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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.”
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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.