Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 12, 2013

CIA Plan Shows Mistake of Iraq Withdrawal

What to make of this Wall Street Journal report that, under a program launched by the Obama administration last year, the CIA has stepped up its assistance to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service which includes Iraqi Special Operations units that were trained and mentored in the past by U.S. Special Operations forces? Iraqi forces are now working with American clandestine operatives to target al-Qaeda in Iraq and its Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front.

On one level this is an implicit acknowledgement from President Obama that his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 was a mistake: Contrary to his overoptimistic claims, Iraq was not, and still is not, ready to take over its entire defense. There has been a corresponding degradation of Iraq’s capacity to fight groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which helps to account for their resurgence in the past year and now their spread to Syria.

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What to make of this Wall Street Journal report that, under a program launched by the Obama administration last year, the CIA has stepped up its assistance to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service which includes Iraqi Special Operations units that were trained and mentored in the past by U.S. Special Operations forces? Iraqi forces are now working with American clandestine operatives to target al-Qaeda in Iraq and its Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front.

On one level this is an implicit acknowledgement from President Obama that his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 was a mistake: Contrary to his overoptimistic claims, Iraq was not, and still is not, ready to take over its entire defense. There has been a corresponding degradation of Iraq’s capacity to fight groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which helps to account for their resurgence in the past year and now their spread to Syria.

Obama claimed that the pullout was necessary because Iraqi political leaders, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, would not countenance an American role with immunity from prosecution. Does that mean that these CIA operatives are now subject to Iraqi criminal prosecution? One doubts it. Rather, one suspects that the Iraqis have granted the CIA a secret immunity deal, although if one exists it goes unmentioned in the Journal article.

But it is hard to imagine the CIA risking its operatives in such a quasi-public role without some legal protection. If in fact the Iraqis have granted such immunity to the CIA, it suggests they probably would have been willing to grant it to a limited contingent of military personnel as well–if only Obama had not made the onerous and unnecessary demand, opposed by his own negotiating team, that any immunity deal be approved by Iraq’s parliament.

Given the inability of the U.S. military to operate in Iraq, the CIA mission sounds like a reasonable stopgap, but almost surely there is a loss of capability in relying on the CIA rather than on seasoned American military organizations which built up long-term connections with their Iraqi counterparts and had more resources and expertise to devote to counterterrorism than an organization that is primarily devoted to the collection of intelligence. The CIA can make ample use of former military personnel–and perhaps some active-duty ones as well–but it simply is not as capable in carrying out this kind of mission as the U.S. Special Operations Command or other Defense Department organizations would be. Nor can the CIA presence, which is necessarily hidden and limited, provide the same kind of political clout to influence Maliki that the presence of uniformed military personnel could provide.

This is, in essence, a second-best solution–better than nothing but not as good as keeping an American military contingent after 2011 as America’s military commanders on the ground had argued for. Does President Obama now regret, one wonders, not trying harder to secure a Status of Forces Agreement?

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American Military Retrenchment and Nuclear Proliferation

The New York Times had a fascinating article on the latest Korean crisis the other day which noted that two-thirds of South Koreans now support developing their own nuclear deterrent–a radical idea for a nation that has been such a close American ally for decades but one that is gaining strength among some foreign policy elites. Significantly, it is not just the increasingly shrill line from Pyongyang which is causing alarm in the South. There are also doubts about the reliability of the U.S. as a protector. The Times notes

Beyond the immediate fear of a military provocation, analysts say deeper anxieties are also at work in the South. One of the biggest is the creeping resurgence of old fears about the reliability of this nation’s longtime protector, the United States. Experts say the talk of South Korea’s acquiring nuclear weapons is an oblique way to voice the concerns of a small but growing number of South Koreans that the United States, either because of budget cuts or a lack of will, may one day no longer act as the South’s ultimate insurance policy.

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The New York Times had a fascinating article on the latest Korean crisis the other day which noted that two-thirds of South Koreans now support developing their own nuclear deterrent–a radical idea for a nation that has been such a close American ally for decades but one that is gaining strength among some foreign policy elites. Significantly, it is not just the increasingly shrill line from Pyongyang which is causing alarm in the South. There are also doubts about the reliability of the U.S. as a protector. The Times notes

Beyond the immediate fear of a military provocation, analysts say deeper anxieties are also at work in the South. One of the biggest is the creeping resurgence of old fears about the reliability of this nation’s longtime protector, the United States. Experts say the talk of South Korea’s acquiring nuclear weapons is an oblique way to voice the concerns of a small but growing number of South Koreans that the United States, either because of budget cuts or a lack of will, may one day no longer act as the South’s ultimate insurance policy.

That is a powerful testament to the growing doubts around the world about American power in the Age of Obama–even if the South Koreans and others would not put it that way. Surveys show widespread global admiration for Obama, but there is growing discomfort with the “lead from behind” doctrine that has come to be associated with his administration. Those doubts are only amplified by the sequester, which Obama dreamed up and has allowed to go into effect, thereby jeopardizing our military strength, because of his unwillingness to reach agreement with Republicans over any deficit deal that does not raise taxes.

It is not just South Koreans and other Asian allies who wonder if the U.S. will be there for them as they are threatened by North Korea–or by a China that is growing increasingly assertive in trying to expand it sovereignty over various islands claimed by Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and other nations with little pushback from Washington. So, too, Middle Eastern allies worry as they see Washington failing to stop the Iranian nuclear program or to do more to stop Iran’s allies in Syria from trying to defeat a popular uprising using horrific violence.

So far those doubts are muted, but if present trends continue they will get louder over time–and we will see the world becoming a more dangerous place. Not just because American power serves to restrain our enemies but also because it restrains our allies–especially countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, who could easily go nuclear if they choose. They have decided, thus far, to refrain from fielding their own nuclear arsenals because they have been sheltered under the American nuclear umbrella. But if that umbrella frays–because of nuclear cuts that Obama is trying to implement or because of a general weakening of our defense or simply a decline in our credibility–then they will do what they have to do to protect themselves and the world will become a much more dangerous place as nuclear arms races break out in the Middle East and East Asia.

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Obama Still Doesn’t Get It

In a CNN interview two years ago, Allen West shared a piece of advice his father gave him: “Never read your own press and never drink your own tub water.” That advice–well, the first half, anyway–is popular among athletes and other celebrities. And it’s advice President Obama clearly doesn’t take–but perhaps should. Both the New York Times and National Journal’s Ron Fournier report today that Obama’s advisors are openly admitting that the president’s outreach to Republicans is a sham, mostly because he thinks reporters aren’t smart enough to know when they’re being played–though the story of the Obama presidency really indicates they know very well, and are simply happy to be part of Obama’s life in some way.

Critics of the Obama administration have long noted the incongruity of the president’s relationship with the political press: they adore him and he loathes them with every fiber of his being. This may not appear to be hurting the president, because the press still mostly plays along, but in fact it is starting to take its toll on Obama. Because he obsessively reads his own press, he is too wrapped up in pretending to do things to actually do them. As Fournier reports:

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In a CNN interview two years ago, Allen West shared a piece of advice his father gave him: “Never read your own press and never drink your own tub water.” That advice–well, the first half, anyway–is popular among athletes and other celebrities. And it’s advice President Obama clearly doesn’t take–but perhaps should. Both the New York Times and National Journal’s Ron Fournier report today that Obama’s advisors are openly admitting that the president’s outreach to Republicans is a sham, mostly because he thinks reporters aren’t smart enough to know when they’re being played–though the story of the Obama presidency really indicates they know very well, and are simply happy to be part of Obama’s life in some way.

Critics of the Obama administration have long noted the incongruity of the president’s relationship with the political press: they adore him and he loathes them with every fiber of his being. This may not appear to be hurting the president, because the press still mostly plays along, but in fact it is starting to take its toll on Obama. Because he obsessively reads his own press, he is too wrapped up in pretending to do things to actually do them. As Fournier reports:

“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”

Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”

Fair enough. And the Times adds:

Aides say Mr. Obama will continue his outreach even if the phone calls and other overtures can “feel fake to him,” in the words of one associate. The president signaled as much in his January news conference.

“Now that my girls are getting older, they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway,” Mr. Obama said. “So,” he added, “maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.”

Obama can be forgiven for preferring his kids to congressional Republicans, certainly. He has earned his reputation as a good father and a family man. But he and his advisors probably shouldn’t go around telling the media how much he hates bipartisan negotiations and having to be nice to other politicians. (Civility, and all that.)

But even more so, he should stop reading his press–cold turkey–because it is warping his view of his political predicament. It’s true that the political press can tend to focus on trivial and superficial elements of politics to the exclusion of substance–but it’s not like the president hasn’t been the primary beneficiary of this. (Does everyone remember the astronomically absurd “team of rivals” narrative?)

As Jonathan wrote last week, the fact that Obama is even superficially signaling that he’s ready to listen to Republicans is evidence of the GOP’s strength. House Republicans cannot govern from that one house of Congress, as Jonathan noted, and Obama and the Democrats still have the upper hand. But the public has grown weary of Obama’s dire predictions every time Republicans won’t simply pass legislation that meets his demands. It further undercuts Obama’s argument that the president approaches supposed fiscal emergencies by tossing out take-it-or-leave-it offers he knows Republicans can’t accept. And his credibility disintegrates even more when his prophecies of doom don’t come true.

In other words, the president got himself into this mess, not the media. He isn’t pretending to work with Republicans because White House reporters are goading him into it. He’s pretending to work with Republicans because the circumstances require him to actually work with Republicans. Until that message gets through, the bill for steaks and Merlot are all the president is going to have to show for this political theater.

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Don’t Let Facts Hinder Israel-Bashing

The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

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The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

This particular child’s death was made a cause célèbre because his father, Jihad al-Masharawi is an employee of the BBC. In a graphic account broadcast on the network, al-Masharawi, who is a picture editor, claimed “shrapnel” from Israeli artillery hit his son and another relative. In the video, al-Masharawi tearfully demanded to know “what did my son do to die like this?” The response from many who viewed it was to damn the Israelis as heartless murderers. Those who cited the child as proof of the injustice of Israeli actions in the Gaza fighting now ring hollow.

The point here is not just to illustrate that many of those Palestinians who have died in the fighting with Israel were the victims of “friendly fire” from their own side. In a very real sense, Omar al-Masharawi’s death was not a mistake. It was just one more example of a deliberate policy of sacrificing Palestinian children on the altar of unending war against Israel. When terrorists launch missiles from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets, the creation of a fresh batch of Palestinian martyrs is more important to them than even the shedding of Jewish blood.

This is a terrible tragedy that has all too often been aided and abetted by an international media eager to use shocking pictures and videos meant to depict Israeli atrocities to put forward a skewed version of what has happened in Gaza.

In this case, just as with the celebrated case of Mohammed al-Durrah–the picture of whose death in his father’s arms after supposedly being shot by Israelis at the beginning of the second intifada became a rallying point for Palestinians–the fictional narrative of Palestinian victimhood trumped the facts. Even after the story was conclusively debunked, the image of the dying child remains an icon of the campaign to defame Israel.

Some of those who were killed last fall did die from Israeli fire (though the overwhelming majority of casualties were Hamas fighters not civilians) as its army sought to take out the terrorists who rained missiles down on targets in southern and central Israel. But the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of all civilians in Gaza falls on the shoulders of Hamas leaders who continue to pursue Israel’s destruction and don’t care how many of their own people must die to keep that vile dream alive. Most of those who wish to delegitimize both Israel and its right to self-defense will ignore the UN report. But the al-Masharawi case, in which a terrorist missile landed in Gaza rather than Israel, should make this truth a bit more understandable even to those accustomed to accepting whatever lies emanate from Hamas and its enablers. 

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Ryan Shows GOP Is In for the Long Haul

Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.

Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.

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Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.

Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.

In one sense, Ryan’s critics are right to say his plan is not realistic. Since so much of it is predicated on the idea of repealing ObamaCare it must be admitted that it will not only be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate after presumably being passed by the GOP-controlled House. Its provisions about ending the president’s signature health care legislation will also ensure that it won’t be a starting point for a putative deal between the White House and Republicans since there is no chance in the foreseeable future that ObamaCare can be eliminated.

But if Republicans are to continue to provide a viable alternative to Obama and the Democrats, it cannot be based on the idea that they are only going to argue about the margins of the debate rather than its substance. As Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has said, Ryan’s budget is in effect a lemon law reminding the American people that there is an alternative to Obama’s health care boondoggle. As ObamaCare starts going into effect and the costs and the negative impact of the legislation are felt, Ryan’s critique will be seen as a dose of political realism rather than the partisan exercise that it is now being called.

It is entirely possible that if the president is serious about compromise that a “grand bargain” about the budget and tax reform can be struck. If so, then it may be that Republicans will give in on some of their positions on taxing just as Democrats will have to do more than pay lip service to entitlement reform.

But whether that happens or not, Republicans are still obligated to do more than provide a faint echo of liberal pieties. The voters chose a divided government last fall, not hegemony for the Democrats. That means any discussion about the budget must have two sides rather than the liberal narrative promoted by the president and his cheerleaders in the media. Ryan’s budget will never become law, but it is an important document that sets out the only real path to national solvency as well as for preserving Medicare. When contrasted with the president’s mindless defense of the status quo on entitlements as well as his inability to put forward to present a path to a balanced budget, Ryan’s plan doesn’t look so crazy.

Democrats who think they can win in 2014 by demagoguery aimed at Ryan are taking it for granted that public opinion is static rather than dynamic. Polls and even election results are variables, but political principles should reflect core beliefs about the future that are consistent with the value we place as a nation on freedom and limited government. There are many aspects of the Republican campaign last year that need revising, but a stand against the growth of government and holding down taxes is not a liability. Ryan has thrown down the gauntlet to the president and told the nation what he stands for. Win or lose, that’s the act of a party that is in this struggle for the long haul and can still eventually prevail.

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Why Debate the Jewish State? Prejudice

Is it worth the effort to debate those who question Israel’s legitimacy? In one sense, the answer has to be no. Israel’s right to exist should no more be a matter for debate than that of any other nation on the planet. If no one questions the right of Saudi Arabia to exist as a nation-state predicated on an extremist view of Islam (where practitioners of other faiths have no rights) or the rights of any European state, including those based on narrow ethnic identities (such as that of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, for whose benefit the United States went to war in 1999), then why should we bother even answering those who question whether the one Jewish state in the world is one too many?

And yet there are some instances in which there is no choice but to acknowledge such arguments and to answer them. The deluge of abuse directed at Zionism and Israel from much of the Arab and Muslim world is easily dismissed even if the sheer volume of these expressions and the way they have seeped into European popular culture have serious consequences. But when the New York Times devotes space on its website to an attempt by an academic to justify the position that Israel has no right to exist, attention must be paid. That’s what happened this past weekend when the Grey Lady published a lengthy article along these lines by University of Massachusetts philosophy professor Joseph Levine. Levine’s purpose was not just to try to prove that Israel shouldn’t exist but to claim that holding such a position was not anti-Semitic. He failed on both counts, calling into question not only the disreputable arguments that can be arrayed against Israel but also the Times’s decision to treat the question as one which is worthy of legitimate debate.

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Is it worth the effort to debate those who question Israel’s legitimacy? In one sense, the answer has to be no. Israel’s right to exist should no more be a matter for debate than that of any other nation on the planet. If no one questions the right of Saudi Arabia to exist as a nation-state predicated on an extremist view of Islam (where practitioners of other faiths have no rights) or the rights of any European state, including those based on narrow ethnic identities (such as that of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, for whose benefit the United States went to war in 1999), then why should we bother even answering those who question whether the one Jewish state in the world is one too many?

And yet there are some instances in which there is no choice but to acknowledge such arguments and to answer them. The deluge of abuse directed at Zionism and Israel from much of the Arab and Muslim world is easily dismissed even if the sheer volume of these expressions and the way they have seeped into European popular culture have serious consequences. But when the New York Times devotes space on its website to an attempt by an academic to justify the position that Israel has no right to exist, attention must be paid. That’s what happened this past weekend when the Grey Lady published a lengthy article along these lines by University of Massachusetts philosophy professor Joseph Levine. Levine’s purpose was not just to try to prove that Israel shouldn’t exist but to claim that holding such a position was not anti-Semitic. He failed on both counts, calling into question not only the disreputable arguments that can be arrayed against Israel but also the Times’s decision to treat the question as one which is worthy of legitimate debate.

Levine’s basic position is that denying the right of Israel to exist is not the same thing as anti-Semitism. While he denies that the Jews are a people or that they have any particular right to Israel, he puts those points aside to concentrate his 2,000-word rant to the question of whether Israel has the right to be a nation. To do so he must draw a distinction between those like himself who merely wish there was no state of Israel and those who are trying to depopulate that state of its Jews. In the course of this strained argument he seems to be saying that he has no problem with Israelis being Israeli (i.e. the right to live in the country, speak Hebrew and have their own culture and national identity) just as the right of the French to be French is unquestioned. But he thinks the idea of a government that recognizes the particular rights of Jews to self-determination in the country is illegitimate. Doing so would acquit those who agree with him of any taint of would-be genocide, let alone prejudice. But these are distinctions without differences.

Levine’s basic argument with the Israeli state is that any country that grants a privileged status to a particular group—in this case the Jewish people whose existence he denies—is inherently undemocratic. His point seems to be that any nation that is not one in which all citizens are viewed as individuals has no claim on the world’s sympathy and ought to be replaced with something else.

It might be intellectually defensible, if unrealistic, to argue that all nation states ought to be disbanded and that the entire world should be governed under the principles of the U.S. Constitution. But that is not what Levine or the Times is debating here. His sole interest is in the one Jewish state, not the scores of other nations whose identity is based in other national identities or faiths. What he calls the “ethnic hegemony” of Jews in Israel is replicated in various ways in the vast majority of United Nations member states–though in almost all cases with far less concern for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities than is enshrined in Israeli law. Though he claims he is not judging Israel by a double standard, that is exactly what he has done.

Thus, any attempt to deny to the Jews what is not denied or even questioned when it comes to other groups is by definition a form of prejudice. Such prejudice against Jews is called anti-Semitism. That’s why the claim that to be anti-Zionist is not the same as being anti-Semitic is mere sophistry.

But the truly contemptible aspect of Levine’s treatise is the disingenuous attempt to treat the question of Israel’s right to exist as separate from the real world consequences of anti-Zionism.

While Jews deserve the same rights of self-determination that are accorded to others, the particular importance of Israel stems not just from the Jewish demand for equitable treatment but from the consequences of 2,000 years during which they were denied statehood.

It is a popular misnomer to speak of Israel’s legitimacy as having stemmed from the Holocaust. Contrary to Levine, the right of the Jews to their ancient homeland transcends that tragedy and is rooted in history and law that existed long before the Nazis. But the legacy of Jewish powerlessness was 20 centuries of persecution that culminated in the murder of 6 million European Jews. Being deprived of sovereignty not only fueled contempt for the Jews; it made their defense and survival dependent on the whims of an international community whose lack of interest in their plight was a source of encouragement to Adolf Hitler.

Even if we take the Holocaust out of the discussion, the same paradigm applies today. Without an army and a state specifically dedicated to the defense of the Jewish people, the more than 6 million Jews who live in Israel (whose continued existence Professor Levine says he has no desire to interfere with) would be in a similar position to that of European Jewry 70 years ago. One need only listen or read the unceasing stream of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda emanating from Tehran, Cairo, Ramallah and half a hundred other centers of anti-Zionist agitation to understand what would happen to the Jews of Israel were they not protected by a sovereign Jewish state. In a majority Muslim state, Jews would revert to dhimmi status, and that means subjugation and persecution. Talk of the creation of a bi-national democratic state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (the traditional demand of Palestinian nationalism) is merely code for the expulsion and slaughter of the Jews, something that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have no trouble affirming.

There are many aspects of the complex Middle East conflict that persons of good will may debate. But the notion that Israel should be eradicated is not such a notion. Support of this position, even when couched in academic or intellectual arguments such as those that Levine attempts to muster, always boils down to denying the Jews rights that are held sacrosanct and unworthy of discussion when applied to others. Moreover, the denial of these rights cannot be separated from the active desire of some to do more than merely replace one form of democratic government with another. One can no more debate Israel’s legitimacy without taking that into account and placing it in the context of the history of persecution and genocide of Jews than one can debate the merits of Stalin’s economic policies without mentioning the millions who died as a result of his schemes.

Levine’s piece is therefore not merely wrong but a disreputable intellectual gloss on a policy based in hatred.  Those who deny the right of Jewish self-determination are aiding the cause of those who make war on the Jews and cannot be cleansed of the taint of that association. No one disputes his right to spew his bias wherever he can get it published, even if this is the sort of thing that ought to be beyond the pale in terms of the conduct of decent persons. But we don’t doubt that were he or any other employee of a state institution of higher learning to associate himself with support of segregation or South African apartheid, they would face serious consequences. That the New York Times would give so much space to it is a shameful reminder of the fact that prejudice against Jews (even when articulated by those who claim Jewish identity as does Levine) is alive and well even in the seemingly respectable corridors of our mainstream media as well as the academy.

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Another (Self-Induced) Diplomatic Headache for Obama

For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

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For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

The irony of the Falklands is that those who either oppose British sovereignty over the islands or simply refuse to support it have contributed far more to the U.K.’s lasting control over the islands than anyone on the British side. They have turned what was a faraway and costly remnant of a disintegrating empire into an issue of national pride. This was certainly what Argentina did when it chose to invade the islands in 1982. Argentinean junta leaders correctly read signals indicating the British had no real desire to hold on to the islands, and a bit of patience would have almost certainly been rewarded. Instead, they attacked.

In his history of the Cold War, Norman Stone recounts the scene with typically colorful flourishes. Both Argentina and the British seemed to think that a quiet transfer of authority of the islands to Argentina would be in everyone’s interest. Stone describes the unfolding of a genuinely stupid miscalculation on the part of the junta:

In December 1981 a General Leopoldo Galtieri seized the dominant role in the Buenos Aires military junta, and he appeared as the ultimate in comic, circus-uniformed rulers, an “El Supremo” out of Hornblower. In March 1982 he tested the waters: his troops landed on South Georgia, a remote, frozen place from which the British had conducted surveys of the Antarctic. Then, on 2 April, he invaded the Falklands. In London there was disbelief: a senior Foreign Office man caught the mood when he gasped, they cannot treat a major power in this way.

Parliament was furious and Margaret Thatcher took action, sending forces to repel the invasion. Stone notes that public opinion was rallied to the cause. Had the Argentine junta been smart, even the island’s inhabitants who wanted to remain under the crown could have been relocated to other islands still controlled by Britain and for a fraction of the cost of the Falklands war. Yet the junta “behaved with grotesque obstinacy.” The junta seemed to think they’d have American support; they of course did not. Stone suggests the junta leaders may have even misread Jeane Kirkpatrick’s COMMENTARY essay on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” to think they had some latitude in acting out their delusional fantasies. The French helped the British effort, which was successful. Thatcher was able to say “we have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”

The junta fell and Thatcher was venerated as a liberator. British national pride received a much-needed jolt and, Stone writes, “in some ways it marked the high point of the Thatcher period: a courageous budget was associated with economic recovery, and the Falklands campaign with a great sea-change in international affairs.”

The Falklands were an artifact; they were not exactly the jewel in the crown. But just like that they had become a new kind of Dunkirk, a symbol of British strength and resolve. As the AP story notes, some are raising questions about the logic of retaining the islands in an age of austerity. The vote was less a message to the United States than it was to David Cameron not to cut them loose to free up some spare change. But that decision, if taken, will ultimately be Britain’s. Denying British sovereignty remains silly. You can’t ask for much more of a mandate than 99.8 percent agreement among the population.

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