Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 17, 2013

Kerry’s Illusion of Momentum

Lest anyone think Secretary of State John Kerry was working hard to deal with urgent foreign-policy problems today, fear not. Although he was doing nothing to end the standoff with Russia over Edward Snowden, stop Iran’s nuclear program, deal with the chaos in Egypt or the ongoing civil war in Syria that is strengthening Tehran’s hand, he didn’t come away empty-handed from his latest trip to the Middle East to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody other than Kerry seriously believes Kerry’s efforts to re-start the peace process will succeed. Both sides are at pains to try to avoid getting the blame for the inevitable failure. Yet Kerry hasn’t persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone actually end the conflict with Israel and, indeed, may be making things worse by encouraging them to ask for more preconditions that serve as a pretext for staying away from the talks. But his fool’s errand did get the endorsement of the Arab League today.

The statement from the League won’t alter the division among Palestinians between Hamas and Fatah that makes peace impossible. Nor will it prevent Abbas from raising the ante, as he keeps demanding more concessions from Israel in order to sit with them while having no intention of actually negotiating. But it does give Kerry the illusion of momentum that he needs so desperately in order to justify wasting his time on a dead end that offers no chance of a resolution while urgent situations that require his attention are given short shrift.

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Lest anyone think Secretary of State John Kerry was working hard to deal with urgent foreign-policy problems today, fear not. Although he was doing nothing to end the standoff with Russia over Edward Snowden, stop Iran’s nuclear program, deal with the chaos in Egypt or the ongoing civil war in Syria that is strengthening Tehran’s hand, he didn’t come away empty-handed from his latest trip to the Middle East to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody other than Kerry seriously believes Kerry’s efforts to re-start the peace process will succeed. Both sides are at pains to try to avoid getting the blame for the inevitable failure. Yet Kerry hasn’t persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone actually end the conflict with Israel and, indeed, may be making things worse by encouraging them to ask for more preconditions that serve as a pretext for staying away from the talks. But his fool’s errand did get the endorsement of the Arab League today.

The statement from the League won’t alter the division among Palestinians between Hamas and Fatah that makes peace impossible. Nor will it prevent Abbas from raising the ante, as he keeps demanding more concessions from Israel in order to sit with them while having no intention of actually negotiating. But it does give Kerry the illusion of momentum that he needs so desperately in order to justify wasting his time on a dead end that offers no chance of a resolution while urgent situations that require his attention are given short shrift.

Though the New York Times trumpeted the Arab League statement as proof that Kerry’s efforts are being rewarded with success, the real news came out of Ramallah where, as Ynet reported, Abbas was doubling down on his insistence on a laundry list of preconditions before he will consider returning to the negotiations that he has been boycotting since the start of the Obama administration. According to Western sources, Kerry’s latest meeting with Abbas to get him to rejoin the talks didn’t get him to budge but it did yield more demands from the Fatah leader.

In addition to the massive infusion of Western aid into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority that Kerry has been offering Abbas, they are now asking for an airport and the right to build hotels on the Dead Sea in areas that have heretofore been under exclusive Israeli control, as well as more work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. The ostensible purpose of these provisions would be to boost the dormant Palestinian economy, but obviously Israelis would have reason to worry about how Fatah would use an airport and whether the permits might open up an avenue for terrorism that has been closed by the security fence in the West Bank.

It isn’t likely that Israel would agree to all of these demands any more than they will give in on the various other points raised by the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly insisted on negotiations without preconditions, a stand endorsed by President Obama during his visit to the region in March. But what Kerry doesn’t seem to realize is that the endless bargaining in which the Palestinians talk about talking is merely another delaying tactic intended to serve as an excuse for their failure to actually negotiate. Though Kerry claimed a victory today and keeps saying that the gap between the sides is getting smaller, his trips only seem to encourage the Palestinians to keep asking for more without ever gaining their assent to deal with the Israelis.

There are those who may wonder what the president thinks about the secretary’s lack of actual success, but the more time he spends pursuing this dead end, the more likely it is that President Obama is perfectly happy to let Kerry chase his tail in this manner since it takes him out of the loop on other, more important issues that are being handled out of the White House. Kerry’s mythical illusion of momentum allows him to continue in this manner, but it also may be serving as an excuse to keep him from applying his inept diplomatic style elsewhere. As bad as the president has been doing on other fronts, it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise that Kerry is diverted elsewhere, lest he make things even worse in Egypt, Syria, Iran or Russia.

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Dem Filibuster Win Doesn’t Change Much

The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

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The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

McConnell may have taken Reid to the brink in this confrontation, but, as was the case when their positions were reversed only a few years ago, beyond a certain point the smaller caucus must always give in to some extent. The confirmation of an agency head that has actually already been in place for more than a year is not a substitute for a viable legislative program or a coherent policy. Nor can it be portrayed as anything more than a tactical triumph with little or no carry-over to the rest of the president’s fading agenda.

There are two reasons why Democrats have to crow about the deal as a seminal event.

One is the obvious fact that, after being consistently stymied by a wily minority, Reid’s bluffs about the “nuclear option” at least allowed him to say that he got the better of McConnell for at least one day. Such days don’t happen very often in the Senate, as even with 55 seats and few moderates in his caucus to thwart the liberals, Reid often finds himself unable to outmaneuver his counterpart and—despite the complaints of many conservatives—rarely is able to get many Republican votes on virtually any matter of consequence.

The other reason goes to the liberal misconception about what the Republicans are doing. The president and many in his party really do believe the goal of the GOP is to literally stop the government from functioning. Thus, anytime they are able to do anything, such as getting his nominee to lead an agency Republicans would like to abolish confirmed, they tell themselves that they have thwarted a primary aim of their opponents. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding both of the Republicans and of what they hope to accomplish.

Few Republicans really thought they could hold off Cordray indefinitely anymore than they can stop Obama from filling any post if the Democrats care enough about it to make it an issue. The point of the delay was to call attention to their opposition to the agency and to lay the groundwork for attempts to change its structure—to give it a bipartisan leadership—or eventually abolish it. The same is true of the NLRB appointees who might well have been tossed out of their positions by the courts if Obama hadn’t backed down and agreed to replace them.

Reid may feel his nuclear threat about the filibuster will smooth the way for future Obama nominees, but he knows very well that if the president chooses to put forward people who are vulnerable to criticism, the GOP will be back with stalling tactics. Like momentum in baseball that depends on a team’s starting pitcher on each day, the outcome of the next battle has more to do with the identity of future appointees than it does with what happened yesterday.

More to the point, the greatest victory for the Democrats in this deal has nothing to do with Obama’s nominations and everything to do with his own dubious prospects for sitting at the majority leader’s desk in 2015. Since, as I wrote on Monday, even liberal pundit/prognosticator Nate Silver is predicting the GOP will emerge from the 2014 midterms with 50-51 seats, preserving the right to filibuster is just as important to the Democrats as it is to McConnell. The ease with which the long standoff was solved tells us as much about Reid’s desire to preserve the right to stall as it did about McConnell’s interests.

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Don’t Boycott Olympics Over Snowden

The continuing scandal of Edward Snowden’s flight to China and then Russia (and possibly elsewhere more permanently) has been a diplomatic setback for the Obama administration. But it has not been wholly without its minor diplomatic victories. A phone call from Vice President Biden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa apparently convinced the latter not to accept Snowden. And a request from President Obama apparently convinced our European allies to ground the Bolivian president’s plane out of suspicion Snowden was on board.

Snowden hasn’t been extradited, but his options are disappearing and his fate is now in the hands of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. And the president did read one aspect of the issue correctly: countries have reveled in rejecting the American president publicly, and so Obama has declined to play too high-profile a role lest he give Vladimir Putin and the others an additional public-relations victory. There was no reason to add (more) insult to injury–but that’s exactly what GOP Senator Lindsey Graham would have the administration do. Graham said the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics to be held in the Russian city of Sochi if Snowden isn’t extradited to the U.S. His comments have now drawn condemnation from both sides of the isle, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee:

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The continuing scandal of Edward Snowden’s flight to China and then Russia (and possibly elsewhere more permanently) has been a diplomatic setback for the Obama administration. But it has not been wholly without its minor diplomatic victories. A phone call from Vice President Biden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa apparently convinced the latter not to accept Snowden. And a request from President Obama apparently convinced our European allies to ground the Bolivian president’s plane out of suspicion Snowden was on board.

Snowden hasn’t been extradited, but his options are disappearing and his fate is now in the hands of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. And the president did read one aspect of the issue correctly: countries have reveled in rejecting the American president publicly, and so Obama has declined to play too high-profile a role lest he give Vladimir Putin and the others an additional public-relations victory. There was no reason to add (more) insult to injury–but that’s exactly what GOP Senator Lindsey Graham would have the administration do. Graham said the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics to be held in the Russian city of Sochi if Snowden isn’t extradited to the U.S. His comments have now drawn condemnation from both sides of the isle, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee:

“If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict. It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes, all whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games, of the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Graham said the United States should send Russia “the most unequivocal signal I could send them” after Snowden on Tuesday formally requested asylum after spending almost a month in the transit zone of the Moscow airport. Snowden has been charged with espionage for leaking details about two NSA programs that collected information about U.S. telephone calls and international Internet usage.

Alexey Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker, dismissed Graham’s remarks as an effort to go back to Cold War times of “mutual boycotts when our two countries looked at each other through, figuratively speaking, nuclear sight.” And President Vladimir Putin said U.S.-Russian ties were “far more important” than the Snowden dispute.

Olympic athletes train and prepare their entire lives for the chance to participate in an event that comes along once every four years. A boycott means there would be eight years between American participation in a winter Olympics. The average age of a winter Olympian is usually around 27 years old, making that eight-year gap a career-ender for many. That doesn’t mean a boycott is never an acceptable act, but the offense has to fit the outrage.

Does it in this case? Not remotely. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about it at a press briefing and said it’s not even on the administration’s radar. The administration likely knows that the boycott threat would probably have the opposite of the intended effect. Most of the countries’ teams would shed no tears over the thought of not having to compete with American athletes, and they would probably view Putin as something of a hero for getting the Americans to back out of the competition, leveling the playing field in certain sports.

It would also make the U.S. look petty: we didn’t boycott the Olympics in China in 2008, after all, but now that we feel personally insulted we’re going to stay home? We should be careful about the precedent, too. An un-extradited fugitive is a low bar for countries to clear if they’re looking for an excuse to make a fuss.

So what’s happening here? It’s most likely an overreaction born of frustration. But unlike during the Cold War, the mistake to be avoided is taking such Russian provocations too seriously. Putin is presiding over a country in various stages of decline, and he would love nothing more than to be treated as though he is more of a threat than he is. That’s not to say he’s harmless–Russian assistance to Iran’s nuclear program and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, as well as invading U.S. allies are but a few of the ways Putin can and does cause real harm.

But it’s those actions that call for pushback, not the administration’s failed “reset,” a policy that quickly became a punch line. If there is information the FSB can get from Snowden, they’ve probably got it already. He’s been living in the transit zone of the airport for about a month, after all. Obama’s policies toward Russia have been disastrous and weak, but conservatives need to offer a more serious alternative than boycotting the Olympics over Snowden. It’s a good sign that Graham seems to be alone in his proposal.

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Civil Rights Cases and Racism

In a week in which accusations of racism have become the hottest topic in the public square, it was probably smart for the publishers of David Dinkins’s forthcoming memoir to trot out the former mayor of New York City for an interview with the New York Times in which he could air his personal grievances. According to the Times, the Dinkins autobiography due out in September will highlight his belief that the only reason why his 1989 victory over Rudy Giuliani was won by a narrow margin was racism. Not surprisingly, Dinkins credits the same factor for his defeat at the hands of Giuliani four years later. While nobody should expect Dinkins to accept the general assessment of his single term at Gracie Mansion as an unmitigated disaster, his inability to understand that it was his performance rather than prejudice that soured many New Yorkers on him shows that he is just as out of touch with public opinion today as he was then.

But the irony here is that his attempt to smear the slightly less than a million voters who voted against him in both elections as racists is that the most memorable event of his term in office was a riot motivated by bias. Even Dinkins has to admit that the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom against Jews in Brooklyn was a disaster for which he had to accept responsibility. It is also of particular relevance today because it spawned exactly what protesters against the acquittal of George Zimmerman want: a successful federal civil rights prosecution of a man who was judged not guilty of murder by a state court. However, the differences between that case and the death of Trayvon Martin go a long way toward helping us understand Dinkins’s defeat as well as why a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman would make a farce of the concept.

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In a week in which accusations of racism have become the hottest topic in the public square, it was probably smart for the publishers of David Dinkins’s forthcoming memoir to trot out the former mayor of New York City for an interview with the New York Times in which he could air his personal grievances. According to the Times, the Dinkins autobiography due out in September will highlight his belief that the only reason why his 1989 victory over Rudy Giuliani was won by a narrow margin was racism. Not surprisingly, Dinkins credits the same factor for his defeat at the hands of Giuliani four years later. While nobody should expect Dinkins to accept the general assessment of his single term at Gracie Mansion as an unmitigated disaster, his inability to understand that it was his performance rather than prejudice that soured many New Yorkers on him shows that he is just as out of touch with public opinion today as he was then.

But the irony here is that his attempt to smear the slightly less than a million voters who voted against him in both elections as racists is that the most memorable event of his term in office was a riot motivated by bias. Even Dinkins has to admit that the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom against Jews in Brooklyn was a disaster for which he had to accept responsibility. It is also of particular relevance today because it spawned exactly what protesters against the acquittal of George Zimmerman want: a successful federal civil rights prosecution of a man who was judged not guilty of murder by a state court. However, the differences between that case and the death of Trayvon Martin go a long way toward helping us understand Dinkins’s defeat as well as why a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman would make a farce of the concept.

Dinkins’s attempt to resurrect his old grudge against his successor isn’t of much interest. But the idea that the refusal of New Yorkers to embrace his political ambition with unanimity was rooted in their prejudices is an absurd distortion of the facts. As the Times notes, Dinkins was an urbane, well-dressed and well-spoken man. But he was also a political hack who inspired little affection or confidence. Many New Yorkers may have thought that after three exhausting terms of Ed Koch, they needed a man lacking dynamism. But once Dinkins took office, many repented of this sentiment as the impression of a dysfunctional, ungovernable city took hold.

The Crown Heights riot was not the only instance in which Dinkins’s lack of leadership was telling—a black boycott of Korean storekeepers was just as toxic and also illustrated the mayor’s indecisive nature. But it was the most notorious. It started when a Jewish driver ran over a black child in a car accident. An angry mob formed and violence soon brook out as racial hucksters encouraged attacks on Jews in an area in which Hasidic Jews lived near a predominantly black neighborhood. For three days, black rioters ran amuck as the police failed to act to stop the violence that was directed against Jews that has since been widely and accurately described as a pogrom—the only such instance in American history.

Many Jews were injured as homes and businesses were attacked and looted. During the course of this riot, 20 young black men surrounded a 29-year-old Australian Jewish student living in the area. They taunted him with anti-Semitic epithets and then beat and stabbed him. Before he died, he identified Lemrick Nelson Jr. as his murderer.

Eventually, Dinkins ordered in enough police to stop the violence after earlier attempts to restore order were overwhelmed by the rioters.

It should be remembered that this was an era in which leadership of the black community seemed more the function of racial hucksters such as the young Al Sharpton than figures such as Dinkins. The future MSNBC host distinguished himself during this incident by invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes about “diamond merchants” while speaking at the funeral of the child killed in the original accident and referring to a Jewish ambulance service as a function of “apartheid.”

In this inflamed circumstance, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Nelson was acquitted of the murder by a predominantly minority jury despite the fact that he had been identified by the victim and arrested while carrying the blood-stained knife used to kill Rosenblum.

After that verdict, pressure was put on the federal government to prosecute the murderer for depriving Rosenblum of his civil rights. It was, like any second prosecution of Zimmerman would be, a form of double jeopardy. But the legal justification for the second trial was solid. The attack on Rosenblum was clearly based on anti-Semitism as it was carried out by a crowd that had been yelling, “kill the Jew” at their victim and during the course of a riot specifically directed at inflicting violence at Hasidic Jews.

The problem for those who would like to manufacture a civil rights case against the Hispanic killer of Martin is that there is no evidence that he said anything racial to the teenager. Nor, despite the attempt to interpret his repeated complaints about those who had committed thefts and acts of violence in his community, is there any evidence of racism on his part, a point that has already been made by the FBI’s failure to procure any such evidence during its initial investigation of the incident.

As legal commentators have rightly noted, the bar for a civil rights prosecution is very high. It was met in the Crown Heights case, but that was a case of mass violence rooted in bias, not a confused confrontation without witnesses.

The proof of Dinkins’s general incompetence was clearly illustrated not so much by the anger of the city about what happened from 1989 to 1993 but by the widespread and correct perception of a radical improvement under Giuliani. His successful mayoralty consigned Dinkins to the dustbin of history from which he can only hope to extricate himself via accusations that are as untrue as they are pathetic.

However, those eager to beat the drum for the Department of Justice to take on Zimmerman should find the history of Dinkins’s mayoralty to be instructive. Crown Heights provides an actual example of what happens when prejudice runs riot and how true jury nullification can lead to a successful civil rights prosecution.

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Hispanics and the Zimmerman Narrative

Four days into the post-Zimmerman trial verdict era—which many in the media have already dubbed the post-post racial era of American history—a small but interesting thing happened that tells us a lot about the way the narrative of this event is being crafted by the media. Politico’s Dylan Byers gets credit for noticing a curious detail about President Obama’s much talked-about interviews with Hispanic television networks. The focus of the appearances was the discussion of immigration reform. The main point was the White House’s not-so-subtle hint to Republicans that though the president had taken a low profile on the issue in order to not sabotage bipartisan efforts to pass a Senate compromise, Democrats were poised to use the failure of the House to pass a bill as a cudgel to attack Republicans in the future. But the most fascinating element of the president’s Hispanic outreach was the question that he wasn’t asked. As Byers points out, on a day when the country was transfixed by the debate over the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a charge of murdering Trayvon Martin, no one from Telemundo or Univision even mentioned the case.

In and of itself it’s curious that any presidential interview this week would not contain at least one question about the case. But even Byers didn’t mention the irony here. While the prevailing narrative of the case has been to portray the tragic death of Martin as a symbol if not a practical example of white racism against African-Americans, Zimmerman isn’t white. He’s Hispanic. So it is telling that not only have none of the leading lights of the Latino media claimed him as a member of their community, but in doing so have consciously abstained from dealing with the issue of race relations in America that has become the primary topic of political discussion since Saturday night. At least as far as these interviews were concerned, the Hispanic media seems determined to do nothing to alter the prevailing narrative in which Zimmerman is stripped of his own identity as a minority in order to make the point about racist America in a way that allows the left to wave the bloody banner of Jim Crow unimpeded by concern for the sensitivities of Hispanics.

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Four days into the post-Zimmerman trial verdict era—which many in the media have already dubbed the post-post racial era of American history—a small but interesting thing happened that tells us a lot about the way the narrative of this event is being crafted by the media. Politico’s Dylan Byers gets credit for noticing a curious detail about President Obama’s much talked-about interviews with Hispanic television networks. The focus of the appearances was the discussion of immigration reform. The main point was the White House’s not-so-subtle hint to Republicans that though the president had taken a low profile on the issue in order to not sabotage bipartisan efforts to pass a Senate compromise, Democrats were poised to use the failure of the House to pass a bill as a cudgel to attack Republicans in the future. But the most fascinating element of the president’s Hispanic outreach was the question that he wasn’t asked. As Byers points out, on a day when the country was transfixed by the debate over the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a charge of murdering Trayvon Martin, no one from Telemundo or Univision even mentioned the case.

In and of itself it’s curious that any presidential interview this week would not contain at least one question about the case. But even Byers didn’t mention the irony here. While the prevailing narrative of the case has been to portray the tragic death of Martin as a symbol if not a practical example of white racism against African-Americans, Zimmerman isn’t white. He’s Hispanic. So it is telling that not only have none of the leading lights of the Latino media claimed him as a member of their community, but in doing so have consciously abstained from dealing with the issue of race relations in America that has become the primary topic of political discussion since Saturday night. At least as far as these interviews were concerned, the Hispanic media seems determined to do nothing to alter the prevailing narrative in which Zimmerman is stripped of his own identity as a minority in order to make the point about racist America in a way that allows the left to wave the bloody banner of Jim Crow unimpeded by concern for the sensitivities of Hispanics.

Let’s concede that the Hispanic journalists are entitled to determine their own priorities and that immigration reform and the status of illegals is not only the topic they are most interested in but also the one their viewers care most about. They are also within their rights to deplore Zimmerman’s actions and to reject his acquittal if they think it was unjust. But the complete absence of interest on their part in bringing up the case this week in what was a unique opportunity to get the president speak to the issue provides us with a fascinating commentary on their frame of reference.

Though race was not part of the actual trial that hinged on the facts of the case and the details of the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, since the verdict was handed down the discussion in the country about it has focused almost entirely on identity politics and race. Martin has been transformed in much of this discussion from a youth with a mixed record who got into a fight with an armed man into a martyr who was murdered because he was black. But in order to make that narrative persuasive, Zimmerman must be viewed as a “creepy ass cracker”—Martin’s description of Zimmerman according to Rachel Jeantel—and not the son of a woman from South America whose Hispanic appearance doesn’t exactly make him a likely recruit for the Ku Klux Klan. But in order to really think of Zimmerman that way, we must forget his origins and his looks and focus only on his German-sounding last name.

One needn’t agree with the verdict in order to understand that stripping Zimmerman of his Hispanic identity and making him an honorary member of the white supremacist conspiracy against minorities has been an integral element in the process by which he has been demonized and the case has been inflated into the new paradigm of American racism. Those who only concentrated on the facts of the case rather than the politicized agitation that accompanied it—a group that includes the jurors that acquitted Zimmerman—found it to be a complex and confusing incident that told us little, if anything, about racism in America. But eliminating the defendant’s background makes it easier to think of it as a morality play about racism.

Perhaps it’s understandable that Hispanic journalists wouldn’t want to risk upsetting their liberal colleagues by disrupting this rhetorical formulation by pointing out Zimmerman’s background or even raising questions about assumptions about race. But their failure to do so is playing a part in perpetuating a distorted discussion that has done more to obscure the truth about race in America than to shed light on it.

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Why Ray Kelly Should Stay in New York

Ever since the announcement that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was leaving her post, the list of possible replacements has included New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But Kelly’s consideration received a boost yesterday when President Obama, in an interview with Univision, said he’d consider Kelly, and added that the commish is “very well-qualified for the job.”

The president is of course correct about Kelly’s qualifications. Kelly also enjoys sky-high approval ratings in New York, across ethnic and political lines, despite the campaign against him from the mainstream media, which is reflexively anti-police and whose reporting on the NYPD has rarely even resembled reality. (The local media is far more supportive of the NYPD; despite its name, the New York Times is a national, not local, paper and its egregious reporting on the NYPD is a good example of the divide.)

So, Kelly is qualified and enjoys bipartisan support. He would thus seem to be a sensible choice. And if he’s offered the post, he should under no circumstances accept it.

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Ever since the announcement that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was leaving her post, the list of possible replacements has included New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But Kelly’s consideration received a boost yesterday when President Obama, in an interview with Univision, said he’d consider Kelly, and added that the commish is “very well-qualified for the job.”

The president is of course correct about Kelly’s qualifications. Kelly also enjoys sky-high approval ratings in New York, across ethnic and political lines, despite the campaign against him from the mainstream media, which is reflexively anti-police and whose reporting on the NYPD has rarely even resembled reality. (The local media is far more supportive of the NYPD; despite its name, the New York Times is a national, not local, paper and its egregious reporting on the NYPD is a good example of the divide.)

So, Kelly is qualified and enjoys bipartisan support. He would thus seem to be a sensible choice. And if he’s offered the post, he should under no circumstances accept it.

Kelly may not even be interested in heading to Washington. But if he is, there are important reasons why he should resist the temptation. The primary reason is one that may seem counterintuitive: Kelly could more effectively promote American national security from New York City than Washington. This isn’t to disparage the Department of Homeland Security, but it’s merely a bureaucratic management position. The separate agencies, where the real action is, already have their leaders: Kelly wouldn’t lead the FBI or CIA, for example, and we even have a director of national intelligence whose job it is to serve as an executive filter of such information.

Additionally, the DHS secretary answers to the White House. Kelly would not necessarily have the freedom to pursue his policy preferences, and he would have to wade into myriad turf wars to change anything about the way Washington approaches homeland security.

In New York City, by contrast, Kelly has tremendous independence. New York is also not only on the front lines of domestic antiterrorism, but a trendsetter nationally in urban policing. When the NYPD figured out how to reduce crime in urban settings, the policies were exported to other major cities that couldn’t tame their violent crime rates and get their cities under control. Sometimes, the NYPD’s own practitioners of the policies were hired by those cities: William Bratton, New York’s police commissioner during the Giuliani administration, was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2002, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently brought in Garry McCarthy, a disciple of Bratton’s at the NYPD and the man in charge of the NYPD’s successful CompStat system.

New York’s safety thus has implications for the safety of America’s major cities, and with the recent migration trends indicating a return to the cities, urban policymaking becomes even more important–as does having a popular, credible, and tough-minded leader of that policymaking effort. And that is the other reason Kelly should be wary of an offer to head DHS: the motives of his supposed Democratic admirers.

The American left, steeped in a suspicion of the police and ignorant of crime policy, believes that the NYPD’s successful anti-crime efforts can be reduced to racial profiling, especially with regard to the policy known as stop and frisk. The reality, of course, is that the police are going where the crime is and responding to calls for help from the residents of those communities. The irony in the liberal critique is that the NYPD is correcting the disparate impact of the liberal approach to crime, which creates a racially incongruent system of city inequality.

But liberals are challenging the NYPD in court and have found an irresponsible, activist judge who is trying, despite the evidence, to find some way to tie the hands of the NYPD. Additionally, it is also a mayoral election year, and so the Democratic candidates can be found playing their typical game of one-upmanship: Christine Quinn backed a dangerous plan to crack down on the NYPD’s successful anti-crime strategies. But Anthony Weiner is also running for mayor, which means he had to try desperately to find the dumbest thing he could possibly say about the NYPD. He has a unique talent for aggressive stupidity, and has now compared the NYPD’s logic to that of the Nazis.

All that means this is a crucial time for Ray Kelly to be heading the NYPD. Democrats want this controversy to go away, and many of them would also like to undercut the NYPD’s anti-crime efforts. Politically, they have much to gain from plucking Kelly from his current job and putting him behind a desk in Washington. It’s never easy to say no to the president, but in this case the job offer, if it materializes, would have the intent of undoing much of Kelly’s great work. Hopefully, the commissioner sees through the Democrats’ ploy.

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Must We Cut the Army to Expand the Navy?

Seth Cropsey, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, has written a fine new book called Mayday, warning of the perilous decline of U.S. naval supremacy. It should be required reading in Washington. As you might expect, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations who is now at the Hoover Institution, gave the book a thumbs up in the Wall Street Journal. But while endorsing Cropsey’s warning about the dangers of allowing the Navy to decline too far, Roughead adds a curious dig at the army:

With its 286 ships, the U.S. Navy is now smaller than it was in 1917, when it boasted 342. The number is stuck, and the trend spans the administrations of both parties. We have spent heavily on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Navy, which is central to our long-term strategic interests, languishes. Navies, unlike armies, take time to build—why the framers of our Constitution wrote of the imperative to “provide and maintain a Navy,” as opposed to the need to “raise and support an Army.”

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Seth Cropsey, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, has written a fine new book called Mayday, warning of the perilous decline of U.S. naval supremacy. It should be required reading in Washington. As you might expect, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations who is now at the Hoover Institution, gave the book a thumbs up in the Wall Street Journal. But while endorsing Cropsey’s warning about the dangers of allowing the Navy to decline too far, Roughead adds a curious dig at the army:

With its 286 ships, the U.S. Navy is now smaller than it was in 1917, when it boasted 342. The number is stuck, and the trend spans the administrations of both parties. We have spent heavily on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Navy, which is central to our long-term strategic interests, languishes. Navies, unlike armies, take time to build—why the framers of our Constitution wrote of the imperative to “provide and maintain a Navy,” as opposed to the need to “raise and support an Army.”

Although he does not expound on it in this book review, Roughead has previously proposed that we cut a further 200,000 personnel from the active duty army which is already supposed to shrink to 490,000 men and women even before sequestration takes effect. (He proposed at the same time adding 100,000 personnel to the National Guard and Reserve, as if reservist and active-duty units are interchangeable–they’re not.) His proposal for cutting the army, while increasing the navy, seems to be based on the assumption reflected in the book review–that armies can be far more quickly regenerated than navies.

It’s certainly true that naval ships take a long time to build–and it takes a long time to gain proficiency in operating them once they are added to the fleet. Granted, rifles, tanks, and helicopters don’t take as long to build and are easier to operate. But that doesn’t mean that an army can be generated with a snap of the fingers. We have learned this lesson time and again throughout our history in the early battles of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, among others–all of which exposed the inadequacies of ill-trained, ill-equipped recruits commanded, in many cases, by incompetent generals.

In point of fact, a professional, high-quality army takes a long time to develop–simply developing the capacity to be a competent battalion commander in today’s army can take 20 years. If we downsize the army excessively now, it will be no easy feat to replace lost experience on some future battlefield. History suggests we will pay a heavy price if we break up the high-quality, combined-arms ground forces we have today because, however unlikely it may look at the moment, the odds are that we will be engaged in another ground war sooner or later.

Roughead is right that we need to keep the U.S. Navy from shrinking further–and we even need to expand it. But it would be a mistake to eviscerate the army to pay for naval power. The U.S. is a full-service superpower that needs–and can afford–world-class forces on both soil and sea, not to mention in the skies.

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