Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 5, 2013

Palestinians and the Hands of Time

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

Read More

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

As Erekat well knows there now exists a broad consensus within Israel about the desirable nature of a two-state solution.  That consensus includes Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of the members of his government. Indeed, even the Israeli right knows that if the Palestinians ever offered a complete end to the conflict and recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn they would find the majority ready to make painful territorial sacrifices. But by laying down a marker on Latrun—a place that no Israeli in his right mind would ever consider leaving—Erekat was making it clear their real priority was not peace but an effort to merely continue the conflict on more advantageous terms.

Indeed, reminding Israelis of the Israel that existed from 1949 to 1967 is not exactly the way to reassure his ostensible peace partners of the PA’s good intentions. But of course what else can you expect of a peace negotiator that has boycotted peace talks for the past four and a half years?

The actions of Erekat and his boss PA leader Mahmoud Abbas show just how much of a fool’s errand Secretary of State John Kerry has sent himself on by seeking to revive talks with the Palestinians. The PA says it will talk with Israel but only if Netanyahu promises in advance to use the armistice lines that stood until June 4, 1967 as the starting point for negotiations with the clear implication that they will accept little if any alterations to them.

Though Kerry and those American Jews who are cheering his efforts on seem to forget, Israel 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 turned down every time. The latter offer even included a codicil from Ehud Olmert abandoning Jewish sovereignty over the Old City and the Western Wall. But even those terms were not enough to tempt Abbas to give up the conflict.

If the Palestinians were really interested in peace, they could do what President Obama asked them to do this past spring and negotiate without preconditions as Netanyahu has always been prepared to do. But since doing so would put them in a position where they might be forced to either say yes to an accord, which is unthinkable given the realities of Palestinian politics, or no, which would demonstrate that it is not the Israelis who don’t want to make peace, they will continue to find excuses to stay away from the table.

But instead of negotiating, they continue to talk about forcing the Israelis to accept the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948—something that means the end of the Jewish state and grandstanding at Latrun—which reminds Israelis of what a return to the 1967 lines would mean.

Instead of trying to move the clock ahead to a time when Palestinians will have finally rejected the politics of hate and war, Erekat and Abbas continue to appear more interested in turning it back to a moment when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank, Eastern Jerusalem or the Old City. It is no small irony that there was not only no peace when there were no settlements but also no Palestinian independence. If the PA ever truly wants a state as opposed to a never-ending conflict, the Israelis will be ready. History cannot go backward even if the Palestinians wish it could.

Read Less

Booker Gets a Boost in Quest for Senate

Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker make light of their friendly competition for the media spotlight, but the rivalry was never too convincing because their interests have so often aligned. As rising stars in opposing parties forced to share the stage in New Jersey, they could be expected to clash often. But the two have found common ground on education, economic issues, and crime policy, and most importantly have an interest in avoiding having to run against each other.

And when Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away this week, opening up a seat Booker was planning to run for next year, their interests aligned once again. New Jersey election law seemed to allow for a special election to fill this seat either this year or next. Calling the election for 2014 would have allowed Christie to avoid running alongside another high-profile candidate during his reelection campaign and would give the Republican Party a head start at holding the seat next year. That would have been best for Booker as well, since he doesn’t have a statewide campaign apparatus in place and would like to have the extra year to raise money. It would also give him a foil in the Republican senator he’d be running against, which would likely be an easier target than Christie.

But as Jonathan alluded to yesterday, Democrats would have challenged postponing the election until 2014 and, given the liberal state courts, would almost certainly have won. That would have been a setback for Christie, so he announced he was scheduling the special election for this fall. He had the option of setting the election to coincide with his own or to take place earlier. Christie doesn’t want to run on the same day that Booker is on the ballot, and once again this was also preferable for Booker, who didn’t want to risk facing a candidate who could run on Christie’s coattails.

Read More

Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker make light of their friendly competition for the media spotlight, but the rivalry was never too convincing because their interests have so often aligned. As rising stars in opposing parties forced to share the stage in New Jersey, they could be expected to clash often. But the two have found common ground on education, economic issues, and crime policy, and most importantly have an interest in avoiding having to run against each other.

And when Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away this week, opening up a seat Booker was planning to run for next year, their interests aligned once again. New Jersey election law seemed to allow for a special election to fill this seat either this year or next. Calling the election for 2014 would have allowed Christie to avoid running alongside another high-profile candidate during his reelection campaign and would give the Republican Party a head start at holding the seat next year. That would have been best for Booker as well, since he doesn’t have a statewide campaign apparatus in place and would like to have the extra year to raise money. It would also give him a foil in the Republican senator he’d be running against, which would likely be an easier target than Christie.

But as Jonathan alluded to yesterday, Democrats would have challenged postponing the election until 2014 and, given the liberal state courts, would almost certainly have won. That would have been a setback for Christie, so he announced he was scheduling the special election for this fall. He had the option of setting the election to coincide with his own or to take place earlier. Christie doesn’t want to run on the same day that Booker is on the ballot, and once again this was also preferable for Booker, who didn’t want to risk facing a candidate who could run on Christie’s coattails.

And Booker received some more good news: Democratic Representative Rush Holt will run for the seat in this summer’s primary. That helps Booker because the primary was set to pit Booker against Representative Frank Pallone, a central-Jersey congressman who was long considered the rightful successor to Lautenberg–plans that were upended when Booker decided he didn’t want to challenge Christie for governor and had to find another seat to run for in the meantime.

Although Booker would still have been considered the favorite against Pallone, the contest wasn’t too lopsided. Booker has higher name recognition, Pallone a war chest and active campaign infrastructure. Having the election next year would have given Booker the opportunity to match or even surpass Pallone’s fundraising, but it would also have given Pallone a year to build up his name recognition statewide. Pallone also might have started advertising earlier than Booker, and at least had the chance to set the tempo of the campaign.

But the rules of the special election don’t require House members to resign their seats to run, so Holt sees no risk in throwing his name in the hat. Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews was reportedly considering running as well, but Maggie Haberman reports that he is out. Pallone and Holt represent adjoining districts, which means they share representation of several New Jersey counties (and even one town, as of the last redistricting). It’s fair to say they will be competing for many of the same voters who would otherwise be part of their electoral base in a statewide election, and will have to spend more time and resources fighting for voters close to home, leaving fewer resources available to expand their campaign presence across the state.

As for Christie, he has not yet made any announcements about a possible interim senator, but the calculus hasn’t changed much from Monday. If not for his age (78), popular former governor Tom Kean Sr. would be an attractive pick but it’s unlikely he would want to run to keep the seat, leaving his son, Tom Kean Jr., a choice that would rankle few feathers and may give the GOP a fighting chance at keeping the seat (though it would be an uphill battle against Booker). The fact that the interim appointment would only be for a few months and would have to be defended right away will probably convince some other possible contenders (such as Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno) to take a pass on the seat.

All that means Booker will have less competition on the GOP side and more competition on the Democratic side, both of which should be expected to help his already favorable chances of succeeding Lautenberg.

Read Less

The Growing Stench of Corruption

Two new polls–one from Bloomberg National Poll, the other from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News–show a clear erosion in the public’s trust in Barack Obama’s honest and integrity.

Nearly half of those surveyed–47 percent–believe the president isn’t telling the truth when he says he didn’t know the IRS was giving extra scrutiny to the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. More than half–55 percent–say the IRS actions raise questions about the administration’s “overall honesty and integrity.” Fifty-eight percent believe the administration’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attacks raises questions about the honesty of the White House, while the same number say the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of reporter e-mails and phone records in its leak investigations raise concerns.

For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high, especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year. (Which isn’t to say the IRS and the Treasury Department didn’t know about the IRS’s nefarious activities long before the 2012 election or that the White House chief of staff and White House counsel didn’t know about the scandal prior to when Obama says he learned of it.)

Read More

Two new polls–one from Bloomberg National Poll, the other from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News–show a clear erosion in the public’s trust in Barack Obama’s honest and integrity.

Nearly half of those surveyed–47 percent–believe the president isn’t telling the truth when he says he didn’t know the IRS was giving extra scrutiny to the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. More than half–55 percent–say the IRS actions raise questions about the administration’s “overall honesty and integrity.” Fifty-eight percent believe the administration’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attacks raises questions about the honesty of the White House, while the same number say the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of reporter e-mails and phone records in its leak investigations raise concerns.

For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high, especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year. (Which isn’t to say the IRS and the Treasury Department didn’t know about the IRS’s nefarious activities long before the 2012 election or that the White House chief of staff and White House counsel didn’t know about the scandal prior to when Obama says he learned of it.)

This could well have a corrosive effect on the Obama presidency. For one thing, it means the president’s strongest political asset–the fact that many Americans have come to like and trust Obama–is beginning to crumble. For another, it means the president’s words will become devalued. Increasingly the claims and denials by Obama and his administration will, on a range of matters, be ignored, since he’s an untrustworthy man. And the growing stench of corruption will not only harm the president; it will hurt his party as well. 

“Obama’s incredibly shrinking presidency is a reminder that politics is a transactional business,” George Will recently wrote, “that trust is the currency of the transactions and that the currency has been debased.”

Scandals fall on a continuum, from low-grade ones (like “travelgate”) to more serious ones (like Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky affair, and Watergate). What determines how serious a scandal is depends on the nature of what was done and whether people in authority, including senior administration officials and/or the president, were involved.

The abuse of power by the IRS is an extraordinary breach of trust, and right now, because of stonewalling, we don’t know all who were involved. But sooner or later, with Congress investigating these scandals, we hopefully will. The lethal attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi involved the death of four Americans, including the first American ambassador since the 1970s, and misleading the public in the aftermath of the attacks. And the Department of Justice’s targeting of reporters is unprecedented, with the attorney general at the center of the scandal and now being investigated for misleading Congress.

This is not the kind of alignment you want to have early in a second term.

Read Less

The Poster Children for Term Limits

The death of Frank Lautenberg is being mourned this week as more than just the loss of the longtime liberal senator from New Jersey. Lautenberg was the last surviving veteran of World War II to serve in the Senate and his passing is the pretext for an orgy of “Greatest Generation” tributes that feed on the nostalgia for the era that produced the people who grew up during the Great Depression and then won the war against the Nazis and Imperial Japan. Writing as the son of a veteran of that war who passed away more than a decade ago, I believe the plaudits for that generation are well deserved, especially when you compare their achievement to the less dramatic record of the baby-boomers who followed them. But the fact that so many of these veterans lingered on in Congress for so long is not exactly a sign of health for our political system.

That’s the point that Tom Bevan makes today at RealClearPolitics.com and its one worth pondering. The ability of people like Lautenberg and Representative John Dingell, who will break the record for the longest-serving member of Congress on Friday, to hang on into their old age isn’t so much testimony to the nation’s desire to make use of the wisdom of our elders as it is to the way the system is still rigged to help incumbents. It’s also worth asking whether it is long past time for us to realize that reliance on the New Deal paradigm and those who still buy into it is one of contemporary Washington’s biggest problems.

Read More

The death of Frank Lautenberg is being mourned this week as more than just the loss of the longtime liberal senator from New Jersey. Lautenberg was the last surviving veteran of World War II to serve in the Senate and his passing is the pretext for an orgy of “Greatest Generation” tributes that feed on the nostalgia for the era that produced the people who grew up during the Great Depression and then won the war against the Nazis and Imperial Japan. Writing as the son of a veteran of that war who passed away more than a decade ago, I believe the plaudits for that generation are well deserved, especially when you compare their achievement to the less dramatic record of the baby-boomers who followed them. But the fact that so many of these veterans lingered on in Congress for so long is not exactly a sign of health for our political system.

That’s the point that Tom Bevan makes today at RealClearPolitics.com and its one worth pondering. The ability of people like Lautenberg and Representative John Dingell, who will break the record for the longest-serving member of Congress on Friday, to hang on into their old age isn’t so much testimony to the nation’s desire to make use of the wisdom of our elders as it is to the way the system is still rigged to help incumbents. It’s also worth asking whether it is long past time for us to realize that reliance on the New Deal paradigm and those who still buy into it is one of contemporary Washington’s biggest problems.

The America that produced the “greatest generation” was one that bought into the idea that big government was our only lifeline in a world beset by economic devastation as well as murderous foreign dictators. The social safety net established by Franklin Roosevelt during the 1930s has become the foundation of a national political consensus that stopped being a matter of debate decades ago. But while times and the challenges facing the country have changed, a lot of the people leading the country did not.

As Bevan notes, Dingell, who succeeded his father, has won 29 consecutive terms in a deep blue Michigan district where he has rarely faced a serious opponent. As with many other congressional dinosaurs, Dingell’s survival says more about the power of gerrymandering (which both parties abuse every chance they get) and the way such veterans can use their power to amass campaign funds and employ patronage to buy local support than it does about his personal appeal.

Term limits are a debatable measure for Congress since it can be argued that it takes a while for a new member of the House or Senate to figure out what they’re doing and become effective. But Dingell is the poster child for those who advocate that those limits are the only way to ensure that Congress is not populated by political lifers rather than citizens with experience of the world in which the rest of us live.

Of course, in contrast to Dingell, Lautenberg came to politics late after a successful business career. But, like Dingell, the senator remained mired in the political ideology of the past and was, like many of his colleagues, locked into the old paradigm in which no one ever totaled up the costs for entitlement spending. While Lautenberg’s ADP company helped private businesses control costs and payroll, he and more than a few other “Greatest Generation” liberal pols, who often seemed to act as if it was still 1938, built up a national debt that subsequent generations will struggle to pay off.

To say this is not to diminish the achievements of that generation or to detract from the record of some World War II heroes who had long, honorable and useful careers in the Capitol like the recently deceased Daniel Inouye. There was also something to be said for a generation of politicians that had served in the armed forces, something that is increasingly rare more than 40 years after we switched from a draft to an all-volunteer military. Each politician should be judged on their own merits no matter what their chronological age, but the ability of politicians to hang on long after their best-use date has expired is an ongoing problem in Congress.

Though on average we are living longer than we used to and remaining productive at ages when Americans were usually long retired or dead, there is something slightly pathetic about a political system that recycles people in this way. We should honor Lautenberg’s service, but let’s hope that in the decades to come the presence of aged, out-of-touch and largely ineffective politicians in the halls of Congress will become a rarity rather than commonplace. 

Read Less

Susan Rice’s Consolation Prize

The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

Read More

The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

Rice or her allies floated her name as Obama’s choice to be the next secretary of state hoping to build momentum for her (though it’s possible she was actually Obama’s first choice). At the same time, Republicans in Congress were trying mightily to get the administration to answer for its failures in Libya and its decision to mislead the public on the attack. They were also hoping to get the media–which had been so embarrassingly in the tank during the fall election season that they were attacking Mitt Romney over Benghazi–to do their jobs and cover the story. Neither would play ball.

But then, they had a breakthrough. Lindsey Graham and John McCain threatened to attempt to block Rice’s nomination to State until they got answers. “I cannot imagine promoting anybody associated with Benghazi at this point,” Graham had said on CBS’s Face the Nation. It was likely a hollow threat, but the Hail Mary worked: the press grudgingly paid attention and the administration started engaging the GOP. The issue snowballed publicly when Obama gave a tetchy and overly defensive press conference that further piqued the interest of the press–and encouraged McCain and Graham to continue to press the issue of Rice’s nomination.

Graham didn’t actually mean he couldn’t imagine promoting anybody involved in the Benghazi episode. One of the officials who played a role in manipulating the Benghazi talking points that Rice repeated was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who has just been named for a big administration promotion that requires Senate confirmation. Yet Graham issued a statement praising Nuland designed to speed her confirmation through the Senate. The point of what Graham was doing was to focus attention on Benghazi. Threatening Rice’s nomination was succeeding on that front, so he just continued doing so even though he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop Rice’s nomination if she were actually nominated.

So why did Obama drop Rice’s name from contention? Because the administration needed a scapegoat that wasn’t Hillary Clinton, whom he has been helping build support for a presidential run, and because the confirmation hearings for Rice would have forced the administration to talk more about Benghazi. Obama was hoping the issue would go away.

Graham’s bluff worked. But not before something coldly and typically Washington took place. When Rice became the center of controversy, Hillary Clinton saw an opportunity. She doesn’t get along with Rice, and didn’t want her to step in as the next secretary of state. So she began making her preference that Rice’s name be dropped from contention clear. Her friends and allies in the liberal media took the cue, and began assailing Rice in harshly personal terms far beyond anything Graham or McCain were saying. That gave Obama cover to ditch Rice.

Graham didn’t really mean it when he said he intended to stop Rice’s nomination, but the nomination was derailed anyway. Obama didn’t mean it when he stepped in to defend Rice, because he was merely trying to shut down the conversation and dropped Rice when that failed. In the end, hearings were held on Benghazi and more information came to light about the talking points, preventing both the Obama White House and Clinton from avoiding the controversy after all.

So promoting Rice to national security adviser isn’t a “defiant gesture” aimed at Republicans at all–Graham and McCain are only interested if the position requires Senate confirmation and thus enables them to control the conversation. It was never about stopping Rice; in fact, Graham and McCain would have been much happier had Obama gone through with Rice’s nomination to State and forced the public hearings.

Additionally, McCain and Graham tend to be pro-intervention on foreign policy, and would probably prefer Rice’s internationalist instincts to virtually anyone else the Democrats would be expected to appoint national security adviser. Clinton probably doesn’t care much either, since what she really wanted was to stop Rice’s nomination to State, and she did so. Rice deserved much better than the treatment she got from the Obama administration, but she probably understands that like the rest of this saga, that’s politics.

Read Less

Can Susan Rice Spur Syria Intervention?

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

Read More

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

The use of chemical weapons–supposedly a “red line” for Obama–has also been further confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, which finds in a new report that the conflict in Syria “has reached new levels of brutality.” According to the report: “Government forces and affiliated militia have committed murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. Many of these crimes were perpetrated as part of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations and constitute crimes against humanity.” The report also finds that anti-government forces have committed war crimes, while adding: “The violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not, however, reach the intensity and scale of those committed by Government forces and affiliated militia.”

Considering that Power and to a lesser extent Rice have argued that the U.S. has a “responsibility to protect” populations subject to genocide or other war crimes, it would be disheartening indeed if the administration in which they serve at increasingly senior levels were to continue to do little as the list of atrocities in Syria pile up. Especially when there is growing support in the region for action. Just this week Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic and diplomat who is head of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. However much Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies would support such a step, they are not going to impose a no-fly zone on their own. That depends on American leadership, which so far has been conspicuously missing.

Read Less

The Conspiratorial World of Alice Walker

Last week, Jonathan Tobin used this space to criticize the 92nd Street Y—that “venerable Jewish institution”—for hosting Alice Walker in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Plenty of artists and celebrities express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But as Tobin noted, few go as far as Walker, who actually refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, and seeks to prevent Israeli performers from visiting the United States.

Tobin argues that defenders of the 92nd Street Y’s event are relying on an intellectual distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and strident anti-Israeli activism–and his May 29 blog post was largely an attack on that premise. But it’s important to note that even if one accepts this intellectual distinction, some of Walker’s recent musings about world-domination plots still serve to disqualify her from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Indeed, they are stunningly offensive.

Read More

Last week, Jonathan Tobin used this space to criticize the 92nd Street Y—that “venerable Jewish institution”—for hosting Alice Walker in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Plenty of artists and celebrities express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But as Tobin noted, few go as far as Walker, who actually refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, and seeks to prevent Israeli performers from visiting the United States.

Tobin argues that defenders of the 92nd Street Y’s event are relying on an intellectual distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and strident anti-Israeli activism–and his May 29 blog post was largely an attack on that premise. But it’s important to note that even if one accepts this intellectual distinction, some of Walker’s recent musings about world-domination plots still serve to disqualify her from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Indeed, they are stunningly offensive.

Earlier this year, Walker wrote a post on her personal blog entitled “Human Race Get Off Your Knees: I couldn’t have put it better myself.” Students of conspiracy theories will recognize “Human Race Get Off Your Knees” as the title of a 2010 book by British paranoiac David Icke, a one-time professional soccer player who has spent the last two decades promoting the idea that planet earth is secretly controlled by giant inter-dimensional lizards who have taken human form (Queen Elizabeth and Bob Hope being two examples he has supplied), and operate terrestrially through a Dan Brown-esque secret society called “the Babylonian Brotherhood,” whose offshoots include the CIA and Mossad.

Yet, according to Ms. Walker, David Icke’s Human Race Get Off Your Knees is “amazing,” “stunning,” “magical,” “profound” and “the ultimate reading adventure.” Indeed, Walker reports, it “was the first time I was able to observe, and mostly imagine and comprehend, the root of the incredible evil that has engulfed our planet.”

“David Icke reminded me of Malcolm X,” she adds—especially Malcolm X’s quality of “fearlessness.”

One of Icke’s theories is that the reptilian invaders (the “Annunaki”) came to earth to harvest a special type of gold—which apparently can turbocharge their lizard nervous systems by many orders of magnitude. This detail really resonates with Alice Walker, who sees comparisons with earth’s own colonial history: “They [the lizards] wanted gold and they wanted slaves to mine it for them. Now gosh, who does this remind us of? I only am asking …”

In fact, the idea of some “alien” race seeking to rule the world by monopolizing the gold supply isn’t original to David Icke. It is a common theme in all sorts of conspiracist literature—including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which presented its imaginary Jewish authors as declaring: “In our hands is the greatest power of our day — gold: In two days we can procure from our storehouses any quantity we may please.”

As it turns out, the “amazing,” “stunning,” “magical,” “profound” David Icke is a long-time student of the Protocols: He has cited the Protocols respectfully dozens of times in his writings—including in Human Race Get Off Your Knees. Icke claims that he isn’t quite sure whether the Protocols are genuine, or even whether they’re about Jews (he has sometimes argued that the Protocols are actually about the Illuminati, though it’s unclear where, in his mind, one group ends, and the other begins). But, in the final analysis, Icke claims on page 127 of Human Race Get Off Your Knees, the Protocols “tell the detailed story of the last hundred years before it happened.”

Icke is extremely concerned with the genetic origins of Jews, in order to trace their role (as he sees it) in the rise of the universe-controlling Babylonian lizard-men who infiltrated the human race though Middle Eastern intermarriage. But, having been stung by accusations of anti-Semitism in the past, Icke generally prefers to use the term “Rothschild Zionist” to “Jew.” (The very notion of Jewish “history,” as we know it, Icke writes, is “a manufactured lie to serve the interests of the House of Rothschild and the Illuminati family network”—which, he warns us, seeks to establish a “global fascist/communist dictatorship.”)

Indeed, “Human Race Get Off Your Knees” is chock-full of tales of these apparently despicable “Rothschild Zionists,” including long sections devoted to the evils they have inflicted on the Palestinians. Presumably, this is one of the aspects of the book that made it such a page-turner for Ms. Walker.

Large tracts of Human Race Get Off Your Knees consist of lists of companies, NGOs and media organizations that Icke says are controlled by “the Rothschild-Zionist network” and its “satanic black magicians.” The “Rothschild Zionists” were behind the rise of Hitler and Stalin, he argues, as well as the assassination of Lincoln. There are also even more bizarre tangents, such as where Icke declares that “the House of Saud is a fake front for the House of Rothschild and they are not ‘Arabs’ or ‘Muslims’ at all. They are Rothschild Zionists who can be traced back to a Jewish man … in the year AD 851.”

I could supply hundreds of more examples from this one book alone—one of 19 that Icke has written—all filled with exactly this sort of hateful, hallucinogenic nonsense. And it says a lot about Alice Walker that she came away from this material inspired instead of repelled.

In a free society, David Icke should be free to say such things. And Alice Walker should be free to praise him for it. But let us not pretend that either of these two people are opponents of mere “Zionism”: It is clearly a much darker and more repellent form of thinking that is at play here. And it is unclear why an illustrious institution such as the 92nd Street Y should want to give a forum to anyone who exhibits it.

Read Less

Admin OK with Leaking Israeli Secrets

We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

Read More

We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

Apparently, the leak was not so much the result of malice but bureaucratic inertia. The information on the Israeli base that will house the Arrow 3 system that the U.S. will help build contained specifications about every conceivable aspect of the place including the heating and cooling systems and the thickness of the walls. But according to the Pentagon, making this information public was just routine since they are required to publish details of construction projects in order to help contractors estimate costs for bids. But it seems that it occurred to no one in the Defense Department that spilling that much information could compromise Israel’s security.

The controversy illustrates the danger to Israel of its dependence on the United States. But the reason for their decision to involve the U.S. in construction of the new base says more about their fears about a nuclear Iran than it does about a desire to remain in thrall to the Americans.

Whereas the current version of Arrow is oriented toward stopping missile attacks on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, the Arrow 3 is a system that is capable of intercepting attacks from as far as 1,500 miles away, i.e. Iran. With the Iranians moving closer to nuclear capability every day with no sign that diplomacy or sanctions will cause them to halt, the decision to fast-track construction of the Arrow 3 and the consequent heavy U.S. involvement in Israeli security is entirely understandable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this story.

One is that the hypocrisy of the U.S. government about leaking knows no bounds. We already knew that leakers of the most sensitive national security secrets aren’t likely to be prosecuted if those revealing the information do so in order to puff the reputation of President Obama. The leaks of stories about the president’s involvement in cyber warfare against Iran and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to newspapers like the New York Times don’t seem to have attracted much attention from prosecutors. We now know the security establishment is also asleep at the switch when it comes to the revelation of classified information about Israel.

The second is that Israel is still not at the point where it can rely only on itself for national defense.

As much as many Israelis and their friends would like to think the country is wealthy enough to develop and pay for all of its defense projects, without aid from the United States those efforts would not be able to be expedited as much as they are now. There is a high price to be paid for this dependence both in terms of having to defer to American policy initiatives and also lack of control over all aspects of the endeavor. There will be those who point to the leak of the Arrow base information as proof that it is time for Israel to separate itself from the U.S. in this regard. But the need to provide a viable missile defense system against Iran can’t wait. Like it or not, Israel still needs its only major power ally. As much as the Arrow 3 leaks are troubling, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel is still a necessity, not an option. 

Read Less

Erdoğan Threatens Vigilante Justice

Anger continues to rise in Turkey, where protests now rock more than 80 Turkish towns and cities. Like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before him, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears defiant in the face of the protestors’ demands. At its core, Erdoğan and his supporters justify their actions in the fact that he won 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. In his mind, therefore, he has a popular mandate for anything he does—from meddling in an essentially local matter like the paving over of Gezi Park, to imprisoning opposition parliamentarians, to confiscating newspapers and television stations.

Alas, while fellow analysts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argue that Erdoğan is likely to survive the protests (and I largely agree with him), Erdoğan’s own statements suggest the worst may yet be to come. While Erdoğan has pushed less volatile AKP members like President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan’s radical but more polite deputy Bülent Arınç in front of the cameras in recent days, their attempts to mollify the demonstrators have been overshadowed by Erdoğan’s barely concealed threat that he was “barely holding back the 50 percent” that voted for him from coming onto the street to take on the pro-democracy protestors.

Read More

Anger continues to rise in Turkey, where protests now rock more than 80 Turkish towns and cities. Like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before him, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears defiant in the face of the protestors’ demands. At its core, Erdoğan and his supporters justify their actions in the fact that he won 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. In his mind, therefore, he has a popular mandate for anything he does—from meddling in an essentially local matter like the paving over of Gezi Park, to imprisoning opposition parliamentarians, to confiscating newspapers and television stations.

Alas, while fellow analysts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argue that Erdoğan is likely to survive the protests (and I largely agree with him), Erdoğan’s own statements suggest the worst may yet be to come. While Erdoğan has pushed less volatile AKP members like President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan’s radical but more polite deputy Bülent Arınç in front of the cameras in recent days, their attempts to mollify the demonstrators have been overshadowed by Erdoğan’s barely concealed threat that he was “barely holding back the 50 percent” that voted for him from coming onto the street to take on the pro-democracy protestors.

Indeed, it appears that some AKP members are already taking to the streets to confront violently those protestors who seek a more liberal and/or secular Turkey. After videos emerged in Izmir of police grabbing and handing protestors to others dressed in civilian clothes that would proceed to beat them, the governor of Izmir explained that the videotaped civilians were actually undercover police, but they had simply forgotten to bring their “police” vests which they are supposed to wear in such cases. Such an explanation does not seem credible, however, since those beating the demonstrators were not using batons, but crude wooden sticks, and many of them wielding the sticks and pipes against the protestors seemed to be no more than 16 or 17 years old. One of the so-called undercover police was further identified as a member of an AKP youth wing who had recently been ousted after tweeting, “One day we will bring down Ataturk’s Tomb, inshallah.”

Two years ago Cengiz Çandar, a pro-AKP journalist known to carry water for Erdoğan, criticized me harshly for referring to “Erdoğan’s Brownshirts,” and declared, “Freedom of speech is part of the daily routine in Turkey. Western attacks on the Turkish government smack of a dubious agenda.” Mr. Çandar, if you doubt Erdoğan’s Brownshirts exist, perhaps it’s time to hop out of the government car and turn on the television. In any dictatorship, there are—unfortunately—no shortage of journalists who will protect rulers who in turn privilege them.

Fortunately, such journalists often keep one finger to the wind to make sure they can ingratiate themselves. Çandar today is comparing the Taksim protestors to a “velvet revolution.” Let us hope that as the edifice of fear crumbles, other journalists will also prioritize truth over privilege. Not only will the Turkish people be better off, but so too will be the state of Turkish journalism.

Read Less

Armitage Fiddles While Istanbul Burns

Diplomacy is about more than one ambassador sitting down with another. Imagery is often as important as content. When Tony Blair met Muammar Gaddafi in a desert reception tent, Gaddafi pointed the sole of his shoe at the British prime minister, a symbolic humiliation of the grinning British politician that was lost on neither Libyans nor the larger Arab world. As former Pentagon official Chuck Downs chronicles in Over the Line, a study of diplomacy with North Korea and hands down the best study of the interplay of culture and diplomacy I have ever read, the North Koreans would go further, often sawing the legs of Americans’ chairs so the North Koreans could televise themselves looking down on American negotiators. When Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry defied Bush administration requests to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isolated, they deflated Syrian dissidents and convinced Assad not to take seriously U.S. demands to stop supporting terrorism.

Alas, now former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has shown that some Republicans have just as poor a sense of timing. The last week has seen Istanbul’s worst protests in a quarter-century. Demonstrations spread across Turkey after police attacked with excessive force protestors seeking to preserve an urban park. Two people have now been killed, thousands detained, and even more injured. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis (“Frank”) Ricciardone, about whose sycophancy toward dictators I have often been critical, has carried himself well among the protests.

Read More

Diplomacy is about more than one ambassador sitting down with another. Imagery is often as important as content. When Tony Blair met Muammar Gaddafi in a desert reception tent, Gaddafi pointed the sole of his shoe at the British prime minister, a symbolic humiliation of the grinning British politician that was lost on neither Libyans nor the larger Arab world. As former Pentagon official Chuck Downs chronicles in Over the Line, a study of diplomacy with North Korea and hands down the best study of the interplay of culture and diplomacy I have ever read, the North Koreans would go further, often sawing the legs of Americans’ chairs so the North Koreans could televise themselves looking down on American negotiators. When Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry defied Bush administration requests to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isolated, they deflated Syrian dissidents and convinced Assad not to take seriously U.S. demands to stop supporting terrorism.

Alas, now former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has shown that some Republicans have just as poor a sense of timing. The last week has seen Istanbul’s worst protests in a quarter-century. Demonstrations spread across Turkey after police attacked with excessive force protestors seeking to preserve an urban park. Two people have now been killed, thousands detained, and even more injured. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis (“Frank”) Ricciardone, about whose sycophancy toward dictators I have often been critical, has carried himself well among the protests.

So what does Armitage do? As gas wafted through the streets of Istanbul and nearly every Turkish provincial capital, Armitage decided to party with Turkish ambassador Namik Tan. The venue was a conference at the Ritz-Carlton to promote U.S.-Turkish relations. Now, Namik—a talented diplomat—may be a very nice fellow, although he is, alas, a political chameleon lacking any firm principles.

Imagery matters. It would be nice if Turkey and the United States enjoyed good relations. It would be even nicer if the Turkish government did not embrace Hamas, support the Nusra Front, a group which the United States considers an al-Qaeda affiliate, defend Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in the face of genocide charges, imprison dozens of journalists, and beat people in the street. Let us hope that Armitage, in his position as chairman of the board of the American Turkish Council, finds some benefit to his actions. If he truly wanted to improve U.S.-Turkish relations, partying at the Ritz with Erdoğan’s man in Washington is not the way to do it.

Read Less

The Exploding IRS Scandal

Yesterday’s congressional hearings turned out to be a disaster for the IRS and, more broadly, for the Obama administration.

We’re now hearing from real people (see here and here) who are telling real stories about real harassment. It’s all quite chilling, from efforts to intimidate donors and illegally releasing tax returns, to pressuring pro-life groups not to protest outside of Planned Parenthood organizations, to demanding to know about the prayer activities of citizens. 

This kind of abuse of power, used in this manner, is something I can’t recall having seen in my three decades in politics. And the Obama administration’s first line of defense, which is that this was being conducted by rogue elements within the IRS, is collapsing. It’s clear that the intimidation tactics were widespread, coordinated and not confined to a few mid-level bureaucrats. 

Read More

Yesterday’s congressional hearings turned out to be a disaster for the IRS and, more broadly, for the Obama administration.

We’re now hearing from real people (see here and here) who are telling real stories about real harassment. It’s all quite chilling, from efforts to intimidate donors and illegally releasing tax returns, to pressuring pro-life groups not to protest outside of Planned Parenthood organizations, to demanding to know about the prayer activities of citizens. 

This kind of abuse of power, used in this manner, is something I can’t recall having seen in my three decades in politics. And the Obama administration’s first line of defense, which is that this was being conducted by rogue elements within the IRS, is collapsing. It’s clear that the intimidation tactics were widespread, coordinated and not confined to a few mid-level bureaucrats. 

We’re still in the early stages of this scandal, but it seems obvious to me that it will do substantial and sustained political damage. The fact that the president, his top lieutenants and Senate Democrats set the tone for what has occurred–that they created and encouraged a culture of intimidation–is clear evidence that this scandal reaches far beyond the IRS. That happened to be the agency tasked with executing the acts of intimidation. But the inspiration for the abuse of power came from other, political quarters. We’ll simply need to follow the various leads to see where this all ends up. I’m still not sure if people fully realize just how massive this scandal is. But before it’s over, they will.

I should add that press bias continues to manifest itself in this story, with some journalists even declaring that Representative Darrell Issa’s attacks on White House press secretary Jay Carney make them more disinclined to cover the scandal. What an odd journalistic standard that is. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Issa and his comments about Jay Carney being a “paid liar”–and I think they’re unwise and unfortunate coming from a committee chairman–this scandal merits press scrutiny. And if this were happening under a conservative president–if those being targeted by the IRS were black, or gay, or liberal–I can promise you the coverage would be intense and wall-to-wall regardless of how many stupid things were said by Democratic members of Congress. Journalists would be falling all over themselves covering this story. Right now they’re not. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why. 

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.