We won’t know the outcome of the referendum on Egypt’s proposed new constitution that will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power until after next weekend’s second round of voting. But those betting on the Brotherhood not ensuring that there will be a majority for its confirmation or accepting a negative vote if one is allowed haven’t been paying much attention to the way the group operates or thinks. In the less than two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has moved to seize total power, the latest move coming when President Mohamed Morsi effectively assumed powers comparable to those held by the now imprisoned dictator. Though there has been a courageous effort by the judiciary as well as groups of citizens to stop the Brotherhood, the Islamists have combined ruthless suppression of dissent—including killings of demonstrators that ought in principle to render Morsi vulnerable to the same charges that he is pressing against Mubarak—with a clever mobilization of party cadres to keep their opponents off balance and on the defensive.
This rapid and efficient consolidation of Islamist hegemony in Cairo took a lot of observers by surprise. Many of us had some hope that the Arab Spring would bring democracy to an Arab world where it is largely unknown. But by now only those unwilling to face reality are still pretending the Brotherhood are just a bunch of Muslim democrats. Not surprisingly, Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed page’s resident Middle East expert, is among that group. In a column that is obtuse even by his standards, Friedman speculates that it is just as likely that Egypt will wind up a functioning multi-ethnic democracy like India as a dysfunctional Islamic state like Pakistan. It says a lot about the Times these days that such a foolish and ignorant column is what passes for foreign policy expertise at the paper. But the real problem here is not just one more dumb Times column but the fact that Friedman’s rosy view of the Brotherhood’s democratic potential dovetails with the Obama administration’s ill conceived embrace of the Morsi government.
In the Times of Israel article Jonathan wrote about earlier today, the ADL’s Abe Foxman suggested he wouldn’t object to Obama’s potential secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel. But strangely enough, Foxman seemed to give a very different comment to Jen Rubin:
“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel. His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”
Over at CNN, I speculate on what Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s incapacitation or death might mean for Iraq. Talabani was a colorful figure and, while the eulogies will be glowing, he certainly had a dark side. Talabani was pro-American to Americans, pro-Iranian to Iranians, and even pro-Turkish to the Turks. He had the opportunity to be a democrat, but as recently as 2009 was ordering Kurdish security forces to kill certain rivals in the upstart Gorran Party. Files that emerged from Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party headquarters also show that Talabani often collaborated with the Iraqi leader prior to his overthrow, and that, according to Kurdish press and those with firsthand knowledge of the files, many close aides—including his former chief of staff—were at one time on Saddam’s payroll.
During the Kurdish Civil War (1994-1997), Talabani worked hand-in-hand with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Talabani’s case highlights how the Iran link is not limited to Iraqi Shi’ites: Qods Force commander Qasim Suleimani was a frequent visitor to Talabani’s Baghdad compound.
Whatever his faults and whatever happens next, one thing will be clear in hindsight: Talabani’s role as president was crucial in stitching together a broad-based Iraqi government. Personality matters, and Talabani’s gregarious and energetic personality helped. He could laugh at himself, and crack a joke to neutralize tension that threatened to boil over and consume all around him.
This morning, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation from the Knesset went into effect. Lieberman’s rise and sustained popularity have always puzzled both his domestic political opponents and foreign observers. In part this is because Lieberman’s political persona is one paradox after another. He is a fervent secular nationalist in an age when Israelis tend to be either one or the other. In this, he is a modern rightist much in the mold of Israel’s founding Laborite fathers–another contradiction. And he is most powerful and influential in post-election coalition forming; far less so in his actual duties as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
That helps explain why they don’t understand him; it’s far easier to explain why his opponents don’t like him. Among those reasons is why he is resigning now: the cloud of potential scandal and accusations of corruption have followed Lieberman for the better part of a decade now. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has announced that Lieberman will be indicted on breach of trust charges–the same charges on which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted. Lieberman will not, however, be charged with the more serious corruption charges, likely bringing an end to a long ordeal. (Lieberman was under suspicion of profiting from a business registered in his daughter’s name while he served in Knesset.) The actual indictment will only be accusing Lieberman of the lesser, but still serious, charge that he promoted Israel’s ambassador to Belarus in exchange for information on an investigation on him by Belarus authorities.
Though many friends of Israel are dismayed at the prospect of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel being the next secretary of defense, an effort is underway to portray the longtime critic of the Jewish state as having shifted his position, particularly on the Iranian nuclear threat. Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman told the Times of Israel today he thinks a Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Hagel back in September shows that the former senator “is now in sync with the president’s position on Iran.”
But a close look at the piece published on September 28 and signed by Hagel, retired admiral William J. Fallon, Lee Hamilton and former Marine general Anthony Zinni, should give those counting on the administration doing what is necessary to stop Tehran little comfort. Though it pays lip service to the idea that force should be contemplated if all other attempts to persuade Iran to stand down fail, the main thrust of the article is to oppose any idea of military action. If this is indeed proof that Hagel and the president are on the same page on Iran, it makes it very likely that a second Obama administration with Hagel at the Pentagon is unlikely to scare the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions.
Finally, some good news to come out of John Kerry’s likely secretary of state appointment:
Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) anticipated move to the State Department would leave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hands of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has consistently bucked the White House on Cuba and Iran.
Menendez is next in line to take over the panel if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) opts to keep her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as is widely expected. That would give Menendez a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties — crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes.
“You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues,” said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush who’s enthused by Menendez’s possible promotion. “At the same time, he’s going to be expected to be a team player — but that has its limits.
“I think he’ll give folks in the administration something to think about before they cross him, frankly.”
On the morning of October 1, 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham of Pearl, Mississippi slit his mother’s throat, grabbed a rifle, loaded his pockets with ammo, and drove his dead mom’s car to Pearl High School. There he opened fire, killing two kids and injuring seven others. Woodham then got back in the car with the intention of heading to nearby Pearl Junior High, where he planned on becoming his own copycat. But he never got there. Woodham crashed his car when he saw another gun trained on him through the windshield. That gun belonged to Pearl High’s vice principal Joel Myrtle, who had got his Colt .45 out of his truck at the first sound of shots fired. Myrtle managed to subdue Woodham until police showed up.
The similarities between the Pearl High School shooting and Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook are strong. Depraved minds are rarely original. But the central difference between the two tragedies is important. Woodham, unlike Adam Lanza, was stopped mid-rampage by a law-abiding citizen with a gun. We can’t know how many innocent young lives the quick-thinking vice principal saved. While this doesn’t constitute an air-tight case for the availability of guns as defense against gun violence, it does remind us that such a case exists. It is a thoughtful case for saving lives, not ending them. Its defenders can adduce mounds of supporting data. And it is a case grounded in constitutional rights.
Surprisingly enough, Michael Dukakis apparently doesn’t want to upend his schedule for the next few months to play placeholder for a bunch of Democratic Senate hopefuls. He waved off rumors that he’d accept a temporary appointment to the seat until a special election is convened, in an interview with WBZ-TV yesterday (h/t HotAir):
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis says he will not be a candidate for appointment as interim senator should Sen. John Kerry resign to accept appointment as Secretary of State.
In a brief State House interview Monday, Dukakis told WBZ-TV: “I’m headed for the West to teach,” alluding to his annual spring-semester teaching duties at UCLA.
“That’s a no,” said Dukakis in reference to a possible appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat until a special election can be held. Dukakis also said he had not been contacted by the governor’s office in regard to a possible appointment.
This morning’s press conference by the Republican House leadership was supposed to give the impression that Speaker John Boehner is prepared to go to the brink on the fiscal cliff negotiations with the White House. The GOP has finally coaxed President Obama to budge a bit from his previous hard-line position on raising taxes on all those who earn more than $250,000 (the president has upped the total to $400,000) leading many journalists to write yesterday as if a deal between the two sides was a foregone conclusion. But Boehner knows he needs more than the minimal spending cuts offered by the Democrats if he expects his caucus to back a gut-wrenching compromise that will require them to sign on to tax increases that they think will hurt the economy as well as offend their principles. Thus, the speaker was in front of the cameras today insisting that he would pass a version of his own current position on the fiscal cliff that would only raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and more drastic spending cuts than those envisioned by the White House that has zero chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
But Boehner’s problem is that Democrats are no more impressed by his Plan B bluff than his Tea Party colleagues are by the president’s slight movement toward a deal. With polls continuing to show that the public blames the GOP more than the president for the impasse over the budget, no one in the White House or the Democratic caucus thinks the speaker’s move is anything more than the negotiating tactic of a party that knows it is in a vulnerable position.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Daniel Inouye, the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants, was 17. “I was filled with grief as I came to the realization that the pilots who had dropped the bombs were people who looked like me,” he later wrote, as recounted in the Washington Post. He rushed to the scene to help the injured. Two years later, when Japanese-Americans were permitted to serve in the army, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with whom he would deploy to Italy and earn the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and later the Medal of Honor.
So when he warned at the 1968 Democratic National Convention of a “retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” he had all the authority in the world to do so. In the interim, he had been elected to represent Hawaii in Congress beginning the day Hawaii became a state, and then was elected to the Senate a few years later. Inouye died yesterday at the age of 88. Perhaps this week as much as any, as the country recovers from the tragedy in Newtown, it’s worth remembering that the nation also produces men like Daniel Inouye–men of uncommon courage and devotion, who exemplify national service. Here is the summary of his war heroics from his Medal of Honor citation:
In the column Rick Richman links to below, Bret Stephens issues a challenge to Jewish Democrats that is also worth discussing:
Now President Obama may nominate Mr. Hagel to take Leon Panetta’s place at the Pentagon. As a purely score-settling matter, I almost hope he does. It would confirm a point I made in a column earlier this year, which is that Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel. Perhaps the 63% of Jewish-Americans who cast their votes for Mr. Obama last month might belatedly take notice.
Alternatively, maybe some of these voters could speak up now, before a nomination is announced, about the insult that a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would be. Jewish Democrats like to fancy their voice carries weight in their party. The prospect of this nomination is their chance to prove it.
Obama wouldn’t just be burning his pro-Israel voters by nominating Hagel. The reputations of pro-Israel Democratic leaders–who took to the op-ed pages to reassure Jewish voters that, despite evidence to the contrary, Obama would get serious on Iran in a second term–are also riding on this.
In the aftermath of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we’re seeing a groundswell of support for stricter gun control laws.
The impulse is understandable. The public, and particularly the political class, feel like they need to do something to address killings like we’ve seen in recent years at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, and now Newtown, Connecticut. A great evil has been perpetrated–and a great nation has to respond. There is an imperative to act. “You can’t just curse the night,” is how Fox News’ Juan Williams put it. “You have to do something.” CNN’s anchor Don Lemon went even further, saying, “It doesn’t matter if gun violence is down… We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets. They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt children.”
The danger, then, is that the powerful emotions of this moment lead us to act in ways that don’t actually address the problem–but do give the appearance of having achieved something worthwhile.
It has long been argued by psychologists and political scientists that most suicide bombers are not mentally ill and most aren’t inherently suicidal. Rather they are indoctrinated or brain-washed by terrorist organizations to perform high-profile attacks with a political or religious motive. Adam Lankford, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, seeks to dramatically revise our understanding of this phenomenon with a new book which he adapted into a New York Times op-ed today. He argues: “For years, the conventional wisdom has been that suicide terrorists are rational political actors, while suicidal rampage shooters are mentally disturbed loners. But the two groups have far more in common than has been recognized.”
His arguments would radically revise our understanding of terrorists and their motivations–if they were true. But his evidence is, to put it charitably, less than convincing.
There is little doubt that the Newtown killings have materially changed the discussion in this country about guns. The shock and horror about the murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School has created a demand for some sort of action by the government that will assuage the public’s need to believe that another school massacre can somehow be prevented. The result is that President Obama has the opportunity to pursue an assault weapons ban or restrictions on ammunition without having to worry very much about the usually vociferous opposition to such measures from the National Rifle Association and its many supporters.
That such measures are unlikely to prevent mentally unstable persons from obtaining weapons is almost beside the point. Governments cannot legislate the abolition of the sort of evil that led a disturbed individual to kill children in Connecticut last Friday. Nor is it likely or even desirable that Washington seeks to restrict the rights of Hollywood or video game makers that produce the sort of violent entertainment that creates the culture of violence that may also contribute to crime. Sadly, there is little likelihood that any of this will lead to a push to give more funding to the sort of mental health issues that do lead directly to violence.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens writes that Chuck Hagel has a “Jewish problem”–reflected in the “especially ripe” odor of prejudice evidenced in his past comments. Stephens shows that Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense would confirm that Obama “is not a friend of Israel,” and would be an insult to the Jewish Americans who voted in lopsided numbers for Obama.
Actually, it would be much worse than that.
Having said some critical things about former Governor Mike Huckabee in the context of his comments about the Newtown massacre, it’s only fair, I think, to point out that Huckabee’s tone was much more reasonable and less offensive yesterday morning. It’s worth pointing out that Huckabee, perhaps aware of some of the criticisms he has received, went out of his way to say, “I’m not suggesting by any stretch that if we had prayer in schools regularly as we once did that this wouldn’t have happened.”
That is, of course, exactly what Huckabee suggested in his comments on Friday. There’s simply no other way to interpret these comments on the day of the killings:
We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us, but we stand one day before a holy God in judgment… Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we would not have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.