Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 6, 2014

Free Contraception v. the Constitution

Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

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Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

The decision that granted Wheaton College the right to avoid even the appearance of complicity in the use of such drugs provoked a particularly angry response from the court’s three female members. Speaking on behalf of the liberal trio, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that allowing Wheaton to opt out of the Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare contraception mandate gave the lie to the conservative majority’s assurances in Hobby Lobby. In that decision, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that all they were doing was ensuring that requirements to provide free contraception coverage in insurance plans were enforced in the manner that would not place a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of those affected.

Sotomayor believed the plan proposed by the government that would require religious non-profits like Wheaton to submit forms to their insurance carriers instructing them to provide the drugs, albeit without payment from the institutions in question, was an adequate fix. The majority rightly disagreed. While a provision to allow the government to step in and pay for the drugs was legal, demanding those with religious objections to the use of such drugs to take part in their distribution in this manner clearly violated the First Amendment protections of religious freedom.

But the debate about this decision, and the subsequent distortions of it on the Sunday talk shows and on MSNBC, demonstrate something far more insidious than merely the latest iteration of what is generally put down as a “culture war” issue. After all, no one, not even Wheaton College or the Green family that owns the Hobby Lobby company are advocating for the ban of contraception or believe that what they are doing in these suits is part of a campaign to end or even limit legal abortions in this country. Rather, what we are witnessing is a liberal meltdown in which they have come to believe the First Amendment is a technicality that should brushed aside when it comes into conflict with the “right” to free contraception.

The notion of such a right dates only to the aftermath of the passage of ObamaCare in 2010 when HHS interpreted the law as an authorization for a mandate that would require all employers, regardless of whether they were religious institutions or not, or the beliefs of their owners, to pay for a wide range of contraception, including those drugs that are believed to cause abortions.

Most Americans are not opposed to any form of contraception and may even approve of drugs or devices that some believers see as abortion inducers. But one doesn’t have to share the convictions of the Greens or the board at Wheaton to understand that a bureaucratic mandate that runs roughshod over their faith trashes the First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion that all Americans rely upon.

Yet for the political left, the concept of religious liberty has been re-interpreted as to only mean the right to be allowed to pray in private but not to live one’s faith in the public square. When faith conflicts with policy initiatives such as the free contraception mandate, they assume that religion must always lose. However, the court majority has rightly reminded us that the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment cannot be trashed simply because a lot of Americans want not only access to contraception but also think their employers ought to be compelled to pay for it.

But to liberals, a decision that reaffirms the primacy of religious freedom is just the latest iteration of a Republican “war on women.” As a political slogan, that meme has been political gold for Democrats who believe its use guarantees their stranglehold on the votes of unmarried women. But as infuriating and wrongheaded the war on women arguments may be, what is really troubling about them is that they reflect a utilitarian approach to the Constitution that regards any of its protections as expendable if they are obstacles to a liberal policy goal.

It should be pointed out again that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the court has rightly referenced in its decisions granting relief to opponents of the HHS mandate once had bipartisan support. But Democrats appear to be willing to sacrifice it now that its protections for faith are making implementation of this notion of free contraception for all difficult.

This is significant not because that goal is unreasonable or immoral. No-cost contraception is no more absurd than many other federal entitlements, though even its most fervent advocates must understand that the cause of free condoms and birth control pills has none of the moral authority that efforts to guarantee food, shelter, or even basic health care for the poor can command. But even if we were to agree that this particular prooposal is a laudable program, the idea that providing these items free of charge at the expense of all employers—including those with deep religious convictions—is so important that it must take precedence over religious freedom is insupportable. Indeed, it can only be asserted in the context of a belief that no constitutional protections of any kind can stand against it.

Do single women truly believe that their desire for free contraception is a principle of such importance that it trumps the First Amendment? That is a doubtful proposition. But it makes sense in a liberal political environment in which the Constitution no longer commands the respect of one side of the political aisle.

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Two Crimes and the Myths of the Intifadas

Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

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Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

As the Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller writes today, the gruesome death of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir brings to mind the alleged justifications for the events that were used to exploit Arab anger and begin both the first and second intifadas. Like the 1987 traffic accident that took the lives of Palestinian laborers and Ariel Sharon’s stroll on the Temple Mount in 2000, the murder of the Palestinian teenager is merely an excuse for Arabs, both in Israel and the West Bank, to vent their spleen at the Jewish state rather than a protest focused on a specific grievance or injustice.

Miller rightly points out that those intifadas didn’t come out of a void. Both had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising but were exploited by the Palestinian leadership. In particular, the second intifada was a calculated response by Yasir Arafat to a peace offer that cynically plunged the country into a war that cost thousands of casualties to both sides and did incalculable damage to the Palestinian economy and Israeli faith in the peace process. While an intifada isn’t in the interests of Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the bloodletting could be exactly what his new partners/rivals of Hamas want to rebuild their tarnished political brand.

As such, the rioting that spread throughout Israel and the territories over the weekend must be understood as being more than a natural reaction to a horrendous crime against an Arab. Like previous rationales for Arab violence—whether taken out of context or pure fabrications such as the claim that Sharon’s walk was a prelude to the destruction of the mosques on the Temple Mount—Abu Khdeir’s death is well on its way to becoming part of the Palestinian martyrology used to justify violence against the Jewish state.

To state this fact is not to minimize the disgusting nature of the murder of the Arab teenager or the revulsion felt by Jews around the world at the thought that some of their co-religionists have sunk to such barbarism. This senseless act may, for once, justify efforts to treat competing Arab and Jewish actions events as morally equivalent. Unlike comparisons such as the one attempted by the New York Times that I wrote about last week, which treated the death of kidnapping victims as no different from that of an Arab who took to the streets to fight Israeli forces attempting to find/rescue the teens, Abu Khdeir appears to have been the innocent casualty of an act of terror. That most Israelis condemn the murder of Abu Khdeir while most Palestinians mocked the plight of the three Jewish teenagers will not prevent the world from treating these two incidents as essentially cancelling each other out.

But the manner in which the Palestinians are exploiting this crime has little to do with these specific circumstances. If indeed this is to be the start of a third intifada, it will have no more to do with one Arab teenager than the incidents that allegedly set them off. Just as the murder of the three Israeli teens did not justify any attacks on individual Arabs, the riots that broke out today are not really about the death of a Palestinian boy or even generalized grievances against Israel. Rather, it a violent expression of resentment against Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state that they would like to see disappear.

It should be remembered that Palestinians took to the streets in large numbers to protest after the kidnapping but before the news about the death of the Abu Khdeir. In the first round of demonstrations, the Palestinians were seeking to oppose the efforts of Israelis searching for kidnapping victims. In the current riots, they are expressing anger in a way that actually seeks to target individual Israelis within reach who had nothing to do with what happened to the Arab victims. The rocket fire from Hamas terrorists that is raining down on southern Israel the last few days also is motivated by their desire to exact a price for the arrests of their operatives in the wake of the kidnapping, not a protest about one Arab teenager.

The unbalanced nature of this conflict remains. A two-state solution in which both sides would accept each other’s legitimacy remains more popular among Jews than Arabs. The force motivating Palestinian political efforts remains a belief in the struggle to eliminate Israel, not a desire to rectify any particular misbehavior on the part of their antagonists. In Palestinian eyes, every act of terror against the Jews remains justifiable if not heroic. Their objections about Israeli misbehavior, even when their complaints are genuine, are not about redressing grievances but an excuse to exacerbate the conflict so as to make their own attacks more effective. If, as many fear, another round of violence that will be dubbed an intifada will follow these tragic events, no one should confuse it with a genuine protest. Instead, it will be, as was the case with the first two intifadas, a mere pretext for more violence. When seen in that light, even when we acknowledge the horror of the murder of the Arab teenager, the mythology of this intifada will be just as much of a lie as its predecessors.

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Don’t Overestimate the Islamic State

I’m currently in Jordan where I’ve been able to meet some Iraqi tribal representatives, Sunni Iraqi businessmen, and representatives of the “Iraqi resistance,” including those who held senior positions under Saddam Hussein. What they have conveyed to me—which is consistent with what I have heard from many Kurdish interlocutors familiar with the situation in Mosul—is that the West should not see the fighting in largely Sunni populated areas of Iraq as simply a battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Iraqi government. Rather, they suggest, while ISIS—now just the Islamic State—has been the vanguard advancing against the Iraqi military, most of the ground is being held either by Sunni tribes or by veterans of the Saddam-era army, albeit professionals who are nationalists but not necessarily Baathists.

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I’m currently in Jordan where I’ve been able to meet some Iraqi tribal representatives, Sunni Iraqi businessmen, and representatives of the “Iraqi resistance,” including those who held senior positions under Saddam Hussein. What they have conveyed to me—which is consistent with what I have heard from many Kurdish interlocutors familiar with the situation in Mosul—is that the West should not see the fighting in largely Sunni populated areas of Iraq as simply a battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Iraqi government. Rather, they suggest, while ISIS—now just the Islamic State—has been the vanguard advancing against the Iraqi military, most of the ground is being held either by Sunni tribes or by veterans of the Saddam-era army, albeit professionals who are nationalists but not necessarily Baathists.

Indeed, word from Mosul and elsewhere is that once ISIS passes through, the situation calms rapidly. There are still flights to Mosul listed on the departure board at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. And while there have been atrocities—against some Iraqi army members and, alas, Christians—many of the most gruesome claims, they suggest, are false: just re-posting of photos of Syrian atrocities relabeled to suggest that they had occurred more recently in Iraq. Women are staying home because they don’t necessarily understand what the new rules are or how they will be enforced but, beyond that, life is getting back to normal. The real problem right now, residents say, is that the Iraqi government has cut off salaries, water, and electricity to the city and so supplies are beginning to run out.

The former officers and tribal representatives suggest that Abu Baghdadi’s sermon on Friday in Mosul notwithstanding, they are unwilling to settle for ISIS domination but are willing to cooperate loosely with them for the time being with the full understanding that they will soon be fighting them directly. They also seem to suggest that they recognize that there will have to be negotiations with the Iraqi central government—they have no delusions of taking and holding Baghdad—but that they are unwilling to sit with Prime Minister Maliki, and instead say they will talk to his successor.

Fears of the Islamic State and the caliphate make headlines, but the reach and power of the Islamic State should not be exaggerated. The problem of this radical al-Qaeda off-shoot is real, but the current dynamics in Al-Anbar, Ninewa (Mosul), and Salahuddin (Tikrit) governorates are both more complicated but also perhaps more reconcilable.

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Does Immigration Crisis Merit Australian Solution?

Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

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Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

As illegal immigration increased, a bipartisan array of Australian politicians banded together and, in 1992, passed a Migration Amendment Act. It called for the mandatory detention of all illegal immigrants (as well as those who arrived illegally and overstayed their visas). Because the costs of detention can be high, the Act also authorized the Australian government to assign “detention debts” to those processed to reimburse the cost of their detention. When possible, the Australian government issues “bridging visas” to those in Australia illegally but who are not considered flight risks. This legalizes their stay until their status is resolved or they are ordered to depart.

The Australian government reserved special treatment for those who sought actively to bypass border controls, such as those who arrived by boat. Much more detailed information can be found here.

As illegal immigration increased after 2001, the Howard government initiated a policy of off-shore processing, the so-called “Pacific Solution.” First, the Australian government changed the law so that arrival in territories of Australia like Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands no longer translated into a right to migrate onward to Australia proper. Those who arrived in these islands, or who were intercepted at sea, were instead transferred to other facilities outside Australia, such as in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government provided substantial aid to both countries in order to play host to the migrants. While human-rights groups have criticized the detention camp in Nauru, its substandard physical condition should not mean condemnation of off-shore processing and placement. Rather, if the camp is problematic, the solution is simply to improve the camp. As word spreads to illegal migrants that they cannot sponsor the visas of family members under a reunion policy, nor will they even make it to Australia proper, then the incentive to risk their lives at sea decreases. The Australians even maintain an online status sheet which shows at regular intervals the numbers of migrants intercepted at sea and transferred to detention facilities outside Australia.

President Obama does not want a fence, and is unwilling to enforce the border. Immigration is fuel to American society, but illegal immigration makes a mockery of the process and undercuts integration into society. The result of the current lack of enforcement is a humanitarian tragedy with the worst in society preying on migrant children, a public health nightmare, and a breakdown of law and order.

Perhaps until Congress can find a solution to the problem of illegal aliens or undocumented migrants or whatever the politically correct phrase du jour is, it might be worthwhile to look toward our allies Down Under to find an interim model that actually works. And, I hear Guam is nice this time of year and so is Wake Island, and perhaps regional states like Haiti would take illegal immigrants in exchange for greater foreign assistance.

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Will the Jewish Terrorists Be Released for Peace?

The arrest of Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager in Jerusalem has unleashed a wave of cheap moral equivalency. Some of it is obviously pure demagoguery: those who call for the destruction of the houses of these suspects will not ask that for the house of the Israeli Arab arraigned yesterday for the terrorist murder of a 19-year old Israeli girl, Shelly Dadon, three months ago.

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The arrest of Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager in Jerusalem has unleashed a wave of cheap moral equivalency. Some of it is obviously pure demagoguery: those who call for the destruction of the houses of these suspects will not ask that for the house of the Israeli Arab arraigned yesterday for the terrorist murder of a 19-year old Israeli girl, Shelly Dadon, three months ago.

Several points should be borne in mind in considering Israel’s treatment of the accursed murders. To be clear, the accused deserve, and are receiving, broad and unconditional condemnation–not because they do not help Israel, but because they are evil.

1) Prisoner swaps. We know Israel will never ask for these Jewish killers to be released as part of a peace deal. This is because Israel recoils with revulsion from their act. They are no one’s heroes.

Indeed, one can imagine the outrage from the Palestinian side if the Israeli government insisted on springing these Jewish terrorists as a “sweetener” to open peace talks. Apart from the new trauma of the victim’s family, the Palestinians could say this does not seem like a government serious about peace, if freeing murders is part of the peace process. That outrage is what Israel has been going through over and over as it released scores of savage murderers per Mahmoud Abbas’s request.

A useful initiative for Prime Minister Netanyahu now would be to offer to make a joint statement with Abbas, that neither would ever seek the release of either set of killers.

2) Pensions. Israel will never pay pensions to the killers. The prime minister will not take photos with them, or do anything other than condemn them. The glib questions making the rounds–will Israel knock down the Jewish terrorists’ houses–rather avoids the question that home demolitions are in part a way of offsetting the generous financial benefits Palestinian terrorists receive.

3) Finding the killers. The fact that during a massive three-week hunt for killers of the three Jewish boys, the authorities also managed to hunt down the killers of the Arab boy proves how seriously Israel takes crime against anyone, Jew or Arab. Indeed, the apprehension of the Jewish terrorists coincided with the arrest of an Israeli Arab for murdering a Jewish girl–three months ago. These cases take time, and the one involving the murder of an Arab boy got full priority.

4) Community support. The fact that the killers of three Jewish boys have hid out for three weeks shows they have a base of support, an organization: people to keep their secret, feed them, etc. Jewish killers had nowhere to hide because there is no Jewish community that accepts this.

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Coming Apart at the Seams: the Anti-Arab Incitement Must End

The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

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The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

And I don’t just mean the killing, to which I’ll return in a moment. The outpouring on social media of anti-Arab incitement has been shocking. The encouraging aspect to this has been the official denunciation of such incitement, both from the government, united in its revulsion of the incitement, and from groups of private citizens speaking out against it. Also encouraging has been the reaction of religious leaders. The Times of Israel reports that former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has spoken out against such lawlessness, and he makes a key point here:

Reaching out to “all our brothers, the people of Israel, the young among us,” Amar said, “I feel their pain. I feel the frustration. But we can’t lose our heads. There are soldiers, and policemen, and security forces, praise God. And we can rest assured that by the grace of God, they will take the correct and necessary steps” in response to the killing of the three Israeli students. …

Speaking to Israel Radio Tuesday, Amar said calls for revenge were liable to “destroy our nation from within.”

Indeed they are. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau echoed the sentiment: “The discourse about revenge is wrong morally, ethically and halakhically,” Lau said, adding: “We have to trust that the security forces will do their job properly and not think at all about taking revenge which can lead the entire region down a dangerous path.”

There need be no strategic consideration in denouncing the murder of an innocent boy. But beyond its own obvious moral repulsiveness is the question of what, if it’s true Israelis were responsible, they thought they were doing. Terrorism eats away at the fabric of civic life. Incitement rots the soul of a nation. We say this about Palestinian murder and incitement, and we say it for a reason.

Again, there are differences of course. The Israeli state does not condone it, and does not encourage it. And the voices of Lau and Amar have been tremendously important here, because they show that the leaders of the Jewish faith do not condone it. Israel’s founders had something to say about this as well. And though it may surprise those who have bought into a false reading of Israeli history, the figure we ought to look to for guidance here is Vladimir Jabotinsky.

When the Peel Commission in 1937 published its proposal to divide the land, it included the possibility of transferring Arabs out of the slice it apportioned to the Jews. It was not the left that recoiled from this but Jabotinsky. As Hillel Halkin writes in his new biography of Jabotinsky:

Nor was Jabotinsky enticed by the idea of Arab resettlement. People might call him an extremist, he said, but at least he had never dreamed of asking Arabs in a Jewish state to emigrate. If there would not be enough room for Arabs in a partition state, this was only because neither would there be enough room for Jews. It would be a “death sentence” for Zionism.

Jabotinsky did not believe the Arabs would be willing to peaceably accept the proposals for partition or coexistence. He was right, and violence followed. But he did not himself reject the idea of coexistence, nor did he think Zionism countenanced it. Jabotinsky also opposed, almost to the end of his life, terrorism against Arab civilians:

On a brief stopover in Alexandria in July 1937 to meet Revisionist leaders from Palestine on his way back from a second South African tour, he reportedly told them, “I see nothing heroic about shooting an Arab peasant in the back for bringing vegetables on his donkey to Tel Aviv.”

From his perch in Europe, Jabotinsky at first thought reports of Jewish terrorism against Arab civilians might be rumors to discredit the Revisionists. He said:

As far as I’m concerned, Palestinian Arabs in Tel Aviv are [as though] in their own home, because otherwise I can’t imagine law and order in Palestine. But even if this guideline isn’t followed, I could still forgive [the Jews involved] if they had gone [to the Arabs] and politely asked them to leave without laying hands on them. If there were blows or shoves, or seven Jews ganging up on one Arab, I only hope that our people [i.e., Revisionists] weren’t part of it. I would consider such a thing beastly, even if it happened during a pogrom [of Arabs against Jews].

Jabotinsky had, from a distance, lost command and control of his followers. But even when he, reluctantly, tried to rationalize Jewish violence, his excuses wouldn’t hold today and he almost certainly wouldn’t offer them because of what Amar said. The Jews fighting for a state in Palestine became desperate, as the British authorities’ response to terror was appeasement, and as the British sought to close immigration to those fleeing genocide, thus handing out death sentences to Jews by the thousands even as they were being eradicated at their points of origin.

Today the Jews of Israel have a state and the right of return and an army to defend themselves. The grief and anger being felt in Israel is understandable. The incitement with which it has recently manifested is, as Amar said, a self-destructive act–a betrayal, and not a defense, of the Jewish people.

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What’s Chuck Hagel’s Problem with Germany?

Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

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Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

Fast-forward six years, and relations between Washington and Berlin have reached their post-World War II nadir. German Chancellor Angela Merkel resents greatly revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on her personal telephone. To be fair, that is not President Obama’s fault, but a practice which precedes him. And, also to be fair, the Germans hardly have their noses clean when it comes to spying. If that episode had only just begun to heal, new revelations of American spying in Germany threaten to re-open the scar.

It could get worse. If the Germans chose to dig deeper, they might be surprised at the training which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requires of all Defense Department employees who visit or even transit Germany. Hagel, in his wisdom, mandates that all Defense Department employees undergo an extensive, if often irrelevant, nine-hour “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE)” training course to receive online instruction on how to evade hostile locals and their police forces and administer creative first aid remedies to avoid having to go to local hospitals or even pharmacies. Now, those in the military who have had to do the real course rather than the online, computer version understand what a joke it is to believe you can learn how to deal with captivity, torture, and extreme duress from a typical Pentagon online training unit, especially one that most computers ironically can’t handle because of the extensive bandwidth required. Taking online SERE training is sort of like taking weaponry training with a water pistol. But, Hagel nonetheless requires it. Perhaps he wants his employees to be able to learn how to forage while in Germany because he does not trust the sandwich shops at the Frankfurt Airport.

The reason why Hagel continues to require such training which he admittedly inherited from his predecessors is probably poor management, but that’s no excuse for the defense secretary seemingly not recognizing that World War II is over and that there is no reason why he and the bureaucracy over which he presides should treat Germany, Canada, Norway, and Japan in the same manner as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Nigeria. Still, given what the Defense Department bureaucracy requires ahead of travel to Germany, it should come as no surprise should relations between Berlin and Washington fall further. Perhaps, though, simply replacing mindless training with a dose of common sense could do both relations and Pentagon productivity some good.

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