Commentary Magazine


Is the U.S. Waging a War of Ideas?

I was struck by two recent, seemingly unrelated news articles that have unexpected relevance to the struggle against violent jihadism.

The first of these concerns revelations from a new book about how in the 1950s the CIA helped disseminate Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago to undermine the appeal of communism.  

The second concerns efforts by Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to retool his outfit, born of the Cold War, to meet new challenges.

In my view the first article implicitly suggests what the CIA and other agencies of the US government should be doing today to wage the current version of the Cold War–a struggle not against communism (whose appeal does not extend beyond a few Western college campuses) but against Islamism. In the Cold War, the CIA saw its mission as waging ideological war, which meant publishing “subversive” books among other things. Is the CIA doing anything similar today?

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I was struck by two recent, seemingly unrelated news articles that have unexpected relevance to the struggle against violent jihadism.

The first of these concerns revelations from a new book about how in the 1950s the CIA helped disseminate Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago to undermine the appeal of communism.  

The second concerns efforts by Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to retool his outfit, born of the Cold War, to meet new challenges.

In my view the first article implicitly suggests what the CIA and other agencies of the US government should be doing today to wage the current version of the Cold War–a struggle not against communism (whose appeal does not extend beyond a few Western college campuses) but against Islamism. In the Cold War, the CIA saw its mission as waging ideological war, which meant publishing “subversive” books among other things. Is the CIA doing anything similar today?

It’s hard to know for sure, since such programs are necessarily covert, but I doubt there is anything approaching the scale of the Cold War efforts. If it isn’t doing so already, the CIA and other organs of the U.S. government should be paying to translate great works on liberty, from novels to philosophical tracts, from Western languages into Arabic, Pashto, Farsi and other relevant languages while also spreading the work of liberal Muslim writers. I know I know: Books are so 20th century. So, sure, we should also be propagating such ideas in cyberspace but even today books have resonance that is hard to match for spreading ideas.

As for the second article, it suggests that we are currently wasting some of the scarce funds that could be going to wage political warfare for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. While the article’s focus is on how Rajiv Shah is changing USAID’s focus away from simply funding contractors toward using loan guarantees to enable efforts by private industry–a good idea, no doubt–the lead example is a bit discomfiting: “Here in South Africa, in one of the signature new deals for the agency, Dr. Shah brought in corporate America — General Electric — to guarantee a portion of a bank loan to help buy $30 million in much-needed equipment” for a new children’s hospital.

The hospital is no doubt a laudable undertaking, one that will benefit the children of South Africa. But how exactly does this project benefit the foreign policy of the United States? South Africa is already one of the most prosperous and stable states in Africa; it is not home to terrorist groups or other developments that threaten U.S. security. So why is USAID spending any portion of its $20 billion budget in South Africa instead of concentrating on countries such as Mali, Libya and Yemen–to pick three at random–which are threatened by jihadist groups that are also enemies of the United States?

USAID should be focusing on nation-building in those front-line states as part of a coordinated counterinsurgency strategy worked out with the CIA, the U.S. military, the State Department and other agencies of government; it should leave purely charitable work to private institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for which Shah used to work.

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Scare Tactics Backfire for Environmentalists

President Obama and other leading liberal lights keep telling us that the debate about global warming is over. Though the notion that scientific debates are decided by a vote of scientists or rather than research is decidedly unscientific, this conclusion is echoed throughout the mainstream media and popular culture. Those who are skeptical about the claims that human activity is changing the climate are treated like Holocaust deniers or lunatics. But the problem that those trying to mobilize public support for extreme measures intended to avert the extreme consequences of global warming are having is that most Americans aren’t buying it. Even worse for them, the scare tactics they’ve been employing are actually backfiring.

That’s the conclusion from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research organization who co-authored an op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “Global Warming Scare Tactics.” In it, they point out that rather than helping build support for carbon caps or other restrictions on industry or individuals the attempt to give the impression that an environmental apocalypse is around the corner is backfiring. Most specifically, the widespread practice of linking natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires is having the opposite effect on the public.

More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not global warming skeptics they are dismayed at the way the alarmists have undermined the case for climate change.

Claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.

That makes a lot of sense but don’t expect this to change the tactics being employed by either the White House or most environmental activists. Without the gloom and doom scenarios they’ve been trying to float this past decade, they have little to offer either the public or Congress.

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President Obama and other leading liberal lights keep telling us that the debate about global warming is over. Though the notion that scientific debates are decided by a vote of scientists or rather than research is decidedly unscientific, this conclusion is echoed throughout the mainstream media and popular culture. Those who are skeptical about the claims that human activity is changing the climate are treated like Holocaust deniers or lunatics. But the problem that those trying to mobilize public support for extreme measures intended to avert the extreme consequences of global warming are having is that most Americans aren’t buying it. Even worse for them, the scare tactics they’ve been employing are actually backfiring.

That’s the conclusion from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research organization who co-authored an op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “Global Warming Scare Tactics.” In it, they point out that rather than helping build support for carbon caps or other restrictions on industry or individuals the attempt to give the impression that an environmental apocalypse is around the corner is backfiring. Most specifically, the widespread practice of linking natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires is having the opposite effect on the public.

More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not global warming skeptics they are dismayed at the way the alarmists have undermined the case for climate change.

Claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.

That makes a lot of sense but don’t expect this to change the tactics being employed by either the White House or most environmental activists. Without the gloom and doom scenarios they’ve been trying to float this past decade, they have little to offer either the public or Congress.

 There are a few problems with the scare tactics Gore helped popularized. One is that they aren’t credible. There’s plenty of evidence popping up that shows the increase in temperatures isn’t as advertised as well as that its effects are not as devastating as the global warming alarmists claim. If even the UN is prepared to debunk the notion that every hurricane or fire is the fault of global warming, not to mention the idea that the East and West coasts will be under water within a decade or two, why would anyone imagine that Americans who have good economic reasons to be skeptical about these claims would buy into Obama’s recommendations.

Another is the refusal of the environmental crowd to embrace the most obvious responses to concerns about carbon-based energy: the nuclear option. Nordhaus and Shellenberger say that more Americans respond positively to environmental claims when they are put in a context with viable alternatives rather than calls for draconian cuts in economic activity or personal autonomy that is integral to the use of automobiles and other sources of carbon emissions. But since the same people who are trying to sell us on the notion that the sky is falling about warming are the ones who have already delegitimized nuclear power because of fears that are equally exaggerated or unfounded.

Lastly, the authors have discovered that the extreme scenarios put forward by people like Gore as well as the attempt to convince people that natural disasters are part of the warming scenario don’t increase public support for their ideas. If anything, research shows that hysteria increases skepticism rather than diminishing it. If, as they ask, “climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?”

Nordhaus and Shellenberger have some good advice for environmentalists, especially their effort to convince them to pose their arguments in a context that is more about finding popular solution based in technology rather than pie in the sky scenarios about transforming the planet. But they shouldn’t expect, their warnings to be heeded. The most extreme scare tactics used by global warming alarmists aren’t just a tactic; they are integral to the worldview of these activists. Its not just that they fear that extreme weather will cause damage, if you listen closely to many of them, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some think humanity has it coming as a natural consequence of capitalism.

Most of all, it’s that sense that we are being sold a bill of goods by the Al Gores that has fueled the backlash against warming advocates. Having tied themselves to claims that are easily debunked, even by those who agree with them on many questions, the environmental movement has painted itself into a corner from which no amount of common sense can extricate them.

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Paycheck Pander All About Trial Lawyers

Senate Democrats are following up on the White House “Equal Pay Day” dog and pony show yesterday with another push designed to highlight their supposed concern for the plight of female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act that was put to a vote today had no more chance of passage than it did when it was last introduced before the 2012 election. But as it did that previous time, Democrats are hoping that it will serve to feed their fake “war on women” theme that has helped them gain an advantage with female voters while also helping to distract voters from the president’s second term blues and discontent about the implementation of ObamaCare.

Republicans who underestimate the potential impact of this strategy are making a mistake but GOP senators are right not to take the bait. As tempting as it might have been to let this legislation pass in order to undermine the Democrats’ blatantly political motivations, they were right to hold the line on the bill. Just as “Equal Pay Day” attempts to hype an issue based on misleading statistics, the Paycheck Fairness Act does nothing to address the problem of gender discrimination. Even worse, though it is easily understood as a ploy to solidify female support for President Obama’s party, it is even more of a pander toward one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party: the trial lawyers. The law is geared not so much to address inequality as to make it easy to sue businesses for discrimination without proof. While it’s an open question as to whether these maneuvers may save the Democrats in the midterm elections, allowing this bill to pass would result in a windfall for trial lawyers.

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Senate Democrats are following up on the White House “Equal Pay Day” dog and pony show yesterday with another push designed to highlight their supposed concern for the plight of female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act that was put to a vote today had no more chance of passage than it did when it was last introduced before the 2012 election. But as it did that previous time, Democrats are hoping that it will serve to feed their fake “war on women” theme that has helped them gain an advantage with female voters while also helping to distract voters from the president’s second term blues and discontent about the implementation of ObamaCare.

Republicans who underestimate the potential impact of this strategy are making a mistake but GOP senators are right not to take the bait. As tempting as it might have been to let this legislation pass in order to undermine the Democrats’ blatantly political motivations, they were right to hold the line on the bill. Just as “Equal Pay Day” attempts to hype an issue based on misleading statistics, the Paycheck Fairness Act does nothing to address the problem of gender discrimination. Even worse, though it is easily understood as a ploy to solidify female support for President Obama’s party, it is even more of a pander toward one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party: the trial lawyers. The law is geared not so much to address inequality as to make it easy to sue businesses for discrimination without proof. While it’s an open question as to whether these maneuvers may save the Democrats in the midterm elections, allowing this bill to pass would result in a windfall for trial lawyers.

The problem for Republicans is that even though the facts are on their side when it comes to the debate about gender pay discrimination, the emotional advantage is with the president and his followers. It doesn’t matter that the president’s constant spouting of figures that show that women make only 77 percent of what men earn is completely disingenuous. The number is accurate but the differences are accounted for by factors such as job choices, education and the fact that women often choose to take years off from work to raise families and often seek greater flexibility in hours worked than men. The same factors account for the fact that women who work in the White House make less on average than the men there. Yet the White House says the same justifications for its policies don’t apply everywhere else. The reason they can get away with it is that while the numbers are misleading, most women justifiably sense that they are not always treated fairly by men. Thus, to say, as the GOP has been forced to, against laws that won’t help anyone but lawyers, puts them in the position of seeming like a party of vintage male chauvinist pigs.

Republicans rightly argue that the law of the land already forbids gender discrimination. But claiming that even more legislation won’t help things isn’t as persuasive as Obama’s emotional pleas for more fairness. Yet the problem with the Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just that it is superfluous, it’s that it creates a legal environment in which bogus claims of discrimination can cause havoc in the business world. According to its terms, the burden of proof in such cases will be on the employers to show that they haven’t discriminated rather than on the plaintiffs to prove they have been victimized. This will not only be a gold mine for ambulance-chasing trial lawyers looking to shake down companies with settlements rather than be put through the cost and the agony of a trial but will also discourage merit pay and flexibility in hiring and hours worked — developments that will materially harm hard-working women.

This is a bridge too far for even those female Republican senators who backed past discrimination bills. They know this is simply a payoff to the trial lawyers as well as a transparent political gesture intended to put the GOP on record as opposing an equal pay bill even though such an assertion is a gross distortion of the facts. Standing up for principle is not without cost. News cycles in which talk of gender discrimination and GOP votes against such bills do feed the “war on women” propaganda being spouted on the networks and contribute the the false notion that the Democrats care more about women. Thus, Republicans must reconcile themselves to being hurt by the issue and hope that, in the long run, the truth about the issue will filter out enough to mitigate the damage and allow them to stay on message about ObamaCare and the president’s failed leadership.

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Liberalism Ends at Home

It is striking that America’s campuses, a sphere arguably dominated by liberals and their agenda, have become places where real tolerance and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack. While left-wing progressives love to claim that they advocate talking truth to power and champion dissenting voices, when presented with views that transgress their own thought system they all too reflexively reach for the censorship button. Kevin Williamson in his piece The Liberal Gulag cites a plethora of examples of liberals having not only demonized those out of line with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, but he even details instances where “liberals” have advocated the taking of harsh measures against those not sufficiently adhering to left-think.   

The matter of how Islam is discussed on our campuses is a case in point. Recent events demonstrate how the doctrine of political correctness is being used to try and shut down the kind of discussion about Islam that other cultures and religions are routinely subject to. Yesterday brought the announcement by Brandeis University that it has withdrawn its decision to award human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree. These moves come in the wake of a campaign similar to the one currently pressuring universities into not showing the documentary Honor Diaries which highlights the work of Muslim women speaking out against the domestic abuse that women are subject to in parts of their community. In both of these cases the accusation of Islamophobia has been employed in an effort to drive out those who have been in anyway critical of practices in the Islamic world.   

Having been raised in Somalia, and then forced to flee ‘tolerant’ Holland when police informed her they could no longer protect her from those threatening to kill her as an apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly knows about the dark side of hard-line Islam. Once she’d escaped her background, it would have been so easy for someone who suffered the abuse Ali did to have simply kept her head down and lived a quiet life. Instead she has valiantly and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the Islamic world and having served as a member of the Dutch parliament she is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. An honorary degree from Brandeis would have been just a small token of recognition to her unimaginable fearlessness. Instead the university authorities have caved in the face of a campaign by Muslim groups that accuses Ali of having demonized all Islam. It may be true that at times Ali has not expressed such a clear distinction between extremist and moderate Islam, but one cannot help but feel that in many of these people’s eyes her real crime was to have spoken out all. For having dared to criticize Islam Ali has risked her life, but in revoking the award, Brandeis sets itself on the same side of the spectrum as those who insist it is unacceptable to criticize Islam.

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It is striking that America’s campuses, a sphere arguably dominated by liberals and their agenda, have become places where real tolerance and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack. While left-wing progressives love to claim that they advocate talking truth to power and champion dissenting voices, when presented with views that transgress their own thought system they all too reflexively reach for the censorship button. Kevin Williamson in his piece The Liberal Gulag cites a plethora of examples of liberals having not only demonized those out of line with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, but he even details instances where “liberals” have advocated the taking of harsh measures against those not sufficiently adhering to left-think.   

The matter of how Islam is discussed on our campuses is a case in point. Recent events demonstrate how the doctrine of political correctness is being used to try and shut down the kind of discussion about Islam that other cultures and religions are routinely subject to. Yesterday brought the announcement by Brandeis University that it has withdrawn its decision to award human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree. These moves come in the wake of a campaign similar to the one currently pressuring universities into not showing the documentary Honor Diaries which highlights the work of Muslim women speaking out against the domestic abuse that women are subject to in parts of their community. In both of these cases the accusation of Islamophobia has been employed in an effort to drive out those who have been in anyway critical of practices in the Islamic world.   

Having been raised in Somalia, and then forced to flee ‘tolerant’ Holland when police informed her they could no longer protect her from those threatening to kill her as an apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly knows about the dark side of hard-line Islam. Once she’d escaped her background, it would have been so easy for someone who suffered the abuse Ali did to have simply kept her head down and lived a quiet life. Instead she has valiantly and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the Islamic world and having served as a member of the Dutch parliament she is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. An honorary degree from Brandeis would have been just a small token of recognition to her unimaginable fearlessness. Instead the university authorities have caved in the face of a campaign by Muslim groups that accuses Ali of having demonized all Islam. It may be true that at times Ali has not expressed such a clear distinction between extremist and moderate Islam, but one cannot help but feel that in many of these people’s eyes her real crime was to have spoken out all. For having dared to criticize Islam Ali has risked her life, but in revoking the award, Brandeis sets itself on the same side of the spectrum as those who insist it is unacceptable to criticize Islam.

It is this same argument about the failure to acknowledge a difference between moderate and extremist Islam that is being used to prevent Honor Diaries from being shown on campuses. Both the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois have been pressured into canceling screenings. Yet here, those speaking in the documentary have been very clear about drawing a distinction between moderate and hardline Islam. When the Council on American Islamic Relations—which has been loudly opposed to the film—was invited to debate the subject the group reportedly responded that the film was “so hopelessly anti-Muslim that they couldn’t dignify it with their presence.” This only adds to the suspicion that this whole campaign is actually about wishing to prevent critical discussion of anything relating to Islam.

Qanta Ahmed, who worked on Honor Diaries, wrote in National Review that, “Just like the women and girls it portrays, the movie has been silenced and its progenitors shamed.” Exactly the same shaming is now being inflicted on Ali because she has dared to speak out. In the petition opposing Ali, one signatory writes “She is not a role model, and certainly not someone whose ideas should be welcome in a university campus, where tolerance should be spread through kind words and loving spirit.” But this is precisely the problem, when the left-liberal notion sets in that tolerance means endorsing all cultures and ideologies, including intolerant ones. Accordingly, the only people who cannot be tolerated are those who refuse to embrace this ultra-tolerance of all things, such as Ali. 

Responding to the idea that Ali might receive the award, Brandeis’s chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies Joseph Lumbard remarked, “this makes Muslim students feel very uneasy.” But as we have seen with Jewish students and the demonization of Israel, hurt feelings are not considered reason for censorship, and rightly so. Nevertheless, the anti-Israel campaign has turned from fair debate to outright intimidation and bigotry and still university authorities have been reluctant to intervene. The fact that Muslim student groups seem to be gaining a veto over what is “offensive” is a sign that this is really about the contours of political correctness.

As Ahmed writes, “Constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom does not mean that we can censor the examination of cultures…does not mean abandoning difficult debate for fear of offending believers.” Yet a dangerous precedent is being set. Liberals delight in ridiculing religious conservatives in the West, but within their own sphere of influence—the universities—they refuse to promote liberal values where other cultures are concerned.  

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Mozilla and the Prophet Isaiah

By now most readers of this site know about the controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. His offense? A half-dozen years ago he gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage. (It passed with 52 percent of the vote.) The Mozilla decision has elicited a lot of commentary, much of it good and much of it coming from proponents of gay marriage – including to their credit Andrew Sullivan (here and here), Damon Linker, Conor Friedersdorf and Jonathan Rauch.

At the core of what’s driving this effort by some supporters of gay marriage is the belief that holding traditional views on marriage is akin to being an anti-Semite and a racist. That is, holding views that until 15 years ago were almost universally embraced and that have been held by every major religious faith since their founding is now deemed not only wrong but also so offensive that those who hold them must be punished. Their views are deemed so malicious – so obviously and unequivocally evil — that if held there must be a cost. 

Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid, the online dating service whose campaign to boycott Mozilla if they kept Eich helped lead to his departure, described those who oppose gay marriage as “our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” Mr. Rudder admitted he “wanted to show the many would-be Eichs out there” what could happen to them if they don’t conform to liberal cultural attitudes.

This fanatical cast of mind is quite problematic for a free society, where we have to learn to live with those with whom we have deep differences. It is one thing to proclaim a person’s views to be wrong and to show why; it’s quite another to declare those views illegitimate and those who hold them to be persona non grata. We’ve seen this sort of thing take hold in the academy, the most close-minded institution in American life today. It’s now spreading through the rest of American society. And it’s not good.

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By now most readers of this site know about the controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. His offense? A half-dozen years ago he gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage. (It passed with 52 percent of the vote.) The Mozilla decision has elicited a lot of commentary, much of it good and much of it coming from proponents of gay marriage – including to their credit Andrew Sullivan (here and here), Damon Linker, Conor Friedersdorf and Jonathan Rauch.

At the core of what’s driving this effort by some supporters of gay marriage is the belief that holding traditional views on marriage is akin to being an anti-Semite and a racist. That is, holding views that until 15 years ago were almost universally embraced and that have been held by every major religious faith since their founding is now deemed not only wrong but also so offensive that those who hold them must be punished. Their views are deemed so malicious – so obviously and unequivocally evil — that if held there must be a cost. 

Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid, the online dating service whose campaign to boycott Mozilla if they kept Eich helped lead to his departure, described those who oppose gay marriage as “our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” Mr. Rudder admitted he “wanted to show the many would-be Eichs out there” what could happen to them if they don’t conform to liberal cultural attitudes.

This fanatical cast of mind is quite problematic for a free society, where we have to learn to live with those with whom we have deep differences. It is one thing to proclaim a person’s views to be wrong and to show why; it’s quite another to declare those views illegitimate and those who hold them to be persona non grata. We’ve seen this sort of thing take hold in the academy, the most close-minded institution in American life today. It’s now spreading through the rest of American society. And it’s not good.

The successful effort to force Eich out, then, is a significant cultural moment. It revealed an illiberalism and a level of intolerance within some quarters on the left that is chilling but not wholly surprising. And if this current of thought is not checked and challenged, it will create ruptures and divisions that will hurt everyone, those who favor gay rights no less than those who oppose it.

Let me speak from a perspective within my own faith community. Based on conversations and having written and taught classes on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality, my sense is that many evangelical Christians are working through how to approach the issues of their faith and the gay rights movement with a good deal of care and integrity. They are attempting to be faithful to Scripture in a way that is characterized by grace rather than stridency. Even as they continue to oppose same-sex marriage, they are asking whether their own attitudes have been distorted by their own cultural and political assumptions and that the focus on homosexuality is, as I’ve put it elsewhere, wildly disproportionate to what one finds in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Particularly among younger evangelicals, there’s a palpable discomfort with the approach taken by prominent figures over the last few decades – people like (but not exclusive to) Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. They are not the spokesmen they want to represent them or their faith. In terms of public policy, there’s discussion about shifting focus from opposing gay marriage to protecting religious liberties.  

I’ve had discussions with faithful Christians whom I deeply admire who wonder whether their approach needs to be refined – not completely jettisoned but refined — in light of a fuller and deeper understanding of the Christian faith. A thoughtful friend of mine, a pastor, wrote to me last week, asking, “How do you live in a broken world? How do you adapt in a way that maintains faith in God’s character, in ethical standards, and yet maintains an attitude of grace and mercy in a world in which there is a lot more gray than we’d like to admit? you are certainly correct when you suggest that in focusing on this issue [homosexuality], we ignore matters (like greed; like caring for the poor, etc.) that appear to be much more important to Jesus.  And these we blithely sweep under the rug because they are too uncomfortable, and we’ve learned to live with compromises and filter them out.”

The response of those who don’t share this view is that they’re standing for truth in an increasingly depraved time. The danger comes from those who are diluting Scripture to accommodate the world. And gray is just another word for capitulation. This isn’t an easy thing to sort through, then, as anyone who has honestly faced these issues can tell you.

What’s not reasonable or realistic to assume is that millions and millions of Christians will simply toss aside what they view as the clear teachings of the Bible because those who have contempt for their views and faith tell them to do so. And what won’t work is for the gay rights movement to try to intimidate into silence those with whom they disagree. To break their will. And to force religious organizations – including parachurch institutions and eventually churches – to embrace views they believe are at odds with the teachings in Scripture. A faith whose central symbol is the cross is not going to collapse or surrender in the face of pressure by progressives and secularists. (Historically the church has often thrived under persecution.)

This all could get pretty nasty pretty quickly, and intensifying the culture wars isn’t in anyone’s interest. Civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. There ought to be rules of etiquette, even (and perhaps especially) in public and political discourse. Asking for civility is quite different from insisting on agreement, and absence of agreement is a case for further (and better) debate, not putting an end to it.

When the dust finally settles, we still have to live together and occupy the same nation, the same airwaves, the same soccer fields and schools and workspaces. Surely treating others with a certain degree of dignity and respect shouldn’t be too much to ask of those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it. 

“Come now and let us reason together,” the prophet Isaiah said. That counsel beats a lot of alternatives, including targeting and destroying those who don’t conform to the beliefs of our new cultural commissars.  

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Divestment Kosher for Passover at Cornell

Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

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Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

Proponents of divestment also understand that the more that people learn about their movement; the less likely they are to support it. It is a standard and good argument against them that they focus solely on Israel and ignore the abysmal human right records of other nations, like China, with which their colleges and universities have extensive dealings. But the argument acquires a little more force when one goes over to the blog of Students for Justice in Palestine-Cornell, which is evidently behind the resolution. The most recent entry, on Syria, literally does not mention the crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime, preferring to place responsibility for the violence in Syria squarely on the shoulders of “the U.S. and its client states.” If “a humanitarian intervention is needed,” the authors argue, “it should be through the revocation of the corporate charters of the criminal U.S. arms conglomerates.” In short, SJP-Cornell is not so much ignoring human rights violations as proposing that they would not take place if we would only join the fight against the U.S. and Israel, its partner in imperial crime.

If that kind of thing gets out, one might lose even the kind of liberal who supports a targeted boycott of West Bank settlement products. Even those who think Israel is deeply at fault, after all, are unlikely to think that they benefit from association with the view that Obama is a bigger villain than Assad. Such a liberal may fear that even a resolution narrowly drafted to oppose “the occupation,” rather than the very existence of Israel, will, if passed, be viewed as an endorsement of the odious world view of its leading proponents.

Perhaps most of all, proponents of divestment worry about what happens when the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has a chance to be heard, as it did during the Michigan debate, courtesy of historian Victor Lieberman. At that debate, the BDS line, according to which Israel has always been the aggressor, was exposed as propaganda, and student representatives, who may already have been thinking that student governments ought not to make Mideast policy, voted 25-9 against the resolution.

So I commend the proponents of divestment for realizing that if they want their resolution to pass, they had better ram it through as quickly as possible. But their cleverness does not end there. As Jacobson explains, the period during which the resolution will be discussed on campus coincides with the period during which many Jewish students will be out of town celebrating Passover.

This resolution will be much easier to pass without the Jews around.

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Russia Oil Deal May Doom Iran Diplomacy

With Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace fiasco and Russia’s threats to Ukraine dominating foreign news, the administration’s quest to derail Iran’s nuclear-weapons program via diplomacy has been off the front pages lately. But with the next round of the P5+1 talks starting this week the gap between President Obama’s promises about halting the Iranian nuclear threat and the reality of a diplomatic stalemate ought to inspire more concern than it is currently getting. The chief complication for Obama and Kerry’s strategy of a multilateral talks and Western concessions on sanctions intended to beguile Tehran into abandoning its nuclear ambition is the fact that the administration’s policy is dependent on the one country that has the least interest in gratifying the president these days: Russia.

Vladimir Putin has always been the weak link in the Western attempt to bribe Iran to give up its nuclear program. It’s not just that Moscow’s extensive trade ties and potential weapons sales complicate the attempt by the administration to orchestrate Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation. It’s that the core purposes of Russian foreign policy under Putin have been to reassemble the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East and to frustrate American policy goals every chance they get. Thus, when Reuters reported last week that Russia is planning on a massive oil-for-goods deal with Iran that would make a mockery of the “crippling” sanctions that the administration has said are sufficient to influence the Islamist regime, it was clear that the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine would undermine any hope that Putin would play along with the P5+1 game plan. But now, as Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast, the possibility that Putin will use sales of S-300 missiles that could defend Iran’s nuclear sites may put an end to any chance that the West could stop Iran. It also shows that despite Obama and Kerry’s brave talk about pressuring Russia to leave Ukraine alone, it may be that Putin has more leverage on them than they do on him.

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With Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace fiasco and Russia’s threats to Ukraine dominating foreign news, the administration’s quest to derail Iran’s nuclear-weapons program via diplomacy has been off the front pages lately. But with the next round of the P5+1 talks starting this week the gap between President Obama’s promises about halting the Iranian nuclear threat and the reality of a diplomatic stalemate ought to inspire more concern than it is currently getting. The chief complication for Obama and Kerry’s strategy of a multilateral talks and Western concessions on sanctions intended to beguile Tehran into abandoning its nuclear ambition is the fact that the administration’s policy is dependent on the one country that has the least interest in gratifying the president these days: Russia.

Vladimir Putin has always been the weak link in the Western attempt to bribe Iran to give up its nuclear program. It’s not just that Moscow’s extensive trade ties and potential weapons sales complicate the attempt by the administration to orchestrate Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation. It’s that the core purposes of Russian foreign policy under Putin have been to reassemble the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East and to frustrate American policy goals every chance they get. Thus, when Reuters reported last week that Russia is planning on a massive oil-for-goods deal with Iran that would make a mockery of the “crippling” sanctions that the administration has said are sufficient to influence the Islamist regime, it was clear that the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine would undermine any hope that Putin would play along with the P5+1 game plan. But now, as Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast, the possibility that Putin will use sales of S-300 missiles that could defend Iran’s nuclear sites may put an end to any chance that the West could stop Iran. It also shows that despite Obama and Kerry’s brave talk about pressuring Russia to leave Ukraine alone, it may be that Putin has more leverage on them than they do on him.

The administration has been saying that the Russians have not tried to establish any linkage between their dispute over Ukraine and their role in the Iran negotiations. But Putin doesn’t have to draw any pictures or make any threats to make his position known. Though the Russians have their own reasons for worrying about a nuclear Iran, they have always been reluctant members of the P5+1 group and have been allowed by Obama’s “lead from behind” approach to act, along with China, as a brake on any international effort to isolate Iran.

Having already signed a weak interim deal that both granted tacit recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and weakened sanctions, the U.S. has far less leverage over Tehran than it did only six months ago. And now, armed with the knowledge that Russia can squeeze the West and slow down diplomatic process even more from its already glacial pace, there is absolutely no reason for the Iranians not to keep stalling and prevaricating in the P5+1 talks. There was already very little hope that the talks would not drag on into the summer and fall and then into 2015. But if, as is likely, Russia inks the oil-for-goods deal by August, the already tottering sanctions process may begin to collapse. Though Obama has given himself credit for showing patience in his approach to Iran, that may now translate into a delay that will allow the Russians to sink his diplomatic strategy long before the Iranians felt the least pressure to give ground in the talks.

President Obama spent his first term attempting to “reset” relations with Russia in part to help ease the way for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. But with the reset now shown to be a joke and little hope of either restraining Russia in Ukraine or in getting them to help on Iran, it appears that the “window of diplomacy” the administration has depended on may prove to be a disaster not only for the Middle East but also for the future of Europe.

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Daenerys Targarean, Neoconservative

In the wake of the debut this past weekend of the fourth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, some writers must be forgiven for jumping the proverbial shark while exploiting the cable network hit to make some odd policy points. The show, based on the novels of George R.R. Martin, is a fantasy set in a mythical world similar to our own Middle Ages but including dragons and zombies along with human characters. The novels are a great read and the show is riveting even though, predictably for HBO, it has a lot more sex than the books along with very graphic violence. Martin’s multi-layered plot revolves around a dynastic struggle that has been aptly compared to England’s War of the Roses, and if the author’s elegant and fully characterized prose is not quite the equal of Shakespeare’s account of that conflict in his history plays, it is still a marvelous confection. But it is also an irresistible target for pundits seeking a news hook for rehearsing old political grudges.

One such example comes from Ezra Klein’s new site Vox where Zach Beauchamp argues that one of the most beloved characters on Thrones is actually a stand-in for that liberal boogeyman George W. Bush. According to Beauchamp, Daenerys Targarean, the platinum blond bombshell that is the last remnant of a deposed dynasty as well as a magical figure known as the mother of dragons that she helped hatch in a fire that left her untouched, is a stand-in for the 43rd president. The princess isn’t just intent on regaining the throne her mad father lost. In her exile, she has taken up the anti-slavery cause and, aided by broadsword and spear wielding allies, has become the John Brown of the fantasy world. Thus, if you weren’t already won over by her hot looks and those dragons that dote on her, her anti-slavery credentials make her an unambiguous good guy in a story where even the greatest heroes and worst villains are (with perhaps only one exception) complex creations rather than cardboard cutouts.

But Beauchamp thinks there’s a hidden problem with Daenerys. In a piece that seems more serious than tongue in check, he builds a case that the princess’s foreign policy is “Bushian to a tee.” He points out that, like neoconservatives, the mother of dragons sees the world in black and white rather than in Obama-like grey terms. She tells the slave masters that they must either give up their evildoing or face the consequences and her “freedom agenda” is just like the rhetoric that got W into the business of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and trying to remake Afghanistan. But while such a mission is both complicated and more costly than a more self-interested quest for a throne, if we accept this premise, it’s worth asking whether Thrones is quite the commentary on the futility of war that its left-leaning author intended it to be.

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In the wake of the debut this past weekend of the fourth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, some writers must be forgiven for jumping the proverbial shark while exploiting the cable network hit to make some odd policy points. The show, based on the novels of George R.R. Martin, is a fantasy set in a mythical world similar to our own Middle Ages but including dragons and zombies along with human characters. The novels are a great read and the show is riveting even though, predictably for HBO, it has a lot more sex than the books along with very graphic violence. Martin’s multi-layered plot revolves around a dynastic struggle that has been aptly compared to England’s War of the Roses, and if the author’s elegant and fully characterized prose is not quite the equal of Shakespeare’s account of that conflict in his history plays, it is still a marvelous confection. But it is also an irresistible target for pundits seeking a news hook for rehearsing old political grudges.

One such example comes from Ezra Klein’s new site Vox where Zach Beauchamp argues that one of the most beloved characters on Thrones is actually a stand-in for that liberal boogeyman George W. Bush. According to Beauchamp, Daenerys Targarean, the platinum blond bombshell that is the last remnant of a deposed dynasty as well as a magical figure known as the mother of dragons that she helped hatch in a fire that left her untouched, is a stand-in for the 43rd president. The princess isn’t just intent on regaining the throne her mad father lost. In her exile, she has taken up the anti-slavery cause and, aided by broadsword and spear wielding allies, has become the John Brown of the fantasy world. Thus, if you weren’t already won over by her hot looks and those dragons that dote on her, her anti-slavery credentials make her an unambiguous good guy in a story where even the greatest heroes and worst villains are (with perhaps only one exception) complex creations rather than cardboard cutouts.

But Beauchamp thinks there’s a hidden problem with Daenerys. In a piece that seems more serious than tongue in check, he builds a case that the princess’s foreign policy is “Bushian to a tee.” He points out that, like neoconservatives, the mother of dragons sees the world in black and white rather than in Obama-like grey terms. She tells the slave masters that they must either give up their evildoing or face the consequences and her “freedom agenda” is just like the rhetoric that got W into the business of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and trying to remake Afghanistan. But while such a mission is both complicated and more costly than a more self-interested quest for a throne, if we accept this premise, it’s worth asking whether Thrones is quite the commentary on the futility of war that its left-leaning author intended it to be.

Martin was actually a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and a stern critic of Bush who, as Beauchamp notes, saw his literary saga as an attempt to debunk the notion of military glory. In Thrones, really bad things happen to good people all the time and even a war launched for supposedly noble purposes leads to widespread suffering and chaos that mocks the goals of those that started the violence. Indeed, as anyone who has read all five of the books (with more promised by the writer as well as at least two more seasons after this one from HBO) knows, Daenerys’s war of slave liberation leads to conflicts that are as difficult to resolve as the more cynical fighting that goes on for less principled reasons in this fantasy world.

That means, as Beauchamp writes, by the end of the story, if indeed Martin ever comes up with one, the conclusion may leave the princess feeling a bit like Bush 43 at the end of his second term.

But if that’s the worst thing you can say about the character then perhaps Bush’s rehabilitation has migrated from the realm of conservative punditry and started to infiltrate the world of popular culture. Whatever happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, President Bush and those who helped craft that “freedom agenda” that is so despised by his immediate successor stood up for the highest values of Western civilization. In seeking to draw a bright line between the forces of tyranny and terror and those of democracy, Bush held out hope for captive peoples. By casting his policy in moral terms in which the notion of freedom wasn’t limited to Anglophone democracies but to the entire planet, he articulated a vision that may well stand up better than the “lead from behind” incompetence of his successor. Perhaps history will ultimately decide that such idealism did more good than the harm that “freedom agenda” wars unleashed in both the real world and the fantasy kingdoms of Martin’s Westeros.

Much as Martin may not have intended it, Beauchamp may be right that Daenerys is something of a neoconservative. If so, her popularity may indicate that in the eyes of pop culture, George W. Bush wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

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White House Debunks Gender Pay Gap

The White House celebrated “Equal Pay Day” today with a dog and pony show that featured President Obama signing executive orders mandating that women be compensated as much as men while scolding congressional Republicans for blocking passage of legislation that would further the same goal. This was all intended to highlight the Democratic Party’s “war on women” theme that helped reelect the president in 2012 and might mitigate their losses in this year’s midterm elections.

But there was no mention at today’s festivities of the embarrassing exchange yesterday in which White House spokesman Jay Carney was forced to explain why women who worked in the executive mansion were also getting paid less, on average, than their male counterparts. Carney’s explanation was that those who cited the statistic that said Obama’s female staffers were paid 88 cents for every dollar doled out to men were comparing apples to oranges and that those who did the same work got the same pay. He’s right, but the same can be said of the bogus statistic Obama spouted this morning when posing as the defender of women against the male chauvinist pigs of the GOP.

The mainstream media has largely bought into the figure of 77 percent those seeking to portray women as the victims of gender discrimination in the workplace have sold the public. According to those numbers, April 8 is the day that women would have to work until before they start earning as much as men. But, as Carney observed when trying to prevent the Obama White House from being hoisted on its own feminist petard, in order to believe such statistics you must ignore the truth about the different sorts of jobs and work schedules men and women have. As Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs pointed out in a definitive debunking of this myth in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, once you start breaking down the numbers, this supposedly definitive evidence of bias melts away just like a Jay Carney rationalization. But while liberals who never let facts get in their way when they have a good grievance to pursue against business or the Republicans, Carney should have blushed with shame at the way his boss leveled accusations that could just as easily been leveled at his own staff.

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The White House celebrated “Equal Pay Day” today with a dog and pony show that featured President Obama signing executive orders mandating that women be compensated as much as men while scolding congressional Republicans for blocking passage of legislation that would further the same goal. This was all intended to highlight the Democratic Party’s “war on women” theme that helped reelect the president in 2012 and might mitigate their losses in this year’s midterm elections.

But there was no mention at today’s festivities of the embarrassing exchange yesterday in which White House spokesman Jay Carney was forced to explain why women who worked in the executive mansion were also getting paid less, on average, than their male counterparts. Carney’s explanation was that those who cited the statistic that said Obama’s female staffers were paid 88 cents for every dollar doled out to men were comparing apples to oranges and that those who did the same work got the same pay. He’s right, but the same can be said of the bogus statistic Obama spouted this morning when posing as the defender of women against the male chauvinist pigs of the GOP.

The mainstream media has largely bought into the figure of 77 percent those seeking to portray women as the victims of gender discrimination in the workplace have sold the public. According to those numbers, April 8 is the day that women would have to work until before they start earning as much as men. But, as Carney observed when trying to prevent the Obama White House from being hoisted on its own feminist petard, in order to believe such statistics you must ignore the truth about the different sorts of jobs and work schedules men and women have. As Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs pointed out in a definitive debunking of this myth in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, once you start breaking down the numbers, this supposedly definitive evidence of bias melts away just like a Jay Carney rationalization. But while liberals who never let facts get in their way when they have a good grievance to pursue against business or the Republicans, Carney should have blushed with shame at the way his boss leveled accusations that could just as easily been leveled at his own staff.

As Perry and Biggs point out, both the 77 and 88 percent figures are utterly useless. Once you dig deeper into the Bureau of Labor Statistics data it becomes quickly apparent that the differences between male and female pay are the function of differing circumstances, not traditional prejudices. Women are more likely to work fewer hours than men, choose professions that are compensated more poorly, take less dangerous work and, most importantly, seek more flexibility in hours in order to take care of their children, or interrupt their careers for periods at home to raise their families, a trend that a new Pew survey shows is growing. Unmarried women without children make almost exactly the same, on average, as men. That means all or nearly the entire 23 percent gap between male and female pay is accounted for by factors that have nothing to do with gender discrimination. Indeed, it is, as they point out, entirely possible that once you have accounted for these varying situations that such discrimination disappears.

As Perry and Biggs also write:

These gender-disparity claims are also economically illogical. If women were paid 77 cents on the dollar, a profit-oriented firm could dramatically cut labor costs by replacing male employees with females. Progressives assume that businesses nickel-and-dime suppliers, customers, consultants, anyone with whom they come into contact—yet ignore a great opportunity to reduce wages costs by 23%. They don’t ignore the opportunity because it doesn’t exist. Women are not in fact paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.

Of course, you don’t have to believe the Journal or the American Enterprise Institute with which both of these scholars are associated. You can just listen to Carney’s explanations of the White House pay disparity to understand that that statistics about that workplace, like every other one in the country, can paint a misleading picture if taken out of context.

But these truths and Carney’s own alibis were not allowed to spoil the “Equal Pay Day” fun at the White House today. Obama has built his presidency on the notion that a flawed America that is sunk in bias can only be redeemed by a bigger government run by a messiah of hope and change. But like the case for ObamaCare or an increased minimum wage, arguments for measures to address a mythical gender pay inequality gap are built on a flimsy foundation of out-of-context statistics and outright lies. The genius of this administration is not so much its ability to weave tales of outrage out of whole cloth but, as these last two days have proved again, in the ability to do so without shame. 

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Demonizing SCOTUS: The OCare Precedent

When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

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When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare.

“The left clearly tried to work the refs on the Affordable Care Act,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “They worked the refs after Citizens United, which helped set things up for the Affordable Care Act challenge. If it seems to work, why not continue? It’s unfortunate, I think, that they’ve been encouraged in this behavior by its apparent success.”

And it’s not just a public disinformation campaign:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to hold hearings on the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. …

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) panned it for granting greater influence to wealthy donors, such as Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative donors, whom he again slammed on the Senate floor Monday.

Of course Reid would find a way to turn a complaint about the court into another tool in his quest to turn libertarian activists into former people. In one sense, this is irrational, because it has no intellectual merit and should be beneath the leaders of the world’s greatest deliberative body. But in another sense, it’s completely rational: people respond to incentives, and in his ObamaCare ruling Roberts incentivized demonizing–that’s the Hill’s word–the Supreme Court.

The story notes that chief among the left’s worries is the upcoming ruling on the ObamaCare contraception mandate. And on that note, the best line in the story has to be this: “Democrats say the present-day court lacks the experience to understand the corrupting influence of money in politics, because none of its members have held publicly elected office.” Democrats just don’t believe that law abiding, upstanding men and women who have never been offered a bribe could ever really understand ObamaCare. And you’ve got to admit, they have a point, don’t they?

We may or may not find out if the pressure campaign works. After all, a decision on the case may not be a result of the intimidation tactics, either as a concession to them or as an act of defiance against them. It may be just another ruling on the merits of the case. But that’s one of the consequences of the Democrats’ shenanigans: the idea that the court will rule on the merits of the case becomes only one of several possibilities. Roberts thought he was protecting the legitimacy of the court in his 2012 decision. It’s quite clear now that he has done precisely the opposite.

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Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

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Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

The answer is simple. Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand. The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to.

Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate. Being honest about the Palestinian stance would not only undermine the basis for the talks but also make it harder to justify the administration’s continued insistence on pressuring the Israelis rather than seek to force Abbas to alter his intransigent positions.

Seen in that light, Kerry probably thinks no harm can come from blaming the Israelis who have always been the convenient whipping boys of the peace process no matter what the circumstances. But he’s wrong about that too. Just as the Clinton administration did inestimable damage to the credibility of the peace process and set the stage for another round of violence by whitewashing Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism and incitement to hatred in the 1990s, so, too, do Kerry’s efforts to portray Abbas as the victim rather than the author of this fiasco undermine his efforts for peace.

So long as the Palestinians pay no price for their refusal to give up unrealistic demands for a Jewish retreat from Jerusalem as well as the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants and a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict, peace is impossible no matter what the Netanyahu government does. Appeasing them with lies about Israel, like the efforts of some to absolve Arafat and Abbas for saying no to peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008, only makes it easier for the PA to go on saying no. Whether they are doing so in the hope of extorting more concessions from Israel or because, as is more likely, they have no intention of making peace on any terms, the result is the same.

Telling the truth about the Palestinians might make Kerry look foolish for devoting so much time and effort to a process that never had a chance. But it might lay the groundwork for future success in the event that the sea change in Palestinian opinion that might make peace possible were to occur. Falsely blaming Israel won’t bring that moment any closer. 

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Conservative Vulgarity Isn’t Cool

Conservatives have had good reason to cry foul in recent years about the way liberals and Democrats have treated them. Though liberals still speak as if incivility in politics is a Republican invention as well as something they have a monopoly on, the instances of Democratic demonization of their opponents are numerous. Liberals such as Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz blamed conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic on a climate of right-wing intolerance. Liberals have likened the Tea Party to Hezbollah, opponents of new gun-control measures to murderers, and reform-minded governors like Scott Walker to Hitler. They also demeaned 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a sexist manner that would have been considered a hate crime had it been done to a Democrat.

So when Democrats cry foul over attacks on their leaders, most conservatives are inclined to ignore it or to merely say something about hypocrisy and payback. That’s a mistake. Call me old school if you like but I’ve always felt that part of being a conservative was an expectation that those who take part in public life should behave like ladies and gentlemen. So don’t count me among those who are snickering at the outrage being expressed by some liberals about a Breitbart ad campaign that superimposes the face of Nancy Pelosi on a photo of Miley Cyrus in a bikini doing her twerk thing. I think Pelosi represents just about everything that is wrong about the contemporary Democratic Party and its congressional leadership, but the picture is vulgar and crosses a line that serious people shouldn’t approach let alone leap over.

Though this hardly rises to the level of a national crisis, I’m always troubled when conservatives succumb to the temptation of sinking to the level of their opponents because of the way it lowers the tone of our already vulgarized popular culture. But it is also a mistake for anybody on the right to feed into the Democratic playbook about sexism and the faux “war on women” they have used successfully to scare female voters into opposing the GOP.

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Conservatives have had good reason to cry foul in recent years about the way liberals and Democrats have treated them. Though liberals still speak as if incivility in politics is a Republican invention as well as something they have a monopoly on, the instances of Democratic demonization of their opponents are numerous. Liberals such as Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz blamed conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic on a climate of right-wing intolerance. Liberals have likened the Tea Party to Hezbollah, opponents of new gun-control measures to murderers, and reform-minded governors like Scott Walker to Hitler. They also demeaned 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a sexist manner that would have been considered a hate crime had it been done to a Democrat.

So when Democrats cry foul over attacks on their leaders, most conservatives are inclined to ignore it or to merely say something about hypocrisy and payback. That’s a mistake. Call me old school if you like but I’ve always felt that part of being a conservative was an expectation that those who take part in public life should behave like ladies and gentlemen. So don’t count me among those who are snickering at the outrage being expressed by some liberals about a Breitbart ad campaign that superimposes the face of Nancy Pelosi on a photo of Miley Cyrus in a bikini doing her twerk thing. I think Pelosi represents just about everything that is wrong about the contemporary Democratic Party and its congressional leadership, but the picture is vulgar and crosses a line that serious people shouldn’t approach let alone leap over.

Though this hardly rises to the level of a national crisis, I’m always troubled when conservatives succumb to the temptation of sinking to the level of their opponents because of the way it lowers the tone of our already vulgarized popular culture. But it is also a mistake for anybody on the right to feed into the Democratic playbook about sexism and the faux “war on women” they have used successfully to scare female voters into opposing the GOP.

One can defend the Breitbart ads, which also spoof Jerry Brown and Mark Zuckerberg with similarly foolish photoshopped images and are intended to promote their new West Coast politics site, as being all in good fun. The site’s founder, the sorely missed Andrew Breitbart, sought to boldly challenge the left on its own cultural turf with envelope-pushing work that sometimes raised eyebrows but always had a strong political point. Moreover, as many on the right have pointed out, a similar and perhaps even more vulgar depiction of House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Michele Bachmann was used in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last year lampooning the government shutdown starring none other than the same Miley Cyrus. The silence from the left about that travesty was deafening.

The impulse to fight fire with fire with such things is understandable, but if conservatives wish to preserve what is good about our society and to turn back the efforts of the left to further degrade our culture and civilization, it’s hard to see how putting Pelosi’s face on Cyrus’s body advances that goal.

As for the political impact of any efforts by conservatives that feed into the false narrative of a Republican war on women, there’s no doubt that a double standard is at play here. The same people who think nothing of degrading Palin or Bachmann immediately shift into full outrage mode when someone does the same to Pelosi. But that doesn’t give anyone on the right license to behave in a similar fashion. Respect for women and disgust at attempts to demean them with highly sexualized images should be integral to the conservative worldview.

Efforts by conservatives to compete with the left for the hipster vote are bound to fail. Even worse, they feed the same cultural trends that conservatives should be resisting rather than mimicking. As Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld points out in his new polemic Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You, the impetus to be “cool” undermines the conservative values that are the foundation of American greatness. He’s right about that. Call me square if you like, but I think conservatives should be equally appalled about trashing Pelosi in this manner as they were about the liberal assault on Palin.

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Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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“Solving” Israel to Solve the Conflict

With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

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With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

Both of these pieces are only able to pursue their line of argument by refusing to acknowledge the full reality of recent events. The line that Israel is impossibly intransigent has simply become enshrined as a doctrine unalterable by real events. Dreyfuss’s recounting of the collapse of the latest talks is an all but unrecognizable version of reality. He protests that Netanyahu breached his commitments by expanding settlements and refused to release the last group of prisoners. But settlements were never subject to the concessions the Palestinians were bribed with before they would consent to their participation in talks. In any case, the last round of prisoners would have been released like all the others had the Palestinians not announced that they were about to leave talks regardless of how many additional terrorists Israel offered to let lose.  

In Dreufuss’s view pressure on the Israeli side is warranted because Palestinian leader Abbas is essentially powerless. Yet if that’s true then it might legitimately be asked whether Abbas really has the ability to give Israelis any reliable assurances of peace in return for concessions that greatly weaken Israel’s security if those assurances aren’t guaranteed. Indeed, in both the case of Miller and Dreyfuss’s article, one wonders why, if the deal on offer is really evenhanded and promises an end to the conflict, would the Israelis need so much pressuring?

Miller’s piece acknowledges that under present circumstances there is little to be gained from pressuring either side. Yet Miller seems convinced that in the event that there was an opening for peace, it would be the Israelis that would need to be forced into it and he expresses his concern that this administration hasn’t got what it takes to get tough with Israel. Not like in the good old days of Baker when the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees needed to help absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union as punishment for Prime Minister Shamir not agreeing to the additional demand of freezing construction in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. All that any of this achieved was the spectacle of the Madrid conference, which pandered to Arab demands for an international conference from which to condemn Zionism.

Perhaps it would be claimed that Madrid somehow opened the way toward the Oslo accords, but since neither side considers that to have been an overwhelming success, it’s not clear why we should celebrate Baker’s conference. Indeed, a more concrete result of the Baker diplomacy was the move to frame Israel as the problem and thus assault its underlying legitimacy. This is the assumption that both of these pieces rest on; that to solve the conflict you must first solve Israel.

Dreyfuss has a couple of telling things to say about such a solution. As well as claiming that everyone knows what that solution will look like he also claims that “Israel holds all the high cards.” The arguments put forward by Dreyfuss and Miller are really the logical conclusion of believing that this is a territorial conflict, in which case by holding the territory Israel does hold all the high cards, and so, Israel is the problem for blocking peace by retaining territory. As such, Israel will remain vilified until it can make the case that this conflict has never been about two states, but rather the destruction of one state: the Jewish state.  

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Hagel and Dempsey vs. the Straw Men

The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

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The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

But that’s only possible when you have leadership from the president. In this case you don’t. Which is why the Defense Department has been able to get away with shoddy arguments such as this one: “If it weren’t for the chairman, you would be right back in Iraq or Afghanistan,” a senior defense official told the Journal. Huh? Is anyone–anyone–proposing sending 100,000-plus ground troops to Syria? Or any ground troops at all? Not that I’ve heard. This is a totally bogus argument but one that no doubt resonates with a president who won office in no small part on the strength of his opposition to the conflict in Iraq.

What the cautious leadership of the Pentagon is losing sight of is a point that has been made to me by a number of active-duty military officers: namely, that there is not only danger but a great opportunity in Syria. We have the potential to do great damage Hezbollah, the Quds Force, and al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, three of the most potent anti-American terrorist organizations in the world. The Free Syrian Army is eager to fight all three groups if we would only provide them the arms and training to do so. If the U.S. were to use its airpower, that would truly provide an opportunity to wreak havoc among our enemies while running scant risks ourselves: Syrian air defense could be quickly disabled and as long as we don’t put troops on the ground (aside from a few Special Operators and intelligence operatives) we would be unlikely to suffer any casualties.

But that is a course of action that would require more boldness and decisiveness than we have seen from the Oval Office at any time since the Osama bin Laden raid nearly three years ago.

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When Does a Once Widely Held Opinion on a Public Issue Become Unacceptable?

The uproar over the forced resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla last week (see Jonathan’s excellent post from yesterday) is certainly called for. After all, Eich’s transgression was to make a donation in support of a state constitutional proposition that ended up passing with 53 percent of the vote. In other words, he agreed with the majority of California voters and donated a modest sum to the cause. But a mere six years later, he has been pronounced a moral leper for having held such an outrageous and unacceptable view. It’s no more than the same view that was held by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

I can think of no other major change in American society that has moved as swiftly as gay marriage. In 1960 it was, almost literally, unthinkable. The Stonewall Inn riot in New York in 1969 put gay rights on the political map, but gay marriage was not among the rights being demanded. By 1990 gay marriage was thinkable, but nowhere legal. Then in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in that state. In 2007, the Stonewall Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, gay marriage is legal in sixteen states and spreading rapidly to others. Because approval of gay marriage is strongly inversely correlated with age, it is as clear as anything in the future can be that gay marriage will be countrywide in the not distant future.

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The uproar over the forced resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla last week (see Jonathan’s excellent post from yesterday) is certainly called for. After all, Eich’s transgression was to make a donation in support of a state constitutional proposition that ended up passing with 53 percent of the vote. In other words, he agreed with the majority of California voters and donated a modest sum to the cause. But a mere six years later, he has been pronounced a moral leper for having held such an outrageous and unacceptable view. It’s no more than the same view that was held by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

I can think of no other major change in American society that has moved as swiftly as gay marriage. In 1960 it was, almost literally, unthinkable. The Stonewall Inn riot in New York in 1969 put gay rights on the political map, but gay marriage was not among the rights being demanded. By 1990 gay marriage was thinkable, but nowhere legal. Then in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in that state. In 2007, the Stonewall Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, gay marriage is legal in sixteen states and spreading rapidly to others. Because approval of gay marriage is strongly inversely correlated with age, it is as clear as anything in the future can be that gay marriage will be countrywide in the not distant future.

I imagine that by 2030, gay marriage will be about as controversial as women’s suffrage is today. But women’s suffrage took 100 years to go from a glimmer in the eyes of its first advocates to a constitutionally mandated right. Slavery took nearly 200 years from the first objections to it among 17th century Quakers to its final abolition in this country. One can see the slow evolution of thought on the morality of slavery in the life of Benjamin Franklin. In the 1730s Franklin owned a couple of slaves who worked in his printing house. In the 1750s he wrote a famous essay on the economic inefficiency of slavery. By 1785 he was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Still it took another 80 years, and a war that cost 600,000 lives, before slavery was finally gone.

Both women’s suffrage and slavery were highly controversial issues in their day and honest men and women could be found on both sides. (Queen Victoria, for instance, was adamantly against votes for women.) Today, of course, the arguments of the losing sides of these issues seem silly and, often, downright evil.

But we are more than 90 years since the argument over women’s suffrage ended and nearly 150 since slavery was abolished. The issues are both dead and gone. It seems to me that only two years after Barack Obama himself “evolved” on the issue of gay marriage (please note: Democrats evolve on issues, Republicans flip flop) is much too soon for opponents of the idea to be cast into outer darkness.

But, then, liberals—addicted to their sense of moral superiority—are notoriously intolerant of dissenting views.

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What Is Standing in Putin’s Way in Eastern Ukraine?

Uh oh. Here we go again. Fresh off swallowing Crimea, Vladimir Putin may well be yearning not for peace but for another piece of Ukraine. At least that’s the concern raised by carefully orchestrated pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and other cities in the eastern part of Ukraine where, before Russian TV cameras, the Russian minority is demanding Anschluss with the Motherland. 

John Kerry was quick to note, no doubt accurately, that these events are hardly spontaneous given the recent arrest of Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine. It is not hard to imagine a scenario unfolding whereby, once again repeating his favorite excuse for aggression–protecting Russian minority rights–Putin will send the Russian army rolling across the frontier. It would certainly not be a difficult military operation to carry out, given that the Russian forces are already mobilized ostensibly to carry out “exercises” and given the lack of military capacity in the Ukrainian army to oppose such an incursion.

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Uh oh. Here we go again. Fresh off swallowing Crimea, Vladimir Putin may well be yearning not for peace but for another piece of Ukraine. At least that’s the concern raised by carefully orchestrated pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and other cities in the eastern part of Ukraine where, before Russian TV cameras, the Russian minority is demanding Anschluss with the Motherland. 

John Kerry was quick to note, no doubt accurately, that these events are hardly spontaneous given the recent arrest of Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine. It is not hard to imagine a scenario unfolding whereby, once again repeating his favorite excuse for aggression–protecting Russian minority rights–Putin will send the Russian army rolling across the frontier. It would certainly not be a difficult military operation to carry out, given that the Russian forces are already mobilized ostensibly to carry out “exercises” and given the lack of military capacity in the Ukrainian army to oppose such an incursion.

What, one wonders, is standing in the way of another semi-covert invasion followed by outright annexation? The only real obstacle would seem to be any concerns Putin might have about the consequences of such aggression. Kerry, after all, has warned the Russian president he will face “further costs” for such a move. But given the fact that the costs to Russia of annexing Crimea have been minimal–and given the complete loss of American credibility post-Syria when it comes to drawing “red lines” for dictators–one must conclude that it is only Putin’s self-restraint that is preventing a further expansion of the Russian Empire. And given Putin’s track record, both at home and abroad, of grabbing as much power as possible for himself, betting on his goodwill is not a very good guarantee of Ukraine’s continued territorial integrity.

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What Peace Looks Like … And Requires

One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

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One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

Apologists for the Palestinians claim that they have chosen peace with Israel via the Oslo Accords as well as the subsequent negotiations in which they have engaged. But in point of fact, first Yasir Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas have steadfastly refused to accept the half a loaf of independence and freedom that a peace agreement would entail. They’ve refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or agree to its legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. Most of all, they have refused to face down their domestic opponents, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They have instead competed with them for the title of the most anti-Israel.

Had the leaders of Ireland’s early 20th century revolt against British rule done the same, today’s state visit would be unthinkable. What happened in 1922 was that the a majority of the Irish Republican party led by underground hero Michael Collins embraced a compromise peace agreement with Britain that fell far short of their dreams of a united Irish republic. They swallowed hard and accepted a partition that left six of the country’s 26 counties under British rule including a couple in which the country’s Protestant minority was not in the majority. More than that, the democratically elected Irish government (something that can no longer said to be true of Abbas who is currently serving in the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority) put the question of war and peace in the hands of their people. A majority backed the peace treaty and when the IRA, under Eamon de Valera, did not accept the outcome of the ballot box, a bloody civil war resumed in which the pro-peace faction backed by the British prevailed.

Neither Arafat nor Abbas has ever shown any sign of being to act as Collins did in realizing that a truncated Palestinian state was better than none at all. Neither were they prepared to risk their lives as he did (he was assassinated during the Irish Civil War); nor have they, perhaps for good reason, trusted the Palestinian people to back the cause of peace against those preaching war to the death against the Jews.

The reason for this is, of course, rooted in the very different natures of these two conflicts. It was difficult for many Britons to accept the loss of their first colony. But the reason why they were eventually able to reconcile themselves to the compromise of 1922 was that the purpose of the various Irish rebellions they had put down over the centuries was not the annihilation of the British state. The Irish wanted self-determination but they had no ambition to plant their flag over London or any part of England, Scotland, or Wales. But, though many observers continue to act as if the only point of the conflict in the Middle East is the dispute over the West Bank, Palestinians see all of Israel, and not just settlements over the old “green line,” as their patrimony. Irish nationalism was about the revival of Celtic culture and self-determination on their island. Palestinian nationalism was created as a reaction to Zionism and unfortunately has never outgrown the obsession with seeking to eradicate any Jewish state.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is not impossible, at least in theory. It would require Israelis to accept a Palestinian state, a position the overwhelming majority of them, including their supposedly right-wing government, have already accepted. But it also requires the Palestinians to do as the Irish did and give up their maximalist dreams and be willing to put down domestic opposition to peace, even if it means a civil war of their own. Until that happens, dreams of a Middle East version of Anglo-Irish reconciliation are not within the realm of the possible.

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Abbas Bets on Kerry’s Desperation

The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

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The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would take its own “unilateral steps” in response to the Palestinians’ move last week to join 15 international treaties and conventions and reiterated that a Palestinian state could be created “only through direct negotiations, not through empty statements and not by unilateral moves.”

The Palestinians said they took the contentious step only because Israel reneged on a promise to release a group of long-serving prisoners by the end of March, breaking its own commitment as part of the negotiations.

So that’s step one: the pretext. The Palestinians say they took their unilateral steps because Israel didn’t release all the murderers it was supposed to. Those unilateral steps consisted of pushing applications to join various international conventions. According to this logic, if Israel releases the rest of those terrorists, the talks should resume. Except:

Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official who resigned as a negotiator in the midst of the current talks, said on Monday that Mr. Abbas’s application to join the international entities was “irreversible” and represented a “paradigm shift” in which Palestinians would pursue other options in parallel with bilateral negotiations. But he, too, suggested that there could yet be a way out of the crisis.

“We are keeping the door open for any serious talks,” he said at a briefing in Ramallah. “We have time between today and the 29th of April. If the Israeli side is serious, we are ready for that.”

So there’s no going back. But there is a way to salvage the talks, according to the Palestinians. More concessions from Israel, with no concurrent Palestinian concessions, will bring them back to the table:

Mr. Shtayyeh rejected Israel’s demand that the applications to the entities be withdrawn and said Palestinians want to separate the issues of the release of the promised fourth batch of prisoners from that of extending the timetable for the talks. He said extending negotiations would require either a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements or the Israeli presentation of a map outlining the future borders of the promised two states.

So the two sides are to treat the negotiations as if they are beginning anew, not continuing the previous round of talks? Not exactly:

“The release of prisoners is part of an agreement, and no compromise can be accepted,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a close aide to Mr. Abbas and an officer of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Sunday on the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Even if you are sympathetic to the Palestinian side in this argument, this is plainly transparent. If the Palestinians believe Israel must release the rest of the terrorists for talks to continue, then that should theoretically be the only requirement for Abbas to pretend to negotiate again. It would be appropriate for Abbas to then take back the unilateral action he claims he took in response to Israel’s action (or perceived inaction, as it were), since even he associates the two.

He doesn’t want to do that. He wants to exact a price for this delay. If you’re still with him so far, he gets the original prisoner release in order to return to negotiations plus a penalty of sorts against Israel for the delay by applying to join the international agencies and conventions. That should be it, right? Nope–Abbas wants another precondition, such as a settlement freeze, as though the process were starting from the beginning or Israel wouldn’t release the rest of the terrorists, when in fact he acts as though both were true.

What’s the argument in favor of a round of concessions as preconditions in addition to releasing the terrorists? Abbas is playing Kerry. He assumes that Kerry is sufficiently desperate for negotiations that he’ll lean on Netanyahu to give Abbas whatever he wants. In all likelihood, the Israeli Cabinet (except for Tzipi Livni) will get tired of this game, which suits Abbas just fine, since he doesn’t seem to want an actual peace deal but rather a disaster he can blame on the Israelis. The question is whether Kerry–or any representative of the Obama administration–can ever get tired of scapegoating Netanyahu.

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Friends, Enemies, and Columnists

Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

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Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

Like the Israeli left that our Tom Wilson rightly depicted as being stuck in an Oslo time warp, Friedman’s problem is that his predictions of Israeli doom have proved as foolish as his best-selling effort to convince us that technology would trump religion, prejudice, and nationalism in the Arab world. He gives away the game when he concedes, “I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will.” He then follows this snippet of realism by claiming that Israel must find a way to get out of the West Bank, peace partner or not. But the reason why the overwhelming majority of Israelis have rejected another willy-nilly withdrawal regardless of consequences is that they have no interest in repeating what happened in Gaza in 2005 when Ariel Sharon did just that.

Friedman has a history of trying to delegitimize supporters of Israel. As I wrote here in 2011, his efforts to depict the ovations that Netanyahu received that year from Congress as being “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” reinforced a central myth of anti-Semitism about Jews and money. To use the same logic employed by Friedman today against Adelson, one could say that by doing so, the columnist was showing himself to be an ally of Hitler’s spiritual descendants. But Friedman’s umbrage at his critics then has not tempered his subsequent writings using the same sort of invective.

The problem here is not just that writer’s hypocrisy and his lack of intellectual integrity. The much-heralded exchange between Adelson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about what to call the West Bank was merely an attempt to level the rhetorical playing field on which the Israelis and the Palestinians are located. In doing so, the man whom Friedman denounces as “crude” was actually showing a greater grasp of nuance than the columnist who poses as a Middle East expert.

Israel’s friends in this country have every right to speak up and ask potential candidates to speak clearly about the Middle East, especially when so many, like Christie, clearly have no real grasp of foreign policy or the details of the conflict with the Palestinians. In a political landscape filled with foreign-policy blind men, a one-eyed pundit like Friedman likes to play the king. Having reflexively denounced Netanyahu and all those who support him as enemies of peace for so long, the decision of the Palestinians to walk out of the negotiations—a stance that is, for all intents and purposes, a fourth “no” to peace in the last 15 years—Friedman refuses to draw conclusions from events that have contradicted his past positions. Nor does he recognize any distinctions between those who back Israel’s democratically-elected government and a settler movement that is horrified by Netanyahu’s embrace of the two-state solution. In writing in this manner, Friedman tells us nothing about who is a friend or an enemy of Israel, but a lot about his own lack of intellectual rigor.

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