Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 5, 2013

Don’t Distort the Meaning of Mandela

As our Max Boot has written, Nelson Mandela’s example is more proof that individuals and personal choices are the decisive factors in history. By not choosing to be embittered by his personal experience of persecution and by his embrace of the principles of reconciliation and peace once apartheid ended, he changed the fate of South Africa. As such, his legacy is not just one of a symbol of resistance to oppression but as an example of how humanity can rise above hatred and violence. He is not merely one of the iconic figures of the 20th century but of the history of the world.

As the world honors Mandela this week, there will be much written and said about the difference he made in his own country and the way he inspired others to listen to the better angels of their natures. This is entirely appropriate, and we hope the flood of remembrances of the South African leader will spark not just a greater appreciation of what he did but of the cause of freedom. At a time when tyranny and hate seem to be on the upsurge around the globe, the focus on Mandela should not be just one that honors the demise of apartheid but on the need to resist tyranny, whether it is perpetrated in the name of racism, nationalism, or religion. If Mandela’s lessons are merely confined to the conflicts between black and white in Africa or apartheid is allowed to become a metaphor rather than a specific form of authoritarianism, his legacy will be lost.

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As our Max Boot has written, Nelson Mandela’s example is more proof that individuals and personal choices are the decisive factors in history. By not choosing to be embittered by his personal experience of persecution and by his embrace of the principles of reconciliation and peace once apartheid ended, he changed the fate of South Africa. As such, his legacy is not just one of a symbol of resistance to oppression but as an example of how humanity can rise above hatred and violence. He is not merely one of the iconic figures of the 20th century but of the history of the world.

As the world honors Mandela this week, there will be much written and said about the difference he made in his own country and the way he inspired others to listen to the better angels of their natures. This is entirely appropriate, and we hope the flood of remembrances of the South African leader will spark not just a greater appreciation of what he did but of the cause of freedom. At a time when tyranny and hate seem to be on the upsurge around the globe, the focus on Mandela should not be just one that honors the demise of apartheid but on the need to resist tyranny, whether it is perpetrated in the name of racism, nationalism, or religion. If Mandela’s lessons are merely confined to the conflicts between black and white in Africa or apartheid is allowed to become a metaphor rather than a specific form of authoritarianism, his legacy will be lost.

Mandela came to be embraced by all peoples, both black and white, as a role model, not just because the cause of his opponents was unjust. Tyrants are, alas, a dime a dozen. But freedom fighters that can translate their struggle into one that makes the lives of their people better rather than worse are rare. Mandela was not perfect and the allies he was forced to accept during his struggle were often unsavory. But whatever his associations, he proved once he was freed that his principle interest was in establishing a genuine democracy in South Africa and one in which all of its peoples could play a role. That is why it is vital those who do not share his devotion to liberty or to human rights should not be allowed to hijack Mandela’s story or that of the anti-apartheid struggle. And by that I refer to those who would wish to invoke the struggle against racism in South Africa to justify support for those who seek to destroy the State of Israel.

It has become commonplace on both the extreme left and the extreme right where anti-Zionism flourishes to libel Israel as an apartheid state that is reminiscent of the South Africa that was ruled by a white minority. Given that Israel is a democratic nation in which the Arab minority enjoys equality under the law, this claim is an absurd lie. Moreover, even though the Palestinians refused to make peace and accept a two-state solution (their leadership rejected such offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008) and the West Bank remains in legal limbo, it should also be pointed out that unlike white South Africans, Jews remain a clear majority of those living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. If Israel remains locked in conflict, it is because it still remains under a siege in which the Arab and Muslim world seeks its elimination.

The use of the South African analogy against the Jewish state is also particularly disturbing because Mandela was personally a strong opponent of anti-Semitism and a friend to the South African Jewish community. As Richard Goldstone, the controversial former judge who allowed his name to be used to front a vicious attack on Israel before ultimately renouncing that libel, writes in the Forward today, though his relationship with Israel was difficult at times because of his embrace of Yasir Arafat and Israel’s relations with the old South Africa, “Mandela sympathized with Israel and the aspirations of the Jewish people to live there in peace with their Arab neighbors.”

Thus, it is manifestly dishonest of those who seek to use the tactics of the struggle against apartheid against a democratic state like Israel. The goal of those who boycotted South Africa was to replace tyranny with freedom. Those who support the effort to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel wish to destroy a democracy and to deprive the Jewish people of the same right of self-determination that Mandela wished for his people.

Those who would use Mandela’s memory as a cover for Jew-hatred and intolerance do him and the world he helped enlighten an injustice.

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The Character of Nelson Mandela

While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela.

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While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela.

I can remember growing up in the 1980s when there was widespread suspicion among conservatives in the U.S.–including many in the Reagan administration–that if the African National Congress were to take over, South Africa would be transformed into another dysfunctional dictatorship like the rest of the continent. That this did not come to pass was due to many reasons including F.W. de Klerk’s wisdom in giving up power without a fight.

But the largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations–why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors–is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man–someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution.

Mandela knew that South Africa could not afford to nationalize the economy or to chase out the white and mixed-raced middle class. He knew that the price of revenge for the undoubted evils that apartheid had inflicted upon the majority of South Africans would be too high to pay–that the ultimate cost would be borne by ordinary black Africans. Therefore he governed inclusively and, most important of all, he voluntarily gave up power after one term when he could easily have proclaimed himself president for life.

The (not unexpected) tragedy for South Africa is that Mandela’s successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have not been men of his caliber: Mbeki, the previous president, was a colorless technocrat who could not inspire his people or face head-on the challenge of AIDS; Zuma, the current president, is a rabble-rouser who has been accused of numerous improprieties from rape to corruption. Their struggles and that of the ANC bureaucracy they preside over only place in starker relief the transcendent genius and sheer goodness of Nelson Mandela.

His example should dispel any illusions, so popular in the historical profession, that history is made by impersonal forces. Mandela’s example is a ringing endorsement of what is derisively known as the “great man school of history”–the notion that influential individuals make a huge difference in how events turn out. He certainly made a difference, and for the better. He will go down as one of the giants of the second half of the twentieth century along with Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II.

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“The Best Keepers of the People’s Liberties”

According to a CNS News report, a new ObamaCare regulation will enable members of Congress and their staffs to use federal subsidies to pay for elective abortions. Though it will get less attention than the broken “if you like your plan/doctor, you can keep your plan/doctor” promise, this story arguably is of more significance–if not policywise, than at least symbolically.

This latest report will suffer from a phenomenon I’ve referenced before: the sheer quantity of bad news about ObamaCare means the public can only absorb so much of it at a time. Combine that with the fact that the American public is famously unenthusiastic about prioritizing issues like abortion in the national conversation, and this report is likely to be overlooked. That would be too bad, as CNS explains:

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According to a CNS News report, a new ObamaCare regulation will enable members of Congress and their staffs to use federal subsidies to pay for elective abortions. Though it will get less attention than the broken “if you like your plan/doctor, you can keep your plan/doctor” promise, this story arguably is of more significance–if not policywise, than at least symbolically.

This latest report will suffer from a phenomenon I’ve referenced before: the sheer quantity of bad news about ObamaCare means the public can only absorb so much of it at a time. Combine that with the fact that the American public is famously unenthusiastic about prioritizing issues like abortion in the national conversation, and this report is likely to be overlooked. That would be too bad, as CNS explains:

The federal subsidy members of Congress and their staff can now use to buy health-insurance plans that cover elective abortions contradicts a vow Obama made in a nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, 2009.

It also contradicts the express purpose of the executive order on abortion funding that Obama promised to issue in March 2010 when the House of Representatives was preparing to take its final vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

That executive order promise was part of the compromise that essentially ended Bart Stupak’s time in Congress. The former Democratic congressman was one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats, and he held out on supporting ObamaCare–resistance that had enough support to stall the bill–until he could be assured the new health-care law would not use taxpayer dollars to fund elective abortion.

Stupak’s principled stand was a bluff, however. When Democrats, who largely support abortion-on-demand, along with the intensely pro-abortion Obama, pushed back on amending the bill to protect life, Stupak accepted the promise of an executive order from Obama instead. Few thought Obama would keep his promise, so none of this is terribly surprising, but the pro-abortion regulation would be the undoing of the one promise that, perhaps more than any other, secured the passage of ObamaCare.

Conservatives are at another disadvantage here, however. People are rarely able to muster the outrage for stories about process that they are about policy. But Obama’s behavior on the health law has certainly been outrageous. He has been treating the bill passed by Congress as a rough draft, issuing regulations after the fact that he couldn’t get passed by Congress in an already unpopular law. He understood the will of the people well enough–he just wasn’t particularly bothered by it.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Obama is easily bothered by the will of the people when it contradicts his own vision for society. He has been, on the ObamaCare issue and others, strikingly reminiscent of the unnamed “Anti-republican” in James Madison’s brief satirical dialogue defending popular self-government, Who Are the Best Keepers of the People’s Liberties? The two characters are a bit exaggerated, but the stakes were high enough that he could be forgiven a touch of rhetorical excess. What’s interesting is the extent to which the exaggerated thoughts of the “Anti-republican” seem far less cartoonish when applied to modern Democrats.

The “Anti-republican” claims that “The people are stupid, suspicious, licentious. They cannot safely trust themselves. When they have established government they should think of nothing but obedience, leaving the care of their liberties to their wiser rulers.” His “Republican” interlocutor objects that suppressing people’s freedom to save them from themselves only makes them more likely to be taken advantage of without recourse. They should respect and obey their government, but also “watch over it.”

“Anti-republican” responds:

You look at the surface only, where errors float, instead of fathoming the depths where truth lies hid. It is not the government that is disposed to fly off from the people; but the people that are ever ready to fly off from the government. Rather say then, enlighten the government, warn it to be vigilant, enrich it with influence, arm it with force, and to the people never pronounce but two words — Submission and Confidence.

“Republican” responds that this is a “perversion of the natural order of things” by making “power the primary and central object of the social system, and Liberty but its satellite.” The “Anti-republican,” in full statist/technocratic mode, objects that the “Republican” just isn’t getting it:

The science of the stars can never instruct you in the mysteries of government. Wonderful as it may seem, the more you increase the attractive force of power, the more you enlarge the sphere of liberty; the more you make government independent and hostile towards the people, the better security you provide for their rights and interests.

“Republican” pleads for humility:

Mysterious indeed! But mysteries belong to religion, not to government; to the ways of the Almighty, not to the works of man. And in religion itself there is nothing mysterious to its author; the mystery lies in the dimness of the human sight. So in the institutions of man let there be no mystery, unless for those inferior beings endowed with a ray perhaps of the twilight vouchsafed to the first order of terrestrial creation.

Of course, all this is a bit more imaginative and erudite and even captivating in its own way compared to the discourse we have today, but the outlines and the principles are there. The story of the enlightened technocrat who knows better than the ragged masses and just wants you to trust him is an old story made new. Madison even somehow anticipates engines of outcast utilized by the left to squash debate–a sort of primitive Attack Watch. “Republican” gets the better of the exchange and ends with a libertarian flourish worth savoring, and keeping in mind:

Anti-republican. — You are destitute, I perceive, of every quality of a good citizen, or rather of a good subject. You have neither the light of faith nor the spirit of obedience. I denounce you to the government as an accomplice of atheism and anarchy.

Republican. — And I forbear to denounce you to the people, though a blasphemer of their rights and an idolater of tyranny. Liberty disdains to persecute.

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Hillary Has a Lot to Lose in Iran Deal

With more than two years to go before the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is leaving little to chance as she gears up for her next try for the big prize. Her slow-motion re-entry into the public square after a few months out of sight after leaving the State Department has been prudently crafted to both maximize the sense of inevitability about her candidacy and to discourage possible Democratic rivals like Vice President Biden. So far it seems to be working well, with possible left-wing challengers like Senator Elizabeth Warren renouncing any interest in the nomination while the former first lady stays comfortably above the current political mess into which her former boss, President Obama, is currently mired. As an article in the New York Times’s Fashion and Style section noted today, she has been a constant presence at charitable events around the Big Apple hobnobbing with contributors and showing her star power. But the problem with lurking around the edges of the debate is that difficult issues have a way of popping up and complicating even the most careful plan of action.

That was illustrated as much by what wasn’t said at yet another fashionable event held in New York Wednesday night as what was on the agenda at a tribute to the late Richard Holbrooke. As Politico reports, Clinton was a featured speaker and was asked questions by a chosen interviewer, but somehow avoided saying a word on the most important foreign-policy question of the day: Iran. That she would seek to stay out of the current debate about the Obama administration’s decision to pursue détente with the Iranian regime is understandable. While it could be argued that the distance between the deal signed by her successor John Kerry and the dilatory efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program undertaken on her watch is not so great, it is still a clear departure from the positions she enunciated on the threat both before and after her time at Foggy Bottom. So while she is probably uninterested in publicly disagreeing with Obama and Kerry on Iran (and may, in fact, agree with them), she is equally wary of carrying the burden of the likely failure of these efforts into the next election. Though an Iranian bomb would damage Obama’s legacy, it could cripple Clinton’s attempt to use her foreign-policy portfolio as ammunition in 2016.

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With more than two years to go before the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is leaving little to chance as she gears up for her next try for the big prize. Her slow-motion re-entry into the public square after a few months out of sight after leaving the State Department has been prudently crafted to both maximize the sense of inevitability about her candidacy and to discourage possible Democratic rivals like Vice President Biden. So far it seems to be working well, with possible left-wing challengers like Senator Elizabeth Warren renouncing any interest in the nomination while the former first lady stays comfortably above the current political mess into which her former boss, President Obama, is currently mired. As an article in the New York Times’s Fashion and Style section noted today, she has been a constant presence at charitable events around the Big Apple hobnobbing with contributors and showing her star power. But the problem with lurking around the edges of the debate is that difficult issues have a way of popping up and complicating even the most careful plan of action.

That was illustrated as much by what wasn’t said at yet another fashionable event held in New York Wednesday night as what was on the agenda at a tribute to the late Richard Holbrooke. As Politico reports, Clinton was a featured speaker and was asked questions by a chosen interviewer, but somehow avoided saying a word on the most important foreign-policy question of the day: Iran. That she would seek to stay out of the current debate about the Obama administration’s decision to pursue détente with the Iranian regime is understandable. While it could be argued that the distance between the deal signed by her successor John Kerry and the dilatory efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program undertaken on her watch is not so great, it is still a clear departure from the positions she enunciated on the threat both before and after her time at Foggy Bottom. So while she is probably uninterested in publicly disagreeing with Obama and Kerry on Iran (and may, in fact, agree with them), she is equally wary of carrying the burden of the likely failure of these efforts into the next election. Though an Iranian bomb would damage Obama’s legacy, it could cripple Clinton’s attempt to use her foreign-policy portfolio as ammunition in 2016.

Right now, Democrats, especially those up for reelection in 2014, are primarily worried about the impact of ObamaCare on their future. If the disastrous rollout and the president’s loss of credibility aren’t transformed by the middle of next year, Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment will be an albatross weighing down Democrats. But though many on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the rush to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, barring some unforeseen disaster, foreign policy isn’t likely to play a role in the midterms. That’s also the standard assumption about presidential elections, and 2016 may not be an exception to that rule. Though some think an Iranian breakout to nuclear capacity is something Americans shouldn’t worry about and won’t become much of a political issue even if it happens, anyone who will be running for president in part on their foreign-policy record will have much to answer for if Iran gets a bomb sometime in the next three years.

The danger for Hillary, as the sole credible Democratic candidate in the next cycle, is that Iran won’t wait until President Obama is safely out of the White House to make its move toward a nuclear weapon. If that happens, she will be put on the spot and have to either defend Obama’s decisions or attempt to differentiate her own record on Iran from what immediately followed her departure from the State Department. At that point, and unlike Democrats in 2008, Clinton won’t be able to simply repeat the mantra about stopping Iran and leaving all options on the table. If Iran has already hoodwinked the United States and exploited the weak terms of the agreement Obama has signed on to, Clinton will face the danger of being portrayed as seeming weak in the one area on which she has always attempted to look strong.

Thus, as much as Obama and Kerry have bet the store on the notion that Iran’s leadership has become moderate, Clinton will have even more at stake in the outcome of the upcoming negotiations and Tehran’s willingness to abide by any agreement they’ve signed. That has to be an uncomfortable feeling for Clinton, and it will be increasingly difficult for her to dodge the issue of Iran as we get closer to 2016. Though it isn’t likely that anything short of an act of God can derail her coronation as the Democratic presidential candidate, an Iran disaster could keep her out of the White House.

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Smarter Cuts Needed

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just announced that he is cutting major headquarters, including his own Office of the Secretary of Defense, by some 20 percent. This is a welcome development, for there is little doubt that headquarters are vastly bloated. But the cost savings that will be realized are minuscule in the context of a defense budget of more than $500 billion a year; the immediate reductions that Hagel announced to his own front office will save only $1 billion over five years–i.e., $200 million a year. The pressure is on to cut more because Congress is unlikely to turn off sequestration, at least not in full, which could result, when combined with previous cuts, in a defense budget $1 trillion smaller than projected over the next decade.

There is no way to responsibly cut that amount from the Defense Department without hampering our power-projection capability–and hence the entire underpinning of our domestic security and of the international security system. But if we are going to have to make nearly impossible choices, then the least-bad alternative is to cut back personnel costs which have soared in the past decade–and, one hopes, plow some of the savings into training, readiness, and procurement to rejuvenate our sagging military capabilities. (Ha! Dream on! The savings are likely to wind up financing civilian entitlement programs.)

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just announced that he is cutting major headquarters, including his own Office of the Secretary of Defense, by some 20 percent. This is a welcome development, for there is little doubt that headquarters are vastly bloated. But the cost savings that will be realized are minuscule in the context of a defense budget of more than $500 billion a year; the immediate reductions that Hagel announced to his own front office will save only $1 billion over five years–i.e., $200 million a year. The pressure is on to cut more because Congress is unlikely to turn off sequestration, at least not in full, which could result, when combined with previous cuts, in a defense budget $1 trillion smaller than projected over the next decade.

There is no way to responsibly cut that amount from the Defense Department without hampering our power-projection capability–and hence the entire underpinning of our domestic security and of the international security system. But if we are going to have to make nearly impossible choices, then the least-bad alternative is to cut back personnel costs which have soared in the past decade–and, one hopes, plow some of the savings into training, readiness, and procurement to rejuvenate our sagging military capabilities. (Ha! Dream on! The savings are likely to wind up financing civilian entitlement programs.)

As the last several defense secretaries have warned, the Defense Department faces soaring costs for pay and benefits legislated by a Congress understandably eager to reward current service personnel and veterans for their contributions. The Washington Post succinctly summarizes the problem:

Putting veterans’ care aside, the military’s health care costs have grown annually by 6.3 percent for the past decade, rising to $52.2 billion in the department’s most recent budget proposal. Health care spending now accounts for about half the military spending on personnel costs, and 9.5 percent of the defense budget. The military now spends just as much on salaries as it does providing health care benefits.

And that total is expected to grow. Todd Harrison, a policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, recently crunched the numbers on what would happen if personnel costs kept growing at the same rate they have for the past decade, and the overall defense budget only kept pace with inflation. Under that scenario, the entire defense budget would be consumed by paying benefits, both for health care and other services, in 2039.

Put another way, if we stay on the current trajectory, the Defense Department will become a giant HMO that occasionally blows up a terrorist or two.

This is obviously an unsustainable trajectory, but to do anything about it, the Defense Department will have to enlist Congress’s help, which so far has not been forthcoming. Congress prefers to cut defense, and other discretionary programs, across the board, thereby hurting readiness. Lawmakers are too scared to support targeted cuts to benefits and pay that will bring a backlash from the powerful veterans’ lobby.

It is well past time for legislators of both parties to step up to this difficult task. If they want reductions in military spending, this is where they should pursue them–while keeping in mind that it is still irresponsible to cut the “top line” (i.e., total defense outlays) in a world where the demands on the U.S. military only continue to grow.

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Isolationism and a Nuclear Iran

Columnist George Will is right when he writes today that the nuclear deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran won’t stop the Islamist regime from getting a nuclear weapon. The notion that the U.S. can foster moderation in countries ruled by despotic ideological regimes is, as he says, a “conceit” of a blind faith in diplomacy and good will. But rather than call for tougher diplomacy or greater pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambition, the venerable conservative pundit advises us to simply give up trying to stop the ayatollahs from getting a bomb. If possible, that might be an even worse policy than the feckless pursuit of détente with Iran currently being attempted by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

It’s difficult to argue with Will’s belief that no agreement conjured up by the current diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from eventually going nuclear. Nor would the use of force by either Israel or the United States to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities be easy or cost-free. But his conclusion that the U.S. has no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran as an inevitable, if regrettable, reality and adopt a posture of containment is one that even President Obama has rejected as not a viable or sensible option. In this case, Will’s normally rigorous reasoning is flawed both in terms of his estimation of what could be done short of war to stop Iran as well as the impact of effective strikes on their nuclear infrastructure. Even more troubling, however, is the sense that his willingness to accept a nuclear Iran has less to do with despair at the options available to policymakers than it does with a worldview that is drifting toward isolationism.

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Columnist George Will is right when he writes today that the nuclear deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran won’t stop the Islamist regime from getting a nuclear weapon. The notion that the U.S. can foster moderation in countries ruled by despotic ideological regimes is, as he says, a “conceit” of a blind faith in diplomacy and good will. But rather than call for tougher diplomacy or greater pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambition, the venerable conservative pundit advises us to simply give up trying to stop the ayatollahs from getting a bomb. If possible, that might be an even worse policy than the feckless pursuit of détente with Iran currently being attempted by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

It’s difficult to argue with Will’s belief that no agreement conjured up by the current diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from eventually going nuclear. Nor would the use of force by either Israel or the United States to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities be easy or cost-free. But his conclusion that the U.S. has no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran as an inevitable, if regrettable, reality and adopt a posture of containment is one that even President Obama has rejected as not a viable or sensible option. In this case, Will’s normally rigorous reasoning is flawed both in terms of his estimation of what could be done short of war to stop Iran as well as the impact of effective strikes on their nuclear infrastructure. Even more troubling, however, is the sense that his willingness to accept a nuclear Iran has less to do with despair at the options available to policymakers than it does with a worldview that is drifting toward isolationism.

Let’s first agree that diplomacy with Iran is a doubtful bet no matter whether it is being conducted by tough-minded leaders or weak ones. Both Obama and Kerry have little appreciation of the nature or goals of the Iranian regime and what little common sense they have is dwarfed by their hubristic belief in their own diplomatic prowess. As Will states, a deal that leaves in place Iran’s nuclear facilities and its stockpile of enriched uranium, and even grants it the right to create more is a formula for failure. It’s difficult to imagine any such scheme will not be either evaded or violated by the Iranians in a push to get the weapon their leaders have always dreamed of. The Iranians have spent the last 20 years deceiving and stalling Western negotiators. Any thought that the selection of a faux moderate in their fake presidential election presages a genuine shift on the part of the true rulers of Iran is a product of wishful thinking.

But however dubious we should be about Iran’s intentions, it is simply not true to claim, as Will does, that “any agreement” would be as futile as the one Obama has foolishly embraced. A deal that dismantled Iran’s centrifuges and nuclear plants and that resulted in the export of their uranium stockpile would be one that would prevent them from getting a bomb. Granted, the Iranians may well have more facilities than the ones under discussion. Intelligence agencies take it as a given that there are secret facilities where unknown nuclear activities are being conducted. Yet a negotiated end to the international sanctions on Iran that produced a genuine and strict inspection of the country might well root out most of the ayatollahs’ nuclear toys or at least enough to severely restrict their ability to reconstitute their program.

Such a deal might be possible if, rather than weakening sanctions in a vain effort to encourage Iranian moderates, the West tightened the economic restrictions on trade with Tehran and instituted a comprehensive embargo of Iranian oil. That kind of an embargo would be tough to enforce without the full support of Russia and China. But we’ll never know whether it could work or if such crippling sanctions would bring the regime to its knees until it is tried.

As for the use of force, Will is probably right that Israel may not be able to stop Iran on its own. It is also true that even a far more comprehensive strike by the U.S. wouldn’t necessarily end the threat for all time. But in dismissing the possibility that a series of strikes could stop Iran in the long run, Will is ignoring the fact that it is highly unlikely that a country already nearing bankruptcy could afford the massive costs involved in reconstituting a nuclear program it took them decades to build. There is no reason to believe that Iran could simply rebuild everything in a few years. And even if strikes did merely put off an Iranian bomb for a few years or a decade, that would buy the world badly needed time to prepare for the Iranian threat. It would also give the Iranian people an opportunity to perhaps unseat a tyrannical regime.

An armed conflict with Iran is not a scenario anyone should regard as anything but a last resort. But the assumption that it would be worse than a nuclear Iran is the real fallacy here. Will agrees with the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack that the only choices the West has are containment or war and thinks the former a better idea than the latter. That’s why, despite his criticism of Obama’s diplomacy, Will likes the nuclear deal with Iran because he rightly believes it forestalls any use of force whether by Israel or the United States.

Will castigates those who call for a more vigorous response to the Iranian nuclear threat as being “gripped by Thirties envy” because they decry the Obama policy as a new appeasement. Obviously, the circumstances before us today are different than those faced by the West in 1938 when appeasement of Nazi Germany was on the table. But the notion that all that is at stake here is, as Will says, an attempt to  “alter a regime’s choices about policies within its borders” is utterly misguided.

Iran’s nuclear program is not merely a domestic policy choice that the West regards with distaste (which was the way many in Britain and the U.S. regarded the Nazi treatment of Jews in the 1930s), but a genuine threat to the stability of the regime and the security of the West. After all, the Iranians are not building ICBMs to hit Israel, whose existence would be placed in mortal danger by a bomb in the hands of an anti-Semitic regime pledged to its destruction. Those would be aimed at Europe and the United States. Such a weapon would also provide a nuclear umbrella to Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries in the region and allies such as Syria.

In this respect, Barack Obama’s understanding of the stakes in this question is greater than that of the venerable conservative sage. The president knows that a nuclear Iran would be a catastrophe. He just lacks the will or the smarts to pursue the right policy to prevent it. Will is wrong to write off tough sanctions and diplomacy without their being tried. He’s even more wrong to think the use of force would be worse than a nuclear Iran.

Unlike the Soviet Union, a nuclear Iran could not be neatly contained. Not could the U.S. or Israel be sure it could deter it with nuclear or conventional counter-attacks. But unlike liberals who labor under the delusion that the Iranians could be charmed out of their nukes, Will seems to think the issue doesn’t really matter. In making that case, he seems to be endorsing the mindset of isolationists like Rand Paul or trying to resurrect the foreign policy of Republicans of a bygone era like Robert Taft would have preferred. As such, his appeal for acceptance of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a distressing indication of the collapse of the consensus on the right about foreign policy that can only give comfort to America’s foes.

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Two Cheers for a Do-Nothing Congress

As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

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As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

At the heart of the debate about what happened during the first session of the 113th Congress in the history of our republic is an assumption that its primary duty is to pass laws to keep expanding the power of the federal government and to feed its insatiable appetite for more money. Congress’s job is to consider legislation, not to merely pile more layers on the federal government. But its critics seem to think that any reluctance to keep feeding the governmental leviathan is a sin. If some members of Congress are insisting on a fundamental reform of this mess rather than merely being good soldiers and rubber-stamping a continuation of past boondoggles, that is not something for which they should be castigated.

Nor is fair to place all the blame on Congress, as liberal Post blogger Ezra Klein does, for the nation’s lackluster economic recovery. Klein cites statistics that bolster his claim that the congressional tussles over the budget and then ObamaCare that led to the government shutdown set back the economy. The shutdown was an ill-advised maneuver that accomplished nothing for the Republicans or the country, but to assume that without it and the GOP’s disagreement over Democratic objectives that the economy would be purring along on all cylinders is unwarranted. What goes on in Washington does affect the economy. But the underlying problems that have made this the most anemic recovery from a downturn in recent history have far more to do with President Obama’s policies and structural problems than anything dreamed up by the House GOP leadership.

Klein also harps on the fact that the House has, in his opinion, wasted a lot of time in futile attempts to repeal ObamaCare. But in making that argument, he is actually highlighting why a Congress that will pass controversial pieces of legislation at all costs is far worse than one than is reluctant to pass anything. The 111th Congress that sat during the first two years of the Obama administration was under the sole control of the Democrats and largely did the president’s bidding. That caused it to push through a massive stimulus package that cost the country close to a trillion dollars but did little to help the economy. It followed up that dubious achievement by railroading ObamaCare through both bodies via legislative tricks on a party-line vote. The pitfalls of approving a bill that then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would have to be passed before it could be understood is now readily apparent to both parties.

Rather than harping on the 113th Congress’s failure to do as the president said, what we should be doing now is regretting the willingness of its predecessors to pass bills that were not fully thought out and which didn’t have the broad support of the American people. By not adding new ObamaCares to the nation’s burden, the 113th did its job. Would that the 111th been similarly stalemated.

As Klein rightly notes, this is a highly polarized Congress. In the past, both parties had large non-ideological contingents that worked together rather than contended over ideas. Such moderates are less common today in part because of gerrymandered districts. But it is also the product of a sense on the part of both liberals and conservatives that filling Congress with time-serving career politicians more intent on feathering their own nests than on addressing core issues was a bad idea.

In some ways that is an unfortunate development as civility on the Hill has declined. But it is not so much a product of dysfunction as it is of democracy. Members of Congress have a duty to see that the government keeps functioning, something that some of them forgot during the shutdown. But its obligation is to serve and reflect the views of the voters, not the federal bureaucracy, the executive branch, or even the press. At the moment, Americans are divided on many key issues and that is reflected in the decision of the voters last year to keep in place a Republican House alongside a Democratic Senate and president. That is frustrating for partisans on both sides as well as to those who work in and serve the federal establishment. Though the members of the governing class would like this problem to be overcome by a new birth of bipartisanship that would allow the liberal project to continue unhindered, they should not be surprised that those who fault past Congresses—including those run by Republicans in the last decade—for feeding the government’s tax-and-spend addictions don’t share their opinions.

Let’s hope Congress finds a way to pass a budget by the end of the year. Even if it does, it won’t go down as one of the great ones in our history and it—and its successors—are likely to continue in their role as the nation’s political whipping boys (and girls). But the desire to blast it as the worst ever has more to do with liberal anger at the willingness of the GOP to say no to President Obama and the Democrats. If that’s what it takes to prevent more ObamaCares, let’s hope the second session of this Congress and all those that follow are similarly dysfunctional.

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Re: ASA’s Anti-Israel Gesture Politics

As I have noted here, the American Studies Association considered, at its annual meeting last month, a resolution to boycott Israel. As Ben Cohen explained earlier today, ASA’s National Council has now voted unanimously to endorse such a resolution and has put it up for a vote. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are rightly declaring victory. But in assessing this “BDS win,” we ought to consider how the resolution was put through. In an otherwise balanced story at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik largely accepts the disingenuous story the Association is telling about the Council’s decision.

According to the ASA’s statement, this decision was the product of long deliberation. “In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the [Academic and Community Activism Caucus] at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

In fairness, the National Council did deliberate for a much longer period than expected, and it did conduct a debate at the national meeting, during which opponents of the boycott spoke. But it is dishonest to present the Executive Committee and National Council as neutral opinion gatherers, looking to discern the ASA’s will.

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As I have noted here, the American Studies Association considered, at its annual meeting last month, a resolution to boycott Israel. As Ben Cohen explained earlier today, ASA’s National Council has now voted unanimously to endorse such a resolution and has put it up for a vote. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are rightly declaring victory. But in assessing this “BDS win,” we ought to consider how the resolution was put through. In an otherwise balanced story at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik largely accepts the disingenuous story the Association is telling about the Council’s decision.

According to the ASA’s statement, this decision was the product of long deliberation. “In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the [Academic and Community Activism Caucus] at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

In fairness, the National Council did deliberate for a much longer period than expected, and it did conduct a debate at the national meeting, during which opponents of the boycott spoke. But it is dishonest to present the Executive Committee and National Council as neutral opinion gatherers, looking to discern the ASA’s will.

Consider the Executive Committee. Five of its six members had endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) as of May 2013. Those members are Curtis Marez, the outgoing president of ASA, Lisa Duggan, the incoming president, Karen Leong, who was among the proposers of a similar boycott by the Association for Asian American Studies, Nikhil Pal Singh, member of a scholar’s delegation that has called for a boycott, and Chandan Reddy. Four of the six signed a 2009 letter to then president-elect Obama, describing Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”

The National Council is only a little more balanced. Ten of the eighteen members who voted on the resolution had endorsed the USACBI as of May 2013 and seven signed the 2009 letter to Obama. One other Council member is part of a Queer Solidarity with Palestine effort to promote a boycott. One, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, is a member of the USACBI’s advisory board, and another, Sunaiana Maira, is part of the USACBI’s (I’m not making this up!) “Organizing Collective.”

As far as I know, not one member of the Council has been on record as raising a question about, much less opposing, a boycott. It is therefore hard to believe that a diversity of perspectives were needed “to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

Jaschik reports that backers of the resolution argued at last month’s meeting that “the council should not hand the decision to the full membership for a vote. The Council has called a vote anyway, but is evidently not confident that members will fall in line if they have time to deliberate. So they have opened the vote for just ten days, when members who have not been following the issue will be occupied with finals and other end-of-semester chores. I hope the Council is right to worry. Certainly, as the Inside Higher Ed piece indicates, there is an opposition to the boycott within ASA, and several have spoken up. But I suspect the Council has simply miscalculated. In its eagerness to ram through the resolution, it will have shown the people of good sense who remain in ASA what the future of the organization looks like.

They should leave, and take their credibility with them.

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Obama’s Inequality Prescription: Cronyism, Generational Theft, and Massive Debt

President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

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President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

For example, the president noted the importance of education, which is true, and then said this: “We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before.” What the federal government’s loan program has done, as we know, is raise tuition prices even more and further inflate a bubble that puts the economy in more danger:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed these concerns by saying that most of the money in the student-loan sector is federal money, which just means taxpayers – rather than lending institutions – will take the initial hit. But the board of governors makes a salient point as student loan debt soars to $1 trillion and exceeds the nation’s level of credit-card debt.

“The bankers said student lending shares features of the housing crisis including ‘significant growth of subsidized lending in pursuit of a social good,’ in this case higher education instead of expanded home ownership,” according to that Bloomberg report. “The lending has put upward pressure on tuition, just as the mortgage lending boom led to rising home prices, they said, calling both examples of a ‘lack of underwriting discipline.’”

For my entire life, I’ve heard policy makers insist that there is insufficient funding for education and that getting a college degree is the pathway to a better life. But as the bankers noted, the sea of student-loan money artificially boosts the cost of tuition, which creates a new cycle of indebtedness by students. Higher tuition makes “pay-as-you-go” a less-likely option.

The president also returned to a recent hobbyhorse, the minimum wage. Here, he unintentionally hurts two of his main targets of relief, students and workers, in one shot. Obama said:

And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers.  It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to — (applause) — so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. …

And even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care and business services; we know that we’re going to have a greater and greater portion of our people in the service sector.  And we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.  (Applause.)  And that’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.

But empowering union members isn’t the same as empowering workers. In many cases, it’s the opposite. Raising the minimum wage prices certain workers out of some industries, further cementing employed union workers’ job security at the expense of those on the lower rungs of the workforce. In other words, the president will reduce employment to reward his campaign allies. This is cronyism dressed up as moral governance, and it’s both shameful and par for the course for elected Democrats.

And it gets worse. Unions whose workers don’t make minimum wage support the president’s minimum wage hike for another reason. As Richard Berman explained in the Wall Street Journal when Obama last floated a push for a minimum wage hike: “The labor contracts that we examined used a variety of methods to trigger the increases. The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a flat wage premium above the minimum wage.”

So hiking the minimum wage can automatically reward Obama’s union allies in a number of ways. And of course empowering unions, especially through some of the prevailing collective bargaining frameworks, can also harm students. State-negotiated union education contracts aim for a degree of wage and benefit parity, which can be affordable (though often still unnecessary) for some school districts but plainly outrageous for others. The wages and benefits can’t be cut when budgets fail, so students lose out on books, computers, after-school activities, tutors–anything that doesn’t impact the unions but quite obviously detracts from the students.

Cronyism, generational theft, and massive debt are what the president has to offer on the economic front. He should be glad the speech flew under the radar.

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ASA’s Anti-Israel Gesture Politics

“Big Win for Boycott Movement” reads the headline of the Inside Higher Ed report on yesterday’s decision by the American Studies Association (ASA) to shun collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. The report correctly points out that this is the second time this year that an academic body in the U.S. has endorsed the boycott, following a similar decision in April by the Asian American Studies Association. The report goes on to observe that the ASA move,

…is seen as a major victory for the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. The academic movement to boycott Israel has considerable support in Europe, but has been largely opposed by major academic associations in the United States, citing longstanding objections to countrywide boycotts as antithetical to academic freedom…Supporters of the boycott have argued that just the discussion of the idea at a meeting as large as the American Studies Association marks a significant departure for American academe.

It is certainly true that supporters of the boycott are now hoping for a ripple effect elsewhere in academia. As one boycott activist remarked on Twitter, “these victories don’t exist in a vaccuum (sic)–they’re part of a much larger movement.” Still, when understood in the context of recent history, the ASA decision looks much less like a “victory” and much more like a demonstration of the kind of futile gesture politics beloved on the far left.

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“Big Win for Boycott Movement” reads the headline of the Inside Higher Ed report on yesterday’s decision by the American Studies Association (ASA) to shun collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. The report correctly points out that this is the second time this year that an academic body in the U.S. has endorsed the boycott, following a similar decision in April by the Asian American Studies Association. The report goes on to observe that the ASA move,

…is seen as a major victory for the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. The academic movement to boycott Israel has considerable support in Europe, but has been largely opposed by major academic associations in the United States, citing longstanding objections to countrywide boycotts as antithetical to academic freedom…Supporters of the boycott have argued that just the discussion of the idea at a meeting as large as the American Studies Association marks a significant departure for American academe.

It is certainly true that supporters of the boycott are now hoping for a ripple effect elsewhere in academia. As one boycott activist remarked on Twitter, “these victories don’t exist in a vaccuum (sic)–they’re part of a much larger movement.” Still, when understood in the context of recent history, the ASA decision looks much less like a “victory” and much more like a demonstration of the kind of futile gesture politics beloved on the far left.

Recall that the proposal for an academic boycott was first launched in 2004, by a group calling itself the “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel,” or PACBI. In its founding document, PACBI made it very clear that the ambition of the boycott is not to secure an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but the comprehensive dismantling of the Jewish state. This position was reflected in PACBI’s denunication of the “Zionist ideology” underlying “Israel’s colonial oppression of the Palestinian people” and the “denial of its responsibility for the Nakba–in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem.”

Almost ten years later, the academic boycott aimed at the destruction of Israel has signally failed to make an impression outside of those university bodies that were already predisposed to support it–labor unions on European campuses controlled by far left elements, as well as groups like ASA, who regard scholarship as a mission to perpetuate the pernicious, if fading, influence of the New Left in our classrooms. It has also failed to foster the kind of general public revulsion toward Israel that was inflicted upon the old apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, if this was the “big win” heralded by Inside Higher Ed, then we might expect Cornell University to immediately reconsider its decision to build a sparkling new technology center on Roosevelt Island in collaboration with Israel’s Technion; as things stand, it is doubtful that the executives involved with this project are even aware of the ASA decision.

Rather than being a mass movement that has electrified universities globally, the academic boycott is more accurately seen as an irritant that generates the occasional ugly scandal, such as the decision by Jake Lynch, a professor at Sydney University in Australia, to engage in racial discrimination against Professor Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University, or the withdrawal by the renowned scientist Stephen Hawking from a prestigious conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres. If we remain under the impression that the academic boycott punches far above its weight, that’s in part because the first serious attempt to implement it, undertaken by British academics in 2005, generated a slew of reportage and shocked comment on major outlets like the BBC, the Washington Post, and the Guardian. Contrast that with this year’s ASA decision, which has mainly been covered by Israel-fixated anti-Semitic websites like Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada. Beyond the ranks of the faithful, then, the academic boycott of Israel just isn’t that exciting anymore.

There will be those who counter that we cannot be complacent, and that we must continue to challenge and counter the boycotters. I have no quarrel with that, but I don’t expect those arguments to get very far. For example, the unarguable truism that there are far worse offenders in this world than Israel leaves the boycotters unmoved, for two principal reasons. Firstly, the boycotters don’t understand the profound moral difference between totalitarian regimes and democratic Israel: asked by Insider Higher Ed why ASA wasn’t boycotting Syria or North Korea, its president, Curtis Marez, replied that he wasn’t aware of boycott demands being made by the “civil society” in those countries. Someone who thinks that “civil society” even exists in these citadels of torture is clearly a lost cause.

Secondly, a large number of boycotters actually support these foul regimes, viewing them as progressive bulwarks against American and “Zionist” global domination. Max Blumenthal, the propagandist who currently serves as the poster child for anti-Zionists everywhere, recently published a rant targeting “hardline anti-Castro activists” pushing for the “overthrow of Cuba’s socialist regime”–a regime which habitually locks up dissidents both inside and outside academe.

The ASA decision is therefore an indication of the far left’s frustration. Unable to impact policy decisions, it turns instead to largely symbolic acts like a boycott, enabling those who endorse it to feel like they are “doing something.” So, yes, we must remain vigilant, but we must also happily recognize that a decade of anti-Zionist propaganda has very little to show in the way of concrete achievement.

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Obama’s “Coalition of the Ascendant” Is Collapsing

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written that it was a “coalition of the ascendant”–minorities, the millennial generation, and college-educated whites, especially women–that powered his 2008 and 2012 victories. That’s true enough–but as Brownstein’s colleague Ron Fournier points out in his column, that coalition is crumbling.

In particular, Fournier writes, young Americans are turning against Barack Obama and ObamaCare, according to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics survey of millennials, people between the ages of 18 and 29.

Here’s his summary of the findings:

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National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written that it was a “coalition of the ascendant”–minorities, the millennial generation, and college-educated whites, especially women–that powered his 2008 and 2012 victories. That’s true enough–but as Brownstein’s colleague Ron Fournier points out in his column, that coalition is crumbling.

In particular, Fournier writes, young Americans are turning against Barack Obama and ObamaCare, according to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics survey of millennials, people between the ages of 18 and 29.

Here’s his summary of the findings:

Obama’s approval rating among young Americans is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago, and now tracking with all adults. While 55 percent said they voted for Obama in 2012, only 46 percent said they would do so again.

When asked if they would want to recall various elected officials, 45 percent of millennials said they would oust their member of Congress; 52 percent replied “all members of Congress” should go; and 47 percent said they would recall Obama. The recall-Obama figure was even higher among the youngest millennials, ages 18 to 24, at 52 percent.

While there is no provision for a public recall of U.S. presidents, the poll question revealed just how far Obama has fallen in the eyes of young Americans.

IOP director Trey Grayson called the results a “sea change” attributable to the generation’s outsized and unmet expectations for Obama, as well as their concerns about the economy, Obamacare and government surveillance.

The president’s approval ratings among millennials are below 40 percent on the economy, health care, ObamaCare, Syria, and Iran–and below 30 percent on the budget deficit.

“The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama’s two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote,” according to Fournier. “Indeed, millennials are not so hot on their president.”

More broadly, according to an Institute of Politics analysis, “Millennials are losing touch with government and its programs because they believe government is losing touch with them.”

The results of this survey, like virtually every other one over the last month or so, ought to alarm Mr. Obama. The problem for the president is that the collapse he’s experiencing isn’t isolated to one issue or one area; it’s across the board, on matters of policy and character, and seems to be accelerating.

Reality is finally catching up with Mr. Obama, and it looks to be wrecking his presidency.

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