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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.