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Posts For: December 27, 2012

Schwarzkopf’s Legacy

The death of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf will call up, for many Americans, a certain nostalgia for a supposedly better time when we actually “won” wars. The Gulf War of 1991 was, after all, the last truly feel-good war that America has had—the last one that ended in a victory parade back home. But of course on slightly closer examination the definitive nature of the Gulf War—once so obvious—becomes decidedly fuzzy.

The war was a clear-cut victory only in the sense that Kuwait was liberated. But the good feelings deriving from this outcome were dissipated in large measure when Saddam Hussein remained in power and used his remaining military forces to crush Shiite and Kurd rebellions that had been encouraged by the United States. The U.S., in turn, was to spend the next decade enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq—and then in 2003 George W. Bush launched another war to finish what his father had started. That war, in turn, would drag on for nearly another decade and end inconclusively with a unilateral American withdrawal.

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The death of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf will call up, for many Americans, a certain nostalgia for a supposedly better time when we actually “won” wars. The Gulf War of 1991 was, after all, the last truly feel-good war that America has had—the last one that ended in a victory parade back home. But of course on slightly closer examination the definitive nature of the Gulf War—once so obvious—becomes decidedly fuzzy.

The war was a clear-cut victory only in the sense that Kuwait was liberated. But the good feelings deriving from this outcome were dissipated in large measure when Saddam Hussein remained in power and used his remaining military forces to crush Shiite and Kurd rebellions that had been encouraged by the United States. The U.S., in turn, was to spend the next decade enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq—and then in 2003 George W. Bush launched another war to finish what his father had started. That war, in turn, would drag on for nearly another decade and end inconclusively with a unilateral American withdrawal.

There is nothing remarkable about this—even World War II, supposedly the “good war,” ended in a muddle whose legacy included the Cold War and the hot wars in Korea and Vietnam. The very existence of North Korea, which continues to bedevil us with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, is an offshoot of the ceasefire that ended World War II. But it runs counter to the myth that somehow wars have ever been easier to end than they are today.

What was Schwarzkopf’s role in the mixed outcome of the Gulf War? Certainly he played less of a part than more senior figures such as President George H.W. Bush, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell. It was they, and ultimately the commander-in-chief alone, who gave the military its marching orders, set narrow war goals (perhaps justifiably, in light of how difficult it subsequently proved to pacify Iraq), and insisted on ending the ground war after 100 hours even though Saddam’s elite Republican Guard had not yet been destroyed. Even if the George H.W. Bush administration’s decision to stop short of occupying Iraq looks better in hindsight, its willingness to encourage revolts against Saddam and then leave the people of Iraq to his tender mercies tarnished what was otherwise a proud moment in our military history.

Schwarzkopf’s responsibility for the outcome was secondary, but he did not do enough to warn the politicos about the consequences of their actions and he did convey somewhat misleading information about how far advanced his plans for the destruction of the Republican Guard actually were. Even worse, in the cease-fire negotiations which he handled personally, he naively allowed the Iraqi regime to continue flying rotary-wing aircraft, little realizing that they would be used for the suppression of popular revolts.

“Stormin’ Norman” apparently did not view it as his duty to deal with such matters. He was a superb soldier who inspired the troops and kept confidence in the war effort back home (and around the world) with his bravado briefings. But he exemplified the narrowly tactical outlook adopted by most U.S. military commanders—one that makes it harder to translate tactical success into lasting strategic success.

None of this should take away from his genuine heroism, exemplified by an incident during the Vietnam War when, as a battalion commander, he ventured into a minefield to pull some of his soldiers to safety. Nor does it deprecate his considerable dedication to the Army and the country, and the great skill he showed in implementing (if not designing) the famous “left hook” which routed Saddam Hussein’s army.

But it does suggest that there were certain limits to his generalship which, as Tom Ricks argues in his new book The Generals, continue to confound the U.S. to this day—witness the uninspired performance in Iraq of Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey, and other generals who were perfectly competent tacticians but did not always grasp the big picture. One of the few exceptions was David Petraeus, but now he is disgraced because of a scandal unrelated to his military capabilities.

There are a few potential successors to Petraeus waiting in the wings, but they must face long odds to rise to the top in an Army bureaucracy that favors hard-charging tacticians such as Norman Schwarzkopf or Tommy Franks over geo-strategic big thinkers. Trying to revise those personnel policies should be a major to-do item on the agenda of the next secretary of defense, whoever that may be.

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Administration Abandoning Hagel

Politico’s Mike Allen reported on “Morning Joe” today that Chuck Hagel’s potential defense secretary nomination is on the rocks, after the administration realized there is “not a natural constituency for him.” Don’t ask why it took them that long to figure that one out:

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Politico’s Mike Allen reported on “Morning Joe” today that Chuck Hagel’s potential defense secretary nomination is on the rocks, after the administration realized there is “not a natural constituency for him.” Don’t ask why it took them that long to figure that one out:

Allen names Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy as the new top two possibilities. Hagel supporters will blame the collapse of his bid on the Israel lobby because it’s an easy target, but it almost seemed like the White House was more concerned with the backlash from the gay community and liberal supporters. The only time Hagel responded to criticism was when the Human Rights Campaign denounced his controversial 1998 comments about a gay diplomat. But he never acknowledged or apologized for his “Jewish lobby” remark, or his refusal to sign a letter condemning anti-Semitism. 

Speaking of which, the Log Cabin Republicans published a full-page ad in the New York Times this morning opposing Hagel’s nomination and calling him “Bad on Gay Rights. Bad on Iran. Bad on Israel.” The White House may have thought it could deal with the Israel and Iran criticism, since it gets that all the time anyway. But when Republican groups start criticizing a potential Obama nominee for having a bad record on gay rights, that’s not a position the administration wants to be in.

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The Women and the Wall Between Israel and the Diaspora

In the last week, the New York Times has published two articles on the simmering controversy in Israel over the right of non-Orthodox Jewish women to worship at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. The Wall may be a sacred site for all Jews, but it is operated as an open air Orthodox synagogue under the authority of a foundation determined to keep it that way. Thus the desire of women who adhere to the beliefs of Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism to pray with Torah scrolls and in prayer shawls is considered a breach of the peace leading to unfortunate scenes in which female worshipers have been dragged off to jail. As far as most American Jews are concerned this is an outrage, and the latest argument over the activities of the Women of the Wall, who have been pushing to change the status quo there, has created another surge of anger that has led Prime Minister Netanyahu to say that he will initiate a study by Natan Sharansky that will seek to explore ways to make the place more accommodating to all Jews.

Whether Netanyahu is sincere or not, the Women of the Wall are entitled to react to this proposal with cynicism. It’s highly unlikely that Netanyahu will do anything at the Wall to upset the religious parties that make up his governing coalition. The non-Orthodox—who make up the overwhelming majority of American Jews—can choose to see this as one more reason to distance themselves from the Jewish state. But the reason why nothing is likely to change there tells us more about the divide between Israeli Jews and those of the Diaspora than any bad will on the part of the prime minister. The problem here is not so much prejudice against Reform and Conservative Judaism—though that exists in abundance among the Orthodox establishment in Israel—but the fact that those denominations remain tiny and without much influence in the country.

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In the last week, the New York Times has published two articles on the simmering controversy in Israel over the right of non-Orthodox Jewish women to worship at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. The Wall may be a sacred site for all Jews, but it is operated as an open air Orthodox synagogue under the authority of a foundation determined to keep it that way. Thus the desire of women who adhere to the beliefs of Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism to pray with Torah scrolls and in prayer shawls is considered a breach of the peace leading to unfortunate scenes in which female worshipers have been dragged off to jail. As far as most American Jews are concerned this is an outrage, and the latest argument over the activities of the Women of the Wall, who have been pushing to change the status quo there, has created another surge of anger that has led Prime Minister Netanyahu to say that he will initiate a study by Natan Sharansky that will seek to explore ways to make the place more accommodating to all Jews.

Whether Netanyahu is sincere or not, the Women of the Wall are entitled to react to this proposal with cynicism. It’s highly unlikely that Netanyahu will do anything at the Wall to upset the religious parties that make up his governing coalition. The non-Orthodox—who make up the overwhelming majority of American Jews—can choose to see this as one more reason to distance themselves from the Jewish state. But the reason why nothing is likely to change there tells us more about the divide between Israeli Jews and those of the Diaspora than any bad will on the part of the prime minister. The problem here is not so much prejudice against Reform and Conservative Judaism—though that exists in abundance among the Orthodox establishment in Israel—but the fact that those denominations remain tiny and without much influence in the country.

The battle over the Women of the Wall is just one more illustration of the gap between the rhetoric about Israel being the heritage of all of the Jewish people and the fact that the country is, as a matter of course, always going to be governed to suit the needs and the beliefs of those who live there.

In the United States, where the Orthodox remain a minority in the Jewish community—albeit the only one that is growing rather than shrinking in terms of population—the treatment of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel remains a source of anger and puzzlement. To many American Jews, the fact that Reform and Conservative rabbis and congregations in Israel are not given the same support as those of the Orthodox seems to be an expression of pure bias. The relegation of the Women of the Wall to an out-of-the-way section of the Wall known as Robinson’s Arch for their prayer services is viewed as a contradiction of the country’s purpose as the homeland of all of the Jewish people.

But as much as the Reform and Conservative movements have made some strides in recent years, they remain a tiny minority in the country. It may no longer be true that, as some wags used to say, there are more Scientologists in Israel than Reform or Conservative Jews, but the same point still applies: the political constituency inside Israel for equal treatment for non-Orthodox denominations is practically non-existent.

To those who say that politics should have no role in determining decisions that ought to be made on the basis of the principles of religious freedom and pluralism, the only response is to point out that this is one point on which Israel has more in common with European democracies where there is an established religion than with the United States. In a country such as Israel where religion and state are not separated as they are in America and the clergy is paid by the state, the question of who is a rabbi is inherently political.

Though, as critics of the Orthodox establishment rightly point out, most Israelis are not observant, the vast majority still sees Orthodoxy as the only valid form of Judaism. By contrast, Reform and Conservative Judaism are viewed as foreign imports whose adherents are mostly American immigrants. There is strong support among the Israeli electorate for disestablishing or cutting back on the influence of rabbinate, but there is little interest in the question of giving equal treatment to the non-Orthodox. That is a source of understandable frustration for American Jews, but until the ranks of Conservative and Reform Judaism inside Israel swell to the point that they have some kind of political clout, no Israeli government will care much about them. This is also the reason why most Israelis either don’t care about the Women of the Wall or dismiss them as publicity-seeking Diaspora troublemakers.

The symbolism of the Wall is such that Netanyahu is right to make some sort of gesture about the issue that will calm American Jewry. The Wall ought never to have been allowed to become yet another point of contention in this manner. Letting the Orthodox authorities abuse the non-Orthodox who wish to worship there according to their own lights is a problem that can only worsen the already tattered ties between Israel and the Diaspora. But stripping it of Orthodox control simply isn’t in the cards. That doesn’t make what has happened at the Wall right, but the fact that most American Jews don’t understand why this is so just illustrates how little they know about the country. 

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Why a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is Unrealistic

On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

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On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

While it is unclear if Jordan will ever end up having any sovereign role in the West Bank, support for a greater role for Jordan in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will no doubt increase in the coming months and years if the current decline of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority continues. The one determining factor in all of the discussions will have to come from the Israeli side, which has yet to decide whether it will relinquish sovereignty over the areas occupied in 1967 to any Arab party, whether it be Palestinian or Jordanian.

In fact, that is not case. The Israeli government has publicly committed itself to the notion of two states for two peoples, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to “rule over” the Palestinians. The popularity of “Jordan is Palestine” among Israeli military personalities and even some on the right shows that many Israelis are certainly willing to “relinquish sovereignty” over much of the West Bank (and Gaza, which they have already done) if they feel secure in doing so. But the Arab world—now that’s a different story.

Arab states in the Middle East, especially those near the Palestinian territories, have never made any secret of their opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Diplomatically, they have torpedoed the process every chance they’ve had. And the closer the two sides get, or the more time they spend in negotiations, the less money Arab states tend to offer the Palestinian Authority to keep it afloat. At times, the West is lucky if the Arab states even let Abbas negotiate.

In the summer of 2008, as the U.S. tried to re-engage in the peace process, the Washington Post reported that Arab states were not delivering the aid they pledged to the Palestinian Authority. More troubling was why: when the terrorist entity Hamas left the PA unity government (I use the term “unity” loosely here), the checks stopped coming. The Arab states were sabotaging the peace process by funding radical terrorist elements that opposed peace and supported continuous terrorism against Israel, while refusing to support the more moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority. That was under the Bush administration, but almost exactly three years later the Obama administration faced the same problem when it noticed that Arab aid to the Palestinians had fallen more than 80 percent in a two-year span.

States like Qatar continue to undermine the PA and Abbas by flooding Hamas-run Gaza with cash while leaving the PA to beg for scraps. (The Saudis aren’t much better in this department.)

The other problem for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is that while the Palestinians would have a technically independent state, they would surely have some restrictions that they have always balked at. Israeli negotiators have said repeatedly that the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and that the IDF would still play a role in security there, including approving the use of Palestinian airspace. A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation would likely have similar Palestinian restrictions, with Jordan playing a larger role than Israel on some of these issues.

And finally, there is another reason Jordan is unlikely to want to join such a confederation. What if the Palestinians decided they didn’t want Jordanian military personnel on their new state’s territory after a few years? Would the Jordanians fight an armed uprising against their military installations? Would they risk re-occupying and absorbing the Palestinians on the West Bank? Once Abbas is gone, would an agreement he signed on behalf of the Palestinians be worth the paper on which it was written?

The fact remains that Arab states do not want the creation of a Palestinian state, and, unlike with regard to Israel, the international community doesn’t much pressure them to take a more proactive approach, despite both Jordan’s and Egypt’s obvious role bringing about the current situation by repeatedly launching wars of annihilation against the Jewish state. An Arab world that played a constructive role in the conflict would be a first.

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Stigmatizing Gun Owners Makes Civil Debate Impossible

The decision of a newspaper in New York’s Westchester County to publish an interactive map that allowed readers to discover the names and addresses of owners of legal guns is generally being debated as one about whether the Gannett-owned Journal News showed good judgment. It didn’t, but the problem goes a lot deeper than whether or not a newspaper ought to publicize information that is legally available to the public in this manner. The controversy goes to the heart of the entire discussion about guns in this country.

No matter what those behind this stunt say, this wasn’t about the safety of the community or the right of the public to information. Rather, this was about the desire on the part of some in the liberal mainstream media to stigmatize legal gun ownership and to whip up sentiment for not just tighter controls but an eventual ban. This makes it easier to understand why the National Rifle Association fiercely resists even the most reasonable gun control measures. If even those who have jumped through the not inconsiderable hoops erected by the authorities to gain a legal gun permit in New York are now to be treated as if they were the moral equivalent of sex offenders, it’s clear the goal of the anti-gun media is not just to focus discussion on assault weapons and large ammunition clips but to ban individual gun ownership altogether.

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The decision of a newspaper in New York’s Westchester County to publish an interactive map that allowed readers to discover the names and addresses of owners of legal guns is generally being debated as one about whether the Gannett-owned Journal News showed good judgment. It didn’t, but the problem goes a lot deeper than whether or not a newspaper ought to publicize information that is legally available to the public in this manner. The controversy goes to the heart of the entire discussion about guns in this country.

No matter what those behind this stunt say, this wasn’t about the safety of the community or the right of the public to information. Rather, this was about the desire on the part of some in the liberal mainstream media to stigmatize legal gun ownership and to whip up sentiment for not just tighter controls but an eventual ban. This makes it easier to understand why the National Rifle Association fiercely resists even the most reasonable gun control measures. If even those who have jumped through the not inconsiderable hoops erected by the authorities to gain a legal gun permit in New York are now to be treated as if they were the moral equivalent of sex offenders, it’s clear the goal of the anti-gun media is not just to focus discussion on assault weapons and large ammunition clips but to ban individual gun ownership altogether.

The article accompanying the interactive map about “the gun owner next door” made it clear the boogeyman to those who wish to push more gun control legislation isn’t just an NRA leadership that is tone deaf to the country’s mood. It is the ordinary American exercising his right to possess a legal firearm while observing all the legal niceties. That’s made clear by a piece that begins by discussing a violent crime committed by a person with two unregistered guns but then quickly shifts to the discussion of who owns legal and registered guns. The conceit of the article is to heighten suspicion of all gun owners and to render them pariahs. That effect is not softened by the fact that the author notes that he has a legally registered pistol.

For all of the incessant calls for civil debate from the liberal media, this is exactly the sort of thing that makes such a discussion impossible. Advocates of gun control in Congress claim that talk of banning all guns is crazy, but stunts like this demonstrate that such foolish ideas are bubbling very close to the surface in the liberal media. Broad support for some changes in existing gun laws probably exists right now in the wake of the Newtown massacre. But the chances for putting reasonable limits on military-style weapons or ammunition clips will be sunk if the anti-gun zealots in the media continue to show their real agenda is creating an atmosphere in which all firearms will be banned.

Legal gun owners don’t deserve to have their privacy invaded or to be made the targets of criminals who will use the information published by the newspaper as a database to aid their efforts to steal weapons from their owners. Nor do they deserve to be hounded and abused in this manner. More to the point, this is exactly what should be avoided if the country is to have a discussion about guns that doesn’t boil down to a shouting match between those who want guns banned and those who want no restrictions or accountability.

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Piers Morgan, Progressive Hypocrite

If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

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If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

Of course. It turns out the Bible is a “living book” in the same way the Constitution is a “living document.” And since someone has to amend both the Bible and the Constitution, perhaps we can enlist the enlightened Piers Morgan to do the job. I can hardly wait to read the finished products. They will be fashionable, post-modern, and undoubtedly an improvement over what Solomon, King David, Jesus, and James Madison came up with.

And if that wasn’t enough, Morgan, rather than Warren, decided to take on the role of preacher. “The debate should always be respectful,” according to Morgan. “By the way,” he added, “it applies to politics, too. The moment it becomes disrespectful and discourteous and then rude and then poisonous, you never achieve anything.”

By the way, this civility sermon comes a week after Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, and called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man” and “dangerous.” Then, in order to underscore the importance of respect and courteousness in public discourse, Morgan accused his guest of being a liar. Morgan added, “You shame your country.” And then Piers told Pratt, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

All of which got me to thinking. If Morgan does amend the Bible, he might want to begin with a verse in the book of Matthew, where Jesus repeatedly upbraids the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. That way Morgan could inject poison into our political discourse one week and preach against it the next, and feel perfectly wonderful about himself.

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