Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 17, 2013

The U.S. and Al-Qaeda: Mission Still Not Accomplished

News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

Read More

News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

The large scale of the Algeria attack, which was reportedly carried out by terrorists based in the new Islamist stronghold of Mali, points to the scope of the problem that is still posed by al-Qaeda affiliates. It also makes it clear that the triumphalist tone that has been the keynote of the administration’s representation of its counter-terrorism effort is not justified.

At the very least this ought to complicate John Brennan’s confirmation as the new director of the CIA. Brennan has largely flown under the radar of the national press in his role deputy national security advisor and the White House’s point man on counter-terrorism. Brennan has yet to be grilled about what he knew and when he knew it about the Benghazi fiasco, and who it was that circulated talking points claiming the terror attack was an out-of-control gathering of film critics. Now we may have more dead Americans to account for and just as few answers about what is being done to deal with this threat.

With most of the focus on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the rumblings of discontent about Brennan have been muted. But this new outrage ought to wake up even those senators who have been inclined to take it easy on him in order to concentrate their fire elsewhere.

But whatever happens to Brennan, Americans should be even more aware than they were in September that the idea that America’s mission to fight al-Qaeda was accomplished with bin Laden’s death is a terrible mistake. Let’s hope that even more Americans won’t have to die before this fight once again becomes a foreign policy priority.

Read Less

The NYPD’s Sky-High Approval Numbers

In April of last year, I mentioned that although former city comptroller Bill Thompson had run a surprisingly close race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009–despite being vastly underfunded and written off by the national Democratic Party–heading into this year’s race to replace Bloomberg, Thompson quickly found himself the underdog. The presumed frontrunner was (and is) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

I noted that one major difference between the two was in their respective approaches to the New York City Police Department amid the controversy over the city’s effective “stop and frisk” tactics that helped improve safety in some dangerous neighborhoods. Thompson threatened to fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Quinn recognized the good work of the NYPD, though she expressed modest reservations about “stop and frisk.” I suggested voters would be prepared to punish Thompson and that his position on the NYPD was hurting his poll numbers. Today Quinnipiac released the results of a survey whose findings buttress my argument considerably:

Read More

In April of last year, I mentioned that although former city comptroller Bill Thompson had run a surprisingly close race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009–despite being vastly underfunded and written off by the national Democratic Party–heading into this year’s race to replace Bloomberg, Thompson quickly found himself the underdog. The presumed frontrunner was (and is) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

I noted that one major difference between the two was in their respective approaches to the New York City Police Department amid the controversy over the city’s effective “stop and frisk” tactics that helped improve safety in some dangerous neighborhoods. Thompson threatened to fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Quinn recognized the good work of the NYPD, though she expressed modest reservations about “stop and frisk.” I suggested voters would be prepared to punish Thompson and that his position on the NYPD was hurting his poll numbers. Today Quinnipiac released the results of a survey whose findings buttress my argument considerably:

In the wake of the Newtown massacre of the innocents and the growing gun control debate, New York City voters approve 75 – 18 percent of the job Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is doing, his highest approval rating ever, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Voters also approve 70 – 23 percent of the job New York police are doing, the highest score since a 76 – 18 percent approval rating February 7, 2002, in the wake of 9/11, by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll.

Kelly’s approval is 81 – 14 percent among white voters, 63 – 27 percent among black voters and 76 – 18 percent among Hispanic voters. Approval for the police overall is 80 – 14 percent among white voters, 56 – 37 percent among black voters and 67 – 23 percent among Hispanic voters. There is almost no gender gap in approval for Kelly or the police.

Voters disapprove of the police use of the stop-and-frisk tactic 50 – 46 percent.

New York City voters say 63 – 19 percent, including 53 – 31 percent among black voters, that it would positively affect their decision to vote for a candidate for mayor if the candidate promises to ask Kelly to stay as police commissioner.

Voters surely care who their next mayor is, but they seem to care even more who the police commissioner is. This also transcends identity politics, as the results clearly show. Liberals spilled much ink–usually getting the story wrong–in attempts to gin up animosity between the city’s minorities, especially New York’s black population, and the NYPD. Yet black voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Kelly and the NYPD are doing. That may help explain why Thompson, who is black, has gained no traction with voters by trashing the NYPD.

It also explains why Republicans have not stopped trying to convince Kelly to run for mayor. After all, many attributed Bloomberg’s poor showing in the 2009 election to the fact that some New Yorkers were just tired of Bloomberg’s never-ending mayoralty–yet Kelly has been police commissioner for as long as Bloomberg has been mayor, and he’s currently enjoying approval ratings significantly higher than Bloomberg’s. But it also may explain why Kelly keeps resisting the calls to jump in the race. He’s good at his job, New Yorkers agree, and he gets to stay out of the political fray, for the most part. And even though he’s not running in the election, he gets quite the vote of support during the campaign: the more clearly candidates express their approval of the NYPD, the more voters seem inclined to support them. With the mayoral race still wide open, the candidates could do worse than to take Quinnipiac’s free advice.

Read Less

Why is Obama Forcing Democratic Fight Over Gun Control?

The gun control debate is good for Republicans, good for the White House, and good for Democratic presidential hopefuls, since they can all play to their respective bases. But the biggest losers of the fight will probably be Harry Reid and the handful of Democratic senators up for reelection in red-leaning states. The Hill reports:

Reid’s job is to help move President Obama’s agenda through the upper chamber, but he must also protect his five-seat Senate majority, and gun-rights groups are threatening to go after vulnerable Senate Democrats who back the president’s calls for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. …

Some Democrats think passage of the 1994 assault-weapons ban was a reason they lost control of the Senate and the House later that year. 

Already, a coalition of 36 groups supporting gun owners’ rights has formed to retaliate against any Democratic senator who votes for restrictions on gun and ammo sales. 

Read More

The gun control debate is good for Republicans, good for the White House, and good for Democratic presidential hopefuls, since they can all play to their respective bases. But the biggest losers of the fight will probably be Harry Reid and the handful of Democratic senators up for reelection in red-leaning states. The Hill reports:

Reid’s job is to help move President Obama’s agenda through the upper chamber, but he must also protect his five-seat Senate majority, and gun-rights groups are threatening to go after vulnerable Senate Democrats who back the president’s calls for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. …

Some Democrats think passage of the 1994 assault-weapons ban was a reason they lost control of the Senate and the House later that year. 

Already, a coalition of 36 groups supporting gun owners’ rights has formed to retaliate against any Democratic senator who votes for restrictions on gun and ammo sales. 

President Obama’s gun control agenda has no real chance of getting through the House. And we all know Reid and vulnerable Democratic senators would be damaged by a vote on it. But Obama is still pushing for a vote–and putting himself at odds with Reid–just so he can have a political showdown with House Republicans that he’s almost certain to lose:

Still, if Obama follows through — and many Democrats privately question whether he will — it would represent a significant shift in his own perception of the presidency.

In his first term, the Obama rule prevailed. The White House, in tandem with a Democrat-controlled House until the 2010 midterm elections, cut complex, much-criticized deals on health care, financial regulation and the stimulus that liberals viewed as too small and too laden with tax cuts to combat the deepening recession.

The complaint by Democrats at the time: Obama was too focused on the mechanics of compromise to maximize the persuasive power of his office.

The push to regulate gun violence seems to be following a different script, more piecemeal on the policy but more consistent on messaging. In general, it augurs a more Reaganesque use of the office, a platform for Obama to shape the process through public opinion — employing the presidency’s unrivaled “power to persuade,” laid out by Richard Neustadt, the political scientist whose views shaped Bill Clinton’s approach to governing.

This still doesn’t make much sense. Americans are split evenly on the gun control issue, largely down party lines, so “public opinion” is not going to pressure many Republicans into supporting it. I also suspect gun rights supporters are more invested in the issue–and at the very least, a more powerful lobbying force–than gun control opponents. Public opinion may be evenly divided, but how many gun control supporters actually vote for their representatives based on this issue?

Read Less

Rand Looking for Cheap Pro-Israel Dates

Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

Read More

Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

As the Jerusalem Post reported last weekend, Paul criticized President Obama’s statements about the building of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Saying Israel’s policy was “none of our business,” the senator also made it clear that “I came here to show that I am supportive of the relationship between Israel and America.” As Seth Lipsky wrote in the New York Post on Sunday, Paul’s stand is noteworthy:

There hasn’t been such a supportive comment on Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem since Sarah Palin last spoke on the subject. Her comments drove the left up the wall.

Lipsky is right and that’s very much to Paul’s credit. But it should also be understood that his “let the Israelis decide things for themselves” stand comes in the context of a longstanding position that treats everything that happens in the Middle East as being none of America’s business. So while his expressions of friendship are welcome and far more acceptable than the sort of stuff we had come to expect from his father, it’s difficult to argue that a person who has never believed the U.S. has vital interests in the region is the sort who can be relied upon to have Israel’s back in a crisis.

Paul also seeks, as he did in our exchange, to spin his position opposing aid to Israel as not synonymous with hostility. It is true that, as he argues, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Congress back in 1996 that he wanted to phase out U.S. aid. But Netanyahu was referring to economic assistance, not military aid. In fact, Netanyahu’s goal of eliminating economic aid has already been accomplished. For years, Israel has only gotten military aid. But Paul still wants to cut it–although he now says he wants to do it gradually and that countries that burn our flag rather than friends like Israel should get the axe first.

Israel is better off without having its economy subsidized by foreign friends, but in a region where oil money helps fuel an arms race with the nation’s foes, American assistance is vital. Paul told the Washington Post that he admires the Iron Dome anti-missile system that helped save Israeli lives during the recent fighting with Hamas and would even like to see the U.S. develop its own version. But does he think Iron Dome would have been built without extensive U.S. support from both the Bush and Obama administrations? Israel’s ability to act independently in its own interests would be enhanced if it didn’t have to rely to some degree on its one true ally. But the fact remains that American military aid remains necessary to ensure the country’s security. If you don’t get that, then you don’t get the alliance.

It is possible to argue that what we are witnessing with Rand Paul is similar to the process whereby a once-hostile figure like the late Jesse Helms eventually became a devoted friend to Israel in the latter half of his senatorial career. If so, then it may be that Paul will become a bridge between the pro-Israel community and libertarians and will help the latter understand that backing the Jewish state is a natural fit for those who believe in the cause of liberty. If his position continues to evolve, it may actually be possible for him to run in 2016 as an ardent backer of Israel even though some will always see him as his extremist father’s son.

But it is just as possible that Rand Paul’s odyssey to Israel and outreach effort to pro-Israel conservatives is analogous to Barack Obama’s path in the years before he was elected president. Obama had few ties with pro-Israel groups, and was known as the friend of pro-Palestinian activists and other radicals. But with the help of some in the Jewish community, he worked hard to change his image. He, too, said it was all a misunderstanding to see him as anything but a friend to Israel, albeit one that didn’t like the views of the Likud. Those who vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides have had a lot of explaining to do during his presidency.

Those who are allowing themselves to play that same role for Rand Paul need to think long and hard not just about being cheap dates but about the likelihood that the candidate whose positions they are rationalizing may have a very different agenda if he ever got into the White House.

Read Less

AFF Launches Anti-Hagel Ad Campaign

Politico reports that the American Future Fund is launching an anti-Hagel ad campaign that will target senators in their own states. This is interesting, because AFF’s usual wheelhouse is free market economic issues, though it has strayed into the foreign policy realm on critical occasions. It certainly contradicts the narrative that the opposition to Chuck Hagel is coming primarily from neoconservatives:

The American Future Fund will go after the former Nebraska senator in state and national media outlets in the two weeks leading up to his confirmation hearings, AFF strategists told POLITICO. The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday that it will begin hearings on Hagel starting Jan. 31.

AFF plans a multi-stage messaging effort against Hagel, starting Thursday with ads online and in the Washington D.C. market, then extending to the states of senators voting on Hagel’s appointment to lead the Pentagon.

AFF spokesman Stuart Roy declined to put a price tag on the effort but said the organization will leave “no stone unturned in terms of mediums.” That will begin this week with a website, HagelNo.com, and ads in Washington-based media, including POLITICO.

Read More

Politico reports that the American Future Fund is launching an anti-Hagel ad campaign that will target senators in their own states. This is interesting, because AFF’s usual wheelhouse is free market economic issues, though it has strayed into the foreign policy realm on critical occasions. It certainly contradicts the narrative that the opposition to Chuck Hagel is coming primarily from neoconservatives:

The American Future Fund will go after the former Nebraska senator in state and national media outlets in the two weeks leading up to his confirmation hearings, AFF strategists told POLITICO. The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday that it will begin hearings on Hagel starting Jan. 31.

AFF plans a multi-stage messaging effort against Hagel, starting Thursday with ads online and in the Washington D.C. market, then extending to the states of senators voting on Hagel’s appointment to lead the Pentagon.

AFF spokesman Stuart Roy declined to put a price tag on the effort but said the organization will leave “no stone unturned in terms of mediums.” That will begin this week with a website, HagelNo.com, and ads in Washington-based media, including POLITICO.

The White House may have thought the Hagel criticism would die down after Schumer came out in favor, but this is a sign the opposition is solidifying, at least within the conservative movement. The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard also reports on renewed anxiety among Senate Democrats. According to Bedard, some are questioning why Obama chose Hagel in the first place:

The nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon is coming under two new lines of attack.

Senate Democratic sources tell Secrets that members are complaining that President Obama has yet to explain to them why he picked the gruff Nebraska Republican and why the White House hasn’t supplied them with extensive talking points to use to support him.

“All he has to do is tells us why he picked him, and he hasn’t done that. It makes it hard to fight for Hagel,” said a key Democratic aide.

As I wrote yesterday, Senate Democrats seem willing to provide obligatory support for the president’s decision. But asking these Democrats to actually fight for a former Republican senator with a bad attitude, a history of controversial foreign policy positions, and accusations of anti-Semitism against him is a very different story. It’s not surprising they’re getting nervous.

Read Less

The Qatari Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy

The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

Read More

The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is set to appoint a top former Qatari diplomat as his high representative of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, reinforcing the oil sheikdom’s standing as a rising diplomatic powerhouse.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, a former Qatari envoy to the United Nations who served as U.N. General Assembly president last year, will replace Jorge Sampaio, a former Portuguese president who currently heads the organization.

The decision places a trusted Western ally at the head of an organization that aims to bridge the cultural gap between the West and the Islamic world.

As the West fetes this “trusted Western ally,” it’s worth pointing out that Qatar’s growing influence in the Middle East has been almost completely negative and counter to American interests. Qatar funds anti-Western propaganda through Al Jazeera, which just purchased Al Gore’s television station–though the network is more benign than the other projects Qatar throws money at.

As I wrote here recently, over the last few years Qatar has stiffed the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas on its pledges when there was concern Abbas wouldn’t share the funds with Hamas. When the Hamas-run Gaza and Fatah-run West Bank became in effect two separate and distinct political entities, Qatar solved its problem by simply giving the money–at times up to $400 million–directly to Hamas. As Abbas presses Arab states for the money they’ve pledged to his cash-strapped PA, Qatar has continued the pattern. This enables Hamas terrorism, weakens the more moderate Fatah, and decreases the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

But Qatar’s mischievous ambitions aren’t limited to the Palestinian territories. In October, the Obama White House noticed a trend in Syria that, the New York Times reported, “casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.” And what was this disturbing development in the struggle to help Syrians free themselves from the shackles of authoritarianism and give them a chance at liberty? The Times explained:

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

So we relied on Qatar to distribute aid to freedom fighters and they spent the money on arming Islamist extremist groups. It should be noted that at this point those extremist groups–one of which we just designated a terrorist organization–then took the lead in the Syrian rebellion and made it nearly impossible for the West to do anything to help those we would actually want to help.

There is no question that Qatar has become a serious player in Mideast geopolitics and now worldwide with the surging popularity of Al Jazeera. But there is also no question that “trusted Western ally” is a strange moniker for a country at the forefront of efforts to undermine American foreign policy at every turn.

Read Less

Secession and Patriotism

I rarely find myself in complete agreement with anything that comes out of the Obama administration. But I have to commend Jon Carson, the White House director of public engagement, for his thoughtful response to the petitions received from those asking that Texas and some other states be allowed to peacefully withdraw from the union. This is the sort of thing that can easily be dismissed as the domain of crackpots. Fortunately, only a tiny minority of Texans supports secession. Nevertheless, the ongoing debates about gun control and the debt ceiling have given a concept that deserved to be consigned to the dustbin of history some traction. And since 125,746 signatures were appended to the Texas petition, the White House was obligated to respond in some way. There are some on the right who are inclined to indulge secessionist fantasies as well as others who think such talk is an amusing way to jibe the current president. But those who read Carson’s low-key takedown of the idea will come away understanding that there is nothing funny about it.

As Carson writes, the courts and history have long since adjudicated the concept of secession by the states. No less a source than Abraham Lincoln can be cited to tell us that “in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.” Lincoln’s answer to the secessionists of his time, who launched a bloody war that left more than 600,000 Americans dead, was to point out that their effort was the antithesis of democracy. The same can be said of the ideas of the latter-day Lone Star republicans who no longer wish to be part of the same country run by Barack Obama. While some radicals may see this as a rational response to the policies of the administration, this is the sort of absurdity that deserves the most severe condemnation from conservatives who understand that any such talk is an irrational diversion of attention from vital debates on the great issues of the day.

Read More

I rarely find myself in complete agreement with anything that comes out of the Obama administration. But I have to commend Jon Carson, the White House director of public engagement, for his thoughtful response to the petitions received from those asking that Texas and some other states be allowed to peacefully withdraw from the union. This is the sort of thing that can easily be dismissed as the domain of crackpots. Fortunately, only a tiny minority of Texans supports secession. Nevertheless, the ongoing debates about gun control and the debt ceiling have given a concept that deserved to be consigned to the dustbin of history some traction. And since 125,746 signatures were appended to the Texas petition, the White House was obligated to respond in some way. There are some on the right who are inclined to indulge secessionist fantasies as well as others who think such talk is an amusing way to jibe the current president. But those who read Carson’s low-key takedown of the idea will come away understanding that there is nothing funny about it.

As Carson writes, the courts and history have long since adjudicated the concept of secession by the states. No less a source than Abraham Lincoln can be cited to tell us that “in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.” Lincoln’s answer to the secessionists of his time, who launched a bloody war that left more than 600,000 Americans dead, was to point out that their effort was the antithesis of democracy. The same can be said of the ideas of the latter-day Lone Star republicans who no longer wish to be part of the same country run by Barack Obama. While some radicals may see this as a rational response to the policies of the administration, this is the sort of absurdity that deserves the most severe condemnation from conservatives who understand that any such talk is an irrational diversion of attention from vital debates on the great issues of the day.

One would think that 150 years after the Civil War it would be impossible for Americans to give even a moment’s serious thought to the merits of secession. The idea that the losers in a presidential election—such as southern advocates of slavery in 1860—could be justified in dissolving the union is contrary to the Constitution as well as to any sense of patriotism. In a democracy, those who are defeated in elections do not seek revenge via destruction of the country, they redouble their efforts to persuade the people of their mistake and look to come back to win the next time. Secession isn’t an expression of autonomy as much as it is a rejection of the system by which we use ballots rather than bullets to choose our leaders. Once you understand that, talk of Texas resuming its brief career as an independent republic stops being an interesting diversion and is seen, as it should be, as a noxious form of public discourse that should be shunned by patriotic Americans.

Extremism is not the exclusive preserve of the right. For the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, the left often acted as if there was nothing, no matter how outrageous, that could be said about the president, including jokes or films about his assassination, without censure. Since January 2009 some on the right have similarly sought to demonize Barack Obama. Far from advancing the fight against his agenda to expand the power of the federal government, extremist utterances and the related conspiracy theories have helped Obama stigmatize all his critics as extremists.

But the history of secession, associated as it is with the cause of slavery and the issues that were fortunately decided by the triumph of the Union, makes it particularly egregious and is therefore especially deserving of denunciation.

One should never throw words like treason around loosely since it has a specific definition that does not apply to offenses that fall short of “making war on the United States.” But the oaths of our public officials speak of preserving and defending the Constitution. Those who advocate the destruction of the union, even in the context of a form of political protest against the government of the day, are treading on very dangerous rhetorical ground. No responsible person, either in Texas or anywhere else, should be under the impression that this falls within the bounds of legitimate political discourse.

Read Less

BBC Corrects Report on Morsi Video

The BBC has finally issued a correction on a story that downplayed the video of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi making anti-Semitic comments in 2010. The original article said that Morsi was talking about “settlers” when he used the term “descendants of apes and pigs,” when he was clearly referring Israeli Jews in general:

Correction 17 January 2013: This report was amended to take out the reference to settlers from the comments made by the Egyptian president.

The media has been so invested in the narrative that Morsi is a moderate that it apparently feels the need to downplay his comments. Unfortunately for them, it’s getting harder to do. The Middle East Media Research Institute has released another video of Morsi making anti-Semitic remarks in 2010. In the new video, the Muslim Brotherhood leader loudly rants about the “lies”  in Obama’s famous Cairo address, and calls on supporters to raise their children to hate Jews.

Read More

The BBC has finally issued a correction on a story that downplayed the video of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi making anti-Semitic comments in 2010. The original article said that Morsi was talking about “settlers” when he used the term “descendants of apes and pigs,” when he was clearly referring Israeli Jews in general:

Correction 17 January 2013: This report was amended to take out the reference to settlers from the comments made by the Egyptian president.

The media has been so invested in the narrative that Morsi is a moderate that it apparently feels the need to downplay his comments. Unfortunately for them, it’s getting harder to do. The Middle East Media Research Institute has released another video of Morsi making anti-Semitic remarks in 2010. In the new video, the Muslim Brotherhood leader loudly rants about the “lies”  in Obama’s famous Cairo address, and calls on supporters to raise their children to hate Jews.

“Dear brothers and sisters. We must not forget to raise our children and grandchildren on hatred toward those Zionists and Jews, and all those who support them. They must be nursed on hatred. The hatred must continue,” says Morsi, according to a MEMRI translation.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, Washington can’t keep up the illusion that Morsi is a moderate any longer. And Morsi’s excuse for the original video–that his words were taken out of context–is clearly debunked by the release of a second video showing similar comments. At the very least, there needs to be a serious reconsideration of foreign aid to the Egyptian government.

Read Less

America’s Exodus from Marriage

In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan, a man of unusual sagacity, experience, and perspective, responded this way: “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”

I thought about Senator Moynihan’s observation after reading “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” which is the centerpiece of the latest State of Our Unions report. This study focused on the nearly 60 percent of Americans who have completed high school but do not have a four-year college degree. 

What we’re seeing is a rapid hollowing out of marriage in Middle America–with 44 percent of the children of moderately-educated mothers born outside of marriage. “We’re at a tipping point with Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading scholar on marriage, told National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “insofar as Middle Americans are on the verge of losing their connection to marriage.”

We are “witnessing a striking exodus from marriage,” according to the study.

Read More

In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan, a man of unusual sagacity, experience, and perspective, responded this way: “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”

I thought about Senator Moynihan’s observation after reading “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” which is the centerpiece of the latest State of Our Unions report. This study focused on the nearly 60 percent of Americans who have completed high school but do not have a four-year college degree. 

What we’re seeing is a rapid hollowing out of marriage in Middle America–with 44 percent of the children of moderately-educated mothers born outside of marriage. “We’re at a tipping point with Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading scholar on marriage, told National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “insofar as Middle Americans are on the verge of losing their connection to marriage.”

We are “witnessing a striking exodus from marriage,” according to the study.

More than 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock, while more than half of births (53 percent) among all women under 30 now occur outside of marriage. Between 1970 and 2012, the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adults decreased by more than 50 percent. The divorce rate today is about twice that of 1960, though it’s declined since hitting its highest point in our history in the early 1980s. For the average couple marrying for the first time in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation now falls between 40 and 50 percent. Today more than a quarter of all children live in single-parent families, compared to only 9 percent in 1960. And the number of unmarried couples has increased seventeen-fold in the last 50 years.

All of this has profoundly negative implications–for the emotional and mental well-being of children; for America’s social fabric and “civil society”; for social mobility and the gap in income inequality; and for dependency on government and costs to the state (family breakdown costs the taxpayers billions every year). The collapse of marriage in America, then, has enormous human and social ramifications. And whatever one thinks about same-sex marriage, this collapse has occurred long before any state approved marriage between gays.

The report offers a range of recommendations to reverse this trend, including eliminating marriage penalties and disincentives for the poor and for unwed mothers, tripling the child tax credit, providing marriage education and evaluating marriage programs, engaging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenting, launching social media campaigns, and presidential leadership on this issue.

These recommendations may be fruitful, and the scholars who authored the marriage agenda have an admirable unwillingness to accept the collapse of marriage and the American family as irreversible. We are not, after all, by-standers in what is unfolding. We are the central actors.

Still, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the difficulty of the challenge we face. “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique,” the distinguished historian Lawrence Stone said a few years ago. “At no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today.”

This is a deeply worrisome turn of events. And unless we find a way to repair the damage and the institution–unless we reshape our public and private attitudes toward marriage, family and children; toward commitment, self-giving, and love itself–there will be much human wreckage.

Read Less

Can the NRA Stop Helping Obama?

President Obama’s campaign for his package of gun control proposals has uncertain prospects in Congress. But a day after he surrounded himself with children and family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre it’s clear his purpose is not so much to ban assault weapons as it is to energize liberals and demonize the National Rifle Association. The emotional nature of his presentation made it clear that if he has his way the upcoming debate on the issue would center on whether you want to keep 1st graders safe and not on whether a new assault weapons ban or any of the other ideas would actually do anything to prevent another Newtown, or similar shootings. The open question is whether gun rights advocates can distract the Senate and the public from this dramatic talk about dead children to the more sober one of how any of this will actually make Americans safer.

At the core of the answer to that query is the group that is supposedly leading the charge against Obama’s proposals. For decades the NRA has used its mass membership and clout on Capitol Hill to maintain a firewall of resistance to any infringement of the rights of gun owners. There is no reason to believe that support or clout has evaporated, but the fate of the president’s gun campaign may hinge on whether the NRA has become more of a liability to opponents of limitations on gun ownership than an asset. Liberals speak of a changed dynamic in the national conversation about guns after Newtown, but that may have more to do with the way the NRA has unwittingly played into the hands of the president over the last month. From its initial post-Newtown press conference, which turned into a public relations disaster, to its equally foolish ad that mentioned the president’s daughters, it has rapidly become clear that the NRA has become the president’s best ally in his effort to bulldoze opposition to a new assault weapons ban. While the chances of the president being able to get his way in Congress remain slight, every NRA blunder makes them seem a bit more realistic.

Read More

President Obama’s campaign for his package of gun control proposals has uncertain prospects in Congress. But a day after he surrounded himself with children and family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre it’s clear his purpose is not so much to ban assault weapons as it is to energize liberals and demonize the National Rifle Association. The emotional nature of his presentation made it clear that if he has his way the upcoming debate on the issue would center on whether you want to keep 1st graders safe and not on whether a new assault weapons ban or any of the other ideas would actually do anything to prevent another Newtown, or similar shootings. The open question is whether gun rights advocates can distract the Senate and the public from this dramatic talk about dead children to the more sober one of how any of this will actually make Americans safer.

At the core of the answer to that query is the group that is supposedly leading the charge against Obama’s proposals. For decades the NRA has used its mass membership and clout on Capitol Hill to maintain a firewall of resistance to any infringement of the rights of gun owners. There is no reason to believe that support or clout has evaporated, but the fate of the president’s gun campaign may hinge on whether the NRA has become more of a liability to opponents of limitations on gun ownership than an asset. Liberals speak of a changed dynamic in the national conversation about guns after Newtown, but that may have more to do with the way the NRA has unwittingly played into the hands of the president over the last month. From its initial post-Newtown press conference, which turned into a public relations disaster, to its equally foolish ad that mentioned the president’s daughters, it has rapidly become clear that the NRA has become the president’s best ally in his effort to bulldoze opposition to a new assault weapons ban. While the chances of the president being able to get his way in Congress remain slight, every NRA blunder makes them seem a bit more realistic.

The NRA can point to the fact that its membership has grown in the weeks since Newtown. Its advocacy for more security for schools is popular as is its attempt to divert attention away from guns to video games even though that makes it look as if it is trying to save the Second Amendment by throwing the First under the bus.

The NRA’s efforts to persuade Senate Democrats not to back another assault weapons ban will also be strengthened by the confusion over which rifles fall under that rubric. As the New York Times noted in a feature today, the differences between most standard hunting rifles and those that might be called assault weapons may have more to do with cosmetic features, such as grips, than an ability to fire rapidly. Gun control advocates don’t want an assault weapons ban that will be drawn so narrowly as to leave out lots of weapons (Connecticut’s assault weapons ban did not include the AR-15, which was used in the Newtown murders), but if the law is written broadly it will be easier for the NRA to paint it as an effort to take legal sporting guns away from law-abiding citizens.

Like its counterparts on the left that support abortion, the NRA has often opposed even the most reasonable of gun control ideas because they saw them as the thin edge of the wedge of a movement to ban all guns. Though both the president and Vice President Biden continue to speak of their support for Second Amendment rights, far-reaching legislation will still be seen by many Americans as a manifestation of liberal disdain for gun rights rather than a reasonable attempt to limit weapons that are strictly military in nature.

The divide between urban and rural America about the role of guns in American culture and history has always been so great as to confound any attempt to make this a partisan issue. Gun control is doomed while Democrats and Republicans who represent districts outside of cities and suburbs are united in their desire to get “A” ratings from the NRA.

But the wild card in this equation is the president’s ability to demonize his opponents. If the conflict is between a Democratic president and the average American gun owner, the president will lose. But a standoff between the president and an NRA that can be depicted as the heartless foe of child safety and the cat’s paw of profiteering gun manufacturers is one the White House can win. That’s why the NRA’s decision to run the ad that mentioned Obama’s children was such a crucial blunder leading up to the president’s news conference yesterday. It played right into the White House’s talking points about their insensitivity and made the group seem like a bully.

The president can’t get his way on assault weapons so long as the debate is one that rests on logic and the facts about what will or won’t stop mass shootings. But so long as the focus is on the NRA, the president has a chance to win this battle. The switch from using the strident Wayne LaPierre as the group’s point man in the media to the more reasonable David Keene was a good decision. But even with Keene in the spotlight, it should be understood that the group is a natural piñata for both liberals and the media that may do their cause more harm than good.

Every PR blunder and misguided ad from the NRA is a gift to the president, as he successfully manipulates the nation’s emotional reaction to Newtown. As difficult as it may be for the NRA’s supporters to accept this, their best chance of prevailing in the Congress is to move out of the media spotlight and concentrate on low-key lobbying. The alternative will be to go on helping Obama by providing him with the straw man he needs to win a ban that gun owners feel will be only the first step toward the undermining of the Second Amendment.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.