Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 26, 2013

Iran Deal and Munich: A Fair Comparison?

Since Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday, outrage over what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly termed a “historic mistake” has been intense, especially among supporters of Israel. That has led some observers to invoke comparisons with the 1938 Munich agreement in which the Western powers betrayed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While invective along these lines has been flying around the Internet and Twitter, the question of whether Munich should be mentioned in the same breath as the agreement signed this past weekend in Geneva was discussed this morning by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. According to Stephens, the deal Obama is claiming as a triumph for diplomacy is “worse than Munich.”

Is he right? There are those who will claim it is impossible to compare any event with one that is associated with the Holocaust and still win an argument. But whether you think the deal is as bad as Stephens thinks or whether the price of a mistake with Iran is as costly as the West’s miscalculations about Hitler, the real answer depends on whether Iran betrays Obama.

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Since Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday, outrage over what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly termed a “historic mistake” has been intense, especially among supporters of Israel. That has led some observers to invoke comparisons with the 1938 Munich agreement in which the Western powers betrayed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While invective along these lines has been flying around the Internet and Twitter, the question of whether Munich should be mentioned in the same breath as the agreement signed this past weekend in Geneva was discussed this morning by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. According to Stephens, the deal Obama is claiming as a triumph for diplomacy is “worse than Munich.”

Is he right? There are those who will claim it is impossible to compare any event with one that is associated with the Holocaust and still win an argument. But whether you think the deal is as bad as Stephens thinks or whether the price of a mistake with Iran is as costly as the West’s miscalculations about Hitler, the real answer depends on whether Iran betrays Obama.

As to the merits of the Iran deal, the facts are very much with Stephens in terms of the feckless nature of this diplomatic endeavor. The agreement loosened sanctions and handed over billions in frozen cash to the Islamist regime while tacitly legitimizing the Iranian nuclear program and its drive for a weapon even as it claims to do the opposite. While administration supporters can claim that the sanctions relief involves a fraction of the existing restrictions, neither can they claim that Iran’s supposed concessions do anything to roll back the nuclear progress Tehran has made in the last five years. Instead of making the world, and even Israel, safer, as Obama and Kerry have insisted, it makes it more likely that Iran will get a nuclear deal in the long run as well as heightening the chances of a Middle East arms race involving Saudi Arabia and new outbreaks of violence involving current and perhaps future Iranian allies like Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

While there is no direct analogy between Britain and France’s decision to carve up the Czechoslovak homeland in order to appease Germany’s territorial demands, should Iran get a nuclear weapon the comparison with Munich may be apt. While one can make an argument that the Iranian regime isn’t crazy enough to actually use a nuke on Israel, given the genocidal threats they’ve made against the Jewish state, dismissing their desire to perpetrate a second Holocaust after some of their leaders have spent years denying the first one, should Iran go nuclear in the future, the deal will be thought of as being as every bit as much of a betrayal of Israel as Munich.

Stephens also makes an important point when he speaks of Obama’s desire for détente with Iran as being far less defensible than British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s decision to trust “Herr Hitler.” Britain and France were weak in 1938. It can, as Stephens points out, be argued that delaying the war with Germany by a year, during which Britain built up its military forces, hurt Hitler even if it did result in the annihilation of the Czechs. Though appeasers might have been justified in thinking they had no better option in 1938 than to give in to Hitler, there is no comparable excuse available for Obama and Kerry. Iran is weaker than the West and its economy is, thanks to the sanctions that Obama opposed and delayed implementing, in tatters. Yet, the U.S. negotiated with Iran as if it was the weaker party. Like Chamberlain and French President Edouard Daladier, Obama sued the ayatollahs for peace while saying that the only alternative to appeasement was war. Though no one wants a war with Iran, the alternative was to toughen the sanctions and to increase pressure on Iran and to, at least, demand that it begin dismantling the nuclear program. Like the appeasers of 1938 who thought Hitler couldn’t be persuaded to back down and therefore must be given what he asked for, Obama gave in to Iranian demands because they insisted on them.

Iran is not the hegemonic power that Nazi Germany was. Nor can it attack the West on equal or superior military terms as Germany did. But the assumption that Iran has no capability or desire to commit genocide is merely a matter of faith. Once they get a nuke, and it can be argued that the Iran deal is a bridge to a containment policy rather than one aimed at prevention, genocide or at least a war with incalculable consequences becomes a possibility.

But as bad as the Iran deal was, the real analogy to Munich is the way in which Obama and Kerry not only ignored the concerns of the nations endangered by an Iranian nuke—Israel and Saudi Arabia—but also excluded them from the negotiations. Like the Czechs who were told by Chamberlain that they had no choice but to accept the dismemberment of their country, Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it.

Yet the problem for many people with any Munich problem is not so much the differences between the two situations but with the entire idea of appropriating any event that is part of the World War Two timeline to describe another conflict. It is an iron rule of debate that the first person to invoke the Holocaust usually loses and in the eyes of some any talk about Munich is always going to be viewed as over the top no matter how strong the analogy might be.

That may be so, but the flipside of this argument is that the problem with the Iran deal is not what it means for the world today but what will follow from it. Opponents of the appeasers of 1938 like Winston Churchill were unable to convince grateful Britons who were overjoyed that war had been averted no matter what the cost to listen to their warnings. They could point to the probable consequences, but until Hitler marched into Prague and then invaded Poland despite promising Chamberlain that he wouldn’t, it was just talk. So, too, are the critics of appeasing Iran powerless to do much to stop Obama’s policy until the Iranians prove them right.

Until that happens, Obama’s defenders can accuse Stephens and others like him of hyperbole and hysteria. But once Iran cheats on the deal and uses its weak terms to get closer to its nuclear ambition, they will sound a lot more credible even to liberals who are trying their best to ignore this debate. At that point, as the world trembles before a nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror run by Islamist fanatics, Stephens’s suggestion that Obama and Kerry are the same as the appeasers of Hitler, “minus the umbrellas,” will seem tame.

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Revisiting Obama’s Complaints About Press “Equivalence”

During the 2012 presidential election, President Obama was becoming increasingly agitated by the press coverage. Something was different this time around: reporters were occasionally writing stories that legitimized the Republicans, as if their opinions were, from time to time, worth hearing out. It manifested in a misleading balance, the president told a gathering at the Associated Press luncheon in April of that year.

The press-critic-in-chief lectured, bordering on exasperated: “I guess another way of thinking about this is — and this bears on your reporting.  I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented — which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.”

In fact the president, in telling the mainstream media to be even more biased in his favor, was repeating an opinion that had become popular among many in the media as well. The sentiment gave rise to the so-called “fact checkers,” who were liberal opinion columnists masquerading as referees. In one of their most famous rulings, the “fact checker” PolitiFact rated the conservatives’ talk of “death panels” in ObamaCare as its 2009 “Lie of the Year.” The president’s “keep your plan” falsehood was, by contrast, labeled “half true.” Yet now some mainstream journalists are singing a slightly different tune:

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During the 2012 presidential election, President Obama was becoming increasingly agitated by the press coverage. Something was different this time around: reporters were occasionally writing stories that legitimized the Republicans, as if their opinions were, from time to time, worth hearing out. It manifested in a misleading balance, the president told a gathering at the Associated Press luncheon in April of that year.

The press-critic-in-chief lectured, bordering on exasperated: “I guess another way of thinking about this is — and this bears on your reporting.  I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented — which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.”

In fact the president, in telling the mainstream media to be even more biased in his favor, was repeating an opinion that had become popular among many in the media as well. The sentiment gave rise to the so-called “fact checkers,” who were liberal opinion columnists masquerading as referees. In one of their most famous rulings, the “fact checker” PolitiFact rated the conservatives’ talk of “death panels” in ObamaCare as its 2009 “Lie of the Year.” The president’s “keep your plan” falsehood was, by contrast, labeled “half true.” Yet now some mainstream journalists are singing a slightly different tune:

Mark Halperin raised the specter of the notorious Obamacare “death panels” during an interview on Monday.

Halperin was speaking to Newsmax host Steve Malzberg when the subject came up.

“You believe there will be rationing, aka death panels?” Malzberg asked.

“It’s built into the plan,” Halperin said. “It’s not like a guess or like a judgment. That’s going to be part of how costs are controlled.”

Halperin clarified, tweeting:

In Mon intv I did not say “death panels” nor do I believe ACA contains them. Was speaking of political/policy challenge of IPAB cuts. My bad

Of course there won’t be anything actually called “death panels,” but Halperin isn’t backing off the inevitable rationing to help control costs while at the same time his magazine has a cover story on ObamaCare’s “Broken Promise.” It’s a good indication that were the press to really push back against a supposed false balance, it might have challenged obviously false claims by the president as much as it did the theatrical critiques of his health-care plan by Republicans.

And the recent exposure of all these falsities explains why this White House has been so obsessive in its attempts to control the press, and so paranoid as to spy on reporters’ parents. The press is now pushing back not only by reporting more honestly about ObamaCare but also by confronting the president over his controlling, propagandist impulses.

Those impulses tend to spiral out of control if left unchecked–which they were. And so they resulted in, as Jonathan noted last week, the White House deciding it didn’t need pesky press photographers hanging around when the administration could simply take and distribute its own propaganda photos. National Journal’s Ron Fournier described the moment of confrontation:

New York Times photographer Doug Mills strode into Jay Carney’s office Oct. 29 with a pile of pictures taken exclusively by President Obama’s official photographer at events the White House press corps was forbidden to cover. “This one,” Mills said, sliding one picture after another off his stack and onto the press secretary’s desk. “This one, too–and this one and this one and …”

The red-faced photographer, joined by colleagues on the White House Correspondents’ Association board, finished his 10-minute presentation with a flourish that made Carney, a former Moscow correspondent for Time, wince.

“You guys,” Mills said, “are just like Tass.”

Comparing the White House to the Russian news agency is a hyperbole, of course, but less so with each new administration.

The protest has picked up momentum. Noah Rothman reports that USA Today is joining Tacoma’s News Tribune in a new policy: outside of “extraordinary circumstances,” no White House handout photos.

It seems ironic that the president who galvanized millennial support by utilizing social media while mocking his 2008 opponent’s lack of computer skills (due to his war injuries–a particularly low moment for the Obama campaign) would work so hard to lock out the press, but in fact it’s appropriate. Obama revels in going around the media and delicately managing his image, aware of the way new media can magnify any photo or sound bite.

It may be petty to shut photographers out of routine events, but when it comes to an overwhelming distrust of anyone not on the payroll, nothing is too petty for this administration. As the reporting on ObamaCare and the photographers’ rebellion indicate, Obama may wish for the days of “equivalence” and regret asking the media to cast a more discerning eye on the events of his presidency.

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FBI Stats Again Belie Islamophobia Myth

When it comes to the question of America’s alleged Islamophobia, there is a consensus in the American media: American Muslims have been under siege since the 9/11 attacks. Every attempt on the part of law-enforcement agencies to probe the growth of homegrown terrorism and the possible incitement to hate and violence being conducted at some mosques, as well as by community groups influenced or controlled by Islamists, is branded as more proof of the allege persecution of Muslims and Arabs. The fact that no proof of discrimination or systematic violence other than anecdotal claims is ever brought forward is disregarded so as not to impinge on the need for Americans to feel guilty about the treatment of Muslims.

But with the annual release of the FBI’s hate crime numbers, statistical proof is once again available for those who are interested in the real answer as to which groups are subjected to the most attacks. This year’s numbers, like those of every other previous year since they began compiling such statistics, are clear: Jews remain the No. 1 target of hate crimes in America and no other group comes even close. Incidents involving Muslims, who are, according to the unchallenged meme that is central to every story or broadcast about the subject, the prime targets actually suffer only a fraction as much as Jews. Is it too much to ask reporters who regurgitate the same tired, unproven story lines about Muslims in the coming year to take these facts into account?

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When it comes to the question of America’s alleged Islamophobia, there is a consensus in the American media: American Muslims have been under siege since the 9/11 attacks. Every attempt on the part of law-enforcement agencies to probe the growth of homegrown terrorism and the possible incitement to hate and violence being conducted at some mosques, as well as by community groups influenced or controlled by Islamists, is branded as more proof of the allege persecution of Muslims and Arabs. The fact that no proof of discrimination or systematic violence other than anecdotal claims is ever brought forward is disregarded so as not to impinge on the need for Americans to feel guilty about the treatment of Muslims.

But with the annual release of the FBI’s hate crime numbers, statistical proof is once again available for those who are interested in the real answer as to which groups are subjected to the most attacks. This year’s numbers, like those of every other previous year since they began compiling such statistics, are clear: Jews remain the No. 1 target of hate crimes in America and no other group comes even close. Incidents involving Muslims, who are, according to the unchallenged meme that is central to every story or broadcast about the subject, the prime targets actually suffer only a fraction as much as Jews. Is it too much to ask reporters who regurgitate the same tired, unproven story lines about Muslims in the coming year to take these facts into account?

As in previous years, Jews top the figures for hate crimes, which the FBI claims are down from previous years. Of the 1,340 incidents of anti-religious hate crimes reported, 674 or 62.4 percent were anti-Jewish in nature. Only 130 incidents or 11.6 percent involved Muslim victims. These figures are not much different from those assembled by the government for previous years. In virtually every year, the number of anti-Semitic incidents is a multiple of those involving Muslims.

It is possible that some anti-Muslim attacks might be categorized as an ethnic issue involving Arabs rather than a religious one. But even if we were to try and take some attacks involving national origins, again the enormous gap between the anti-Semitic incidents and those about Muslims is not bridged. The total number of those attacks involving that category that were not about targeting Hispanics (which make up over 60 percent of that total) was 283 and it is likely that, at best, only some of those were about Muslims or Arabs.

It is true that the Anti-Defamation League has criticized the FBI report for trumpeting the overall decline in hate crimes. The ADL rightly points out that hate crimes reporting isn’t mandatory in parts of the country and that the number of agencies funneling figures to the FBI actually declined from 14,500 to 1,3022 in 2012. So it’s likely that there wasn’t any real decline in the number of hate crimes.

But there is no proof or any logical reason to believe that this flaw would lead to any underreporting of anti-Muslim crimes since the percentage of such incidents in 2012 is essentially the same as in previous years.

What does this all mean?

First, as much as we should decry all hate crimes and urge those responsible to be prosecuted and harshly punished, no matter who their victims might be, there is no epidemic of such incidents directed at any single group.

Though Jews are the most likely victims of religious crimes, no reasonable person can claim that they are under siege or that Jewish life is under attack in any manner in this country. Indeed, as the Pew Survey on American Jews that I discussed in the November issue of COMMENTARY reported, less than 20 percent of Jews have even experienced an anti-Semitic remark, let alone an attack. Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world and particularly in Europe, but in a nation where a tenth of the U.S. Senate and a third of the U.S. Supreme Court are Jews, its impossible to argue that there are any genuine obstacles to Jewish achievement, let alone a wave of Jew-hatred.

Yet, we are asked by the mainstream media to believe that a group which claims to have roughly the same small slice of the national population as the Jews but which, at best, suffers only a fifth of the hate crimes incidents as Jews, is actually laboring under a grievous and discriminatory wave of bias attacks. It not only makes no sense, it is not even remotely congruent with the facts.

America isn’t perfect. Hate still exists against religious and ethnic groups, and religious minorities. Yet once again the annual release of FBI statistics debunks the notion of a post 9-11 backlash against Muslims. But don’t expect the liberal mainstream media to notice this or to take it into account when they resurrect the same misleading story lines in the coming year.

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Returning Politics to Its Rightful Place in American Life

While appearing on The News Hour last Friday, David Brooks was asked about how America changed as a result of the Kennedy presidency and his assassination.

Brooks argued they changed the way we define presidents and politics, that if you read President Eisenhower’s farewell address, it provides a very limited and modest sense of what government can do. “Kennedy comes in with that inaugural, and promises to bear any burden, pay any price, to end disease,” Brooks went on to say. “It becomes much more utopian. And that sort of utopian sense that politics can really transform life is underlined by his charisma, the charisma of an office, and then it’s underlined even more by the martyrdom, and by the mystique of Camelot that grows up.”

The effect of that, Brooks went on to say, is “the enlargement of politics” and the “subsequent disappointment when politics can’t deliver that sort of Camelot dream … And so it’s perversely, I think, inflated politics, created a much more image-conscious politics, but then led to disillusionment, as politics can’t live up to that sort of mirage of sort of religiosity.”

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While appearing on The News Hour last Friday, David Brooks was asked about how America changed as a result of the Kennedy presidency and his assassination.

Brooks argued they changed the way we define presidents and politics, that if you read President Eisenhower’s farewell address, it provides a very limited and modest sense of what government can do. “Kennedy comes in with that inaugural, and promises to bear any burden, pay any price, to end disease,” Brooks went on to say. “It becomes much more utopian. And that sort of utopian sense that politics can really transform life is underlined by his charisma, the charisma of an office, and then it’s underlined even more by the martyrdom, and by the mystique of Camelot that grows up.”

The effect of that, Brooks went on to say, is “the enlargement of politics” and the “subsequent disappointment when politics can’t deliver that sort of Camelot dream … And so it’s perversely, I think, inflated politics, created a much more image-conscious politics, but then led to disillusionment, as politics can’t live up to that sort of mirage of sort of religiosity.”

There’s much wisdom in these observations. For Kennedy and liberals in general, politics is the means through which idealism is pursued. Conservatives tend to be somewhat resistant to that outlook, believing politics is the way we should solve public problems–but believing as well that idealism should be pursued much more in our private lives, outside of the political arena.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean politics can’t take on special significance at particular moments in time. And it isn’t to downgrade the importance of politics in the least. But it is to say that when politics is done right and well, it allows the space for a free people to pursue excellence.

And of course the more grandeur and utopian hopes we invest in politics, the more likely it is that people will turn against it, as politics and government fail to produce the wonders and miracles we’re told to expect. For more, see Obama, Barack (2008), and promises like these.

One of the chief contributions of conservatism is to help people to understand the limitations of politics, to place more modest expectations on it, and to return politics in its rightful place in American society.  

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SCOTUS Gives Religious Freedom a Hearing

Finally, after three years of debate and litigation, the nation will get an answer. The Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers to pay for abortion drugs has been challenged by religious believers in courts across the nation since the passage of the president’s signature health-care legislation in 2010. The federal district and appellate courts have handed down mixed verdicts with some saying that the owners of companies must pay for coverage of services that violate their religious beliefs and others holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects their rights to refrain from supporting acts that violate their conscience. But now that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear appeals of two such cases in which the appeals courts handed down contradictory rulings, the issue will be settled once and for all.

But more than just the fate of two companies–one an Oklahoma City-based crafts store chain owned by Catholics and the other a Pennsylvania custom furniture manufacturer owned by Mennonites–are at stake in the legal battle that will probably be decided next spring. If the HHS Mandate is overturned by the high court, it will mark a signal victory for religious liberty over the efforts of the Obama administration to keep faith off the public square and out of public life. Liberal defenders of the government say the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are wrong to say their personal First Amendment right to religious freedom extends to their business. But the plaintiffs and their supporters rightly maintain that what HHS is doing is to strong-arm these business owners into compliance with ObamaCare via a rule that will force them to choose between their faith and the survival of their enterprises. If the HHS Mandate is upheld, it will create a new, cribbed definition of religious freedom that will effectively mean that faith is only something to be practiced in private.

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Finally, after three years of debate and litigation, the nation will get an answer. The Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers to pay for abortion drugs has been challenged by religious believers in courts across the nation since the passage of the president’s signature health-care legislation in 2010. The federal district and appellate courts have handed down mixed verdicts with some saying that the owners of companies must pay for coverage of services that violate their religious beliefs and others holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects their rights to refrain from supporting acts that violate their conscience. But now that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear appeals of two such cases in which the appeals courts handed down contradictory rulings, the issue will be settled once and for all.

But more than just the fate of two companies–one an Oklahoma City-based crafts store chain owned by Catholics and the other a Pennsylvania custom furniture manufacturer owned by Mennonites–are at stake in the legal battle that will probably be decided next spring. If the HHS Mandate is overturned by the high court, it will mark a signal victory for religious liberty over the efforts of the Obama administration to keep faith off the public square and out of public life. Liberal defenders of the government say the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are wrong to say their personal First Amendment right to religious freedom extends to their business. But the plaintiffs and their supporters rightly maintain that what HHS is doing is to strong-arm these business owners into compliance with ObamaCare via a rule that will force them to choose between their faith and the survival of their enterprises. If the HHS Mandate is upheld, it will create a new, cribbed definition of religious freedom that will effectively mean that faith is only something to be practiced in private.

Liberals are mocking the claim that these business owners have any rights to refuse to fund abortion drugs or even contraception. But the constitutional right to religious freedom is not just about the ability to choose which house of worship to attend or to say private prayers without government interference. Government has no right to tell individuals that they must fund practices that violate their conscience or faith.

Even more contemptible is the attempt by the government and its leftist cheering section to claim that these business owners are imposing their beliefs on their employees, an assertion made by the New York Times earlier this month when it lamented that an appeals court had upheld religious freedom in a related case. The company owners are not requiring their employees to believe as they do or to refrain from having abortions. But they are within their rights to say that if an employee wishes to have one, they should not look to their employers for a subsidy for that act. If the mandate is upheld, then it is not freedom of conscience that is being protected but instead a dubious right to free abortion pills or contraception that cannot be found in any fair reading of the Constitution. It is faith that is under siege in these cases, not abortion rights.

As Appeals Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote in a related case, “The Framers of the Constitution embraced the philosophical insight that government coercion of moral agency is odious.” She went on to write that the mandate is a “compelled affirmation of a repugnant belief” and therefore an unconstitutional burden on free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court will therefore not be deciding the right to abortion or contraception but whether the government’s belief that employers must pay for such services can supersede an employer’s right to free exercise.

Though the fate of ObamaCare will not be decided in these cases, it must be understood that the legislation’s vision of government making decisions about health care practices and policies is integral to the mandate’s attempt to abrogate fundamental constitutional rights. As wrongheaded as Congress was to impose governmental fiats on health care in this manner, the government’s attempt to trample on the rights of religious believers in this fashion is even more offensive. One need not agree with conservative Christians on either abortion or contraception to understand that the underlying principle in this case is the protection of the religious liberty of all Americans. It is to be hoped that the hearing and the decision rendered by the Supreme Court will check the efforts of the federal government to impinge on religious liberty in the name of universal health care. 

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NAF Puts Anti-Zionism on the Table

The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

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The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

Let’s specify that NAF has not explicitly endorsed Blumenthal’s ideas. As Radosh notes, it’s doubtful that their board was consulted about the decision to host his book tour. But all the disclaimers in the world won’t change the fact that by choosing to associate their institution with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis and calls for its destruction, the NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach. Moreover, by doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right. Instead, thanks to the Nation and its friends at the New America Foundation, open hatred against Israel and the campaign to delegitimize Zionism have now been given an undeserved veneer of respectability in Barack Obama’s Washington.

In one sense, it is hardly surprising that Slaughter’s group would embrace Blumenthal’s book at the same time that the current head of the State Department is counseling Congress to “ignore” Israeli concerns about Iran and betraying its democratic ally with deals that legitimize Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But policy disagreements are one thing; putting anti-Zionism on the agenda as a worthy discussion point is quite another. Just as it would be a scandal if some conservative think tank of comparable stature hosted an author of an openly racist book or one advocating the virtues of slavery, there is something shocking and fundamentally indecent about NAF’s decision to host a writer who is the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. It may be too much to hope that board members speak up and seek to cancel this event. But if they don’t, the NAF will lend its prestige to a disreputable author and cause and find itself tainted as an aider and abettor of anti-Israel hate.

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The Most Nonsensical Attack on Israel (Yet)

Twitter has been accused of helping to coarsen the culture, increase partisan rage, and further erode the line separating the personal and the political. But there is at least one advantage for writers: Twitter can be an outlet for a curious or ironic observation that has no shelf life and no coherence beyond 140 characters. Some thoughts are tweet-appropriate and nothing more.

Which means there is really no excuse for the New York Times’s decision to publish today’s installment of its ongoing Jodi Rudoren experiment. Rudoren has earned her share of corrections for false claims that editors really should have caught, but everyone makes mistakes, and being dropped into the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the education beat perhaps deserves an adjustment period. But today’s story is not one that gets a few facts wrong or leans heavily toward the Palestinian side of the issue. It’s based on a nonsensical thesis that makes the paper look so desperate to attack Israel that it will throw everything it can find at the Jewish state.

Under the headline “Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians,” Rudoren discusses the supposed hypocrisy on the part of Israel’s government because it opposed the interim deal with Iran but supports interim deals with the Palestinians. (As a side note, this is a lesson the Israelis learned the hard way: they will be criticized for striking agreements and criticized for not striking agreements. It almost literally, as Joe Biden might say, doesn’t matter what Israel does in the opinion of the Western press.)

I’ll let the Times put forth this thesis in Rudoren’s own words:

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Twitter has been accused of helping to coarsen the culture, increase partisan rage, and further erode the line separating the personal and the political. But there is at least one advantage for writers: Twitter can be an outlet for a curious or ironic observation that has no shelf life and no coherence beyond 140 characters. Some thoughts are tweet-appropriate and nothing more.

Which means there is really no excuse for the New York Times’s decision to publish today’s installment of its ongoing Jodi Rudoren experiment. Rudoren has earned her share of corrections for false claims that editors really should have caught, but everyone makes mistakes, and being dropped into the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the education beat perhaps deserves an adjustment period. But today’s story is not one that gets a few facts wrong or leans heavily toward the Palestinian side of the issue. It’s based on a nonsensical thesis that makes the paper look so desperate to attack Israel that it will throw everything it can find at the Jewish state.

Under the headline “Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians,” Rudoren discusses the supposed hypocrisy on the part of Israel’s government because it opposed the interim deal with Iran but supports interim deals with the Palestinians. (As a side note, this is a lesson the Israelis learned the hard way: they will be criticized for striking agreements and criticized for not striking agreements. It almost literally, as Joe Biden might say, doesn’t matter what Israel does in the opinion of the Western press.)

I’ll let the Times put forth this thesis in Rudoren’s own words:

Israeli leaders on Monday condemned the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program as an exercise in appeasement by the Western powers and a delaying tactic by Iran. Yet many of them see the same strategy of interim confidence-building steps as the only realistic route to resolving their long-running conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel is outraged that, under the deal signed Sunday, Iran is not required to stop enriching uranium or to dismantle centrifuges while negotiating a final agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. At the same time, Israel continues to build West Bank settlements while negotiating with the Palestinians, prompting similar outrage from the international community.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Because so much gets written about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and because of the media’s blatant left-wing bias, consumers of news on the Middle East are often bombarded with exceptionally dimwitted thoughts. It’s more than just the Bibi Derangement Syndrome that makes even rational liberals lose their grip on reality when Benjamin Netanyahu is involved. It’s a propensity on the part of some news organizations to erase the line between the news and editorial pages and go on the attack any time Israeli officials have the temerity to speak up for their country’s interests.

And yet, today’s Times piece is something of a landmark achievement. It gets everything wrong: the history of the peace process, the Iran deal, international law. There is not a word that redeems the paper’s decision to publish this assault on reason.

The piece suggests Israel is opposed to the concept of an interim agreement with Iran, when that is false. Israel doesn’t like the terms of this agreement, so it opposes it. Rudoren’s attempt to shame Israel for trying to improve the Palestinian economy in the absence of a deal is more proof that for Israel, no good deed goes unpunished. It’s also difficult to know what Rudoren could have possibly been thinking when she compared Jewish settlements in the West Bank to a genocidal regime’s march toward attaining nuclear weapons.

Similarly, the piece suggests Israel is opposed to the concept of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians–also verifiably false. Israel has repeatedly offered comprehensive deals to the Palestinians. Ehud Barak’s offer was followed by a Palestinian intifada. Ehud Olmert’s offer was followed by Palestinian ceasefire violations and the Gaza war. The Palestinians are now in the habit of requiring minor agreements to even begin negotiations. Blaming Netanyahu for this is typical of the Times, and typically daft.

The Times piece also, in the third paragraph, compares the Palestinian drive for statehood to the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons–the latter being a means to destroy Israel. The Palestinians should be insulted by this, but later in the article Palestinian officials embrace the comparison. Perhaps they agree.

Each time the Western press publishes a delusional attack on Israel based on illogic and false equivalence, serious analysts of the Middle East wonder how it could possibly be topped. But the media, as today’s story shows, will always find a way.

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Iran Deal Undermines U.S. Credibility

Much has already been written about the problematic nature of the interim agreement signed this weekend by Iran and the P5+1. But the damage goes beyond the fact that it weakens the sanctions regime without halting Iran’s multiple nuclear programs (as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens aptly said, it will “merely reduce their pace from run to jog”). No less severe is the blow to U.S. credibility.

First, there’s what might be called the Hamid Karzai problem. As the New York Times reported last week, the Afghan president has for years “perplexed and dismayed his allies” by accusing Washington of plotting behind his back with Pakistan and/or the Taliban in an effort to force Kabul into a peace deal “in which Afghanistan’s interests will not even be secondary, but tertiary and worse.” Hitherto, such ravings could be dismissed as paranoia. But we now know Washington did exactly that to Israel and Saudi Arabia, by spending months secretly negotiating the current deal with Iran without even informing them of the talks’ existence. In other words, America went behind the backs of its two closest Mideast allies to negotiate a deal with their worst enemy that both consider detrimental to their interests. So how can any U.S. ally not legitimately fear that it will do the same to them?

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Much has already been written about the problematic nature of the interim agreement signed this weekend by Iran and the P5+1. But the damage goes beyond the fact that it weakens the sanctions regime without halting Iran’s multiple nuclear programs (as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens aptly said, it will “merely reduce their pace from run to jog”). No less severe is the blow to U.S. credibility.

First, there’s what might be called the Hamid Karzai problem. As the New York Times reported last week, the Afghan president has for years “perplexed and dismayed his allies” by accusing Washington of plotting behind his back with Pakistan and/or the Taliban in an effort to force Kabul into a peace deal “in which Afghanistan’s interests will not even be secondary, but tertiary and worse.” Hitherto, such ravings could be dismissed as paranoia. But we now know Washington did exactly that to Israel and Saudi Arabia, by spending months secretly negotiating the current deal with Iran without even informing them of the talks’ existence. In other words, America went behind the backs of its two closest Mideast allies to negotiate a deal with their worst enemy that both consider detrimental to their interests. So how can any U.S. ally not legitimately fear that it will do the same to them?

Indeed, as Seth noted yesterday, Ukraine’s eleventh-hour decision to scrap a deal with Europe that it spent months negotiating and sign one with Russia instead shows that other countries are already absorbing the lesson: The West is unreliable; trust it at your peril. Granted, neither Ukraine nor Afghanistan is vital to Western interests. But what happens when, say, Japan and South Korea conclude that Washington might just as easily sell them out to China?

Then there’s the John Kerry problem. Prior to last week’s talks with Iran, the secretary of state pledged that the interim deal wouldn’t acknowledge an Iranian right to continue enriching uranium. “That certainly will not be resolved in any first step, I can assure you,” he said. After the deal was signed, he again asserted that “This first step does not say that Iran has the right of enrichment, no matter what interpretative comments are made.”  

Yet the deal states explicitly that the “comprehensive solution” the parties will now seek to negotiate “would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme.” So the word “right” doesn’t appear, but the practical implications are the same as if it had: Despite repeated binding UN resolutions demanding that Iran halt enrichment, the P5+1 has already agreed to let it continue enriching in perpetuity. This would be like Israel signing a deal to resettle five million Palestinian “refugees” in its territory and then claiming it didn’t agree to a “right of return” because those three words don’t appear in the text. And if America’s top diplomat can flat-out lie about the deal’s content even after the text has been published for all to see, why would anyone ever trust America’s word again?

Earlier this month, Walter Russell Mead noted that “Past administrations have generally concluded that the price Iran wants for a different relationship with the United States is unsustainably high,” because “to get a deal with Iran we would have to sell out all of our other regional allies,” and “Throwing over old allies like that would reduce the confidence that America’s allies all over the world have in our support.”

That’s the brave new world America has just entered. And it’s likely to be paying the price for a long time to come.

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Obama’s Incompetence Now Twinned to Mendacity

The news for President Obama continues to get worse.

According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, only four out of 10 Americans believe Mr. Obama can manage the federal government effectively. Fifty-three percent don’t view him as a strong and decisive leader. And 56 percent say he does not agree with them on important issues and he does not inspire confidence.

But the numbers on the president’s personal characteristics should alarm the White House most of all. More than half (53 percent) believe he’s not honest and trustworthy, while 56 percent say he’s not a person they admire.

Each of these figures are all-time records for Mr. Obama in CNN polling.

In their fascinating behind-the-scenes book on the 2012 election, Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that the campaign’s research showed “that there was a deep well of sympathy for Obama among voters.” In focus groups after the first debate, they write, “people offered excuse after excuse for his horrific presentation. In Florida, one woman said, almost protectively, ‘I just bet you he wasn’t feeling well.’”

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The news for President Obama continues to get worse.

According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, only four out of 10 Americans believe Mr. Obama can manage the federal government effectively. Fifty-three percent don’t view him as a strong and decisive leader. And 56 percent say he does not agree with them on important issues and he does not inspire confidence.

But the numbers on the president’s personal characteristics should alarm the White House most of all. More than half (53 percent) believe he’s not honest and trustworthy, while 56 percent say he’s not a person they admire.

Each of these figures are all-time records for Mr. Obama in CNN polling.

In their fascinating behind-the-scenes book on the 2012 election, Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that the campaign’s research showed “that there was a deep well of sympathy for Obama among voters.” In focus groups after the first debate, they write, “people offered excuse after excuse for his horrific presentation. In Florida, one woman said, almost protectively, ‘I just bet you he wasn’t feeling well.’”

That deep well of sympathy–that willingness to give the president the benefit of the doubt and the attachment and connection voters felt for Mr. Obama–has been crucial to his success for his entire political life. He has always been viewed as a likeable and decent man, even when his campaign employed fairly ruthless tactics. But the days of broad public faith and trust in this president appear to be over. And no wonder.

The fact that the president knowingly misled the public on such a crucial element of his health-care program so many times, over such a long period of time, with such apparent ease, has penetrated the public consciousness in a way nothing else ever has. Incompetence has now been twinned to mendacity. And not surprisingly, that deep well of sympathy is drying up.

Mr. Obama will discover that trust, once lost, is hard to recover. 

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