Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 12, 2012

Jerusalem’s Mayor Defends His City

Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

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Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

Barkat then gets to the practical issues:

By 2030, the city’s population will expand to one million residents from 800,000 today (33% Muslim, 2% Christian and 65% Jewish). Where does the world suggest we put these extra 200,000 residents? The expansion of Jerusalem’s residential areas is essential for the natural growth of all segments of our population. It enables Jewish and Arab families alike to grow and remain in the city. The capital of a sovereign nation cannot be expected to freeze growth rather than provide housing to families of all faiths eager to make their lives there.

As for “E-1,” this land has always been considered the natural site for the expansion of contiguous neighborhoods of metropolitan Jerusalem. “E-1” strengthens Jerusalem. It does not impede peace in our region. The international alarm about planned construction is based solely on the misplaced dreams of the Palestinians and their supporters for a divided Jerusalem.

There are two points worth making here. The first is that in addition to Jewish support for a united capital, the city’s Arab residents who prefer to live in Israel outnumber those who would choose Palestine, making a united Jerusalem also a democratic Jerusalem.

The second point is that Barkat’s seeming incredulity at the sudden support for preventing Israeli sovereignty over E-1 is genuine. As Evelyn wrote earlier, Tzipi Livni is making the same point to foreign diplomats–a point which is within the consensus across the ideological spectrum in Israel. One reason Barkat and others are honestly taken aback by the E-1 controversy is that the Clinton parameters apportioned E-1 to Israel–another point Evelyn made.

So let’s take this to its logical next step. Since the failure of Camp David at the tail end of Clinton’s second term, the chattering classes and the world’s diplomats have accepted, consistently, the following premise: any deal between Israel and the Palestinians over a final-status agreement would be based on the Clinton parameters. So: are the liberal American Jews that Evelyn mentioned, and the foreign diplomats that Livni spoke to, and the members of the press so furious at Netanyahu all finally and forcefully rejecting the Clinton parameters?

That’s the question at the heart of Barkat’s op-ed. As far as I can remember, liberal American Jewish groups have not gone so far as to publicly repudiate that plan, which rejecting Israeli sovereignty over E-1 would do. Are they now rejecting the Clinton parameters?

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If it Walks Like a Terrorist and Talks Like a Terrorist…

Yesterday, Max Boot criticized the Obama administration for the timing of the designation of the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist group. Timing and coherence is not the Obama administration’s forte: If the Obama administration was a person and had a meeting at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, it would show up promptly at 4 p.m. the following Thursday. I largely agree with Max’s analysis:

On the merits the designation is clearly warranted, given the close links between Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the administration has dragged its feet for years in designating other terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network even while they were actually killing Americans. The Taliban still hasn’t been so designated. So why rush to designate the Al Nusra Front? Presumably because the administration is planning to confer diplomatic recognition on the Syrian opposition and wants to make clear its disapproval of the jihadist element of the opposition….

I disagree with Max’s implication that the Obama administration should have held off its designation. Max writes, “However justifiable morally, the designation of the Al Nusra Front makes little tactical sense at this moment. From the rebels’ perspective it is simply playing into Assad’s hands without doing anything concrete to bolster the non-jihadist opposition.”

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Yesterday, Max Boot criticized the Obama administration for the timing of the designation of the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist group. Timing and coherence is not the Obama administration’s forte: If the Obama administration was a person and had a meeting at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, it would show up promptly at 4 p.m. the following Thursday. I largely agree with Max’s analysis:

On the merits the designation is clearly warranted, given the close links between Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the administration has dragged its feet for years in designating other terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network even while they were actually killing Americans. The Taliban still hasn’t been so designated. So why rush to designate the Al Nusra Front? Presumably because the administration is planning to confer diplomatic recognition on the Syrian opposition and wants to make clear its disapproval of the jihadist element of the opposition….

I disagree with Max’s implication that the Obama administration should have held off its designation. Max writes, “However justifiable morally, the designation of the Al Nusra Front makes little tactical sense at this moment. From the rebels’ perspective it is simply playing into Assad’s hands without doing anything concrete to bolster the non-jihadist opposition.”

It is certainly true that a significant portion of the Syrian opposition has rallied around the Nusra Front in the wake of its designation, rather than shunned the group as some U.S. policymakers might have hoped. Rather than castigate the White House, it is important to recognize reality: The most effective factions within the Syrian opposition are now radical. Certainly, it didn’t have to be this way, had we only come to the support of the good guys a year and a half ago, before the radicals sank their roots. But, it behooves use to deal with the here and now.

On December 1, there was a suicide bombing in al-Qusayr, near Homs. Here is an excerpt from the Nusra Front’s claim of responsibility:

Praise be to Allah, who granted victory to His soldiers and defeated the parties alone. Peace and prayer be upon His Messenger, Muhammad, after whom there are no other Prophets, and upon his family and his Companions. And thereafter: Thanks to Allah the Almighty, and due to His grace, one of the soldiers of the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant pounded Sharkas barrier with explosives-laden vehicle in a heroic martyrdom-seeking operation… The al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant promises its people in the city of al-Qusayr more earth shaking operations, Allah permitting, and we say to them: Our blood is sacrificed for yours, and our honor for yours. You will see from us what will please you and cool your chests and frustrate your enemies, Allah willing. This blessed operation is merely the beginning.

Yesterday, 10 Jihadist groups, including the Nusra Front, united in the Islamist hotbed of Deir az-Zour. Here is an excerpt from their press release:

The dawn of jihad has began to emerge on the land of the Levant after its rays were hidden and its fire was extinguished, until Allah dedicated men for it who don’t sleep amidst oppression nor accept humiliation and injustice; rather, they seek death and carry their lives on their palms, seeking nothing other than victory or martyrdom.

Sometimes, if it walks like a terrorist and talks like a terrorist, it is a terrorist. And we shouldn’t allow political considerations to determine the designation. Max is right that politics too long delayed the designation of the Haqqani network, and for that matter prevented the designation of Yasir Arafat’s Fatah in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords. They contributed to Condoleezza Rice’s unconscionable de-listing of North Korea, despite that regime’s support for the Tamil Tigers and Hezbollah, and they have prevented the listing of Pakistan as a state sponsor across administrations. American diplomacy and strategy will remain broken until our officials deal with reality, and if the reality is that the Syrian opposition is no longer what its supporters depict, so be it. Ignoring reality poses an undue risk to U.S. national security.

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Do American Scholarships for Foreigners Matter?

Last week, I lauded Rafiullah Kakar, Baluchistan’s first Rhodes Scholar in 40 years, and argued that his trajectory shows the value of offering deserving students from the developing world the opportunity to study in the United States. Indeed, such programs tend to pay higher dividends than many of the multi-billion dollar follies in which the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) engage.

One commenter disagreed, noting that Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian dictator Mohamed Morsi, Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, and Cambodian madman Pol Pot had each studied in the West. One could also add Bashar al-Assad to the list.

In response, Joe Dondelinger, Rafi’s adviser in South Dakota and his recommender for the Rhodes, writes in:

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Last week, I lauded Rafiullah Kakar, Baluchistan’s first Rhodes Scholar in 40 years, and argued that his trajectory shows the value of offering deserving students from the developing world the opportunity to study in the United States. Indeed, such programs tend to pay higher dividends than many of the multi-billion dollar follies in which the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) engage.

One commenter disagreed, noting that Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian dictator Mohamed Morsi, Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, and Cambodian madman Pol Pot had each studied in the West. One could also add Bashar al-Assad to the list.

In response, Joe Dondelinger, Rafi’s adviser in South Dakota and his recommender for the Rhodes, writes in:

What prompted my attempt to reach you was first of all the surprise to see reference to Rafi’s award in “Commentary” blog (which I follow almost daily) and secondly, my reaction to the skeptical comments on the piece regarding the experience of Muslims in the West (reference to Sayyid Qutb etc.). I do not believe there is a need to write more at this time. In response to the skeptics, I am very familiar with Islamism, and, as a former student of the Soviet Union, the son of (non-Jewish) parents who barely escaped Hitler tender mercies in Luxembourg, I am very familiar with various manifestations of totalitarianism of which Islamism is but the latest. Thus I mentored Rafi without illusions. I found him to be an extraordinary individual who consciously chose to leave the mental world of the extremism he witnessed in his immediate environment.

I agree. It is both dangerous and wrong to assume that most Muslims adhere to radicalism and dismiss the freedoms which Western liberals (at least traditional liberals, as opposed to today’s progressives) espouse. Those who suffer most at the hands of radical Islamists are the moderates. True, the likes of Qutb and Morsi and, for that matter, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Egemen Bağış are irreconcilable. The exception does not disprove the rule, however. Those consumed with hatred of the West will remain so. But those whose distrust of the United States is shaped largely by lack of opportunity to experience Western freedoms can seize opportunities, and that can pay long-term dividends.

One of the nicer things about Yale University, at least when I was a student, were the open stacks in the library. I might look in the computer system for one book and, when I went up to retrieve it, find even better works that had never made it into the card catalogue or computer system. I found a cache of old doctoral dissertations written by Iranians in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s at various universities in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Some of these Iranians became well-known statesmen and academics. Into the 1940s and 1950s, most assumed the political leanings of the countries in which they studied, and fought to implement what they had learned in Iran. Such a pattern should not surprise.

It is long past time that the United States do more to promote visas for Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis, and others—at least those who wish to study the humanities and social sciences. True, those who study at places like Columbia University, UC-Irvine, or the University of Michigan may have their worst biases affirmed. But that’s a different issue, one that goes to the political corruption of higher education in America.

Every Rafiullah, however, shows the wisdom of the investment, especially when the right person gets paired with the right adviser in the right institution.

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Poll: Can the GOP Win Over Hispanics?

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

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Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney, a steep drop from 2004 when 44 percent voted to reelect George W. Bush. It’s still not the lowest of recent elections–in 1996, the GOP won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote–but as an increasing share of the electorate, the Hispanic vote is becoming ever more critical.

While there isn’t a lot of good news here, the Resurgent Republic poll (which can be read in full here) did find room for growth and common ground. One area that Republicans can work on is the tone of the immigration debate. Hispanic voters may not be monolithic when it comes to immigration policy, but there are sensitivities the GOP might want to keep in mind when discussing the issues:

The tone Republicans use to discuss immigration has an impact on Hispanics who are not directly affected by the issue. Some Republicans argue that harsh rhetoric and policies regarding illegal immigrants will not affect Hispanics who are American citizens. But this survey suggests otherwise. All Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Yet Mitt Romney lost Puerto Rican voters in Florida by 64 to 36 percent, one of the main reasons why Obama won the state. Many Hispanic Americans take attacks on undocumented Hispanics as an attack on the entire Hispanic community.

There is also room for outreach when it comes to federal spending, taxes and regulations:

While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Republicans probably won’t be able to win the majority of Hispanic voters. But it seems that  there is room for significant improvement–especially since many lean right on social and fiscal issues. And with the number of Hispanic voters growing, that could be enough to swing a future presidential race.

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Nearly Half of Republicans Say Obama Has “Mandate” on Taxes

Another day, another bad “fiscal cliff” poll for the GOP. Bloomberg finds that nearly half of Republicans agree that the presidential election has given Obama a mandate to raise tax rates on the top income bracket:

The president goes into talks with Republicans amid broad public sentiment that his victory is a sign the electorate has spoken in favor of his positions on taxes and entitlements.

Sixty-five percent of Americans say the Nov. 6 results gave Obama a “mandate” on his proposal to raise tax rates on income over $250,000 and “to get it done.” Forty-five percent of Republicans agree.

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Another day, another bad “fiscal cliff” poll for the GOP. Bloomberg finds that nearly half of Republicans agree that the presidential election has given Obama a mandate to raise tax rates on the top income bracket:

The president goes into talks with Republicans amid broad public sentiment that his victory is a sign the electorate has spoken in favor of his positions on taxes and entitlements.

Sixty-five percent of Americans say the Nov. 6 results gave Obama a “mandate” on his proposal to raise tax rates on income over $250,000 and “to get it done.” Forty-five percent of Republicans agree.

At what point do Republicans get so fed up that they just give up and let the Democratic Party take the blame for the fallout from raising taxes during an economic downturn? For Senator Rand Paul, it sounds like that time has come

“I think what we should do first of all is put forward what we’re for. So if you’re in the House, the House leadership should put forward something that extends the Bush tax cuts forever and has significant spending cuts. And I think they pass that. If the Democrats won’t accept that and we’re unwilling to stay by our position, then I would say, let them pass a tax increase on the upper income folks, but let them do it with their votes not our votes. Republicans vote present in the House. Democrats can pass the tax increase with only Democrat votes. And then, the Democrats are the party of high taxes and the Republicans, we’re the party of lower taxes. And I think that’s the way it should be. …

Don’t give in by splitting the baby. Give in by voting present, let the Democrats pass an increase in the upper tax brackets. it comes over to the Senate, Republicans vote no, and it becomes a Democrat tax increase but not a Republican/Democrat tax increase, which I think is a mistake for Republicans.”

That would seem to pass Grover Norquist’s “no fingerprints” test. Republicans in the Senate will be attacked for voting no on a middle-class tax cut extension, but at least they won’t be saddled with blame over the top bracket tax hike. Also, the fact that Rand Paul is endorsing this proposal might make it a bit more palatable for Tea Party groups.

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Liberal American Jews, Tzipi Livni, and the Israeli Consensus

Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

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Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

“It doesn’t matter what you think about settlements,” Livni said with uncharacteristic bluntness. “We have settlement blocs close to the Green Line and the only way for the conflict with the Palestinians to end is for Israel to keep them. Any pre-agreement by the international community to a withdrawal to 1967 borders before the talks occur, makes it difficult to negotiate. It was clear in the talks I conducted with the Palestinians that there would not be return to 1967 borders.”

Given that E-1 is the corridor that links one of those settlement blocs, Ma’aleh Adumim, to Jerusalem, it’s hard to reconcile those two views. After all, if the settlement blocs will be part of Israel under any agreement, then so will E-1–which, as Rick noted yesterday, is precisely why every peace plan every proposed, including former President Bill Clinton’s, in fact assigned E-1 to Israel. Indeed, the annexation documents for E-1 were signed by the patron saint of the peace process himself, Yitzhak Rabin, less than a year after he signed the Oslo Accords. Like everyone else who has seriously studied this issue, Rabin concluded both that it was vital for Israel’s security and–contrary to the widespread misconception today–that it would in no way preclude a viable and contiguous Palestinian state (a point Rich’s post also explains).

So if everyone knows that Israel is going to retain this area anyway, how can advancing construction within it possibly “make progress toward peace far more challenging”? In fact, as Livni noted, the opposite is true: The real impediment to negotiations is the Palestinian belief that the world will back their demand for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and eventually force Israel to comply. And that’s precisely the belief the URJ reinforced via its condemnation: After all, the Palestinians must be saying, if even American Jews won’t back Israel’s position, it will soon have no choice but to capitulate.

Back in 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the Palestinians that if they weren’t prepared to concede Ma’aleh Adumim, “Then you won’t have a state!” Livni said the same thing today. But the URJ effectively told the Palestinians the opposite: It’s not the Palestinian refusal to cede Ma’aleh Adumim that’s the problem, it said, but Israel’s insistence on acting as if Ma’aleh Adumim will remain Israeli.

And when liberal American Jews can’t support a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus that encompasses even its most dovish politicians, you have to wonder whether they support the real Israel at all–or only some idealized fantasy of it that exists only in their own minds.

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The Kosovo Precedent

The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, and other former Clinton administration officials and generals are trying to cash in in Kosovo, which American intervention rescued from Serbian oppression. As a result of the Clinton administration’s actions, Kosovo has become one of the most pro-American places in the world with streets named after both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and a statue of Clinton in the capital, Pristina.

What are the odds, I wonder, that there will be any similar outpouring of pro-American affection in Syria where, instead of intervening, the Obama administration is standing by even as the death toll climbs north of 45,000? The administration has now recognized a rebel government and blacklisted the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization but these small, symbolic steps are hardly leading to an outpouring of affection for Uncle Sam. Far from it. Indeed, as another Times article reports:

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The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, and other former Clinton administration officials and generals are trying to cash in in Kosovo, which American intervention rescued from Serbian oppression. As a result of the Clinton administration’s actions, Kosovo has become one of the most pro-American places in the world with streets named after both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and a statue of Clinton in the capital, Pristina.

What are the odds, I wonder, that there will be any similar outpouring of pro-American affection in Syria where, instead of intervening, the Obama administration is standing by even as the death toll climbs north of 45,000? The administration has now recognized a rebel government and blacklisted the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization but these small, symbolic steps are hardly leading to an outpouring of affection for Uncle Sam. Far from it. Indeed, as another Times article reports:

A growing number of anti-government groups — including fighters in the loose-knit Free Syrian Army that the United States is trying to bolster — have signed petitions or posted statements online in recent days expressing support for the Nusra Front. In keeping with a tradition throughout the uprising of choosing themes for Friday protests, the biggest day for demonstrations because it coincides with Friday Prayer, many called for this Friday’s title to be “No to American intervention — we are all Jabhet al-Nusra.”

These groups are rallying to the Al Nusra Front not because they like it–many of the other rebels hate the jihadist extremists who are intent on hijacking their struggle for freedom. But they are also pragmatic enough to know that the jihadists are fighting hard against Bashar Assad while the U.S. does nothing to help.

The administration’s stance would be akin to the Roosevelt administration in 1942 designating the NKVD as a terrorist organization and refusing to cooperate with Stalin. FDR was shrewder than that–he realized that, for all his dislike of Communism, sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend, at least temporarily. That is something that the current Democratic president does not seem to grasp.

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McGovern’s Futile Warning on Unions

The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

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The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

Anyone who doubts that such “reprisals” were and are a serious danger might have been convinced by what they saw yesterday in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation, which allows people to work without forced unionization as a condition of their employment, into law. Earlier in the day, the Democratic contingent in the state legislature promised violence if the bill went through. The bill did, and Democratic violence and death threats from unions and their Democratic allies emerged immediately. Union leader Jimmy Hoffa then went on CNN and promised more “war.”

It is a testament to the disappearance of moderate Democrats that George McGovern was concerned enough about the party’s growing anti-Democratic extremism to speak out. That aforementioned blog post at Firedoglake made it explicitly clear that “McGovern is the one who is out of step.” Union coercion, according to the left, is mainstream; moderation was long gone.

This has long been a challenge for modern liberalism: how to keep the violence that is always brimming just below the surface of leftist protest movements from getting out of control. But in order to do that successfully, the Democratic Party must have leaders who, like McGovern, are willing to take a stand against it. You’ll search in vain for such leaders today; the White House wouldn’t condemn either the threats of violence or the actual violence yesterday. Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to President Obama’s appearance at a pro-union rally the day before.

Democratic leaders might want to admit–even if just to themselves–that McGovern was right. McGovern might have recognized recent events as the natural outgrowth of the unchecked extremism of a Democratic Party too liberal for its “liberal icon.”

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Leftists Claim AFP Tore Down its Own Tent in Michigan

This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

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This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

One left-wing blogger (h/t NiceDeb) wrote that he “knew right away [the tent collapse] was likely a false flag.” Why? Because the labor movement is known for being so peace-loving and polite?

What’s most infuriating about this is that the violence in Michigan is real. It’s on video. And yet it’s not going to get a fraction of the media attention that mere speculations about Tea Party violence received in 2010. There aren’t going to be any Time magazine covers depicting union “rage,” or news specials about the rise of left-wing extremism. Media bias isn’t just about what they do report, it’s about what they don’t report. And unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this will get the attention it deserves.

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Attacks on Conservatives in Michigan Union Battle Escalate

Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

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Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

Predictably, the mainstream media has been silent on the attacks on Crowder and the AFP tent, barely discussing the protests that crippled Lansing yesterday that were attended by so many of the state’s teachers that two entire school districts were forced to close, sending parents into a frenzy to find childcare. At Fox News, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor writes:

ABC, CBS and NBC covered the protests but only ABC made mention of police having to deal with protesters. None of them mentioned the attack on Crowder or showed the videos of that attack and the thugs tearing down a tent with people in it, both widely available on the Internet hours before the evening news show broadcast. No network quoted Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa predicting “civil war” between lawmakers and union members.

NBC anchor Brian Williams referred to it all meekly as “a boisterous day in the state capital.”

The contemptible liberal website Gawker even asked, “Do We Really Have to Condemn the Union Protestor Who Punched Fox News Comedian Steven Crowder?” (Spoiler: The answer was no.) 

On Twitter and Fox News last night, Crowder challenged his attackers to a MMA-sanctioned fight, where the proceeds of the winner would go to the cause of their choice. This is where he loses me. The attacks on Crowder and AFP were serious and indicate an increased comfort with violence from supposed “peace-loving” progressives who believe “the ends justify the means.” As conservatives, a group still licking our wounds after defeat in November, it behooves us to be above the violent tactics of the left; we should be trying this case not in a wrestling ring, but in the court of public opinion, or quite literally in court. Great efforts have been made to identify those responsible, and that information should be handed over to the proper authorities.

Conservatives can’t in good conscience and with a straight face decry progressive violence while advocating violence as a solution to this dispute. While an MMA battle might be good for one comedian’s career prospects, it likely would turn conservative complaints against union and progressive violence into a laughingstock, and reinforce the left’s claim that conservatives went looking for a (literal) fight. Given the escalating nature of violent and destructive behavior from the left in the last year, that should be the story conservatives are talking about today. 

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The Age of the GOP Governors

Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

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Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

This victory was important, then, both substantively and politically. And it brought into sharper focus the best news about the GOP these days: Governors. Despite a very disappointing showing at the federal level in November, at the state level things are quite encouraging. Republicans now control 30 governorships–the highest number for either party in a dozen years. (Democrats control 19 governorships and Rhode Island has an independent governor.) 

Moreover, many of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation are governors–people like Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Chris Christie (New Jersey), John Kasich (Ohio), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina), as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

These men and women are models for governance: conservative, reform-minded, growth-oriented, and interested in what works. They tend to be principled but not ideological. They’re problem solvers, they have to balance their budgets, and they are generally popular in their states. As a general rule they practice politics in a way that doesn’t deepen mistrust or cynicism among the citizens of their states.

This period reminds me a bit of the 1990s, when many of the best reforms (in areas like welfare and education) were coming from governors. That’s certainly the case today. And it’s why many on the right were hoping that in 2012 the best of the current class, Mitch Daniels, had run for president of the United States (he opted for becoming, starting next year, president of Purdue University). For now, Republicans could hardly do better than to turn their lonely eyes to state capitals throughout the country.

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