Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 19, 2013

Can Christie Win With the Bush Formula?

Chris Christie appeared at the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston to tell them about how his administration in New Jersey is a model for how Republicans can both govern and win elections. If it seemed familiar, it should, since he used his prime time television spot at last summer’s GOP convention to make some of the same points. But if there is any model that Christie is following these days, it appears to be the one dreamed up by Karl Rove that led George W. Bush to the presidency. Christie’s establishment of a national fundraising network was the lede of a story on him in yesterday’s New York Times. That’s an important element of his gubernatorial reelection that shows just how formidable a presidential contender he could be in 2016. But the even more significant development is the aspect that bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection as governor of Texas in 1998 and his subsequent successful run for the presidency. As the Times reports:

Senior Republicans who are familiar with Mr. Christie’s strategy say it is most closely modeled after Mr. Bush’s bid in 1998 for re-election as governor of Texas. The parallels are clear. Mr. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election to the governor’s office, but he and Mr. Rove became determined to win over Hispanic and black voters to demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal to a national audience. Mr. Bush won that race, with 68 percent of the vote, which included more than a third of the Hispanic vote, offering him a powerful credential when he ran for president two years later as “a different kind of Republican.”

This summer, Mr. Christie established a bilingual campaign office in Paterson, N.J., and spent $275,000 on a Spanish-language television ad. He has also announced a Hispanics for Christie coalition and is now running even among Hispanic voters against Ms. Buono, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released 10 days ago.

While Christie’s truculent personality will make it a bit harder to sell him to the public as the “compassionate conservative” that Bush was depicted as being, this is exactly the sort of candidate that Republicans who hope to improve on their increasingly poor showings with minorities and independents want. But the question for both Christie and the GOP is whether the party’s conservative base will interpret this outreach as a form of “treason” rather than commonsense politics.

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Chris Christie appeared at the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston to tell them about how his administration in New Jersey is a model for how Republicans can both govern and win elections. If it seemed familiar, it should, since he used his prime time television spot at last summer’s GOP convention to make some of the same points. But if there is any model that Christie is following these days, it appears to be the one dreamed up by Karl Rove that led George W. Bush to the presidency. Christie’s establishment of a national fundraising network was the lede of a story on him in yesterday’s New York Times. That’s an important element of his gubernatorial reelection that shows just how formidable a presidential contender he could be in 2016. But the even more significant development is the aspect that bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection as governor of Texas in 1998 and his subsequent successful run for the presidency. As the Times reports:

Senior Republicans who are familiar with Mr. Christie’s strategy say it is most closely modeled after Mr. Bush’s bid in 1998 for re-election as governor of Texas. The parallels are clear. Mr. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election to the governor’s office, but he and Mr. Rove became determined to win over Hispanic and black voters to demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal to a national audience. Mr. Bush won that race, with 68 percent of the vote, which included more than a third of the Hispanic vote, offering him a powerful credential when he ran for president two years later as “a different kind of Republican.”

This summer, Mr. Christie established a bilingual campaign office in Paterson, N.J., and spent $275,000 on a Spanish-language television ad. He has also announced a Hispanics for Christie coalition and is now running even among Hispanic voters against Ms. Buono, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released 10 days ago.

While Christie’s truculent personality will make it a bit harder to sell him to the public as the “compassionate conservative” that Bush was depicted as being, this is exactly the sort of candidate that Republicans who hope to improve on their increasingly poor showings with minorities and independents want. But the question for both Christie and the GOP is whether the party’s conservative base will interpret this outreach as a form of “treason” rather than commonsense politics.

It should be remembered that many Republicans saw the younger Bush as the establishment’s candidate for 2000, and in many ways that was exactly right. But Bush succeeded in arousing the sympathy of movement conservatives as well as his father’s large donors. That worked because the 43rd president’s social conservative views that placed him to the right of Bush 41 convinced the party’s base that he could be trusted to govern even though he worked hard to show himself as open to constituencies that were not Republican strongholds, like Hispanics. What Bush strategist Karl Rove understood was that if you turn out your base while eating into Democratic majorities in other demographic sectors, that was a formula for victory.

Flash forward 15 years later and Republicans understand that victory in 2016 will rely on the same prescription, but find themselves handicapped by the willingness of much of the GOP base to identify themselves with opposition to immigration reform, a cause that has often spilled over into open prejudice such as that articulated recently by Rep. Steve King. Even more disturbing, an increasingly vocal segment of Republicans aren’t so much dedicated to these views as they are suspicious of anyone who seeks to work with Democrats (or embrace them when they come bearing federal aid money after a hurricane, as Christie did with President Obama last October) or willing to try to work to get Hispanic or black votes.

Christie’s problem thus isn’t so much whether his views are sufficiently conservative—as a pro-life opponent of big labor and budget cutter he should be acceptable to the right on his own terms—as whether his efforts to cast himself as a centrist is itself disqualifying.

Perhaps to some on the right it is, and there’s little doubt that this reputation as well as his commendable attack on isolationist views on security and foreign policy will hurt him with some Tea Partiers. As Seth wrote last week, merely putting Christie forward as more likely to win than other Republicans isn’t a compelling argument. But neither should Christie be discouraged from mimicking the George W. Bush formula. If, like the Texan, he can credibly claim to be a conservative (as perhaps John McCain and Mitt Romney did not) while also demonstrating an ability to beat Democrats on their home turf in New Jersey (something Romney feared to try to do a second time in Massachusetts), then maybe the Bush formula can elect another Republican to the White House.

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Can We Trust the New Al Jazeera?

After enriching Al Gore by a cool hundred million as part of their purchase of his dead-in-the-water Current cable channel, the rulers of Qatar are hoping to win the hearts, minds, and attention of U.S. viewers with their revamped Al Jazeera America slated to make its debut in 48 million domestic homes tomorrow afternoon. The problem for the owners of the channel is that most Americans still think of the network as al-Qaeda’s favorite propaganda source that promoted a noxious mix of vicious anti-American and anti-Israel opinion and biased news reporting that made even the most partisan American networks appear to be bastions of Olympian objectivity. How do you fix that? Easy. Convince everyone that your channel is just the opposite of what they expect. To that end, Al Jazeera has managed to coax the New York Times into writing a puff piece on their plans to rebrand themselves as being the most serious news network on television.

The Times obliged with a piece that claims the launch is the most ambitious journalistic project since the debut of Fox News because it will be a network dedicated to “fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news” along with “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.” It will also have a lot fewer commercials but, as the Times points out, that has more to do with Al Jazeera’s inability to sell time to advertisers. Even so, it all sounds perfect, right? Maybe. We’ll judge them on their performance rather than their rather impressive PR efforts. But there’s still one lingering problem that ought to trouble even those liberal mainstream media types who are clearly rooting for it: this is the same media company that puts out the Al Jazeera seen around the world and that remains the antithesis of what they’re selling to Americans.

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After enriching Al Gore by a cool hundred million as part of their purchase of his dead-in-the-water Current cable channel, the rulers of Qatar are hoping to win the hearts, minds, and attention of U.S. viewers with their revamped Al Jazeera America slated to make its debut in 48 million domestic homes tomorrow afternoon. The problem for the owners of the channel is that most Americans still think of the network as al-Qaeda’s favorite propaganda source that promoted a noxious mix of vicious anti-American and anti-Israel opinion and biased news reporting that made even the most partisan American networks appear to be bastions of Olympian objectivity. How do you fix that? Easy. Convince everyone that your channel is just the opposite of what they expect. To that end, Al Jazeera has managed to coax the New York Times into writing a puff piece on their plans to rebrand themselves as being the most serious news network on television.

The Times obliged with a piece that claims the launch is the most ambitious journalistic project since the debut of Fox News because it will be a network dedicated to “fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news” along with “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.” It will also have a lot fewer commercials but, as the Times points out, that has more to do with Al Jazeera’s inability to sell time to advertisers. Even so, it all sounds perfect, right? Maybe. We’ll judge them on their performance rather than their rather impressive PR efforts. But there’s still one lingering problem that ought to trouble even those liberal mainstream media types who are clearly rooting for it: this is the same media company that puts out the Al Jazeera seen around the world and that remains the antithesis of what they’re selling to Americans.

The latest example of the real Al Jazeera comes to us courtesy of Memri.org, the indispensable source of translations of the Arab media. Apparently, on Saturday the parent network of Al Jazeera America broadcast a rant from a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood accusing Egypt’s military leader of being a secret Jew and claiming that the new government is implementing the plan first revealed in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery. If its entertainment division producing a Hillary Clinton biopic embarrasses NBC news, it would be interesting to see what the supposedly “unbiased” journalists of Al Jazeera America think about that.

The point here is that despite all the talk from liberal figures in the media telling us about how essential Al Jazeera is and how hopeful their American beachhead will be for the future of journalism, it remains a place that can be counted on for the sort of incitement that gave the network the bad reputation its still trying to overcome. The Americans hired to work for Al Jazeera may be well intentioned and some of their work may be valuable, just as the coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings by the mother network. But Americans are not likely to trust a broadcaster that blithely promotes this kind of hatred and bias elsewhere. Insulating their American operation from its foreign owners is not as easy as the Times would have us believe so long as it answers to the same Qatari masters with a weakness for anti-Semitism. Any channel that calls itself Al Jazeera is going to have to prove that it won’t spew the same kind of prejudice. It’s not likely that a rightly skeptical American audience will give them much of a chance.

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Terrorism and Complacence

There is a long-standing isolationist trope which holds that because relatively few Americans die every year in acts of terrorism–at least if you exclude our troops in Afghanistan or, before that, in Iraq–then it follows we are devoting too much effort to the war on terrorism. (For an example, see this online Atlantic article, this Jewish Daily Forward article, which clams you’re more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist, or just about any foreign policy publication from the Cato Institute.)

What’s wrong with this argument? Leave aside the fact that the number of people killed has never been the sole or even the main criterion of how the U.S. or other nations respond to attacks on their soil–otherwise it would be hard to see why we declared war on Germany and Japan in 1941, thereby becoming embroiled in a conflict many times more costly than the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in response to an attack which killed fewer Americans than did 9/11.

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There is a long-standing isolationist trope which holds that because relatively few Americans die every year in acts of terrorism–at least if you exclude our troops in Afghanistan or, before that, in Iraq–then it follows we are devoting too much effort to the war on terrorism. (For an example, see this online Atlantic article, this Jewish Daily Forward article, which clams you’re more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist, or just about any foreign policy publication from the Cato Institute.)

What’s wrong with this argument? Leave aside the fact that the number of people killed has never been the sole or even the main criterion of how the U.S. or other nations respond to attacks on their soil–otherwise it would be hard to see why we declared war on Germany and Japan in 1941, thereby becoming embroiled in a conflict many times more costly than the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in response to an attack which killed fewer Americans than did 9/11.

The real problem with the isolationist argument is that just because terrorists have killed relatively few Americans so far–if one discounts those 3,000 dead on 9/11 and lesser casualty tolls from Beirut in 1983 to Boston in 2013–does not mean that they will never kill more in the future. And even without killing a lot of people directly, terrorists can nevertheless severely impact our cherished way of life.

I was reminded of that reading this news article about a drill to be held in November, known as GridEx II, in which electric power companies will work with government agencies to simulate their response to a massive blackout that could be caused by terrorists and/or hackers, either working for a non-state group such as al-Qaeda or a foreign government such as China’s.

The article notes: “The electric grid, as government and private experts describe it, is the glass jaw of American industry. If an adversary lands a knockout blow, they fear, it could black out vast areas of the continent for weeks; interrupt supplies of water, gasoline, diesel fuel and fresh food; shut down communications; and create disruptions of a scale that was only hinted at by Hurricane Sandy and the attacks of Sept. 11.”

Such a scenario seems improbable today–but then so did the 9/11 attacks before they occurred. If history teaches anything, it is that we would be making a grave mistake if we discounted a looming danger simply because it had not yet come to pass.

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Education Reform and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which seeks to set consistent educational standards nationwide (by having the states join voluntarily), has been the subject of intensifying debate. Some see it as a roundabout way to remove states’ discretion on their own educational programs. Others worry it ignores important research on child education, or that centering a program of learning on standardized tests repeats the mistakes of past such efforts. The criticism is bipartisan, and it covers even more ground than that.

There are educators who support it and educators who oppose it. And there are even some who once supported it but are having second thoughts. Meanwhile, support for Common Core is also bipartisan, including claims that the core brings accountability to teachers and schools and levels the educational playing field. The question of how to educate a vast country in a changing economy and with costs rising and competition increasing is a complex one, fraught with emotion, tradition, and the consequences of letting a new generation fall behind.

But you wouldn’t know all that from the New York Times’s Bill Keller. According to Keller, opposition to the core is based in the same fever swamps that produced birtherism and other anti-Obama conspiracy theories. That opposition is gaining steam because, he says, “today’s Republican Party lives in terror of its so-called base, the very loud, often paranoid, if-that-Kenyan-socialist-in-the-White-House-is-for-it-I’m-against-it crowd.”

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The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which seeks to set consistent educational standards nationwide (by having the states join voluntarily), has been the subject of intensifying debate. Some see it as a roundabout way to remove states’ discretion on their own educational programs. Others worry it ignores important research on child education, or that centering a program of learning on standardized tests repeats the mistakes of past such efforts. The criticism is bipartisan, and it covers even more ground than that.

There are educators who support it and educators who oppose it. And there are even some who once supported it but are having second thoughts. Meanwhile, support for Common Core is also bipartisan, including claims that the core brings accountability to teachers and schools and levels the educational playing field. The question of how to educate a vast country in a changing economy and with costs rising and competition increasing is a complex one, fraught with emotion, tradition, and the consequences of letting a new generation fall behind.

But you wouldn’t know all that from the New York Times’s Bill Keller. According to Keller, opposition to the core is based in the same fever swamps that produced birtherism and other anti-Obama conspiracy theories. That opposition is gaining steam because, he says, “today’s Republican Party lives in terror of its so-called base, the very loud, often paranoid, if-that-Kenyan-socialist-in-the-White-House-is-for-it-I’m-against-it crowd.”

There are thoughtful, interesting arguments both for and against Common Core, but such thoughtfulness is not on Keller’s agenda. What he has in spades is anger, as he rages against deep discussion and balanced consideration of educational strategies. Conservatives, he says, are stupid:

I respect, really I do, the efforts by political scientists and pundits to make sense of the current Republican Party. There is intellectual virtue in the search for historical antecedents and philosophical underpinnings.

I understand the urge to take what looks to a layman like nothing more than a mean spirit or a mess of contradictions and brand it. (The New Libertarianism! Burkean Revivalists!) But more and more, I think Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Republican rising star, had it right when he said his party was in danger of becoming simply “the stupid party.”

Now, there is one scenario worth contemplating. It’s possible, I suppose, that Keller’s inability to argue the point without schoolyard insults and name-calling is meant as political satire to demonstrate the necessity of reforming the American education system. But if this is all written in earnest, then it’s no wonder the momentum has begun swinging back against Common Core.

As Keller’s anger rises, he manages to get out a reference to the Koch brothers (which, in fairness, he may just be contractually obligated to do) and then makes an unintentionally revealing accusation:

Local control of public schools, including the sacred right to keep them impoverished and ineffectual, is a fundamental tenet of the conservative canon.

It would be easy to miss the real value of that sentence, distracted by the parade of straw men and the bilious contempt Keller has for his fellow Americans who might vote for different candidates than he does and are therefore, in Keller’s mind, morally repugnant monsters. But if the public schools are already “impoverished and ineffectual,” it surely isn’t the fault of the birthers and the Koch brothers. Public-union dominance has ravaged the educational landscape (as Keller’s own paper has explained), and the government using its monopoly to turn over control of the schools to reliable Democratic Party special interests and donor networks hasn’t worked out so well for the students.

It is, in fact, an argument for breaking up the government’s monopoly on public education and makes it easier to understand why some would be skeptical that the government could be trusted to reform the system it keeps reforming unsuccessfully.

In any case, here is how the Washington Post’s education writer Valerie Strauss describes the well-intentioned sides of the argument, excluding from her analysis any discussion of a Koch-funded birther revolt:

Many Democratic critics say that while they don’t oppose the idea of national standards, the Common Core is not based on research and that parts of it ignore what is known about how students learn, especially in the area of early childhood education. They also say that despite promises to the contrary, the core-aligned standardized tests won’t be dramatically better in assessing student achievement than the older tests. Some former core supporters, such as award-winning New York Principal Carol Burris, changed their minds after learning more about the standards and the core-aligned tests. (You can read some of her critiques here and here).

Supporters of the core — which include educators who are implementing the standards — are somewhat incredulous at the opposition, saying that the old system of each state having its own set of standards proved to be untenable because student achievement was uneven across the country. (This line of thinking presumes that standards themselves are real drivers of quality.)

And there is much more to the discussion on both sides. The point here isn’t to endorse either side in the Common Core debate, but instead to recognize that there is a debate at all. Rather than caricaturing opposition to it, Keller would do well to ask why educators have changed their minds–presumably without funding from the Koch brothers–on Common Core.

More fundamentally, Keller and others on the left might ask why public schools are so desperately in need of thorough reform, and whether, beyond a curriculum centered on different standardized tests, they might be willing to entertain solutions that would really challenge both their own assumptions and proclaimed blamelessness about the problems plaguing education in America.

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The “News” of the Anti-Mossadeq Coup

“CIA Admits It Was Behind Iran’s Coup.” So reads the headline in Foreign Policy. If this sounds like news, it’s not–not really.

U.S. involvement in the coup that overthrew Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 has long been a matter of public knowledge, described at great length by some of the MI6 and CIA officers who were involved, such as Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt for the CIA and C.M. “Monty” Woodhouse for MI6. President Obama, back in his 2009 Cairo speech, even appeared to apologize for the U.S. role, which he offensively equated with Iran’s “role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.” As if the CIA had waged a campaign of terrorism against the people of Iran in the 1950s. In reality even Mossadeq survived the coup, dying at home in 1967 after a long period of house arrest.

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“CIA Admits It Was Behind Iran’s Coup.” So reads the headline in Foreign Policy. If this sounds like news, it’s not–not really.

U.S. involvement in the coup that overthrew Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 has long been a matter of public knowledge, described at great length by some of the MI6 and CIA officers who were involved, such as Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt for the CIA and C.M. “Monty” Woodhouse for MI6. President Obama, back in his 2009 Cairo speech, even appeared to apologize for the U.S. role, which he offensively equated with Iran’s “role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.” As if the CIA had waged a campaign of terrorism against the people of Iran in the 1950s. In reality even Mossadeq survived the coup, dying at home in 1967 after a long period of house arrest.

All that the CIA has done now is to declassify an internal study from the 1970s that discusses the agency’s role–news only because CIA censors are so far behind the times in opening up documents that have long ago lost any rationale to remain secret. Indeed to say that the CIA is now “admitting” its role is somewhat inapt; the CIA has all but bragged about its role for decades. The real question that concerns events in Iran in 1953 is not whether American and British intelligence operatives tried to orchestrate a coup–clearly they did–but whether their machinations were actually decisive.

There is much evidence that Mossadeq was overthrown because he had lost the confidence of what would now be called the Iranian “street” including the all-important Shiite clergy which feared (as did the CIA and MI6) that Mossadeq was opening an opportunity for the Tudeh Party, as the Communists were known, to seize power. There is, indeed, a strong argument to be made that his overthrow was not even an unlawful coup because it was the shah’s right, as head of state, to dismiss the head of government.

One can make the case that the CIA for decades has actually been trying to claim more credit than it deserved for Mossadeq’s overthrow as well as the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 and even Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in 1963. (Why do CIA coups seem to occur in years ending in 3? Should Gen. Sisi in Cairo be worried?) In all those cases, leaders were overthrown by indigenous conspiracies that received the blessing of the CIA. It is unknowable whether the coups would have happened anyway even without CIA blessing, but they might well have. Conversely, it is highly unlikely that the CIA-backed coups would have succeeded absent a large degree of public support or at least acquiescence.

To be sure, the CIA has gotten its share of opprobrium for its involvement–a subject of public controversy ever since the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s. The CIA has been especially and unfairly pilloried by those who mistakenly think that the 1979 Iranian Revolution was a reaction to the events of 1953–as if the shah didn’t have a quarter-century in which to improve his style of governance and thereby win more popular support. In any case the ayatollahs who seized power in 1979 never had much regard for the secular Mossadeq to begin with.

So it might seem bizarre that the CIA would be trying to claim more credit than it might deserve for actions which its critics believe to be reprehensible. But the only thing worse from the CIA’s perspective than being thought to be a vile tool of American imperialism is to be considered to be ineffectual. Whatever the morality of its actions (and its coups all had White House authorization), at least the CIA could come back and tell its political masters that it was a “can-do” agency. A more comprehensive account of the historical forces at play in 1953 Iran and in these other coups could call into question how much the CIA was ever able to accomplish.

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Why the Peace Talks Are Private

The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

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The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

The reason for the widespread Palestinian opposition to any accord is rooted in a definition of Palestinian nationalism that is incompatible with compromise with Zionism. Since the Palestinian movement grew up primarily by opposing the return of the Jews to the country, the notion of a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel is anathema under almost any conditions. Even if Israel’s maximum concessions increased to the point where they matched the Palestinians’ minimum terms for peace, that would still entail giving up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and grant legitimacy to a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is something most Palestinians are still unwilling to do.

But more than that is the nature of the Palestinian political culture that has grown up in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Abu Toameh rightly notes, most Palestinians are intolerant of any sort of cooperation with Israelis to the point where they oppose even competitions between youth soccer teams. Thus, the debate about the talks is not so much about the terms of peace as it is about the “crime” of talking with Israelis.

Unfortunately, even if the talks were to bring the two sides closer, this means that any tentative agreement is bound to be abandoned by the PA before it is brought before the people for the same reason that Yasir Arafat said no to a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas fled the negotiations in 2008 when he was offered an even sweeter deal. Since not even a powerful leader like Arafat felt he could survive peace, there is no reason to think Abbas thinks differently and everything he has done in office confirms that supposition. Having not only failed to prepare the Palestinian people for peace but fomented more hatred for Jews and Israel, it is inconceivable that anything offered by the Netanyahu government would be enough to make Abbas think he could dare to sign on the dotted line.

Seen in this context the lack of cameras at the opening of the talks is not a sign of seriousness. It is an indication that the Palestinians are still not ready to make peace.

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No, College Football Is Not Like the Tuskegee Study

In a remarkable opinion piece, Lewis Margolis, an associate professor of maternal and child health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Gregory Margolis, a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institute, compare the participation of young people in football to the Tuskegee Study. The comparison is off-base, and the Margolises should stop making it.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male,” which began in 1932, is infamous. The U.S. Public Health Service told 399 syphilitic black men that they would get free treatment for “bad blood.” Instead, study participants, for the most part, received no treatment, even after penicillin’s efficacy in treating syphilis was established. The study was halted only in 1972 and only because of a public outcry. While historians defend the original intent of the research, few defend the continuation of the study or think that it would have continued had the subjects not been poor and black. Whatever the complexity of the case, “Tuskegee Study” and “racism” are synonymous in our political lexicon.

So when the Margolises say that the participation of young people in football has “unsettling similarities to the infamous ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male’,” they mean that when young people are allowed to play football, in spite of our concerns about concussions and their long-term effects, that is because of our society’s unexamined racism.

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In a remarkable opinion piece, Lewis Margolis, an associate professor of maternal and child health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Gregory Margolis, a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institute, compare the participation of young people in football to the Tuskegee Study. The comparison is off-base, and the Margolises should stop making it.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male,” which began in 1932, is infamous. The U.S. Public Health Service told 399 syphilitic black men that they would get free treatment for “bad blood.” Instead, study participants, for the most part, received no treatment, even after penicillin’s efficacy in treating syphilis was established. The study was halted only in 1972 and only because of a public outcry. While historians defend the original intent of the research, few defend the continuation of the study or think that it would have continued had the subjects not been poor and black. Whatever the complexity of the case, “Tuskegee Study” and “racism” are synonymous in our political lexicon.

So when the Margolises say that the participation of young people in football has “unsettling similarities to the infamous ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male’,” they mean that when young people are allowed to play football, in spite of our concerns about concussions and their long-term effects, that is because of our society’s unexamined racism.

What evidence do they have to back up this astonishing claim? “African American males composed the largest segment of football players (45.8) percent” in 2009-10. Since African Americans constitute less than 13 percent of the population, “African-American football players face a disproportionate exposure to the risk of concussions and their consequences.” That’s it.

As the Margolises acknowledge, “concussion investigators are not knowingly misleading subjects to participate” in football. Moreover, they point us to the data, which show that whites in 2009-10 composed the second largest segment of football players, at 45.1 percent. College football would be like the Tuskegee Study, if the Tuskegee Study had recruited and left untreated almost as many white participants as black participants. Since every participant in the Tuskegee Study was black, the Margolises’ claim that there are “unsettling similarities” between youth football and the Tuskegee experiment is false. Since the Margolises presumably understand the moral weight of the Tuskegee Study, the claim is also irresponsible.

But it gets worse. The data the Margolises cite is not about football in general. It is about Division I football. In my college’s own Division III, Caucasians are 75.7 percent of the players, African Americans only 16.7 percent. Since whites are only about 63 percent of the population, whites face a disproportionate exposure to the risk of concussions in Division III. Yet the risk of concussion in Division III may be greater than it is in Division I. The Margolises’ story, weak even if limited solely to Division I athletes, completely falls apart when the other divisions are taken into account.

As a parent and long-time physical coward, I am inclined to heed warnings against getting one’s children involved in youth football. Moreover, I think it is worth wondering along with the Margolises whether “African-American communities have the information they need and deserve to consider and consent to this risk for their sons,” though I doubt very many parents, white or black, however well-informed, will keep their children out of the Division I programs that the Margolises are most concerned about. However that may be, inflammatory and insupportable comparisons to the Tuskegee Study do nothing to protect young athletes.

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U.S. Should Listen to Israel on Egypt

The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

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The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

Part of the confusion about U.S. aid to Egypt stems from Americans forgetting why they started pouring billions of aid into Cairo’s coffers in the first place: as payment for Anwar Sadat abandoning his country’s alliance with the Soviet Union and making peace with Israel. Israel’s desire to keep this aid alive is seen as purely self-interested since it preserves the cold peace that was signed 34 years ago between the two countries. Israel benefits from the maintenance of the peace treaty. But so does the United States. That is why Congress has agreed to keep aid going to Egypt all of these years. The treaty is a pillar of regional stability that Islamists like the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza seek to undermine. If the Brotherhood were to return to power, the Sinai, which became a hotbed for terror during their year in control of Cairo, could become the spark for new conflict that would undermine everything that Obama has said he is trying to achieve in the Middle East.

Nor should Israel be scapegoated for pointing out that the calls for “restoration” of Egyptian democracy are farcical. Many Americans are still in love with the idea that the Arab Spring could bring democracy to the Muslim world. There is more to democracy than simply holding an election that allows organized totalitarians like the Brotherhood, who actually oppose freedom, to take power that they will never peacefully relinquish. If Israeli diplomats and government officials are telling their Western counterparts that democracy is not currently an option in Egypt it is because they, and not Israel’s detractors, are in touch with reality.

Doing so does not undermine Israel’s status as a genuine democracy any more than it does that of the United States. The choice in Egypt is between the military and the Brotherhood. It is unfortunate that neither option offers any hope for democracy, which would, in theory, be the best thing for both the Egyptians and those who care about regional stability. But wishing this weren’t the case won’t change the facts on the ground.

Contrary to those like Senator Lindsey Graham who claim the coup will make Egypt a “failed state,” the Brotherhood’s façade of democracy won’t keep the country afloat. It is already a failed state in terms of its ability to help its people. The question now is whether it adds to that trouble by becoming an Islamist totalitarian state, a prospect that sent 14 million Egyptians and the military to the streets to fight the Brotherhood.

Israelis should be telling the Obama administration that it is madness to attack the military government in Egypt just at the moment when it is acting to ensure that Islamists will never be able to reverse the decision of Sadat (who was, it should be remembered, assassinated by the Brotherhood) to embrace the West. The violence in Cairo (as well as the Brotherhood attacks on churches throughout Egypt) is troubling. But turning away from that country in the hope that doing so will restore democracy will neither help Egyptians nor enhance American interests. If the Israelis are arguing against such a policy, then perhaps their allies should be listening. 

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Hillary Clinton, the Press, and the Permanent Campaign

The Sunday column from Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’s public editor, was an interesting and balanced consideration of a topic that will only gain in relevance to political journalism: how should reporters cover candidates who aren’t (yet) candidates? The subject was Hillary Clinton and the Times’s decision to devote the resources of a full-time reporter to cover Clinton–who has not yet announced that she is running for president–as a distinct beat, a full three years before Election Day 2016.

Sullivan quotes academics and media watchers raising the three crucial questions: Will the dedicated Clinton beat serve to pre-anoint her and reinforce the notion that she is inevitable? Is the “permanent campaign” in the public interest? Should the media resist or enable that permanent campaign? The answer to the first question is both obvious and complicated: it depends on the coverage. The answer to the second question, with regard to the press, is: that’s irrelevant. And the answer to the third is: neither.

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The Sunday column from Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’s public editor, was an interesting and balanced consideration of a topic that will only gain in relevance to political journalism: how should reporters cover candidates who aren’t (yet) candidates? The subject was Hillary Clinton and the Times’s decision to devote the resources of a full-time reporter to cover Clinton–who has not yet announced that she is running for president–as a distinct beat, a full three years before Election Day 2016.

Sullivan quotes academics and media watchers raising the three crucial questions: Will the dedicated Clinton beat serve to pre-anoint her and reinforce the notion that she is inevitable? Is the “permanent campaign” in the public interest? Should the media resist or enable that permanent campaign? The answer to the first question is both obvious and complicated: it depends on the coverage. The answer to the second question, with regard to the press, is: that’s irrelevant. And the answer to the third is: neither.

The concern about covering Hillary Clinton is directly related, however, to the second and third questions. When the media decides that something or someone is or isn’t in the “public interest,” it will inevitably abuse the elasticity of that category. When the media sees itself as responsible for enabling or resisting trends in American politics, it tends to take sides. It is not the fault of the New York Times that the 2016 presidential campaign seems already to be under way.

If the reality is that the campaign is off and running, then the Times’s responsibility is to write about that reality, not pretend it isn’t happening because the paper’s editors or critics don’t like the timeline. What’s more, not covering the campaign could be construed as an enabling all its own; for the press to allow politicians to set their own coverage by employing legal obfuscations or linguistic shenanigans would be to abandon its obligations. Clinton is already benefiting from using her family’s tax-exempt charitable organization as a basic campaign and fundraising infrastructure. She may be well within the bounds of election law to do so, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t entitled to adhere to observable reality instead of subjecting ourselves to the classic Clintonian spin cycle.

But that doesn’t get the Times completely off the hook. The type and tone of the coverage will matter a great deal. If the media decides to follow Clinton around and perpetuate the personality cult it helped create for Barack Obama, while insulating her from serious investigation–again, as it did with Obama–the press will be doing the public a great disservice. If it can puncture the self-constructed myth Clinton seeks to create and paints an honest portrait of the candidate, it won’t be putting Clinton’s potential rivals–who don’t have wealthy donors at the beck and call of their family foundation–at a disadvantage. It will do so, however, if it acts as Clinton’s traveling press secretary.

There is also a challenge in covering the Clintons that the Times’s reporter, Amy Chozick, will have to grapple with, especially this early in the campaign. Sullivan explains:

Carl Bernstein, the Watergate reporter who wrote the well-regarded biography of Mrs. Clinton “A Woman In Charge,” told me in a phone interview that she is “really difficult to get a reportorial handle on.”

“She’s someone who tries to write her own narrative,” and who, in words from the last chapter of his book, “has a difficult relationship with the truth.” So, The Times’s putting an aggressive reporter on Mrs. Clinton early, he said, is a laudable effort to publish “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Saying either of the Clintons “has a difficult relationship with the truth” is about the most generous way of characterizing the world of messy relativism and unprincipled triangulation of the Democratic power couple, especially considering the vicious and royal defensiveness with which it is secured. It is not an easy beat to cover because to the Clintons there are only enemies and captives, and Chozick will have no easy task to spend the next three years trying not to be either.

Chozick, to her credit, seems to understand some of these challenges. It may be too much to hope for a complete absence of puff pieces, but those will be more palatable when balanced with articles like the piece Chozick wrote along with Nicholas Confessore last week about a review of the Clinton Foundation’s finances. It found that “For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.”

The piece from Chozick and Confessore dug into these and other red flags and the personalities behind them. It shows Chozick was willing to ruffle feathers and make clear from the outset that she is not there simply to republish Clinton press releases. The article also, while ostensibly describing the Clinton Foundation, depicts what a Clinton White House may look like the second time around. It isn’t especially flattering, and it won’t get Chozick a designated seat on the Clinton bandwagon. And it’s not a bad example to set for Chozick’s colleagues.

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Whose Morality?

In this interview with Relevant magazine the journalist Peter Hitchens, a Christian, was asked what he says to people who would say–as a good many people do these days–“Who are you to tell me that your morality is more right than mine?” To which Hitchens responded:

I would say the source of morality is not me. I’m merely informing you of another authority that seems to have a good deal more force than I could ever command. But in the end, of course, the illusion of self-authority—which has been one of the major developments of the past 100 years—has persuaded people that they need no such thing. And not only that they don’t need the concept of the deity, but that they actively want there not to be such a thing, which is one of the reasons the new atheism is such a passionate, intolerant and in many cases, rather unpleasant phenomenon. The people who have adopted it actively want there not to be a god. They know that if there is a god then that god must be a source of authority. If a purposeful creator made the universe in which we live, it would be idle to imagine that you could ignore that creator’s desires as to how you should live.

Mr. Hitchens is quite right. For some time now one of the most powerful currents of thought in the West is the belief that morality is subjective, that ethical norms are human inventions, and that it’s up to each individual to determine which standards we’ll live by.

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In this interview with Relevant magazine the journalist Peter Hitchens, a Christian, was asked what he says to people who would say–as a good many people do these days–“Who are you to tell me that your morality is more right than mine?” To which Hitchens responded:

I would say the source of morality is not me. I’m merely informing you of another authority that seems to have a good deal more force than I could ever command. But in the end, of course, the illusion of self-authority—which has been one of the major developments of the past 100 years—has persuaded people that they need no such thing. And not only that they don’t need the concept of the deity, but that they actively want there not to be such a thing, which is one of the reasons the new atheism is such a passionate, intolerant and in many cases, rather unpleasant phenomenon. The people who have adopted it actively want there not to be a god. They know that if there is a god then that god must be a source of authority. If a purposeful creator made the universe in which we live, it would be idle to imagine that you could ignore that creator’s desires as to how you should live.

Mr. Hitchens is quite right. For some time now one of the most powerful currents of thought in the West is the belief that morality is subjective, that ethical norms are human inventions, and that it’s up to each individual to determine which standards we’ll live by.

But as C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, while some of what we learn is mere convention (like whether we drive on the left or right side of the road), much of what we learn is (like mathematics) based on real truths. “If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality,” Lewis wrote, “or Christian morality to Nazi morality.”

Over the years I’ve asked acquaintances of mine (including Peter’s late brother, Christopher) the grounds on which a person who doesn’t believe in God makes the case for inherent human dignity. How does one make the case against injustice if you begin with two propositions: the universe was created by chance and it will end in nothing? How do you derive a belief in a moral law that is binding on you and others apart from theism? How do you get from the “is” to the “ought”? And just what is the response to someone who says, “Your belief is fine for you but it’s irrelevant to me. God is dead and I choose to follow my own path. It happens to include gulags and gas chambers. You may not agree, but there is no philosophical or moral ground on which you can base your claim.”

It’s never been clear to me, then, on what basis we can argue that people can have intrinsic or attributive worth if we deny God and His transcendent truth. 

To his credit, this question troubled even Friedrich Nietzsche (though it doesn’t seem to much trouble the so-called New Atheists). Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, author of American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas, has written, “From time to time, Nietzsche put down his hammer as he tried to imagine a world after moral absolutes. Even he wondered what would happen once every article of faith had been shed and every claim to universal truth exposed as a human construct.”

One final observation on all this: The reason Real Morality exists isn’t based on divine censoriousness, arbitrary and capricious, whose intention is to stamp out pleasure wherever it is found. It’s to create moral norms that are based on the design of human nature. The purpose is to advance human flourishing–for us as individuals to lead more fulfilled lives and to repair the brokenness that exists in all of our lives. In the debate about moral truth this fact is too often overlooked.

It probably doesn’t help that over the years some of those who have been vocal advocates for Real Morality are less winsome than they are “wound tight with anger,” in the words of the author Philip Yancey. Nonetheless the moral law within us, like the starry sky above us, exists; and its Author, who created us, cannot be wished out of existence by any of us.

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Egypt Begs a Broader Strategy

President Obama has been rightly criticized for his response to Libya, Syria, and Egypt. The problem is two-fold: slow reaction and inconsistency. After all, why a responsibility to protect in Libya, but not in Syria and Egypt? Leading from behind is often not leading, and certainly forfeits American leverage: see the disastrous aftermath of Libya’s liberation from mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi. More broadly, it is evident that the United States simply lacks a strategy when it comes to political Islam.

The Bush administration to some extent and the Obama administration that followed certainly reached out and experimented with embracing political Islam: witness both Bush and Obama with regard to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to welcome Hamas’s participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Obama has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood from his first months in office, as the group became a more frequent target of engagement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt—and also among the Syrian opposition, with all due respect to Sen. John McCain—it is clear that American outreach to Islamists has not resulted in any benefit to U.S. national interests.

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President Obama has been rightly criticized for his response to Libya, Syria, and Egypt. The problem is two-fold: slow reaction and inconsistency. After all, why a responsibility to protect in Libya, but not in Syria and Egypt? Leading from behind is often not leading, and certainly forfeits American leverage: see the disastrous aftermath of Libya’s liberation from mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi. More broadly, it is evident that the United States simply lacks a strategy when it comes to political Islam.

The Bush administration to some extent and the Obama administration that followed certainly reached out and experimented with embracing political Islam: witness both Bush and Obama with regard to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to welcome Hamas’s participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Obama has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood from his first months in office, as the group became a more frequent target of engagement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt—and also among the Syrian opposition, with all due respect to Sen. John McCain—it is clear that American outreach to Islamists has not resulted in any benefit to U.S. national interests.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that militant Islamism isn’t simply the motivator of “workplace violence” as Obama has characterized the Fort Hood massacre, but a noxious political ideology which means both the United States and traditional notions of Western liberalism harm. The reason why so many proponents of the Muslim Brotherhood respond with ad hominem attacks when such arguments are advanced is that they simply have not substantive argument to respond constructively.

What we need is to take a lesson from the Cold War and begin to roll back political Islam: First in Egypt, and then in Gaza, Turkey, and elsewhere, but supporting opposition groups. Political Islamists will never be our friends, and so we should not waste time or effort siding with them but should rather engage with their adversaries. That does not mean Cold War-era embrace of dictatorship, but it does mean standing aloof from Islamist groups, recognizing that the Islamist embrace of the ballot box extends to Election Day only, and not beyond. Sometimes the best hope for democracy as an end result is not full democracy in the initial process.

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Biden’s Not Bluffing About 2016

The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

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The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

Handicapping Biden’s intentions for 2016 are really no different than understanding why he ran in 2008. Few gave him much of a chance and his abortive campaign to win the Democratic nomination was a colossal flop. Back in 1988 when he made his first run for the presidency, he had been briefly considered a first-tier contender in a race that was eventually won by Michael Dukakis. But his candidacy didn’t survive when Biden was exposed as a serial plagiarizer. His stump speech was found to be a copy of the one used by Neil Kinnock, then the head of Britain’s Labor Party. It soon came out that he had also plagiarized a law school paper. That seemed to put an end to his presidential ambition, but the fever still burned inside him. When, seemingly close to the end of a lengthy political career, he tried again, it was not the result of any groundswell on his behalf. Rather, it was the act of a politician with enormous self-regard. The 2008 run was not so much his last hurrah as it was Biden deciding to make a sacrifice and give the American people one last chance to do the right thing and make him president. Unfortunately for him, nobody else felt that way.

Barack Obama’s decision that he needed Biden’s gravitas and foreign-policy experience (a laughable notion since virtually every position Biden had taken had been largely discredited) got him closer to his goal than anybody (other than Biden) thought he would achieve. But Clinton’s strength is such that the general assumption is that she would clear the field and run as a virtual incumbent in the 2016 primaries. Given the fact that they would have to draw upon much of the same sources for funding and political support, conventional wisdom would indicate that Biden should step aside rather than get run over. But that sort of thinking does not take into account Biden’s hunger for the presidency or his sense that it is his destiny.

Does Biden have a chance to actually upset Hillary? Not really. He would probably be able to raise enough money to run and, as he has already shown with his trips to the early voting states, will work hard in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Clinton has too much going for her to be stopped by a man who, however much affection he has earned among the Democratic grass roots for his hyper-partisanship, is still generally regarded as an embarrassing gas bag in much of the country. But just as Biden is undeterred by his frequent gaffes, no one should be surprised if he persists in running despite the odds. Joe Biden thinks he should be president, and nothing the Clintons do is likely to persuade him otherwise.

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Tahrir Is Not Tiananmen

One of the more deceptive commentaries out there regarding the Muslim Brotherhood as it faces the Egyptian army’s crackdown is that the Brotherhood protestors are analogous to the Chinese dissidents and freedom seekers who, in 1989, faced down the Chinese Army in Tiananmen Square. It is a theme too good for the media to pass up. Here, for example, is the Guardian and here is the New York Daily News.

No doubt, the Egyptian military has been heavy-handed and has mishandled the media. And the Brotherhood, in contrast, has been media savvy from the very beginning. Just remember all the Brotherhood spokesmen and Brotherhood sympathizers who falsely spoke of the group’s evolution, moderation, and tolerance. The Brotherhood knows how to use the rhetoric of democracy and liberalism for entirely opposite purposes.

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One of the more deceptive commentaries out there regarding the Muslim Brotherhood as it faces the Egyptian army’s crackdown is that the Brotherhood protestors are analogous to the Chinese dissidents and freedom seekers who, in 1989, faced down the Chinese Army in Tiananmen Square. It is a theme too good for the media to pass up. Here, for example, is the Guardian and here is the New York Daily News.

No doubt, the Egyptian military has been heavy-handed and has mishandled the media. And the Brotherhood, in contrast, has been media savvy from the very beginning. Just remember all the Brotherhood spokesmen and Brotherhood sympathizers who falsely spoke of the group’s evolution, moderation, and tolerance. The Brotherhood knows how to use the rhetoric of democracy and liberalism for entirely opposite purposes.

The Tiananmen-to-Tahrir analogy is especially noxious because it slanders the Chinese dissidents who peacefully challenged the Chinese dictatorship’s iron grip.

  • The Tiananmen protestors were non-violent; what we have in Egypt is a two-sided fight that has resulted in dozens of police deaths.
  • The Tiananmen protestors were fighting for democracy; the Brotherhood used their year in power to eviscerate pluralism, which is why so many Egyptians rose up against them.
  • The Tiananmen protestors embraced ideological diversity; the Brotherhood seeks ideological conformity.
  • I don’t remember ever seeing the Tiananmen protestors take their ire out on China’s religious minorities.

That Egypt has turned violent is unfortunate, but it is not the first time: Egypt faced insurgency during the late 1980s and early 1990s. That the Islamists are weaker does not make them right. Nor does it make them democratic. When faced with a stark choice, it is essential to determine which side best protects American national interests and which can best return Egypt to the path of democracy, with all the checks and balances which are inherent in the system. In both cases, the Egyptian army seems the better bet, and the pressure the international community should bring to bear is to encourage a firm timeline to new elections under a new, more pluralistic constitution. What the Western media and Congress should not do is whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood’s brutality, even as it condemns the Egyptian security forces. And if the goal is democracy, it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nor should it embrace facile but false analogies.

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