Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 26, 2013

Those Who Served So America Might Live

Americans are fortunate to live in a country where most treat the day set aside to memorialize those who died in their country’s service as merely the start of the summer vacation season as pools open and a three-day weekend is enjoyed. That is a function of the fact that it has been decades since the United States was embroiled in a war in which a significant portion of its young were obligated to participate. One need only look to Israel to see what it means to live in a country where there are few who do not know of a family that has suffered losses incurred in the defense of the nation. Their Memorial Day, though set in the day before independence celebrations, is one of somber mourning, not store sales.

So while Americans can be grateful for being spared that kind of suffering in recent generations, it is still incumbent upon us to spare a moment to think on the sacrifice of those who are currently fighting to defend our freedoms as well as the many who did so in the past.

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Americans are fortunate to live in a country where most treat the day set aside to memorialize those who died in their country’s service as merely the start of the summer vacation season as pools open and a three-day weekend is enjoyed. That is a function of the fact that it has been decades since the United States was embroiled in a war in which a significant portion of its young were obligated to participate. One need only look to Israel to see what it means to live in a country where there are few who do not know of a family that has suffered losses incurred in the defense of the nation. Their Memorial Day, though set in the day before independence celebrations, is one of somber mourning, not store sales.

So while Americans can be grateful for being spared that kind of suffering in recent generations, it is still incumbent upon us to spare a moment to think on the sacrifice of those who are currently fighting to defend our freedoms as well as the many who did so in the past.

From the beginning of our nation’s history to the present, there have always been those who were ready to take up the challenge of defending American liberty. They have done so in peace and war and many have paid the ultimate price so that this experiment in democracy might live. Though some of us might prefer to think these struggles are ending, the enemies of freedom have not yet given up. That means some of our fellow citizens will continue to place themselves in harm’s way to defend America. Some will die and others will be wounded or maimed. They deserve our respect and our help. But their efforts should also motivate us to do our best to ensure that our republic and all it stands for persists as a beacon of freedom.

On this weekend, and every other day of the year, let’s honor those who served in the past as well as those who continue to do so. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten.

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Why Israelis Have Moved On

Former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner returned to the country after a year away and is confounded by the change in the political atmosphere. The journalist takes the temperature of the Jewish state and finds it almost completely disinterested in the issue that drove most of his reporting and, indeed, was the overriding issue in every Israeli election up until the one conducted this past January: the peace process with the Palestinians.

Though a few old political warhorses claim the peace process must remain the country’s priority, most Israelis are having none of it. The guests at a wedding Bronner attended comprising a surprisingly broad cross-section of society had many differences, but all were united on one point: they never even mentioned the Palestinians. While Bronner devotes considerable space in his Sunday review column on this situation to explaining why he thinks this is troubling or wrong, he gives short shrift to the reason for it. If, as one of his sources noted to Bronner, “debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” then his readers deserve more than a throwaway line about Israelis thinking the Palestinians have no interest in peace.

Presented without even a smidgeon of historical context or even a brief summary of a strategic equation that leads Israelis to think this way makes the widespread indifference to peace negotiations seem callous at best. If Americans are to understand the shift in Israeli politics that led to an election fought on domestic issues or why most there think Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the peace process is a fool’s errand, then it is incumbent on the Times to lay out the facts about the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace offers and the inability of either Fatah or Hamas to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

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Former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner returned to the country after a year away and is confounded by the change in the political atmosphere. The journalist takes the temperature of the Jewish state and finds it almost completely disinterested in the issue that drove most of his reporting and, indeed, was the overriding issue in every Israeli election up until the one conducted this past January: the peace process with the Palestinians.

Though a few old political warhorses claim the peace process must remain the country’s priority, most Israelis are having none of it. The guests at a wedding Bronner attended comprising a surprisingly broad cross-section of society had many differences, but all were united on one point: they never even mentioned the Palestinians. While Bronner devotes considerable space in his Sunday review column on this situation to explaining why he thinks this is troubling or wrong, he gives short shrift to the reason for it. If, as one of his sources noted to Bronner, “debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” then his readers deserve more than a throwaway line about Israelis thinking the Palestinians have no interest in peace.

Presented without even a smidgeon of historical context or even a brief summary of a strategic equation that leads Israelis to think this way makes the widespread indifference to peace negotiations seem callous at best. If Americans are to understand the shift in Israeli politics that led to an election fought on domestic issues or why most there think Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the peace process is a fool’s errand, then it is incumbent on the Times to lay out the facts about the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace offers and the inability of either Fatah or Hamas to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Journalists rightly complain that it is unfair to expect short articles about complex subjects to encompass the entire history of their topic. But if you are going to write a piece whose sole purpose is to illustrate the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have given up on the peace process for the foreseeable future, you are obligated to give at least a thumbnail sketch of the events that created this consensus.

That doesn’t mean that Bronner has to go back through 100 years of conflict between Jews and Arabs to detail every event that showed how Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” as Abba Eban summed it up. Nor did he even have to note that prior to June 1967—when the borders of Israel were exactly as the Palestinians and their supporters claim they ought to be—there was no peace and the whole country was considered to be the “occupied territories,” not the West Bank.

All Bronner needed to do was to note that Israeli governments offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and were rejected. As I wrote on Friday about Ehud Olmert’s recollection of the failure of the Palestinians to answer a proposal that would have led to Israel not just agreeing to a partition of Jerusalem but one in which it would have abandoned sovereignty over the Old City and Jewish sacred places including the Western Wall, if the Palestinians wouldn’t take that deal, what exactly are they asking for short of Israel’s complete dissolution?

Bronner could have also mentioned, at least in passing, the spectacle of Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 which led not to peace but the creation of an independent Palestinian state in all but name there run by Hamas and which is little more than an Islamist terror base.

Contrary to his assertion, outsiders don’t want peace more than the Israelis. They want it very much. But unlike naïve or ill-intentioned Westerners they have paid attention to what has happened in the 20 years since Oslo and recognized what has actually happened. They haven’t traded land for peace as they hoped. Instead, they have traded land for terror. Should a sea change in Palestinian political culture ever occur that produces a leadership ready to permanently end the conflict and live in peace alongside Israel, they will discover the Israelis willing to do whatever is necessary to secure the agreement. But until then, most Israelis are not going to waste their time or endanger their lives on a futile quest.

Far from Israel being a Titanic waiting to hit the next iceberg, the changes Bronner describes illustrates that most there have their eyes wide open and are determined not to let their country be sunk by a foolish and blind attachment to a peace process that has no chance of success. Briefly explaining why that is so shouldn’t be too much to ask of a piece that is more than 1,200 words in length. 

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Attkisson’s Problem and the Public’s

CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson has a bigger problem than the possibility that someone or some government agency has been tampering with her computer. Last week the investigative journalist acknowledged publicly that her work computers had been compromised. But as Dylan Byers makes clear in his piece about Attkisson in Politico published on Friday, her bigger problem is the fact that a lot of people at CBS think there’s something wrong with a journalist who is willing to report aggressively about the Obama administration’s shortcomings and scandals. That her willingness to push hard to find out the truth about scandals such as Fast and Furious, Solyndra and now Benghazi would be excoriated by left-wing websites such as Media Matters is no surprise since such partisans regard any scrutiny of a Democratic president as unacceptable. But what is truly worrisome is that Attkisson’s work is, we are told, seen by many at CBS as evidence of a “political agenda” and therefore unacceptable.

There are conflicting rumors about whether she’s on her way out at the network, and it may be that she will stay in her mainstream perch for the foreseeable future. But what is so ominous about this article is the way her critics at CBS—none of whom will speak publicly—seem to be echoing the views of the flacks at the White House. As Attkisson said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show in 2011:

“[The White House and Justice Department] will tell you that I’m the only reporter — as they told me — that is not reasonable,” Attkisson told Ingraham. “They say The Washington Post is reasonable, the L.A. Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable, I’m the only one who thinks this is a story, and they think I’m unfair and biased by pursuing it.”

If, as Politico seems to imply, a lot of people working at CBS agree with this point of view and see any aggressive reporting about the president and his policies as evidence of wrong thinking, it appears as if this signals a fundamental shift in the way many in the mainstream media think about their profession. This won’t be a surprise to their conservative critics, who have long thought the major networks and leading dailies are hopelessly mired in liberal groupthink. But it ought to sadden anyone, no matter what their politics might be, who understands the role of a free press in a democracy.

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CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson has a bigger problem than the possibility that someone or some government agency has been tampering with her computer. Last week the investigative journalist acknowledged publicly that her work computers had been compromised. But as Dylan Byers makes clear in his piece about Attkisson in Politico published on Friday, her bigger problem is the fact that a lot of people at CBS think there’s something wrong with a journalist who is willing to report aggressively about the Obama administration’s shortcomings and scandals. That her willingness to push hard to find out the truth about scandals such as Fast and Furious, Solyndra and now Benghazi would be excoriated by left-wing websites such as Media Matters is no surprise since such partisans regard any scrutiny of a Democratic president as unacceptable. But what is truly worrisome is that Attkisson’s work is, we are told, seen by many at CBS as evidence of a “political agenda” and therefore unacceptable.

There are conflicting rumors about whether she’s on her way out at the network, and it may be that she will stay in her mainstream perch for the foreseeable future. But what is so ominous about this article is the way her critics at CBS—none of whom will speak publicly—seem to be echoing the views of the flacks at the White House. As Attkisson said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show in 2011:

“[The White House and Justice Department] will tell you that I’m the only reporter — as they told me — that is not reasonable,” Attkisson told Ingraham. “They say The Washington Post is reasonable, the L.A. Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable, I’m the only one who thinks this is a story, and they think I’m unfair and biased by pursuing it.”

If, as Politico seems to imply, a lot of people working at CBS agree with this point of view and see any aggressive reporting about the president and his policies as evidence of wrong thinking, it appears as if this signals a fundamental shift in the way many in the mainstream media think about their profession. This won’t be a surprise to their conservative critics, who have long thought the major networks and leading dailies are hopelessly mired in liberal groupthink. But it ought to sadden anyone, no matter what their politics might be, who understands the role of a free press in a democracy.

While most journalists have been reliably liberal in their politics for generations, the culture of the profession has always valued an “agin’ the government” mentality in which all institutions are viewed with a fair amount of cynicism. So long as even liberal journalists regard it as their duty to ferret out stories about corruption, mismanagement and failure within the government, we can feel safe that no administration, even one that is favored by the left, will escape the scrutiny necessary to provide accountability.

But if the zeitgeist at CBS, and, no doubt, other such organizations has been altered to believe that President Obama must be treated with kid gloves, then mainstream journalism has been proven bankrupt. Coming after eight years during which these same news institutions hammered the George W. Bush administration (including hard-nosed stores by Attkisson), their cozy relationship with Obama has been highly suspicious. The fact that Obama prefers, as CBS’s Steve Croft memorably put it, to go on the network’s 60 Minutes show because he knows he won’t be made “to look stupid” fits in with the groundswell against his colleague.

That many journalists are starting to rethink their protective attitude toward Obama in the wake of this season of scandals, and in particular because of the shocking treatment of both the Associated Press and Fox News’s James Rosen, is to be commended. The administration’s unhinged war on journalists has opened some eyes to its flaws that were heretofore resolutely closed. But if a lot of people in the press think there is something partisan about giving Obama’s policies the same harsh treatment afforded to those of Bush, then they simply can’t be trusted.

Many in these same institutions decry the fact that many readers and viewers stick only to those outlets that represent their political point of view. But if Sharyl Attkisson’s reporting about Obama’s scandals is seen as out of the mainstream or excessive by her colleagues, then that is a warning to all that CBS and other mainstream institutions are not be trusted to tell the truth. Under those circumstances, why should anyone who wants something other than the latest White House talking points watch or read the mainstream media? In that case the big loser isn’t so much independent journalists like Attkisson but a public that must rely on the free press to play its vital role in ensuring that our democratic system works.

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