Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 8, 2013

No Accountability for Zakaria’s Fiction

Last summer television personality and columnist Fareed Zakaria was suspended by both TIME magazine and CNN for committing plagiarism in a piece he wrote for the Washington Post. Yet the ubiquitous voice of conventional wisdom about foreign policy was soon back in his familiar haunts undaunted by his humiliation and allowed to pretend as if nothing had happened. But the problem with Zakaria wasn’t his lack of acknowledgement of the work of others so much as it is his penchant for ignoring inconvenient facts when advocating the policies that he urges the country to adopt as if they were self-evident.

A particularly egregious example of this trait was made clear last month when Zakaria was writing about President Obama’s trip to Israel. Zakaria wrote a column that endorsed the president’s speech to Israeli youth to pressure their government to make peace with the Palestinians. While, as we pointed out at the time, this appeal was directed to the wrong side of the dispute, Zakaria was entitled to his opinion about Israelis ought to do. What he was not entitled to was his own facts about the situation.

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Last summer television personality and columnist Fareed Zakaria was suspended by both TIME magazine and CNN for committing plagiarism in a piece he wrote for the Washington Post. Yet the ubiquitous voice of conventional wisdom about foreign policy was soon back in his familiar haunts undaunted by his humiliation and allowed to pretend as if nothing had happened. But the problem with Zakaria wasn’t his lack of acknowledgement of the work of others so much as it is his penchant for ignoring inconvenient facts when advocating the policies that he urges the country to adopt as if they were self-evident.

A particularly egregious example of this trait was made clear last month when Zakaria was writing about President Obama’s trip to Israel. Zakaria wrote a column that endorsed the president’s speech to Israeli youth to pressure their government to make peace with the Palestinians. While, as we pointed out at the time, this appeal was directed to the wrong side of the dispute, Zakaria was entitled to his opinion about Israelis ought to do. What he was not entitled to was his own facts about the situation.

Zakaria wrote the following in support of his belief that the Israelis should go the extra mile and start making concessions:

After all, Israel has ruled millions of Palestinians without offering them citizenship or a state for 40 years.

As anyone who has paid even cursory attention to the conflict in the last generation, this is patently false.

Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians statehood and independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in July 2000 at Camp David. Yasir Arafat refused it to the chagrin of President Bill Clinton, who thought the offer would win him the Nobel Peace Prize he coveted. The Israelis repeated the offer the following January at Taba with advantages and got the same answer. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer of statehood that gave the putative state of Palestine even more territory. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas fled the talks rather than be forced to give an answer.

One may argue that Israel’s offers were insufficient, even though doing so means taking a position that goes far beyond the parameters for peace that President Obama has endorsed and which would compromise Israeli security as well as its rights. Anti-Zionists can say that an offer of separate Palestinian statehood that requires them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is unreasonable. But you can’t claim that Israel hasn’t made any offers of statehood and retain credibility.

Unless, that is, your name is Fareed Zakaria.

When Israeli blogger Jeffrey Grossman pointed this blatant error out, Zakaria could have quickly and quietly corrected the record and moved on. He did not. And when Grossman wrote to Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, he received the following reply:

The history of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is contentious and, as I’m sure you know, subject to widely differing interpretation. Mr. Zakaria’s statement is within the bounds of acceptable interpretation for an opinion columnist.

The response of Hiatt, who has a well-earned reputation for fairness, is puzzling. After all, as Grossman has pointed out, not even the Palestinians claim they haven’t received an offer of statehood. They just say it wasn’t nearly good enough, especially since it didn’t include the poison pill they demand of every negotiation—a “right of return” for the descendants of the refugees of Israel’s War of Independence.

No one is saying that Zakaria isn’t within his rights to dismiss Israel’s offers, but he can’t ignore them and stay “within the bounds of acceptable interpretation.” His comments were not couched with language that gave him any wriggle room about the facts. If the Israelis have made offers—and they have—he’s made an error that requires a correction.

Of course, the reason why he won’t willingly make such a correction because reminding readers that Israel has tried and failed to entice the Palestinians to end the conflict by trading land for peace undermines the fallacious narrative of Zionist intransigence that he’s trying to promote. That’s a point that President Obama acknowledged in the very speech Zakaria was endorsing in his column.

Zakaria plays an authority about foreign policy on television but the closer you look at his views, the shakier his claim to expertise looks. Opinion columnists who need to doctor the facts in order to make their points aren’t merely wrong, they are charlatans of the sort that makes plagiarism look benign. The Post, which stood by Zakaria when he was embarrassed by his shoddy practices last year, needs to hold him accountable.

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The U.S. and the Murders at the Cathedral

Assurances about the benign intent of the Muslim Brotherhood have been the coin of the realm in Washington in the past year as the Obama administration justified its continued embrace of the Egyptian government. But even though we are still being told that there is no alternative to engagement with Mohamed Morsi’s regime, the escalation of anti-Christian violence ought to shock Americans into the realization that they are subsidizing a regime bent on oppressing religious minorities.

The siege of the Christian Cathedral in Cairo was condemned by Morsi, who told the sect’s pope in a phone call that he considered “any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally” and then ordered an investigation into the incident. But the source of the trouble isn’t a mystery. As the New York Times reports, uniformed police and security personnel joined Muslim mobs as they attacked the sacred site in fighting that left four Christians dead. Christians are connecting the dots between the Brotherhood’s sectarian agitation and drive for total power and the growing number of attacks on them. While Morsi tries to give his movement what an American bureaucrat might call “plausible deniability,” Islamist street thugs are under the understandable impression that they have the approval of the movement that has seized control of the country when the police join their depredations rather than stop them. The only mystery is how long it will take for a U.S. government that is still sending nearly $2 billion a year to Egypt’s government, as well as military equipment, to understand that it can’t pretend to talk about supporting the goals of the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy protesters while backing Morsi.

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Assurances about the benign intent of the Muslim Brotherhood have been the coin of the realm in Washington in the past year as the Obama administration justified its continued embrace of the Egyptian government. But even though we are still being told that there is no alternative to engagement with Mohamed Morsi’s regime, the escalation of anti-Christian violence ought to shock Americans into the realization that they are subsidizing a regime bent on oppressing religious minorities.

The siege of the Christian Cathedral in Cairo was condemned by Morsi, who told the sect’s pope in a phone call that he considered “any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally” and then ordered an investigation into the incident. But the source of the trouble isn’t a mystery. As the New York Times reports, uniformed police and security personnel joined Muslim mobs as they attacked the sacred site in fighting that left four Christians dead. Christians are connecting the dots between the Brotherhood’s sectarian agitation and drive for total power and the growing number of attacks on them. While Morsi tries to give his movement what an American bureaucrat might call “plausible deniability,” Islamist street thugs are under the understandable impression that they have the approval of the movement that has seized control of the country when the police join their depredations rather than stop them. The only mystery is how long it will take for a U.S. government that is still sending nearly $2 billion a year to Egypt’s government, as well as military equipment, to understand that it can’t pretend to talk about supporting the goals of the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy protesters while backing Morsi.

It does no good to pretend, as some claim, that Morsi can’t stop the attacks on Christians or that the forces pushing the country to the brink of religious war are unrelated to the Brotherhood and its supporters. While attacks on Christians were hardly unknown during the long reign of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, it isn’t possible to separate the heightened tension from the expectations of Islamists that they have the Christian minority on the run. The brazen manner with which these mobs have attacked a symbol of Christianity like the Cathedral with the assistance of the police is a signal that things are heading in the wrong direction. The spectacle of security forces with armored personnel carriers and tear gas canons joining the violence on the side of thugs throwing rocks and firebombs at Christian mourners leaving the cathedral makes it hard to argue that this is the work of extremists unconnected with the ruling party.

That Muslims who are prepared to riot and murder at the merest hint of insult aimed at Islam taunted the Christians with what the Times called “lewd gestures involving the cross” in the presence of the police is itself appalling. But it is also indicative of a shift in the mood of the Middle East, in which it is clear that anything goes when it comes to religious conflict. Though the Brotherhood has promised gullible Westerners that it won’t impose its beliefs on non-Muslims or turn the country into a theocratic state, evidence is mounting that the Kulturkampf in Egypt is in full swing.

If President Obama is serious about standing up for human rights, it is necessary for him to speak out publicly against what is going on in Egypt and to start using some of the leverage over its government that he was quick to employ when showing Mubarak the door or threatening the military to allow the Brotherhood to take office. If he fails to do so, the Muslim and Arab world won’t be slow to draw the same conclusions that Egyptians in the street are drawing from the role of the police in the assault on the cathedral. They will think that Obama is indifferent to the fate of the Copts or, even worse, that he has no problems with the Brotherhood’s push for power.

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The Oil Boom Continues

Guess which country is the world’s largest oil producer. No, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Russia. It’s the United States, which passed Saudi Arabia in November of 2012, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and reported in Investors Business Daily.

In 2012 American domestic output rose by an astonishing 800,000 barrels a day. That’s more than total oil production in such middling oil producers as Argentina, and the greatest single-year increase in the United States since Edwin Drake drilled the first well in 1859.

That has consequences far beyond the oil patches of Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota. In 2006, the United States imported 60 percent of its oil. In 2013, that might well fall to 30 percent. That would mean roughly a $600 million turnaround in the balance of payments per day.

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Guess which country is the world’s largest oil producer. No, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Russia. It’s the United States, which passed Saudi Arabia in November of 2012, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and reported in Investors Business Daily.

In 2012 American domestic output rose by an astonishing 800,000 barrels a day. That’s more than total oil production in such middling oil producers as Argentina, and the greatest single-year increase in the United States since Edwin Drake drilled the first well in 1859.

That has consequences far beyond the oil patches of Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota. In 2006, the United States imported 60 percent of its oil. In 2013, that might well fall to 30 percent. That would mean roughly a $600 million turnaround in the balance of payments per day.

This revolution has been accomplished on private and state lands, thanks to new technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling. This has not only opened new fields, such as the Bakken shield in North Dakota, but revived old fields such as the great Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico. West Texas production had been declining for years after peaking about 1970. Now it is growing again.

The Obama administration has been doing its level best to see that this renaissance in American oil production is throttled in its crib. Vast areas of offshore are off limits, as are many areas of federal land. (The federal government owns about 28 percent of all the land in the country, roughly 635 million acres.) And the Obama administration has been slow-walking drilling permits. In North Dakota it takes about 10 days to get a permit for drilling on state land. The wait for federal permits averages 307 days. As a result, oil production on federal land has actually been declining in recent years while increasing everywhere else. Not only does that retard our increasing independence from foreign oil, it costs the federal government serious money, as the government is paid handsome royalties on minerals extracted on federal land.

There’s probably not much to be done about that as long as the deeply anti-capitalist so-called “environmental movement,” is in charge of energy policy in Washington. But the country is very lucky the federal government only directly controls 28 percent of the country’s territory.

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Newest Obstacle for Immigration Reformers: Their Supporters?

There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.

In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.

There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:

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There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.

In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.

There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:

The request from the liberal Campaign to Reform Immigration for America was simple — but strange.

“Ask Marco Rubio to support a pathway to citizenship,” a caller from the group said.

Huh?

“Marco Rubio already supports a pathway to citizenship,” I said when I answered my home phone Wednesday. “I don’t understand.”

“He doesn’t support a pathway to citizenship,” the caller shot back.

Me: “Umm, yes he does.”

Caller: “No. He only supports a system of temporary work permits…”

Me: “I really think you have your facts wrong. Where are you getting them?”

The caller hung up.

Caputo asked the organization’s spokesman why his liberal callers were doing something so bizarre as to claim to support a policy, then identify conservatives who also support their efforts, then call voters and accuse those conservatives of being on the other side. The spokesman said the caller went “off script” and would be “retrained.”

But Caputo already knew the real answer: “If immigration reform dies, then activist groups on all sides of the political spectrum live to fight again.”

It’s one thing to be a liberal interest group and maniacally send fundraising scare-letters every time a Republican’s actions can be twisted into the prevailing liberal conspiracy theory du jour. The issues change by the day, but there’s always something for the MoveOns of the world to grouse about. But what about the liberal groups devoted to one single issue? It turns out, they have a lot to lose by winning.

For the Democratic politicians who actually want to pass immigration reform, however, this behavior only works against them. For those wondering how to tell the difference between a pro-immigration Democrat and a Democrat who, like the president and Caputo’s activist caller, may not actually want reform to succeed, the answer is hinted at in a Washington Post piece this afternoon on the subject:

Senate Democrats should hope that Rubio sticks with the group, because the party needs more than a few Republicans to sign onto immigration reform in the upper chamber for the legislation to have any hope of passing in the GOP-controlled House.

“We don’t want this bill to be, you know, 53 Democrats and just a handful of Republicans because we need broad bipartisan support, particularly to get a bill done in the House,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.” Schumer is part of the “Gang of Eight.”

If you want to know what kind of immigration reform can pass both houses of Congress and garner enough support on the right while still achieving the goals of the reform process, Rubio is the one to watch. So how Rubio’s Democratic counterparts behave toward him will tell you who is serious about reform and who is looking for an ethnic-politics wedge issue.

Liberals who seek to confuse the public about where Rubio stands to portray the sides as farther apart than they are, such as the caller from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America, are not serious about reform. And when the White House pushes back against Rubio’s importance to the process while giving the president credit for the progress, it’s a sign that maybe those callers from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America should be directing public pressure not at Rubio, but at Obama.

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Re: What Does It Mean to Remember the Holocaust?

As a footnote to Jonathan Tobin’s post on what it means to remember the Holocaust, let me call attention to the post today by Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) entitled “It’s Not Enough.” The post asks 20 questions about action today, rather than simply remembering the past, since the ultimate purpose of recalling history is to ensure it is not repeated. Here are four of the questions:

Do you believe that the lesson we should learn from the Holocaust is one of tolerance?

Do you believe that continued sanctions and negotiations will deter a nuclear Iran?

Do you believe that American Jewry did all they could to stop the slaughter during the Holocaust?

Do you believe that another Holocaust can’t happen?

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As a footnote to Jonathan Tobin’s post on what it means to remember the Holocaust, let me call attention to the post today by Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) entitled “It’s Not Enough.” The post asks 20 questions about action today, rather than simply remembering the past, since the ultimate purpose of recalling history is to ensure it is not repeated. Here are four of the questions:

Do you believe that the lesson we should learn from the Holocaust is one of tolerance?

Do you believe that continued sanctions and negotiations will deter a nuclear Iran?

Do you believe that American Jewry did all they could to stop the slaughter during the Holocaust?

Do you believe that another Holocaust can’t happen?

The slogan “Never Again” is meaningless if it does not have operational significance. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this view was contained in the words of Joel M. Geiderman, vice chairman of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council, given in the Capitol rotunda on this day in 2009, before an audience of leaders that included President Obama. He called on them in the name of the victims of the Holocaust to assure that no country that threatens the destruction of another people ever obtains the means to achieve it:

By my articulating these words to you in this building, in this great hall of freedom, I am reminding all of you that what we do and don’t do matters and will be remembered. It would be far too easy to light twelve candles for twelve million murdered rather than six candles for six million. The harder work is to make sure that that does not happen. No more candles. Not anywhere. Never again.

The 20 CJHS questions are a guide to the things to think about as yet another storm gathers.

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John Kerry’s Clinic in Diplomatic Futility

Secretary of State John Kerry is on tour this week, emulating the sort of frequent-flyer diplomacy that his predecessor Hillary Clinton prided herself on. With the help of an adoring press, Clinton managed to create the impression that roaming the globe was in itself an indication of success even if she didn’t accomplish much, if anything, by doing so. However, Kerry’s wanderings will be even more difficult to portray as a public relations bonanza. That’s because his stubborn refusal to face facts about intractable conflicts is leading him into the sort of fool’s errands that the more cautious Clinton avoided. Case in point is his visit to Turkey this past weekend that was followed by a trip to Israel, where he will engage in some shuttle diplomacy between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinians.

Kerry’s stay in Ankara was represented as a follow-up to President Obama’s supposedly brilliant triumph in brokering what is still widely referred to as a “rapprochement” between Israel and Turkey. But the details of the talks he held with the Turkish foreign minister gave the lie to the administration’s boasts about the benefits of its persuading the Israeli prime minister to apologize to his Turkish counterpart, since the Turks are making it clear they have no intention of abiding by any agreement to normalize relations with the Jewish state. Similarly, the idea of shuttling between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Abbas, when the latter has already demonstrated his lack of interest in the sort of talks without precondition that Obama said was the only path to peace, is, at best, a waste of the secretary’s time. That Kerry is inaugurating his tenure at the State Department by conducting two visits that give him no opportunity to succeed is bad enough. But it does more than illustrate how out of touch he is with reality. By diving into problems that he can’t fix but can make worse by raising expectations of American pressure on Israel, this will not only bode ill for his tenure in his new post but also offers him opportunities to create mischief where none need have been found.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is on tour this week, emulating the sort of frequent-flyer diplomacy that his predecessor Hillary Clinton prided herself on. With the help of an adoring press, Clinton managed to create the impression that roaming the globe was in itself an indication of success even if she didn’t accomplish much, if anything, by doing so. However, Kerry’s wanderings will be even more difficult to portray as a public relations bonanza. That’s because his stubborn refusal to face facts about intractable conflicts is leading him into the sort of fool’s errands that the more cautious Clinton avoided. Case in point is his visit to Turkey this past weekend that was followed by a trip to Israel, where he will engage in some shuttle diplomacy between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinians.

Kerry’s stay in Ankara was represented as a follow-up to President Obama’s supposedly brilliant triumph in brokering what is still widely referred to as a “rapprochement” between Israel and Turkey. But the details of the talks he held with the Turkish foreign minister gave the lie to the administration’s boasts about the benefits of its persuading the Israeli prime minister to apologize to his Turkish counterpart, since the Turks are making it clear they have no intention of abiding by any agreement to normalize relations with the Jewish state. Similarly, the idea of shuttling between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Abbas, when the latter has already demonstrated his lack of interest in the sort of talks without precondition that Obama said was the only path to peace, is, at best, a waste of the secretary’s time. That Kerry is inaugurating his tenure at the State Department by conducting two visits that give him no opportunity to succeed is bad enough. But it does more than illustrate how out of touch he is with reality. By diving into problems that he can’t fix but can make worse by raising expectations of American pressure on Israel, this will not only bode ill for his tenure in his new post but also offers him opportunities to create mischief where none need have been found.

In Turkey, the secretary was confronted by a Turkish determination to use the much-celebrated conversation between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdoğan as an opening to try and extract more concessions from Israel about their Hamas ally rather than a way out of a nasty quarrel. Kerry should not have gone to Ankara without a prior Turkish commitment to return their ambassador to Israel, as they had agreed during the call with President Obama. By leaving Turkey without anything near a promise to do so expeditiously, Kerry and the United States were humiliated. Having done so, it is difficult to imagine why the Turks will ever make good on their promises since the end of the embargo on the rogue Islamist state in Gaza is not something that either the U.S. or Israel can or should agree to even if it would make Erdoğan happy.

As far as the shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah, any decision to engage in such a public exercise should have been predicated by foreknowledge that the Palestinians were willing to end a boycott of negotiations with Israel that has lasted for more than four years. But even after the president publicly chided Abbas that preconditions about settlements should be no obstacle to talks, the PA has followed up by coming up with a different reason for not talking. Now they are saying that Israel must commit to using the 1967 lines as the starting point for new talks on borders.

While one can’t completely blame them for resurrecting a precondition that Obama himself memorably called for in his May 2012 ambush of Netanyahu in Washington, doing so is the equivalent of a neon sign saying the Palestinians don’t want to talk and wouldn’t agree to a peace deal even if they did.

Kerry has often been accused of being too close to the Europeans in his worldview, but the problem here is not his mindset so much as competence. No secretary of state ought to place themselves in these kinds of foolish positions. Say what you will about Clinton, but it is hard to think of any series of meetings that were as futile as those conducted this week by Kerry. That Kerry has done so on his maiden voyage to the region shows that the man who openly campaigned for the position of chief U.S. diplomat is only good for conducting a clinic in how not to represent his country. 

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Bergen-Belsen Survivors Sing Hatikvah

Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—began Sunday night and ends tonight. Tom Gross—whose Mideast Dispatch is one of the most valuable websites for those focusing on Middle East issues, Israel, anti-Semitism and security—includes today a link to a 1945 BBC report featuring Bergen-Belsen Survivors singing Hatikvah (“The Hope”)—the future national anthem of Israel—just days after liberation.

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Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—began Sunday night and ends tonight. Tom Gross—whose Mideast Dispatch is one of the most valuable websites for those focusing on Middle East issues, Israel, anti-Semitism and security—includes today a link to a 1945 BBC report featuring Bergen-Belsen Survivors singing Hatikvah (“The Hope”)—the future national anthem of Israel—just days after liberation.

Scroll down to click on the video. It is worth remembering not only the tragedy of the Holocaust, but also the spirit of those so lucky to survive.

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The Iraq War and the Arab Spring

Did the invasion of Iraq lead to the Arab Spring? As a supporter of the operation to topple Saddam Hussein, I would like to think that it rippled outward to topple indirectly other noxious dictators from Gaddafi to, one hopes, Assad. But I remain unconvinced by the case made by the prominent former Iraqi dissident and author Kanan Makiya in this New York Times article.

Makiya makes many excellent and important points in the course of his analysis, but there is no direct evidence he can cite of the connection between the Arab Spring and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Indeed he has to concede: “Few of the brave young men and women behind the Arab Spring have been willing to publicly admit the possibility of a link between their revolutions and the end of Mr. Hussein’s bloody reign 10 years ago. These activists have for the most part vigorously denied that their own demands for freedom and democracy, which were organic and homegrown, had anything to do with a war they saw as illegitimate and imperialistic.”

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Did the invasion of Iraq lead to the Arab Spring? As a supporter of the operation to topple Saddam Hussein, I would like to think that it rippled outward to topple indirectly other noxious dictators from Gaddafi to, one hopes, Assad. But I remain unconvinced by the case made by the prominent former Iraqi dissident and author Kanan Makiya in this New York Times article.

Makiya makes many excellent and important points in the course of his analysis, but there is no direct evidence he can cite of the connection between the Arab Spring and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Indeed he has to concede: “Few of the brave young men and women behind the Arab Spring have been willing to publicly admit the possibility of a link between their revolutions and the end of Mr. Hussein’s bloody reign 10 years ago. These activists have for the most part vigorously denied that their own demands for freedom and democracy, which were organic and homegrown, had anything to do with a war they saw as illegitimate and imperialistic.”

Given the lack of statements from Arab Spring leaders crediting the U.S. invasion as their inspiration, what evidence is there of its wider impact? Makiya writes: “After 2003, the edifice of the Arab state system began to crack elsewhere. In 2005, thousands of Lebanese marched in the streets to boot out the occupying Syrian Army; Palestinians tasted their first real elections; American officials twisted the arm of Hosni Mubarak to allow Egyptians a slightly less rigged election in 2006; and a new kind of critical writing began to spread online and in fiction.”

The problem is that the timing does not line up. The U.S. invasion of Iraq occurred in 2003. The Arab Spring did not occur until 2011. In the meantime Iraq was devastated by deadly civil war, which was hardly an advertisement for what happens after you topple an Arab strongman. The clearest example of Iraq inspiring change elsewhere was probably in Lebanon where the short-lived Cedar Revolution took place, as Makiya notes, in 2005. But elsewhere it is hard to find much positive impact from the events in Iraq. It might have been different if the U.S. had done a better job of preparing for a post-Saddam status quo.

But while America made grievous mistakes in Iraq, the way the county has turned out is not all our fault. One of Makiya’s most powerful points is to warn against the “hubris” of thinking “that what America does or doesn’t do is all that matters. The blame for the catastrophe of post-2003 Iraq must be placed on the new Iraqi political elite.” He is right. In fact the surge in 2007-2008 bought the Iraqi political elite another chance, but my concern is that they are now blowing this opportunity, with the country regressing into the soft authoritarianism of Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite sectarian supporters.

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The One Book to Read on Korea

While writing my book chapter on the history of U.S. diplomacy with North Korea and while preparing for a trip to South Korea to conduct interviews a couple years back, I had to get smart on Korea quickly, and hit the books. There is no shortage of books out there: Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas; Narushige Michishita’s North Korea’s Military-Diplomatic Campaigns; Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci’s Going Critical; Leon Sigal’s Disarming Strangers, and Bradley Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, among others. One stood out, however: Chuck Downs’ Over the Line. Downs, a former Pentagon official, traces North Korean negotiating behavior from the Armistice through the 1990s. He emphasizes the importance of negotiating strategy:

How this small, relatively powerless nation uses negotiation to advance domestic oppression and foreign intimidation deserves careful scrutiny. Although North Korea brings very little to the negotiating table, it has consistently won benefits that strengthen the regime’s political control and improve its military capabilities… Were it not for the regime’s careful and clever management of the process of negotiation, few people outside the Korean peninsula would have had any real reason to concern themselves with North Korea.  The negotiating process, and North Korea’s manipulation of it, is what makes North Korea matter at all.

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While writing my book chapter on the history of U.S. diplomacy with North Korea and while preparing for a trip to South Korea to conduct interviews a couple years back, I had to get smart on Korea quickly, and hit the books. There is no shortage of books out there: Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas; Narushige Michishita’s North Korea’s Military-Diplomatic Campaigns; Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci’s Going Critical; Leon Sigal’s Disarming Strangers, and Bradley Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, among others. One stood out, however: Chuck Downs’ Over the Line. Downs, a former Pentagon official, traces North Korean negotiating behavior from the Armistice through the 1990s. He emphasizes the importance of negotiating strategy:

How this small, relatively powerless nation uses negotiation to advance domestic oppression and foreign intimidation deserves careful scrutiny. Although North Korea brings very little to the negotiating table, it has consistently won benefits that strengthen the regime’s political control and improve its military capabilities… Were it not for the regime’s careful and clever management of the process of negotiation, few people outside the Korean peninsula would have had any real reason to concern themselves with North Korea.  The negotiating process, and North Korea’s manipulation of it, is what makes North Korea matter at all.

During the George H.W. Bush administration, Kim Il Sung, for example, played both Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft for fools. North Korean officials would first reveal information to generate concern, and then the regime would suddenly cut access, watching as Western desperation grew, ending ultimately in concession. Making mincemeat out of Jimmy Carter, former Clinton-era ambassador (and Emory University president) James Laney, Bill Richardson, and Chris Hill was even easier.

Downs, who has also served as executive director of Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, highlights the importance of Korean culture, and explains how the North Koreans would often seek to score cultural points and humiliate American diplomats—with everything from rhetoric to seat height—with some American officials being none the wiser.

I read a lot and can often be cynical about books—especially nowadays when so many authors seek to promote their own narrative and worry more about legacy than truth. Over the Line stood out, however. It is far, and is the best example I have ever seen of an author explaining the nuances and importance of culture. When I have taught Iran, Afghanistan, or the other subjects in which I normally involve myself, this still goes on the reading list. And with the current crisis in Korea, it remains the best resource, be it for a policy maker, outside observer, or diplomat.

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Doubting the No-Fly Zone Doubters

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Joint Staff have analyzed for the White House some options for more direct military intervention in Syria, including using Patriot batteries based in Turkey and firing other offshore missiles at Syrian aircraft on the ground, to enforce at least a limited no-fly zone. Predictably, there is little desire for intervention at either the White House or Pentagon and so these options have been dismissed as unfeasible–as have, apparently, more robust options for sending American and allied aircraft to simply enforce a no-fly zone as previously happened in Libya, Iraq, and the Balkans.

A useful counterpoint to this pessimism may be found in this Washington Post op-ed by Scott Cooper, a veteran Marine aviator who actually enforced no-fly zones in Iraq and the Balkans. He writes:

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Joint Staff have analyzed for the White House some options for more direct military intervention in Syria, including using Patriot batteries based in Turkey and firing other offshore missiles at Syrian aircraft on the ground, to enforce at least a limited no-fly zone. Predictably, there is little desire for intervention at either the White House or Pentagon and so these options have been dismissed as unfeasible–as have, apparently, more robust options for sending American and allied aircraft to simply enforce a no-fly zone as previously happened in Libya, Iraq, and the Balkans.

A useful counterpoint to this pessimism may be found in this Washington Post op-ed by Scott Cooper, a veteran Marine aviator who actually enforced no-fly zones in Iraq and the Balkans. He writes:

A no-fly zone is feasible. Yes, Syria possesses capable air defenses, but they are no match for U.S. air power. I flew missions over Sarajevo; over Pristina, Kosovo; over Nasiriyah and Mosul, Iraq. Not once during any of those air missions did I feel as threatened as I did than when I patrolled the highways of Iraq in a Humvee. We must not lose confidence out of fear by overestimating our opponent’s capabilities.

A no-fly zone will not immediately end the conflict, but neutralizing the Syrian air force will erase one of the regime’s decisive advantages and lead to a major turning point in the conflict. Doing so is not only morally right but also in our strategic interest.

Cooper’s arguments are worth pondering in full–especially as you read the latest leaks about how unworkable a no-fly zone actually is. Such arguments are only a thin camouflage for the administration’s lack of will to do anything about the humanitarian and strategic disaster unfolding in Syria.

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Debt Denial, Entitlements, and the “Caucus of Common Sense”

The Obama administration and its supporters have created a problem for themselves. Having spent four-plus years using straw men to delegitimize opposing viewpoints, they are running out of clever ways to insult the intentions of those who disagree with them while also blaming them for the president’s mistakes. So while the sequester was the president’s idea, those who would let it stand rather than let the president dictate policy to Congress are outside the vastly outnumbered “caucus of common sense,” as Obama has taken to calling it.

That’s a catchy phrase, but they can’t all be winners: this week the president’s advisor Dan Pfeiffer sneered that those who are criticizing the president’s budget proposals want Obama to “enact a Romney economic plan.” (Blaming the previous president at least retained some sort of logic; continuing to go after Romney makes no sense and is marked by a certain classlessness Pfeiffer should try to avoid displaying on behalf of the White House.) But the old standard, and the one to which self-styled “moderates” will forever return, is the label of “centrism.” Heading into the weekend, the president’s former “car czar” Steven Rattner published a piece in the New York Times titled “Reclaim the Center.” Rattner attempts to put both conservatives and liberals on the fringe with regard to budget priorities, and lays out what a true centrist approach–his, of course–would look like. In the process, however, Rattner unwittingly ends up showing that, despite the media narrative of extremist Republicans, it is the left that is much farther from the supposed center.

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The Obama administration and its supporters have created a problem for themselves. Having spent four-plus years using straw men to delegitimize opposing viewpoints, they are running out of clever ways to insult the intentions of those who disagree with them while also blaming them for the president’s mistakes. So while the sequester was the president’s idea, those who would let it stand rather than let the president dictate policy to Congress are outside the vastly outnumbered “caucus of common sense,” as Obama has taken to calling it.

That’s a catchy phrase, but they can’t all be winners: this week the president’s advisor Dan Pfeiffer sneered that those who are criticizing the president’s budget proposals want Obama to “enact a Romney economic plan.” (Blaming the previous president at least retained some sort of logic; continuing to go after Romney makes no sense and is marked by a certain classlessness Pfeiffer should try to avoid displaying on behalf of the White House.) But the old standard, and the one to which self-styled “moderates” will forever return, is the label of “centrism.” Heading into the weekend, the president’s former “car czar” Steven Rattner published a piece in the New York Times titled “Reclaim the Center.” Rattner attempts to put both conservatives and liberals on the fringe with regard to budget priorities, and lays out what a true centrist approach–his, of course–would look like. In the process, however, Rattner unwittingly ends up showing that, despite the media narrative of extremist Republicans, it is the left that is much farther from the supposed center.

Rattner knocks the “delusional” idea held by many liberals that the skyrocketing debt is really nothing to be too concerned about. Here is how he frames the issue on both right and left:

The magnitude of these obligations is just too gargantuan to ever be fully reversed, but we must start now to bend that curve, particularly because any changes in Medicare and Social Security must be phased in over a long period of time. (The menu of policy options is, by now, familiar; we need to start making hard choices.)

That said, in a fragile economy, with the average American still earning less than he did a dozen years ago (after adjustment for inflation), federal belt tightening must occur gradually, a concept that is apparently foreign to both Mr. Stockman and Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

You’ll notice something: though Rattner tries to make both sides look equally unreasonable, he doesn’t succeed. Conservatives are actually right about the problem–they just want to implement their solution too quickly for Rattner. In contrast, the liberal view, in Rattner’s telling, doesn’t face up to the existence of the problem in the first place, and thus left-wing “solutions” are destined to make the problem worse or, in some cases, consist of misidentifying the problem as the solution.

Though Rattner doesn’t say so, a good example of the latter view would be a post published the same day as Rattner’s piece in the Washington Post by Ezra Klein. Klein’s headline says it all: “Washington thinks entitlements are the problem. Maybe they’re the answer.” Klein writes that the “three-legged stool” of retirement income security–Social Security, private savings, and employer pensions–is collapsing, with only Social Security left standing. Private savings are in terrible shape, and employer-based retirement accounts are increasingly taking the form of 401(k)s, which are underfunded. He calls attention to a new study for the New America Foundation arguing the real crisis is that Social Security isn’t generous enough, and writes:

They would keep today’s income-based Social Security program, but add a “Part B,” which would be a flat payout to all retirees. When parts A and B are combined, all retirees would be guaranteed 60 percent of their average working wage in retirement, with low earners seeing closer to 100 percent replacement. Part B would be pricey, adding almost a trillion dollars to Social Security’s costs in 2037, and the authors don’t have a clear proposal, much less a politically realistic plan, for how to pay for it.

Repeat: the idea is for the government to add a trillion dollars to the cost of entitlements with no idea how to pay for it. In truth, that should really have been the end of the discussion. With no funding mechanism, it’s not a plan; it’s just a suggestion that the government gives lots more money to people. I don’t even understand the point of publishing the NAF “report.” It’s 27 pages and has four authors, but should really just be one sentence: People would have more money if we gave them more money.

You have to admit, it has a certain airtight logic to it. The president can call for a “common sense caucus” and his former economic advisor can demand they “reclaim the center” all they want, but they surely know where the holdouts can be found. And it’s not in the Tea Party.

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COMMENTARY on Margaret Thatcher

As our Max Boot, John Steele Gordon and Peter Wehner have already written today, Margaret Thatcher was a crucial historical figure whose achievements transformed Britain and helped to win the Cold War against Communism and the Soviet Union. Here’s a brief collection of COMMENTARY articles on Thatcher over the years:

John O’Sullivan wrote in 1983 about her early successes as prime minister in “Thatcherization, Continued.”

O’Sullivan also summed her political career in 1989 with “Britain Under the Iron (High) Heel?”

The great historian Paul Johnson reviewed Thatcher’s memoirs, The Downing Street Years.

Ted Bromund analyzed the problems with the biographical film about Thatcher in 2012 in “Iron Lady Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher.”

Jonathan Neumann discussed the same topic in “The Ideas Lady.”

As our Max Boot, John Steele Gordon and Peter Wehner have already written today, Margaret Thatcher was a crucial historical figure whose achievements transformed Britain and helped to win the Cold War against Communism and the Soviet Union. Here’s a brief collection of COMMENTARY articles on Thatcher over the years:

John O’Sullivan wrote in 1983 about her early successes as prime minister in “Thatcherization, Continued.”

O’Sullivan also summed her political career in 1989 with “Britain Under the Iron (High) Heel?”

The great historian Paul Johnson reviewed Thatcher’s memoirs, The Downing Street Years.

Ted Bromund analyzed the problems with the biographical film about Thatcher in 2012 in “Iron Lady Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher.”

Jonathan Neumann discussed the same topic in “The Ideas Lady.”

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The Iron Lady Belongs to the Ages

For many people of my generation–born in the 1960s and who really came of age politically during the 1980s–the two largest figures in our political imagination were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. President Reagan died in 2004, and early this morning Prime Minister Thatcher passed away at the age of 87.

I vividly recall spending time with Mrs. Thatcher at a small gathering in Bath, England in the early 1990s, at a conference hosted by National Review. She was spectacular, both in informal conversations and in her speech. You couldn’t spend five minutes with Mrs. Thatcher without knowing that this was a person of tremendous depth, intelligence and convictions. And considerable charm, too.

There are many things one could say in tribute of Thatcher, but I want to focus on simply two. The first was her ability to challenge and re-shape the assumptions of the people whom she was elected to lead. 

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For many people of my generation–born in the 1960s and who really came of age politically during the 1980s–the two largest figures in our political imagination were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. President Reagan died in 2004, and early this morning Prime Minister Thatcher passed away at the age of 87.

I vividly recall spending time with Mrs. Thatcher at a small gathering in Bath, England in the early 1990s, at a conference hosted by National Review. She was spectacular, both in informal conversations and in her speech. You couldn’t spend five minutes with Mrs. Thatcher without knowing that this was a person of tremendous depth, intelligence and convictions. And considerable charm, too.

There are many things one could say in tribute of Thatcher, but I want to focus on simply two. The first was her ability to challenge and re-shape the assumptions of the people whom she was elected to lead. 

In the 1970s, Great Britain was “the sick man of Europe,” crippled by powerful labor unions and creeping socialism. What Thatcher did was to directly challenge the philosophy of socialism, which she fiercely attacked. Her speeches, both before she became prime minister and afterward, were models of discourse. They were not merely words strung together or boilerplate phrases; she marshaled powerful arguments on behalf of democratic capitalism and liberty. And she had the courage and skill to implement those policies over great opposition, and with great successes. (She was prime minister for 11 and a half years.) Over time she altered the outlook of the British people, which is quite a rare and impressive political achievement. She was, to use a metaphor, more of a thermostat than she was a thermometer. She changed the political and philosophical climate of her nation, in ways that few others ever have.

The second testimony to Mrs. Thatcher is the way she influenced the opposition party. Pre-Thatcher, the Labour Party was a hopeless wreck, enchanted with socialism and statism at home (it favored the wholesale nationalization of key industries) and unilateral disarmament and moral weakness abroad. 

The result of Thatcherism was the rise of Tony Blair, who fundamentally reshaped the British Labour Party and moved it in a much more conservative direction on issues like national security, crime, welfare, education, and economics. Sometimes the way you measure the influence of political leaders isn’t simply their impact on their party but on the opposition. And by this standard, Mrs. Thatcher’s reach, like her beloved friend Ronald Reagan’s, was enormous.

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of a nation that was demoralized and on the decline. She lifted Great Britain from its knees and returned it to greatness. She was one of the 20th century’s most consequential leaders, a woman of impressive virtues, and one of America’s greatest friends and allies. She will be terribly missed and never forgotten. Margaret Thatcher belongs to the ages. 

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Margaret Thatcher

One of the giants who walked the earth in my lifetime, Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 87.

With the exception of Winston Churchill, she was, without question, the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century. Before she went to 10 Downing Street in 1979, Britain had been in seemingly irreversible decline, its empire gone, its industry ramshackle, its politics in thrall to the trade unions. Britain was the sick man of Europe. By the time she left office, in 1990, all that had changed. The power of the unions had been broken, the British economy was expanding rapidly, the government had sold off previously socialized industries. The United Kingdom was, once again, one of the great nations of the world.

Like all great people of determination and principle, she was savagely criticized. She was called “La pasionaria of privilege” and “Attila the hen.” But, thoroughly at home in the rough and tumble of the House of Commons, it didn’t bother her a bit. She was delighted when Mikhail Gorbachev dubbed her “the iron lady.” Along with Ronald Reagan, with whom she developed a very close relationship, she changed the whole tone of international politics and helped bring the Cold War to an end with the collapse of Communism and the success of free-market capitalism. The world was a different, and better, place after her premiership.

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One of the giants who walked the earth in my lifetime, Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 87.

With the exception of Winston Churchill, she was, without question, the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century. Before she went to 10 Downing Street in 1979, Britain had been in seemingly irreversible decline, its empire gone, its industry ramshackle, its politics in thrall to the trade unions. Britain was the sick man of Europe. By the time she left office, in 1990, all that had changed. The power of the unions had been broken, the British economy was expanding rapidly, the government had sold off previously socialized industries. The United Kingdom was, once again, one of the great nations of the world.

Like all great people of determination and principle, she was savagely criticized. She was called “La pasionaria of privilege” and “Attila the hen.” But, thoroughly at home in the rough and tumble of the House of Commons, it didn’t bother her a bit. She was delighted when Mikhail Gorbachev dubbed her “the iron lady.” Along with Ronald Reagan, with whom she developed a very close relationship, she changed the whole tone of international politics and helped bring the Cold War to an end with the collapse of Communism and the success of free-market capitalism. The world was a different, and better, place after her premiership.

Perhaps her finest moment was when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. Thousands of miles away from Britain, inhabited by a few thousand sheep farmers, cold and rainy, many thought the islands not worth the price that would have to be paid to recover them. But Margaret Thatcher, convening a cabinet meeting on the subject after the news of the invasion, said simply, “Gentlemen, we shall have to fight.”

And fight they did. It cost millions of pounds and hundreds of lives, but Britain recovered the islands and defeated naked aggression. The results elsewhere were enormously positive. Not only did the people of the Falklands keep the government they wanted, but the junta ruling Argentina fell and democracy returned to that much misgoverned country. The victory greatly raised British spirits and national pride, which badly needed raising. Thatcher called an election following the military triumph and enjoyed a political one.

Like all great political leaders, Margaret Thatcher was a great personality. Like FDR, Churchill, and Reagan, people who never met her still felt they knew her almost personally. She was far more than just a name in a headline. And that is why, along with her accomplishments, Margaret Thatcher is immortal, one who will be written about and argued about for as long as the 20th century itself is. After all, she has already been the subject of a great Hollywood movie. Can you imagine anyone making a movie about Edward Heath or Harold Wilson?

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Thatcher: A Leader Vindicated by History

It is a common conceit of age to imagine that giants roamed the earth in one’s youth while today the political scene is populated by pygmies. But I still cling to that view, for my formative years occurred while Ronald Reagan was president and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Naturally, as an American, I was more focused on Reagan. But Thatcher, whose exploits were covered in the newspapers and magazines that I read (the Los Angeles Times, National Review, Newsweek), was an inspiration too. That is why I am sad to learn of her death, although it was hardly unexpected–she had been terribly debilitated by strokes in recent years.

What Reagan and Thatcher showed–and it is a lesson that may seem at odds with the conservative impulse that the private sector is the most significant–is what a difference political leadership can make. (Later Rudolph Giuliani showed the same thing–he was for urban policy what Reagan and Thatcher were for national policy.) They both inherited a mess: In Thatcher’s case she took over in 1979 following the “Winter of Discontent” when Britain was paralyzed by multiple strikes and high unemployment. As the Conservative advertising slogan had it, “Labour isn’t working.” Reagan, of course, took over from Jimmy Carter in the wake of the failed hostage-rescue mission and in the midst of a severe recession characterized by “stagflation.” Worst of all was a widespread loss of confidence in the future–both in Britain and America it was fashionable back then to imagine that the “the West” was finished and that the Soviet Union was ascendant.

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It is a common conceit of age to imagine that giants roamed the earth in one’s youth while today the political scene is populated by pygmies. But I still cling to that view, for my formative years occurred while Ronald Reagan was president and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Naturally, as an American, I was more focused on Reagan. But Thatcher, whose exploits were covered in the newspapers and magazines that I read (the Los Angeles Times, National Review, Newsweek), was an inspiration too. That is why I am sad to learn of her death, although it was hardly unexpected–she had been terribly debilitated by strokes in recent years.

What Reagan and Thatcher showed–and it is a lesson that may seem at odds with the conservative impulse that the private sector is the most significant–is what a difference political leadership can make. (Later Rudolph Giuliani showed the same thing–he was for urban policy what Reagan and Thatcher were for national policy.) They both inherited a mess: In Thatcher’s case she took over in 1979 following the “Winter of Discontent” when Britain was paralyzed by multiple strikes and high unemployment. As the Conservative advertising slogan had it, “Labour isn’t working.” Reagan, of course, took over from Jimmy Carter in the wake of the failed hostage-rescue mission and in the midst of a severe recession characterized by “stagflation.” Worst of all was a widespread loss of confidence in the future–both in Britain and America it was fashionable back then to imagine that the “the West” was finished and that the Soviet Union was ascendant.

Reagan and Thatcher would have none of it. Both were firmly outside the political and intellectual mainstream, and both were derided as simpletons for imagining that they could reverse the course of history. But that is precisely what they did–Reagan with his tax cuts (helped by Fed chairman Paul Volcker’s anti-inflationary policy) and defense spending increases which, respectively, revived the economy and restored our military power; Thatcher with her income-tax cuts, budget cuts, interest-rate hikes and her willingness to stand up to the unions, all of which revived the British economy, and her willingness to fight Argentina for the Falkland Islands, which restored British confidence.

It was a bravura performance, all the more so because both Thatcher and Reagan had to overcome personal doubts about their ability to govern, doubts exacerbated, in her case, by her gender (she was the first and so far only female prime minister in Britain) and, in his case, by his former profession (he was the first and so far only actor to become president). Thatcher’s challenge was all the greater given that so much of the Conservative Party remained “wet”–i.e., skeptical of her conservative principles. Eventually it was not the political opposition but her own party which toppled her, leading to a long period of Conservative wandering in the wilderness, punctuated by uninspiring rule first by John Major and now by David Cameron, neither of whom will ever be mentioned in the same breath as the Iron Lady.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was vindicated by history–and just as Reagan was praised by Bill Clinton, so she was praised by Tony Blair. She will be remembered as the greatest female ruler since Queen Elizabeth I and the greatest British prime minister since Winston Churchill.

Her example, and Reagan’s, is worth remembering today at a time when there is widespread pessimism in both Britain and America about our ability to solve our long-term problems–pessimism created in no small part because of the anemic economies presided over by David Cameron and Barack Obama. The problem now, as in 1979, is not with the underlying American or British society. The problem is with our political leadership. Reagan and Thatcher showed what inspired leadership can achieve. Imagine what we could do if giants like them were to walk the earth again. That may seem unlikely, but we can take heart from the fact that the worse a crisis is, the higher the prospects that a great leader will emerge out of the political muck.

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What Does It Mean to Remember the Holocaust?

In Jewish communities around the world as well as in city halls, state houses and in Washington, people will gather today to remember the Holocaust, as is the custom on Yom HaShoah. This Holocaust Remembrance Day will produce vast amounts of rhetoric urging us to not let the six million victims of the Nazis and their collaborators be forgotten. There will be calls, as there are every year, for vigilance against hatred and intolerance of all kinds seeking to extract a universal message from this specific tragedy. All of this will be well intentioned and much of it will be both heartfelt and appropriate. But the terrible question hanging over all these proceedings remains the same one that should nag at the hearts and the consciences of many of those assembled every year. It is whether the institutionalization of Holocaust remembrance in the last generation has accomplished much other than reinforcing the anodyne conclusion that the Nazis were terrible and that the sufferings of their victims was awful.

To pose this query is not to question the magnitude of the achievement of a generation of survivors, scholars and activists who have worked hard for the past few decades to create museums, programs and a vast body of literature that ought to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. As a result of their efforts, there is little chance that the Shoah will become a mere footnote to World War II or that it will be submerged in the vacuous collective memory of the world as just one more instance of inhumanity. But we need to place that achievement in perspective. In the past two decades there have not only been numerous instances of other genocidal atrocities, be it in Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur, but an alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the world. There is a need for us to ask just how much the world has learned from the Holocaust, or whether it has learned anything at all. Even more to the point, with threats of genocide being uttered by the leaders of Iran in just the last month against Israel and with a growth in the number of those willing to join or justify hateful campaigns aimed at destroying the Jewish state, understanding the lessons of history now requires a lot more than the lip service that will be paid to the Holocaust today.

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In Jewish communities around the world as well as in city halls, state houses and in Washington, people will gather today to remember the Holocaust, as is the custom on Yom HaShoah. This Holocaust Remembrance Day will produce vast amounts of rhetoric urging us to not let the six million victims of the Nazis and their collaborators be forgotten. There will be calls, as there are every year, for vigilance against hatred and intolerance of all kinds seeking to extract a universal message from this specific tragedy. All of this will be well intentioned and much of it will be both heartfelt and appropriate. But the terrible question hanging over all these proceedings remains the same one that should nag at the hearts and the consciences of many of those assembled every year. It is whether the institutionalization of Holocaust remembrance in the last generation has accomplished much other than reinforcing the anodyne conclusion that the Nazis were terrible and that the sufferings of their victims was awful.

To pose this query is not to question the magnitude of the achievement of a generation of survivors, scholars and activists who have worked hard for the past few decades to create museums, programs and a vast body of literature that ought to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. As a result of their efforts, there is little chance that the Shoah will become a mere footnote to World War II or that it will be submerged in the vacuous collective memory of the world as just one more instance of inhumanity. But we need to place that achievement in perspective. In the past two decades there have not only been numerous instances of other genocidal atrocities, be it in Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur, but an alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the world. There is a need for us to ask just how much the world has learned from the Holocaust, or whether it has learned anything at all. Even more to the point, with threats of genocide being uttered by the leaders of Iran in just the last month against Israel and with a growth in the number of those willing to join or justify hateful campaigns aimed at destroying the Jewish state, understanding the lessons of history now requires a lot more than the lip service that will be paid to the Holocaust today.

It needs to be stated in as succinct a manner as possible that an ocean of tears cried today or any other day about what happened from 1933 to 1945 will not save a single soul from a similar fate if all we’re willing to do is to talk about the past. Historical remembrance is intrinsically worthwhile. But if we are to give any real meaning to our attempts to embed these events in the consciousness of the world, it cannot be done outside of the context of the ongoing campaign to continue a murderous assault on the Jewish people.

What must be understood on this day, as on every other day of the year, is that sympathy for the six million is meaningless, even counter-productive, if it is not accompanied by a resolve to resist those who threaten the lives and the right to self-determination of the six million Jews who live in Israel today. The phrase “never again,” is a mere cliché if it is not attached to a commitment that Iran will not be allowed to have a nuclear program that threatens Israel’s existence as well as the security of the entire world. Rhetoric about the million Jewish children slaughtered by Hitler’s minions is useless if it is not connected to a promise to fight back against boycott campaigns that are part of the economic war on the life of the Jewish state.

We must note that many of those who are indifferent to the existential threat that Iran poses to Jewish life or who claim that singling out Israel and Zionism for discriminatory treatment is not anti-Semitic, can be found among the ranks of those who annually wax eloquent about the injustice of the Holocaust. Dead Jews, especially those long dead in a conflict that is not seen as directly connected to the current one in the Middle East, are quite popular. It is those still living and who wish to defend their lives and their state that are not so well loved.

That is why what is needed more than ever is a realization that those who will today commemorate the Holocaust without a mention of Iran or an affirmation of the need to fight against the new variant of anti-Semitism, in which Israel and Zionism have become the substitutes for the word “Jew,” are not honoring the memory of the six million. Nor are they making atrocities less likely to happen in the future. Absent that affirmation to stand up for the living and for those who will follow, the sorrow that will be aired today is both hypocritical and meaningless. We must remember–but with a purpose.

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