Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 9, 2013

Netanyahu’s Only Real Opponent

One of the remarkable aspects of Israeli politics is that even as Benjamin Netanyahu cruises to what is likely to be a landslide re-election later this month, the political figure there who continues to be treated as an international celebrity is not the prime minister. Rather it is Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old veteran of virtually every position in Israel’s government and currently serving in the symbolic post of president that remains the focus of much of the world’s attention. No one enjoys the spotlight more than Peres, something that comes across in spades in Ronen Bergman’s fascinating interview with him in the New York Times Magazine. The piece gives us an excellent summary of his views on the challenges facing Israel. But put in the context of the nation’s upcoming elections, the irony is that his answers also give us a good explanation for Netanyahu’s ascendancy.

As Bergman points out, Peres was the focus of intense pressure from some of the prime minister’s critics to run against Netanyahu at the head of a center-left opposition ticket. He wisely refused, leaving the incumbent without any serious rival. That has only increased the fawning on Peres from foreign observers who can’t stand Netanyahu. But Peres’s stubborn refusal to give up his illusions about the Palestinians tells us all we need to know about the inevitability of a right-wing victory. If Israel’s January 22 vote is one in which Netanyahu’s real rival is a person who won’t be on the ballot, it should be understood that the reason why those who are trying to unseat the Likud are failing has everything to do with Peres’s failed legacy.

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One of the remarkable aspects of Israeli politics is that even as Benjamin Netanyahu cruises to what is likely to be a landslide re-election later this month, the political figure there who continues to be treated as an international celebrity is not the prime minister. Rather it is Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old veteran of virtually every position in Israel’s government and currently serving in the symbolic post of president that remains the focus of much of the world’s attention. No one enjoys the spotlight more than Peres, something that comes across in spades in Ronen Bergman’s fascinating interview with him in the New York Times Magazine. The piece gives us an excellent summary of his views on the challenges facing Israel. But put in the context of the nation’s upcoming elections, the irony is that his answers also give us a good explanation for Netanyahu’s ascendancy.

As Bergman points out, Peres was the focus of intense pressure from some of the prime minister’s critics to run against Netanyahu at the head of a center-left opposition ticket. He wisely refused, leaving the incumbent without any serious rival. That has only increased the fawning on Peres from foreign observers who can’t stand Netanyahu. But Peres’s stubborn refusal to give up his illusions about the Palestinians tells us all we need to know about the inevitability of a right-wing victory. If Israel’s January 22 vote is one in which Netanyahu’s real rival is a person who won’t be on the ballot, it should be understood that the reason why those who are trying to unseat the Likud are failing has everything to do with Peres’s failed legacy.

Any discussion of Peres’s place in Israeli history has to start with the acknowledgment that his many achievements over the last 60 years put him in the first rank of his country’s leaders. As he notes with his characteristic lack of modesty, the record is impressive:

I do not think there are many people in the world who can say they managed to bring down a 600 percent inflation rate, create a nuclear option in a small country, oversee the Entebbe operation, set up an aerospace industry and an arms-development authority, form deep diplomatic relations with France, launch a Sinai campaign to open the Straits of Tiran and put an end to terror from Gaza.

But as much as he deserves as much credit as any person for Israel’s survival and growth, he seems to be one of the few Israelis who haven’t noticed that his Oslo brainchild and the “New Middle East” fantasy that he promoted in the early 1990s at the height of peace process euphoria was a tragic flop that led to much loss of life. Peres rightly points out that the existence of settlements in the West Bank wouldn’t prevent a peace deal if the Palestinians were willing to sign one. But despite all the evidence to the contrary, Peres continues to have faith in the good intentions and desire for peace on the part of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, bizarrely proclaiming him “an excellent partner” for Israel.

While Peres is the darling of Netanyahu-bashers who credit the president with thwarting the prime minister’s moves toward a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, his faith in President Obama’s good will toward the Jewish state is equally out of touch with mainstream Israeli opinion. His equanimity about the Arab Spring as well as optimism about Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt also shows that he’s still living in the Oslo bubble.

This disconnect with both the reality of the region and the fact that the overwhelming majority of his countrymen have moved on from the failed Oslo process explains why the talk about a strong center-left opposition to Netanyahu on peace is more science fiction than political science. Of those parties that are supposed to be the core of this mythical anti-Bibi coalition, none actually support Peres’s vision. One, led by Yair Lapid, has explicitly rejected the politics of the left on foreign policy. The Labor Party that Peres once led has also avoided the peace process to concentrate on economic issues. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah is mainly about her ambition, not any real alternative to Netanyahu’s ideas.

Let’s also understand that Peres’s current popularity is largely based on the fact that he has abandoned electoral politics. For decades, Peres the politician was, despite his crucial role in so many Israeli successes, personally unpopular. Fairly or unfairly, he was seen as a schemer and the architect of “stinking maneuvers” that led to him losing an astonishing number of national elections. A desire to avoid adding one more to the total of those losses no doubt led to his decision not to challenge Netanyahu.

Though Peres won’t be on the ballot on January 22, his policies are. That they will be firmly rejected by the Israeli people should make it clear to his many admirers that although Peres deserves his place in the country’s history, the failure of his ideas are the primary reason why Netanyahu is about to win big. 

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The Times Spots a Squirrel

The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

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The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

But there are a lot of questions, as Power Line reported yesterday. Anthony Watts, who runs the highly popular Watts Up With That blog on climate change, has uncovered evidence that the data had been systematically corrupted in order to produce the desired curve of rising temperatures. For instance, he found that in the original paper versions of data from February 1934, the average temperature for that month in Arizona is given as 52.0 degrees F. In the current on-line data available from the National Climatic Data Center, the average temperature for Arizona in February 1934, is given as having been 48.9 degrees. The difference of more than three degrees is huge.

If Anthony Watts’s reporting is accurate, this would be gross scientific malpractice. I haven’t the faintest idea who is right here, Anthony Watts or the NCDC, as I am neither a climatologist nor a statistician. But one would think that the New York Times, with its unmatched journalistic resources, might have looked into the discrepancy before running with the story.

After all, if they could discredit Watts Up With That, they would diminish a major critic of the global warming hypothesis. If they can prove that the NCDC data has been cooked, they will have uncovered a major government scandal, and that sells newspapers, which is the business the Times is supposed to be in.

But, it seems, there’s an agenda to advance and so … Oh, look, a squirrel!

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The Lessons Of Nixonian Politics

For many people, Richard Nixon’s centennial is yet another excuse for trotting out Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and reliving one of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism. Richard Nixon was the bête noire of a generation of Democrats and the process by which he received what they believed were his just deserts seemed to vindicate every epithet that had ever been thrown at a man who first came to the country’s attention as a dedicated opponent of Communism. As Politico notes, unlike other former presidents who have their fans, the tribe of Nixonians is pretty small. That’s because Republicans as well as Democrats associate him primarily with Watergate, rendering any good or bad done during a long political career to the margins of history.

Yet there is more to his legacy than the tapes and the break-in. The more one thinks about his record as president the less there is to like. That’s because the 37th president is someone who teaches us that character is a fungible quality in politics. The lack of it not only allows a president to violate the law and to misuse his power. It also can lead to the abandonment of principle with regard to political issues. Though there is always the temptation for conservatives to take up the cudgels for anyone liberals hate (a factor that helped Nixon retain the loyalty of many Republicans during his career) he also ought to be remembered as an example of a Republican who betrayed the voters in a vain attempt to gain popularity. That’s a memory that ought to haunt contemporary conservatives who may believe the task of governing requires them to check their principles at the door to the Capitol.

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For many people, Richard Nixon’s centennial is yet another excuse for trotting out Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and reliving one of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism. Richard Nixon was the bête noire of a generation of Democrats and the process by which he received what they believed were his just deserts seemed to vindicate every epithet that had ever been thrown at a man who first came to the country’s attention as a dedicated opponent of Communism. As Politico notes, unlike other former presidents who have their fans, the tribe of Nixonians is pretty small. That’s because Republicans as well as Democrats associate him primarily with Watergate, rendering any good or bad done during a long political career to the margins of history.

Yet there is more to his legacy than the tapes and the break-in. The more one thinks about his record as president the less there is to like. That’s because the 37th president is someone who teaches us that character is a fungible quality in politics. The lack of it not only allows a president to violate the law and to misuse his power. It also can lead to the abandonment of principle with regard to political issues. Though there is always the temptation for conservatives to take up the cudgels for anyone liberals hate (a factor that helped Nixon retain the loyalty of many Republicans during his career) he also ought to be remembered as an example of a Republican who betrayed the voters in a vain attempt to gain popularity. That’s a memory that ought to haunt contemporary conservatives who may believe the task of governing requires them to check their principles at the door to the Capitol.

Evaluating Nixon’s presidency is hard work for anyone who wants to talk about anything but Watergate. But as much as Nixon provided liberals with a target, it should also be remembered that he gave conservatives an example to avoid too. That’s because Nixon’s principle domestic achievements as president were important milestones in the descent of America into the malaise of big government liberalism.

While his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency is most often cited as an interesting historical irony, it was just one of many excursions into the creation of the superstate that conservatives of our own day are struggling to cut back. Nixon’s willingness to use his war powers was seen as an “imperial presidency” by his liberal opponents, but the same tendency led him to breach every principle of conservative governance to impose wage and price controls on the economy. That disastrous experiment testified to Nixon’s lack of any political principles as much as Watergate exposed his lack of a moral compass when it came to political espionage.

Nor were his betrayals limited to domestic policy. His trip to China and the establishment of ties with Beijing are rightly praised as a bold stroke that discomfited the Soviets. But the abandonment of his anti-Communist roots was not limited to that initiative. It was Nixon’s championing of détente with Moscow that kept the evil empire alive for longer that it should have. It was also primarily responsible for the dark decade of Soviet expansionism and proxy wars around the globe that followed. Far from being a foreign policy genius, as some would have it, his cynical realpolitik approach did as much damage to the world as his liberal economic schemes did at home.

Nixon isn’t the Republican who abandoned conservative ideas when he got personal control of the federal leviathan. But there is no better example of the consequences of such folly. Nixon’s presidency will always be seen as a tragic failure because of his resignation in disgrace. But even if we leave that aside, it ought to remain a toxic model for future generations of conservatives.

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Hagel Evolving to Fit Role As Yes-Man

As Jonathan noted earlier, there have been quite a few strange justifications for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense. We are told that although Hagel only seems to speak of Israel through gritted teeth and with evident disdain, that is–according to the left–the new definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel.” We are also told he is a veteran and so he knows the horrors of war. But of course they can repeat this until they are blue in the face and it still won’t undo Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq war, and we all remember Barack Obama’s campaign putting out an ad ridiculing John McCain’s war injuries. So it’s unlikely that Hagel’s war heroics mean anything to the administration beyond their value in limiting criticism of Hagel.

One question critics of Hagel have asked repeatedly is why the Obama administration would nominate someone who claims to oppose the president’s own stated quest to stop Iran. Hagel is, according to the Washington Post, currently meeting with security officials to answer that question, explaining how ridiculous it is for them to have believed their lying eyes. From the Post:

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As Jonathan noted earlier, there have been quite a few strange justifications for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense. We are told that although Hagel only seems to speak of Israel through gritted teeth and with evident disdain, that is–according to the left–the new definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel.” We are also told he is a veteran and so he knows the horrors of war. But of course they can repeat this until they are blue in the face and it still won’t undo Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq war, and we all remember Barack Obama’s campaign putting out an ad ridiculing John McCain’s war injuries. So it’s unlikely that Hagel’s war heroics mean anything to the administration beyond their value in limiting criticism of Hagel.

One question critics of Hagel have asked repeatedly is why the Obama administration would nominate someone who claims to oppose the president’s own stated quest to stop Iran. Hagel is, according to the Washington Post, currently meeting with security officials to answer that question, explaining how ridiculous it is for them to have believed their lying eyes. From the Post:

Defense officials say Chuck Hagel is trying to set the record straight about his stand on Iran, telling senior Pentagon staff that he backs strong international sanctions against Tehran and believes all options, including military action, should be on the table….

Defense officials familiar with the meetings say Hagel told staff that his views on Iran have been misrepresented. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a private meeting.

Hagel’s views have not been “misrepresented”; he has been quoted directly and his votes in the Senate are a matter of public record. But his views have become inconvenient for the administration, so Hagel has been asked to politely, but quickly, please evolve. And wouldn’t you know it–he’s evolved.

To be fair, this was always part of the defense of Hagel: his opinions are meaningless because Obama will make the decisions, so Hagel’s just there to be a prop so the media will report the cabinet’s bipartisan nature. The “prop” theory is actually the most robust defense of Hagel (which tells you something about Hagel), since it can’t technically be proven untrue until after he’s confirmed. On this note, Chris Cillizza, also at the Washington Post, has an article explaining that Obama wanted not competent thinkers but shallow yes-men–which is why he picked Hagel and John Kerry:

1. Obama knows his way around now. Four years ago, it was virtually impossible for Obama to have foreseen the challenges before him (and his presidency) or the people who would work best with him to fix them. Given that reality, he did what most of us would do — he tried to find the best, smartest person in each Cabinet position as a sort of default approach. Some worked out (Hillary Clinton at State), others didn’t (Steven Chu at Energy).  Fast forward four years, however, and Obama knows what (and who) he needs at each of these departments far better. He’s spent the last four years immersed in all of this stuff and can now make decisions based on his own observations not the idea that you always just need to get the “best person for the job”.

2. Obama’s not running for re-election: Unlike in the first term when Obama was VERY careful to ensure that his Cabinet not only looked like America but made the wide variety of interest groups in the political world — in the main — happy, there’s far less of a need for box-checking now that Obama will never stand for office again. Therefore, the fact that his first four second term Cabinet picks are all white men — a fact Republicans glory in pointing out — is less of a major political problem (or concern) for Obama than it would have been four years prior.

To sum up: Obama is free from the constraints of public opinion, so he can finally hire who he wants: no women, and none of the “best, smartest” people around. I somehow doubt this will make Obama’s critics less concerned about the ramifications of his second-term nominations.

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State Dept Says it Will Keep PLO Office Open

Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the State Department has decided to extend a waiver to the PLO mission office, keeping it open for at least another six months, the Hill reports:

The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel. 

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote. 

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Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the State Department has decided to extend a waiver to the PLO mission office, keeping it open for at least another six months, the Hill reports:

The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.

Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel. 

“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote. 

This news isn’t exactly surprising, but to date the Palestinian Authority still hasn’t had to face any real repercussions for going against U.S. wishes at the United Nations. It could be the administration is trying to hold off to see whether the PA takes this further–attempting to petition the International Criminal Court or join UN agencies–before taking any action. But it almost encourages this behavior if there are no consequences, and it’s not as if closing the PLO mission is the administration’s only option in response to PA action. The PA also receives foreign aid, and so far there hasn’t been any sign the administration supports cutting it.

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Do We Need a War Hero in the Pentagon?

The effort to sell Chuck Hagel to the Senate and the American public has begun, and so far it has consisted of two distinct lines of argument–both intended to silence dissent about his nomination to be secretary of defense. One involves an effort to discredit and discount the critique of Hagel’s longstanding equivocal attitude toward Israel and its friends that was coupled with a soft stance on Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. This aspect of the battle over Hagel boils down to a campaign to redefine the term “pro-Israel” to mean someone who thinks he was courageous for supporting pressure on the Jewish state by standing up to the “Jewish lobby” while opposing sanctions or military action on the Iranian nuclear threat. Selling that line involves disingenuous pronouncements from Hagel and heavy-duty justifications from Israel-bashers. It’s not clear whether that will work to persuade several pro-Israel Democrats who would prefer not to deny the president his choice but are not comfortable with Hagel.

At the same time, the administration is emphasizing a much more palatable rationale for Hagel: his status as a war hero. Hagel would not only be the first former enlisted man to head the Pentagon, he would also be a decorated veteran whose courage under fire is a matter of record. Thus, interviews with Hagel’s brother, who served with the former senator in Vietnam and whom he saved from death, are crucial to changing the way the public looks at the nominee.

Hagel deserves enormous credit for his record in Vietnam, and there is something about having a person who was once an ordinary grunt rather than an officer or one of the brass running the Pentagon that appeals to virtually everyone. But does it really need to be pointed out that getting shot at in Vietnam doesn’t qualify someone to run an enormous institution such as the Department of Defense?

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The effort to sell Chuck Hagel to the Senate and the American public has begun, and so far it has consisted of two distinct lines of argument–both intended to silence dissent about his nomination to be secretary of defense. One involves an effort to discredit and discount the critique of Hagel’s longstanding equivocal attitude toward Israel and its friends that was coupled with a soft stance on Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. This aspect of the battle over Hagel boils down to a campaign to redefine the term “pro-Israel” to mean someone who thinks he was courageous for supporting pressure on the Jewish state by standing up to the “Jewish lobby” while opposing sanctions or military action on the Iranian nuclear threat. Selling that line involves disingenuous pronouncements from Hagel and heavy-duty justifications from Israel-bashers. It’s not clear whether that will work to persuade several pro-Israel Democrats who would prefer not to deny the president his choice but are not comfortable with Hagel.

At the same time, the administration is emphasizing a much more palatable rationale for Hagel: his status as a war hero. Hagel would not only be the first former enlisted man to head the Pentagon, he would also be a decorated veteran whose courage under fire is a matter of record. Thus, interviews with Hagel’s brother, who served with the former senator in Vietnam and whom he saved from death, are crucial to changing the way the public looks at the nominee.

Hagel deserves enormous credit for his record in Vietnam, and there is something about having a person who was once an ordinary grunt rather than an officer or one of the brass running the Pentagon that appeals to virtually everyone. But does it really need to be pointed out that getting shot at in Vietnam doesn’t qualify someone to run an enormous institution such as the Department of Defense?

It is true that, as President Obama said when he announced Hagel’s nomination, experiencing war provides a leader with knowledge of the cost of their decisions. However, there is more to military leadership than that. It should also be pointed out that some of the same people who are touting the importance of Hagel’s war record have discounted that credential in the past.

While Democrats hyped John Kerry’s credentials as a warrior in the 2004 election and sought to smear George W. Bush as a no-show during his service in the reserves, they were quick to treat the heroics of Republican candidates as irrelevant to their quest to be commander-in-chief. In 1992 and 1996, the country was persuaded that Bill Clinton—who did his best to evade the draft—would be a better leader for the country than war heroes George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. In 2008 Democrats acted as if John McCain’s heroics didn’t give him an edge over Barack Obama.

While war heroes still get a leg up when assessing political prospects, we are a long way from the 19th century American political practice of treating anyone with a military credential as having an automatic pass to high office. Chuck Hagel’s service to his country and behavior under fire in Vietnam says a lot about his character. But it is only part of the picture. It tells us nothing about his ability to run the Pentagon. Nor does it explain or justify his stands on key issues that put him outside the mainstream and render him a troubling choice for the Pentagon.

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McChrystal’s Take on Post-2014 Troop Levels

In his new memoir (which I reviewed for the Wall Street Journal), General Stanley McChrystal was careful not to criticize the Obama administration even though he arguably got a raw deal from the president. Obama did not send him enough troops in 2009 (only 30,000 out of the 40,000 McChrystal thought necessary) and then fired him a year later after some of his aides (but not apparently the general himself) were caught by a Rolling Stone reporter making disparaging, bantering remarks about senior administration figures.

McChrystal is a little more forthcoming in this interview with New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon. For instance, Gordon asked him about Obama’s plan to send only 30,000 troops and get the other 10,000 from allies–did those 10,000 ever materialize? McChrystal: “I was concerned about the allied 10,000, and at the end of the day I’m not sure how many of those came. … I know there was an intent to get the full 10,000.”

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In his new memoir (which I reviewed for the Wall Street Journal), General Stanley McChrystal was careful not to criticize the Obama administration even though he arguably got a raw deal from the president. Obama did not send him enough troops in 2009 (only 30,000 out of the 40,000 McChrystal thought necessary) and then fired him a year later after some of his aides (but not apparently the general himself) were caught by a Rolling Stone reporter making disparaging, bantering remarks about senior administration figures.

McChrystal is a little more forthcoming in this interview with New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon. For instance, Gordon asked him about Obama’s plan to send only 30,000 troops and get the other 10,000 from allies–did those 10,000 ever materialize? McChrystal: “I was concerned about the allied 10,000, and at the end of the day I’m not sure how many of those came. … I know there was an intent to get the full 10,000.”

The entire interview is worth reading. but it’s especially notable for what McChrystal has to say about administration leaks that only a few thousand troops–or maybe none at all–will be left in Afghanistan after 2014: “We had 7,500 in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 when I was first stationed there. And 7,500 wouldn’t do much, because by the time you had a pretty small headquarters at Bagram, you were running the airfield, you had some people starting to train A.N.S.F. (Afghan National Security Forces). … Pretty soon you don’t have much reach.”

Administration figures plotting to leave few if any U.S. troops would be well advised to ponder these words from a man who remains one of America’s most respected generals.

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Alex Jones is a Gun Rights Straw Man

After conspiracy-mongering radio host Alex Jones started a petition to have Piers Morgan deported because of his support for gun control, the CNN personality invited Jones on to debate the issue. Jones acted as insanely as you’d expect, and Morgan is now declaring victory on the gun control argument:

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan told CNN on Tuesday. “It was startling, it was terrifying in parts, it was completely deluded. It was based on a premise of making Americans so fearful that they all rush out to buy even more guns … the kind of twisted way that he turned everything into this assault on the Second Amendment is exactly what the gun rights lobby people do.”

At least one person agreed that Jones was a terrible spokesman for gun rights: Glenn Beck. Speaking on his radio show Tuesday, he said that Morgan had chosen well if his intention was to discredit the pro-gun movement.

“Piers Morgan is trying to have gun control,” Beck said. “He is trying to make everybody who has guns and who believes the Second Amendment to be a deterrent to an out of control government look like a madman. So now he immediately books the madman and makes him look like a conservative.”

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After conspiracy-mongering radio host Alex Jones started a petition to have Piers Morgan deported because of his support for gun control, the CNN personality invited Jones on to debate the issue. Jones acted as insanely as you’d expect, and Morgan is now declaring victory on the gun control argument:

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan told CNN on Tuesday. “It was startling, it was terrifying in parts, it was completely deluded. It was based on a premise of making Americans so fearful that they all rush out to buy even more guns … the kind of twisted way that he turned everything into this assault on the Second Amendment is exactly what the gun rights lobby people do.”

At least one person agreed that Jones was a terrible spokesman for gun rights: Glenn Beck. Speaking on his radio show Tuesday, he said that Morgan had chosen well if his intention was to discredit the pro-gun movement.

“Piers Morgan is trying to have gun control,” Beck said. “He is trying to make everybody who has guns and who believes the Second Amendment to be a deterrent to an out of control government look like a madman. So now he immediately books the madman and makes him look like a conservative.”

Beck is right. That’s like bringing on an Adbusters editor to provide the counterargument to the GOP tax position, or Charlie Sheen to make the case for marijuana decriminalization. These people are not fair representatives for the debates. Jones is an anti-fluoridation activist who questions the “official account” of 9/11 and preaches about the coming One World Order. He is a cartoon of a fringe figure. The only thing Morgan proved by giving a platform to such a straw man was a lack of confidence in his own arguments.

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan said afterward. How about bringing on a serious gun rights advocate, debating him, and then winning?

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The Trillion-Dollar Platinum Coin

There is a new idea racing through the chattering classes for how President Obama could avoid the debt ceiling. It’s simple: He instructs the Treasury to mint a $1 trillion coin made of platinum that is then sent to the Federal Reserve. The Fed, in turn, credits the Treasury with $1 trillion and the Treasury, its coffers replenished, then goes on its merry way writing checks.

Is it legal? Well, yes, in the narrowest sense.  Section (k) of 31 USC § 5112 says that:

The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

Of course, there is one small problem: Platinum is currently selling for about $1,590 a troy ounce. So a $1 trillion coin would weigh 26,221 “troy tons,” which might present a bit of a transportation problem getting from the mint to the Federal Reserve. There is also the problem that nowhere near that much platinum has ever been mined since the metal first came to the attention of chemists in the 1740s. Last year a grand total of 211 tons was mined worldwide, almost all of it from South Africa, Russia, and Canada.

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There is a new idea racing through the chattering classes for how President Obama could avoid the debt ceiling. It’s simple: He instructs the Treasury to mint a $1 trillion coin made of platinum that is then sent to the Federal Reserve. The Fed, in turn, credits the Treasury with $1 trillion and the Treasury, its coffers replenished, then goes on its merry way writing checks.

Is it legal? Well, yes, in the narrowest sense.  Section (k) of 31 USC § 5112 says that:

The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

Of course, there is one small problem: Platinum is currently selling for about $1,590 a troy ounce. So a $1 trillion coin would weigh 26,221 “troy tons,” which might present a bit of a transportation problem getting from the mint to the Federal Reserve. There is also the problem that nowhere near that much platinum has ever been mined since the metal first came to the attention of chemists in the 1740s. Last year a grand total of 211 tons was mined worldwide, almost all of it from South Africa, Russia, and Canada.

So the Treasury doesn’t have that much platinum. Indeed, as far as I know, it doesn’t have any at all, as platinum has never been considered specie, the metals from which coins are minted.

And coins, by economic definition, must be made of metal whose value approximates the face value. (Coins, even when not debased, have always contained a little less metal than the face value to discourage melting them down. The difference is known as “seigniorage,” and provided the sovereign power that minted the coins with a tidy profit.) The United States hasn’t minted coins for general circulation since 1965. Those bits of metal jingling in your pocket are technically tokens. And they aren’t legal tender.

So could the Treasury mint a coin, say the size of a silver dollar, out of platinum, and simply inscribe it $1,000,000,000,000? To do so would be indistinguishable, in a practical sense, from sending over new bonds with the face value of $1 trillion, as the coin would have an intrinsic value that would be only the tiniest fraction of a trillion dollars. That would violate Congress’s sole power to borrow money.

And, of course, if the Treasury were to try such a stunt, it would only make the lawyers rich and would, inevitably, cause the world’s money markets to think the United States government must be in really bad financial shape to even think about doing such a thing. The result of that: Good luck rolling over outstanding federal debt at anywhere near the same interest rates the government is paying now. We would be instant Greece.

So the platinum coin idea is nice for cocktail-party chatter, but it won’t solve the Obama administration’s desire to gut the constitutional power of the House of Representatives and do as it damn well pleases with regard to spending. Indeed, how such desperate ploys can exist in the same intellectual universe as the idea that the government doesn’t have a spending problem is a question only a liberal could ignore.

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Hagel on Palestinian Terrorism: “Desperate Men Do Desperate Things”

Glenn Kessler has a helpful roundup of some of the most troubling Chuck Hagel comments (though a much more extensive list can be found at ECI’s ChuckHagel.com). This one in particular, from a 1998 AP interview, jumped out:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ”essentially stopped the process,” Hagel said. ”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games,” stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords.

”What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

The Israeli government needs to understand that implementation of the peace agreement is in its own interests, he said. 

Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ”has tilted toward Israel” in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran. 

”I think we should continue to pursue openings with Iran, understanding this is still a nation very hostile to the West,” he said. ”We need to understand cold, hard realities and be very clear-eyed and clearheaded, but every opening we should take.”

This is a useful article because it provides three key insights into Hagel’s views on Middle East policy in general:

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Glenn Kessler has a helpful roundup of some of the most troubling Chuck Hagel comments (though a much more extensive list can be found at ECI’s ChuckHagel.com). This one in particular, from a 1998 AP interview, jumped out:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ”essentially stopped the process,” Hagel said. ”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games,” stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords.

”What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

The Israeli government needs to understand that implementation of the peace agreement is in its own interests, he said. 

Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ”has tilted toward Israel” in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran. 

”I think we should continue to pursue openings with Iran, understanding this is still a nation very hostile to the West,” he said. ”We need to understand cold, hard realities and be very clear-eyed and clearheaded, but every opening we should take.”

This is a useful article because it provides three key insights into Hagel’s views on Middle East policy in general:

1. He believes Israel is the main obstacle to a peace deal.

Hagel’s supporters claim he has, on rare occasion, said positive things about Israel. Fair enough. So have groups like J Street, and they’re so toxic in the pro-Israel community that politicians have declined their support.

Saying a few, token niceties about our closest ally in the Middle East means very little. Like J Street, Hagel’s problem is balance. How often and how strongly has he criticized Israel, and how often and how strongly has he criticized the Palestinians? He’s clearly comfortable blaming Israel, in very harsh terms, for obstructing peace. But when asked about Yasser Arafat in a 2002 CNN interview, Hagel demurred, saying he would not “single out the Palestinians and Arafat as the real problem here.” Why not? Because “it doesn’t help when we take public sides on this and castigate and assign all of the responsibility and all the blame to one side.” He certainly seemed comfortable assigning blame to Israel two years earlier.

2. He believes Israel is to blame for problems across the Muslim world.

Hagel believes in linkage theory, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of problems across the Muslim world. The article above paraphrases: “Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ‘has tilted toward Israel’ in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran.”

Hagel made a similar point in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that same year, but his support for linkage was more explicit.

“Do you believe part of this problem is the perception in the Arab world that we’ve tilted way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process?” Hagel asked then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. When Albright said no, Hagel followed up: “But surely you believe that they’re linked? You don’t believe that there’s any linkage between the Middle East peace process and what’s happening in Iraq?”

This is a disturbingly simplistic way for a defense secretary to view Middle East policy. As we saw during the Arab Spring, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the overarching concern for most Muslims. The linkage theory usually leads into the argument that the U.S. relationship with Israel undermines American relations with the Muslim world.

3. He is willing to apologize for terrorism.

”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games…What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

The implication is that Israeli actions are responsible for Palestinian terror attacks. There’s also more than a note of sympathy in the description of terrorists as “desperate men do[ing] desperate things when you take hope away”–read: when the Israelis, not Palestinian leadership, take hope away. Does Hagel still believe this? And if so, does he also believe U.S. actions are responsible for terrorist “blowback”? Some senators might want to inquire.

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More on Statecraft as Soulcraft

My post on the intellectual evolution of George Will created some interesting reactions, including this one from NRO’s Jonah Goldberg. This is probably as good a time as any to elaborate on my views related to Will’s 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft and the broader political philosophy it touches on.

There are two separate issues to consider. One is the size of government. As anyone who reads Contentions knows, on this matter, my views are pretty clear. The federal government needs to be re-limited. It’s too large, it spends too much, and (to borrow from a formulation by Margaret Thatcher) it takes too much from us in order to do too much for us.

The second issue has to do with the purpose of politics. Some, like Goldberg—whose writings I enjoy and admire—are left cold by the claim that “the state must take it upon itself to create better people.” My argument is that (i) politics is an extension of ethics and (ii) whether one likes it or not, there is a moral component to many of our laws. Hence government is involved in affecting the habits, values and sensibilities of the citizenry.

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My post on the intellectual evolution of George Will created some interesting reactions, including this one from NRO’s Jonah Goldberg. This is probably as good a time as any to elaborate on my views related to Will’s 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft and the broader political philosophy it touches on.

There are two separate issues to consider. One is the size of government. As anyone who reads Contentions knows, on this matter, my views are pretty clear. The federal government needs to be re-limited. It’s too large, it spends too much, and (to borrow from a formulation by Margaret Thatcher) it takes too much from us in order to do too much for us.

The second issue has to do with the purpose of politics. Some, like Goldberg—whose writings I enjoy and admire—are left cold by the claim that “the state must take it upon itself to create better people.” My argument is that (i) politics is an extension of ethics and (ii) whether one likes it or not, there is a moral component to many of our laws. Hence government is involved in affecting the habits, values and sensibilities of the citizenry.

For example, the 1996 welfare reform bill is perhaps the most successful piece of social legislation in generations. At the heart of the law was a moral, not an economic, argument: welfare is creating dependency, which is enervating character, which in turn is harming individuals and society. The goal with welfare reform was not to save money; it was to foster self-reliance and dignity. That was the state taking upon itself the task of creating better people, and having some success at it.

That doesn’t mean that the state is always, or even often, successful in this undertaking. But that’s an argument for modesty of expectations and to get the policies right; it’s not an argument against the role government inevitably plays in shaping conduct and character. As Will argues in his book, we frequently “legislate morality” in ways that influences actions, dispositions, and values. That’s been the case, to one degree or another, with desegregation, drug use, smoking, incarceration, sexual assault, abortion, adoption, movie and video-game ratings, marriage and family structure, child support payments, child tax credits, and charitable deductions, to name just a few.

The law is one way society sends a signal as to what it deems to be appropriate and lawful v. what is inappropriate and unlawful. To illustrate the point: My wife and I are the most important influences on our children when it comes to the matter of drug use. Their friends matter a lot, too. But so does the law. It helps to be able to say that drug use is wrong and harmful—and that’s why they are illegal. The law reinforces (or not) a moral message. As the great political scientist James Q. Wilson put it in COMMENTARY, “If we believe—as I do—that dependency on certain mind-altering drugs is a moral issue and that their illegality rests in part on their immorality, then legalizing them undercuts, if it does not eliminate altogether, the moral message.”

George Will, during the question-and-answer period of the speech I cited, suggests that a large welfare state has a crowding out effect that may diminish charitable giving, since citizens assume the state will take care of the most vulnerable members of the human community. (We’ve seen that phenomenon in Europe.)

This doesn’t mean laws are more important than parents and relatives and friends. It doesn’t mean laws have a greater shaping influence on the character of the young than churches and synagogues, than teachers and coaches, than the Boy Scouts and Bible Studies. What it does mean is that the state acts in ways that shape behaviors and attitudes that make us somewhat better or somewhat worse people. I’d rather we act in ways that make us somewhat better.

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Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

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Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

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Cuomo Does the NRA a Favor

Governor Andrew Cuomo was merely appealing to his blue state liberal base when he said recently that “confiscation could be an option” when considering possible changes in New York’s gun laws. Since then, Cuomo has acknowledged that forcing citizens to give up their legally owned firearms is not the most practical idea to emanate from Albany. New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including an assault weapons ban. But Cuomo, like President Obama, is looking to capitalize on the public outrage about the Newtown massacre to build up support for even more restrictions on gun ownership.

Given that the existing gun laws—which are aimed at making possession of a weapon more difficult for law-abiding citizens—don’t seem to have made it harder for criminals to obtain illegal guns, it’s not clear that a new round of legislation at either the federal or the state level is going to do much to prevent a repeat of Newtown in which a crazed gunman runs amuck. But you can bet that Cuomo’s loose talk about “confiscation” will do wonders for the National Rifle Association’s fundraising campaign.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo was merely appealing to his blue state liberal base when he said recently that “confiscation could be an option” when considering possible changes in New York’s gun laws. Since then, Cuomo has acknowledged that forcing citizens to give up their legally owned firearms is not the most practical idea to emanate from Albany. New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including an assault weapons ban. But Cuomo, like President Obama, is looking to capitalize on the public outrage about the Newtown massacre to build up support for even more restrictions on gun ownership.

Given that the existing gun laws—which are aimed at making possession of a weapon more difficult for law-abiding citizens—don’t seem to have made it harder for criminals to obtain illegal guns, it’s not clear that a new round of legislation at either the federal or the state level is going to do much to prevent a repeat of Newtown in which a crazed gunman runs amuck. But you can bet that Cuomo’s loose talk about “confiscation” will do wonders for the National Rifle Association’s fundraising campaign.

Democrats like Cuomo are on firm ground when they speak of tightening the laws on assault weapons as well as restricting the sale of ammunition clips that give shooters the ability to fire massive amounts of bullets in a short space of time. Most Americans, even those that own guns and support Second Amendment rights, are amenable to the notion that government has the right to regulate military-style weapons. That is the sort of thing that strikes most people as reasonable. In the aftermath of Newtown there is an appetite for more gun control, and so long as those laws don’t impinge on basic gun rights, they are likely to pass in the changed political climate since the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But the moment a prominent liberal office-holder starts talking about governmental measures that involve taking away firearms that were legally obtained, they are doing the NRA a favor. The group’s down-the-line opposition to even the most reasonable of gun regulations stems from a belief that any restriction on gun ownership is the thin edge of the wedge toward abolition of the right to bear arms. That’s why groups that seek to promote gun control, such as the one just founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband to oppose the NRA, have been at pains to say that they don’t want to take away guns from citizens.

Initiatives like the ones championed by Cuomo or the one being cooked up by Vice President Biden at President Obama’s behest aren’t likely to accomplish much. The virtues of new legislation for Democrats are primarily political. New laws allow them to claim they are doing something to stop another Newtown even if it doesn’t address the vital issue of mental health. They also appeal to their liberal base that longs to hear more talk about confiscation.

But the more liberals talk about taking away legal guns the better things are for the NRA. The group shot itself in the foot last month with a ham-handed and insensitive response to Newtown that put it very much on the political defensive. They have yet to recover from that blunder. But comments like those of Cuomo are catnip to the NRA, since they are certain to energize their donors and activists and scare members of Congress who may have been wavering in their loyalty to the group’s demands after Newtown. No matter what changes are made to New York’s already vast body of gun restrictions, Cuomo’s quote will be a gift that keeps on giving to the NRA for years to come.

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Israeli Capabilities Once Again Further American Interests in Syria

A front-page story in the New York Times this week provides a reminder of something too often forgotten: The American-Israeli alliance is not a one-way street. While Israel obviously derives numerous benefits from the alliance, it also plays an important role in furthering American interests in the Middle East. And one way it does so is through its impressive intelligence capabilities.

The Times report opens with Israeli military commanders calling the Pentagon in late November “to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.” The Pentagon promptly notified President Barack Obama, warning that should Syrian President Bashar Assad decide to use them, the weapons could “be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act.” Obama responded with a global diplomatic push to stop the weapons from being used, and so far, the effort has succeeded. But it never could have happened had Israel not provided that initial intelligence.

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A front-page story in the New York Times this week provides a reminder of something too often forgotten: The American-Israeli alliance is not a one-way street. While Israel obviously derives numerous benefits from the alliance, it also plays an important role in furthering American interests in the Middle East. And one way it does so is through its impressive intelligence capabilities.

The Times report opens with Israeli military commanders calling the Pentagon in late November “to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.” The Pentagon promptly notified President Barack Obama, warning that should Syrian President Bashar Assad decide to use them, the weapons could “be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act.” Obama responded with a global diplomatic push to stop the weapons from being used, and so far, the effort has succeeded. But it never could have happened had Israel not provided that initial intelligence.

Nor is this the first time Israel has provided America with vital intelligence about Mideast weapons of mass destruction: As the Times reported in 2011, Washington knew nothing about Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor until Israel’s intelligence chief “visited President George W. Bush’s national security adviser and dropped photographs of the reactor on his coffee table.”

If, as Obama has repeatedly asserted, preventing the use of WMDs is an American interest, then an ally who can provide timely intelligence about such weaponry clearly furthers that interest: America can’t take diplomatic action to stop WMDs if it doesn’t even know they exist, yet its global intelligence responsibilities preclude devoting the kind of concentrated attention to countries like Syria that Israel of necessity does. Without Israel, America would have to either greatly expand its own intelligence coverage of the Middle East’s bad actors, thereby wasting valuable resources better spent elsewhere, or risk discovering too late that Assad had just used chemical weapons or tested a nuclear bomb.

Israel also provides another service: the ability to take action in cases where America can’t. As the Times article noted, two hours wasn’t enough time for America to mount an intervention had Assad decided to use the weapons. What the article didn’t mention, however, was that two hours probably would have been enough time for Israel to do so: Its airbases are much closer to Syria than America’s are.

Indeed, America has often had cause to be grateful to Israel for taking action that America either can’t or would rather not. President Bush didn’t want to destroy Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007, for instance, but as I’ve written before, American policy-makers are undoubtedly glad today that Israel did so, thereby forestalling the nightmare scenario of nuclear materiel being looted and trafficked amid the chaos of Syria’s civil war. And in the 1991 Gulf War, America was certainly thankful that Israel had destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor 10 years earlier, despite having opposed the move at the time.

In an ideal world, of course, none of this would be necessary. But in the real world, the Mideast is a nasty, dangerous place for American interests. And as long as that remains true, America will benefit from having a reliable regional ally whose military and intelligence capabilities can supplement America’s own.

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