Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 6, 2013

“Top Secret” Should Mean Just That

TOP SECRET//SI//NO FORN

That’s the heading on the first page of the court order obtained the Guardian. Top Secret is one of the highest levels of security classification in the U.S. government; the other initials indicate that this is “special intelligence,” aka “signals intelligence,” one of the most closely guarded capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community, and that it should not shown to any foreigners. Ironically and disturbingly, a British newspaper obtained this document.

Now it seems to be open season on the secret intelligence-gathering programs of the U.S. government. Following the Guardian’s exposure of this data-mining program that collects phone logs, the Washington Post has decided to reveal the existence of a program code-named PRISM which allows the National Security Agency  to tap “into the central servers of nine leading U.S. U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”

These disclosures raise obvious privacy concerns that deserve to be further explored by Congress behind closed doors. But there is no suggestion on the evidence so far presented that either program is illegal or unauthorized or that it has been misused for nefarious purposes. Quite the opposite: Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that the data-mining program has been used to avert at least one terrorist attack.

So why are we reading about these programs? They are, after all, highly classified—and for good reason: We don’t want terrorists to know what capabilities our intelligence agencies have to track their plots.

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TOP SECRET//SI//NO FORN

That’s the heading on the first page of the court order obtained the Guardian. Top Secret is one of the highest levels of security classification in the U.S. government; the other initials indicate that this is “special intelligence,” aka “signals intelligence,” one of the most closely guarded capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community, and that it should not shown to any foreigners. Ironically and disturbingly, a British newspaper obtained this document.

Now it seems to be open season on the secret intelligence-gathering programs of the U.S. government. Following the Guardian’s exposure of this data-mining program that collects phone logs, the Washington Post has decided to reveal the existence of a program code-named PRISM which allows the National Security Agency  to tap “into the central servers of nine leading U.S. U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”

These disclosures raise obvious privacy concerns that deserve to be further explored by Congress behind closed doors. But there is no suggestion on the evidence so far presented that either program is illegal or unauthorized or that it has been misused for nefarious purposes. Quite the opposite: Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that the data-mining program has been used to avert at least one terrorist attack.

So why are we reading about these programs? They are, after all, highly classified—and for good reason: We don’t want terrorists to know what capabilities our intelligence agencies have to track their plots.

Here is the Washington Post’s explanation of how it got the story:

Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.

I have no idea who this intelligence officer is, but he (or she) has committed a serious crime by the unauthorized disclosure of such sensitive information. He needs to be ferreted out and prosecuted. Perhaps if he had actual knowledge of the PRISM program being misused such a breach of confidentiality might be morally, if not legally, justifiable–although even then his first step should be to contact his superiors or others in the government, not to talk to the Washington Post. But there is no suggestion of such misuse here. Instead this appears to be another legal and authorized program that has been implemented by our elected leaders to protect us against terrorists. Government officials stress that only “non-U.S. persons” who are abroad are subject to PRISM monitoring and that the entire program was authorized by the 2007 Protect America Act.

President Obama deserves to be commended for continuing these programs, building on work done in the Bush administration, rather than being attacked as the second coming of Big Brother. The Post and Guardian, for their part, are being irresponsible by printing these disclosures that are more highly classified than the cables that Bradley Manning released–a crime for which he is now being tried. Instead of expressing outrage at these actions to fight terrorism, as so many on both the left and right are now doing, it would be nice if someone got a little outraged at this breach of the secrecy needed for effective intelligence-gathering.

It seems like only yesterday that the chattering classes were castigating the FBI, CIA and other agencies for not doing a better job of monitoring the Tsarnaev brothers before they carried out the Boston bombing. Similar outrage is being directed at the British security services in the wake of their failure to prevent the murder of a British soldier by two Anglo-Nigerian jihadists. Obviously “sigint” collection tools such as PRISM are not a foolproof defense against such attacks especially when undertaken by loners unaffiliated with a known terrorist organization. But they are an important, indeed vital, tool to prevent major attacks on a 9/11 scale, which require far more planning and organization. Exposing these collection tools makes it harder for them to be effective; shutting them down would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of a continuing terrorist assault.

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Public Is Skeptical of Obama on IRS Scandal

Today one more poll joins the two that Pete wrote about yesterday in offering us the IRS scandal from the American voters’ point of view. And it only confirms the perception problem the Obama White House now has. “For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high,” Pete wrote, “especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year.”

The latest poll, conducted by the New York Times and CBS, shows not only that a majority thinks the IRS was wrong to target conservatives but that nearly seven in 10 believe it was driven by political motivations. Additionally, 44 percent think the Obama administration was involved. Only a quarter of respondents think the IRS acted appropriately, which is still too high for comfort but not nearly high enough to make the story go away. And key to keeping interest in the story going–aside from the chilling testimony of the IRS’s victims–is the fact that Americans don’t believe they are being told the whole truth about the scandal. And there’s a good reason for that: they aren’t. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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Today one more poll joins the two that Pete wrote about yesterday in offering us the IRS scandal from the American voters’ point of view. And it only confirms the perception problem the Obama White House now has. “For roughly half the public to believe Mr. Obama is lying at this relatively early stage in the congressional investigation is quite high,” Pete wrote, “especially since at this point there’s no direct evidence showing the president knew about these scandals prior to May of this year.”

The latest poll, conducted by the New York Times and CBS, shows not only that a majority thinks the IRS was wrong to target conservatives but that nearly seven in 10 believe it was driven by political motivations. Additionally, 44 percent think the Obama administration was involved. Only a quarter of respondents think the IRS acted appropriately, which is still too high for comfort but not nearly high enough to make the story go away. And key to keeping interest in the story going–aside from the chilling testimony of the IRS’s victims–is the fact that Americans don’t believe they are being told the whole truth about the scandal. And there’s a good reason for that: they aren’t. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Two Internal Revenue Service employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office told congressional investigators that IRS officials in Washington helped direct the probe of tea-party groups that began in 2010.

Transcripts of the interviews, viewed Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, appear to contradict earlier statements by top IRS officials, who have blamed lower-level workers in Cincinnati.

Elizabeth Hofacre said her office in Cincinnati sought help from IRS officials in the Washington unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations after she started getting the tea-party cases in April 2010. Ms. Hofacre said Carter Hull, an IRS lawyer in Washington, closely oversaw her work and suggested some of the questions asked applicants.

“I was essentially a front person, because I had no autonomy or no authority to act on [applications] without Carter Hull’s influence or input,” she said, according to the transcripts.

The IRS higher-ups and the administration have tripped themselves up by reacting to each revelation as if no other information about the scandal would ever be revealed. A couple of weeks ago–which is a long time in the life of this scandal, considering the pace of revelations–Politico filed an amusing story at what at that time was “the fifth iteration of the Obama administration’s account of events,” paying special attention to the evolving list of people in the administration who knew about the IRS targeting before it was revealed by Lois Lerner.

The more significant mistake was not being forthcoming in which figures in the White House–which turned out to include the president’s chief of staff–knew of the IRS targeting before it was made public. That gives the public the impression that the administration is hiding something–and if the administration is hiding something, and the president’s chief of staff knew about the targeting, it’s getting difficult for the public not to wonder whether the president is being truthful about what he knew, and when.

That explains the poll numbers showing that although the president has not been tied directly to the scandal, he’s struggling to convince the public that he’s not somehow involved. Additionally, we now know that of course it wasn’t a couple of rogue agents who were overwhelmed by a flood of conservative applications and tried to simplify the process; the targeting was overseen by Washington and when they initiated it there was no flood of applicants. The IRS hasn’t been honest, and neither has the administration.

This perception problem isn’t helped, moreover, by the reaction of some Democrats in Congress. Jim McDermott, a Democratic congressman from Washington, went on Fox News to defend himself yesterday after seeming to blame the victims of the targeting, but he only ended up reinforcing the notion that he views the victims here with suspicion. And Americans are listening, as CBS explains: “As hearings on Capitol Hill rage on to explore the origins of the targeting scheme, most Americans said they are following the story, with 21 percent who said they are following it very closely.”

They are tuning in because they are rewarded for doing so. Thanks to the IRS and the administration’s behavior, Americans keep learning more and more about the scandal while being given less reason to believe official explanations.

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Call Data Scares Scandal-Weary Americans

“This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining the Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. It is not who we are. It is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA Court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers and that justice is not arbitrary. This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short cuts to protecting America.”

Tough words these are. They were uttered by President Obama while he was still Senator Obama, outraged at similar but less widespread monitoring than his administration was just exposed conducting. What prompted this change of heart on the necessity and constitutionality of the procedures found within the Patriot Act? After coming into office, did President Obama learn more about the full extent of the threat against America’s security or was he just bluffing on the campaign trail in order to secure the most powerful job in the world? It seems the White House isn’t willing to explain, instead deciding to issue a blanket defense of the collection of Verizon users’ metadata as a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.”

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“This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining the Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. It is not who we are. It is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA Court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers and that justice is not arbitrary. This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short cuts to protecting America.”

Tough words these are. They were uttered by President Obama while he was still Senator Obama, outraged at similar but less widespread monitoring than his administration was just exposed conducting. What prompted this change of heart on the necessity and constitutionality of the procedures found within the Patriot Act? After coming into office, did President Obama learn more about the full extent of the threat against America’s security or was he just bluffing on the campaign trail in order to secure the most powerful job in the world? It seems the White House isn’t willing to explain, instead deciding to issue a blanket defense of the collection of Verizon users’ metadata as a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.”

As Max discussed earlier, whether we like it or not, the data mining that the NSA took part in was both legal and necessary in a world where terrorism is still very much a threat, as we saw most recently in Boston and London. Many, including Politico and National Journal‘s Ron Fournier are calling the leak, first reported by Glenn Greenwald, further proof that Obama’s second term could really be considered George W. Bush’s fourth in terms of national security measures. Former senior Bush administration officials are playing the unlikely role of Obama’s defenders today, including Ari Fleischer, President Bush’s former press secretary. According to the AP, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has stated that the phone records collection prevented a domestic terror attack. In other words, the data mining did exactly what it was meant to do, which is why it was written into the 2001 legislation commonly known as the Patriot Act, and why it has remained in subsequent reauthorizations of the law. 

Where I diverge from Max’s defense of the practice, however, is the assumption that the data mined would only be used as part of an effort to detect patterns that would indicate a terrorist threat. What may have seemed like paranoid delusions just a month ago now are a reality. Could the call data taken from Verizon customers (do we really believe that this collection is limited to Verizon customers?) be used by other governmental agencies to track the calls of conservative activists or journalists reporting on stories that aren’t in the interest of the Obama administration? These scenarios, after the IRS scandal and controversy surrounding wiretapping of AP and Fox News journalists, are unfortunately very real possibilities. How much confidence should Americans have that their call data is being handled only by super computers at the NSA, searching for patterns as part of a larger national security operation? What assurances can the White House and the executive branch give the American people who are already increasingly wary of the politicization, size and scope of the government’s power in the wake of the IRS scandal, that the data was and will continue to be solely used in the interest of national security?

While many liberals vociferously expressed their mistrust of the Bush administration’s commitment to civil liberties, Americans never saw under Bush the kind of abuses of personal information in a politicized campaign against real or imagined foes of the administration that have emerged in the last month about the Obama White House. The Bush White House was closely watched by an American media that was, at its core, incredibly hostile to the president and his party and eager to report on any misstep, even if these missteps later proved to be outright fabrications. In contrast, it is only with the leaks about surveillance on AP reporters that the American media has even stirred in response to the Obama White House’s missteps. Today’s story on the NSA data collection was broken first by a foreign newspaper, the U.K.’s Guardian, not an American publication. While the data collection itself is a defensible and necessary step to protect Americans’ safety, the Obama administration needs to prove to the American people that it can be trusted with the information it has gathered and continues to gather for the sake of national security. 

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The Boys of Pointe du Hoc

On this day, sixty-nine years ago, Allied forces stormed the shores of Normandy and began the liberation of Europe. The memory of D-Day and the heroism of those soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in that invasion has transcended the history of the greatest conflict in history and become part of the legends of our nation’s history.

We remember D-Day not so much because of the great importance of that war and the evil nature of the forces that America and its allies fought but because it has come to symbolize what it means to fight for liberty and against tyranny. As the number of living veterans of D-Day dwindles as the years go past, we must cherish the memory of their sacrifice and their struggle. No one has ever summarized the nature of that legacy better than President Ronald Reagan who not only honored the heroes of D-Day on the 40th anniversary of the date but also explained why their fight still mattered.

Here is the video of his remarks delivered on the Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984, courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The text of this speech, which remains one of the great presidential addresses in our history, follows:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue. Here, in Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought against tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

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On this day, sixty-nine years ago, Allied forces stormed the shores of Normandy and began the liberation of Europe. The memory of D-Day and the heroism of those soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in that invasion has transcended the history of the greatest conflict in history and become part of the legends of our nation’s history.

We remember D-Day not so much because of the great importance of that war and the evil nature of the forces that America and its allies fought but because it has come to symbolize what it means to fight for liberty and against tyranny. As the number of living veterans of D-Day dwindles as the years go past, we must cherish the memory of their sacrifice and their struggle. No one has ever summarized the nature of that legacy better than President Ronald Reagan who not only honored the heroes of D-Day on the 40th anniversary of the date but also explained why their fight still mattered.

Here is the video of his remarks delivered on the Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984, courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The text of this speech, which remains one of the great presidential addresses in our history, follows:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue. Here, in Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought against tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.

And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

I think I know what you may be thinking right now — thinking “we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.

Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry, I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.

There was the impossible valor of the Poles, who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold; and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore; The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots’ Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet,” and you, the American Rangers.

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4:00 am. In Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying. And in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day; their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them: “Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do.” Also, that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together. There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance — a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.

In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. The Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost forty years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as forty years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose: to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace, prepared to deter aggression, prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms, and yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

It’s fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II. Twenty million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

We will pray forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.

We’re bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we’re with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their value [valor] and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

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Egypt’s Self-Defeating Scapegoating

A few days ago I blogged about an article written by a former Pakistani official, Akbar Ahmed, who attributes the growing strength of Islamist militants in his country to America’s program of drone strikes. Since then an Egypt court has convicted 43 foreign NGO workers of operating without a licensing and receiving foreign financing while they worked to promote democracy in Egypt. What’s the connection between these two events?

Both reflect the unfortunate pattern in the Muslim world of blaming outsiders–especially Westerners–for all their problems. The Egyptian authorities are widely suspected of launching their prosecution in order to deflect attention from all the terrible news since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian economy is in freefall and law and order is breaking down. Instead of confronting these problems in a serious fashion, the Muslim Brotherhood, which now dominates the Egyptian government, would prefer to scapegoat foreign NGO workers for supposedly undermining Egyptian institutions. In much the same way Akbar Ahmed and many other Pakistanis would prefer to ignore the deep ills of their society–principally, as in Egypt, a corrupt, ineffective government that cannot tend to the basic needs of its people, from security to education–and instead blame outsiders, in their case the dread Americans and their high-tech drones.

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A few days ago I blogged about an article written by a former Pakistani official, Akbar Ahmed, who attributes the growing strength of Islamist militants in his country to America’s program of drone strikes. Since then an Egypt court has convicted 43 foreign NGO workers of operating without a licensing and receiving foreign financing while they worked to promote democracy in Egypt. What’s the connection between these two events?

Both reflect the unfortunate pattern in the Muslim world of blaming outsiders–especially Westerners–for all their problems. The Egyptian authorities are widely suspected of launching their prosecution in order to deflect attention from all the terrible news since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian economy is in freefall and law and order is breaking down. Instead of confronting these problems in a serious fashion, the Muslim Brotherhood, which now dominates the Egyptian government, would prefer to scapegoat foreign NGO workers for supposedly undermining Egyptian institutions. In much the same way Akbar Ahmed and many other Pakistanis would prefer to ignore the deep ills of their society–principally, as in Egypt, a corrupt, ineffective government that cannot tend to the basic needs of its people, from security to education–and instead blame outsiders, in their case the dread Americans and their high-tech drones.

This is a pattern that Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Michael Doran, and other respected scholars of the Islamic world have been writing about for years. The Arab Spring seemed to represent a welcome break from this dysfunctional habit of denial. The demonstrations in the streets were, if nothing else, a recognition by millions of Arabs that their problems begin at home, with their own governments. Israel, the United States, and other convenient scapegoats were seldom if ever mentioned by the crowds gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square or other locales. But this realization appears to have been temporary and fleeting, and now many in the Islamic world continue to look for scapegoats rather than confronting their own domestic ills head-on.

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Liberal Overreach: The IRS and Race

The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

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The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

Here’s what Bashir said:

MARTIN BASHIR: The IRS is being used in exactly the same way as they tried to used the president’s birth certificate. You see, for Republicans like Darrell Issa, who knows something about arson, the IRS now stands for something inflammatory. Those three letters are now on fire with political corruption and malfeasance, burning hot. Just like that suspicious fire that engulfed Mr. Issa’s warehouse back in 1982. 

And, despite the complete lack of any evidence linking the president to the targeting of tea party groups, Republicans are using it as their latest weapon in the war against the black man in the White House. …

This strategy is nothing new. And it was explained way back in 1981, by Lee Atwater, who was Bush 41′s chief strategist. In a tape recording, Mr. Atwater revealed how Republicans evolved their language to achieve the same purpose. 

He said: ‘You start out in 1954, by saying ‘n*****, n*****, n*****. By 1968, you can’t say n*****, that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states rights, and all that stuff and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes. We want to cut this is much more abstract than even the bussing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than n*****, n*****.’

So this afternoon, we welcomed the latest phrase in the lexicon of Republican attacks on this president: the IRS. Three letters that sound so innocent but we know what you mean.

It would be easy to dismiss Bashir as nothing more than a crackpot with a TV show, but this “dog whistle” argument is not an isolated instance. The head of the Louisiana Democratic Party made the same point when she claimed the only reason why so many Americans oppose ObamaCare is the color of the president’s skin. In other words, for the left, conservatives have no other motivation or ideology but hatred of blacks.

This is insulting and stupid. But it is also contradicted by the anger against the IRS that Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black Democrat who is the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, has expressed about the abuses of the IRS.

All Americans, no matter their race, have a vested interest in protecting their constitutional rights against a government that continues to seek more power at the expense of the individual. That’s why the majority of Americans continue to oppose ObamaCare. And it’s also why they think the abuses at the IRS must be thoroughly investigated and all those involved held accountable. Republicans like Issa must be careful to let the story tell itself as the investigation proceeds. But it is neither racist nor unreasonable for them to be asking whether those who did these acts were in any way inspired by the inflammatory rhetoric used by both the president and much of the liberal media.

It is not surprising that many on the left would prefer to engage in ad hominem attacks and reckless use of racism accusations rather than face the facts about a government that can’t be trusted. Screaming the “n” word is an escape from the reality of a second Obama administration mired in scandal. But doing this does neither the country nor African Americans any favors.

By seeking to cast all of the president’s critics as bigots who use the “n” word, leftists like Bashir are acting as racial hucksters, exploiting fear and seeking to arouse hatred against anyone who disagrees with them. That’s what the left has been trying to do to the Tea Party movement since it began, and despite their lack of proof for their charges of racism, they have persisted in these smears.

It’s easier to live in a fantasy world where your critics are cartoon bigots than to defend the administration’s conduct. Instead of falsely crying racism, liberals should be listening to their fellow citizens who oppose Obama’s policies and engaging them in thoughtful debate about constitutional principles and policy. But if they do that, they’d have to acknowledge the legitimacy of their opponents, and that is something they’d rather not do.

The only overreaching going on about the IRS is a liberal campaign to silence administration critics with false charges of racism. As enjoyable as this escape from reality might be for the left, they have to know that the American people aren’t buying it.

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Samantha Power’s World View

Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

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Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

I actually think in the Palestine-Israeli situation there’s an abundance of information and what we don’t need is some kind of early warning mechanism. What we need is a willingness to actually put something on the line in helping the situation. And putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import. It may more crucially mean sacrificing, or investing I think more than sacrificing, really billions of dollars not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine; investing billions of dollars it would probably take also to support I think what will have to be a mammoth protection force, not of the old, you know, Srebrenica kind or the Rwanda kind, but a meaningful military presence.

Because it seems to me at this stage–and this is true of actual genocides as well, and not just major human rights abuses which we’re seeing there–but you have to go in as if you’re serious. You have to put something on the line. And unfortunately imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful, it’s a terrible thing to do, it’s fundamentally undemocratic. But sadly, we don’t just have a democracy here either, we have a liberal democracy. There are certain sets of principles that guide our policy–or they’re meant to anyway. And there, it’s essential that the same set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deference to people who are fundamentally, politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people. And by that I mean what Tom Friedman has called “Sharafat.”

I mean, I do think in that sense that both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible, and unfortunately it does require external intervention which–very much like the Rwanda scenario, that thought experiment, if we had intervened early–any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism, but we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are becoming ever more pronounced.

You should watch the video to see her snide laughter when she speaks of ignoring Jewish voters. But even with just this transcript, it’s difficult to decide what’s the worst of it. Is it her casual comparison of the IDF’s anti-terror campaign to the violence that led to Srebrenica or the Rwandan genocide? Is it her dismissal of the moral question surrounding admittedly “fundamentally undemocratic” actions as irrelevant because “liberal democracy” requires the invasion of allies with whom we disagree? Is it her endorsement of Tom Friedman’s moral equivalence between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon?

It’s really a tough call, because it’s all so astoundingly ignorant and malicious. What is clear, however, is that such a person should not be anywhere near the levers of power–so of course then-Senator Barack Obama, with his scant knowledge of foreign affairs and his ideological rigidity, hired Power to advise him on foreign policy during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election. She was dropped from the campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster,” but that was always going to be temporary for someone whose intellect, such as it is, attracts such admiration from our president.

That was far from the only controversial statement Power has made, of course. The Washington Free Beacon has compiled its list of Power’s greatest hits, but the most relevant one, aside from the call to invade Israel, was her call for a public reckoning of the American behavior that has caused anti-Americanism around the world and a public apology tour (sound familiar?). Though I suppose the risk of appointing Power to be our ambassador to the United Nations is limited, at least, by the fact that her ideas about America are already so prevalent there. At worst, she’ll simply be redundant.

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Undue Optimism on Pakistan

The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has become the foremost explainer of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the West. But his latest New York Times op-ed about the prospects of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, negotiating a peace deal between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban appears to reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Rashid concedes: “Pakistan’s Army has managed the country’s policy on Afghanistan since 1978.” He also notes, at the very beginning of the article, how elements of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani army’s powerful intelligence branch, sabotaged a 1992 effort by Sharif to negotiate a truce among the various Afghan Taliban factions. Yet somehow he expects that this time will be different–that Sharif will decide to push for peace in Afghanistan, which will involve ending ISI’s long-standing record of support for Taliban militancy, and the army will let him get away with it.

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The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has become the foremost explainer of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the West. But his latest New York Times op-ed about the prospects of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, negotiating a peace deal between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban appears to reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Rashid concedes: “Pakistan’s Army has managed the country’s policy on Afghanistan since 1978.” He also notes, at the very beginning of the article, how elements of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani army’s powerful intelligence branch, sabotaged a 1992 effort by Sharif to negotiate a truce among the various Afghan Taliban factions. Yet somehow he expects that this time will be different–that Sharif will decide to push for peace in Afghanistan, which will involve ending ISI’s long-standing record of support for Taliban militancy, and the army will let him get away with it.

Why should the army do this? Because Rashid says it should? That’s not a very compelling reason when you have decades of strategic thinking in Islamabad which suggests that the Taliban are a reliable proxy for Pakistani interests. Rashid suggests that the army brass is getting uncomfortable with its habit of supporting Islamic militants because they see how Pakistani militants threaten their own hold on the state. Maybe so, but it’s a stretch to say that ISI is ready to give up on the Haqqanis, Taliban, and other Afghan militant groups–or to give up its control of national security policy to a prime minister who in the past had actually been deposed and exiled by the army.

In fact, the coming withdrawal of most Western troops from Afghanistan–an event which Rashid does not mention–will undoubtedly suggest to the generals in Islamabad that they need to continue their current support for the insurgency in Afghanistan because the Taliban will have a good chance to seize power once the Americans are gone. If they abandon the Taliban, the paranoid Pakistani generals undoubtedly figure, Indian influence will trump theirs in a future Afghanistan. This may be a misguided worldview, but it is one that ISI and the broader Pakistani army has clung to for years. A fundamental shift in Pakistan’s policy would be nice, but there are few signs of it so far.

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NSA Data Collection Is Legal–and Smart

Given the IRS and Benghazi scandals, there is a natural tendency on the part of many Americans, conservatives especially, to be outraged at news disclosed by the Guardian that the government is able to collect records on large numbers of phone calls. This is a tendency best resisted.

The news that has come out today makes clear that this is a perfectly legal, if secret, undertaking which has been authorized by the Patriot Act, briefed to Congress, and undertaken via judicial order. This does not allow the government to listen in to communications indiscriminately but, apparently, to do data mining to look for suspicious patterns.

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Given the IRS and Benghazi scandals, there is a natural tendency on the part of many Americans, conservatives especially, to be outraged at news disclosed by the Guardian that the government is able to collect records on large numbers of phone calls. This is a tendency best resisted.

The news that has come out today makes clear that this is a perfectly legal, if secret, undertaking which has been authorized by the Patriot Act, briefed to Congress, and undertaken via judicial order. This does not allow the government to listen in to communications indiscriminately but, apparently, to do data mining to look for suspicious patterns.

That is precisely what the government should be doing to keep us safe from terrorism–which, as recent attacks in Boston and London show, remains a potent threat notwithstanding the demise of Osama bin Laden. The Obama administration should be praised for continuing this Bush-era initiative rather than pilloried for Big Brother tactics. The only outrage here is that the Guardian has disclosed such a highly classified program.

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The Muhammad Cartoons and the Jews

The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

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The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

The Muhammad cartoons were not part of a general campaign against Islam but rather a specific pushback by one publication against the efforts by Muslims to prohibit any reporting or discussion about terrorism motivated by Islam. Islamists around the globe have sought not merely to silence those who pointed out that the actions of Muslim terrorists stem from their religious beliefs but to brand any discussion of their faith or culture that is not laudatory as blasphemy that must be banned by law. The Muhammad cartoons were an attempt to answer a campaign against free speech with humor.

By contrast, the Dagbladet circumcision cartoon was part of a specific campaign aimed at banning a religious practice of both Jews and Muslims. The goal there was not, as with Jyllands-Posten, to defend free speech but to demonize Judaism and Jews in a manner highly reminiscent of the Nazis.

The reactions to the two cartoons are also very different.

The response to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons was a wave of riots and murders of non-Muslims across the Middle East and an intensified campaign of intimidation in Europe aimed at silencing those who criticize Islamist terror and its religious inspiration. Some of the cartoonists and editors involved are still in hiding in fear for their lives.

By contrast, the protests about the Norwegian cartoon, or, indeed any of those against the wave of anti-Semitism around the globe have resulted in nothing more than a few stern letters to the editor. The Dagbladet’s cartoonist isn’t in hiding and if no other newspaper will run it—except as an example of anti-Semitism—it isn’t because they fear Jews will kill them for doing so. While Muslims claim that the world is suffering from Islamophobia, what has really happened in the last few years is a process by which those who wish to criticize Islamists have been intimidated and which has also given anti-Semites impunity to demonize Jews.

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Kagan on the Future of Liberal Education

This April, the historian Donald Kagan gave a farewell lecture on liberal education, after 44 years of service at Yale. Kagan is the author of a marvelous four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War and a National Humanities Medal recipient. The New Criterion has published a revised version of the lecture. People who care about the future of liberal education should read it.

Calls for liberal education can sound hollow when institutions that profess it offer a “chaotic cafeteria” to students, rather than a curriculum informed by an account of what liberal education is and what it is for. But it is hard to give such an account. The idea of liberal education has “suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction.”

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This April, the historian Donald Kagan gave a farewell lecture on liberal education, after 44 years of service at Yale. Kagan is the author of a marvelous four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War and a National Humanities Medal recipient. The New Criterion has published a revised version of the lecture. People who care about the future of liberal education should read it.

Calls for liberal education can sound hollow when institutions that profess it offer a “chaotic cafeteria” to students, rather than a curriculum informed by an account of what liberal education is and what it is for. But it is hard to give such an account. The idea of liberal education has “suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction.”

Liberal education is education for freedom. For Italian humanists that meant the study of grammar, rhetoric, and “a canon of classical authors,” with a view to  “public service.” Freedom “meant putting aside concern for gain . . . for the sake of higher things.” But in 18th century England, liberal education was more easygoing. The well-born and well-to-do should also be well-rounded. A gentleman’s education required no “fixed canon of authors,” and “prized sociability above . . . study.” The goal of liberal education was not “active public service” but rather acceptance into the best circles.

After the rise of the research university, liberal education consists less in mastering an existing body of knowledge than in preparing to generate new knowledge. The liberally educated person is an adherent of the scientific method, trained to contribute to or at least accept the truths that method produces. Because scientific research demands specialization, and every field produces “new knowledge and truth,” there is no strong reason to insist that every student experience a common core. The “distinction between a liberal and a professional education becomes ever more vague.”

Kagan’s capsule history shows that what we mean by liberal education depends in part on what we mean by freedom. Here is one liberal democratic possibility: if the “special character” of our society is “to encourage doubt and questioning of its own values and assumptions,” then liberal education can mean education for reflective citizenship. While American civilization, like other civilizations, depends on certain “basic values,” those values, like the ones embodied in the Declaration, are in fruitful tension with “our tradition of free critical inquiry,” which prevents “received moral and civil teachings from becoming ethnocentric complacency.”

Kagan fears, however, that another possibility has won out. Here, he channels my teacher, Allan Bloom, in Closing of the American Mind. Our love of equality and freedom, which can attach us to “natural rights” and interest us in “the historical origins of our regime,” can cause us to deny even the “special claim of reason,” let alone the special claims of received moral and civic teachings. Kagan thinks that “today’s liberal arts students come to college . . . bearing a kind of relativism.” Their unexamined belief that reason cannot judge different claims concerning the best life “extinguishes,” in Bloom’s words, “the true motive of education.” Moreover, Kagan says, it immunizes students against rational scrutiny. If no one view is better than any other, their own beliefs are “entirely valid.”

Kagan argues that what’s left of liberal education resembles the 18th century English model. Elite students are expected to become well rounded, and the function of residential colleges is otherwise to ease a student’s way into adult elite society, to teach students the “style, manner, political opinions and prejudices” that will “make them comfortable in a similarly educated society.” Liberal education is a mere “social distinction.”

What can we do? Kagan thinks that liberal education in our time needs to “include a common core of studies for all its students,” thereby affirming that “some questions are of fundamental importance to everyone.” Kagan’s core would include “the study of the literature, philosophy, and history . . . of our culture from its origins.”

Interesting students in such a core requires superb teachers. Bloom half-joked in Closing that he tried to “teach [his] students prejudices.” I think he meant that when students come to school convinced that no belief can be true, the first step is to draw them, even at the cost of exaggeration, to powerful visions of the way things are or should be, the kinds of visions articulated in Kagan’s core.

The prospects for a robust common core are in many ways poor. But they are also better than they have been in some time. Colleges today are under great pressure to prove their worth amid doubts, pressed in books like Academically Adrift, that their students are learning anything. In this atmosphere, the demands of branding and the demands of liberal education may meet.

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Hezbollah’s European Appeasers

Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

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Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

It should be noted that the Bulgarian switch is not the result of the emergence of new evidence about the attack or even a change of heart by Hezbollah, whose terrorist cadres are now fighting in Syria to try and save the faltering Bashar Assad regime, another Iranian ally. There is no more doubt today that Burgas was the work of Hezbollah than there was in the days after the attack when the identities of the terrorists were revealed. It is simply the result of a political party coming to power that is hostile to the United States and friendlier to Russia and therefore determined to undermine any effort to forge a united European response to Middle East-based Islamist terror.

It is to be hoped that Britain, aided by the diplomatic efforts of France and Germany, will ultimately prevail in the European Commission and Hezbollah will be listed as a terror group by the EU. But the Bulgarian announcement is a discouraging reminder of the fact that international unity on terrorism is illusory. The willingness of some Europeans, whether acting out of sympathy for the Islamists or antipathy for Israel and the Untied States, to treat Hezbollah terrorists as somehow belonging to a different, less awful category of criminal than those who might primarily target other Westerners is a victory for the Islamists as well as a crucial defeat for the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

After years of trying to appease Russia, the administration has discovered that all of the talk of rebooting relations from both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry achieved nothing. Moscow is actively seeking to thwart the West on the question of the survival of the Assad regime and also willing to have its friends elsewhere in Europe stick up for Hezbollah.

The effort to appease Hezbollah is not only a sign of Russian influence but also a signal to Iran that many in Europe are untroubled by its terrorist campaign against Israel. That alone is worrisome. But, as history teaches us, the costs of appeasement are far-reaching. Those who are untroubled by Hezbollah’s murders of Jews in Bulgaria or Cyprus may soon find that the vipers they seek to ignore will one day bite them too.

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Connecticut First in Flight? Yeah, Wright!

Among the prices we pay for democracy are legislatures doing silly things.

In 1894, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that claimed that an Indiana man had devised a means of “squaring the circle,” constructing with just a compass and a straight edge a square of the same area as a given circle. Thought an impossibility since ancient times, squaring the circle had been proved impossible by the German mathematician Ferdinand Von Lindemann in 1882, one of the great mathematical accomplishments of the 19th century. The bill also made several vague references to the value of the mathematical constant pi, the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference, in one instance calling it 3.2 (it’s 3.1459 . . . and so on out to as many digits as your computer is willing to go, for pi is an irrational number and thus cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction or decimal). The Indiana Senate, fortunately for that state’s reputation, killed the bill.

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Among the prices we pay for democracy are legislatures doing silly things.

In 1894, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that claimed that an Indiana man had devised a means of “squaring the circle,” constructing with just a compass and a straight edge a square of the same area as a given circle. Thought an impossibility since ancient times, squaring the circle had been proved impossible by the German mathematician Ferdinand Von Lindemann in 1882, one of the great mathematical accomplishments of the 19th century. The bill also made several vague references to the value of the mathematical constant pi, the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference, in one instance calling it 3.2 (it’s 3.1459 . . . and so on out to as many digits as your computer is willing to go, for pi is an irrational number and thus cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction or decimal). The Indiana Senate, fortunately for that state’s reputation, killed the bill.

Now the Connecticut legislature has decided that it has the power to legislate historical fact. In this case it has passed a bill that reads, “The Governor shall proclaim a date certain in each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight by Gustave Whitehead and to commemorate the Connecticut aviation and aerospace industry, . . .”

Gustave Whitehead, who lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is supposed to have flown an airplane of his own design in August 1901, more than two years before the Wright Brothers undoubtedly flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The only problem is he almost certainly didn’t. These sorts of stories float around journalism like Elvis sightings and UFOs, getting resurrected on slow news days every decade or so. Whitehead certainly built airplanes, but there is precious little evidence that any of them ever flew. He did build and fly gliders. A website dedicated to the Wright Brothers has an excellent essay that demolishes the claims for Whitehead. It is a brilliant piece of historiographical analysis, which is how historians—if not legislatures—determine historical truth.

The bill now sits of Governor Malloy’s desk. He would do the state a favor by vetoing this nonsense. But he probably won’t.

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