Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 17, 2012

What Pollard Did and Didn’t Do

More than 27 years after his arrest, the Jonathan Pollard saga continues to fascinate and infuriate Americans. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in March 2011, advocates of the convicted spy tend to exaggerate the assistance he gave Israel during the course of the espionage he carried out while serving as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. Similarly, those who continue to demand that he remain in prison until his death have also tended to inflate the damage he did to his country. While it is unlikely that anything could do much to move the argument one way or the other, the release of a 1987 damage report on the case conducted by the CIA should serve to silence those who have claimed Pollard’s spying was focused on American capabilities. The report, which can be read here (albeit with parts blacked out due to secrecy laws), makes it clear that his interest was solely in helping the Israelis find out more about Soviet and Arab military and intelligence capabilities.

That does not mitigate the scope of Pollard’s crime, as his handing over of a massive amount of material including signal intelligence to a foreign country did great damage to the United States. But the account of what he did and did not do does serve to bolster the arguments made by those seeking his release that his motive was a desire to help Israel rather than pure venality or treason.

Read More

More than 27 years after his arrest, the Jonathan Pollard saga continues to fascinate and infuriate Americans. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in March 2011, advocates of the convicted spy tend to exaggerate the assistance he gave Israel during the course of the espionage he carried out while serving as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. Similarly, those who continue to demand that he remain in prison until his death have also tended to inflate the damage he did to his country. While it is unlikely that anything could do much to move the argument one way or the other, the release of a 1987 damage report on the case conducted by the CIA should serve to silence those who have claimed Pollard’s spying was focused on American capabilities. The report, which can be read here (albeit with parts blacked out due to secrecy laws), makes it clear that his interest was solely in helping the Israelis find out more about Soviet and Arab military and intelligence capabilities.

That does not mitigate the scope of Pollard’s crime, as his handing over of a massive amount of material including signal intelligence to a foreign country did great damage to the United States. But the account of what he did and did not do does serve to bolster the arguments made by those seeking his release that his motive was a desire to help Israel rather than pure venality or treason.

Much of the report is familiar territory to those familiar with the case, as it details the narrative of his espionage as well as a lengthy psychological profile. The more one learns of Pollard’s background and unstable character the more one wonders about the faulty judgment of those who hired him to serve in such a sensitive capacity. But the important information here consists of the details about what sort of material he sought and then handed over to the Israelis.

His priority was to obtain the following information: Arab (and Pakistani) nuclear intelligence; Arab exotic weaponry, including chemical weapons; Soviet aircraft, air defenses, air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface missiles; and Arab order-of-battle, deployments and readiness.

Though arguments made by his friends that Israel was entitled to this information fall flat, this sort of material was clearly intended to bolster Israel’s ability to deal with valid threats to its security rather than to harm the U.S.

This is important because the prejudicial statements made by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the court that sentenced Pollard to life in prison were thought to have given the impression that the spy’s crimes represented a direct threat to U.S. security. Indeed, the file makes clear something that was already understood: The willingness of the prosecutors and the judge to renege on the plea bargain by which Pollard had been persuaded to tell all about his activities had more to do with pique over the spy’s decision to speak about the case to reporter Wolf Blitzer (the CNN anchor was then a writer with the Jerusalem Post) in an inflammatory prison interview rather than the egregious nature of his crime.

While the report is explicit about the Israelis not requesting data about the U.S. or its intelligence resources or military, there were some other interesting tidbits that give us an idea about the dynamic between the spy and his handlers. Among them is the fact that Rafi Eitan, the head of the spy unit running the operation, wanted to know about Israelis providing the Americans with information as well as  “dirt” about Israelis the Americans might have. Pollard refused this request with the support of Yosef Yagur, a consulate official who was part of the plot.

As I have written elsewhere, what Pollard did was bad enough. There is no need for anyone to misrepresent his spying as part of an Israeli effort to undermine the United States. None of this is likely to change the minds of those in the U.S. intelligence establishment who take the position that Pollard must die in jail so as to set an example for other potential spies. Nor will it dampen the desire of some who have used him to justify unreasonable suspicions or even attempts to single out and prosecute other American Jews. It remains a fact that while Pollard’s espionage was a unique chapter in American intelligence history, his sentence is still the most severe ever handed out to a spy for a friendly country.

After 27 years in jail, it can no longer be asserted that he represents a threat to American security or that he has not already been severely punished. Though his most damning legacy may be the way his name continues to be used to bolster false accusations of dual loyalty on the part of American Jews, it can no longer be credibly argued that his goal was to harm the United States. While the chances of clemency for Pollard seem no better today than at any other point during his incarceration (something that is as much due to the poor judgment of the spy and some of his advocates), the release of the CIA report does place the case in perspective.

Unlike the others arrested in what became known as the year of the spy, Pollard’s goal was not to assist America’s enemies. That ought to make it just a bit easier to justify the commutation of his disproportionate sentence should President Obama or a successor ever care to seriously review the case.

Read Less

Israel and Gun Violence

At Tablet, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at why gun violence is less common in Israel–where many carry guns openly–than in the U.S.:

Why? In the days since 27 innocents, most of them children, were murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School, all have been asking that question, trying to make sense of an ultimately senseless act. Simpler minds insisted that anyone who has ever argued in favor of anything but the absolute abolition of firearms was complicit in the murder of innocent children, while more astute thinkers tried to look past their indignation and heartbreak in search of sensible policy alternatives. Not surprisingly, they often ended up looking to Israel, a nation, went the argument, whose citizens are heavily armed yet rarely use their guns to shoot each other. This, more than one report noted, was due largely to Israel’s surprisingly strict gun-control legislation: Assault rifles are banned, registration is necessary, and a whole system of checks and requirements is in place to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. A popular statistic spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: Only 58 Israelis were killed by guns last year, compared with 10,728 Americans.

Read More

At Tablet, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at why gun violence is less common in Israel–where many carry guns openly–than in the U.S.:

Why? In the days since 27 innocents, most of them children, were murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School, all have been asking that question, trying to make sense of an ultimately senseless act. Simpler minds insisted that anyone who has ever argued in favor of anything but the absolute abolition of firearms was complicit in the murder of innocent children, while more astute thinkers tried to look past their indignation and heartbreak in search of sensible policy alternatives. Not surprisingly, they often ended up looking to Israel, a nation, went the argument, whose citizens are heavily armed yet rarely use their guns to shoot each other. This, more than one report noted, was due largely to Israel’s surprisingly strict gun-control legislation: Assault rifles are banned, registration is necessary, and a whole system of checks and requirements is in place to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. A popular statistic spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: Only 58 Israelis were killed by guns last year, compared with 10,728 Americans.

It’s a compelling story. It’s also wrong: There’s much that we can learn from Israel when it comes to firearms, but it’s the state’s gun culture, not its gun laws, that keeps its citizens safe. …

How, then, to explain Israel’s relatively low rate of gun-related deaths? For Lior Nedivi, an independent firearms examiner in Jerusalem and the co-author of a comprehensive report comparing Israel’s gun laws and culture to that of the United States, the answer lies far from the law books. “An armed society,” Nedivi wrote, quoting the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, “is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” It may be a bit odd to think of Israeli society as polite, but when it comes to guns it is, and for just the reason articulated by Heinlein: When everyone has a gun, guns are no longer seen as talismans by weak, frightened, and unstable men seeking a sense of self-validation, but as killing machines that are to be handled with the utmost caution and care.

Leibovitz goes on to argue that the U.S. should focus on educating people about sensible gun ownership, which seems too optimistic. Someone who is intent on carrying out a large-scale massacre at an elementary school is not going to be dissuaded by classes on gun rights and responsibilities. If there is a simple reason for the relatively small number of mass shooting spree events in Israel, it may have more to do with another point Leibovitz touched on. When a society is heavily armed and knows how to use these weapons, there is a much greater chance a gunman will be killed before he can reach his desired death toll–and maybe that alone is enough to stop some would-be killers from even trying.

Most of the mass shootings that have taken place in Israel were related to the conflict in the region, and the vast majority have been carried out by Palestinian terrorists against Israelis. In the last 10 years, at least two of these firearm terrorist attacks occurred at schools (both yeshivas). In both cases, the gunmen were not given the chance to end their own lives. They were killed by people at the schools who had guns.

That’s definitely not to argue that arming more people is a solution to mass shootings in America. Israel is different because many of the people who carry guns in public are trained soldiers, and military service is mandatory for almost everyone. The heroes who stopped the gunmen at the yeshivas were reportedly all either soldiers or enrolled in pre-military preparatory programs. But it also contradicts the notion that fewer guns equals more safety. There may be policy responses to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that could be helpful in small ways–a review of mental health treatment in this country is warranted, and even a debate about gun laws isn’t a bad idea. But there are no obvious, all-encompassing solutions and anyone who argues otherwise is selling something.

Read Less

Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

Read More

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

Read Less

Telling the Truth on Facebook

Israel’s embassy in Ireland got itself in hot water for an inflammatory posting on its Facebook page that embarrassed the Jewish state. The post stated that were Jesus and Mary alive today and walking around Bethlehem without security, they would be lynched as Jews by the Palestinians. When a controversy over the post ensued, it was soon deleted and an apology was issued. But the Dublin embassy is not getting off so easy. The New York Times quoted Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent as reporting that this was just the latest though most egregious example of an aggressive stance taken by Israel’s envoys in Ireland. Apparently the embassy is guilty of speaking of Irish anti-Israel activists. It even had the temerity to re-post a satirical video about Irish media bias against Israel by the Latma comedy troupe.

All of this has brought down the opprobrium of Haaretz and the Times on the Dublin embassy. The Times even closed its piece on the subject by quoting a Palestinian response to the posting about Jesus and Mary that said that Christmas is freely celebrated in Bethlehem each year. But that remark, as well as much of the criticism of the supposedly undiplomatic behavior of the envoys, is off the mark. As much as it might have been wiser for anyone connected to the Israeli government to avoid any mention of the holy family or Christmas, their “offensive” post was primarily guilty of doing the one thing that diplomats are generally urged to avoid: telling the truth.

Read More

Israel’s embassy in Ireland got itself in hot water for an inflammatory posting on its Facebook page that embarrassed the Jewish state. The post stated that were Jesus and Mary alive today and walking around Bethlehem without security, they would be lynched as Jews by the Palestinians. When a controversy over the post ensued, it was soon deleted and an apology was issued. But the Dublin embassy is not getting off so easy. The New York Times quoted Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent as reporting that this was just the latest though most egregious example of an aggressive stance taken by Israel’s envoys in Ireland. Apparently the embassy is guilty of speaking of Irish anti-Israel activists. It even had the temerity to re-post a satirical video about Irish media bias against Israel by the Latma comedy troupe.

All of this has brought down the opprobrium of Haaretz and the Times on the Dublin embassy. The Times even closed its piece on the subject by quoting a Palestinian response to the posting about Jesus and Mary that said that Christmas is freely celebrated in Bethlehem each year. But that remark, as well as much of the criticism of the supposedly undiplomatic behavior of the envoys, is off the mark. As much as it might have been wiser for anyone connected to the Israeli government to avoid any mention of the holy family or Christmas, their “offensive” post was primarily guilty of doing the one thing that diplomats are generally urged to avoid: telling the truth.

As the Times notes, Ireland has become a hotbed of anti-Israel incitement in the past few decades. Though Irish independence fighters and Jews struggling to free their ancient homeland once identified with each other due to their common British foe, the Irish Catholics now seem to identify more with the Palestinians while it is the Ulster Protestants who think of Israel as a role model for survival as a minority in a hostile environment. The Irish media is well known for its anti-Israel bias and agitation against the Jewish state that seems to be louder and nastier than in even neighboring Britain.

Perhaps that’s why Israel’s Dublin embassy has come to the reasonable conclusion that it needs to stop playing defense when it comes to correcting misperceptions about the Middle East conflict. In too many instances, Israeli diplomats and spokespersons have avoided getting into scrapes but in the process failed to adequately defend their country at a time when a rising tide of anti-Semitism has distorted the debate about the Middle East conflict in Europe.

More to the point, the embassy’s Facebook comments about Jesus, Mary and Bethlehem actually were very much to the point in dealing with that troubling trend. For decades, the Palestinian leadership has sought to portray Arabs as the true descendants of the biblical Jews. That serves the double purpose of delegitimizing Zionism and Israel while also allowing them to play upon the sympathies of Christians. Modern Christianity has embraced the notion that Jesus was a Jew as part of an effort to move away from a tradition of theology-driven anti-Semitism. But the Palestinians want you to buy into the anti-historical concept that Jesus was Palestinian rather than a Jew.

It should also be stated that the post did no more than state the obvious when it noted that Jews without security in Palestinian Authority-ruled Bethlehem are at grave risk. Indeed, Rachel’s Tomb, which is located outside the town, is often besieged by violent Palestinians seeking to take over that Jewish shrine.

In raising the subject, the embassy did the unthinkable and told the truth about Palestinian violence and prejudice. While that might have been considered undiplomatic, that is something that more Israeli diplomats as well as members of the media ought to be doing more often.

Read Less

Newtown Coverage Not the First Amendment’s Finest Hour

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown this past week, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Second Amendment. There has not, unfortunately, been a reevaluation of the role the First Amendment played in the tragedy.  

The media’s coverage of Newtown from the outset was marred by such complete incompetence that it’s almost impossible to keep track of every incorrect detail that on-air personalities told viewers in the first few hours. Initially, Americans were informed: there were two gunmen and that one was still at large; the shooter was a father of one of the students in the school; the father of the shooter was dead; the shooter was named Ryan, not Adam, Lanza; an entire kindergarten class was unaccounted for; it was kindergarteners, not 1st-graders, that were the primary target; the classroom of the shooter’s mother was targeted, and that was where she died. The shooter’s unconfirmed autism diagnosis was discussed by multiple outlets as a possible contributing factor to the shooting, yet what was never mentioned was that those that fall on the autism spectrum are not any more likely to exhibit planned violent tendencies than the average member of the public. 

Read More

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown this past week, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Second Amendment. There has not, unfortunately, been a reevaluation of the role the First Amendment played in the tragedy.  

The media’s coverage of Newtown from the outset was marred by such complete incompetence that it’s almost impossible to keep track of every incorrect detail that on-air personalities told viewers in the first few hours. Initially, Americans were informed: there were two gunmen and that one was still at large; the shooter was a father of one of the students in the school; the father of the shooter was dead; the shooter was named Ryan, not Adam, Lanza; an entire kindergarten class was unaccounted for; it was kindergarteners, not 1st-graders, that were the primary target; the classroom of the shooter’s mother was targeted, and that was where she died. The shooter’s unconfirmed autism diagnosis was discussed by multiple outlets as a possible contributing factor to the shooting, yet what was never mentioned was that those that fall on the autism spectrum are not any more likely to exhibit planned violent tendencies than the average member of the public. 

After the Aurora shootings, Helen Lewis wrote about how the media had failed to follow the advice of forensic psychologists on how to prevent individuals from trying to “best” the latest tragedy. That advice has clearly not been heeded after this latest mass shooting, either. Since the massacre of 20 children and six adults, the coverage on major news outlets has been unrelenting. Six-year-old witnesses were interviewed, grieving family members have been harassed by the press online, outside their homes and even at religious services. The manner in which the shootings have been covered (24/7, wall-to-wall and sensationalist are adjectives that spring to mind) has been criticized by experts concerned about copycats. 

I’m not suggesting that either of these amendments be repealed or curtailed, the First or the Second. If Americans are sincere about preventing another tragedy like Newtown’s, however, we need to have a serious conversation about how responsibly we can and should be exercising these freedoms. In the medical field doctors are told “first, do no harm.” This is an adage that those in the 24/7 news media need to consider adopting moving forward in order to prevent the damage that was done in Newtown last week from happening again.

Read Less

Third Intifada Would Derail Obama Policy

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

Read More

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

As Abu Toameh writes:

Emboldened by the “victories,” Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently reached a secret agreement on the need to launch a “popular intifada” against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources in Ramallah revealed.

The two men believe that such an intifada at this stage would further isolate Israel and earn the Palestinians even more sympathy in the international arena, the sources said.

Abbas and Mashaal are aware, the sources noted, that the Palestinians are now not ready for another military confrontation with Israel — neither in the West Bank nor in the Gaza Strip.

That is why the two men agreed that the best and only option facing the Palestinians these days is a “popular intifada” that would see Palestinian youths engage in daily confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership knows they are best served by televised violence that pits a powerful Israeli military against seemingly helpless Palestinians rather than by terror attacks or missile strikes. But it isn’t likely that their concerted campaign of low-level violence won’t soon escalate to the sort of attacks on Jewish targets that have always bolstered the popularity of the Palestinians groups that carry them out.

Nor is it likely than even a re-elected Barack Obama, who would no longer need to fear a backlash from Jewish voters over Israel, would be able to sustain a diplomatic campaign against a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu while Fatah and Hamas were engaged in a competition over which presented the toughest approach to the Israelis.

The motivation for Abbas to join forces with Hamas is clear. As Haaretz reports today, a new poll shows Abbas would lose an election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if an election were held. While Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, may have no intention of allowing a free vote that would give the Islamist dictators of Gaza a chance to run the West Bank too, the poll shows Hamas’s violence gives it a crucial electoral advantage. The same survey said that were Haniyeh to face Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life-in-prison terms for the murders he ordered during the second intifada, he would lose.

As Abu Toahmeh writes, Hamas and Fatah do have different short-term goals. Fatah hopes to force Israel to retreat from all of the territory it won in 1967, including in Jerusalem and its suburbs where they would hope to create an independent Palestinian state, albeit not one prepared to end the conflict. On the other hand, Hamas still believes it can destroy Israel altogether.

This demonstrates the foolishness of the discussion on the left about the need for the U.S. to join Egypt and Turkey and recognize Hamas. But it should also illustrate the folly of a new diplomatic initiative whose Fatah beneficiaries have made common cause with the so-called extremists of Hamas. The illusions that many Israelis harbored about Fatah’s peaceful intentions were exploded by the terror of the second intifada. It remains to be seen whether the fantasies of foreign liberals, including those in the administration, will survive a third.

Read Less

Delicious Irony

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has appointed Rep. Tim Scott to fill the Senate seat held by Jim DeMint, who has resigned to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. Scott will serve for two years and then have to run in November 2014 for the remaining two years of DeMint’s term.

This just abounds in delicious political and historical irony. In 2010 Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, the son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, to win the Republican nomination to the 1st congressional district seat in the House. Now he will have the same seat in the Senate that Strom Thurmond held for 47 years, from 1956 to 2003. Strom Thurmond, of course, was an arch segregationist—running for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 and carrying four deep South states—and until the Voting Rights Act he had vehemently opposed enfranchised blacks and totally transformed the politics of the old Confederacy. Tim Scott is black.

Read More

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has appointed Rep. Tim Scott to fill the Senate seat held by Jim DeMint, who has resigned to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. Scott will serve for two years and then have to run in November 2014 for the remaining two years of DeMint’s term.

This just abounds in delicious political and historical irony. In 2010 Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, the son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, to win the Republican nomination to the 1st congressional district seat in the House. Now he will have the same seat in the Senate that Strom Thurmond held for 47 years, from 1956 to 2003. Strom Thurmond, of course, was an arch segregationist—running for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 and carrying four deep South states—and until the Voting Rights Act he had vehemently opposed enfranchised blacks and totally transformed the politics of the old Confederacy. Tim Scott is black.

The 1st district is centered on Charleston, the hotbed of secession and where the Civil War began, but Scott, who was born in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act was passed, won the district in 2010 with 65 percent of the vote, thanks to being a conservative Republican in what is now a very conservative and Republican district. He won by a similar margin in 2012.

He will be the only current black senator, one of only two black Republicans in post-Reconstruction Senate history. (The other was the liberal Edward Brooke, who served two terms from Massachusetts, 1967-1979.) This means that there will now have been almost as many black Republicans who have served in the modern Senate as black Democrats (Carol Moseley Braun, Roland Burris, and Barack Obama, all from Illinois).

So the only black member of the United States Senate in 2013 will be a conservative Republican from the deep South. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Read Less

Clinton Won’t Testify on Benghazi, Citing Concussion

State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.

When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”

Read More

State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.

When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”

If President Obama announces John Kerry’s nomination for secretary of state this week, as expected, the confirmation hearings could begin in early January, which would immediately tie up the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In other words, Congress is unlikely to hear any testimony from Clinton on Benghazi, ever. Since she’s managed to avoid testifying about Benghazi at any point, that means Clinton–who once said she alone was responsible for the security lapses at the diplomatic mission–will walk away from the whole debacle without a scratch. Somewhere, Susan Rice has got to be shaking her head at the injustice of it all.

Read Less

How the West Can Help Congo

New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman has a good summary of Congo’s never-ending civil war, which recently heated up when Rwanda-backed rebels captured and briefly held Goma, a large town in the east. Gettleman writes:

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.

The problem, obviously, is that Congo has been plagued by egregious misgovernment and pervasive lack of security ever since winning independence. It goes without saying that colonial rule was awful in many respects–Congo was particularly savagely mistreated by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 19th century. Its condition only slightly improved when it went from being the king’s personal property to an official Belgian colony. But for all their sins (and there were many) the Belgians at least managed to keep the trains running more or less on time. Now those same trains are rotting away and the lack of transportation makes it impossible to get Congo’s rich agricultural bounty to market.

Read More

New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman has a good summary of Congo’s never-ending civil war, which recently heated up when Rwanda-backed rebels captured and briefly held Goma, a large town in the east. Gettleman writes:

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.

The problem, obviously, is that Congo has been plagued by egregious misgovernment and pervasive lack of security ever since winning independence. It goes without saying that colonial rule was awful in many respects–Congo was particularly savagely mistreated by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 19th century. Its condition only slightly improved when it went from being the king’s personal property to an official Belgian colony. But for all their sins (and there were many) the Belgians at least managed to keep the trains running more or less on time. Now those same trains are rotting away and the lack of transportation makes it impossible to get Congo’s rich agricultural bounty to market.

Unfortunately Joseph Kabila, Congo’s president since 2001, has appeared unwilling or unable to fix the terrible corruption and incompetence that plagues his government and especially his army, whose soldiers appear more interested in drink and plunder than in keeping law and order. In this respect he hasn’t been much of an improvement over his predecessor, Laurent Kabila, who in turn wasn’t much of an improvement over Congo’s longtime strongman, Mobutu Sese Seko (who preferred to called his country Zaire).

What is particularly shocking about the depths to which Congo has sunk is that the outside world has made attempts to alleviate its misery–but they have been utterly ineffectual. As Gettleman notes, there are 20,000 UN peacekeepers in Congo but they are doing precious little to keep the peace. Barring a sudden Western desire to intervene with high-quality troops (as unlikely a contingency as one can imagine) it is hard to imagine any salvation for Congo unless its government can somehow establish its authority with a semi-competent military force.

As I have argued before, the only realistic way to achieve that goal would be to hire foreign security companies to train Congo’s armed forces and, quite probably, to take part in combat themselves. Rather than sending their own troops, Western nations could foot the bills for a mercenary outfit that could draw on well-trained veterans of the South African, British, American, and other armies. (I note that very soon, thanks to cuts in the defense budget, a lot of veterans of America’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be out of work.) Mercenaries have proven effective in Sierra Leone but there is an opprobrium to their use which has kept that example from being emulated in Congo. So the world is instead consigning Congo to a continuing hell. Sure, mercenaries have their downsides–they have pillaged African states in the past. But Congo has already been pillaged and will continue to be pillaged unless some unorthodox thinking is applied to try to find a solution.

Read Less

Turkey to Make Islam Part of University Entry Exams

Another brick is falling in the fiction that Turkey seeks to remain a democratic, pluralistic, Western-leaning society: The head of the Turkish body which oversees placement tests and university admissions has announced that it will soon include religious questions in its placement tests. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has previously reconfigured the exam formula to benefit those who had attended Imam Hatip schools—Turkey’s equivalent of a madrassa—over those who had had a traditional, liberal arts education. While religion is in the state curriculum, there has been recent controversy over forcing non-Sunnis (20 percent of Turkey’s Muslims are Alevis, not Sunnis) into religious classes which indoctrinated Sunnism.

Turkey, despite its problems, thrived in comparison to the non-oil rich Middle East over the decades precisely because it refused to allow religious populism to become the basis of government. Alas, Erdoğan seems intent not only on becoming a Vladimir Putin-style autocrat but also radicalizing society and the bureaucracy for the long-term. None of this should surprise. It has been less than a year since Erdoğan himself declared his goal to be to Islamize a generation. How unfortunate it is that so many in the U.S. Congress lend their blanket endorsement to Erdoğan’s agenda.

Another brick is falling in the fiction that Turkey seeks to remain a democratic, pluralistic, Western-leaning society: The head of the Turkish body which oversees placement tests and university admissions has announced that it will soon include religious questions in its placement tests. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has previously reconfigured the exam formula to benefit those who had attended Imam Hatip schools—Turkey’s equivalent of a madrassa—over those who had had a traditional, liberal arts education. While religion is in the state curriculum, there has been recent controversy over forcing non-Sunnis (20 percent of Turkey’s Muslims are Alevis, not Sunnis) into religious classes which indoctrinated Sunnism.

Turkey, despite its problems, thrived in comparison to the non-oil rich Middle East over the decades precisely because it refused to allow religious populism to become the basis of government. Alas, Erdoğan seems intent not only on becoming a Vladimir Putin-style autocrat but also radicalizing society and the bureaucracy for the long-term. None of this should surprise. It has been less than a year since Erdoğan himself declared his goal to be to Islamize a generation. How unfortunate it is that so many in the U.S. Congress lend their blanket endorsement to Erdoğan’s agenda.

Read Less

The Impulse to Respond

The president said exactly what most Americans were thinking yesterday when he declared at the memorial for the victims of the Newtown massacre: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” In the aftermath of terrible events such as the horrifying murder of 20 children in Newtown, we demand that those in authority do something to ensure that it won’t happen again.

But what we don’t think about in these days of shock and grief is whether the proposals floated during such times have more to do with our need to feel in control of events than a rational plan of action. The “don’t just stand there, do something” impulse is natural in politicians who always wish to be seen as having the answers. But the notion that we can legislate or preach such insane acts out of existence may reflect our unwillingness to appear helpless in the face of evil or madness more than anything else.

Read More

The president said exactly what most Americans were thinking yesterday when he declared at the memorial for the victims of the Newtown massacre: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” In the aftermath of terrible events such as the horrifying murder of 20 children in Newtown, we demand that those in authority do something to ensure that it won’t happen again.

But what we don’t think about in these days of shock and grief is whether the proposals floated during such times have more to do with our need to feel in control of events than a rational plan of action. The “don’t just stand there, do something” impulse is natural in politicians who always wish to be seen as having the answers. But the notion that we can legislate or preach such insane acts out of existence may reflect our unwillingness to appear helpless in the face of evil or madness more than anything else.

For many this will mandate new gun control legislation that would make it harder for guns such as the one used by the murderer to be legally obtained even though, as I noted earlier, it is a popular model owned by so many Americans that a ban on their sale won’t make much of a difference.

Others have raised other issues with possible links to the crime. Senator Joe Lieberman is using Newtown to return to one of his concerns, the prevalence of violence in our entertainment, especially video games and movies. And still others, like former Arkansas governor and current TV talk show host Mike Huckabee, want us to return prayer to the schools which he thinks would help us create a more godly and perhaps less violent nation.

In the coming weeks it is likely we will have another full-scale debate about gun control in which groups like the National Rifle Association will be placed in the difficult position of defending guns that can kill lots of people quickly. Purveyors of violent movies and video games will be shamed as perhaps they should be. And maybe there will be more prayer.

We might be better off if America were an even more religious nation, whose popular culture eschewed violence and where automatic weapons were not easily obtained. But the idea that any of this would have stopped Adam Lanza or someone like him whose demons impelled them to such an unimaginable crime requires a leap of faith that might be too much even for Governor Huckabee.

The idea that we can’t do something about incidents such as Newtown makes us feel small and helpless and is rejected out of hand. At such times as these, those who preach sensible caution about legislation rather than knee-jerk action are dismissed as naysayers and defenders of an indefensible status quo. Americans are a people who like solutions, not philosophical discourses about terrible events. We crave leaders who will tell us they have answers.

Perhaps anger about Newtown and other incidents will be enough to help pass far-reaching restrictions on gun ownership or influence the entertainment industry to change its ways. But the only likely outcome is that schools will be transformed into fortresses even more than they already were. The rhetoric we hear after Newtown, as it is after all senseless crimes, will make many of us feel better and allow politicians to pretend that they are doing something. But the impulse to respond will be about our desire to have the illusion of control over uncontrollable events.

Read Less

Dukakis May Be Tapped as Kerry Senate Replacement

The Hill reports that Governor Deval Patrick may appoint Michael Dukakis to Senator John Kerry’s seat if Kerry is nominated for secretary of state. Choosing Dukakis as a temporary placeholder until the special election isn’t a bad idea. He’s a trusted figure in state Democratic circles, and, even better, he doesn’t appear to have long-term ambitions for the seat. That’s a huge benefit since Patrick doesn’t want to appoint anyone who would run in the special election, according to The Hill

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, may be headed back to the political spotlight as he’s considered a likely interim replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

President Obama is set to tap Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, according to media reports.

This means Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) needs to find someone to fill Kerry’s seat until a special election can be held in the late spring or early summer. …

The Democratic primary for Kerry’s seat will be intense and Patrick is expected to tap someone as an interim replacement who would promise not to run in the special election.

Read More

The Hill reports that Governor Deval Patrick may appoint Michael Dukakis to Senator John Kerry’s seat if Kerry is nominated for secretary of state. Choosing Dukakis as a temporary placeholder until the special election isn’t a bad idea. He’s a trusted figure in state Democratic circles, and, even better, he doesn’t appear to have long-term ambitions for the seat. That’s a huge benefit since Patrick doesn’t want to appoint anyone who would run in the special election, according to The Hill

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, may be headed back to the political spotlight as he’s considered a likely interim replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

President Obama is set to tap Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, according to media reports.

This means Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) needs to find someone to fill Kerry’s seat until a special election can be held in the late spring or early summer. …

The Democratic primary for Kerry’s seat will be intense and Patrick is expected to tap someone as an interim replacement who would promise not to run in the special election.

Should we read anything into the fact that Patrick isn’t appointing anyone who would run in the special election? He did the same thing after Ted Kennedy passed away and there was no heir apparent, but that was back when Scott Brown was just seen as a Republican state senator with no chance of competing seriously against the Massachusetts Democratic Party behemoth.

Things have obviously changed. Even after losing to Elizabeth Warren, Brown will still be a real contender in the special election if he decides to run. And there don’t appear to be any candidates on the Democratic short list that are as strong as Warren was. While Vicki Kennedy has the last name and marital history going for her, she’s never run for public office and it’s difficult to predict how she would fare in the spotlight. Appointing someone like Kennedy–or Rep. Ed Markey, another well-circulated name–before the special election would give these candidates a boost they could really use going into the race. Which is why it’s interesting that the governor is passing on the opportunity.

There is one intriguing possibility who isn’t included on many of the short lists, and that’s Deval Patrick. If he appointed himself, it could be seen as bad form. But if he appoints someone like Dukakis, who is not seen as a threat during the special election, then Patrick can still keep his options open for a possible bid.

Read Less

How Democrats Keep Their Bench Shallow

Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)

The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?

Read More

Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)

The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?

It’s not terribly surprising that a political party that earns a reputation as disdainful of the military and its missions has trouble producing credible defense secretaries, as Dreazen notes when discussing the probable elevation of Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to run the Pentagon. But that does not answer the question about the weak bench at State. Indeed, you would think it would have the opposite effect: a generation of peacenik Democrats come of age would seem to be fertile ground for producing the kind of dealmaking bureaucrats who should be comfortable at Foggy Bottom, where vague terms like “engagement” and “smart power” represent a raison d’être.

This is a problem already in the process of working itself out, as Dreazen notes: the Democrats will (presumably) hold the White House for eight years now, training a new generation of diplomats and national security professionals. The party is also beginning to shake its aversion to the military, and so it has veterans in its civilian ranks as well.

Additionally, the Democrats seem to have realized that they have been hindering their party’s development for years now. Reports have centered on two possible interim replacements for Kerry should he be nominated: Michael Dukakis and Vicki Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s widow. Either one would be expected to hold the seat until a special election can be held a few months later. This would enable Democrats to avoid what they have done in the past–actions that help explain how the Democratic Party could have such a shallow bench. In November, an election was held to replace the House seat long held by the ill-tempered and voluble Barney Frank. Now that a seat in Massachusetts had finally opened up, would the party use it to groom new talent? No, it would not. It would parachute in an inexperienced young Kennedy to close off the seat for what could be decades. (The state’s Democrats better hope Vicki Kennedy doesn’t get too comfortable in her interim seat, if she gets the nod, for that reason as well.)

Though it hasn’t been part of the discussion, Hillary Clinton’s nomination and service as secretary of state was evidence of the same problem. Having never served in elected office before Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary was handed a Senate seat upon moving out of the White House. Obama assumed Clinton would be less trouble to him abroad than in the Senate, where his initiatives would have to go through her. So rather than someone with foreign policy experience, Clinton was given the job. And now no one working for her at State will be elevated to take her place. Instead, it will be Kerry. And then Clinton will presumably run for president in 2016, when her party’s strategists are on record proposing that she run for the party’s nomination unopposed and simply be handed another title, at the expense of those with experience actually governing–in whose stead, should they win, would arise a new Democrat who would then get that same governing experience, and so on and so forth.

I don’t presume to speak for all the Democrats who keep being ignored by their party leadership in favor of generations of leadership by ruling family. They might not care, or they might enjoy serving a party run by an elite to which they will never belong. But they will probably also never be future secretaries of state or defense in Democratic presidential administrations.

Read Less

Ed Koch Blasts Potential Hagel Nomination

During an interview with the Algemeiner, the Obama-supporting former New York Mayor Ed Koch blasted former Senator Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense: 

In a recent interview with The Algemeiner, former New York Mayor and staunch backer of President Obama’s re-election, Ed Koch, strongly opposed the possible appointment of former senator Chuck Hagel as America’s next defense secretary, due to the latter’s perceived hostility towards Israel.

“I believe it would be a terrible appointment,” he said, “and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.”

Explaining his opposition to the appointment, which is looking increasingly likely to materialize, Koch said that it would lead Arab states to believe that President Obama was seeking to create distance between his administration and Israel.

Read More

During an interview with the Algemeiner, the Obama-supporting former New York Mayor Ed Koch blasted former Senator Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense: 

In a recent interview with The Algemeiner, former New York Mayor and staunch backer of President Obama’s re-election, Ed Koch, strongly opposed the possible appointment of former senator Chuck Hagel as America’s next defense secretary, due to the latter’s perceived hostility towards Israel.

“I believe it would be a terrible appointment,” he said, “and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.”

Explaining his opposition to the appointment, which is looking increasingly likely to materialize, Koch said that it would lead Arab states to believe that President Obama was seeking to create distance between his administration and Israel.

Koch is one of the first pro-Israel Democratic leaders to publicly oppose the possible nomination, but he’s not likely to be the last. Politico’s Josh Gerstein has an good rundown of the pro-Israel community’s concerns about Hagel, which are numerous. He’s best known in those circles for espousing paranoid theories about the “Jewish lobby” and opposing tough sanctions on Iran.

Hagel has his former membership in the Senate club going for him. But the biggest obstacle to Hagel’s possible appointment will be if pro-Israel Democrats line up to oppose him.

Read Less

Is GOP the Party of Human Rights?

It is no secret that when it comes to staffing, the most famous U.S.-based human rights organizations are skewed more toward Democrats than even universities. The most professional organizations try not to allow partisanship to corrupt analysis, but they are seldom successful. They loved to hate George W. Bush, never mind that many of the policies to which they most objected had their roots in the Clinton administration and have been continued by the Obama administration. When it comes to broader foreign policy, Bush did more to stand up to dictators and thugs than his predecessors. Reagan sought to appease Saddam Hussein, and Clinton repeatedly tried to cut a deal with the Taliban. When it came to unilateral sanctions, Clinton took a far tougher line on Iran than George W. Bush. And when it came to Africa, Bush did more than all his predecessors combined: Clinton’s Africa legacy was his ineffective response to the genocide in Rwanda and the civil war in Sudan.

The coming four years, however, should force real soul searching among the human rights community. President Obama’s reported pick of John Kerry to be secretary of state and the looming choice of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense will cement in his cabinet two figures that lack a moral compass in international affairs. If Kerry considered Bashar al-Assad “a dear friend” and a genuine reformer because they had a nice coffee and bike ride together, sympathizes with Latin America’s new populist dictators, and believes human rights should be shunted aside because Vladimir Putin is a sincere democrat, dictators will understand they have a free pass and democratic dissidents will realize they have no friend in the U.S. government.

Read More

It is no secret that when it comes to staffing, the most famous U.S.-based human rights organizations are skewed more toward Democrats than even universities. The most professional organizations try not to allow partisanship to corrupt analysis, but they are seldom successful. They loved to hate George W. Bush, never mind that many of the policies to which they most objected had their roots in the Clinton administration and have been continued by the Obama administration. When it comes to broader foreign policy, Bush did more to stand up to dictators and thugs than his predecessors. Reagan sought to appease Saddam Hussein, and Clinton repeatedly tried to cut a deal with the Taliban. When it came to unilateral sanctions, Clinton took a far tougher line on Iran than George W. Bush. And when it came to Africa, Bush did more than all his predecessors combined: Clinton’s Africa legacy was his ineffective response to the genocide in Rwanda and the civil war in Sudan.

The coming four years, however, should force real soul searching among the human rights community. President Obama’s reported pick of John Kerry to be secretary of state and the looming choice of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense will cement in his cabinet two figures that lack a moral compass in international affairs. If Kerry considered Bashar al-Assad “a dear friend” and a genuine reformer because they had a nice coffee and bike ride together, sympathizes with Latin America’s new populist dictators, and believes human rights should be shunted aside because Vladimir Putin is a sincere democrat, dictators will understand they have a free pass and democratic dissidents will realize they have no friend in the U.S. government.

Hagel’s gut instincts are even worse: He is not naïve like Kerry, but rather cold and callous when it comes to human rights. His instincts are to dismiss his opponents’ worst excesses as a domestic affair. Hagel embraces traditional appeasement, unaware that rather than satiate dictators, it only emboldens them. It won’t take long for dictators to understand that, with both Kerry and Hagel at the helm, they will have carte blanche to repress and murder their own people in a manner unseen for decades.

Democrats might like to say they stand for human rights and progressivism, but increasingly they do not understand that human rights are impossible to enjoy without basic human liberty. The question for the human rights community will be if they will hold water for such men and confirm the political corruption which infuses the professional human rights community.

Read Less

Reality, Not Politics, Obstructs Gun Laws

President Obama never said the words “gun control” during his speech at the memorial to the victims of the Newtown shooting last night. But when he said, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” that was a clear signal he would use the appalling murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School to pursue some sort of new restrictions on gun ownership. The president said the fact that “the politics are too hard”–a reference to the ability of the National Rifle Association to tie up gun legislation rather than any difficulties associated with efforts to prioritize mental health–could not be allowed to prevent the nation from trying to prevent future tragedies.

The nation’s shock and grief over the murder of children by a gun-wielding madman makes this a propitious moment for another try at instituting an assault weapons ban. Even a staunch opponent of gun laws such as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said today on “Morning Joe” that he was thinking it was time to “move beyond rhetoric” about changing gun laws. Manchin said that as a hunter he never had more than three bullets in his rifle, a statement that would appear to place him on the side of those who would seek to outlaw weapons that fire massive amounts of ammunition in seconds such as the one used by the shooter. But as even the New York Times reported yesterday, the AR-15 style rifle used by the killer is, in fact, not an exotic killing machine but “the most popular rifle in America” and apparently the gun preferred by target shooters and hunters, as well as those seeking a weapon for self-defense. That will complicate the efforts of those gun control advocates seeking to exploit the Newtown tragedy.

Read More

President Obama never said the words “gun control” during his speech at the memorial to the victims of the Newtown shooting last night. But when he said, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” that was a clear signal he would use the appalling murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School to pursue some sort of new restrictions on gun ownership. The president said the fact that “the politics are too hard”–a reference to the ability of the National Rifle Association to tie up gun legislation rather than any difficulties associated with efforts to prioritize mental health–could not be allowed to prevent the nation from trying to prevent future tragedies.

The nation’s shock and grief over the murder of children by a gun-wielding madman makes this a propitious moment for another try at instituting an assault weapons ban. Even a staunch opponent of gun laws such as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said today on “Morning Joe” that he was thinking it was time to “move beyond rhetoric” about changing gun laws. Manchin said that as a hunter he never had more than three bullets in his rifle, a statement that would appear to place him on the side of those who would seek to outlaw weapons that fire massive amounts of ammunition in seconds such as the one used by the shooter. But as even the New York Times reported yesterday, the AR-15 style rifle used by the killer is, in fact, not an exotic killing machine but “the most popular rifle in America” and apparently the gun preferred by target shooters and hunters, as well as those seeking a weapon for self-defense. That will complicate the efforts of those gun control advocates seeking to exploit the Newtown tragedy.

As Manchin’s comments about hunting show, even those who back gun rights understand that there is a reasonable argument to be made about the dangers associated with guns that have a massive fire capacity. Those who support Second Amendment rights to bear arms have over the years tended to oppose any legislation, no matter how reasonable, because they saw such measures as the thin edge of the wedge of a movement to prohibit all gun ownership. This placed the National Rifle Association in the same position as pro-abortion groups that oppose popular measures like parental consent because they fear they are stalking horses for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

There isn’t much of a public constituency for weapons that make mass killings easier. But as the Times article makes clear, the difference between ordinary rifles used for hunting and target shooting and a military-style weapon are less stark than many of those who know little about guns think. More to the point, with so many of these weapons that can be easily adapted to fire many bullets rapidly already out there, it’s difficult to imagine how it would be possible to ban “assault weapons” without making most of the rifles owned and manufactured in the country illegal. Such a ban would be about as easy to enforce as the deportation of all illegal immigrants–something that all sensible people know is impossible.

That means that once the immediate shock about Newtown passes, it will be soon understood that the efforts of the president and his liberal congressional allies to pass some new gun law won’t prevent another such tragedy.

Rather than wasting the country’s time with what will be meaningless and divisive arguments about guns, the president would do better to think about what can be done to strengthen the ability of mental health professionals to spot and treat the sort of troubled souls that commit such crimes. That won’t guarantee that the Newtown shooting will be the last such slaughter that shocks the nation, but it might actually do some good. 

Read Less

Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Emerging Missile Threat

Remember the “Axis of Evil,” George W. Bush’s much-mocked phrase to refer to Iran, North Korea, and Iraq? Admittedly it was a bit of a stretch to suggest that all three nations were cooperating. But there is a new axis which is, alas, much more grounded in reality: Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Their cooperation has already borne fruit in one dangerous area: the development of ballistic missiles.

In recent weeks North Korea has tested a missile and Syria has fired Scud missiles at its own people. The two missile programs are closely related, largely through Iranian intermediaries. Indeed, there are reports of Iranian experts being on hand to help the North Koreans with their missile launch. In the past there has been credible evidence of North Korea exporting missiles to Iran and Syria. Now, at least in the case of Iran, the help seems to be going the other way.

Read More

Remember the “Axis of Evil,” George W. Bush’s much-mocked phrase to refer to Iran, North Korea, and Iraq? Admittedly it was a bit of a stretch to suggest that all three nations were cooperating. But there is a new axis which is, alas, much more grounded in reality: Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Their cooperation has already borne fruit in one dangerous area: the development of ballistic missiles.

In recent weeks North Korea has tested a missile and Syria has fired Scud missiles at its own people. The two missile programs are closely related, largely through Iranian intermediaries. Indeed, there are reports of Iranian experts being on hand to help the North Koreans with their missile launch. In the past there has been credible evidence of North Korea exporting missiles to Iran and Syria. Now, at least in the case of Iran, the help seems to be going the other way.

And it’s not only in the missile arena that Iran and North Korea are cooperating: there is evidence of nuclear cooperation as well. As one proliferation expert has noted: “The centrifuge design that the North Koreans got from Pakistan is very similar to the one that the Iranians got, and so just as the two countries’ ballistic programs are based on common designs and can involve common work, you can easily imagine the same thing for the centrifuge program.”

Regardless of the flow of weapons of mass destruction, the underlying reality is that both Iran and North Korea are racing ahead with missile and nuclear programs that will give them the potential to strike not only regional neighbors but eventually, unless their designs are stopped, the United States itself. This makes it all the more imperative to proceed with missile defense plans and to also do more to undermine the Iranian and North Korean regimes to prevent them from fielding more fiendish weapons.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.