiting around until, with tongue firmly in cheek, Islamist mobs again become enraged at a YouTube video and spontaneously conduct a man-made disaster.

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I largely agree with Max Boot’s post from Friday evening. Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq’s release from an Iraqi prison and apparent return to Lebanon is a rebuff for President Barack Obama. Certainly, his release is a sign of Iranian pressure on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally and on Iraq in general. While it’s easy to blame Maliki, with American forces withdrawn and so little ability to counter Iranian pressure, his options were limited. Certainly, he might have extradited Daqduq, but having been thrown to the Iranian wolves, doing so might have engendered a response Maliki feared more than Joe Biden’s bluster. For what it’s worth, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement here explaining its decision.

Let me say that I hope there is a Predator with Daqduq’s name on it. If a targeted assassination happens to take out his known associates, all the better. Let’s hope that the intelligence community has the ability to track Daqduq, and that Obama has the wherewithal to order such a strike. The alternative would be waiting around until, with tongue firmly in cheek, Islamist mobs again become enraged at a YouTube video and spontaneously conduct a man-made disaster.

Rather than wring hands with outrage at Maliki—any Iraqi prime minister in the same position would likely make the same decision, even Ayad Allawi—the question that the American audience and someone in Congress should ask is why, if the United States wanted to try Daqduq for terrorism and murder, they would not just keep him in the first place. That is certainly a quip I heard from Maliki’s inner circle last month in Baghdad. State Department and Pentagon lawyers might fall over themselves talking about the letter of law and process, but by doing so they lost track of the greater American interest for an artificial and debatable intellectual point.

When lawyers lose perspective and a sense of scale, American national security suffers. Iraq didn’t want to be caught in the middle. Had we simply kept Daqduq, as we should have, they would have shrugged their shoulders and told their Iranian neighbors that he was no longer Iraq’s problem. There is, of course, a certain hypocrisy as well when the Americans urge the Iraqis to cast aside their own judicial process, however flawed it might have been, when the Americans could have resolved the situation just as easily. The simple fact is this: President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Panetta had a choice: Keep Daqduq or let him go. They chose the latter, just as much as Maliki did. And for that, they are just as culpable as the Iraqi leader.

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