Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 10, 2013

The Hawking Fallacy: No Compromise With Celebrity Boycotters

The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.

But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.

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The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.

But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.

Let’s understand straight off that those, such as Beast columnist Mathew Kalman, who “broke” the story of Hawking’s joining the boycott in Britain’s Guardian, and who believes the scientist can’t be criticized for this move, are wrong.

Kalman took some abuse on the Internet from supporters of Israel when Cambridge University initially denied his report before confirming it. But while he’s entitled have a laugh at the expense of those who called him a liar about this, what he really gets wrong is the nature of this event. Joining the boycott of Israel isn’t a gesture of a disillusioned friend. It’s an action that places someone amid the ranks of those working not to “reform” policies but who deny Israel’s right to exist or to defend itself.

Kalman writes:

What I’d like to know—apart from whether any of my mealy-mouthed Twitter critics are going to retract their insults—is what effect Hawking’s decision will have on Israel’s leaders. Will they hunker down behind a security wall of denial, or will someone, somewhere in Jerusalem ask why a man of Hawking’s standing, who has visited Israel four times in the past and was willing to come again despite his age and ill-health, has become so alienated, so quickly, from a country he previously admired so much?

What’s wrong here is that the BDS movement wishes to deny Israel the same rights of sovereign existence and self-defense that no one would think to deny another people. It singles out democratic Israel for special treatment while ignoring genuine humanitarian crises and horrific tyrannies. There is a word for such treatment and it is prejudice and such bias against Jews is called anti-Semitism, which is something that no one in the Jewish community or decent society should be willing to excuse. Hawkings, like everyone else who buys into the lies about Israel, deserves to be treated as having made common cause with Jew-haters, not a wise man that deserves a hearing.

What’s more, attempts to rationalize Hawking’s position such as Kalman’s is to believe that Israel has done something in recent years that merits pariah status is to ignore everything that has happened in the last 20 years of peace processing whereby Israel has invited the PLO into the West Bank, given up territory, removed settlements, withdrawn from Gaza and made three separate offers of a Palestinian state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, only to be refused each time and answered with more terrorism and intransigence. In order to interpret the events of this period in such a manner as to conclude that Israel must be punished and the Palestinians must be rewarded you have to either be willfully ignorant or prejudiced. In either case, such a conclusion does not exactly measure up to what is generally considered the scientific method of discovering the truth.

Israel isn’t perfect but responsibility for the lack of peace and the continuing plight of the Palestinians rests with their leaders who have refused peace. Until their political culture changes and makes it possible for them to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, no matter where its borders are drawn, the end of the conflict is not in sight.

Agreeing with Kalman is another writer for the Beast, British activist Hannah Weisfeld, who says the proper response to Hawking’s statement, is to agree with him about Israel’s wrongdoing and pressure it to treat the Palestinians better. Weisfeld, who runs a group that seems to be a clone of America’s J Street, takes a fatalistic view about anti-Israel incitement, which she says is the cause célèbre of our time even though human rights violations elsewhere are far more serious. Like her blog’s editor, Peter Beinart, she seems to think the anti-Semitic tone of many BDS supporters doesn’t make the Palestinians any less sympathetic. Weisfeld seems to take the point of view that there’s no use being mad about Hawking or other boycotters. Rather than fight back, she seems to be telling us its time for Israel and its friends to surrender to foreign blackmail.

But the right response to Hawking is not agreement with his prejudicial behavior that would isolate those who are responsible for some of the technology that makes it possible for him to function despite his illness as well as scientists that are working for its cure.

Weisfeld is right that fashionable leftist opinion has rejected Israel but thinking people should answer distortions and lies with truth, not appeasement. Hawking’s fans must accept the fact that he has joined the ranks of the haters and classify him as such. Doing so requires courage that many who dwell in liberal strongholds or in academia lack. But that will not excuse their cowardice if they fail to speak up against this monstrous and fundamentally anti-Semitic movement against Israel.

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Immigration Reform Proponents Try to Turn the Tide

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

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Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

The Senate’s Gang of Eight fended off a slew of poison-pill amendments aimed at the immigration reform bill, building momentum for the legislation that has sparked strong opposition from conservatives.

Members of the gang touted the passage of a group of GOP-sponsored amendments they said had strengthened the bill and would help address the concerns of conservatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down GOP-sponsored amendments to delay putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and to dramatically increase the number of Border Patrol agents and surveillance vehicles.

The bill’s sponsors also dodged an effort from the left by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to halt Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano from deporting illegal immigrants to unsafe areas.

Whether any of these will constitute something of a pyrrhic victory remains to be seen. As the Hill notes, for example, the group fended off an attempt to make border security requirements even stricter. That is where the reform effort is most vulnerable–a fact that is unlikely to change as the bill progresses.

Additionally, a new Pew Research poll shows both the necessity and complexity of reforming the country’s immigration system, as the public sees it. Three-quarters of respondents said the system needs reform, with 35 percent in support of it being “completely rebuilt.” More Republicans than Democrats registered support for major changes to the immigration system, but both were above 70 percent. Pew asked this question of other policy areas as well: taxes, education, health care, Medicare, Social Security, and homeland security. None matched the public’s enthusiasm for major changes on immigration.

But aside from improving border security, respondents couldn’t agree much on what those major changes should consist of:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 1-5 among 1,504 adults, finds that 73% say there should be a way for illegal immigrants already in the United States who meet certain requirements to stay here. But fewer than half (44%) favor allowing those here illegally to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 25% think permanent legal status is more appropriate….

When it comes to legal immigration, relatively few (31%) see current levels as satisfactory, but there is no consensus as to whether the level of legal immigration should be decreased (36%) or increased (25%)

The opposition to increased legal immigration is troubling here, but there are two reasons it might not be so harmful to reform efforts. First, on the issue of, in Pew’s wording, “Immigrants currently in the country illegally who meet certain requirements,” 73 percent of respondents said they should have “a way to stay legally”–either a path to full citizenship or at least permanent legal residency, though citizenship was the more popular answer by far. That there is such wide opposition to attempts to deport even those who came here illegally removes what might otherwise have been a significant obstacle to finding a consensus on immigration reform.

Second, the poll comes in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which raised questions about border security, background checks, and whether the country was less able to integrate and assimilate immigrants than in the past. Though Rand Paul was misguided in questioning whether a Chechen family should be able to immigrate to America, he was no doubt not the only one beset by worry about the ease with which poisonous ideologies can cross borders in a globalized world. But as I wrote at the time, those seeking escape from war-torn, poorly or oppressively governed regions of the world are a fair representation of the American immigrant through history.

The poll also comes as the sluggish economy drags on and high unemployment and underemployment persist, heightening wage and job protectionism in the U.S. That sentiment will probably be as stubborn as the conditions that inspire it. Immigration reform proponents can argue (justifiably) that economic growth will follow immigration, but they will be met with the irony that many Americans want to see economic growth before they’re willing to back more immigration. The gang of eight may have more control over border security than job security, but both promise to be headaches for immigration reformers going forward.

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Pickering Apart Benghazi

The testimony of three State Department whistle blowers raises fours issues regarding Benghazi:

(1)    Who pushed the notion that a YouTube video rather than premeditated terrorism was the cause of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Was this simply State Department and White House spin or, even worse, is it possible that Secretary of State Clinton was so insulated in a bubble that she did not understand the threat posed by Islamist extremism?

(2)    Who turned down the consulate’s request for additional security?

(3)    Would the U.S. military have had time to respond had they been called at the earliest opportunity?

(4)    Who ordered the State Department to circle its wagons and suggested to employees that they not speak with congressional investigators? Such actions suggest fear of the truth rather than a desire to determine what went wrong.

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The testimony of three State Department whistle blowers raises fours issues regarding Benghazi:

(1)    Who pushed the notion that a YouTube video rather than premeditated terrorism was the cause of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Was this simply State Department and White House spin or, even worse, is it possible that Secretary of State Clinton was so insulated in a bubble that she did not understand the threat posed by Islamist extremism?

(2)    Who turned down the consulate’s request for additional security?

(3)    Would the U.S. military have had time to respond had they been called at the earliest opportunity?

(4)    Who ordered the State Department to circle its wagons and suggested to employees that they not speak with congressional investigators? Such actions suggest fear of the truth rather than a desire to determine what went wrong.

Secretary of State Clinton appointed veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering to chair an Accountability Review Board to investigate just what went wrong in Benghazi. At the time of Pickering’s appointment, the Washington Post explained:

The inquiry announced by Clinton will be carried out by an independent four-member panel chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. The panel, required by law, will look at whether security procedures were adequate at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and make recommendations to the secretary of state. Pickering was once the boss of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the Benghazi attack last week, along with another diplomat and two security personnel.

Many journalists correctly described Pickering as a “veteran diplomat,” and commentators described him as “highly-regarded.” That his name now arises in the context of a cover-up, however, should not surprise: Pickering is also one of the most agenda-driven and political former ambassadors.

  • Pickering was at the forefront of lobbying for Chuck Hagel.
  • Pickering serves on the board of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) but, when confronted by reporter Eli Lake about NIAC’s activities, Pickering dissembled.
  • Pickering has never been one to allow facts to get in the way of political argument. For example, when castigating supposed U.S. disrespect for the Islamic Republic, he has written that Iranians bristle at the term “carrots and sticks,” even though the official Iranian press has used the same exact phrase.
  • Pickering has a curious sense of what terrorism is. In July 2009, he met with Hamas representatives in Lebanon.

In short, Pickering has never sought to be a measured judge; he has always placed himself at the forefront of policy advocacy. Rather than be a neutral observer, he is deeply enmeshed in a policy agenda which perhaps he sees fit to protect, even if it comes at the expense of full transparency or accountability. That questions are now being raised by witnesses about the breadth of Pickering’s investigation given attempts by the State Department to prevent witness testimony should not surprise. Perhaps it is time for a truly independent counsel to look into Benghazi, not an in-house investigation led by someone whose instincts might be to protect the culture from which he emerged.

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The Obama Administration’s Tower of Fabrications Begins to Crack

We continue to learn more disturbing things about the Benghazi scandal. In addition to the story by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, which Jonathan Tobin referenced, Stephen Hayes–who has been doing fantastic reporting on this matter–has a story in the forthcoming issue of the Weekly Standard in which we learn this:

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version — produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers — was a shadow of the original.

After recounting the details, Hayes says this:

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We continue to learn more disturbing things about the Benghazi scandal. In addition to the story by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, which Jonathan Tobin referenced, Stephen Hayes–who has been doing fantastic reporting on this matter–has a story in the forthcoming issue of the Weekly Standard in which we learn this:

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version — produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers — was a shadow of the original.

After recounting the details, Hayes says this:

This candid, real-time assessment from then-CIA director Petraeus offers a glimpse of what many intelligence officials were saying privately as top Obama officials set aside the truth about Benghazi and spun a fanciful tale about a movie that never mattered and a demonstration that never happened.

It’s worth recalling here that in the aftermath of the attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the Obama White House was eager to throw the CIA under the bus. During the vice presidential debate, for example, Joe Biden was asked why the White House had attributed the death of Ambassador Stevens to the video. He responded: “Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community.” (h/t Michael Gerson.)

That statement is exactly false, as are so many of the things said by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador, and the White House press secretary weeks after the attacks–and weeks after the truth was fully known.

The president’s courtiers in the press clearly wish this story would go away. I can understand why. Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Obama administration’s account of events was built on a tower of fabrications. That tower is beginning to crack. And there will be more to follow. 

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To End Syrian War, Don’t Rely on Russia

It is a sign of how truly desperate the administration that it seems be expecting Russia to solve the Syria crisis. This approach is being endorsed even by those, like the veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who should know better on the grounds that there is no other real alternative.

If so, then there is no way out of this morass, period. Because Russia has no interest or desire to help save Syria or America’s allies in the region from the consequences of a catastrophic civil war. Russia is happy to stand on the sidelines and benefit from arms sales to the embattled Assad regime–possibly even the dispatch of sophisticated air-defense systems (although Moscow is unscrupulous enough to pocket Syria’s payments without actually delivering the missiles in question). 

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It is a sign of how truly desperate the administration that it seems be expecting Russia to solve the Syria crisis. This approach is being endorsed even by those, like the veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who should know better on the grounds that there is no other real alternative.

If so, then there is no way out of this morass, period. Because Russia has no interest or desire to help save Syria or America’s allies in the region from the consequences of a catastrophic civil war. Russia is happy to stand on the sidelines and benefit from arms sales to the embattled Assad regime–possibly even the dispatch of sophisticated air-defense systems (although Moscow is unscrupulous enough to pocket Syria’s payments without actually delivering the missiles in question). 

Any expectation that Vladimir Putin will come to the rescue–even to cooperate in some kind of far-fetched international scheme to disarm the Assad regime, as suggested by Khalilzad–will be doomed to disappoint. The only outside intervention that is likely to end the killing is the kind that helps the rebels to prevail faster–although admittedly the growing ascendance of radicals in the ranks of the anti-Assad (at least partially as a result of Western lack of support for the moderates) forces makes the prospect of a rebel victory a mixed blessing. 

We are, in short, in quite a pickle because of the Obama administration’s Iraq Syndrome, which has precluded effective (and low-cost) Western intervention in Syria. That has heightened the influence of the Qataris, among others, who have been arming Muslim extremists, even while Hezbollah and Iran increase their support for the embattled regime in Damascus. The administration may not have any attractive options at this point, but it needs to pick one of them anyway, instead of imagining some magical outside intervention from Moscow will come to the rescue.

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Newseum Puts Journalists at Risk by Honoring Terrorists

There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

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There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

The Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C. that chronicles the news industry, plans to add two dead terrorists to its “Journalists Memorial.”  The announcement to include these terrorists on the memorial, which “pays tribute to reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news,” was made on the Newseum’s website.

The terrorists the Newseum plans to honor are former members of the terrorist group Hamas, Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama.

This kind of event manages to be both appalling and unsurprising. Appalling, because the Newseum should not be in the habit of honoring terrorists, and doing so will only further encourage the Palestinian tradition of doing the same. Unsurprising, because the Newseum is, at its heart, a florid love letter from the media to itself; a towering monument built to house an ego that has already far outgrown it; an anachronistic altar to flatter, please and serve the god of self.

And most of all, the journalists of the Western world refuse to draw the line between partisan and press because they themselves crossed that line so long ago they wouldn’t know how to truly tell the difference. They may go into the war zone with a camera mounted on their shoulder instead of a rocket launcher, but they increasingly refuse to pretend their mission isn’t also the defeat of one side at the hands of the other.

All of which helps explain the Newseum’s reaction to the outrage engendered by their decision. Buzzfeed reported today that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where I was a national security fellow in 2011, was strongly considering moving its annual conference, which had originally been planned for the Newseum, to another location. The framing of the story is just as interesting. Buzzfeed begins the piece: “A pro-Israel think tank in Washington is so concerned over the Newseum’s honoring of two slain Palestinian journalists with links to Hamas that they may consider pulling their annual policy summit from the venue.”

It’s telling that objecting to honoring terrorists makes one “pro-Israel”; I’m guessing outside of the media most Americans would consider that an American value statement as well. FDD President Cliff May explained this to Buzzfeed “in a follow-up email,” which suggests, amazingly, that it needed clearing up. In any event, the Newseum defended itself in a statement to the Free Beacon:

“Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked ‘TV,’” Newseum spokesman Scott Williams told the Free Beacon via email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.”

Got that? The letters “TV” appeared on the car, so they were clearly journalists. Let’s think through the implications. In 2006, during Israel’s counteroffensive against Hezbollah in South Lebanon, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards used ambulances to smuggle weapons and fighters to Hezbollah to kill Israelis. Do we consider them civilian doctors?

The Newseum says that the men killed were identified by NGOs and the media as journalists. The truth, then, is based not on what is said but on who says it. Independent corroboration, fact-checking, diligent investigation–actions that were once considered basic journalism were found by the Western media to be harmful to their cause and discarded, replaced by an appeal to their own authority. And the increased danger this puts on journalists in war zones doesn’t appear to have crossed their minds.

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Liberal Denial Can’t Derail Benghazi Probe

Eight months after al-Qaeda-linked terrorists murdered four Americans in Benghazi, liberal talking heads, columnists and editorial writers don’t need Hillary Clinton’s State Department mafia or the Obama spin team in the West Wing to give them their talking points about what happened. They’ve figured out on their own that discussion of what led to this disaster and the administration’s furious attempt to deceive the American people afterwards will do more than undermine President Obama’s credibility. The more we learn about this affair, the less invulnerable the person they want to succeed Obama looks. That’s why despite the drip-drip of information leaking out about the prelude, most liberals are still portraying the tragedy as a trumped-up non-scandal that has been blown out of proportion.

It’s true that it is going to be difficult for Benghazi to become a front-burner issue so long as the New York Times editorial page pooh-poohs it as a Republican “obsession” or leading columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson puts it down as a “witch hunt.” Like legislation, scandals need bipartisan support from all sectors of the media in order to generate the sort of political crisis that impacts the future of politicians. Yet the problem with TIME magazine’s Joe Klein’s “Republicans are chasing their tails” over Benghazi talking point is that there is already enough known about the decisions taken to send Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi or the failure of the United States to have forces available to rescue him and his colleagues, and especially about the politically-motivated lies that were told about the event after the event, to provide fodder for investigators for weeks of future hearings. It may be that congressional Republicans are acting like they smell blood rather than appearing as impartial investigators, but they are no guiltier of that than any other participants in a D.C. inquisition. So long as we have journalists, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, following up on the work of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes about the damaging trail of email evidence about doctored talking points, the pressure for a special committee to investigate Benghazi with subpoena power will escalate.

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Eight months after al-Qaeda-linked terrorists murdered four Americans in Benghazi, liberal talking heads, columnists and editorial writers don’t need Hillary Clinton’s State Department mafia or the Obama spin team in the West Wing to give them their talking points about what happened. They’ve figured out on their own that discussion of what led to this disaster and the administration’s furious attempt to deceive the American people afterwards will do more than undermine President Obama’s credibility. The more we learn about this affair, the less invulnerable the person they want to succeed Obama looks. That’s why despite the drip-drip of information leaking out about the prelude, most liberals are still portraying the tragedy as a trumped-up non-scandal that has been blown out of proportion.

It’s true that it is going to be difficult for Benghazi to become a front-burner issue so long as the New York Times editorial page pooh-poohs it as a Republican “obsession” or leading columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson puts it down as a “witch hunt.” Like legislation, scandals need bipartisan support from all sectors of the media in order to generate the sort of political crisis that impacts the future of politicians. Yet the problem with TIME magazine’s Joe Klein’s “Republicans are chasing their tails” over Benghazi talking point is that there is already enough known about the decisions taken to send Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi or the failure of the United States to have forces available to rescue him and his colleagues, and especially about the politically-motivated lies that were told about the event after the event, to provide fodder for investigators for weeks of future hearings. It may be that congressional Republicans are acting like they smell blood rather than appearing as impartial investigators, but they are no guiltier of that than any other participants in a D.C. inquisition. So long as we have journalists, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, following up on the work of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes about the damaging trail of email evidence about doctored talking points, the pressure for a special committee to investigate Benghazi with subpoena power will escalate.

What Hayes and Karl have learned is that there was a conscious effort on the part of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (acting, as she stated, at the behest of her “building’s leadership”—a clear reference to Clinton) and White House spinmeister Ben Rhodes, to scrub the administration talking points of references to al-Qaeda, among other topics that might undermine the Obama re-election campaign’s theme that terrorism was no longer an issue. The attempt to claim the event was merely feedback to a YouTube video trailer was also part of the pattern of deception. Add in evidence that the State Department has tried to intimidate whistle blowers to keep their mouths shut and what you’ve got is something that no one doubts would be treated by these same outlets as a scandal of the first order if we were talking about a Republican administration.

But the issue here isn’t whether this is damning stuff. It’s whether the accumulation of stupid decisions, lies after the fact and bumbling attempts to cover it all up afterward are enough to create a story that will have legs. Democrats and their liberal cheering section in the press keep telling us that this is “old news” and tend to echo Hillary Clinton’s exasperated rhetorical question when she was on the Senate hot seat and demanded to know “what difference does it make?”

What these liberal outlets are finding out is that the deeper enterprising journalists dig into this business, the more apparent it is that the ones who are chasing their tails here are those trying to ignore it rather than the reporters doing their jobs and following the trail to its end points at the top of the State Department and the White House. Only once we unravel all of the disparate strands of evidence about Benghazi and its aftermath will we know whether it will materially affect Clinton’s presidential chances. Doing so won’t prevent official Washington from doing its job in debating immigration reform or confronting the crisis in Syria or even in pondering what’s going wrong in Libya today, as the Times editorial page helpfully suggests Benghazi probers do instead of looking at the scandal.

The political left in this country may not like the direction the newly discovered information is taking us. But for all of their attacks on the House GOP and their indignant claim that it is much ado about nothing, they are helpless to stop it. It may be that without the Times and the Washington Post and all the other liberal mainstream organs chiming in on this story, Benghazi will not be enough to persuade Democrats that Hillary Clinton should not be our 45th president. But whether they like it or not, it may be enough to fatally damage her chances of ever moving back to the White House.

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The IRS Targets Conservative Groups—As It Once Targeted COMMENTARY

This morning, an IRS official named Lois Lerner apologized for inappropriately targeting non-profit groups for scrutiny in 2012 based on the fact that they had the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. There are many things that need to be said about this. First, and simplest, is to ask how seriously the Obama administration is going to take this outrageous effort at political suppression by an agency under its charge. Has the IRS inspector general gotten involved? Has a U.S. attorney been apprised of this matter, which can only be considered an act of political intimidation and therefore would fall under the aegis of various federal criminal statutes? If not, why not?

Second, this is a test for the mainstream media. If the fact that the targeted groups are conservative means that the story is soft-pedaled and not subject to major investigative scrutiny, any argument against liberal bias evaporates now and forever. Will this be brought up at today’s press briefing at the White House with Jay Carney? You can bet that had any such thing happened in reverse during the Bush administration, Tony Snow would have been bombarded with questions for weeks if not months.

As it happens, I know something about the chilling effect of an IRS investigation into a non-profit’s 501 (c)-3 status because in 2009, COMMENTARY (a non-profit) received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service threatening the revocation of the institution’s standing as a non-profit due to a claim that on our website we had crossed the line in the 2008 election from analysis to explicit advocacy of the candidacy of John McCain for president. (Non-profits are not permitted to endorse candidates.) The charge was false—all we had done was reprint a speech delivered at a COMMENTARY event by then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman in which he had endorsed McCain.

Taking away a non-profit’s ability to receive tax-exempt charitable contributions is equivalent to a death sentence.

We were told by counsel that, should the IRS rule against us, we would have almost no recourse. You might think free speech rights would trump any such effort, but of course no one is challenging your speech rights, merely finding that what you say runs afoul of laws dealing with non-profits. You have no constitutional right to non-profit status, after all.

Disproving the false charge, which we did eventually in part by literally printing out the 2 million words that had appeared on this site in 2008 and sending them in many boxes to the IRS to show that the words in which Lieberman said he was supporting McCain were essentially a part per million, cost us tens of thousands of dollars and dozens upon dozens of hours of lost work time. The inquiry, which never should have been brought, was closed. But talking to lawyers and strategizing and the like in such a circumstance make the experience an ordeal that leaves you a bit shell-shocked—which is, of course, the point.

Now, I had assumed that a hostile reader or hostile liberal group was responsible for the IRS inquiry into COMMENTARY, but there is a salient detail in today’s story that makes me think something else might have been at work. IRS official Lerner said the effort against the conservative groups in 2012 came from “low-level” officials in the Cincinnati office. The investigation into COMMENTARY came out of the Columbus office. Is there something going on inside the IRS offices in Ohio?

Who will find out?

This morning, an IRS official named Lois Lerner apologized for inappropriately targeting non-profit groups for scrutiny in 2012 based on the fact that they had the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. There are many things that need to be said about this. First, and simplest, is to ask how seriously the Obama administration is going to take this outrageous effort at political suppression by an agency under its charge. Has the IRS inspector general gotten involved? Has a U.S. attorney been apprised of this matter, which can only be considered an act of political intimidation and therefore would fall under the aegis of various federal criminal statutes? If not, why not?

Second, this is a test for the mainstream media. If the fact that the targeted groups are conservative means that the story is soft-pedaled and not subject to major investigative scrutiny, any argument against liberal bias evaporates now and forever. Will this be brought up at today’s press briefing at the White House with Jay Carney? You can bet that had any such thing happened in reverse during the Bush administration, Tony Snow would have been bombarded with questions for weeks if not months.

As it happens, I know something about the chilling effect of an IRS investigation into a non-profit’s 501 (c)-3 status because in 2009, COMMENTARY (a non-profit) received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service threatening the revocation of the institution’s standing as a non-profit due to a claim that on our website we had crossed the line in the 2008 election from analysis to explicit advocacy of the candidacy of John McCain for president. (Non-profits are not permitted to endorse candidates.) The charge was false—all we had done was reprint a speech delivered at a COMMENTARY event by then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman in which he had endorsed McCain.

Taking away a non-profit’s ability to receive tax-exempt charitable contributions is equivalent to a death sentence.

We were told by counsel that, should the IRS rule against us, we would have almost no recourse. You might think free speech rights would trump any such effort, but of course no one is challenging your speech rights, merely finding that what you say runs afoul of laws dealing with non-profits. You have no constitutional right to non-profit status, after all.

Disproving the false charge, which we did eventually in part by literally printing out the 2 million words that had appeared on this site in 2008 and sending them in many boxes to the IRS to show that the words in which Lieberman said he was supporting McCain were essentially a part per million, cost us tens of thousands of dollars and dozens upon dozens of hours of lost work time. The inquiry, which never should have been brought, was closed. But talking to lawyers and strategizing and the like in such a circumstance make the experience an ordeal that leaves you a bit shell-shocked—which is, of course, the point.

Now, I had assumed that a hostile reader or hostile liberal group was responsible for the IRS inquiry into COMMENTARY, but there is a salient detail in today’s story that makes me think something else might have been at work. IRS official Lerner said the effort against the conservative groups in 2012 came from “low-level” officials in the Cincinnati office. The investigation into COMMENTARY came out of the Columbus office. Is there something going on inside the IRS offices in Ohio?

Who will find out?

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Defense Cuts Rest on Faulty Assumptions

Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

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Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

The plan had been, because of half a trillion dollars in defense budget cuts mandated by Congress in 2011, to cut army end-strength down to 490,000–i.e. roughly the pre-9/11 level. But sequestration has added another half-trillion dollars in cuts which, if not rescinded, will result in an army of 390,000–the smallest level since before World War II.

Such drastic cuts only make sense if you assume–as the Obama administration and many on Capitol Hill seem to–that we will never fight another major ground war in the future or that if we do we will have plenty of time to mobilize and train reservists and new recruits. Neither assumption is historically warranted.

First, wars today do not take place after an elaborate mobilization; more often they arrive out of the blue, as the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan did.

Second, despite our aversion to fighting more wars after Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still plenty of places where it is easy to imagine American combat troops being sent–in fact just about anywhere in the giant arc of instability stretching from West Africa to Central Asia, in other words from Mali to Pakistan. That region is full of dangerous regimes and non-state actors and it is growing more unstable, not less. The danger to the U.S. is heightened by the fact that one country in that area (Pakistan) already has nuclear weapons, another is close to acquiring them (Iran), and others (Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) may yet follow suit.

Sending large numbers of U.S. grounds is not anyone’s preferred solution to the dangers emanating from this area–but even in a best-case scenario we will have to continue providing substantial security assistance and Special Operations missions to keep the threat under control. The worst-case scenarios (e.g., war with Iran, another 9/11 emanating from Pakistan) could, in fact, dictate large-scale ground deployments.

No matter how much we hate the idea of another major war, especially on the ground, prudence suggests we need to have the capability to fight and win–and the only way to achieve decisive results (i.e., change of regime) is through ground action. Ground troops can sometimes be provided by allies, such as the Libyan rebels, to complement American airpower, but we cannot rule out the possibility that in the future U.S. ground forces will have to be deployed.

It is the height of folly to cut our ground forces so much–and to degrade their readiness so markedly–that they will no longer be able to deploy in sufficient strength to win future wars. But that is precisely what we are now doing.

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