Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 29, 2013

Clinton’s Victory Lap Ignores Egypt

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

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Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

Even as “60 Minutes” interviewer Steve Kroft was making sure the president and Mrs. Clinton felt safe from being made to look stupid or bad, tens of thousands of protesters had taken over Tahir Square registering their anger about the fact that the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has assumed the same tyrannical powers as Mubarak. Today violent clashes are spreading throughout the Egyptian capital as a sense is taking hold that, as the New York Times put it, “the state is unraveling.”

The significance of the statement from Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi is that the sidelining of the military during the transition after Mubarak’s fall was very much Clinton’s handiwork. While the administration probably gets more blame than they deserve for the end of Mubarak’s rule, they haven’t gotten enough for the way they helped smooth the way for the Brotherhood’s ascendancy. Clinton used the leverage that the more than $1 billion in American aid Egypt gets from the United States in order to force the generals to stand aside and let the Brotherhood take power. Neither she nor the president has shown the slightest inclination to use that same leverage to push the Brotherhood out or even to make it loosen its grip on total power.

Anyone doubting the importance of this in terms of Clinton’s legacy needs to understand that on her watch, the most populous Arab nation has moved from being a force for moderation in the region to being in the grip of an Islamist government that is not only hostile to our values (as Morsi’s anti-Semitic rants and his equally hateful explanations for them illustrate), but also has re-established good relations with our enemies like Iran, strengthened terrorists like the Hamas regime in Gaza and threatened the peace with Israel.

This is a diplomatic setback of the first order. But instead of speaking out in order to try and restrain Morsi from killing his opponents or supporting those Egyptians who want to know how it is that they have swapped a secular dictator for an Islamist one, Clinton and her boss have made it clear that they will continue funding him. If this is their idea of foreign policy success, we’d hate to see what failure looks like.

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The Shameful Attack on Israel from Amnesty International

One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

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One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?

Amnesty wants Israel to take its beating or it will not-so-subtly suggest to the victims of the Taliban that they can blame the Jewish state. It would certainly be convenient for Amnesty to do so, since the organization could simply stop putting researchers at risk in dangerous countries and just consolidate its branches in its office in Tel Aviv, where its staffers can unironically fault Israel for every human rights violation unharassed by the democratically-elected Israeli government it is scapegoating.

Israel’s review was supposed to take place this afternoon, and be conducted by three nations–one of them Venezuela. As if it’s unclear why a country would opt-out of such a sham, the United States was apparently engaged in a last-minute push to convince Israel to take its medicine. The Times of Israel reports:

“Tough talks” were held on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the paper reported Sunday. The US officials also said that even though Israel’s boycott might be justified, it would eventually harm Israel’s reputation in the international arena.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” Eileen Donahoe, Washington’s ambassador to the UNHRC, told reporters in Geneva last week. “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Israel is also expected to not cooperate with a probe into the country’s reported use of drones against Palestinian targets, launched last week, Haaretz reported. Israel does not admit to using drones in aerial strikes. The US and Britain are expected to work with the investigation, which does not have official backing from the UNHCR, but was prompted by requests from China, Russia and Pakistan.

I don’t know exactly what the story means when it says the U.S. plans to “work with” the drone investigation, but I’ll give the White House and Foggy Bottom three guesses as to which country is likely to be the next subject of a drone investigation initiated by Pakistan.

Just as Amnesty vowed retribution for Israel’s intransigence, the UN Human Rights Council warned that “appropriate action would be taken.” For its part, the Israeli government made no attempt to hide its contempt for being lectured by the “dictator protection racket,” as the Wall Street Journal has so aptly dubbed the UN:

“It’s hard to understand how the countries that initiated this investigation have any moral right to review or to opine on human rights records of other countries,” an anonymous Israeli official said. “Such countries that have long records jailing and/or assassinating their political opponents are in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.”

That gets it about right. The UN, of course, has every right to ask Israel to participate in the review and drone investigation and take offense when they are rebuffed. But there is no excuse for the shameful comments from Amnesty, an organization that ought to be above making it official policy to blame Israel for human rights violations made by terrorists and dictators simply because the Israelis won’t lend credibility to their perennial accusers.

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Fox News Fights Back Against Obama Smear

Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

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Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

“For me this isn’t about what he said about Fox News [...] it’s about once again the president saying that if somebody disagrees with him, if Republicans disagree with him, it’s because someone has ‘gotten’ to them,” she told Fox News Digital political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It sounds dismissive of heartfelt beliefs that Republicans may hold or their constituents may hold that just don’t line up with his.”

One of Fox’s most vocal liberals, Kirsten Powers, took to the Fox opinion page to discuss Obama’s “war on Fox News.” 

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like. 

In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression. 

That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today. 

Powers’s entire column is a must-read and holds the president’s feet to the fire on his administration’s efforts to remove Fox from the national conversation by denying the network equal access to conference calls and interviews. Despite Fox’s record-setting ratings, the president has deemed the network an illegitimate source of news while his allies at Media Matters declared their intention to destroy the network through “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” It’s easy to imagine the kind of uproar President George W. Bush would have faced if he had made a similar attempt at stifling MSNBC or another liberal news outlet. It’s more difficult, however, to imagine President Bush actually attempting something so hostile to the free exchange of ideas and information.

While some media liberals spent the eight years of the Bush administration accusing the president of fascism, one would hope that the current president’s attempts to limit the freedom of the press to do their jobs would elicit a response of some kind. That no liberal but a Fox News paid contributor has forcefully pushed back against the president’s efforts portends a sad future for American liberalism, as Powers herself notes: “That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today.”

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Hateful Cartoon Merited Murdoch Apology

The fallout from the controversy over the publication by London’s Sunday Times of an anti-Semitic cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day has generated a debate of sorts about where the line must be drawn between fair–if offensive–comment about Israel and blatant Jew-hatred. Predictably, some on the left have piped up to say there was nothing wrong with depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a villainous murderer dripping with the blood of Arab victims that he was cementing into what we are supposed to think was his country’s security fence. One British defender of artist Gerald Scarfe claimed it was OK to draw Netanyahu in this way since previous cartoons had also roughed up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Behind most of the complaints about the outrage expressed by many Jewish journalists and organizations is the usual attitude in which Jews are told to stop being so sensitive and just shut up and let the world say what it wants about Israel.

Fortunately, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sunday Times, isn’t listening to those voices and yesterday issued an apology on Twitter:

Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.

Murdoch deserves credit for stepping up and putting the issue in its proper perspective. But before the dust settles the arguments put forward by Scarfe’s defenders need to be refuted in more detail. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Netanyahu any more than there would be with sniping at any other politician. But the symbolism of Scarfe’s cartoon as well as its timing reflected a disturbing willingness not merely to validate lies about Israeli policies but to portray the country as a heartless murderer of Arabs.

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The fallout from the controversy over the publication by London’s Sunday Times of an anti-Semitic cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day has generated a debate of sorts about where the line must be drawn between fair–if offensive–comment about Israel and blatant Jew-hatred. Predictably, some on the left have piped up to say there was nothing wrong with depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a villainous murderer dripping with the blood of Arab victims that he was cementing into what we are supposed to think was his country’s security fence. One British defender of artist Gerald Scarfe claimed it was OK to draw Netanyahu in this way since previous cartoons had also roughed up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Behind most of the complaints about the outrage expressed by many Jewish journalists and organizations is the usual attitude in which Jews are told to stop being so sensitive and just shut up and let the world say what it wants about Israel.

Fortunately, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sunday Times, isn’t listening to those voices and yesterday issued an apology on Twitter:

Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.

Murdoch deserves credit for stepping up and putting the issue in its proper perspective. But before the dust settles the arguments put forward by Scarfe’s defenders need to be refuted in more detail. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Netanyahu any more than there would be with sniping at any other politician. But the symbolism of Scarfe’s cartoon as well as its timing reflected a disturbing willingness not merely to validate lies about Israeli policies but to portray the country as a heartless murderer of Arabs.

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer claims Scarfe is innocent of the charge of anti-Semitism because the drawing of Netanyahu contains no Jewish symbols like a Star of David, so the offensive libel should be seen as only aimed at the prime minister and not the Jewish state or the Jewish people. Pfeffer also claims not to see any Holocaust imagery.

But the Netanyahu of the cartoon is not a generic political bad guy. He is a hook-nosed killer with blood dripping from his hands. This is straight out of the traditional playbook of Julius Streicher’s Nazi propaganda in which Jews were shown as horrifying defilers of innocent non-Jews. And while Netanyahu’s politics are fair game for comment, the idea of demonizing the security fence as a way by which Israelis are killing Arabs is particularly offensive since it is a clear allusion to the walled ghettos where Nazis killed Jews–a conclusion that most readers picking up the cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day were hard-pressed to avoid. Nor does Pfeffer’s observation that the dead Palestinians in the cartoon were not children remove the stigma of the blood libel from the cartoon. One of the victims was clearly an adolescent, but blood libels were not only about killing gentile children but about Jews enjoying spilling any non-Jewish blood, a myth this drawing reinforces. To argue that showing Israel’s prime minister spilling the blood of Arabs has nothing to do with libels against his country or people is to make a distinction without a difference. In this case, Netanyahu is just a surrogate for traditional tropes of anti-Semitism.

Moreover, attempts to portray the fence as a crime against Palestinians is particularly hateful. As the editors at the Times surely knew, it was built to keep Arab murderers from slaughtering Jews in suicide bombings, not to facilitate attacks on Palestinians. This trick of trying to pretend that Jewish self-defense is really an act of murder is of a piece with the entire genre of slurs that seek to paint Israel as a new version of Nazi Germany. Like Streicher’s filth, the purpose of such attacks is to relieve anti-Semites of any guilt about their hatred for Jews.

Lastly, the idea that Scarfe should get a pass for smearing Netanyahu because he has also attacked Assad is a further indictment of the mindset of the artist and his defenders. Such a false equivalence seems almost too foolish to need to take down, but let’s point out a few obvious differences between the two men.

The first is that Assad is a dictator who has spent the last two years murdering tens of thousands of his own people in an attempt to hold onto absolute power in Syria. That his father did the same sorts of things during a bloody 30-plus-year reign of terror is no defense of his son’s behavior. Netanyahu is the elected leader of a democracy charged with the defense of his nation against terrorists who are sworn to destroy Israel and to slaughter its people. That sort of moral equivalence isn’t merely wrong-headed, it is a product of the effort to delegitimize Israel and to whitewash those who truly do wish to carry on Hitler’s murderous legacy.

The Scarfe cartoon is troubling not just because of its timing but because it betrays a willingness to smear Israel with the symbols of anti-Semitic invective which have become commonplace among the Jewish state’s European detractors. It merited Murdoch’s apology. But more than that, it ought to cause those who cheered its disgusting imagery and defended its artists to think twice about how European elites have been co-opted into defending and echoing the anti-Semitic myths about Jews and Israel that have become commonplace throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds.

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Exposing the Gulags of North Korea

Decades after the construction of city-sized gulags, it appears that the world’s attention may finally be focusing on human rights abuses in North Korea. Predictably, after North Korea’s latest statements on the probability of a nuclear test in the near future, the spotlight is back on the regime. In the past, boisterous proclamations about their nuclear program elicited attention solely on the program. This time, however, “citizen journalists” and Google Maps contributors have shifted the focus to the fate of citizens of North Korea, not just their government, becoming the latest push to expose the country’s miserable human rights record.

Yesterday the New York Times published an op-ed advocating for increased engagement with North Korea over its human rights abuses:

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Decades after the construction of city-sized gulags, it appears that the world’s attention may finally be focusing on human rights abuses in North Korea. Predictably, after North Korea’s latest statements on the probability of a nuclear test in the near future, the spotlight is back on the regime. In the past, boisterous proclamations about their nuclear program elicited attention solely on the program. This time, however, “citizen journalists” and Google Maps contributors have shifted the focus to the fate of citizens of North Korea, not just their government, becoming the latest push to expose the country’s miserable human rights record.

Yesterday the New York Times published an op-ed advocating for increased engagement with North Korea over its human rights abuses:

Abuses are so widespread and severe that the former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, described the country as “sui generis — in a category of its own.” He called on the United Nations to take up the case “at the pinnacle of the system” and urged the international community to “mobilize the totality of the U.N. to … support processes which concretize responsibility and an end to impunity.” Until very recently, his calls fell on deaf ears.

Momentum is now gathering pace, however, for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea. For the first time, factors favorable to achieving this have come together, providing a window of opportunity. But that window is narrow.

The current composition of the U.N. Human Rights Council means that such a proposal, at the approaching session in March, stands a good chance of being passed. So it is now a matter of leadership and initiative. A government, or a group of governments, most likely from Europe but with strong backing from Japan, South Korea and the United States, needs to respond to the challenge and put forward a recommendation.

Last week I discussed the possibility that North Korea’s newfound belligerence is due to its desire to secure more international aid amidst a famine. Thanks to “citizen journalists” recruited inside the reclusive nation, more details are coming to light about the famine and reported instances of cannibalism:

The grim suggestion that North Koreans are turning to cannibalism were reported by the Asia Press, and published in the Sunday Times.

They claim a ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has killed 10,000 people, and there are fears that cannibalism is spreading throughout the country.

The reports come as sanctions are tightened against the backdrop of angry rhetoric over missile testing.

In one particularly disturbing report, a man was said to have dug up his grandchild’s corpse. Other lurid reports included the suggestion that some men boiled their children before eating them.

Asia Press is a specialist news agency based in Osaka, Japan, which claims to have recruited a network of “citizen journalists” inside North Korea. The reports are considered credible.

Today Google Maps added numerous North Korean locations for the first time, making the existence of several city-sized gulags accessible anyone with an internet connection (that includes only several hundred North Koreans, most of whom who have no access to the Internet as we know it). While the information has been available on Google Earth for some time, this is the first time that the more widely used Google Maps application will feature information on the most closed-off country in the world. 

With a nuclear test close on the horizon, North Korea is drawing the world’s attention to its nuclear capabilities, but Kim Jong-un and his associates may want to be careful what they wish for. Increasingly that attention isn’t just focusing on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, but also its human rights abuses–which just became a bit more difficult to hide.

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Conservatives and Immigration

The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

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The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

A considerable portion of the conservative movement has always supported a more rational policy on immigration that recognized the need to do something to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows. But most on the right have treated this issue as one in which the rule of law was at stake and saw any proposal that called for giving legal status to the more than 11 million illegals already here as an amnesty bill. Opposition to rewarding law-breakers is rational and understandable. But since, as Rush noted yesterday, nobody on the right is seriously talking about trying to deport all of those people (something that would, in any case, be virtually impossible anyway), it is hard to understand how a refusal to create a process by which the illegals could become documented is a defense of the rule of law. As Marco Rubio has argued, what we have now is de facto amnesty.

Charles Krauthammer’s objections are also not to be dismissed. After decades of neglect, there is good reason to be skeptical of any federal commitment to secure the border. But the strength of the bipartisan proposal is that this is probably our best chance to force Washington to deal with the issue that we are ever likely to get. Since the implementation of the plans for giving legal status to the illegals is dependent on concrete steps toward making it far more difficult to cross the border with impunity, the administration and its liberal supporters in Congress have an incentive to acquiesce to more security and to see that the law is enforced. Those who rightly complain about the porous nature of the border need to understand that absent a comprehensive immigration deal there isn’t likely to be any funding or backing either now or in the future for the kind of measures that are needed to tighten up the border.

That said, the idea that Republicans are trolling for Hispanic votes on this issue is troubling. Treating the issue as if it were a simple transaction in which the GOP would flip on immigration in order to purchase Hispanic votes is misleading and inaccurate.

No matter what happens in this debate, many Hispanic voters will not forget the inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigrants used by Republican candidates like Mitt Romney. Were Republicans to approach this matter in such a cynical manner it would do them little good politically. Nor will Republicans ever be able to outbid the Democrats when it comes to offering more government benefits and entitlements.

The best Republicans can hope for here is to take the issue off the table and therefore deny Democrats the ability to falsely claim that they are the defenders of the immigrants. Dropping their opposition to reform won’t put the GOP on an even playing field with Democrats for Hispanics, but it will give them a chance to begin making inroads. Republicans need to recognize that pushing illegals to get on the citizenship track, pay taxes and get ahead like all other previous immigrant groups is good for America and the GOP. If they do, they will prosper and become, like their predecessors from Ireland, Germany and a hundred other places, the sort of people who will be inclined to embrace the conservative doctrine of free markets and limited government.

Leaving the Hispanic vote aside, the rationale for Republican support for immigration reform is actually about a core principle of conservatism: a recognition that government can’t try to use legislation to override basic economics. So long as there are jobs in the United States that Americans are not filling and there is a large population of unemployed workers just outside our border, those people will be finding a way to get to those jobs no matter what the laws say. It is far better to accept this and accommodate the laws to economic reality than to attempt the opposite.

Moreover, despite the issues in some border states where a large population of illegals has created serious problems, we also need to understand that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are here to work, not to try to collect welfare benefits. These are the sorts of people America has always needed and welcomed, and the idea that they are a threat to our way of life is grounded in inaccurate ideas about their role in our society and the economy. Worries about maintaining a large unassimilated population are best addressed through reform measures that encourage the learning of English in order to get on a path to citizenship, not empty talk about treating the immigrants as lawbreakers.

Those who refuse to contemplate any policy on illegal immigration other than punishment and stricter border security are living in a fantasy world. It is long past time for Republicans to stop trying to pretend that there is any solution to deal with millions of illegals other than to accept them. Any deal that strengthens border security and penalizes the illegals is the best conservatives will ever get. The GOP should embrace it and then move on to other, more important fights.

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Are Hagel and Obama “Soul Mates” on Defense Policy?

On January 10, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama explained his opposition to the Iraq surge of additional troops by making a prediction: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” It was an early indication of Obama’s poor judgment and instinct to substitute ideological stubbornness for serious analysis. As we soon found out, Obama was just about as wrong as could be. I say “just about,” because Obama’s error was, surprisingly, eclipsed the very next day by the one man who turned out to be more mistaken than Obama, by saying the surge was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”

That man, of course, was Chuck Hagel. Obama and Hagel would develop a friendship, and repeat this pattern. They would travel to Iraq together, where Hagel was dismissive and suspicious of the military’s top brass. Obama would take office and do the same. Hagel would speak out against tough Iran sanctions, and Obama would work against them from the White House, opposing several iterations of them and finally watering them down when he couldn’t prevent sanctions from passing Congress. Hagel would loudly criticize even the contemplation of military action against Iran, and Obama would have his secretary of defense deliver a similar message to Israel. It is this pattern that has led Hagel’s critics to express concern about his nomination to be secretary of defense. Many worry Obama shares Hagel’s views; Obama’s defenders assure us he does not. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward says the critics are right, and relays a conversation Obama and Hagel had at the beginning of Obama’s first term:

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On January 10, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama explained his opposition to the Iraq surge of additional troops by making a prediction: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” It was an early indication of Obama’s poor judgment and instinct to substitute ideological stubbornness for serious analysis. As we soon found out, Obama was just about as wrong as could be. I say “just about,” because Obama’s error was, surprisingly, eclipsed the very next day by the one man who turned out to be more mistaken than Obama, by saying the surge was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”

That man, of course, was Chuck Hagel. Obama and Hagel would develop a friendship, and repeat this pattern. They would travel to Iraq together, where Hagel was dismissive and suspicious of the military’s top brass. Obama would take office and do the same. Hagel would speak out against tough Iran sanctions, and Obama would work against them from the White House, opposing several iterations of them and finally watering them down when he couldn’t prevent sanctions from passing Congress. Hagel would loudly criticize even the contemplation of military action against Iran, and Obama would have his secretary of defense deliver a similar message to Israel. It is this pattern that has led Hagel’s critics to express concern about his nomination to be secretary of defense. Many worry Obama shares Hagel’s views; Obama’s defenders assure us he does not. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward says the critics are right, and relays a conversation Obama and Hagel had at the beginning of Obama’s first term:

According to an account that Hagel later gave, and is reported here for the first time, he told Obama: “We are at a time where there is a new world order. We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they” — the military and diplomats — “tell you. Any assumption 10 years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what are we using the military for….

Obama did not say much but listened. At the time, Hagel considered Obama a “loner,” inclined to keep a distance and his own counsel. But Hagel’s comments help explain why Obama nominated his former Senate colleague to be his next secretary of defense. The two share similar views and philosophies as the Obama administration attempts to define the role of the United States in the transition to a post-superpower world.

Hagel’s foreign policy insight isn’t exactly stellar, to say the least. But it impressed Obama because, according to Woodward, it mirrors his own. Now it’s true that Hagel has been going around Capitol Hill claiming to support whatever policies Obama also says he supports and whatever policies he’ll need to support to ensure successful confirmation. But it is just silly to try and pretend that Obama doesn’t have a record and history of agreeing with Hagel on many of these issues.

Yesterday’s other Hagel revelation, if you can call it that, was what he said at a 2009 J Street conference. J Street had been refusing to release the video of Hagel’s speech, but it turned out that the prepared text was online the whole time at Hagel’s old think tank, as Yair Rosenberg discovered. J Street’s refusal to release the video suggested there might be some offensive content in it. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, it just seems to have been a case of J Street being J Street–secretive, bizarrely defensive, reminiscent of when J Street claimed it was not funded by George Soros when in fact it was greatly funded by George Soros.

In the speech, Hagel offers an endorsement of an obnoxious Thomas Friedman column and seems to hold by the discredited “linkage” theory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also called the attempt to isolate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “bewildering.” It is neither a well-informed nor wise speech text, but it doesn’t seem to contain any real surprises either. Nor is it a surprise, however, to read Woodward refer to Hagel as Obama’s “soul mate” on defense policy. And that is precisely what worries his critics the most.

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The Virtue of Moderation

I recently read a splendid book by Harry Clor, On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, whose purpose is to “articulate a coherent, defensible case for moderation as a virtue, the possession and encouragement of which is important for us.”

Maybe the best way to begin is to be clear on what Clor says moderation is not. Political moderation is not, he writes, the antithesis of holding principled and wholehearted commitments. It’s not simply a matter of being in the middle of two extremes. It is not “tepid, middle compromise” between opposing ideals.

Like thoughtful scholarship, political moderation, according to Clor, takes a disinterested account of opposing perspectives on complex questions. It is synonymous with proportionality. And it recognizes limits and takes into account circumstances. For example, determining how much liberty and how much restraint a society embraces can’t be answered in the abstract; it depends on circumstances. “A course of action, policy, or pronouncement that is valid in some or most cases would be wrong, even disastrous, in certain situations, and there will be exceptions to any proposition you could affirm,” Clor writes. Immoderation, on the other hand, “is characterized by a one-sided or absolute commitment to a good that is in fact only one good among several.”

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I recently read a splendid book by Harry Clor, On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, whose purpose is to “articulate a coherent, defensible case for moderation as a virtue, the possession and encouragement of which is important for us.”

Maybe the best way to begin is to be clear on what Clor says moderation is not. Political moderation is not, he writes, the antithesis of holding principled and wholehearted commitments. It’s not simply a matter of being in the middle of two extremes. It is not “tepid, middle compromise” between opposing ideals.

Like thoughtful scholarship, political moderation, according to Clor, takes a disinterested account of opposing perspectives on complex questions. It is synonymous with proportionality. And it recognizes limits and takes into account circumstances. For example, determining how much liberty and how much restraint a society embraces can’t be answered in the abstract; it depends on circumstances. “A course of action, policy, or pronouncement that is valid in some or most cases would be wrong, even disastrous, in certain situations, and there will be exceptions to any proposition you could affirm,” Clor writes. Immoderation, on the other hand, “is characterized by a one-sided or absolute commitment to a good that is in fact only one good among several.”

Professor Clor goes on to warn that we should want politics that incorporates moderation and “you should be quite afraid of any leaders, movements, or polities wholly lacking them.”

I quite agree, and while there is a danger that one can be frozen because of the inability to decide on the merits of competing claims, the greater danger faced by most of us is more nearly the opposite: acting as if every course of action we have chosen is obvious and enlightened and could only be opposed by knaves or fools; and that every decision should be viewed as a zero-sum proposition, with all the arguments favoring one side (ours) and disfavoring the other. We go in search of data and studies that reinforce our preexisting views and ignore (or dismiss) the others. It’s of course easy to see these tendencies in others, and much harder to see them in ourselves.

“Willingness to entertain doubts is a moderating virtue when it reminds me, before I launch into some totalistic commitment, that there is more than one viewpoint or consideration to take into account,” Clor writes. “Moderation is intertwined with humility of a sort, the kind of humility that keeps us aware of our inevitable limitations – that we are all limited beings, limited in our capacity to master the unavoidable uncertainties and contingencies of life.”

This is something thinkers from Aristotle to Montaigne to Burke to Lincoln to C.S. Lewis understood, in one way or another; and it’s an insight all of us, of every political persuasion, would be wise to reacquaint ourselves with. Because moderation and humility, rightly understood, will help us to better ascertain the truth of things. And in politics, like life more generally, the truth shall set us free.

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