Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 4, 2013

A Study in False Moral Equivalence

The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.

But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.

As the Times noted:

Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

Read More

The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.

But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.

As the Times noted:

Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

To seize on two points brought up in the Times article highlights the dishonesty of such a conclusion. The report claims that both school systems publish textbooks with maps that do not always show the other side’s claims. In practice this means that some Israeli books have maps that do not show the “green line” that marks the border between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel while all Palestinian books depict both Israel and the territories as the state of Palestine.

That sounds like the same thing but it really isn’t. Israeli books depict the reality that the Jewish state does have control over the entire area. Asking them to show maps that show a state of Palestine that doesn’t already exist is absurd. On the other hand, what the Palestinians are showing not only contradicts reality but also shows their dream of destroying Israel.

The other example is even more egregious. The Times skims over the fact that the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority honors suicide bombers and other terrorists not just in schools but also in other venues. But it then compares this to the way Israeli schools honor the memory of Josef Trumpeldor, the hero of the defense of Tel Hai. Trumpeldor famously said after being fatally wounded that “Never mind, it’s good to die for our country.” The report compares this to the ethos of suicide bombers but the difference is that Trumpeldor died fighting to defend Jews from slaughter at the hands of Arab attackers, not deliberately sacrificing his life in order to kill innocents as the terrorists do.

It needs to be understood that the research on Palestinian education and media is voluminous and has left little doubt about the fact that the PA uses the schools as well as TV and radio to promote a nationalist spirit that sees the Jews as interlopers in the land which must be cleansed of their presence. If that has changed, there needs to be evidence that is not forthcoming. By contrast, peace education has been an integral part of the curriculum in Israeli schools since the beginning of the Oslo process 20 years ago. That means any assertion that there is any comparison between what is going on in the schools seems to hinge on the idea that telling the truth about the Palestinians will undermine the tenuous hope for peace.

This kind of thinking is similar to the mistakes made by both the United States government and some Israeli leaders who spent the 1990s ignoring Palestinian violations of the peace accords because they thought holding them accountable would derail negotiations. But, as veteran peace processor Dennis Ross later admitted, this was a cardinal error that only encouraged the Palestinians to trash any hope of peace and led to the violence of the second intifada.

The point here is not just that this report is wrongheaded but that it undermines hopes for peace rather than encouraging them. True interfaith understanding rests on facing the facts about the two different cultures, not pretending they are both the same when the differences are so powerful.

Read Less

John Kerry, Secretary of Retrenchment

An admiring portrait of now-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New York Times (is there any other kind of portrait of Clinton in the Times?) over the weekend is in some ways a follow-up to a comment let slip by Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, last week. Kerry told the Boston Globe that President Obama called and offered him the job a full week before Susan Rice dropped her embattled bid for the post and withdrew her name from consideration.

If that’s true–if Obama really always wanted the dour and pliable Kerry over the sharp, independent and tough Rice–the Times profile of Clinton helps explain why. Clinton, according to the Times, was too much of an interventionist for the Obama White House. This insight illuminates the Kerry selection: John Kerry can give you a thousand reasons not to do something. Kerry and Obama both believe it looks thoughtful to appear aloof, uninterested, bored. Clinton and Rice, on the other hand, are always in motion. Kerry will be quite the change of pace, if his statements during his confirmation hearings are any indication, as the Washington Times notes:

Read More

An admiring portrait of now-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New York Times (is there any other kind of portrait of Clinton in the Times?) over the weekend is in some ways a follow-up to a comment let slip by Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, last week. Kerry told the Boston Globe that President Obama called and offered him the job a full week before Susan Rice dropped her embattled bid for the post and withdrew her name from consideration.

If that’s true–if Obama really always wanted the dour and pliable Kerry over the sharp, independent and tough Rice–the Times profile of Clinton helps explain why. Clinton, according to the Times, was too much of an interventionist for the Obama White House. This insight illuminates the Kerry selection: John Kerry can give you a thousand reasons not to do something. Kerry and Obama both believe it looks thoughtful to appear aloof, uninterested, bored. Clinton and Rice, on the other hand, are always in motion. Kerry will be quite the change of pace, if his statements during his confirmation hearings are any indication, as the Washington Times notes:

“I’ve had personal conversations prior to being nominated as secretary with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, which indicated a Russian willingness to in fact see President Assad leave, but they have a different sense of the timing and manner of that.”

He added that he hopes to use his new stature as secretary of state “to really take the temperature of these different players.”…

“China is cooperating with us now on Iran,” Mr. Kerry said. “I think there might be more we could perhaps do with respect to North Korea.”

“There could be more we could do in other parts of the Far East, and hopefully we can build those relationships that will further that transformation,” he added. “We make progress. It’s incremental. You know, it’s a tough slog. And there just isn’t any single magic way to approach it.”

As this shows, Kerry has great plans to tell you about progress you didn’t know we were making at the State Department. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, Kerry believes this of his time in Washington, too. “I accomplished a lot,” Kerry told the Globe. “A lot more than people know.” And his assurance that the Russian government wants Assad out also, but they just have a “different sense of the timing” is classic Kerry; it’s not technically untrue to say that that the difference between now and never is a “sense of the timing.” But that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

Yet there is an argument to be made that Kerry is simply being realistic, and will actually helm a much diminished foreign policy apparatus. If diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggie” until you can find a rock, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had some sobering words about that rock:

The Army would be forced to slash its ranks by an additional 100,000 soldiers over 10 years if the process called sequestration went into effect, Panetta said in an interview with USA TODAY. That reduction would be in addition to the 80,000 soldiers it plans to shed over the next five years to a force of about 490,000. The Marine Corps will drop about 20,000 troops under the current plan, which calls on the Pentagon to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

Congress has until March 1 to reach a deal to stop the cuts, which were created in a summer 2011 deal between Congress and President Obama to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“We are the world’s most powerful military, and we use that to promote peace and stability in the world,” Panetta said. “It would be a shameful act of irresponsibility if Congress just stood to the side and let sequester take place. It would turn America from a first-rate power into a second-rate power.”

The story doesn’t make it clear, but that sequester, and its attendant cuts to the military, was an idea cooked up by the Obama White House during negotiations with GOP leadership. Consequently, Hillary Clinton’s interventionist advocacy might have done much to elevate Kerry as Obama’s preferred second-term secretary of state.

Obama, it seems, was tired of being challenged for his inaction, and tired of having people around him who saw the world differently. But even more so, Obama understood he might have had more use for an active secretary of state if he were going to give the military the tools to back up the sense of idealism about American’s role in the world that a Hillary Clinton or a Susan Rice values, but which someone like John Kerry is happy to make do without.

Read Less

If You Can’t Insult Ahmadinejad …

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

Read More

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

The conceit of Amash’s attempt to take McCain to the woodshed is the idea that Westerners see all third world peoples as animals who are less than human and unworthy of respect. But McCain wasn’t trying to imply that Iranians or Muslims are monkeys. He was poking fun at a man whose fantastical utterances and unabashed hate has become the butt of jokes for Westerners for years. Indeed, the problem with Ahmadinejad is that too many Americans don’t take the hatred and the existential threat his regime poses to Israel as well as to the security of the world seriously because he is a comic figure and so easily lampooned. If American comics have dehumanized him, it is not very different from the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi and fascist allies were depicted in American popular culture before the world learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. It is a not unnatural reaction for those who are themselves dehumanized by haters to return the favor, if only in humorous context. Although he denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one, Ahmadinejad is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler. But one has to wonder how anyone, let alone a member of Congress, can muster up much outrage about some comic sniping aimed at the Iranian leader.

Amash is probably trying to use McCain’s tweet to further the popular idea that American Muslims and Arabs are suffering under the burden of prejudice. Though the post-9/11 backlash is more myth than reality, it would have been a terrible thing had McCain actually slurred Muslims or Persians. But he didn’t. He just made a joke about Ahmadinejad and the poor primate that is alleged to have been strapped into a rocket by his terrorist masters.

Americans have always laughed at their enemies. It is a healthy reaction and speaks of our self-confidence as well as our justified contempt for those who despise our democracy and threaten the peace of the world. The only questions about Ahmadinejad’s humanity stem from the hate that he spews, not a silly jest. Amash’s faux outrage about the insult directed at the Iranian president tells us more about his priorities than it does about those of McCain. 

Read Less

Iran Nuke/Syrian Linkage Is Fool’s Errand

The latest round of the P5+1 talks between the West and Iran over efforts to persuade the Islamist regime to give up their nuclear ambitions is scheduled to begin again later this month. Notwithstanding the spectacular failure of this negotiating process last year, speculation is rife as to what, if any, leverage can be exerted over Tehran. According to Haaretz, the scuttlebutt from last week’s Security Conference in Munich, Germany is leading some to draw some interesting conclusions about whether the fate of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is somehow linked to the nuclear program of his Iranian ally.

It’s hard to get a grip on what scenarios the rumors emanating from Munich would entail, but the gist of it is that some people are beginning to assume that Iran might be inclined to make some nuclear concessions in order to save the Assad regime. The assumption is based on the idea that both Iran and the United States have a common goal in Syria in keeping radical Islamists from taking power in Damascus that would owe nothing to either country. But given recent developments in Syria and the importance of the nuclear project to the prestige of the Iranian government, the idea that linkage between the two issues will lead to any progress toward Assad’s exit or an end to the nuclear threat seems far-fetched.

Read More

The latest round of the P5+1 talks between the West and Iran over efforts to persuade the Islamist regime to give up their nuclear ambitions is scheduled to begin again later this month. Notwithstanding the spectacular failure of this negotiating process last year, speculation is rife as to what, if any, leverage can be exerted over Tehran. According to Haaretz, the scuttlebutt from last week’s Security Conference in Munich, Germany is leading some to draw some interesting conclusions about whether the fate of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is somehow linked to the nuclear program of his Iranian ally.

It’s hard to get a grip on what scenarios the rumors emanating from Munich would entail, but the gist of it is that some people are beginning to assume that Iran might be inclined to make some nuclear concessions in order to save the Assad regime. The assumption is based on the idea that both Iran and the United States have a common goal in Syria in keeping radical Islamists from taking power in Damascus that would owe nothing to either country. But given recent developments in Syria and the importance of the nuclear project to the prestige of the Iranian government, the idea that linkage between the two issues will lead to any progress toward Assad’s exit or an end to the nuclear threat seems far-fetched.

Diplomatic rumors of this sort can always be dismissed as either disinformation or an attempt to manipulate Western opinion. But what is troubling about this talk of a connection between the Syrian civil war and the Iran talks is that it is coming at a time when confidence in the ability of Assad’s opponents to overthrow the dictator is ebbing. The blithe assumptions about the fall of the Syrian government were always based more on unfounded optimism than hard facts. Though the rebels have demonstrated an ability to maintain themselves against brutal attempts at repression, Assad has also shown that his staying power is far greater than the Obama administration, and others who hoped he would disappear without getting their hands dirty, hoped.

Some may find the willingness of the Russians to meet with the Syrian opposition a sign that they may be about to dump their client, but Assad is a vital link in the Iranian attempt to maintain their sphere of influence over Lebanon via its Hezbollah auxiliaries. They have fought hard for him and will not concede the loss of the strategic advantage this alliance provides them until it is proven that he can be driven from power. As dangerous as his position may be, that proof has yet to be found, especially since the West refuses to involve itself more directly in the conflict with a no-fly zone or more aid to the rebels.

It is far more likely that the crafty negotiators from Tehran are hoping to use the Syrian mess as a way to distract their Western negotiating partners from the nuclear issue. Only a hopeless optimist would think the Iranians would give up their nuclear program now after years of prevarication with the West had gotten them so close to their goal of a weapon. It takes an equal amount of faith in their good will to think they are prepared to swap the nukes for Assad’s survival or that they would keep their word even if they did.

Unfortunately, given the willingness of the Obama administration and the rest of the P5+1 group to return to a failed process with no tangible reason to think the Iranians are less resolute or skillful in delaying tactics, hopeless optimism is the only accurate way to describe the West’s approach to the talks. Given that weakness, the rumors about Syrian linkage should further encourage Iran to treat the administration’s tough talk as nothing they should worry about–no matter what happens in the negotiations. Anyone sent to explore the possibility of linkage between Iranian nukes and Assad’s future is being sent on a fool’s errand.

Read Less

The Gatekeepers Is a Re-Run

Later this month, when the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is awarded, it will go to Searching for Sugar Man–if it goes to the best documentary feature. The film is the wonderful and moving story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from the streets of Detroit, who became the voice of a generation in South Africa in the 1970s, and then vanished without a trace. The film is a unique accomplishment–a documentary that is simultaneously a mystery, a morality tale, a little-known story about music, fame, and the movement against apartheid. 

More likely, however, the Oscar will go to The Gatekeepers–pushed by publicity materials (and assisted by credulous reviewers) that treat the film as “first time ever” interviews of ex-heads of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service. The message of the movie, ladled out heavily at the end, is that Israel must change course and make more concessions to the Palestinians. But this is not the first time ex-Shin Bet chiefs have been interviewed, nor pushed such a message. The first interview was in 2003; it was widely publicized at the time, in both the Israeli and American media; and it was the cause of the Gaza disengagement that created Hamastan (the full story is here). Nowhere in The Gatekeepers is any of this acknowledged, much less analyzed.  

Read More

Later this month, when the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is awarded, it will go to Searching for Sugar Man–if it goes to the best documentary feature. The film is the wonderful and moving story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from the streets of Detroit, who became the voice of a generation in South Africa in the 1970s, and then vanished without a trace. The film is a unique accomplishment–a documentary that is simultaneously a mystery, a morality tale, a little-known story about music, fame, and the movement against apartheid. 

More likely, however, the Oscar will go to The Gatekeepers–pushed by publicity materials (and assisted by credulous reviewers) that treat the film as “first time ever” interviews of ex-heads of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service. The message of the movie, ladled out heavily at the end, is that Israel must change course and make more concessions to the Palestinians. But this is not the first time ex-Shin Bet chiefs have been interviewed, nor pushed such a message. The first interview was in 2003; it was widely publicized at the time, in both the Israeli and American media; and it was the cause of the Gaza disengagement that created Hamastan (the full story is here). Nowhere in The Gatekeepers is any of this acknowledged, much less analyzed.  

The Gatekeepers is a one-sided view in which director Dror Moreh spliced excerpts from about 75 hours of his filmed interviews into a 97-minute movie, which ends up pushing the same message as the 2003 interview–as if the message had not already been delivered once before (by the same people), had not already been acted upon, and had not already been given a real-life test–which resulted not in peace but multiple new rocket wars.

Either this did not come up during the other 73.5 hours of interviews, or it was left out of the film as an “inconvenient truth” (in the words of an award-winning documentary-maker). Either way, and for more reasons than one, The Gatekeepers is not the best documentary feature of the year.

Read Less

The Point of Obama’s Gun Tour

With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:

Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.

This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.

Read More

With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:

Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.

This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.

The president and the vice president both say they view the proposed legislation about assault weapons and ammunition as well as background checks as a necessary response to Newtown. Yet, almost in the same breath they are forced to admit that none of it would have prevented the tragedy had it already been in place. Nor would it do much, if anything, to prevent other forms of gun violence.

To concede that point is not to render all forms of gun control as being beyond the pale. The state has the right to regulate the sale of guns in a manner consistent with public safety (for instance, private ownership of machine guns has always been illegal) and actions that would make it harder for criminals or the insane to get such weapons is not likely to be opposed by most Americans. Yet the insistence on making it harder for law-abiding individuals to buy and own guns has always been motivated more by an ideological prejudice against gun ownership on the left more than by a rational response to Newtown or any other outrageous crime.

The president and his supporters continually assure us that any further attempt to limit the right to own guns is off the table and prevented by the Second Amendment. Yet the lack of a rationale for the post-Newtown legislation leads many to not unreasonably conclude that the incident was merely the excuse that liberals are using to resurrect old proposals that have always been motivated by anti-gun sentiment.

Though there is nothing unreasonable about limits on certain types of military-style weapons or ammunition, so long as these proposals are unconnected to any plausible hope of saving lives it is quite reasonable to think that once these restrictions are made law, they will be followed by other more draconian bills that are also not tethered to a measurable goal. Under those circumstances, it will be harder to deny that what is going on is a campaign to steadily erode Second Amendment rights, not a way to stop another Newtown from happening. So long as the administration cannot assert that their gun package will actually make the country safer, it is hardly paranoid for gun rights advocates to think this is merely the thin edge of the wedge of a legislative campaign that will ultimately lead to something that will infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans.

Read Less

Turkey Threatens to Attack Israel; Media Stays Mum

This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”

Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.

Read More

This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”

Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.

Consider, for instance, what Davutoglu actually told his countrymen via the press briefing quoted in Hurriyet. First, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that attacks other Muslim countries for no good reason: He didn’t bother mentioning that the reported target was a convoy ferrying sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization openly dedicated to Israel’s eradication. Second, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that makes secret deals with Assad, a leader who has slaughtered over 60,000 of his own citizens.  Nor is this unusual: Officials from the ruling AKP party produce a constant stream of anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) incitement. Indeed, as we know from WikiLeaks, even former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey concluded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “simply hates Israel.”

Ignorance of this incitement has real consequences for U.S. policy. For instance, the Obama administration wasted copious amounts of time, energy and diplomatic capital in trying to effect a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation after Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. In reality, Erdogan never wanted a reconciliation; for him, the flotilla was a golden opportunity to downgrade ties with a country he loathed. Hence he rejected every Israel offer of apology and compensation; he also rejected the conclusions of the UN inquiry Washington orchestrated in an attempt to satisfy him. To anyone aware of the nonstop anti-Israel incitement Erdogan and his colleagues had been spouting for years, this outcome would have been predictable. But because American officials weren’t, they wasted valuable diplomatic resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Far more important, however, is that many U.S. policymakers still consider Turkey a reliable ally with common interests–and are then dismayed when it doesn’t act accordingly. For instance, Washington recently asked Turkey to intervene on its behalf should Syria use chemical weapons; Turkey agreed to accept the U.S.-donated equipment but refused to actually promise to take action.

Yet in fact, America has very little in common with a country that threatens to attack Cyprus (as well as Israel), extols a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, propagates the “Jews control the media” stereotype, and so forth. And most Americans would probably recognize this, if they knew the facts. But they don’t, and never will–because the media has decided that such details aren’t newsworthy.

Read Less

The End of the Scott Brown Senate Saga

When then-State Senator Scott Brown decided to run for United States Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, he knew he would be a long shot. He also knew that if he won the seat, which he did, he would have to run another statewide election two years later to keep his seat. What he did not expect to have to do was run four statewide Senate elections in five years in order to serve in the Senate for a full term. And that is exactly what he would have had to do had he decided to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Instead, Brown opted against throwing his hat in the ring, leaving local and national Republicans disappointed. But it’s easy to understand the decision. Not only would Brown have to win a special election this year, but the seat is up in 2014, which means he’d have to run another election next year. One Senate election is exhausting. Two in three years is even more so. The prospect of running four Senate elections in five years, three of them in a row, was nothing less than daunting. This would be the case for any election, but in Brown’s case he was up against the odds of winning as a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts. He also had a fairly attractive fallback option: run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

Read More

When then-State Senator Scott Brown decided to run for United States Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, he knew he would be a long shot. He also knew that if he won the seat, which he did, he would have to run another statewide election two years later to keep his seat. What he did not expect to have to do was run four statewide Senate elections in five years in order to serve in the Senate for a full term. And that is exactly what he would have had to do had he decided to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Instead, Brown opted against throwing his hat in the ring, leaving local and national Republicans disappointed. But it’s easy to understand the decision. Not only would Brown have to win a special election this year, but the seat is up in 2014, which means he’d have to run another election next year. One Senate election is exhausting. Two in three years is even more so. The prospect of running four Senate elections in five years, three of them in a row, was nothing less than daunting. This would be the case for any election, but in Brown’s case he was up against the odds of winning as a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts. He also had a fairly attractive fallback option: run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

This could not have been an easy decision for Brown, who was suddenly catapulted to national fame by coming out of nowhere to win Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat after the late liberal lion passed away. He retained high approval numbers in office, and though he was a moderate, Massachusetts Republican, the national party–and even conservatives–could always console themselves with the thought of a GOP struggling nationally yet holding a seat in Massachusetts. It was a bright spot for the party and a constant reminder that the party could win virtually anywhere with the right candidate (and a bit of luck), and Brown joined Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia as politicians whose mid-term and off-year victories stood as symbols of popular pushback against Obama administration excesses, most of all the unpopular Obamacare.

Brown also helped the GOP balance its sometimes-harsh national image. Thanks to our 24/7 digital media age, even statewide elections are now nationalized (which is part of what helped Brown’s liberal opponent defeat him in November). Thus, candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock didn’t only doom their own chances for election, but they contributed to the image of a clumsy and cold GOP. That may be an unfair brush with which to paint the Republican Party, but it’s a predictable by-product of the messaging struggles that haunted the party in a disappointing election cycle. Brown was not susceptible to the same attacks, and thus helped to disrupt the Democrats’ dishonest portrait of the GOP.

Brown hasn’t made any announcement on whether he’ll run for governor, but that was always looking like a more winnable race anyway–and it’s a race he’d only have to win once to serve a full term. While Massachusetts rarely elects Republican senators, current Governor Deval Patrick is the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis left office in 1991. Since Brown left the Senate with an approval rating near 60 percent, he would probably be a formidable gubernatorial candidate. Massachusetts voters could also vote for him guilt-free–electing Brown as governor would do no damage to the Democratic Party’s hold on the U.S. Senate. (Perhaps they’ll even be inclined to reward Brown for not putting them through two more close Senate elections as well.)

Brown might also run against Martha Coakley for governor, which would allow him to face an opponent he has already defeated in an election in more favorable conditions than the first time they ran against each other. It could also raise Brown’s national profile in ways a Senate seat could not; there’s a reason voters seem to prefer electing governors president. Whether or not Brown actually envisions such a run down the road, experience as governor will pad his resume in ways most political offices cannot.

After Brown announced he was passing on the Senate race, Massachusetts Republicans hoped they could run with Richard Tisei, a state politician who lost a close election for a House seat in November. Tisei, too, will sit out the Senate race, as will former governor Bill Weld (who succeeded Dukakis). State Republicans have reportedly been trying to get both Anne Romney and the Romneys’ eldest son Tagg to consider running for the seat, which has Tagg intrigued enough not to say no. But Romney lost the state in November by 23 points; anything can happen in a special election, but it appears Massachusetts Democrats–and the national party–can breathe a sigh of relief with Brown stepping out of the Senate fray.

Read Less

Israeli Strike Shows Potential for U.S.-Led Action in Syria

Details about the Israeli air strike in Syria last week remain elusive, with various reports describing an attack on both a Syrian military research center on chemical and biological weapons and a convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that both were targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Either way the Israelis are doing a good turn, not only for themselves but also for the U.S. and other regional allies by trying to limit the fall-out from the Syrian civil war. Would that we were doing as much.

The ease with which the Israeli Air Force penetrated Syrian air space–which replicates a similar Israeli bombing mission in 2007 to take out a Syrian nuclear reactor–shows that it would not be all that hard for the U.S., acting with NATO and Arab allies, to likewise intervene to establish a no-fly zone. The U.S. military has been opposed to such a mission, for understandable reasons, because it could bring about considerable complications and because resources are already being strained by budget cuts. But from a military standpoint there is little doubt that a no-fly zone could be established relatively quickly and easily–the Syrian air defenses, which have raised such alarms in Washington, are not all that formidable after all when attacked by a U.S.-equipped air force.

Read More

Details about the Israeli air strike in Syria last week remain elusive, with various reports describing an attack on both a Syrian military research center on chemical and biological weapons and a convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that both were targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Either way the Israelis are doing a good turn, not only for themselves but also for the U.S. and other regional allies by trying to limit the fall-out from the Syrian civil war. Would that we were doing as much.

The ease with which the Israeli Air Force penetrated Syrian air space–which replicates a similar Israeli bombing mission in 2007 to take out a Syrian nuclear reactor–shows that it would not be all that hard for the U.S., acting with NATO and Arab allies, to likewise intervene to establish a no-fly zone. The U.S. military has been opposed to such a mission, for understandable reasons, because it could bring about considerable complications and because resources are already being strained by budget cuts. But from a military standpoint there is little doubt that a no-fly zone could be established relatively quickly and easily–the Syrian air defenses, which have raised such alarms in Washington, are not all that formidable after all when attacked by a U.S.-equipped air force.

And the Israelis did not even bother to take out the missile-defense system; they probably used electronic warfare to jam the system for a period to allow their aircraft to get in and out. The U.S. and our allies, if we were to undertake a campaign in support of the rebels, would take out the entire air-defense network, as they previously took out similar networks in Iraq and Libya. That would make follow-on sorties as close to risk-free from the American standpoint as anything gets in the inherently risky and dangerous realm of warfare.

Yet, despite the military feasibility of such a project and the strategic imperative of ousting Assad to end his nation’s suffering and deal a blow to his Iranian backers, there is basically no chance that such an operation will take place. A no-fly zone would require American leadership and there is no sign of such leadership in the second Obama administration, which has lost the most forceful advocates for a strong American role in the world: Secretaries Gates and Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus. The Syrians are on their own, it seems, and the conflict shows no sign of burning out anytime soon.

Read Less

Focus on Ideas, Not Just the Candidates

Some on the right are unhappy about the news that a group of major Republican donors led by former Bush strategist Karl Rove is organizing an effort called the Conservative Victory Project to fund mainstream candidates running against extremists in GOP primaries. According to Politico, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund weren’t impressed by the prospect of party heavy-hitters parachuting into local races and preventing right-wing outliers from losing winnable elections against vulnerable Democrats:

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.

“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

Read More

Some on the right are unhappy about the news that a group of major Republican donors led by former Bush strategist Karl Rove is organizing an effort called the Conservative Victory Project to fund mainstream candidates running against extremists in GOP primaries. According to Politico, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund weren’t impressed by the prospect of party heavy-hitters parachuting into local races and preventing right-wing outliers from losing winnable elections against vulnerable Democrats:

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.

“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

He has a point. It’s easy to fault Tea Partiers for foisting on the GOP crackpot senatorial candidates like Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle–whose victories over more moderate candidates in Republican primaries cost the party all-but-certain wins in the last two election cycles. More to the point, Akin’s astoundingly stupid remarks about rape and abortion not only led to his defeat but helped sink Richard Mourdock in Indiana and tarnished the brand of the party everywhere. But not every insurgent is a loser, and not every establishment type is likely to win. The party’s problem is not only that it is not always easy to predict who is the better candidate but also that these top-down efforts are band-aids on a broader dilemma that must be addressed. The question is not just who should be running but what does the Republican Party stand for. The Victory Project’s Steven Law defended the initiative as nothing more than an effort to do what William F. Buckley always advocated, to pick the most conservative candidate who can win to face off against Democrats.

If, the group can in some way help prevent people like Akin, O’Donnell or Angle from winning primaries they will be doing the Republicans a service. But there is also good reason to be skeptical about the process by which this determination will be made. If this amounts to an incumbency protection plan it will only infuriate grass roots activists who will rightly resent the effort. It’s also true that sometimes, as was the case with people like Toomey and Rubio, it is not just that the insurgents are more faithful proponents of conservative ideas than their moderate rivals, but that they are also better candidates. Moreover, the prospect of national groups being able to override local sentiment in the name of victory is doubtful, as is the assumption that throwing more money at a race can determine the outcome.

The test case appears to be the upcoming 2014 race to pick a successor to retiring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. This ought to be a great chance for a Republican pick-up but if, as appears likely, Representative Steve King wins the GOP nomination, the party may be setting itself up for another Tea Party disaster that leads to victory for the Democrats. King has a long record of incendiary remarks that his conservative fans don’t care about but which could sink him in a statewide general election. But persuading Iowa Republicans to do as Rove tells them to do will require more than an investment in campaign funds in the primary. As the party discovered to its sorrow last November, GOP moderates are also capable of losing Senate elections that seemed like sure bets.

What Republicans need is not so much a new civil war in which moderates wage war on Tea Partiers but a focus on ideas that will help the party regain its footing and confidence. If the GOP allows itself to become a loose collection of opportunists who are only capable of offering the public a faint echo of Democratic promises minus 10 or 15 percent for the sake of fiscal sense, all they will have done is to recreate the old pre-Ronald Reagan and Republican Revolution GOP that was only fit to be a polite minority. But by the same token, it cannot allow itself to be painted as only being the party of austerity. In 2014, the GOP must offer a positive vision of economic growth and defense of freedom abroad along with a sensible advocacy of entitlement reform that will save the country from impending fiscal doom.

If it can do that, then the candidates will sort themselves out. Republican winners come in all shapes and sizes — moderates as well as Tea Partiers. So do losers. But without the ideas that can swing the nation back from President Obama’s push for a revival of big government liberalism, it won’t matter whom the big donors or the activists are trying to nominate. 

Read Less