Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 21, 2013

The Make Believe Argument Over Israel

This week, the American Jewish Committee earned the plaudits of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen for issuing a direct denunciation of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, for saying that the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was dead. The statement blasted Bennett, the head of the Habayit Hayehudi Party that had an impressive showing in last January’s Knesset election in the following manner:

Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks, rejecting outright the vision of two states for two peoples, are stunningly shortsighted,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Since he is a member of the current Israeli coalition government, it is important that his view be repudiated by the country’s top leaders.”

“Bennett contravenes the outlook of Prime Minister Netanyahu and contradicts the vision presented earlier this month to the AJC Global Forum by Minister Tzipi Livni, chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians,” Harris continued. “Livni stated clearly that a negotiated two-state settlement is the only way to assure that the State of Israel will remain both Jewish and democratic. That is a view we at AJC have long supported.”

“We are under no illusion about the difficulties of achieving a two-state accord,” Harris concluded. “But Bennett’s alternative scenario offers only the prospect of a dead-end strategy of endless conflict and growing isolation for Israel.”

While liberal on domestic policy, the AJC has been solidly pro-Israel under Harris’ tenure, so his decision to call out a member of an Israeli government is more than a little unusual and it was enough to send both Cohen, who has solidly opposed the AJC’s pro-Israel policies, into spasms of joy that were echoed by one of the writers on the Open Zion website. They hope that this constitutes a turning point in the relationship between American Jewish organizations and the Jewish state. Their notion is this is the moment when the pro-Israel community will cease being a bulwark for Jerusalem and begin to throw its weight behind efforts to pressure the country into concessions that leftists think will save it from itself. If groups like AJC start acting like the decidedly non-mainstream left-wingers of J Street and condemning settlements and calling for Israel to accept the 1967 borders, then they imagine Israel’s resistance to such measures will be broken down when faced with the loss of its American Jewish allies.

Cohen and the Open Zion crowd are wrong about that. But it’s not just that they are overestimating the willingness of mainstream groups to challenge the judgment of a democratically elected Israeli government. The dustup between the AJC and Bennett as well as other members of Netanyahu’s government is not so much about whether these right-wingers are actually thwarting a two-state solution, as Harris’s statement seemed to be saying, but whether it was appropriate for him to not to play along with the pretense that such a scheme is possible in the foreseeable future. Reading much significance into the admonition aimed at Bennett is a mistake because although he and the AJC do disagree about what a solution to the conflict might be, it is not exactly a secret that Palestinian intransigence makes this a purely theoretical dispute.

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This week, the American Jewish Committee earned the plaudits of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen for issuing a direct denunciation of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, for saying that the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was dead. The statement blasted Bennett, the head of the Habayit Hayehudi Party that had an impressive showing in last January’s Knesset election in the following manner:

Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks, rejecting outright the vision of two states for two peoples, are stunningly shortsighted,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Since he is a member of the current Israeli coalition government, it is important that his view be repudiated by the country’s top leaders.”

“Bennett contravenes the outlook of Prime Minister Netanyahu and contradicts the vision presented earlier this month to the AJC Global Forum by Minister Tzipi Livni, chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians,” Harris continued. “Livni stated clearly that a negotiated two-state settlement is the only way to assure that the State of Israel will remain both Jewish and democratic. That is a view we at AJC have long supported.”

“We are under no illusion about the difficulties of achieving a two-state accord,” Harris concluded. “But Bennett’s alternative scenario offers only the prospect of a dead-end strategy of endless conflict and growing isolation for Israel.”

While liberal on domestic policy, the AJC has been solidly pro-Israel under Harris’ tenure, so his decision to call out a member of an Israeli government is more than a little unusual and it was enough to send both Cohen, who has solidly opposed the AJC’s pro-Israel policies, into spasms of joy that were echoed by one of the writers on the Open Zion website. They hope that this constitutes a turning point in the relationship between American Jewish organizations and the Jewish state. Their notion is this is the moment when the pro-Israel community will cease being a bulwark for Jerusalem and begin to throw its weight behind efforts to pressure the country into concessions that leftists think will save it from itself. If groups like AJC start acting like the decidedly non-mainstream left-wingers of J Street and condemning settlements and calling for Israel to accept the 1967 borders, then they imagine Israel’s resistance to such measures will be broken down when faced with the loss of its American Jewish allies.

Cohen and the Open Zion crowd are wrong about that. But it’s not just that they are overestimating the willingness of mainstream groups to challenge the judgment of a democratically elected Israeli government. The dustup between the AJC and Bennett as well as other members of Netanyahu’s government is not so much about whether these right-wingers are actually thwarting a two-state solution, as Harris’s statement seemed to be saying, but whether it was appropriate for him to not to play along with the pretense that such a scheme is possible in the foreseeable future. Reading much significance into the admonition aimed at Bennett is a mistake because although he and the AJC do disagree about what a solution to the conflict might be, it is not exactly a secret that Palestinian intransigence makes this a purely theoretical dispute.

Most American Jews—including those in mainstream groups—may not agree with Bennett that a two-state solution is a bad idea in principle. But like most Israelis, most of those who are informed about the reality that Israel faces understand that it isn’t happening anytime soon no matter what the Netanyahu government or American Jews say about it. The Palestinians have turned down three offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem and have boycotted negotiations for four and a half years. They also understand that the left’s focus on what Israel must supposedly do to secure peace is irrelevant because so long as the Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, these questions aren’t much more relevant that the old one about how many angels can dance on the head of pin.

Like Netanyahu, leading American Jewish groups are publicly supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the peace process. Unlike Cohen most understand the secretary has sent himself on a fool’s errand. Pointing this fact out, as Bennett has done, may not help Israel’s diplomatic position or its image. But it also doesn’t really change a thing. 

Harris is right that Bennett is undermining Israel’s public image in the West since such statements do feed into the false notion that most Israelis don’t want to compromise. That’s also a myth because, as I wrote earlier this week, even Bennett probably knows that if the Palestinians would ever to come back to the table and offer a complete end to the conflict and a renunciation of the right of return, most of his countrymen would be willing to make far-ranging sacrifices of territory that he wouldn’t like.

If most Israelis have given up on the two-state solution for the near term it is not because, like Bennett, they don’t want it, but because, unlike Cohen and other leftists, they’ve paid attention to what’s happened during the last 20 years of peace processing. Israelis need no urging to make risks for peace if peace was really in the offing. The problem is that it isn’t. The Palestinians have made such a deal impossible and there’s no sign that the sea change necessary in their political culture to make two states a viable solution is on the horizon. As unpalatable as this may be, even many liberal American Jews are coming to understand that all Israel can do is to wait until it happens.

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Many Claiming the Mantle of Reagan Have Turned on Reagan’s Vision

On the matter of immigration reform and the GOP, I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that in his column today, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes, “The GOP’s political goal is modest. It doesn’t need to win majorities among minorities, just avoid lopsided losses.”

That’s quite right. Consider Mitt Romney in 2012. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. And if breaking the 40 percent barrier sounds like an impossible goal, recall that George W. Bush won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That doesn’t mean Governor Romney didn’t have problems with other parts of the electorate, including blue-collar voters in key states. It simply means that losing the Hispanic vote by 44 percent makes it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win national elections.

My second observation is that many of the most ferocious critics of immigration reform claim they are the sons and daughters of the Reagan Revolution, the true of heirs of Reagan. But they are–in both policy and tone–most un-Reagan like.

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On the matter of immigration reform and the GOP, I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that in his column today, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes, “The GOP’s political goal is modest. It doesn’t need to win majorities among minorities, just avoid lopsided losses.”

That’s quite right. Consider Mitt Romney in 2012. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. And if breaking the 40 percent barrier sounds like an impossible goal, recall that George W. Bush won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That doesn’t mean Governor Romney didn’t have problems with other parts of the electorate, including blue-collar voters in key states. It simply means that losing the Hispanic vote by 44 percent makes it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win national elections.

My second observation is that many of the most ferocious critics of immigration reform claim they are the sons and daughters of the Reagan Revolution, the true of heirs of Reagan. But they are–in both policy and tone–most un-Reagan like.

As this post documents, Reagan himself not only signed legislation granting amnesty to three million illegal immigrants in exchange for relatively weak enforcement measures; he never demonized illegal immigrants. In 1977, for example, Reagan criticized “the illegal alien fuss” and said illegal aliens may “actually [be] doing work our own people won’t do.”

More broadly, Reagan emphasized the great and vivifying diversity that immigrants brought to this country, and that flowed into and became as one with the national fabric. In Reagan’s words: 

We have a statue in New York Harbor . . . of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door. All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.

One doesn’t hear this kind of elevated rhetoric from many conservatives these days.

Ronald Reagan’s views on immigration, legal and illegal, were connected to a broader vision and conception of America. The fact is that this capacious, generous and hopeful outlook has been replaced by rhetoric that is, from some quarters at least, jagged edged and sends a signal to Hispanics: We don’t really want you; and we don’t much like you.

I understand that one can oppose illegal immigration while also being a champion for legal immigration. But there’s simply no question that these days many on the right are hyper-focusing on illegal immigration, even though the influx of illegal immigrants to America is considerably less than it was in the 1990s. (As Linda Chavez has written, “Today, illegal immigration is at its lowest since 1972. Indeed, more Mexican immigrants are now leaving the country than coming here, with net immigration from Mexico below zero for the first time since the racially motivated mass deportations of Mexicans … during the 1930s.”) There are very few positive words about legal immigrants–and those that are said have a pro forma quality to them. I’m struck as well by the overall lack of attention when it comes to attracting high-skilled immigrants. 

The Republican Party’s greatest presidents, Lincoln and Reagan, wanted America to be a welcoming society to immigrants. They wanted the GOP to be a proudly visible pro-immigrant party. You would think those who most often claim the mantle of Reagan would want the same thing again. They actually don’t. And that’s not only a shame; it has come at quite a high political cost. 

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Don’t Feed Conspiracy Fever

Earlier this week, I noted the way an understandable distrust of the government can morph into something altogether less healthy than the normal cynicism that any citizen in a free country should exercise about authority. A trio of scandals exposing outrageous behavior and lies on the part of the federal bureaucracy and elements of the Obama administration has led some Americans to inflate the revelations about the National Security Agency’s metadata collection into something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Such conclusions aren’t justified by these circumstances, but one can understand the argument. Less defensible is the willingness of many of us to view accidents through the paranoid prism of a whole generation of books and movies that have fed on a willingness of people to believe the government is nothing but an all-powerful conspiracy that will steal, kill and cover up with impunity.

Part of this tendency is the largely favorable reception that greeted a documentary purporting to prove the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 was something other than an accident. The conceit of the film about a missile shooting the plane seems about as credible as the pseudo-scientific theories put forward about the murder of John F. Kennedy. But there is even less reason to believe the FBI and the rest of the government had any motive to cover up the true cause of the tragedy. Yet as off-kilter as that discussion has been, the questions being raised about the death of journalist Michael Hastings seem to be even worse. The Hastings case seems to be a textbook example of the way all too many of us seem to be willing to believe just about anything so long as it can be blamed on a dark conspiracy hatched by government evildoers.

It’s always sad to see a young and talented person such as the 33-year-old Michael Hastings cut down long before their time. People die in car accidents every day in this country, but given current trends in our culture, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the death of anyone who had been involved in controversies would be treated as suspect. However, in the absence of any proof whatsoever that foul play was involved, one would hope that responsible journalists would avoid feeding a story that doesn’t appear to have any basis in fact. Yet, as Mediaite reports, both CNN and Fox News broadcast the unsubstantiated rumors that what happened to Hastings was a murder made to look like an accident. That was a mistake.

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Earlier this week, I noted the way an understandable distrust of the government can morph into something altogether less healthy than the normal cynicism that any citizen in a free country should exercise about authority. A trio of scandals exposing outrageous behavior and lies on the part of the federal bureaucracy and elements of the Obama administration has led some Americans to inflate the revelations about the National Security Agency’s metadata collection into something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Such conclusions aren’t justified by these circumstances, but one can understand the argument. Less defensible is the willingness of many of us to view accidents through the paranoid prism of a whole generation of books and movies that have fed on a willingness of people to believe the government is nothing but an all-powerful conspiracy that will steal, kill and cover up with impunity.

Part of this tendency is the largely favorable reception that greeted a documentary purporting to prove the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 was something other than an accident. The conceit of the film about a missile shooting the plane seems about as credible as the pseudo-scientific theories put forward about the murder of John F. Kennedy. But there is even less reason to believe the FBI and the rest of the government had any motive to cover up the true cause of the tragedy. Yet as off-kilter as that discussion has been, the questions being raised about the death of journalist Michael Hastings seem to be even worse. The Hastings case seems to be a textbook example of the way all too many of us seem to be willing to believe just about anything so long as it can be blamed on a dark conspiracy hatched by government evildoers.

It’s always sad to see a young and talented person such as the 33-year-old Michael Hastings cut down long before their time. People die in car accidents every day in this country, but given current trends in our culture, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the death of anyone who had been involved in controversies would be treated as suspect. However, in the absence of any proof whatsoever that foul play was involved, one would hope that responsible journalists would avoid feeding a story that doesn’t appear to have any basis in fact. Yet, as Mediaite reports, both CNN and Fox News broadcast the unsubstantiated rumors that what happened to Hastings was a murder made to look like an accident. That was a mistake.

It’s true that some in the military probably resented Hastings for the way his Rolling Stone profile ended the career of General Stanley McChrystal. But only in the counter-factual universe of the Bourne Conspiracy novels and the hundreds, if not thousands like it, would the Pentagon or some other force exact revenge for this offense or any act of aggressive reporting in this manner. There are countries where such things do happen, but contrary to what has become gospel in the fever swamps of the left and the right, the United States is not one of them. I’ve been a persistent critic of the Obama administration, but to assume that simply because Hastings’s last article was titled “Why Democrats Like to Spy on Americans” would trigger a murderous response from Washington is absurd.

Yes, it’s true that an out-of-control Justice Department did snoop on the Associated Press and Fox News’s James Rosen in leak investigations. But as wrong as that was, it is not murder and any attempt to draw analogies between the administration and the thugs that work for Vladimir Putin in Russia or any of dozens of other tyrants around the globe undermines an otherwise serious discussion about what is wrong in Washington.

In the absence of something more serious than paranoid rantings on the Internet about Hastings’s death, major news networks should not have given this non-story that sort of acknowledgement.

As I wrote on Wednesday, conspiracy theories provide us with a way to make events that are otherwise inexplicable make sense. It is easier to think about Hastings’s death or the crash of TWA 800 or even John F. Kennedy’s murder if we can fit them into our pre-existing prejudices about the world rather than to acknowledge them as horrifying instances of the vagaries of chance encounters with circumstances or lone killers.

The willingness to resort to conspiracy theories even in the absence of anything that remotely resembles evidence of wrongdoing is not a sign of mental health in an individual. It is even more troubling when such wild talk becomes normative in a society as a whole, as it has become in the Arab and Muslim worlds with regard to paranoia about Jews and vicious myths about the 9/11 attacks.

Our mainstream media needs to be very careful about validating signs of the same sort of psychosis here. Let Michael Hastings rest in peace. Those who wish to use his accidental death as a springboard for the latest round of crackpot conspiracy theories should give it a rest. The same applies to mainstream media outlets looking to boost their ratings by appealing to the fever swamp crowd.

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The Logic of the Farm Bill’s Failure

Thanks to the whip count, there is usually an inverse relationship between the scope of a piece of legislation and the drama of the vote itself. The more important, controversial, or far-reaching a bill, the more embarrassing would be its televised defeat. And, especially with regard to unpopular or controversial bills, legislators don’t want to go on record voting for a doomed law.

So there is something almost refreshing about moments of suspense or surprise in Congress, one of which took place yesterday. The New York Times reports: “The surprise defeat of the farm bill in the House on Thursday underscored the ideological divide between the more conservative, antispending Republican lawmakers and their leadership, who failed to garner sufficient votes from their caucus as well as from Democrats.”

This is an incomplete portrait of the vote, since it may be technically true that Republicans failed to garner sufficient votes from Democrats–but so did the Democratic House leadership, specifically Nancy Pelosi. Each parties’ House leadership promised the other more votes than it ultimately supplied. Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner weren’t thrilled about the bill, and their base flanks hated it. The point was to pass something and then make adjustments in committee. It might be accurate to say, then, that what happened was the House voted down a bill it didn’t like.

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Thanks to the whip count, there is usually an inverse relationship between the scope of a piece of legislation and the drama of the vote itself. The more important, controversial, or far-reaching a bill, the more embarrassing would be its televised defeat. And, especially with regard to unpopular or controversial bills, legislators don’t want to go on record voting for a doomed law.

So there is something almost refreshing about moments of suspense or surprise in Congress, one of which took place yesterday. The New York Times reports: “The surprise defeat of the farm bill in the House on Thursday underscored the ideological divide between the more conservative, antispending Republican lawmakers and their leadership, who failed to garner sufficient votes from their caucus as well as from Democrats.”

This is an incomplete portrait of the vote, since it may be technically true that Republicans failed to garner sufficient votes from Democrats–but so did the Democratic House leadership, specifically Nancy Pelosi. Each parties’ House leadership promised the other more votes than it ultimately supplied. Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner weren’t thrilled about the bill, and their base flanks hated it. The point was to pass something and then make adjustments in committee. It might be accurate to say, then, that what happened was the House voted down a bill it didn’t like.

That’s less colorful than the press coverage depicting raging Tea Partiers staging an insurrection and virtually chasing Boehner from the House floor with pitchforks and torches. If you give every lawmaker a reason to vote against a bill, as happened with the farm bill, they very well may take you up on it. First of all, as Bethany noted yesterday, from a spending standpoint it isn’t so much a farm bill as a food stamp bill. Of the bill’s $939.5 billion in spending, most of it was on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Leading up to the bill, Democrats engaged in a stunt called the “SNAP Challenge,” in which they would try to feed themselves on a SNAP budget. They did not exactly shine on this one, and ended up proving two things: that Democratic members of Congress don’t know what the word “supplemental” means (the program is not intended to be the sum total of anyone’s food budget), and that many can’t be relied upon to budget for themselves, even though they are empowered to budget for the country.

The latter realization made the “SNAP Challenge” not only silly, but also vaguely terrifying. And it helped doom the bill. Democrats, confused by their trip to the supermarket and the purpose of the SNAP program, decided there wasn’t enough money in the bill for it. Conservatives, who did not suffer from the same confusion, thought the mammoth spending bill spent too much. This is a recipe for a failed bill, which was exactly the fate that awaited the legislation.

There were the inevitable hysterical reactions by those who didn’t get their way that democracy is in peril. Politico refers to these folks in its reaction story: “People involved in the farm debate, irate at the sudden defeat, say the House is plainly not working.” But actually, the opposite is true. In a perceptive post on the failure of the bill, which he called “over-determined,” National Review’s Dan Foster writes:

Maybe Boehner and Cantor made a tactical mistake. They could have gone much, much bigger on the food stamp cuts—say, rolling back the program to its pre-recession size—in order to shore up the caucus, Democratic votes be damned. Remember that this vote wasn’t the end game anyway. The point was to pass something and then hammer out a compromise in conference committee, away from glaring media eyes and pesky rank-and-filers. Besides, the president had vowed to veto the House bill anyway, so why not go bigger?

In other words, the GOP House could have followed the Democrats’ playbook and simply passed a more partisan bill along partisan lines. The House can pass legislation on a majority vote without having to face a filibuster or other of the Senate’s procedural brake pedals. What doomed this particular bill was its attempt at bipartisanship and corralling Democratic votes that were promised but not delivered. This is why although the post-bill partisan finger pointing is obnoxious from both sides, Pelosi’s lashing out at the GOP is absurd. They could have passed a more conservative bill without her caucus or her input. Her behavior is now encouraging them to do exactly that.

And so is the pressure on Boehner (and, to a lesser extent, Cantor). Foster makes what I think is a very important point when he writes: “The revolt of conservatives against traditional caucus hierarchy is starting to feel like a semi-permanent development in American politics.” It does not benefit Cantor to have these surprise votes. Someone has to better take the temperature of the House conservatives, and if Cantor doesn’t serve as that link between the base and the leadership then he’s going to find both sides wondering what his role is in all this.

Supporters of the farm bill cannot credibly make the claim that the bill was too partisan to pass. And the leadership of both parties would do well to stop talking about House conservatives as if they are spoiled, petulant children. If they were sent to Congress to do anything amid the rise of Tea Party politics, it was to vote down bloated spending schemes. There is an argument to be made that some Tea Partiers have been too averse to governing. But governing sometimes means voting against bad legislation, and the farm bill had few merits.

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Immigration Debate Goes Off the Rails

It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

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It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

Fortunately, not every skeptic on the right is insensible to what is going on here. Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly endorsed the reform package. As O’Reilly noted, reform of a failed system is just “the right thing to do” about a difficult problem. He’s right to note that the bill is complicated and will take a long time to implement. But it also provides the only possible solution to the situation. The bill’s critics seem to prefer an unworkable status quo simply because they are horrified by the idea that many of those here illegally will be provided with a difficult path to citizenship. They keep talking about “amnesty” for illegals, but that is no argument against reform since if the bill fails, the 11 million undocumented residents of this country will still be here.

But O’Reilly is not being joined by many of the other leading conservative talkers. Laura Ingraham immediately answered O’Reilly on his own program. She seemed to be saying that conservatives should be working to stop anything that President Obama and many Democrats supported. Like Ingraham, Sean Hannity, another Fox host, just doesn’t trust the government and considers GOP supporters of the bill to be “suckers.” Ann Coulter, who appeared on his show last night, mocked the idea that 20,000 new border patrolmen, the fence and other measures would do any good, leading me back to the notion I expressed a couple of days ago that perhaps only the construction of a Game of Thrones-style 700-foot-tall ice wall to stop both job seekers and zombies would impress her. Perhaps such a wall will be created after, as she proposed, a Republican-controlled Senate without Marco Rubio is elected.

What we’ve heard in the last two days proves the Journal was right. This argument has never really been about border security. It’s about the reluctance of some people to face up to reality about immigration, which has always been a net plus for the American economy and will be again if this plan is put into motion. There is no rational or fair solution to the question of what to do with the 11 million illegals here other than to offer them a way to become citizens. So long as this is paired with a serious effort to prevent more illegals from coming, objections boil down to an unthinking distrust of government or an unwholesome dislike of immigration, per se. Such sentiment is nothing new in American political history. It is as old as the hills and should be rejected as it has been in the past. Those on the right who pander to these sentiments or who fear splitting the party or doing anything that might create more Hispanic voters in the future are doing themselves and the Republican Party no service. 

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A U.S.-Taliban Prisoner Swap?

Now that peace talks are sort of on again with the Taliban–at least hopes of such talks have risen again, even if Kabul’s outrage at Taliban preening in opening an embassy of sorts in Qatar has blocked the actual start of talks–the air is once again filled with talk of a prisoner exchange. The Taliban would love it if, as a sweetener for the talks and in exchange for the release of the only American prisoner they are holding, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama administration would release five senior Taliban detainees from Guantanamo.

The New York Times today has a profile of the five, and it would be hard to imagine a more repugnant bunch. As the Times notes:

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Now that peace talks are sort of on again with the Taliban–at least hopes of such talks have risen again, even if Kabul’s outrage at Taliban preening in opening an embassy of sorts in Qatar has blocked the actual start of talks–the air is once again filled with talk of a prisoner exchange. The Taliban would love it if, as a sweetener for the talks and in exchange for the release of the only American prisoner they are holding, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama administration would release five senior Taliban detainees from Guantanamo.

The New York Times today has a profile of the five, and it would be hard to imagine a more repugnant bunch. As the Times notes:

Two were senior Taliban commanders said to be implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan. When asked about the alleged war crimes by an interrogator, they “did not express any regret and stated they did what they needed to do in their struggle to establish their ideal state,” according to their interrogators.

There is also a former deputy director of Taliban intelligence, a former senior Taliban official said to have “strong operational ties” to various extremist militias, and a former Taliban minister accused of having sought help from Iran in attacking American forces.

If administration officials think they will win Taliban goodwill by releasing this rogue’s gallery, even as the Taliban continue to kill American soldiers, they are dreaming. Detainee releases make sense when it is clear that the movement to which the detainees belong is tired of fighting and seriously interested in making peace. That was the case with most Sunni insurgents in Iraq in 2007, which is why Gen. David Petraeus released so many of them from coalition custody. It’s not the case with the Taliban today: They remain convinced, reportedly, that they will take Kabul “in a week” once U.S. troops pull out. Making peace is not on the Taliban’s agenda in Qatar; gaining international legitimacy is.

Yet for all that, I am not completely opposed to the release of the five Taliban detainees–as long as it is understood that the point is simply to win Sgt. Bergdahl’s release. It is in general not a good policy to deal with terrorists, but democracies such as the U.S. and Israel have a long history of doing just that to win the release of their citizens; such concessions are perhaps inevitable in a liberal democracy which cares so much about its troops in particular. Israel, most recently, released some 1,000 Palestinian detainees to get Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit out of Hamas’s hands. By Israeli standards, the exchange of five Taliban detainees for one American sergeant is a good bargain.

Would the release of the Taliban prisoners increase the risk to American troops in Afghanistan? Possibly, but the difference these five would make would be minimal, especially when so many other Taliban detainees have already been released from coalition and Afghan custody. Many more will be sprung in the future now that the Kabul government, which is notoriously corrupt, has taken control of all detention facilities in Afghanistan from the U.S.

If the administration does decide to make the prisoner swap, at least it should not fool itself that it is helping to bring peace to Afghanistan. It would simply be a gesture of mercy for an imprisoned American soldier.

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Could Turkey Fall Below Iran in Press Freedom?

Even before the current protests, Turkey was already “the world’s largest prison for journalists,” its press freedom ranking had plummeted, falling below even Russia, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Burma. Since the protests erupted, however, Turkish authorities have grown increasingly aggressive toward the press. Not only have foreign journalists been attacked, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned his animus toward twitter, declaring the 140-character social network site to be “a menace to society.”

While I’ve written before about how Erdoğan has been confiscating television stations and media companies—including sending his Brownshirts to do the job as he stood next to President Obama in the Rose Garden last month—he appears intent to actually accelerate efforts to close any media companies that dare report critically about him, his increasingly unstable personality, or the brutal crackdown that Erdoğan appears ready to make the new normal.

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Even before the current protests, Turkey was already “the world’s largest prison for journalists,” its press freedom ranking had plummeted, falling below even Russia, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Burma. Since the protests erupted, however, Turkish authorities have grown increasingly aggressive toward the press. Not only have foreign journalists been attacked, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned his animus toward twitter, declaring the 140-character social network site to be “a menace to society.”

While I’ve written before about how Erdoğan has been confiscating television stations and media companies—including sending his Brownshirts to do the job as he stood next to President Obama in the Rose Garden last month—he appears intent to actually accelerate efforts to close any media companies that dare report critically about him, his increasingly unstable personality, or the brutal crackdown that Erdoğan appears ready to make the new normal.

He has, for example, used the media commission he controls to level outrageous fines against channels which reported events in Taksim Square or elsewhere as they were occurring. No longer is the sultan content to simply limit his jihad to Bart Simpson. The logic for the government fines was that the television channels showed violence which could harm children. The irony, of course, is that the violence was occurring on the street outside their homes, and children were breathing the gas that Erdoğan ordered fired. Fortunately, for those kids, Turkey has nearly exhausted its supply of tear gas, having fired well over 120,000 canisters, although the Turkish government has issued an emergency tender for 100,000 new gas canisters.

Now Turkish diplomats will insist that Turkey has a free press, and that is true so long as freedom is defined as being free to report all the news that Erdoğan approves and nothing more.

The question now, of course, is whether it is possible for Erdoğan to drive Turkey even lower in international press freedom rankings. It seems the answer is, unfortunately, yes. It is quite possible that, in the coming year, Turkey could find itself ranked below even Belarus, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Turkey will likely remain above Iran… for now. But after a few more years of Erdoğan, who knows? Erdoğan, however, will not care. His priority—it should be clear—is fealty to the sultan, not freedom or democracy.

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