Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2013

The Cylinder and the Jews

In recent years, discussion of the Jewish festival of Purim—whose observance begins Saturday night—has been linked to the nation of Iran. That has had little to do with the fact that the saga of the Book of Esther takes place in ancient Persia or that the places that are believed by some to be the tombs of Esther and Mordechai are located in what is now Iran. Instead, the association with Iran has more to do with the clear link between the exterminationist agenda of Haman, the villain of the Purim tale, and that of Iran’s present day rulers. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who deny the truth of the Holocaust while plotting another genocide of the Jews with their nuclear project, are easily added to the list of evildoers who have been seen as latter-day Hamans throughout the long and often tragic course of modern Jewish history.

But for those who wish to either whitewash the Islamist regime or to dismiss the legitimate fears of their existential threat to Israel (as well as to the stability of the region and the security of the West), the identification of Iran’s tyrannical rulers serves to demonize a great nation that should be understood and not confronted. For veteran Iran apologist and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, the onset of Purim should cause us to think about other, more appealing Persians. Thus, Cohen devotes a column published today to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, whose famous cylinder is about to leave the British Museum on a tour of the United States. The cylinder that has been dubbed the first bill of human rights is proof, Cohen tells us, of the benign nature of the nation of Iran. The topic makes it possible for him to write an entire piece about the country without once using the “n” word–that in this case is “nuclear” and not a racial insult.

But this attempt to divert us from the deadly threat emanating from Iran is not only disingenuous; it misses a crucial point about the history of the nation that he is so desperate for us to love.

Read More

In recent years, discussion of the Jewish festival of Purim—whose observance begins Saturday night—has been linked to the nation of Iran. That has had little to do with the fact that the saga of the Book of Esther takes place in ancient Persia or that the places that are believed by some to be the tombs of Esther and Mordechai are located in what is now Iran. Instead, the association with Iran has more to do with the clear link between the exterminationist agenda of Haman, the villain of the Purim tale, and that of Iran’s present day rulers. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who deny the truth of the Holocaust while plotting another genocide of the Jews with their nuclear project, are easily added to the list of evildoers who have been seen as latter-day Hamans throughout the long and often tragic course of modern Jewish history.

But for those who wish to either whitewash the Islamist regime or to dismiss the legitimate fears of their existential threat to Israel (as well as to the stability of the region and the security of the West), the identification of Iran’s tyrannical rulers serves to demonize a great nation that should be understood and not confronted. For veteran Iran apologist and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, the onset of Purim should cause us to think about other, more appealing Persians. Thus, Cohen devotes a column published today to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, whose famous cylinder is about to leave the British Museum on a tour of the United States. The cylinder that has been dubbed the first bill of human rights is proof, Cohen tells us, of the benign nature of the nation of Iran. The topic makes it possible for him to write an entire piece about the country without once using the “n” word–that in this case is “nuclear” and not a racial insult.

But this attempt to divert us from the deadly threat emanating from Iran is not only disingenuous; it misses a crucial point about the history of the nation that he is so desperate for us to love.

Any discussion of Cohen’s writings about Iran and the Jews must begin (and perhaps end) with the mention of the series of columns he wrote in early 2009 in which he set out to prove that the country was a nice place for Jews to live. As I discussed in detail in the May 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, Cohen toured the country and was allowed to speak with some of the remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community by his government minders. But in the worst tradition of blind Westerners being deceived by totalitarians he fell hook, line and sinker for the line of baloney he was sold. The result was a disgrace that invoked the memory of Walter Duranty, the Times writer who won an undeserved Pulitzer Prize for telling the West that tales of Josef Stalin’s mass murders were untrue. Despite the deluge of justified criticism to which he was subjected for this journalistic atrocity, Cohen continues to pontificate at the Times, where he inveighs against Israel and often criticizes the efforts to rouse the West to isolate the Tehran government that he served so well. Indeed, in his current column he even slams the movie “Argo”—which depicts the Iranian hostage crisis—for promoting “negative stereotypes” about Iran.

One might think his discussion of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror that defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after their first exile, would be uncontroversial. But any attempt to identify that historical figure with present day Iran is absurd.

As Alex Joffe wrote in Jewish Ideas Daily in 2011, the notion of the Cyrus Cylinder being a Persian Magna Carta is probably more hype than history. But even if we are prepared to buy into the traditional praise given Cyrus, as Joffe points out, the desire of the Iranian regime to identify itself with his legacy is highly offensive. When the cylinder was brought to Iran for a showing, an actor wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh greeted it as part of an effort to appropriate him into the current version of Persian nationalism that is so shamelessly exploited by the ayatollahs.

Though Cohen doesn’t mention this, he plays the same game as he writes of the cylinder being an apt symbol of Iranian culture. But what he fails to mention is that when Islam swept through Persia, it eradicated any trace of the religious toleration that characterized the Cyrus tradition. The reason why the “n” word is so important to any discussion of Iran is because of the intolerance of the regime and the steady stream of anti-Semitic vituperation that flows from its media and permeates its society. It is not just that Iran’s leaders have threatened to wipe Israel off the map while working to create a nuclear option to do just that. It is that this is a government that has made Jew-hatred the singular theme of their foreign policy.

Let us hope that someday we will live to see the ayatollahs overthrown by an Iranian people that will reject their hatred and that wishes to live in peace with Israel and the rest of the world. On that day, we will do well to think of Cyrus. But until then, and especially as Iran draws closer to the realization of their nuclear goal, it will take more than the feeble writing of a Roger Cohen to prevent us from thinking of Haman when we discuss Iran.

Read Less

Israel’s Bad Week on UK Campuses

It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.

Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:

Read More

It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.

Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:

I’ve made my position crystal clear. The Students’ Union has a position, which reflects my own, that the state of Israel is a state which its very existance is a crime. [sic] The land was stolen from the Palestinian people and then those same people were then systematically exiled from their own homes and continue to be exiled to this day.

I’m proud to not give him the attempt to justify his states oppression. I’m sure the hundreds of students were too. Freedom of expression isn’t applicable here.

Mayer points out the predictably hypocritical response of the anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electric Intifada. While Abunimah was outraged at the attempts of BDS opponents in Brooklyn to squash the departmentally sponsored event aimed at what Jonathan rightly described as hate speech, Abunimah described the actions of protestors at crushing free speech as “great.” The opponents of the BDS event in Brooklyn took issue not with the speech taking place on campus, but rather with the school’s continued sponsorship of events about the conflict that were exclusively anti-Israel in nature.

At Oxford University, a similarly disheartening incident took place between a former Israeli politician and a British MP, George Galloway. The Times of Israel reported on the exchange:

British MP George Galloway quit a debate on Israel at Oxford University Wednesday after discovering that his opponent was an Israeli citizen. The Respect party legislator, who is renowned for being staunchly pro-Palestinian, stormed out of the building saying: “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”

Galloway was first to speak in the debate, opining in favor of the statement “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank” for 10 minutes. But midway into his opponent’s address, in which the third-year student referred repeatedly to Israel as “we” and “us,” Galloway inquired whether the speaker, Eylon Aslan-Levy, was Israeli. Upon learning that he was, the MP stormed out of the building with his wife, claiming that he was misled.

“I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel,” Galloway said in a statement late on Wednesday evening. “The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalization. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.”

Anti-Israel activity on college campuses is nothing new, yet these incidents are an incredibly troubling trend in anti-Israel circles. Not only have these British groups and individuals decided they disagree with the actions of the Jewish state and its fundamental right to exist, but they would also like to eliminate its right to defend itself in a purely academic setting. If these opponents of Israel are so certain of their moral superiority, what are they so afraid of?

Read Less

Anti-Semitism in France and the Ghost of Emile Combes

At the turn of the 20th century and in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, French Prime Minister Emile Combes tried to ludicrously deny the injustice of the purge of religion from the republic by disingenuously calling upon the separation of church and state. “All we ask of religion–because we are entitled to do so–is that it keep within its temples, that it limit its instruction to the faithful, and that it refrain from unwarrantable interference in the civil and political domain,” Combes said at a public gathering. Yet Combes’s own language could not have been clearer, as he referred to the anticlerical secularists not as bigots and nihilists, but as “freethinkers.” The term was more appropriate than even Combes had probably intended, for those who didn’t think as Combes did were no longer so free to do so.

The danger of French anti-Semitism may have been crystallized by the Dreyfus Affair but it was in the DNA of the post-Revolution republic and the “deal” it offered the Jews of France: there are those who are French and those who are Jews; choose once and choose wisely for yourselves. But that history makes it no less a tragedy that French Jews in the year 2013 wonder if that’s still the only deal on the table, as the UK’s Jewish Chronicle reports:

Read More

At the turn of the 20th century and in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, French Prime Minister Emile Combes tried to ludicrously deny the injustice of the purge of religion from the republic by disingenuously calling upon the separation of church and state. “All we ask of religion–because we are entitled to do so–is that it keep within its temples, that it limit its instruction to the faithful, and that it refrain from unwarrantable interference in the civil and political domain,” Combes said at a public gathering. Yet Combes’s own language could not have been clearer, as he referred to the anticlerical secularists not as bigots and nihilists, but as “freethinkers.” The term was more appropriate than even Combes had probably intended, for those who didn’t think as Combes did were no longer so free to do so.

The danger of French anti-Semitism may have been crystallized by the Dreyfus Affair but it was in the DNA of the post-Revolution republic and the “deal” it offered the Jews of France: there are those who are French and those who are Jews; choose once and choose wisely for yourselves. But that history makes it no less a tragedy that French Jews in the year 2013 wonder if that’s still the only deal on the table, as the UK’s Jewish Chronicle reports:

Last week, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, warned that “the position of Jews in Europe today is very difficult. There are threats at this moment to brit mila and shechita, and Jews in Europe have begun to ask, is there a place for us here?”

That warning follows a sharp rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in France after the murder of four Jews in Toulouse in March 2012. In the subsequent 10 days, 90 separate incidents were reported, over five times the average rate….

Sandra Dahan Elbase, 29, left Paris for the UK in 2011 and now lives in Cambridge with her French husband. She said: “In Paris I would never wear a Magen David walking around, I was even afraid to read a book in Hebrew on the Metro. There was a climate of fear.

“My family are also thinking about leaving because of the antisemitism,” she said.

The Chronicle story is about the influx of French Jews to the United Kingdom because of this “climate of fear.” Synagogues in London have had to set up entirely new and separate French minyans because of the sheer number of new congregants from France. Those numbers are as high as they are because France has so many Jews to begin with–half a million, the largest Jewish community in Europe. But that number keeps dropping because of the thousands of French Jews who move to Israel alone each year–to say nothing of those who move elsewhere, like the UK. At a recent Knesset hearing on immigration, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Arielle di Porto offered this less-than-convincing protestation:

“The Jews of France did not hysterically call the Jewish Agency after Toulouse,” di Porto said at a session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee. “Aliya from France is not an aliya of rescue, but one of choice. People come here because they want to live in Israel.”

That the term “aliyah of rescue” is even uttered with regard to the Jews of France is both revealing and absolutely chilling. Granted, this remark was made in the wake of last year’s horrific massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse, but the statistics say that while the attack’s ferocity and death toll may have been abnormal, that a violent anti-Semitic attack took place was no aberration. The Chronicle reports that although the UK experiences similar numbers of anti-Semitic incidents–hence the strong words from British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–the incidents differ greatly in character:

In 2012 there were 102 violent attacks in France and 69 in the UK. One in four attacks in France involved a weapon.

It was originally stated that in over three-quarters of the antisemitic incidents the perpetrators were reported as being of North African origin, however the SPCJ has now removed this statement from their report.

That line about the attackers being largely from North Africa is a good reminder that the changing demographics of France has only trapped the country’s Jews between its Muslim population and its secular leftist population, both of which remain hostile to the Jewish community in France. (In this, unfortunately, France is no anomaly.) And so di Porto is only technically correct: the Jews of France don’t have to move to Israel, but they seem to feel they must go somewhere. That helps explain why an aliyah fair in Paris last year attracted 5,000 people. Spend any time in Israel these days, as I just did, and you can’t help but notice how common it is for people there to assume you speak some French.

Karl Marx was wrong: history doesn’t always repeat first as tragedy and then as farce. For the Jews of France, there is a sinking feeling history has come as tragedy yet again.

Read Less

Republicans Shouldn’t Be Too Reasonable

Our Peter Wehner and his colleague Michael Gerson have made a valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the Republican Party with their feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY. Their evaluation of the factors that led to the GOP defeat in 2012 seems to be unexceptionable. While there will be some who will disagree with some aspects of their five recommendations for steps to take to revive the party and help expand its appeal, this manifesto is an excellent starting point for a discussion that can and must be held.

While I concur with many of their conclusions, I would like to comment on another aspect of this conversation that ought to be taken into account as conservatives ponder how to adapt to changing circumstances. The cost of ignoring the need to reach out to a broader audience is obvious: electoral defeat. Yet while rebooting the party’s image and its focus is necessary, there is an inherent danger in the process that needs to be understood properly if Republicans are to avoid making a different mistake than that of being stuck in the political paradigms of the 1980s and 1990s. As bad as that might be, becoming the all too reasonable echoes of Democrats on major issues is just as much of a threat to their political future as anything else.

Read More

Our Peter Wehner and his colleague Michael Gerson have made a valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the Republican Party with their feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY. Their evaluation of the factors that led to the GOP defeat in 2012 seems to be unexceptionable. While there will be some who will disagree with some aspects of their five recommendations for steps to take to revive the party and help expand its appeal, this manifesto is an excellent starting point for a discussion that can and must be held.

While I concur with many of their conclusions, I would like to comment on another aspect of this conversation that ought to be taken into account as conservatives ponder how to adapt to changing circumstances. The cost of ignoring the need to reach out to a broader audience is obvious: electoral defeat. Yet while rebooting the party’s image and its focus is necessary, there is an inherent danger in the process that needs to be understood properly if Republicans are to avoid making a different mistake than that of being stuck in the political paradigms of the 1980s and 1990s. As bad as that might be, becoming the all too reasonable echoes of Democrats on major issues is just as much of a threat to their political future as anything else.

In the midst of an ongoing bitter debate about the sequester budget cuts, the thought of Republicans being too nice may seem comical. The harsh partisan tone that seems to inject itself into virtually every issue makes the possibility of a new era of good feelings in our political world sound more like science fiction than analysis. But lurking behind much of the pushback against the conservative resistance to President Obama’s agenda as well as the anger in some quarters of the GOP about the influence of the Tea Party is an urge not so much to calm the waters as it is to water down the differences between the parties. And it is that instinct that can lead the party down a long path of futility.

While Wehner and Gerson are clear that their suggestions for change must be carried out within a context that keeps Republicans true to their core principles, to listen to some of the talking heads who opine about this subject as well as some of the marginal political figures who support groups like “No Labels,” their focus is not to refocus the party so much as it is to trash conservatism. Their goal seems more about fitting in among the liberal talking heads on CNN and MSNBC than speaking truth to power. Being a liberal’s idea of a conservative is smart strategy for being employed at a major daily or network, but it is not a plan that any party should follow.

Wehner and Gerson do well to recall how Bill Clinton changed the Democrats and Tony Blair transformed Britain’s Labor Party in the 1990s. These success stories may not bring much comfort to conservatives who fear what a centrist GOP would mean for their core issues. But the point here is that it is possible for parties to hold onto their basic identity while becoming more electable.

But there is a different model that is also possible for Republicans to follow that holds no such happy electoral endings.

Democrats dominated American politics from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Franklin Roosevelt coalition of northern liberals and southern bigots eventually collapsed as the public realized the welfare state they had constructed created as many problems as it solved. But until Ronald Reagan came along, the biggest problem for the GOP was not being associated with the legacy of Herbert Hoover. Instead, it was the instinct of so many in the party to try and recast Republicanism in the image of the victorious Democrats.

For far too long, mainstream Republicanism became a function of politicians who saw their task as being to offer the public the Democratic platform minus 10 or 15 percent to show their fiscal prudence. They didn’t so much provide an opposition as an echo that enabled liberals to believe the country’s course was irretrievably set to the left even if there were momentary electoral hiccups such as the election of war hero Dwight Eisenhower on the GOP ticket. These reasonable Republicans were both polite and housebroken in a way that some current conservatives are not. But they were also a party of losers who stood for little that was worth fighting for.

It is that era when liberal and moderate Republicans ruled the roost in the party and routinely cut deals with the seemingly permanent Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that the GOP sympathizers of the “No Labels” crowd seem to invoke when they call for a return to the good old days of bipartisanship. And it was precisely to oppose this spirit of timorous accommodation that William F. Buckley helped found the modern conservative moment. Many so-called moderates now invoke Buckley when they call for weeding out conservatives in order to win more elections. They are right to the extent that the party ought to avoid nominating fools and outliers for winnable Senate seats like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin. But the idea that winning, even if it means diluting or even discarding conservative principles, is the sole point of conservative politics is the fallacy.

A Republican Party that ceases to be a place where tough conservatives are willing to muss up the hair of their liberal antagonists is not going to win many elections. The “No Labels” bunch may think they know more about the mainstream than the likes of Ted Cruz, but a party that loses its base is no more likely to win than one that can’t appeal to the center. Reasonableness that functions as a curb against principled opposition is a trap that Republicans would do well to avoid.

Republicans became a majority party not by being better liberals than the Democrats but by tapping into the support of most Americans for the values and ideas they stood for. If they are to regain that status, it won’t, as Wehner and Gerson rightly note, be by living in the past or failing to adapt. But it also won’t happen if they forget to be conservatives.

Read Less

Why the GOP Opposes Tax Increases

President Obama continued his campaign to demonize his opponents in the sequester standoff yesterday. Appearing on the radio show of racial huckster Al Sharpton, the president again attempted to frame the issue facing the country as one that pit the middle class and the poor against the wealthy. If Republicans refused to accede to his demands for a budget solution that would include more tax hikes, it was because affection for the wealthy was the core principle at the heart of their political coalition:

My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations. And they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes, and that’s the thing that binds their party together at this point.

This is not just false but the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that gives the lie to the president’s pose of moderation and a willingness to reach out across the aisle. His claim that the rich don’t pay taxes is also false. So is the notion that it is only the wealthy who are being hurt by the government’s appetite for more “revenue” on his watch, as every American–be they rich, middle class or poor–found out last month when they saw their take-home pay drastically reduced by the increase in the payroll tax. But there is more to this debate than just Obama’s penchant for political talk. Conservatives do oppose tax increases as a general principle–not because they see it as their job to defend the wealthy but because they rightly understand their proper role as defending all Americans against the expansion of government power.

Read More

President Obama continued his campaign to demonize his opponents in the sequester standoff yesterday. Appearing on the radio show of racial huckster Al Sharpton, the president again attempted to frame the issue facing the country as one that pit the middle class and the poor against the wealthy. If Republicans refused to accede to his demands for a budget solution that would include more tax hikes, it was because affection for the wealthy was the core principle at the heart of their political coalition:

My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations. And they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes, and that’s the thing that binds their party together at this point.

This is not just false but the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that gives the lie to the president’s pose of moderation and a willingness to reach out across the aisle. His claim that the rich don’t pay taxes is also false. So is the notion that it is only the wealthy who are being hurt by the government’s appetite for more “revenue” on his watch, as every American–be they rich, middle class or poor–found out last month when they saw their take-home pay drastically reduced by the increase in the payroll tax. But there is more to this debate than just Obama’s penchant for political talk. Conservatives do oppose tax increases as a general principle–not because they see it as their job to defend the wealthy but because they rightly understand their proper role as defending all Americans against the expansion of government power.

The common thread throughout all of the president’s political pronouncements—such as the laundry list of liberal government projects he wishes to fund included in his State of the Union address—is the notion that big government is back to stay. Though he couches his rhetoric in such a way as to claim that he is not trying to expand the deficit, not even his supporters really believe that. But they are thrilled that the re-elected Barack Obama seems determined to bring the country back to a time when there was no end in sight to the growth of government-funded entitlements.

What conservatives understand is that this project is not something that will only be paid for by the rich. The top 1 percent of the country in terms of wealth already pay 38 percent of all taxes. And even if that figure is made to expand exponentially, it will never be enough to pay for all the things Obama wants government to do.

It may well be that, at least in the short term until the impending insolvency of our entitlement-bloated budget forces a change, those who promise the unending delivery of government goodies to as many people as possible will be politically successful. The president may certainly be forgiven for reaching that conclusion–especially after a re-election campaign in which his class warfare pitch was made even easier by Mitt Romney’s impolitic, but not altogether false, crack about Republicans not having a chance to gain the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no taxes.

But Republicans should be united in their belief that the more money looted from the taxpayers, the bigger government and the federal bureaucracy will grow and with it an ever-rising federal debt that will eventually sink this country. The reason why Obama’s “balanced” approach to deficit reduction—which on the face of it seems so reasonable—must be opposed is that the president’s promises of cuts are no more credible than those of a “three-card monte” street game in which the pigeon can always count on being fleeced. No matter what he says now and no matter how much is taken from the wealthy, the government and the deficit will continue to grow and that will impoverish every taxpayer.

Calling the president out for this con game that liberals have been playing on the public for generations is a defense of the integrity of all taxpayers as well as common sense. The president may think he can evade a real debate about the deficit with name-calling and deceptive promises, but sooner or later the liberal project will be capsized by the debt he is running up. Though they have good reason to worry that Obama is getting the better of them at the moment, this is an issue around which Republicans ought to unite.

Read Less

Three Steps Forward in Afghanistan

Prospects for long-term stability in Afghanistan have ticked up just a notch in the last few days. First, President Obama backloaded the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops over the next year, leaving the vast majority of them in place during the fighting season that will not end until late fall. Second, Obama appears to have delayed any decision on what size force the U.S. will leave after 2014–a prudent measure given the unpredictability of any battlefield and the danger of imposing a precooked politically-ordained number that will have the effect of undercutting Afghan security forces.

Now, even more significantly, the Obama administration appears to have decided to delay cutting the size of the Afghan security forces. They now number 350,000, a figure which requires some $6 billion in annual foreign (mainly American) support. The plan had been to cut their ranks back to 240,000 or even fewer by 2015, which would reduce their cost to $4 billion but would also have the unfortunate impact of laying off more than 100,000 soldiers and police at a time when NATO troop numbers are also rapidly falling.

Read More

Prospects for long-term stability in Afghanistan have ticked up just a notch in the last few days. First, President Obama backloaded the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops over the next year, leaving the vast majority of them in place during the fighting season that will not end until late fall. Second, Obama appears to have delayed any decision on what size force the U.S. will leave after 2014–a prudent measure given the unpredictability of any battlefield and the danger of imposing a precooked politically-ordained number that will have the effect of undercutting Afghan security forces.

Now, even more significantly, the Obama administration appears to have decided to delay cutting the size of the Afghan security forces. They now number 350,000, a figure which requires some $6 billion in annual foreign (mainly American) support. The plan had been to cut their ranks back to 240,000 or even fewer by 2015, which would reduce their cost to $4 billion but would also have the unfortunate impact of laying off more than 100,000 soldiers and police at a time when NATO troop numbers are also rapidly falling.

It is hard to imagine a more destabilizing development, especially given the likelihood that the only place where the unemployed security men could find employment would be among the ranks of the Taliban and drug traffickers.

Obama deserves credit for rethinking this short-sighted approach. Perhaps he is realizing at long last that an overly hasty withdrawal of American personnel and dollars from Afghanistan, whatever its short-term political benefit (negligible at any rate for a president who will never seek another electoral office), could harm his historical reputation and undo all that U.S. troops under his command have fought so hard to achieve in recent years.

Read Less

An Interesting Time to Be Alive (If You’re a Republican)

In his appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Democratic strategist James Carville was asked what the Republican Party has to do in order to recover. Mr. Carville pointed out that “It’s hard when you’re a congressional party.” What he meant by that is that without a titular head, a party is relatively undisciplined and often sounds cacophonous. The press will focus on the most outrageous statements made by backbenchers, which leads to responsible members of the party often finding themselves with “a fist in your forehead.”

That’s a fair point. At the same time, a period like the Republican Party is in right now can also lead to some intellectual creativity, with good ideas being generated by governors and members of Congress. Wilderness years can help a party that has become ideologically rigid and somewhat out of touch with the changing nature of America. As Rod Dreher pointed out in a recent symposium in COMMENTARY, in the short run political cohesion and effectiveness have their advantages, but this can be “a disaster for a party that needs–as every party does–to have its intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument.”

Read More

In his appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Democratic strategist James Carville was asked what the Republican Party has to do in order to recover. Mr. Carville pointed out that “It’s hard when you’re a congressional party.” What he meant by that is that without a titular head, a party is relatively undisciplined and often sounds cacophonous. The press will focus on the most outrageous statements made by backbenchers, which leads to responsible members of the party often finding themselves with “a fist in your forehead.”

That’s a fair point. At the same time, a period like the Republican Party is in right now can also lead to some intellectual creativity, with good ideas being generated by governors and members of Congress. Wilderness years can help a party that has become ideologically rigid and somewhat out of touch with the changing nature of America. As Rod Dreher pointed out in a recent symposium in COMMENTARY, in the short run political cohesion and effectiveness have their advantages, but this can be “a disaster for a party that needs–as every party does–to have its intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument.”

I also agree with Carville and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that a strong leader eventually needs to emerge to help the GOP regain its political footing. But that will have to wait at least until the next presidential cycle, which is still a ways off.

Until then, Republicans have to do the best they can given the situation in which they find themselves. And this can be–it actually is–an intellectually interesting moment for the GOP and conservative movement, which are engaged in fairly searching and healthy re-examinations. More needs to be done (Ross Douthat explains why here). Still, reactionary liberalism seems to me to be exhausted and unequipped to address the problems of the 21stcentury. Which means on the national level the Republican Party and conservatism will have their chance again. When it comes, readiness will be all.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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