Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 29, 2013

A Step Closer to a Shared Burden

Those who look at Israel only through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians have been paying more attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s doomed attempt to restart the Middle East peace process than it deserves. But for those who understand that Palestinian intransigence doomed that effort even before it started, the real news in Israel has been going on in a negotiation between the country’s political parties, not with Fatah or Hamas. Yesterday’s decision by a Knesset committee to approve a proposal to reform the law governing the military draft could be the first step toward something that the overwhelming majority of the country truly cares about, by adopting a plan to require ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the army much the same as other Jewish citizens.

The effort to share the burden of service is at the core of the complaints of the majority of secular, traditional and modern Orthodox Israelis who bitterly resent a situation whereby Haredim are excused from military service and don’t even join the work force. Removing the exemption for all but a handful of men studying in religious seminaries goes a long way toward ending a situation in which one sector of the Jewish community was able to avoid the obligations of citizenship in a nation that remains subject to military threats every day of the year. That the committee approved a version of the legislation that includes potential criminal penalties for Haredim that don’t comply with the requirement to serve is also a triumph for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party.

While the law is still a long way from final passage let alone implementation, it has the potential to not only change Israeli society but also transform its politics. If Lapid, whose new party vaulted to a surprise second-place finish in the elections held in January on the basis of a pledge to change the draft law as well as his charisma, is actually able to make his promise a reality, it could give him the ability to mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the next time the country goes to the polls.

Read More

Those who look at Israel only through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians have been paying more attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s doomed attempt to restart the Middle East peace process than it deserves. But for those who understand that Palestinian intransigence doomed that effort even before it started, the real news in Israel has been going on in a negotiation between the country’s political parties, not with Fatah or Hamas. Yesterday’s decision by a Knesset committee to approve a proposal to reform the law governing the military draft could be the first step toward something that the overwhelming majority of the country truly cares about, by adopting a plan to require ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the army much the same as other Jewish citizens.

The effort to share the burden of service is at the core of the complaints of the majority of secular, traditional and modern Orthodox Israelis who bitterly resent a situation whereby Haredim are excused from military service and don’t even join the work force. Removing the exemption for all but a handful of men studying in religious seminaries goes a long way toward ending a situation in which one sector of the Jewish community was able to avoid the obligations of citizenship in a nation that remains subject to military threats every day of the year. That the committee approved a version of the legislation that includes potential criminal penalties for Haredim that don’t comply with the requirement to serve is also a triumph for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party.

While the law is still a long way from final passage let alone implementation, it has the potential to not only change Israeli society but also transform its politics. If Lapid, whose new party vaulted to a surprise second-place finish in the elections held in January on the basis of a pledge to change the draft law as well as his charisma, is actually able to make his promise a reality, it could give him the ability to mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the next time the country goes to the polls.

Lapid’s is not the first centrist party that campaigned on a platform of draft reform to achieve success in its first try for the Knesset. But every one that came before him crashed and burned because it was compromised by taking office alongside one of the dominant parties of the left or the right and failed to make progress toward equalizing the burden of national service.

But this time may really be different.

The last election was the first ever to be held in Israel that was not fought on issues of war and peace. After 20 years of attempts to trade land for peace, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have rightly given up on the negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that has proved that it doesn’t want peace. Instead, they are concentrating on domestic concerns and the economy. Lapid, who got stuck with the short straw in coalition negotiations and wound up with the unenviable task of having to balance the budget, won’t earn any glory in making the tough decisions about the country’s finances. But if Haredim really are drafted by the time of the election, he will have done what no other Israeli politician before him has ever come close to achieving.

If so, Yesh Atid will not only not be yet another “one and done” political flash in the pan, but could become the natural party of government rather than a partner to Netanyahu’s Likud.

There could still be plenty of pitfalls for Lapid and his law before it is enforced.

The new law will face constitutional changes on the grounds that it still affords the Haredim unequal treatment, albeit in a far less unfair manner than the status quo.

Even more seriously, Haredi protests and draft resistance could test the resolve of Netanyahu to keep his promise to both Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party to change the draft law. Earlier this week when Lapid had to threaten to bolt the government in order to get the committee to include sanctions against draft dodgers, Haredi leaders threatened to “fill the prisons” en masse rather than serve.

But these problems notwithstanding, Lapid has already taken a giant step toward doing what most Israelis have been begging their government to do for decades. If he can follow through, the sky is the limit for him and his party.

Read Less

Obama Goes from Lincolnian to Carteresque

The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

Read More

The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

One example: In the Daily Beast, the influential Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum has written a column in which the best defense he can offer the president in the context of the IRS scandal is this:

For the White House, there is no crime here, there is no scandal, no matter how feverishly, irresponsibly, or demagogically the GOP labors to concoct one. This is not a case of Nixonian indifference to the Constitution, the law, and the president’s oath of office. But it does look like a reprise of Cartersque incompetence, increasingly so as we learn more about how the White House staff handled—or mishandled—a crisis they knew was coming… For the White House, the problem here resembles Carter, not Nixon.

This critique echoes the comments made to CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson by an Obama administration official, who told her in the context of the Benghazi scandal, “We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

Before he took office, we were told time and again that Obama was a Lincolnian figure. Now that he’s been in office and demonstrated his governing skills, his strongest liberal supporters and his own staff are defending the president by insisting that we have a White House that is being run by Carteresque idiots.

Welcome to reality. 

Read Less

The Color of Anti-Semitism, Part Two

Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

Read More

Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

The defenders of Walker and the Y will, no doubt, continue to try to differentiate between BDS and traditional Jew-hatred. But it bears repeating that anyone who advocates treating one people and one nation differently than others and denying them the same right to exist or self-defense that no one denies anyone else is committing an act of prejudice. The term of art for such acts when committed against Jews is anti-Semitism. To argue that anyone who wishes to prohibit Israelis from reading their work in their own language or the right to perform in public is not an anti-Semite renders the term devoid of any meaning. Walker’s actions are living, breathing illustration that the line between her open anti-Zionism and more traditional forms of Jew-hatred has been erased.

The Y, which appeals to New York’s liberal Jewish elites as well as more broad-based audiences that enjoy their lectures and concerts, is free to host anyone it wants. But by inviting Walker to grace their auditorium and by lauding her on their website as “a muse for our times; a writer with an extraordinary ability to both touch and propel the reader to action,” what are they saying? Unless the Y is hoping Walker will move her listeners to such anger at her outrageous attacks on Israel, what “action” are they talking about?

But by inviting Walker, whose opinions and actions about Israel are not exactly a secret, the Y is signaling that it and its members do not consider advocacy for the anti-Israel BDS movement to be a disqualifying factor when it comes to the people they invite to their hall. Those donors and members of the Y who have not yet lost their sense of outrage or their connection to the rest of the Jewish people need to make it clear to the group that such actions are not acceptable. Those who support or subsidize an institution that sees such a person as worthy of this honor are, whether they like it or not, complicit in the war against Israel.

Read Less

Christie Isn’t Taking Reelection for Granted

There are two ways to look at the practical political effects of Chris Christie’s embrace of Barack Obama at the Jersey Shore yesterday. Both can be summed up in headlines from the event. Yahoo News went with: “Smiles, man hugs and a teddy bear: Chris Christie’s reunion with Obama,” while ABC News chose: “Chris Christie Challenger Barbara Buono Lost Amid Obama Fanfare.”

That is to say, you can focus on the Christie-Obama dimension of this or the Christie-Buono dimension. National political reporters tended to go with the former, as it also opens up GOP intraparty tensions and 2016 speculation. But the Christie-Buono angle is much more germane to the New Jersey governor’s thinking, and it is just as relevant to the potential 2016 GOP primary contest as Christie’s willingness to spend so much time praising President Obama.

Read More

There are two ways to look at the practical political effects of Chris Christie’s embrace of Barack Obama at the Jersey Shore yesterday. Both can be summed up in headlines from the event. Yahoo News went with: “Smiles, man hugs and a teddy bear: Chris Christie’s reunion with Obama,” while ABC News chose: “Chris Christie Challenger Barbara Buono Lost Amid Obama Fanfare.”

That is to say, you can focus on the Christie-Obama dimension of this or the Christie-Buono dimension. National political reporters tended to go with the former, as it also opens up GOP intraparty tensions and 2016 speculation. But the Christie-Buono angle is much more germane to the New Jersey governor’s thinking, and it is just as relevant to the potential 2016 GOP primary contest as Christie’s willingness to spend so much time praising President Obama.

Last week, I posted this ad from State Senator Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial election. And while coverage of Christie’s outing with Obama was still going strong, this pro-Christie ad was appearing on TV:

 

I noted in my previous post on the race that the New York Times’s characterization of Buono as a “protégée” of the corrupt state Democratic Party bigwig John Lynch was unfair and inaccurate. As is clear from Christie’s ad, his campaign isn’t interested in making that association either, preferring to tie Buono to disgraced former governor Jon Corzine, Christie’s opponent in 2009. Indeed, Corzine has been a recurring character in Christie’s recent ads.

This illuminates the disconnect between conservatives and Christie. Put simply, they are taking Christie’s reelection as governor for granted, and Christie isn’t. Much of the commentary on Christie’s “bromance” with Obama, at least on the right, has been along the lines of: Christie doesn’t need to do this anymore, so he is showing us his true colors–this is who he is. I think that’s based on a faulty assumption, and that’s why I think Allahpundit is off-target when he writes:

Why would Christie, far ahead in the gubernatorial polls, double down with another conspicuously chummy photo op with Obama knowing that he’ll be bludgeoned with it if he runs in 2016? I think he’s simply committing to his national brand. He was always going to have trouble winning conservative votes in a national primary but his post-Sandy embrace of Obama last October and subsequent endorsement of gun control sealed the deal. If he runs now, it can only be as an overt out-and-proud centrist, aiming to scoop up 35-40 percent of the GOP electorate while hoping that Rubio, Paul, Jindal et al. split the conservative vote several ways. Either that or he’s quietly planning an independent run.

Yes, Christie is ahead in the polls right now. But as Buono’s first ad shows, she has such low name recognition that she began the campaign by explaining how to pronounce her last name. (She’s even running a self-consciously “grass roots campaign”–as a Democrat in New Jersey!) The gap between Christie and Buono will likely close as her name recognition rises. It isn’t easy to win as a Republican in New Jersey, no matter who the Democrat running is. It’s easier to win a gubernatorial election as a Republican than it is to win a Senate seat, certainly. But when was the last time a union busting, school choice supporting, tax cutting social conservative won statewide in Jersey?

I think what’s happening here is a compartmentalizing of Christie’s political fortunes. It would be quite difficult for Christie to run for president coming off a reelection loss. Thus when Christie says he’s not thinking about 2016, he’s probably telling the truth: anything that comes after his reelection campaign is quite literally irrelevant. He almost surely believes he has to win reelection to even consider running for president.

Now, that doesn’t mean his embrace of Obama won’t hurt him in a GOP primary. I imagine it will–though how much depends on who else runs and what Christie would do in a hypothetical second term as governor. It just means that he isn’t pivoting to the GOP primaries yet, and certainly not to the general election. The bipartisan Jersey Shore photo op is about clearing the center for November’s gubernatorial election, not about branding Christie for a general election in 2016.

The truth is, if anything Christie did to move to the center was unnecessary, it was his grandstanding over the pork-filled Sandy aid bill. There was no need to call a press conference to shame John Boehner by name and the GOP House majority. There was no need to pretend that conservatives who rightly wanted a pork-free bill were the ones playing politics with people’s lives instead of those whose self-interest overtook their sense of public service and held up the bill to lard it up with waste. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to work with the GOP and the many anti-earmark Tea Partiers in the House to put up a clean bill and put pork-supporters on the spot? And wouldn’t that latter approach have burnished Christie’s Tea Party credentials while also increasing his support among the voters in blue Jersey?

Again, Christie may end up alienating conservatives, but he may also be betting on being able to remind them why they liked him during a second term as governor. That he can’t get that opportunity without alienating them in the first place is the challenge of winning as a conservative in a blue state.

Read Less

Is Holder on the Way Out?

President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to tune out the media as well as public opinion when it suits him. That should stand Attorney General Eric Holder in good stead as he weathers the backlash that he is facing in the wake of the revelations of Department of Justice’s shocking attacks on the freedom of the press. Holder is an Obama loyalist and probably the most experienced Washington hand in the administration and the one figure many observers thought most likely to last from the beginning to the end of the Obama presidency. Yet the latest statements coming from Holder about the investigations into Fox News reporter James Rosen and the Associated Press that he authorized show how weak his position has become. Throw in the growing realization even on the left that Holder must go, and you get the sense that even a president who is reluctant to make his allies walk the plank—even if that would help his political standing—is starting to consider asking the attorney general to disappear.

Holder’s claim in an interview in the Daily Beast that he didn’t understand the ramifications of his decisions until he read about them in the Washington Post lacks credibility. So, too, do his sappy expressions of “regret” about the way his department—with his direct approval—has infringed on the rights of the press. But given all we know about what went into the effort to find a judge to sign off on these probes, as our John Podhoretz wrote this morning in the New York Post, “the whole story smells to high heaven.” But the willingness of prominent Obama supporters to view this mess with the same sort of disdain may mean a tipping point has been reached. Liberal legal analyst Jonathan Turley’s column in USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time Holder has tried to deny responsibility for scandals such as the Fast and Furious debacle. But the lies Holder told when he testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about the seizure of the AP’s phone records as well as the subsequent fibbing about this issue make it necessary that the president fire the attorney general as soon as possible.

Read More

President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to tune out the media as well as public opinion when it suits him. That should stand Attorney General Eric Holder in good stead as he weathers the backlash that he is facing in the wake of the revelations of Department of Justice’s shocking attacks on the freedom of the press. Holder is an Obama loyalist and probably the most experienced Washington hand in the administration and the one figure many observers thought most likely to last from the beginning to the end of the Obama presidency. Yet the latest statements coming from Holder about the investigations into Fox News reporter James Rosen and the Associated Press that he authorized show how weak his position has become. Throw in the growing realization even on the left that Holder must go, and you get the sense that even a president who is reluctant to make his allies walk the plank—even if that would help his political standing—is starting to consider asking the attorney general to disappear.

Holder’s claim in an interview in the Daily Beast that he didn’t understand the ramifications of his decisions until he read about them in the Washington Post lacks credibility. So, too, do his sappy expressions of “regret” about the way his department—with his direct approval—has infringed on the rights of the press. But given all we know about what went into the effort to find a judge to sign off on these probes, as our John Podhoretz wrote this morning in the New York Post, “the whole story smells to high heaven.” But the willingness of prominent Obama supporters to view this mess with the same sort of disdain may mean a tipping point has been reached. Liberal legal analyst Jonathan Turley’s column in USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time Holder has tried to deny responsibility for scandals such as the Fast and Furious debacle. But the lies Holder told when he testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about the seizure of the AP’s phone records as well as the subsequent fibbing about this issue make it necessary that the president fire the attorney general as soon as possible.

Turley thinks Holder has served as Obama’s principal “sin eater”—a high-ranking official who shields the president from responsibility for his action—throughout his presidency. But his claims that he knew nothing about the investigations that he had, in fact, personally authorized, lays him open to charges of perjury. As Turley writes, Holder is “the best witness against his continuing in office.”

His insistence that he did nothing was a telling moment. The attorney general has done little in his tenure to protect civil liberties or the free press. Rather, Holder has supervised a comprehensive erosion of privacy rights, press freedom and due process. This ignoble legacy was made possible by Democrats who would look at their shoes whenever the Obama administration was accused of constitutional abuses.

He’s right about that. It’s past time for Democrats to start stepping up and show that their statements about defending the First Amendment rights of the press are more than empty rhetoric.

The president may have thought he could get away by ordering a probe of what happened in the AP and Fox cases by none other than the attorney general, but that isn’t going to work. Holder’s misleading testimony to Congress about the unprecedented attack on the press is the sort of thing that could make it impossible for the bleeding on this story to stop without a change at the Department of Justice. As much as the president may want to pretend that this is a partisan attack on his friend, that’s a line of argument that is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Unless Obama is willing to get rid of Holder, he will no longer be able to keep distancing the White House from this scandal. While the president may be slow to come to this realization, the end of Holder’s disastrous tenure may be in sight.

Read Less

The Democrats’ Iraq Syndrome: Defeatists and Demagogues Call the Shots

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the absence of the “liberal hawks” in the debate over intervention in the Syrian civil war. As the story goes on to acknowledge, they aren’t actually “silent”–as the Post calls them initially–but merely quiet and outnumbered on the left. There are prominent liberal voices quite explicitly calling for more military involvement in Syria–Vali Nasr, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Leon Wieseltier, Bill Keller. The rest are chastened by Iraq, according to this analysis.

The Post actually downplays the volume of liberal drum beating in the run-up to Iraq, saying they “provided intellectual cover on the left for President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.” In fact, after the first Gulf war it seemed Democrats in Congress were a step away from having to be physically restrained from going after Saddam Hussein themselves, war or no war. Nonetheless, the Post account isn’t wrong, merely incomplete. The rest of the post-Iraq political landscape makes it easier to understand how liberal interventionists lost the Democratic Party’s intramural contest so thoroughly.

Read More

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the absence of the “liberal hawks” in the debate over intervention in the Syrian civil war. As the story goes on to acknowledge, they aren’t actually “silent”–as the Post calls them initially–but merely quiet and outnumbered on the left. There are prominent liberal voices quite explicitly calling for more military involvement in Syria–Vali Nasr, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Leon Wieseltier, Bill Keller. The rest are chastened by Iraq, according to this analysis.

The Post actually downplays the volume of liberal drum beating in the run-up to Iraq, saying they “provided intellectual cover on the left for President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.” In fact, after the first Gulf war it seemed Democrats in Congress were a step away from having to be physically restrained from going after Saddam Hussein themselves, war or no war. Nonetheless, the Post account isn’t wrong, merely incomplete. The rest of the post-Iraq political landscape makes it easier to understand how liberal interventionists lost the Democratic Party’s intramural contest so thoroughly.

To be fair, kernels of the complete picture are sprinkled throughout the piece. One comes in the middle of the story and describes the reaction Keller received when broaching the topic of intervention:

The few prominent liberal hawks have taken their case to high-profile platforms. Bill Keller, a former editor of the New York Times, recently acknowledged his wariness but added that “in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.” He was immediately attacked with echoes of the “Bush’s Useful Idiots” critique.

Those who follow the second link will get a reminder of just how intellectually unmoored the left came during the Iraq war. Readers are shown a 2006 London Review of Books essay by the late Tony Judt, and his description of the term and its applicability is worth quoting in full:

It is particularly ironic that the ‘Clinton generation’ of American liberal intellectuals take special pride in their ‘tough-mindedness’, in their success in casting aside the illusions and myths of the old left, for these same ‘tough’ new liberals reproduce some of that old left’s worst characteristics. They may see themselves as having migrated to the opposite shore; but they display precisely the same mixture of dogmatic faith and cultural provincialism, not to mention the exuberant enthusiasm for violent political transformation at other people’s expense, that marked their fellow-travelling predecessors across the Cold War ideological divide. The use value of such persons to ambitious, radical regimes is an old story. Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America’s liberal armchair warriors are the ‘useful idiots’ of the War on Terror.

The moral equivalence between American interventionists and those who conspired against their own country for the sake of foreign despots is revolting. Or at least it should be, but it wasn’t during the Bush administration, and that itself is a scandal. And it makes it much more difficult for anyone on the left to speak up in favor of intervention. If Bill Keller is going to be compared to apologists for the father of 20th-century mass murder and totalitarian terror simply for saying inaction in Syria was making him uncomfortable, then what on earth will the suffocating ideologues of the left permit liberals to say? Not much, and the rank and file have mostly complied, hence the Post story on their quiet contemplation.

Another telling detail from the Post story is an early description of the dominant line of thinking in the Obama White House: “In their absence, the military-intervention-will-only-make-things-worse school of foreign policy subscribed to by key national security figures in the West Wing continues to hold sway.” It is one thing to believe that intervention sometimes helps and sometimes hurts, depending on how it is carried out and the conditions on the ground. That there is a “school of foreign policy” known as “military-intervention-will-only-make-things-worse” is troubling enough, because another word for that attitude is “isolationism,” and still another is “defeatism.” It is troubling as well that such a school would “hold sway” in a White House that prides itself on being more thoughtful than dogmatic.

Perhaps the Post is being careless with its terminology; it should be noted that the administration is considering a no-fly zone in Syria, which would qualify as intervention and would certainly not be consistent with isolationism. (Elsewhere the Post describes the attitude not as isolationism but as “realism,” which is absolutely and inexcusably incorrect. It may be the nonsense that has become neorealism, but if self-identified realists consider this to be consistent with their perspective, then there is no longer such a thing as realism.)

Because liberal advocates of intervention seem so outnumbered, the Post wonders “whether having [human rights advisor Samantha] Power in the administration is as useful as having her as a clear voice outside it.” But that seems misguided. If advocates of intervention are being ignored, then Power would be ignored too. As it is, having a liberal interventionist advising the National Security Council hardly seems less valuable than one more likeminded voice in academia.

And there is another angle that doesn’t get the treatment it deserves by the Post story: Libya. The Obama administration wanted to “lead from behind” in Libya, which meant intervention with a light footprint. It was, by any and every yardstick, a colossal failure. Indeed, those who think the Iraq intervention produced a result unworthy of its cost must be horrified by the situation in Libya, in which we facilitated the state’s transition into violent anarchy, which has spread beyond Libya’s borders like a virus.

And as much as President Obama must be thinking about his legacy, he must also be thinking about karma. Obama’s presidential run was built on demagoguing matters of war and peace to a shameful degree. His famous 2002 speech on the war, which demonstrated just how unimpressive Obama could be when he spoke on foreign affairs, accused Karl Rove of engineering the war to distract the country from troubles at home. It was truly a humiliating moment for American liberalism when the left embraced such conspiracy mongering instead of rejecting it out of hand.

Whether Obama regrets his earlier behavior or not, he must surely be haunted by his own ghost when it comes to military intervention. No one is more responsible for the Benghazi tragedy than Obama’s handpicked successor, Hillary Clinton, and few did more to engineer the dangerous anarchy that preceded the attack than Obama, with his predilection to lead from behind. If Obama were running for president in 2016, he knows how he would exploit Libya. Perhaps he is wondering if he is due to be on the ballot next time the way he insisted Bush was in 2008. He would surely resent it, but hopefully he could at least appreciate the irony.

Read Less

Did the Palestinians Ask Obama to Target Pro-Israeli 501(c)(3)s?

A Wall Street Journal editorial notes the Obama administration gave special scrutiny to the tax-exempt status of certain pro-Israel organizations and cites a front-page, 5,000 word article in the New York Times published July 6, 2010 as a possible signal to the IRS:

“Why the special scrutiny for pro-Israel groups? A New York Times article in July 2010 provided a clue: Tax-exempt groups were donating to West Bank settlers, and State Department officials wanted the settlers out. ‘As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank,’ the Times wrote, ‘the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.’

“Did the T-men take their political cues from such stories, or did Administration officials give them orders? Either explanation would be a violation of public trust.”

Let me provide another possible clue, found in the June 16, 2009 minutes of the Palestinian negotiating unit headed by Saeb Erekat–part of the Palestine Papers published by Al Jazeera in 2011.

Read More

A Wall Street Journal editorial notes the Obama administration gave special scrutiny to the tax-exempt status of certain pro-Israel organizations and cites a front-page, 5,000 word article in the New York Times published July 6, 2010 as a possible signal to the IRS:

“Why the special scrutiny for pro-Israel groups? A New York Times article in July 2010 provided a clue: Tax-exempt groups were donating to West Bank settlers, and State Department officials wanted the settlers out. ‘As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank,’ the Times wrote, ‘the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.’

“Did the T-men take their political cues from such stories, or did Administration officials give them orders? Either explanation would be a violation of public trust.”

Let me provide another possible clue, found in the June 16, 2009 minutes of the Palestinian negotiating unit headed by Saeb Erekat–part of the Palestine Papers published by Al Jazeera in 2011.

At the June 16 meeting, Erekat said Benjamin Netanyahu’s June 14 Bar-Ilan speech had sought to put the Palestinians on the defensive. Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and stated that in the meantime, “we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements,” but would “enable the residents to live normal lives.” He urged the Palestinians to engage in immediate negotiations, without preconditions. Erekat wanted to respond to the speech with a letter to the U.S. that would cite the number of individual housing units under construction. Dr. Mohammed Shtayyed made an additional suggestion to Erekat:

“We should also focus on the government incentives to settlers: loans without interest, land for free, agricultural subsidies in the Jordan valley. We can’t stop a pregnant lady from having a baby, but look at what we can do. We should look at the 501(c)(3) organizations in the States that make donations to settlers. Let the US administration investigate this.” [Emphasis added].

Shatayyed was wrong about Israeli government incentives, which had been terminated by Israel during the Bush administration, as part of a negotiated arrangement (detailed by Elliott Abrams in Tested by Zion) allowing new construction only within already built-up areas, which permitted normal growth without an increase in the Israeli “footprint” in the territories. Given our evolving knowledge of how the IRS operated under Obama, however, it seems possible the Palestinians followed through on Shtayyed’s other suggestion, asking the administration to investigate pro-Israeli groups.

It would have been at a time when the administration was already reneging on the previously negotiated arrangement with Israel; telling American Jewish leaders that daylight between the U.S. and Israel was an administration goal; and refusing to state whether it considered itself bound by Bush’s April 14, 2004 letter to Israel. Perhaps a Palestinian request to “investigate” 501(c)(3) entities found a welcome response at the highest levels of the U.S. government, even before the New York Times article appeared a year later.   

Read Less

Sic Transit Bachmann: The Ridicule Principle and 2016

There was a moment two years ago when Representative Michele Bachmann looked like she had a realistic chance to be a first-tier Republican presidential candidate. In the spring and summer of 2011, Bachmann seemed to be the favorite of Tea Party voters and her strong showing at the first debates indicated that she could emerge from the pack as the person who could mobilize social conservatives as well as anti-tax rebels and give mainstream frontrunner Mitt Romney a run for his money. Indeed, when she showed the organizational heft that allowed her to win the straw poll in Ames, Iowa that August she knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race and seemed poised for a long and possibly significant presidential campaign.

But that was her high point, and from there her candidacy, if not her celebrity, went into a steep decline. Not only did she not win the actual Iowa caucus the following January, she finished so far down in the standings that she dropped out the next day. The Michele Bachmann moment in our national political history was so short that even though it happened less than two years ago, it’s hard even for some political junkies to remember it. The news today that Bachmann won’t run for re-election to Congress next year is a reminder for both politicians and journalists of the enduring wisdom to be found in not getting so caught up in what is happening in each segment of the 24/7 news cycle that they lose perspective on things or people that turn out to be flashes in the pan rather than have staying power. While no one should assume that we’ve heard the last of Bachmann, her exit from office illustrates just how fleeting such moments can be. And that’s something the next crop of GOP presidential contenders, including current Tea Party idol Ted Cruz, should remember.

Why did Bachmann fade so quickly? The answer is simple. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in politics that apply to all situations, but surely one of them is to avoid ridicule.

Read More

There was a moment two years ago when Representative Michele Bachmann looked like she had a realistic chance to be a first-tier Republican presidential candidate. In the spring and summer of 2011, Bachmann seemed to be the favorite of Tea Party voters and her strong showing at the first debates indicated that she could emerge from the pack as the person who could mobilize social conservatives as well as anti-tax rebels and give mainstream frontrunner Mitt Romney a run for his money. Indeed, when she showed the organizational heft that allowed her to win the straw poll in Ames, Iowa that August she knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race and seemed poised for a long and possibly significant presidential campaign.

But that was her high point, and from there her candidacy, if not her celebrity, went into a steep decline. Not only did she not win the actual Iowa caucus the following January, she finished so far down in the standings that she dropped out the next day. The Michele Bachmann moment in our national political history was so short that even though it happened less than two years ago, it’s hard even for some political junkies to remember it. The news today that Bachmann won’t run for re-election to Congress next year is a reminder for both politicians and journalists of the enduring wisdom to be found in not getting so caught up in what is happening in each segment of the 24/7 news cycle that they lose perspective on things or people that turn out to be flashes in the pan rather than have staying power. While no one should assume that we’ve heard the last of Bachmann, her exit from office illustrates just how fleeting such moments can be. And that’s something the next crop of GOP presidential contenders, including current Tea Party idol Ted Cruz, should remember.

Why did Bachmann fade so quickly? The answer is simple. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in politics that apply to all situations, but surely one of them is to avoid ridicule.

Bachmann’s penchant for saying whatever came into her head caught up with her. She got labeled as the candidate who made the loony comment about a vaccine against sexually transmitted diseases causing mental retardation. She had genuine charisma as well as a better grasp on many issues than better known and funded candidates (need we mention Rick Perry?), but the more America got to know her, the less it took her seriously. Her fans can blame that on the mainstream media’s liberal bias, but the fault was hers. Where once she looked to be about to replace Sarah Palin as the La Passionara of the Tea Party movement, she wound up just looking ridiculous. There are few examples of politicians recovering from that malady, though Anthony Weiner is giving that principle a run for its money this year.

The speculation about why Bachmann is not running for re-election needn’t detain us long. Her protestations that her decision was unrelated to the ongoing investigations into the financing of her campaign or fears of winning re-election ring hollow. Since she was already running ads for 2014, it’s clear the baggage she carried endangered her chances of winning a seat that she had only barely held onto last November. By leaving now before taking another chance on losing in an overwhelmingly Republican district, she preserves her options for the future. She can be become a popular figure on the conservative lecture circuit or a talk show host.

But what Bachmann taught us in 2011 is that the gap between being a celebrated congressional dissident whose antics delighted the conservative base and someone who can actually challenge for the nomination of a national party is not so narrow as some politicians think. The crop of 2016 GOP contenders seems to be a lot deeper and more serious than the 2012 roster, but what happened to Bachmann should be considered an object lesson for people like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who appears to be auditioning for the post of leader of the bomb thrower niche of the Republican Party that Bachmann briefly occupied.

You may argue that Cruz is a lot more polished and substantive than Bachmann was, and you might be right–though many forget that she knew what she was talking about when it came to tax policy and the Middle East. But as much as the grass roots is applauding when Cruz calls his Republican colleagues “squishes” and says he doesn’t trust them, the potential for crossing the line into caricature is there too.

Partisans like their politicians to be blunt and give the other side hell. But there is a fine line between that and getting labeled a nut case. Cruz may think he’s cut from a different mold than Bachmann, but he should regard her swift rise and even swifter fall as a warning of just how slippery a business politics can be.

Read Less

Housing Makes a Comeback

The housing market, which was the epicenter of the recession that began in 2007, is bouncing back. The Wall Street Journal reports that housing prices in March were up 10.2 percent from a year earlier, the best such figure since 2006, when housing prices began to collapse. Home sales are also up from a year ago, by 9.7 percent, and houses are selling more quickly, according to an earlier Journal story.

This is good news for the economy as a whole, reflected in the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high yesterday and yields on treasuries rose sharply (which, of course, causes bond prices to fall).

Read More

The housing market, which was the epicenter of the recession that began in 2007, is bouncing back. The Wall Street Journal reports that housing prices in March were up 10.2 percent from a year earlier, the best such figure since 2006, when housing prices began to collapse. Home sales are also up from a year ago, by 9.7 percent, and houses are selling more quickly, according to an earlier Journal story.

This is good news for the economy as a whole, reflected in the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high yesterday and yields on treasuries rose sharply (which, of course, causes bond prices to fall).

For most families, their home is their biggest investment, so when housing prices are rising they feel richer. And people tend to increase spending when they’re feeling rich. That boosts the economy generally.

But while this is, certainly, good news, the economy is not yet booming by any means. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. The Federal Reserve continues to keep interest rates very low and is still injecting $85 billion a month into the economy by buying federal bonds and mortgaged-backed securities. Only when the Fed begins the very tricky task of paring down its balance sheet and letting interest rates rise back to more normal levels will we be able to say the Great Recession is well and truly over.

Read Less

Don’t Believe Everything You Read About Higher Education

On my Twitter feed one morning last week, this story made the rounds. One-third of Millennials (aged 22-32) regret having gone to college. We can expect this finding to become a part of the “higher education bubble” story, which goes like this. Thanks to increasing worries about student loan debt, high tuition, and the difficulty even college graduates have on the job market, students and parents are seeing more and more that college isn’t worth it. As a result, we can expect to see a radical transformation of the higher education sector, which will be conquered by nimbler, cheaper, online alternatives. I have written about the bubble argument here.

The pressures on brick-and-mortar colleges that bubble enthusiasts identify are real. But they have been sensationalized. It is simply not true that one-third of Millennial graduates regret having gone to college.

That number comes from a survey, commissioned by Wells Fargo, and conducted by Market Pro, Inc., comparing the views of Millennials and Baby Boomers (aged 48-66). Alas, the survey is not available online, but I was able to obtain a copy from Wells Fargo.

Read More

On my Twitter feed one morning last week, this story made the rounds. One-third of Millennials (aged 22-32) regret having gone to college. We can expect this finding to become a part of the “higher education bubble” story, which goes like this. Thanks to increasing worries about student loan debt, high tuition, and the difficulty even college graduates have on the job market, students and parents are seeing more and more that college isn’t worth it. As a result, we can expect to see a radical transformation of the higher education sector, which will be conquered by nimbler, cheaper, online alternatives. I have written about the bubble argument here.

The pressures on brick-and-mortar colleges that bubble enthusiasts identify are real. But they have been sensationalized. It is simply not true that one-third of Millennial graduates regret having gone to college.

That number comes from a survey, commissioned by Wells Fargo, and conducted by Market Pro, Inc., comparing the views of Millennials and Baby Boomers (aged 48-66). Alas, the survey is not available online, but I was able to obtain a copy from Wells Fargo.

Millennial college graduates were asked to respond to this statement: “I would probably be better off financially in the long run if instead of going to college and paying tuition, I had spent those years working and starting my career.” Eleven percent strongly agreed with that statement, and 19 percent somewhat agreed with it. While agreeing “somewhat” that one would probably have been financially better off skipping college is hardly the same as regretting you have gone to college, one can, allowing for the loose way in which journalists often report surveys, accept that one-third of Millennials at least doubt that college was worth it from a financial perspective. But there are two other survey findings that have gone unreported.

There is no excuse for not reporting the first, because the Wells Fargo report blares it: “Virtually all Millennials and Boomers believe their college education to be a good value.” “Thinking about the cost of a college education and the opportunities it provides, would you rate the value of your education a great value, somewhat of a value, not much of a value, or no value at all?” Eighty-eight percent of Millennials and 90 percent of Boomers selected one of the first two options. I think the Wells Fargo report exaggerates this finding; thinking that your college education is “somewhat of a value” does not mean that you think your college education is a good value. Still, Wells Fargo’s exaggeration is no worse that “one-third of Millennials regret having gone to college.”

Only 43 percent of Millennials, compared to 53 percent of Boomers, say that their college education was a great financial value. But if you had asked me, even in a good economy, even in a period when graduates carried less loan debt, whether older people would appreciate their college educations more than younger ones, I would have answered “yes” and expected a difference of at least the magnitude Wells Fargo found. What is surprising is that there is no significant difference when the “somewhat of a value” and “great value” categories are put together. Given the growing popularity of the story that more and more young people think that college isn’t worth it, that finding is arguably the real headline news.

Also left out is that Millennials without college degrees were asked to respond to this statement: “I would probably be better off in the long run if I had attended/received a college education, even considering the cost of education.” Notice that this statement, the flip side of the one about working instead of going to college, is, unlike that one, worded to put the respondent in mind of costs, while saying nothing about “opportunities.” Nonetheless, 75 percent strongly or somewhat agreed that they would probably have been better off going to college.

I do not mean to suggest that everything, or much of anything, is rosy for colleges and universities at the moment, nor do I mean to suggest that every graduate or potential student should consider higher education a great value. But people who are concerned about the future of higher education, whatever they think that future may bring, should be able to agree that our reflections on it need to be founded in careful interpretations of the data we have.

Everyone needs to calm down.

Read Less

Taliban Strike Exposes Flaw in Proposed Drone Guidelines

In a sign of how little has changed since President Obama’s much-ballyhooed speech last week on counter-terrorism, the latest news is that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman. He was apparently in Miram Shah, a town in North Waziristan that is also the headquarters for the Haqqani Network–one of the most vicious and effective insurgent groups in Afghanistan. This geographical coincidence indicates how closely linked all of these extremist groups are, and underscores the importance of targeting them to enhance regional stability.

Unfortunately, if Obama is serious about limiting targeting at some point in the future to targets that threaten only U.S. “persons” rather than “interests,” as has been widely reported, that will make it difficult to attack the Pakistani Taliban, which generally plot against the government of Pakistan, not against the United States (although the would-be Times Square bomber of 2010 was linked to the Pakistani Taliban).

Read More

In a sign of how little has changed since President Obama’s much-ballyhooed speech last week on counter-terrorism, the latest news is that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman. He was apparently in Miram Shah, a town in North Waziristan that is also the headquarters for the Haqqani Network–one of the most vicious and effective insurgent groups in Afghanistan. This geographical coincidence indicates how closely linked all of these extremist groups are, and underscores the importance of targeting them to enhance regional stability.

Unfortunately, if Obama is serious about limiting targeting at some point in the future to targets that threaten only U.S. “persons” rather than “interests,” as has been widely reported, that will make it difficult to attack the Pakistani Taliban, which generally plot against the government of Pakistan, not against the United States (although the would-be Times Square bomber of 2010 was linked to the Pakistani Taliban).

If the U.S. were to stop targeting the Pakistani Taliban, as it may well do after 2014, it would increase the threat to Islamabad and also make it harder for the U.S. to fly drone strikes against al-Qaeda and other groups that directly threaten the U.S. Pakistan is dubious about such strikes and allows them, it is generally believed, as part of a quid pro quo whereby the U.S. also targets the Pakistani Taliban, which Islamabad does want to fight. Stop targeting the Pakistani Taliban and the consequences could be severe for the broader war on terrorism. That is why I hope there are some classified loopholes in Obama’s new policies that will allow existing counter-terrorism efforts to continue.

Read Less

Iran Has No Territorial Ambitions? Tell It to Lebanon and Syria

As I noted yesterday, many world leaders seem to be stuck in a time warp, in which any new information that contradicts paradigms conceived decades ago is simply filtered out. But in their defense, the same is often true of two of the main sources they rely on for information: think tanks and the media.

A salient example is a study recently published the Rand Corporation, one of America’s most prestigious think tanks and a frequent consultant to U.S. governments. In it, author Alireza Nader concludes that containing a nuclear Iran is feasible, because Iran’s nukes wouldn’t threaten either America or its Middle Eastern allies; Tehran wants them mainly for defensive purposes. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations,” Nader asserted.

That might have been a tenable theory 25 years ago, when Iran was still licking its wounds from an eight-year war with Iraq that the latter started. Since then, however, Iran has effectively taken over Lebanon and is now seeking to do the same with Syria. And it isn’t using peaceful suasion, but force of arms.

Read More

As I noted yesterday, many world leaders seem to be stuck in a time warp, in which any new information that contradicts paradigms conceived decades ago is simply filtered out. But in their defense, the same is often true of two of the main sources they rely on for information: think tanks and the media.

A salient example is a study recently published the Rand Corporation, one of America’s most prestigious think tanks and a frequent consultant to U.S. governments. In it, author Alireza Nader concludes that containing a nuclear Iran is feasible, because Iran’s nukes wouldn’t threaten either America or its Middle Eastern allies; Tehran wants them mainly for defensive purposes. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations,” Nader asserted.

That might have been a tenable theory 25 years ago, when Iran was still licking its wounds from an eight-year war with Iraq that the latter started. Since then, however, Iran has effectively taken over Lebanon and is now seeking to do the same with Syria. And it isn’t using peaceful suasion, but force of arms.

The takeover of Lebanon was completed in 2008, when Iran’s wholly-owned Lebanese subsidiary, Hezbollah, staged an armed occupation of Beirut to reverse two government decisions (the government had planned to dismantle Hezbollah’s independent telecommunications network and dismiss an airport security official who facilitated Iranian arms shipments to the organization). Hezbollah removed its troops only after the government signed a power-sharing deal that effectively gave the organization a veto over all government decisions.

Now, Iran is trying to annex Syria. As Lee Smith noted in the Weekly Standard, not only is it arming and training President Bashar Assad’s forces, both regular and irregular, but it has also sent Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and units of its own Revolutionary Guards Corps to join his fight against the Sunni rebels. Add in the billions of dollars it has given Assad to prop up his regime, and it’s clear that if he survives, Syria will be another wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary.

Nor does Iran hide that this is its goal. As one senior Iranian cleric helpfully explained in February, “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria….If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”

Yet Rand’s analyst simply ignored all these developments, blithely asserting that Iran “does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations” even as it has already effected an armed conquest of Lebanon and is pouring in troops in an effort to do the same in Syria.

The Rand paper is a particularly egregious example of an all-too-common phenomenon. Media reports, for instance, still frequently assert that Hezbollah’s main mission is fighting Israel, making its role in the Syrian civil war a surprising departure. Fifteen years ago, that was a reasonable theory. Yet by now, it should be obvious that Hezbollah’s main mission is furthering its Iranian master’s interests–which often means fighting Israel, but currently means fighting Syrian Sunnis. Seen from that perspective, Hezbollah’s role in Syria isn’t the least surprising.

Scholars and journalists are supposed to help leaders understand world events. But by clinging to outdated paradigms, they often end up obfuscating events instead. 

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.