Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 22, 2013

The Ever-Vanishing Two-State Timeline

Is the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict still alive? According to Secretary of State John Kerry, it’s on life support, but there are still two years for it to become reality. This piece of prophecy delivered last week in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is presumably the justification for the peace offensive Kerry is planning on conducting in the coming months. This will keep the secretary busy shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah where, he says, he sensed a new seriousness of purpose in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The deadline of two years is supposed to scare these two leaders and presumably their constituencies that Kerry hopes to save from a future of unending conflict with patient diplomacy. His prediction has more to with his fantasies about achieving success in an endeavor that has chewed up and spit out better diplomats than the former Massachusetts senator than any actual chances of peace.

But however foolish Kerry’s ambitions might be, this idea of a definitive timeline beyond which peace is impossible is far more dangerous than the new secretary’s ego trip. The obstacles to a two-state solution are formidable right now. Indeed, they are so great that Kerry’s attempt to jump-start them at time when the prospects for a deal are less than negligible is actually a greater inducement to violence than the status quo. But by setting an artificial deadline without any real hope of success or by recognizing what the real threats to peace actually are, Kerry is doing more than setting himself up for inevitable failure. He’s also undermining any hope that peace can be achieved in the future.

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Is the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict still alive? According to Secretary of State John Kerry, it’s on life support, but there are still two years for it to become reality. This piece of prophecy delivered last week in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is presumably the justification for the peace offensive Kerry is planning on conducting in the coming months. This will keep the secretary busy shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah where, he says, he sensed a new seriousness of purpose in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The deadline of two years is supposed to scare these two leaders and presumably their constituencies that Kerry hopes to save from a future of unending conflict with patient diplomacy. His prediction has more to with his fantasies about achieving success in an endeavor that has chewed up and spit out better diplomats than the former Massachusetts senator than any actual chances of peace.

But however foolish Kerry’s ambitions might be, this idea of a definitive timeline beyond which peace is impossible is far more dangerous than the new secretary’s ego trip. The obstacles to a two-state solution are formidable right now. Indeed, they are so great that Kerry’s attempt to jump-start them at time when the prospects for a deal are less than negligible is actually a greater inducement to violence than the status quo. But by setting an artificial deadline without any real hope of success or by recognizing what the real threats to peace actually are, Kerry is doing more than setting himself up for inevitable failure. He’s also undermining any hope that peace can be achieved in the future.

The idea that the situation is ripe for a re-started diplomatic process is pure fantasy. While Israel has declared its willingness to negotiate peace without preconditions (a stance that has finally been endorsed by President Obama, who has apparently given up his first term determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of Abbas), the Palestinians aren’t ready to do so. They remain divided with Gaza under the control of Hamas, which will never make a real peace with Israel and the West Bank in the hands of a Fatah Party that is incapable of making peace even if wanted to do so. Unity between these two blood rivals is impossible, even though both are equally unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

If, as the recent elections demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have given up on the prospects of peace in the foreseeable future, it is not because they don’t want a two-state solution. Most clearly do, and even those who specifically reject it understand that were the Palestinians to ever be ready to end the conflict, they’d be ready to make the same sort of painful territorial compromises that past Israeli governments were ready to make. But the Palestinian rejection of generous peace offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and the conversion of Gaza into an independent Palestinian terror state have convinced them that peace is not possible. That’s why they regard the idea of allowing the West Bank to become another Gaza as not so much a mistake as it is insane.

But the peace processers and their cheering section among some American Jews who are determined to ignore everything that has happened in the last 20 years and pretend that land for peace hasn’t been already repeatedly tried contend that if peace doesn’t happen now, it never will. They contend that if Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t uprooted now, they will become too large to be extracted in the event of peace. They also say that in the absence of peace soon, the Palestinians will be too radicalized to ever accept Israel.

Both these contentions are wrong.

The first assertion about settlements is based on the Palestinian fantasy that all Israelis living east of the 1967 lines would have to be removed for peace to be possible, but this is absurd. The main settlement blocs where most of the West Bank Jews live are not going to be uprooted. Nor need they be for the Palestinians to have a state. They can have sovereignty in most of the West Bank and Gaza and even theoretically a slice of Jerusalem (though even that is probably unworkable) with most of the Jews staying right where they are. While the outlying settlements would be a problem, as Gaza demonstrated, if the majority of Israelis believed peace was the price of such a sacrifice, it would probably be made, either two years from now or in 20.

As for Palestinian radicalization, those expressing such worries are a little late. Palestinians have been rejecting Israel’s existence since it was born 65 years ago. They didn’t accept it when Jordan ruled the West Bank and half of Jerusalem and Egypt ran Gaza and they don’t now.

The United States is hoping to convey to the Palestinians that their only hope for statehood is to return to the negotiating table that they abandoned over four years ago. But there is more to it than that. Even President Obama appears to have caught on to the fact that Abbas is too weak to make peace. More importantly his party, which spews out hatred for Israel and Jews in the official PA media every day, is incapable of ending the conflict. And neither Fatah nor Hamas currently has the ability to give up on the right of return that means an end to the Jewish state.

For decades, we’ve been told the chances of peace are vanishing–but they are no more, nor less, realistic today than they ever were. Despite the changes on the ground, peace will happen if the Palestinians show they are ready for it.

What must occur is a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will accept the reality of Israel and that there will never be a right of return. That will be difficult for a Palestinian national movement that was created in order to stop Zionism and not to promote a local Arab identity. Given enough time it might be possible, although when that might be is impossible to say. If it ever happens, a two-state solution will not just be possible but probable. But until then the dwindling hopes for a two state deal must be put on hold.

That’s the message Kerry should be sending the Palestinians. But if he keeps talking about a deadline that must be met, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This sort of untimely urgency will only encourage the extremism he wants to combat and set the region up for another round of unnecessary violence that won’t help anybody. The Israelis are hunkering down to wait for the Palestinians to change; Kerry should show that he’s prepared to wait with them.

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Does the Chechen Connection Matter?

Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

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Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

I think it’s safe to say no immigration reform proposal–and certainly no such proposal that could pass Congress–would seek to prohibit residents of Chechnya by definition from resettling in the United States, and for good reason. Additionally, the Tsarnaev boys came here as youth, so it’s highly unlikely they raised, or should have raised, any red flags.

But Paul did touch on another element of the Caucasus: it is the home of an influential recruiting, training, and communications center for a major jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate. But the Emirate denied responsibility for the Boston attacks: “The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims,” it stated.

That statement was carefully calibrated and is a fairly accurate portrait of where you might find Chechen or Dagestani Islamist terrorists–and where you probably won’t. Boston falls into the latter category. The Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov, has no compunction about employing brutal methods in its struggle, but the Emirate is not at war with the United States. That doesn’t mean Americans will never be the target of Chechen attacks; terrorists from the Caucasus have shown up outside Russian territory, but there doesn’t seem to have been any major Chechen presence in Afghanistan, and there is considerable doubt as to whether there has been any Chechen presence fighting the allies in Afghanistan at all.

The Syrian civil war is a more likely place to spot a Chechen militant, and indeed the Caucasus Emirate apparently admitted to the death of Rustam Gelayev in Syria in August. Gelayev was the son of Ruslan Gelayev, a Chechen commander killed in the Caucasus in 2004. Though the Emirate won’t expend serious time, energy, manpower, or money fighting so far from home, fighting in Syria does give them the ability to hit the hated Putin regime from another angle.

Will the Tsarnaevs’ Chechen connection lead to more anti-terror cooperation between the U.S. and Russia? Unlikely. Just as the Emirate tends to carry out operations of which it will brag, rather than deny, so the Russian authorities like to pretend the Caucasus Islamists don’t exist in order to minimize the perception of danger and to sell the line that Putin has pacified the conflict and brought true stability to Russia. Whatever cooperation between the U.S. and Russia was already taking place probably won’t be affected much one way or the other by the Boston bombing, especially with the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

What about the area of diplomacy? Here some, including Amy Knight of the New York Review of Books, are concerned. As Knight phrases it:

Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts?

This is an interesting question for the president of the United States in the parallel universe from which Knight apparently filed her story, in which the Obama administration has not already ignored Putin’s crackdown on protesters and other human rights abuses in order to obtain some mythical national security cooperation. But as anyone who has followed the administration’s failed “reset” efforts knows, for the Obama administration to stop caring about Russian human rights abuses, it would have to start caring about those abuses in the first place.

If the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized, that appears to have taken place here in the U.S. The Tsarnaevs’ background in the Caucasus is interesting biographical material, but it does not seem poised to provide many answers, nor nudge American policy, foreign or domestic, in a new direction.

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Maybe Classical Music Made Them Kill

Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

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Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

Of course, if groups of organized classical music lovers had been carrying out terrorist attacks in the name of their beliefs Harris-Perry’s brand of moral relativism might make sense. But in the real world in which the rest of us live, the source of the terror threat of the last generation has been Islamist.

The desire to deny that Islamism is the driving force behind homegrown terrorists and their crimes is rooted in the myth of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. That entirely fictional idea that Muslims were subjected to widespread discrimination has no basis in fact, but it is an article of faith in certain sectors of the left and in the mainstream liberal media. It is one thing to try and delegitimize pro-active vigilance against Islamism by falsely alleging bias in the actions of the government or even the general population. It is quite another to deny, as even leftist comedian Bill Maher pointed out last week, that “There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith.”

The effort to expunge the word “Islamist” from the style guide of news organizations or to educate FBI personnel about the beauty, as opposed to the danger, of jihad is all part of this same campaign of denial. Acknowledging this reality needn’t set off a wave of discrimination, which, contrary to those still decrying the mythical backlash, hasn’t happened and won’t occur in pluralistic America. But the more we try to ignore the reality of Islamism, the easier it will get for killers to escape scrutiny before they strike.

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The Bombs Didn’t Have Permits Either

The latest tidbit from the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing should interest those Americans who have been pondering whether proposed gun control laws would actually deter or stop criminals from obtaining weapons. The Associated Press informs us that the Tsarnaev brothers did not have legal permits for the guns they used in their shootouts with police, when they killed one and wounded another officer:

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas tells The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that neither Tamerlan Tsarnaev nor his brother Dzhokhar had permission to carry firearms. He says it’s unclear whether either ever applied and the applications aren’t considered public records. But he says the 19-year-old Dzhokhar would have been denied a permit because of his age. Only people 21 or older are allowed gun licenses in Massachusetts.

No doubt we’ll learn more about how the Tsarnaevs got their guns as well as their bomb-making materials in the future as the investigation proceeds, but this makes perfect sense. People who are accumulating an arsenal of weapons to carry out a crime—whether they are habitual criminals and/or gang members or potential terrorists–aren’t limited to licensed gun dealers or even private sellers at gun shows, which would have only been required to perform background checks on purchasers if the Toomey-Manchin bill had passed. It also goes without saying that the pressure cookers and the ball bearings used as shrapnel that the brothers used in their bombs were also not registered with the authorities.

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The latest tidbit from the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing should interest those Americans who have been pondering whether proposed gun control laws would actually deter or stop criminals from obtaining weapons. The Associated Press informs us that the Tsarnaev brothers did not have legal permits for the guns they used in their shootouts with police, when they killed one and wounded another officer:

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas tells The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that neither Tamerlan Tsarnaev nor his brother Dzhokhar had permission to carry firearms. He says it’s unclear whether either ever applied and the applications aren’t considered public records. But he says the 19-year-old Dzhokhar would have been denied a permit because of his age. Only people 21 or older are allowed gun licenses in Massachusetts.

No doubt we’ll learn more about how the Tsarnaevs got their guns as well as their bomb-making materials in the future as the investigation proceeds, but this makes perfect sense. People who are accumulating an arsenal of weapons to carry out a crime—whether they are habitual criminals and/or gang members or potential terrorists–aren’t limited to licensed gun dealers or even private sellers at gun shows, which would have only been required to perform background checks on purchasers if the Toomey-Manchin bill had passed. It also goes without saying that the pressure cookers and the ball bearings used as shrapnel that the brothers used in their bombs were also not registered with the authorities.

The draconian gun laws on the books in Massachusetts did nothing to stop the Tsarnaevs from finding the weapons they used to carry out their terrorist attack or their deadly shootouts with police. More gun legislation, even the reasonable Manchin-Toomey attempt to close background check loopholes that would not have violated anyone’s Second Amendment rights, wouldn’t have stopped them from killing Officer Sean Collier, let alone killing three persons and wounded 150 others at the Marathon.

Advocates of gun restrictions tell us that even if they save a single life they are worth it, and that is a powerful argument. But the facts of most criminal cases, be they the mass slaughter in Newtown or the atrocities carried out by the Tsarnaevs in Boston, show that such laws have a minimal impact on violent crime while substantially burdening law-abiding citizens who wish to legally own firearms. To say that is not to argue against all gun restrictions, but it should cause us to put the outrage over the demise of the latest attempt to pass gun control laws in perspective.

The self-righteous anger exhibited by President Obama and the stage-managed use of the families of the Newtown victims is geared to exploit the deep emotions Americans feel about that crime. But the connection between such laws and the prevention of gun violence remains tenuous. Boston shows us once again that criminals will find ways to obtain guns no matter what the laws say. That shouldn’t deter us from seeking to prevent felons and the mentally ill from getting guns, but it ought to cause those politicians inclined to grandstand on the issue to pipe down a bit. Gun laws didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs from getting all the firepower they needed. Nor will it stop the next madman who wants to perpetrate another Newtown. And it’s time to stop pretending that they will.

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John Kerry’s Shameful Moral Relativism

Those who doubted the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March had their first “I told you so” moment the very next day. Speaking to Turkish reporters, Erdogan appeared to immediately backtrack on his end of the rapprochement, which included dropping the case against the Israel Defense Forces for defending themselves from the Turkish-supported flotilla activists seeking to violently crash the naval blockade of the terrorist group Hamas.

A successful normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey would be beneficial to regional stability, so Netanyahu presumably offered the apology fully aware of the risks of dealing with Erdogan and believing they were outweighed by the rewards. But one of the reasons some opposed the apology at all was because they understandably feared it would legitimize the status of victimhood claimed by the violent invaders and endorse a frightful moral relativism which already undermines Israel’s attempts to defend itself.

But the moral relativism between the IDF and the armed naval invaders, while unfortunate, is fully eclipsed by the offensive and indefensible moral relativism Secretary of State John Kerry offered this weekend in trying to soothe Erdogan’s ego. According to the Associated Press:

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Those who doubted the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March had their first “I told you so” moment the very next day. Speaking to Turkish reporters, Erdogan appeared to immediately backtrack on his end of the rapprochement, which included dropping the case against the Israel Defense Forces for defending themselves from the Turkish-supported flotilla activists seeking to violently crash the naval blockade of the terrorist group Hamas.

A successful normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey would be beneficial to regional stability, so Netanyahu presumably offered the apology fully aware of the risks of dealing with Erdogan and believing they were outweighed by the rewards. But one of the reasons some opposed the apology at all was because they understandably feared it would legitimize the status of victimhood claimed by the violent invaders and endorse a frightful moral relativism which already undermines Israel’s attempts to defend itself.

But the moral relativism between the IDF and the armed naval invaders, while unfortunate, is fully eclipsed by the offensive and indefensible moral relativism Secretary of State John Kerry offered this weekend in trying to soothe Erdogan’s ego. According to the Associated Press:

Kerry said he understood the anger and frustration of those Turks who lost friends and family in the raid. The former Massachusetts senator said last week’s Boston Marathon bombings made him acutely aware of the emotions involved.

“It affects the community, it affects the country. But going forward, you know, we have to find the best way to bring people together and undo these tensions and undo these stereotypes and try to make peace,” he said.

This was always a concern about putting Kerry in charge of diplomacy. Kerry possesses neither principle nor expertise, and so the odds of him saying something both daft and morally bankrupt are always high. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon no doubt spoke for many in Israel when he responded:

“It is never helpful when a moral equivalency is made confusing terrorists with their victims,” Danon told The Times of Israel. “As our American friends were made all too aware once again last week, the only way to deal with the evils of terrorism [is] to wage an unrelenting war against its perpetrators wherever they may be,” he said.

The armed Turkish invaders Kerry has developed such sympathy for were on a ship funded by a terrorist organization with ties to Hamas and other jihadist groups seeking to challenge Israel’s navy in order to help Hamas. If they were victims at all, it was of their own violent ideology. Though we don’t know yet what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers to perpetrate the monstrous bombing they are believed to have carried out and the additional ones law enforcement officials believe they were planning, the biographical picture beginning to emerge paints at least the elder of the two as “increasingly militant” in his Muslim faith.

But whether the Tsarnaevs were inspired by Islamic radicalism at all is beside the point in the case of Kerry’s comments. The victims in Boston were victims of a brutal and murderous attack; the “victims” to whom Kerry compared them were in the act of carrying out their own attack. Kerry’s comments also put Israelis trying to contain a terrorist enclave next door on the same moral plane as those terrorists and their allies.

Perhaps Kerry misspoke. If not, his worldview is warped, dangerous, and dishonorable. The same administration officials who nudged Netanyahu to apologize to Erdogan should pay a visit to Kerry. The secretary of state owes a round of apologies thanks to his inauspicious start as America’s chief diplomat.

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The State of British Counterinsurgency–and its Lesson for the U.S.

From the 1950s to the 1990s–from the Malayan Emergency to the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland–British troops developed a reputation as the foremost counterinsurgency experts in the world. Iraq and Afghanistan have been the undoing of their reputation.

In Iraq, British troops allowed Basra to become taken over by Shiite extremists and criminals. They hunkered down in an airbase outside the city even as extremists rained rockets and mortars down upon them. Order was not restored until Prime Minister Maliki ordered an Iraqi assault, Operation Charge of the Knights, in 2008, which received some much-needed, last-minute American help.

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From the 1950s to the 1990s–from the Malayan Emergency to the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland–British troops developed a reputation as the foremost counterinsurgency experts in the world. Iraq and Afghanistan have been the undoing of their reputation.

In Iraq, British troops allowed Basra to become taken over by Shiite extremists and criminals. They hunkered down in an airbase outside the city even as extremists rained rockets and mortars down upon them. Order was not restored until Prime Minister Maliki ordered an Iraqi assault, Operation Charge of the Knights, in 2008, which received some much-needed, last-minute American help.

In Afghanistan, British forces similarly allowed Helmand Province, once their exclusive preserve, to become a Taliban stronghold. The Taliban were not driven back until U.S. Marines entered Helmand in strength in 2009.

The latest embarrassment for the British was the Taliban attack last fall on their airbase in Helmand, Camp Bastion: an assault squad managed to blow up six Marine Harrier jump jets on the ground and kill two marines, including the squadron commander.

Now the Washington Post reveals that the attack was made possible because the British had turned over perimeter security to a small contingent of troops from Tonga who had left key watchtowers unmanned. Meanwhile the Marines, who had done vigorous patrolling around Bastion (which adjoins their own base, Camp Leatherneck), had scaled back their presence in the vicinity because of a larger troop drawdown, which put combat troops at a premium.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation in the Post account is this: “No U.S. or British military personnel have been reprimanded as a result of the attack. The Marine Corps does not plan to release its review. NATO also intends to keep its investigation confidential, in part to avoid embarrassing the British for leaving towers unmanned, according to officers briefed on the findings.” In other words, there is no accountability for this gross negligence.

In fairness, British troops remain of high quality and the British army remains one of the most professional in the world. But Britain’s military has been badly hurt by crippling and continuing budget cuts and by a lack of support on the home front for their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both of these factors have led British commanders to take the most cautious approach possible toward the employment of their forces, trying to limit casualties even at the expense of allowing the enemy to make gains. That is a sad fate for what was once the world’s premier “small wars” force–and a warning of where the U.S. armed forces could end up as our own budget cuts and manpower reductions continue unabated.

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The Age of Hope and Shame

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

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What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Liberals don’t have an exclusive claim on either child welfare or common sense. And they’re not the only ones who can point to horrifying realities and place blame on policies they don’t like. Take the conservative cause of shrinking the welfare state. It may not lend itself to the easy emotional shorthand of anti-gun legislation, but that’s because few are paying attention. Amid last week’s multiple nightmares, one could have missed a New York Times story headlined “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry.” Published the same day Obama made his “shame” speech, the report by Liz Alderman describes Greek “children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.” This is the latest byproduct of the Greek disaster. The Times quotes Dr. Athena Linos, who heads a food-assistance NGO, as saying: “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Talk about shame.

The Greek collapse is a direct consequence of the unbridled welfare state. The country was brought down by nationalized healthcare, exorbitant pensions, early retirements, a massive public sector, and all the other mathematical impossibilities that progressives mistake for virtue. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, the Greeks ran out of other people’s money. The danger of the welfare state isn’t theoretical, and there’s a new generation of hungry Greek children to prove it.

Does that mean that those Americans who’ve been calling for the United States to follow the European social model don’t care about hungry children? No, they’re not monsters. Rather, they don’t see the connection between what they advocate and what’s unfolding—between what they think of as “welfare” and what’s actually its opposite. It would be unseemly and offensive, therefore, for leading conservatives to denounce big-spending liberals as shamefully indifferent to child suffering.   

Liberals, on the other hand, must shame their conservative opponents because emotion is nine-tenths of the liberal law, as post-Sandy Hook discussion shows. On the left, intentions dominate. Failed liberal policy could never be justified by a sober consideration of facts.

After the Boston terrorist attack progressives like Salon’s David Sirota “hoped” that the suspect would be a white American. Such musings put liberals on the high road of good intentions. No Islamists meant no “shameful” war against Islamists. But objective facts (outcome) shattered these hopes.

The Obama years are the years of hope and shame. That’s what’s left once you’ve hollowed out the space traditionally occupied by informed debate. Liberals, led by the president, merely hope that gun laws and background checks will stem gun violence. There’s no debating the merits. So when people disagree, it can only be attributed to shameful intentions, not thoughtful misgivings about effectiveness. Liberals hope that expanding the welfare state will do more good for more people. The facts of Europe don’t apply. So when conservatives disagree it’s because they’re shamefully indifferent to human suffering, not concerned about an unsustainable initiative. Obama hopes we’re no longer in a war on terror but engaged in a cleaner-sounding war on al-Qaeda. If you think a recent string of terrorism attempts in America demonstrates otherwise, shame on you. Without self-righteousness liberals have no case.

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Elsa Walsh’s Journey to Marriage and Motherhood

In a speech that was turned into a Washington Post op-ed, the journalist Elsa Walsh speaks about how she’s “come to question many of the truths I once held dear.” In Walsh’s words, “The woman I wanted to be at 22 is not the woman I wanted to be at 38—not even close—and she is certainly not who I am now at 55.”

The issues at hand are feminism, parenthood, and family, with Ms. Walsh once having held three truths she took to be self-evident: “I would never marry. I would never have a child. And I would have an interesting job, as a writer or a lawyer. I wanted to be independent and self-supporting. I wanted love, but I wanted to be free.” She believed “Marriage was a patriarchal system, and I wanted none of it.” But she later came to discover she did want a part of it—and “Instead of feeling trapped, I felt liberated and secure and protected—not by patriarchy but by love.”

After seven years of marriage, Walsh and her husband had a child—and that, too, changed her. According to Walsh:

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In a speech that was turned into a Washington Post op-ed, the journalist Elsa Walsh speaks about how she’s “come to question many of the truths I once held dear.” In Walsh’s words, “The woman I wanted to be at 22 is not the woman I wanted to be at 38—not even close—and she is certainly not who I am now at 55.”

The issues at hand are feminism, parenthood, and family, with Ms. Walsh once having held three truths she took to be self-evident: “I would never marry. I would never have a child. And I would have an interesting job, as a writer or a lawyer. I wanted to be independent and self-supporting. I wanted love, but I wanted to be free.” She believed “Marriage was a patriarchal system, and I wanted none of it.” But she later came to discover she did want a part of it—and “Instead of feeling trapped, I felt liberated and secure and protected—not by patriarchy but by love.”

After seven years of marriage, Walsh and her husband had a child—and that, too, changed her. According to Walsh:

When my daughter was 4, she came up to my home office one evening around 6:30. I was on a deadline and had been for days. She had two big bags filled with her stuff, her pajamas tucked in her backpack. She declared that she was not leaving the room until I came downstairs and played with her. I was frustrated and told her I was never going to be able to finish unless she left, and then I marched her down to her father.

The next morning I wrote a letter to myself. I recently found the note, dated Feb. 8, 2001: “Today is the day I decided to change my life.” My solutions weren’t perfect, but I tried to rearrange my work life so that I would be available when she came home from school. (I knew I had it better than most women. I had full-time help and could afford the changes, too, a luxury not available to all.) I had been in such a hurry for such a long time that “no” had become my default answer to her. Now it would be “yes.” I wrote less and cut back on traveling for stories. I turned down assignments and job offers. I adopted a slower pace. It was not always easy, but it was the right choice. It did not matter much to the greater world when my next article appeared, but it did matter to my daughter that I was nearby. And it mattered to me.

Ms. Walsh concludes her testimony this way: “Motherhood is not a job. It is a joy.”

The same can be said about fatherhood, even if the experiences can obviously differ. And of course even something that is a joy can also entail hardship. The point, though, is that marriage and parenthood often reshape what St. Augustine called the ordo amoris (“the order of love”), by which he meant, according to C.S. Lewis, “the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.”

What Ms. Walsh is saying, I think, is that as we look back at our lives, our most intimate relationships are the things that matter most. That devotion to our children is deeper than we ever imagine. That if we’re fortunate, with the passage of time comes perspective and wisdom. And that the ideologies of our youth often shift as a result of human experience. To be able to give an honest account of such things is something of a gift, and this particular ones comes to us courtesy of Elsa Walsh. 

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Difference Between Prudence and Prejudice

In the aftermath of the conclusion of the traumatic week of terror in Boston, the inevitable questions about the religious motivations of the two Chechen immigrants who were the perpetrators are being asked. Unfortunately, many of them are certain to be obfuscated. While everyone needs to be careful not to associate the millions of honest, hard-working and loyal Americans who are Muslims with the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers, the politically correct impulse to ignore what appears to be the latest instance of homegrown Islamist terrorism could lead to a repeat of the same mistakes that were made after the Fort Hood shooting, when the government went out of its way to ignore the implications of the murderer’s reasons for committing the crime.

As former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal, there is good reason to worry that the FBI interrogators of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been infected with the same determination to refuse to think clearly about jihadist ideology that has characterized much of the way the mainstream media thinks about terrorism.

As Mukasey writes:

At the behest of such Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations [CAIR] and the Islamic Society of North America, and other self-proclaimed spokesmen for American Muslims, the FBI has bowdlerized its training materials to exclude references to militant Islamism. Does this delicacy infect the FBI’s interrogation group as well?

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In the aftermath of the conclusion of the traumatic week of terror in Boston, the inevitable questions about the religious motivations of the two Chechen immigrants who were the perpetrators are being asked. Unfortunately, many of them are certain to be obfuscated. While everyone needs to be careful not to associate the millions of honest, hard-working and loyal Americans who are Muslims with the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers, the politically correct impulse to ignore what appears to be the latest instance of homegrown Islamist terrorism could lead to a repeat of the same mistakes that were made after the Fort Hood shooting, when the government went out of its way to ignore the implications of the murderer’s reasons for committing the crime.

As former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal, there is good reason to worry that the FBI interrogators of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been infected with the same determination to refuse to think clearly about jihadist ideology that has characterized much of the way the mainstream media thinks about terrorism.

As Mukasey writes:

At the behest of such Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations [CAIR] and the Islamic Society of North America, and other self-proclaimed spokesmen for American Muslims, the FBI has bowdlerized its training materials to exclude references to militant Islamism. Does this delicacy infect the FBI’s interrogation group as well?

The real issue right now is not so much the legal question of whether Tsarnaev is designated as an enemy combatant or just a garden-variety domestic terrorist—though that is an important issue—so much as whether Americans understand that pro-jihad Islamist adherents are a source of such fearful crimes. The most important thing for Americans to realize right now is that there is a difference between prudent monitoring of sources of Islamist propaganda and prejudice against Muslims who deserve the full protection of the law.

The stories being reported about the behavior of the Tsarnaevs make it all the more important that police forces not be deterred from intelligence work because of efforts by groups like CAIR to silence efforts to discuss Islamism. If Tamerlan Tsarnaev was, as the Boston Globe reports, disrupting events at his local mosque when moderate speakers appeared, it bears asking whether greater vigilance might have connected the dots between this behavior and this man’s trips to Russia that had already triggered interest on the part of Moscow’s intelligence agencies and the FBI.

Aggressive surveillance and investigations of possible meeting places for potential homegrown Islamist terrorists by New York City police have been bitterly criticized in the past. But as much as we must be careful about second-guessing law enforcement agencies for having missed any potential warnings about the Tsarnaevs, what happened in Boston last week should reinforce the need for the NYPD to keep thinking about terrorism, and for other departments to emulate their practices.

Above all, it is vital for this case to be discussed frankly without the knee-jerk impulse to ignore the role of religion in this atrocity. Being able to do so should not be considered prejudicial by definition, as those groups like CAIR have tried hard to establish. Our problem is not just the terrorist threat these Islamists clearly constitute to the safety of the United States—as Boston has again demonstrated—but that too many in our government seem unwilling to face up to the implications of the growth of a hateful ideology with Muslim Brotherhood origins and connections to al-Qaeda and other terror groups. That has occurred because of the influence of CAIR as well as the predilection of some in the foreign policy establishment to embrace the Brotherhood elsewhere. Until we address these problems, we will find ourselves asking the same questions after the next Islamist terror attack on our soil.

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