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Posts For: August 18, 2014

Hamas Coup Should Change Truce Equation

The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

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The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

The details of what Israel’s Shin Bet service discovered during the sweeps of the West Bank in May and June should curl Abbas’ hair. The group that he had embraced as a partner in the PA as a result of the unity pact he signed in April wasn’t planning on going along with Fatah’s leadership as Abbas and Secretary of State John Kerry naively believed. Instead they set up new terror cells in all the major towns and cities of the West Bank whose goal was to ultimately set off a new conflagration with Israel with a series of massive attacks throughout the area including one on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

What did Hamas think it could accomplish by pouring operatives, money, weapons and explosives into the West Bank? The point was to plunge the area into turmoil opening up a second front against Israel to relieve pressure on Hamas in Gaza as well as to make it impossible for Abbas to pretend to govern the West Bank.

This ought to change the conversation about the terms of the truce that the United States has been pushing Israel to accept to formally conclude the recent hostilities in Gaza. If, as reported, the West has pressured Israel to accept a loosening of the blockade on Gaza — the key Hamas demand throughout the fighting — then we can be sure that this summer’s bloodshed will be repeated before long. While it is hoped that easing the isolation of Gaza will ameliorate the suffering of Palestinians and perhaps even help Abbas gain back control of the strip, so long as Hamas is still armed and in power there, these hopes are in vain. Open borders for Gaza means an inevitable resupply of the Hamas arsenal, more building materials for tunnels and the rest of the underground city that enables the Islamist movement to continue fighting while its human hostages above ground continue to die every time they pick another fight with Israel.

But the decision to acquiesce to any of Hamas’s demands will have consequences for more than the future of Gaza. The assumption that Abbas can continue to hang on to the West Bank and maybe even assume some power in Gaza is based on the idea that Hamas is on the ropes and without options. But once the resupply of Hamas in Gaza begins, it will have serious implications for Abbas’s future.

The only reason Abbas has stayed in power in the West Bank is the protection he gets from Israel’s army and security services. But the more chances Hamas gets to topple him the more likely it is that sooner or later, the Islamist will launch the third intifada they are aiming at even if the Shin Bet manages to save Abbas’s hide. Any outcome in Gaza that can be portrayed as victory for Hamas will only hasten the day when that intifada will start with its consequent massive shedding of blood on both sides.

Those who have spoken of Hamas, as having evolved to the point where it is a legitimate political force and not a terror group should have had lost their illusions about the group amid the rocket launches and the discovery of the tunnels. But the revelation about the coup attempt should remove any doubt as to the Islamists’ intentions. The Obama administration, which has been eager to push Israel to do something to allow Hamas a way out of the conflict, should realize that the coup should end its illusions about Palestinian unity and the ability of Abbas to make peace while partnering with the terrorists.

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Israel’s Critics Echo Nazis, Not the Zionists

European anti-Zionists have their new poster boy. In 1943, Henk Zanoli helped save a Jewish boy from the Nazis in Holland, a feat for which he was later honored by the State of Israel as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” This past week he returned the medal he got because some of his relatives by marriage were killed in Gaza during the recent fighting. As such, he is the perfect witness for the prosecution against the Jewish state. But though the 91-year-old Zanoli still deserves our respect, he’s lost sight of the truth about the war of his youth as well as the one being waged now against the same Jewish people he once helped.

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European anti-Zionists have their new poster boy. In 1943, Henk Zanoli helped save a Jewish boy from the Nazis in Holland, a feat for which he was later honored by the State of Israel as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” This past week he returned the medal he got because some of his relatives by marriage were killed in Gaza during the recent fighting. As such, he is the perfect witness for the prosecution against the Jewish state. But though the 91-year-old Zanoli still deserves our respect, he’s lost sight of the truth about the war of his youth as well as the one being waged now against the same Jewish people he once helped.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Zanoli’s current position as he is grieving the loss of several relatives through marriage of his grand niece, a Dutch diplomat, who lives in Gaza with her Palestinian husband. Nor do his current actions diminish the importance of what he did 70 years ago. But the implicit comparison between his condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Holocaust is as ill considered, as it is offensive.

Mr. Zanoli claims to have supported the creation of Israel after World War Two but the letter he sent to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial along with his returned medal made clear that he has withdrawn that backing and not just because of what happened to his grandniece’s in-laws. Nor is he, as many of Israel’s critics say they are doing, merely advocating the end of the “occupation” in the West Bank or even that of Gaza which he claims is also “occupied” even though every last soldier, settlement and individual was pulled out of there nine years ago. Instead, he says he opposes the existence a specifically Jewish state, even though Israel grants its Arab minorities full rights. As such, what he is doing is not so much a cri de coeur against oppression as an echo of Hamas’ genocidal program that is similarly aimed at Israel’s extinction.

His characterization of the treatment of Palestinians as “ethnic cleansing” during Israel’s War of Independence is also strangely out of tune for someone claiming to be acting in concert with his support of human rights. While the plight of Palestinian refugees has been terrible, he takes no notice of the fact that these people have been kept stateless specifically in order to perpetuate the war against Israel and the Jews. Nor does he take into account the fact that an equal number of Jews were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries during this period creating a population exchange that closely resembles what happened in much of Europe after World War Two. Does Mr. Zanoli also think the descendants of Germans who were expelled in far greater numbers from parts of their country that were subsequently annexed to Poland and other nations also have a right of return and of sovereignty over their former homes? Or does he think these rules only apply to people displaced by Jews?

More to the point, the obvious analogies to the war during which his heroism happened raises other more pointed questions about Zanoli’s scruples about Israeli actions that are not explored in the New York Times feature that gives him free rein to blast Zionism with no opposing voices heard.

During the course of World War Two, bombs dropped by Allied planes killed millions of Europeans, both Germans as well as the citizens of countries occupied by the Nazis. While postwar moralizing about the Allied strategic bombing campaign has become a staple of scholarly ruminating, the consensus at the time and among sensible scholars since then is that responsibility for these deaths primarily belong to the Germans, not the nations struggling to free Europe from their tyrannical grip.

Were Zanoli primarily seeking to censure the Israelis for their alleged improprieties in bombing targets in Gaza, we might well ask whether the same standards applied to the Israel Defense Forces now should also be used to judge the Allies who liberated the Netherlands from its German torturers. Innocent civilians die in all wars, even those considered justified by most people. This fact didn’t delegitimize the Allied cause then and doesn’t discredit the Israelis now either.

But the main takeaway from Zanoli’s letter — as opposed to the symbolism of a Righteous Gentile censuring Israel for its actions in Gaza — is that Zanoli is not actually interested in changing the Jewish state’s policies toward Palestinians or to ask it to fight against Hamas terrorists — whose indiscriminate bombardment of Israeli cities with thousands of rockets and attempt to use tunnels to inflict massive terror atrocities does not attract his notice — with more restraint. Instead, he is merely supporting the Hamas plan to destroy the state that sheltered the Jews who survived the Holocaust that he resisted.

Seen in that light the only way to properly assess Zanoli’s stance is to conclude that the attempt to claim that his fight against the Nazis is the same as is his current position is a lie. Rather than the Israelis becoming modern day Nazis, it is Zanoli who has, sadly fallen under the influence of his relatives and gone over to the cause of Jew hatred championed by the rulers of Gaza and its Palestinian adherents. His past heroism doesn’t give him carte blanche to deny the right to self-determination and self-defense to the descendants of the survivors of the Shoah that is accorded every other people.

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In Praise of Fair-Minded Liberals

The indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry is a travesty of justice. The Wall Street Journal has an outstanding editorial explaining why. But I also want to give a tip of the hat to Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who said in an interview that he was “outraged” over the indictment of Perry on charges of abuse of power and coercion.

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The indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry is a travesty of justice. The Wall Street Journal has an outstanding editorial explaining why. But I also want to give a tip of the hat to Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who said in an interview that he was “outraged” over the indictment of Perry on charges of abuse of power and coercion.

The indictment is, Dershowitz told Newsmax.com, politically motivated and an example of a “dangerous” trend of courts being used to alter the results of the ballot box.

“Everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment,” Dershowitz said. “If you don’t like how Rick Perry uses his office, don’t vote for him.”

That is exactly right. The case against Perry is stunningly weak and partisan. Jonathan Chait, another liberal who is looking at this matter fairly, explains why here.

It’s rare these days that people of one political ideology defend those who hold another. That’s what Professor Dershowitz and Mr. Chait are doing, and they deserve credit for having done so.

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Anti-Zionism Always Equals Anti-Semitism

The reaction to the fighting in Gaza — which may or may not be formally concluding soon with a cease-fire — continues to produce symptoms of Europe’s age-old disease: anti-Semitism. The latest evidence of this vile behavior not only raises questions about the precarious position of European Jewry but also gives the lie to the claim that one can be an anti-Zionist without slipping inevitably into Jew hatred.

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The reaction to the fighting in Gaza — which may or may not be formally concluding soon with a cease-fire — continues to produce symptoms of Europe’s age-old disease: anti-Semitism. The latest evidence of this vile behavior not only raises questions about the precarious position of European Jewry but also gives the lie to the claim that one can be an anti-Zionist without slipping inevitably into Jew hatred.

The incident involves a branch of chain supermarket store called Sainsbury’s in central London’s Holborn neighborhood. The store was the object of an anti-Zionist protest that sought to remove all foods from its shelved of Israeli origin. Such efforts have become commonplace, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland where anti-Israeli activists are no longer content to call for boycotts of the Jewish state but are now taking matters into their own hands and entering stores and removing the offensive goods from the shelves without permission. But at this particular Sainsbury’s outlet, the demonstrators became so aggressive that they scared the store management into going even farther toward ensuring that the store was off limits to anything with a Jewish taint.

According to the Guardian:

A Sainsbury’s branch removed kosher food from its shelves over fears that anti-Israeli protesters would attack it.

The branch manager of the store in Holborn, central London ordered the section to be emptied on Saturday afternoon, while protesters outside picketed it calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. The move prompted outrage after a photo of the empty shelves was posted on social media.

Colin Appleby, who took the photo, said the kosher section contained food made in the UK and Poland. He added that a staff member defended the decision, saying: “We support Free Gaza.”

“I didn’t try to point out that kosher goods were not Israeli goods but they walked away,” he wrote on Facebook.

This marks a new low in anti-Zionist agitation but also illustrates that despite the hair-splitting by some ideologues and their apologists the distance to travel between hatred for Israel and that directed at all Jews isn’t very far.

This protest also illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of those claiming to protest Israeli actions in the name of human rights. Those who have taken to the streets against Israel as well as storming stores with Israeli or kosher goods say they support “Free Gaza.” But what, in fact, they are supporting is not a free Gaza but a Hamas-ruled Islamist state. Their protests are implicit endorsement not so much of the right of Gazans to go about their lives without being subjected to attack as they are backing of Hamas’ genocidal war on Israel. Were they actually the least bit concerned about the Palestinians who have been killed or wounded in the fighting they would, instead be directing their protests against the strip’s Hamas rulers who have squandered foreign aid on the infrastructure of terror including tunnels aimed at facilitating cross-border raids and an arsenal of thousands of rockets that have rained down on Israeli cities.

Protests against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas are, almost by definition, exercises in hypocrisy.

Even if one disagrees with Israeli policies on the West Bank, Hamas’s “resistance” against the “occupation,” has nothing to do with hilltop settlements on land that could theoretically become part of a Palestinian state but are, instead, focused on “liberating” all of pre-1967 Israel and evicting or slaughtering its Jewish population. But even if the Gaza protests were solely about what happens on the West Bank (which could have already become an independent Palestinian state had the Palestinian Authority been willing to say yes to peace offers in 2000, 2001, 2008 and this past spring), it bears pointing out that the frenzy that the fighting in Gaza has generated is out of all proportion to the scale of suffering there when compared to other conflicts. The fact that those who protest against alleged Israeli brutality have nothing to say about the fact that other Muslims in Syria and half a dozen other Arab countries are currently killing far more Muslims than who have died in Gaza is significant.

Anti-Zionists are ready to deny to the Jews the same rights of self-determination and self-defense that every other people planet is granted without controversy. As such, they are practicing a form of prejudice. Since the term of art for prejudice against Jews is called anti-Semitism, there is no doubt that those who agitate against Israel’s existence are anti-Semites.

Were these people merely seeking to rid supermarket shelves of Israeli products rather than anything kosher no matter its country of origin it would not be any more defensible. But when anti-Zionists start targeting anything connected with Jews they are merely pointing out that the gap between their positions and those of the Nazi-like Hamas is a distinction without a difference. Their zeal to target Jews shows they are rapidly absorbing the crude Jew-hatred that is being imported to Europe from the Middle East.

Europe’s streets have been filled with protesters against Israel’s anti-terror counter-offensive in Gaza spewing all kinds of hate speech and sometimes, as in Paris, morphing into anti-Semitic riots. But this behavior is also being encouraged by stunts like the decision of Glasgow’s City Hall to fly a Palestinian flag in a gesture of support for Hamas, it’s easy to see why some of the demonstrators are feeling free to vent their anti-Semitism rather than stick to more defensible behavior. A Europe that has come to view Hamas and its platform as acceptable is not only ready to believe anything, no matter how preposterous. It also showing that there may be no turning back from a descent into a new period of European barbarism toward Jews.

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U.S. Commitment Needed in Iraq

Recent days in Iraq have shown the difference that American airpower–and, one suspects, American Special Operations Forces on the ground–can make. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has gone from the offensive to the defensive. Whereas Kurd fighters were struggling not so long ago simply to defend Erbil, they are now on the march and apparently in the process of retaking Mosul dam. The Kurds could not possibly have done this on their own; they needed American military assistance, not only in the form of aircraft to drop bombs, but also special operators on the ground who are no doubt calling in coordinates for air strikes.

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Recent days in Iraq have shown the difference that American airpower–and, one suspects, American Special Operations Forces on the ground–can make. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has gone from the offensive to the defensive. Whereas Kurd fighters were struggling not so long ago simply to defend Erbil, they are now on the march and apparently in the process of retaking Mosul dam. The Kurds could not possibly have done this on their own; they needed American military assistance, not only in the form of aircraft to drop bombs, but also special operators on the ground who are no doubt calling in coordinates for air strikes.

This raises the issue of why, if this tactic is effective in Iraq, it can’t also be utilized in Syria where the Free Syrian Army is also eager to attack ISIS as well as the Assad regime? ISIS cannot be beaten on one side of the border alone; we need a coordinated strategy to take it down in both Iraq and Syria.

And it is not just the Kurds and Free Syrian Army we should be helping. There are major limitations to how far the Kurds, in particular, can go in northern Iraq. If they try to dominate primarily Sunni areas, they will risk a pro-ISIS backlash from Sunnis. While the Kurds are great allies, we need allies among the Sunni tribes to really retake Sunni areas of western and northern Iraq.

Two of the best observers of Iraq–Colonel Joel Rayburn of the U.S. Army and Ali Khedery, a former political adviser to various US ambassadors and commanders in Iraq–had op-eds in the Washington Post and New York Times respectively this weekend pointing out how difficult this will be–how much Nouri al Maliki’s sectarianism has frayed the bonds of trust necessary to hold Iraq together. Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will have his work cut out for him convincing the Sunnis that, if they take up arms against ISIS, they will not be betrayed as they were after the surge. The betrayal was not only on the part of Maliki; it was also on the part of the United States which promised to stand by the Sons of Iraq (as the Sunni militia was known) and then pulled all of our troops out, leaving them to the mercies of sectarian Shiites.

It is hard to imagine the Sunnis being mobilized again without a great deal of U.S. assistance–and perhaps not even then. Welcome as recent tactical advances are–and they do show what the U.S. can achieve with only a little commitment–they are a long, long way from where we need to be, which is to be destroying ISIS, an organization that Rayburn rightly likens to the Khmer Rouge in the Middle East.

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Why We Dehumanize Political Opponents

The Village Voice publishes a weekly blog in which the musician and entertainer Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier – better known by his stage name Andrew W.K. – takes questions from readers. A recent exchange caught my attention, starting with a letter in which the correspondent complained that the author’s father is a “super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total assho*e intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

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The Village Voice publishes a weekly blog in which the musician and entertainer Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier – better known by his stage name Andrew W.K. – takes questions from readers. A recent exchange caught my attention, starting with a letter in which the correspondent complained that the author’s father is a “super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total assho*e intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

The reader, a self-described liberal Democrat with very progressive values, writes, “I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. I don’t have any good times with him anymore. All we do is argue…. I love him no matter what, but how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?”

Andrew W.K. responded this way: “Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you.” He adds

You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict…. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently.

I should say here that I dissent from some of what Andrew W.K. says, including this statement: “No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don’t make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise.”

This assertion cannot be true. Some people who appear bad actually are bad. It is precisely the beliefs and behavior of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jon-Il, Bashar al-Assad, Idi Amin, Khaled Mashaal, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Timothy McVeigh and countless others — that make them fundamentally worse than you or I. Some individuals really and truly are monsters.

But where I think he is on to something important is how many of us allow reasonable but pronounced political differences to dissolve human bonds. How politics and life are fairly complicated matters that we’re tempted to reduce to simplistic formulas. And how we often assume our vantage point is the only valid one and make very little effort to see things from the point of view of those with whom we most disagree. Andrew W.K. writes, “We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think — the absolute truth and final side to stand on.”

This called to mind a recent conversation I had in which I found myself observing that there’s a crucial distinction that’s sometimes lost on me and among people whom I know, including those within my faith community.

It’s the distinction between believing in objective truth and believing we can fully apprehend and access it. As my friend put it, “I believe in objective truth, but I hold more lightly to our ability to perceive truth.” His wife added that she’s found we need to learn to live with greater humility, to live with open hands, faithfully seeking truth without constantly demanding certitude.

I’m fully aware of the danger this can introduce: relativism. The perspective I’m offering, if over-interpreted, can drain us of our convictions, making us less willing to fight for things that are worth fighting for. It can lead us into a world of existential confusion and ultimately, despair.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule that will help us find just the right setting between unwarranted assurance and unwarranted uncertainty. We can all come up with scenarios in which each one, at the wrong time, can lead to disaster. What we need depends in large part on where we stand and what our predisposition, our default position, is.

I will say that most people who inhabit the worlds in which I travel in – the worlds of politics, political philosophy and theology — lean too much in the direction of assuming we know the full truth as against leaning too much in the direction of having little confidence we can ascertain any of the truth. We therefore tend to ignore evidence that challenges our assumptions and resist honest self-examination. We spend all of our time defending what we deem to be the truth; as a result, we have almost no time to actually reflect on it and refine our views of it.

“What I want in our students,” my good and wise friend told me, “and what I admire are people who are teachable, who are open to arguments, who make room for other perspectives.”

People of a certain cast of mind will roll their eyes at such words. They are the ones who most need to hear them.

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Why Americans Go to War

I wonder what it says about the modern “progressive” mindset that Paul Krugman can only imagine two reasons to wage war: for profit or for the political advantage of the leader who initiates hostilities. He (rightly) debunks the idea of waging war to make money in most cases, but is sympathetic to the idea that some leaders initiate hostilities to bolster domestic support–he thinks Vladimir Putin is one such today and that the Chinese leaders could be another example in the future although why he thinks that George W. Bush belongs in the same category is unclear. (Krugman argues that the Iraq War helped Bush win reelection but in fact it nearly cost him the 2004 election and in any case the political consequences were unforeseeable, and I believe irrelevant, when Bush launched the war in 2003.)

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I wonder what it says about the modern “progressive” mindset that Paul Krugman can only imagine two reasons to wage war: for profit or for the political advantage of the leader who initiates hostilities. He (rightly) debunks the idea of waging war to make money in most cases, but is sympathetic to the idea that some leaders initiate hostilities to bolster domestic support–he thinks Vladimir Putin is one such today and that the Chinese leaders could be another example in the future although why he thinks that George W. Bush belongs in the same category is unclear. (Krugman argues that the Iraq War helped Bush win reelection but in fact it nearly cost him the 2004 election and in any case the political consequences were unforeseeable, and I believe irrelevant, when Bush launched the war in 2003.)

But the broader failing of Krugman’s article–amazing for a man who, whatever you think of his politics, is highly intelligent and broadly educated–is that he entirely omits a major reason why countries fight wars: to defend their liberties. Krugman is presumably familiar with the theory of “just war,” but there is no sign of it in his article that assumes that all wars are initiated for one ignoble motive or another. This is perhaps an indication of how far liberalism has come from the fighting faith of its greatest champions–presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

They were familiar with war and yet did not dismiss it as nothing more than a crass, self-interested undertaking. Recall Kennedy’s famous inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Or FDR’s D-Day prayer in 1944: “Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war. For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”

America’s brave troopers today fight for freedom in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, all the while yearning, as FDR said, “for the end of battle” when they can return home. They are not there to seize natural resources or to pump up a president’s approval ratings–nor, for all of my differences with President Obama, do I believe he has ordered troops into harm’s way for such nefarious purposes. War may be a brutal, ugly business, and one that should never be undertaken lightly; but it is also the essential safeguard of peace and freedom. Presumably Krugman understands that, but his failure to take note if it is nevertheless startling–and telling.

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Rick Perry and Our Dysfunctional Politics

I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

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I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

First, let’s not mince words about the egregious nature of the indictment and what it means about how out-of-control prosecutors can derail democracy. It should be remembered that what happened here was that a Democratic prosecutor who had disgraced her office with a drunk driving violation and abusive behavior toward police refused to resign. Perry used a threat of a veto of her budget to try to force that resignation. The special prosecutor in the case alleges that using that threat — something that was obviously in the service of the public good — was an illegal abuse of power. That is absurd and you have to be a hardcore Democratic partisan to think that it is even remotely reasonable for a prosecutor to treat a public policy dispute — especially one in which the governor was clearly on the side of ethics — as a criminal matter.

But in a normal political atmosphere, any criminal indictment, no matter how ill-considered and fated to be eventually overturned, is generally enough to kill a political career. But in Perry’s case that might not be so.

We are now at a point in our political history where it is understood that trials such as the one to which Perry may be subjected are merely politics by other means rather than a third rail event that disqualifies the defendant no matter the eventual legal outcome. In the past, politicians who were victimized by prosecutorial overreach were left at the end of the process asking where they could go to get their good names back even if they had retained their freedom. The correct assumption was that any judicial process even one that led to acquittal or vindication through convictions being thrown out on appeal was ultimately disqualifying even when innocence was eventually established.

But something has changed in American politics and Perry’s decision to go on with planned appearances in New Hampshire in spite of his difficulties illustrates the altered atmosphere.

As this Politico story indicates, we’re now at the point where much of the public understands that partisanship and the criminalization of politics has gotten out of hand. With many prominent Democrats, including former Obama advisor David Axelrod, acknowledging that the indictment of Perry is something of a farce, the opprobrium that normally attaches to any object of prosecution is starting to wear off.

Just as importantly, the willingness of prosecutors to inject themselves into the political process in this manner is not only seen as illegitimate but it may also enhance Perry’s appeal among Republicans. Rather than causing him to be viewed as a leper because of the indictment, it may well make conservatives see him as a folk hero or at least a victim, which in our contemporary culture may just as good if not better for the purpose of enchancing popularity.

Lest anyone think this is a reaction confined only to the right, there are already some examples of the same thing happening on the left. Historically, African-Americans have tended to rally around one of their own when they came under attack from prosecutors. The ability of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to win re-election in the 1960s despite being thrown out of the House of Representatives by other Democrats illustrates this trend. More recently, the news that Philadelphia Mayor John Street was being investigated by the Bush administration Justice Department on corruption charges in 2003 turned a tight re-election race into a landslide for the incumbent as black Philadelphians treated the probe as proof of bad faith on the part of Republicans, not of Street’s questionable conduct in office. Now it appears the right seems to feel the same way about such investigations of their leaders though, to be fair, those cases were far more substantive than the tissue of insinuations lodged against Perry.

If we are now at the point where no one trusts prosecutions of politicians this is a terrible development because it shows how badly split we are becoming as a nation. With some on the left willing to countenance this kind of judicial smearing of a conservative, it’s only understandable that Republicans won’t hold it against Perry. Indeed, it may well enhance his standing and, like the massive over-reaction against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from left-wingers who resisted his reform efforts that led to a recall election, the Travis County prosecutors may have made Perry into a right-wing folk hero. I still think Perry is unlikely to become a first tier primary candidate in 2016, let alone the GOP nominee, but this indictment may prove to be a badge of honor that will cause many Republicans to put aside their memories of his “oops” moments in 2012.

However, the long-term impact of this development may do more to harm the cause of public ethics than to help or hurt Perry’s already dubious chances of winning the presidency. Holding public officials accountable for genuine corruption and abuse of power — such as the willingness of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to quash an ethics commission probe when it hit too close to home and involved some of his supporters — is essential to the survival of democracy. By abusing the judicial process in this manner, Texas prosecutors have undermined the rule of law as well as exacerbated an already perilous political divide.

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