Feeling a bit peckish, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Middle East to get some shawarma. At least that’s how Kerry’s trip will seem to those in the region, who probably watched in utter confusion as Kerry made a big deal out of his trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories but spent his time in classic Kerry fashion: mumbling opaque and equivocal platitudes that could have been issued from Washington, just without the shawarma.
Though it’s probably worth pointing out that Kerry reportedly ate turkey shawarma, which of course isn’t shawarma at all but rather a ludicrous shawarma impostor whose proliferation is a terrifying sign of impending total civilizational collapse, and thus Kerry didn’t even accomplish that one goal. (The fault here lies, however, with the Israeli side, not the Palestinian side, as Ron Kampeas explains.) The Washington Post reports on how Kerry summed up his shuttle diplomacy:
In a recent column, Michael Gerson wrote about modern conservatism’s “two distinct architectural styles.” One approach within conservatism, he said, celebrates those who seek to apply abstract principles in their purest form. The alternative approach is more disposed toward compromise, incremental progress and taking into account shifting circumstances.
What’s worth noting, I think, is that many of those in the first camp consider themselves to be more principled and authentically conservative than those in the second, who are often derided as RINOs and “squishes,” as part of the much-derided “establishment” and who go along to get along. These politicians continually back away from fights like shutting down the federal government, preventing an increase in the debt ceiling, going over the fiscal cliff and filibustering background checks. The failure to engage these battles, and many others, is a sign of infidelity to conservatism.
Now, it’s not as if this critique never applies. There are certainly Republicans who claim to be conservative but don’t have deep convictions, who are in politics not because they care about advancing ideas as much as they care about power and titles. But what is of more interest to me is the divide over what a genuine conservative temperament and cast of mind is. A new book on Edmund Burke, by the British MP Jesse Norman, helps illuminate this matter. Given the contours of the current debate, it’s worth recalling what Burke, whom Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” actually believed.
Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.
As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo’s barbarous act by citing “the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed.”
What a perfect Barack Obama moment.
Yesterday in a major address the president said, “I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.” He went on to say he was calling on Congress to pass a media shield law and had raised the issue with Attorney General Eric Holder, “who shares my concern.”
The very same day we learned, courtesy of NBC News, that the very same Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails. Just a week ago the president expressed “complete confidence” in Mr. Holder.
You couldn’t make this up: As thousands of people in large swathes of the planet, including war-torn Syria, are dying daily for lack of adequate medical care, the one geographic area whose “health conditions” are slated for condemnation at the World Health Organization’s annual conference is, naturally, “the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.” What makes this surreal isn’t just that the above areas enjoy far better “health conditions” than much of the rest of the world. It’s that the Palestinian Authority (Israel’s “peace partner”), together with Syria and other Arab countries, is seeking to condemn Israel at a time when it is actively providing medical services to both Palestinians and Syrians.
The denunciation of health conditions on the Golan is particularly surreal: Syrians in Syria, where medical care of any kind is often simply unavailable, would be thrilled to get the same state-of-the-art care as their brethren on the Golan–where, as in East Jerusalem, Israeli law applies, entitling residents to the same services as all other Israelis.
But thanks to Israel, some of those Syrians actually are getting such care–which is doubtless Syrian President Bashar Assad’s real gripe. Israel has quietly set up a field hospital on the Golan where dozens of Syrians wounded in the civil war have been treated; others, who need more intensive care, have been transferred to regular Israeli hospitals.
In yesterday’s Best of the Web Today the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto highlighted an amusing (and somewhat disturbing) example of liberals’ inability to recognize thrift as a virtue.
A nice example of subtle media bias is a headline that appears over an Associated Press story at the Seattle Times website (we think the headline is the Times’s): “Education Spending: Idaho Worst; Washington Below Average.” Here’s what the story says:
“A report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Idaho remains at the bottom of public education spending.
The coverage of the effort to reform the country’s massively inefficient and outdated immigration system has usually focused on where the controversy has been thus far: Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform vs. the Republicans in opposition to this particular legislative effort. But the coverage in recent days has shifted, reminding us that Democrats are part of the process too, and not simply along for the ride.
It’s easy to forget that, because the general assumption has been that since Democrats support immigration reform they’ll sign on to virtually any bill crafted by a bipartisan working group, confident that at least their most pressing concerns and priorities are addressed. It isn’t unlike the ease with which Democrats can usually get Republicans to support a robust projection of American power when there are national security threats to be addressed. But two stories from the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker and one from Politico illustrate the challenge of massive reform bills crafted by two ideologically distinct parties.
With his address today at National Defense University, President Obama continued his pattern of trying to separate himself from the Bush administration—while largely carrying on, and even expanding, its legacy in the counter-terrorism fight.
Obama said, for example, that after he came into office, “we unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.” Umm, actually all of that happened in Bush’s second term.
He also took a swipe at the admittedly imperfect terminology favored by Bush (deliberately and understandably formulated to avoid any mention of our actual enemy—Islamist extremists), saying “we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ — but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” Actually, that’s exactly what GWOT meant when used by the Bush administration: “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle” terrorist networks. Even Obama’s closing line—“That’s who the American people are. Determined, and not to be messed with”—sounds as if it could easily have been delivered in a Texas twang.
But never mind: Better that Obama feign a change of course rather than actually undertake a change of course, because the course established by Bush and continued by Obama has kept us largely, although not entirely, safe since 9/11. Indeed, Obama’s welcome and robust defense of drone strikes (“our actions are effective… [and] legal”) also could have come from his predecessor’s mouth.
The ongoing debate about whether America should intervene in Syria highlights an important point about Israel’s unique value as a U.S. ally: It is the only American ally in the Middle East willing and able to serve American interests by projecting power independently, rather than waiting for American troops to ride to the rescue.
One of the most bizarre features of Syria’s ongoing civil war is the widespread assumption that outside intervention against the Assad regime will come from the U.S. or not at all. After all, the rebels’ main backers include two American allies with powerful militaries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has one of the region’s largest armies, significantly larger than Syria’s; moreover, as a NATO member, it’s equipped with state-of-the-art Western weaponry. Saudi Arabia has been a major purchaser of the best American weaponry for years, including fighter jets, missiles and airborne warning and control systems. Both have billed Assad’s departure as a major national interest. Yet never once have they suggested that their combined air forces could use Turkey’s bases to impose a no-fly zone over part of Syria; they take it for granted that if military intervention is to happen, America will have to do it. And so does Washington.
It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property—a clumsy name for a valuable undertaking—issued its findings on the threat posed by espionage against American industry, mostly in the cyber domain, and suggested steps to mitigate them. The entire report of the commission, chaired by retired Admiral Dennis Blair and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is worth reading.
It certainly underlines the size of the problem, estimating that annual losses from intellectual property theft top $300 billion and result in the loss (or more properly the failure to add) millions of jobs to the U.S. economy. It also squarely blames China as the main source of all this theft, accounting for 50-80 percent of the whole. “National industrial policy goals in China encourage IP theft,” the commission found, “and an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government entities are engaged in this practice.”
Several years ago, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office visited U.S. chapters of the Jewish Federations of North America to talk to American Jews about their relationship to Israel. In a press avail, I had asked him what was Israel’s single greatest need from Diaspora Jewry. His response, which is always the response to that question, was: them. That is, what Israel wanted most from American Jews was for American Jews to move to Israel. Aliyah is the lifeblood of the Jewish state, as Israeli officials commonly and persistently phrase it.
Immigration has been a great economic and cultural blessing to the State of Israel. And so has tourism from abroad, which generates billions a year in revenue, much of which helps pay the salaries of workers at the lower end of the economic spectrum who work in industries that depend on tourism to survive. American Jews’ engagement with and connection to Israel is thus vital to maintain, not only for economic reasons but also to ensure international support for Israel and push back against the Jewish state’s isolation.
All of which makes this op-ed in Haaretz among the most asinine, self-defeating columns in recent memory–an impressive feat, since the competition for such distinction in Haaretz alone is vigorous.
Republican lawmakers are receiving lots of advice–some from people sympathetic to the GOP, some less so–on the political dangers posed to them by the scandals engulfing the Obama administration.
It seems to me the proper approach is fairly obvious. Don’t get ahead of the facts. Don’t talk about impeachment or declare this or that scandal to be worse than Watergate (which placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy). Don’t allow opposition to President Obama to slip into hatred for him. Don’t come across as zealous partisans. And don’t become so obsessed by scandals that they set aside the hard and necessary work of recalibrating the GOP, which still faces significant problems in terms of its appeal to a changing electorate. Remember the words of Chekhov: “You don’t become a saint through other people’s sins.”
At the same time, Republicans should of course pursue the scandals through the appropriate investigative channels, including congressional hearings. They have an obligation to do so in the name of the public interest. Those on the center-left and hard left who are urging Republicans to play down these scandals, in order to avoid a repeat of the Clinton-Lewinsky blowback, may have something other than the GOP’s interests in mind.
For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move.
Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.
On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.
Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:
Some Northeastern politicians are having a quiet chortle even while joining with the rest of the nation in mourning the tragic losses from the Oklahoma tornado disaster. A few months ago Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York’s Representative Peter King were pitching a fit over the refusal of Southern and Western members of the GOP to push through a Hurricane Sandy disaster aid bill because critics said it was filled with extraneous items that amounted to nothing more than political pork. Christie made headlines for tearing into House Speaker John Boehner for the holdup. Later, King claimed GOP presidential candidates who raised campaign money in New York after voting against the Sandy bill weren’t welcome in the Empire State.
That’s why today King is claiming the high ground in his feud with his former antagonists and saying, as Politico reports, that he won’t get even by trying to stop any bill intended to help the people of Oklahoma:
“I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved here, [Sen. James] Inhofe saying Sandy aid was corrupt but Oklahoma won’t be,” King (R-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “But I don’t want to hold the people of Oklahoma responsible for what elected officials are saying, for the husband and wife without a home, for the people who lost all their worldly possessions.”
King, who stressed that he wasn’t looking for a fight, emphasized that aid should be provided to Oklahoma — which sustained a deadly tornado on Monday — without the requirement of budgetary offsets.
“I’ve always believed that but certainly, going through it myself [during Sandy], seeing the devastation a national disaster brings to a district…it’s a [national issue], not a local issue, like Sandy wasn’t a New York, New Jersey issue,” he said. “It’s an American issue, we have an obligation to come forward.”
That’s big of King, but it doesn’t change the fact that the original objections to the Sandy bill were largely correct.
As expected, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy for mayor of New York City today. The announcement came in a video that acknowledges his “mistakes” along with a testimonial from his wife Huma Abedin who has chosen to play the loyal spouse who stands by her man. But Weiner isn’t relying on the willingness of New Yorkers to buy a redemption tour a la South Carolina’s Mark Sanford. Instead, he’s posing as the defender of the middle class. The question this raises is not whether Weiner will continue to be a punch line for late-night comedians and pundits. That is a given. It’s whether the man who was assumed to be the frontrunner for the 2013 mayor’s race prior to his 2011 Twitter meltdown can recapture his political mojo. And the jury is out on that one.
Let’s understand a few facts about the Weiner candidacy.
First, the reason for his decision to run is based in part on personal compulsion. He’s never really held an honest job in his life. Without politics, he has nothing. But it’s also because Weiner knows the race was his to lose prior to his career meltdown. There’s no one in the current roster of Democratic candidates who even remotely can be said to represent the views or the interests of the outer boroughs. That’s why Weiner—who had an impressive second place showing by running as the candidate of the middle class in the 2005 Democratic primary—was widely believed to be the frontrunner for 2013 before his career crashed and burned. With a formidable campaign war chest and the knowledge that this could be the last time the mayor’s chair is open for at least eight years, Weiner may have thought it was now or never, and that now gives him the best chance to win.
However, the polling that exists on this race should not engender much optimism in the Weiner camp.
Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.
For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.
It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do.
Not much about Vladimir Putin’s recent behavior has been wholly surprising. Repressive, compulsively controlling autocrats don’t usually stop amassing power and quashing dissent and individual rights on their own volition. Though Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime has lost him the benefit of the doubt of many in the West, that is more a result of the self-delusion of Westerners than any sudden dark turn by the man whose political nemeses have ended up dead, exiled, or in Siberian prisons for a decade.
But the closest thing to a surprise has been Putin’s bungling of his once-masterful image management. By now everyone knows the ready availability of cheesy propaganda photos of Putin–shirtless, discovering ancient artifacts, subduing wild animals, feeding baby animals, perfectly executing a judo strike, etc. Want a slideshow? You’ve got your pick of news organizations happy to oblige. Putin has crafted his image from the very beginning; his biographer Richard Sakwa has noted that Putin self-consciously mimicked the concept of “third way” politics from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and fashioned himself a leader in their mold.
Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.
Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.