Commentary Magazine


Americans Have Corrosive Dissatisfaction for Our Political System

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed some noteworthy data about the public’s attitude toward our political system. When asked about how satisfied they were with it, here’s what they found:

Read More

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed some noteworthy data about the public’s attitude toward our political system. When asked about how satisfied they were with it, here’s what they found:

Very Satisfied: 2 percent
Somewhat Satisfied: 17 percent
Somewhat Dissatisfied: 30 percent
Very Dissatisfied: 49 percent
Not Sure: 2 percent

So 19 percent are very/somewhat satisfied with our political system while 79 percent are somewhat/very dissatisfied–and nearly half are very dissatisfied.

“We’re in the summer of our discontent,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “Americans are cranky, unhappy.”

Indeed they are, and they have ample reasons to feel as they do. Of course, they are the very citizens who elected the very lawmakers who operate the very system they verily hate, so there’s plenty of blame to go around. Our broken system is the result of our divided selves.

Still, whatever the causes–and there are many of them–it can’t be good when there’s such massive dissatisfaction with our political system. For one thing, we have urgent challenges that require a political system that works, that people have confidence in. Beyond that, though, our political system–the extraordinary handiwork of our founding generation–produced what Lincoln called an “inestimable jewel.” It is one of the main reasons we revere our country. Sustained contempt for our political system is corrosive. It undermines our affections for America. And unless it is reversed, it will find increasingly disturbing outlets and end up doing durable damage to the nation we love.

Read Less

Obama Is Destroying Traditional Democratic Issue Advantages

Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

Read More

Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

Health care is one obvious example. Historically it’s been an issue on which Democrats have dominated Republicans. No more. While the public still trusts Democrats more than Republicans on health care, the margin is single digits. And a recent poll shows that nearly 60 percent (58) of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care. Health care was a central issue in the GOP landslide in the 2010 mid-term elections, and it’s a key subject in this year’s mid-term elections as well. In almost every instance, Democrats are playing defense on health care.

Then there’s immigration, another issue that until now has been a potent one for Democrats. No more. A poll last week by AP-GfK shows that immigration is now President Obama’s worst issue. More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue in general. Just 31 percent approve. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out, “when you separate those most passionate about the issue, the difference is even more stark, with 57 percent opposed and just 18 percent in favor. That’s more than three-to-one.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll from June showed Obama’s worst two issues were gun policy and illegal immigration.

What’s happened, it appears, is that the public is holding the Democratic Party accountable for the failures of Mr. Obama. Americans have for the most part cast aside the airy rhetoric and promises; they’re now judging the president and his party against reality. Their propositions and policies have been tested in real time, in real circumstances, and the results have been by and large a disaster.

This hardly means Republicans are home free on these matters. But it does mean there are enormous cracks in the foundation and Republicans have a historic opportunity to make inroads on issues that were once owned by Democrats.

Barack Obama may turn out to be a historic president, but not for the reasons Democrats were hoping for.

Read Less

Turkey’s Authoritarian Moment

Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

Read More

Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

Bass may wanted to have been diplomatic, but a quick look at the current presidential race shows just how authoritarian Turkey has become. Make no mistake: Erdoğan is as much a dictator as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are and Hosni Mubarak was. The current presidential race merely confirms it.

Consider the following:

Turkish law says all public office holders should resign a month or two before elections, but the High Election Council, dominated by Erdoğan groupies, gave Erdoğan an exception. The prime minister, of course, doesn’t want to resign even for a moment both in fear that corruption cases suspended because of his parliamentary immunity would kick in and because he wants to use the resources of the state in his campaign.

And, indeed, he has. Whenever he has held a public rally—and he holds multiple rallies per day using his plane or bus to get there—local governors and government officials bus in thousands of people who are handed flags to wave and instructed what slogans to chant. Government officials who do not attend the rally are blacklisted, and quickly find themselves moved to different towns or demoted to lower positions. State officials “request” that contractors who do business with the government pay for the expenses such as buses, flags, and food for those attending the rallies. If contractors do not comply with the request, they will not get a new contract.

The new presidential election law restricts individual campaign contributions to a candidate to about $4,000 and requires that payment be made through a bank, but such donations in kind do not count as campaign contributions. Therefore, when it comes to campaign resources, the Erdoğan government’s blackmail puts Erdoğan in a different category than his two competitors.

Turks also know that a campaign contribution made through a bank to anyone other than Erdoğan could lead to blacklisting. Donate to Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, for example, and expect your business to be audited, lose your government job, or be fired from your private sector job under government pressure. (When I was in Turkey earlier this summer, even some of those working in multinational businesses asked not to be included in group photos of lunches that included low-ranking opposition politicians since they were afraid that would be enough to invite retaliation.) In effect, İhsanoğlu and Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtaş receive donations only from their much smaller pools of political activists or from retirees who are less susceptible to blackmail.

Erdoğan operates not only by intimidation, but also by reward. Turks report lines of pensioners in front of banks in order to donate the equivalent of $50 to Erdoğan’s campaign. One old lady interviewed on Turkish television, when asked why she was there, said, “They [AKP] gave me this money to deposit to an account in the bank. In return they will give me food.”

State radio and television (TRT) focus on Erdoğan and rarely give any airtime to İhsanoğlu and Demirtaş despite their mandate for balance. In a typical ten-day period in July, the official statistics showed 428 minutes of coverage for Erdoğan, 45 seconds for İhsanoğlu, and no time whatsoever for Demirtaş. The ratios have improved slightly, but Erdoğan still receives 25 times the coverage of the other candidates.

Even those outside Turkey are subject to intimidation. Absentee voters in Turkey were shocked to see that ballot envelopes are transparent enabling Turkish officials to see the ballot. Rather than count the ballots abroad, they will be flown on the state-owned airlines Turkish Air and counted back inside Turkey. What happens to those ballots along the way is anyone’s guess.

Erdoğan is a dictator. The constitution prohibits the use of religious symbols in political propaganda, but Erdoğan has waved a Qu’ran in election rallies and declared a vote for him is a vote for the Qu’ran. He has an agenda and, like Putin, he recognizes that the West is all bark and no bite. The question is not only whether Turkey has re-embraced authoritarianism so many Turks sought to leave behind more than a half century ago, but also what cost Erdoğan’s dictatorship will extract from the Turkish public and regional security.

Read Less

The Hamas Kidnapping and the Liberal Echo Chamber

Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

Read More

Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

In June, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were abducted and murdered by Hamas-affiliated terrorists in the West Bank. The Israeli government identified the suspects as such, but wouldn’t release more information until the investigation proceeded. Now they have reportedly confirmed Hamas’s role in the murders.

Yet back in June, almost immediately there were attempts to absolve the Hamas organization of responsibility by claiming the murderers acted on their own. Because Israel was restricted from releasing all the information it had, it opened space for anti-Israel activists and bloggers to try to push a false narrative that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deceived the public as a pretext for invading Gaza.

This was an obviously obtuse thing to say (the abduction was not what spurred Israel’s actions in Gaza no matter who was responsible for the kidnapping), but the left operates in its own echo chamber, so it made the rounds. And in the process, it opened a window into how the left constructs an alternate reality about Israel and then, seemingly, convinces itself that it’s true.

On July 25, New York magazine offered, in a blog post shared over 280,000 times on social media, words that should have stopped the conspiracy theorists in their tracks: “BuzzFeed reporter Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.” Indeed, Frenkel has been among the least reliable reporters covering the conflict, in part because sources in the region seemed to have identified her early on as an easy mark. The Middle East is a complex place, and it takes a certain skepticism and political savvy to navigate the degree to which sources attempt to spin the media. Frenkel’s sources picked her out as someone who didn’t possess those qualities, and she rewarded their assumptions with her reporting.

What happened in this case was that BBC reporter Jon Donnison misreported his conversation with Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Frenkel saw this as confirmation of her theory, and ran with it. As Tablet reported, “It appears the entire episode is the result of an unfortunate game of internet telephone. In her tweet, which was picked up by New York, Frenkel placed Donnison’s words ‘lone cell’ in quotation marks, inadvertently making it seem like Donnison’s language was actually Rosenfeld’s. But it wasn’t, and the implications that have been drawn by New York, and now spread by Andrew Sullivan, are not justified.”

New York’s initial headline on the piece was “It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All.” The headline was not even close to being accurate, and the site belatedly changed the headline after the story had taken off. And no story on a ridiculous anti-Israel rumor would be complete without being given the full “explainer” treatment by Vox.

Vox has developed a reputation for not coming within a country mile of getting the story right when covering Israel. Vox’s mistakes range from the absolutely adorable–Zack Beauchamp’s claim that there’s a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza–to the aggressively ignorant–virtually anything Max Fisher writes. Vox’s template is supposed to be explanatory journalism, so the tone in each piece is one of intellectual authority. Thus, for the gullible leftists seeking to confirm their worldview, Vox is a perfect go-to site.

Fisher offered a typical post on the doubt that confused and biased reporters had tried to cast on the kidnapping. Fisher was, it should be noted, more careful about outright accusing Netanyahu of lying. After trying and failing to get a handle on what was going on, Fisher threw up his hands:

If you want to get angry about something, get angry about this: Israel has for years refused to change its strategy toward Gaza and the larger Israel-Palestine conflict, even though that strategy shows zero indication of yielding sustainable peace and leads Israel to occasionally invade Gaza to weaken anti-Israel groups there.

Therefore, he wrote, “in a much larger sense, in the view from 50,000 feet above the conflict, what may have mattered even more is that the conflict is structured in such a way that another war was likely going to happen whether Netanyahu blamed Hamas or not.”

It’s Israel’s fault, even if Hamas terrorism touches off an escalation of the conflict, in this view. And so we went from revelations that Hamas kidnapped and killed three Israeli teens to accusations that Israel lied about Hamas’s role to declarations that whatever actually happened, Israel is to blame for the cycle of violence. It’s a good example of how the left starts out with a fact, concocts a story that contradicts that fact but conforms to their worldview, and then changes the subject to Israel’s eternal guilt as soon as their deceptions are questioned. Waiting for the facts might be too much to ask of them, but as this week’s revelations show, the truth is worth the wait.

Read Less

General Greene’s Death and the Afghan Mission

The death of Major General Harold Greene in Kabul is shocking on many levels. He is the most senior military officer killed in a war zone overseas since the Vietnam War and by all accounts a highly intelligent and competent officer who, ironically enough, had never served in combat before arriving in Afghanistan this year to take the No. 2 job at the command charged with training Afghan troops. Kabul is not particularly dangerous, especially not compared to Baghdad. I and many other visitors have been to the military academy where he was slain many times. Yet even in Kabul there can be terrorist attacks.

Read More

The death of Major General Harold Greene in Kabul is shocking on many levels. He is the most senior military officer killed in a war zone overseas since the Vietnam War and by all accounts a highly intelligent and competent officer who, ironically enough, had never served in combat before arriving in Afghanistan this year to take the No. 2 job at the command charged with training Afghan troops. Kabul is not particularly dangerous, especially not compared to Baghdad. I and many other visitors have been to the military academy where he was slain many times. Yet even in Kabul there can be terrorist attacks.

The death of General Greene and the wounding of a number of other NATO personnel is all the more dismaying because the perpetrator was an Afghan soldier. Such incidents of “green on blue” violence have the potential to turn Americans against the entire Afghan endeavor. Why should we help them, many wonder, if even Afghan soldiers want to kill our troops?

A little perspective is in order. While there have been all too many “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan, the number has actually dropped in the past year and it was never all that high to begin with. Very, very few Afghan soldiers have ever been driven to turn their weapons on their allies. As in, an infinitesimally small amount. We’re talking about a few dozen individuals out of a force more than 330,000 strong.

Remember that even the U.S. Armed Forces are hardly immune to these kinds of “insider” attacks. Fort Hood alone has seen two such attacks, one in 2009, another in April. The fact that Major Nidal Malik Hasan fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009 is not and should not be taken as evidence that the U.S. Armed Forces are fundamentally disloyal. It was and should be seen as a freak occurrence by one disgruntled officer.

The shooting in Kabul should be seen in the same light. There is no larger problem of disloyalty among Afghan military units. They are not defecting to the enemy or refusing to fight. In fact they are fighting hard and suffering considerable casualties.

The “insider” threat in Afghanistan is real, but it is actually decreasing. The U.S. military is acutely conscious of this issue and has taken steps to mitigate the danger, for example by assigning troopers to act as “guardian angels” for other troopers when meeting with Afghan counterparts. Such steps have paid off. According to the Brookings Institution, there were 21 insider attacks in 2011, 41 in 2012, 9 in 2013, and just one this year prior to the attack on General Greene.

Moreover, while any death is tragic, it is important to keep in mind that U.S. fatalities overall are rapidly decreasing. According to the icasualties website, 39 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year–down from 127 in 2013, 310 in 2012, and 418 in 2011. Those figures will undoubtedly fall even more as U.S. personnel transition to an entirely advisory mission. What may happen is that, as the threat from IEDs and other types of attacks goes down, the percentage of fatalities caused by insider attacks goes up. But that should not mask the overall trend, which is that Afghanistan is getting safer for U.S. personnel.

Thus there is no reason to rethink the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan after this attack, no matter how shocking or tragic. Given General Greene’s lifetime of distinguished service–and the service of his family members as well–it is safe to assume that this is the last thing he would have wanted, for his death to lead to a pullout from Afghanistan that will undo all that he and so many other soldiers fought so hard to achieve.

Read Less

In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow …

An extraordinary sight is building in the drained moat that surrounds the Tower of London, a sea of ceramic poppies as a memorial to those who fought and died for Britain in World War I. The war began a hundred years ago this week and lasted for four long, agonizing years, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. By that time, no fewer than 888,246 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines had given their lives for king and country. A whole generation of young men had been wiped out. By Armistice Day this year, there will be a poppy for each and every one of them, filling the sixteen acres of the moat.

Read More

An extraordinary sight is building in the drained moat that surrounds the Tower of London, a sea of ceramic poppies as a memorial to those who fought and died for Britain in World War I. The war began a hundred years ago this week and lasted for four long, agonizing years, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. By that time, no fewer than 888,246 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines had given their lives for king and country. A whole generation of young men had been wiped out. By Armistice Day this year, there will be a poppy for each and every one of them, filling the sixteen acres of the moat.

The poppy became the symbol of the war dead thanks to Colonel John McCrae’s magnificent poem, “In Flanders Fields,” perhaps the most famous work of literature ever written by a Canadian. McCrae, a doctor, was worn out by overwork in the hospitals that treated the wounded. In January, 1918, he contracted pneumonia and died. He, too, lies today in Flanders fields.

Although the war started a century ago, we still live deep in its shadow, for it was, in George Kennan’s phrase, “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century.” For the 75th anniversary of this country’s entrance into that war, I wrote an article for American Heritage magazine about the consequences of that war for Western civilization. Although written 22 years ago, I think it holds up well and I commend it to your attention.

Read Less

It’s Time for a Base in Kurdistan

Max Boot is absolutely right that the West cannot afford to dither while the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daash) expands its territory through north-central Iraq. Should the group seize the Mosul Dam, as was prematurely reported earlier this week, it could put millions at risk. And recent Islamic State victories show not that their fighters are that good, but rather than the reputation of both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga was and is much too inflated.

Read More

Max Boot is absolutely right that the West cannot afford to dither while the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daash) expands its territory through north-central Iraq. Should the group seize the Mosul Dam, as was prematurely reported earlier this week, it could put millions at risk. And recent Islamic State victories show not that their fighters are that good, but rather than the reputation of both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga was and is much too inflated.

For all the lionization of the peshmerga, many of those in its ranks are there because of political patronage. Kurdish authorities have long inflated peshmerga numbers as well in order to attract greater subsidies and, perhaps in some cases, skim salaries of ghost employees. Political division also hampers the peshmerga: despite all the talk about unity, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan still distrust each other and act more as party militias than as a unified force.

So how should the United States respond, assuming President Obama recognizes the threat and realizes that doing nothing will only cause the Islamic State problem to metathesize? Giving weaponry to the Iraqi Kurds might sound good on paper, but might not have the effect which the United States seeks.

There’s a huge discrepancy between Kurdish statements and Iraqi Kurdish public opinion on one hand, and the actions of the Kurdish leadership on the other when it comes to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kurds may like the United States, but Kurdish authorities recognize that Iran is their neighbor. Qods Force leader Qassem Suleimani and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have as much influence (if not more) over the Kurds as they do with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and among the Shi‘ites in southern Iraq. Here, for example, is a recent report which, if accurate, suggests that the IRGC is actively intervening in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Giving weaponry to the Iraqi Kurdish government, therefore, is as replete with risks as giving weaponry to the Iraqi government: They could lose it in battle or through corruption and could share U.S.-provided intelligence with Iranian authorities, potentially exposing American capabilities or undercutting and burning American assets.

One of the reasons why Kurdish authorities have become so deferential to Iranian authorities is because the U.S. withdrawal forced Kurdish realists to accommodate Iranian interests. However, Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani has repeatedly invited American authorities to establish a base in Iraqi Kurdistan. Perhaps it’s time the White House and Pentagon take him up on his offer. Sometimes when faced with a security threat, the best option is to take matters into our own hands. Not only might a base be used to run drones or manned aircraft to combat the Islamic State and its advance in the region, but figuratively planting the flag would give Kurds reason to balance their outreach to Iran.

The biggest difference between left and right with regard to national security in the United States is that the left automatically demonizes power while the right understands that it can be used for good or bad. The Obama administration is distrustful of force projection, but sometimes projecting force is the best defense. Cutbacks or not, a base in Iraqi Kurdistan would be an important investment, one which would pay dividends far beyond its cost.

Read Less

How Hamas Deliberately Created a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

There has been a lot of talk lately about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What has gone curiously unmentioned by all the great humanitarians from the UN and “human rights” groups, however, is the degree to which this crisis was deliberately fomented by Hamas: Aside from starting the war to begin with, Hamas has done its level best to deprive Gazans of everything from food to medical care to housing, despite Israel’s best efforts to provide them.

Read More

There has been a lot of talk lately about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What has gone curiously unmentioned by all the great humanitarians from the UN and “human rights” groups, however, is the degree to which this crisis was deliberately fomented by Hamas: Aside from starting the war to begin with, Hamas has done its level best to deprive Gazans of everything from food to medical care to housing, despite Israel’s best efforts to provide them.

Take, for instance, the widely reported shortages of medicines and various other essentials. Many of these products are imported, and since Egypt has largely closed its border, Gaza has only one conduit for these vital imports: the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel. Thus if Gaza’s Hamas government had any concern whatsoever for its citizens, ensuring that this crossing was kept open and could function at maximum efficiency would be a top priority.

Instead, Hamas and other terrorist groups subjected Kerem Shalom to relentless rocket and mortar fire throughout the 29-day conflict, thereby ensuring that the job of getting cargo through was constantly interrupted as crossing workers raced for cover. Hamas also launched at least three tunnel attacks near Kerem Shalom, each of which shut the crossing down for hours.

Despite this, Israeli staffers risked their lives to keep the crossing open and managed to send through 1,491 truckloads of food, 220 truckloads of other humanitarian supplies, and 106 truckloads of medical supplies. But the numbers would certainly have been higher had the nonstop attacks not kept disrupting operations. On August 1, for instance, a shipment comprising 91 truckloads of aid had to be aborted on when Hamas violated a humanitarian cease-fire by launching a massive attack near Kerem Shalom.

Then there’s the shortage of medical care, as Gaza’s hospitals were reportedly overwhelmed by the influx of Palestinian casualties. To relieve this pressure, Israel allowed some Palestinians into Israel for treatment and also set up a field hospital on the Gaza border. But throughout the war, the field hospital stood almost empty–which Israel says is because Hamas deliberately kept Palestinians from using it.

Many pundits dismiss this claim, insisting there were simply no Palestinians who wanted to go there. That, however, is highly implausible. Gazans routinely seek treatment in Israel because it offers better medical care than Gaza does; as one Gazan said in 2012, “It is obvious that people come to Israel for medical treatment, regardless of the political conflict.” Even Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sends his family to Israel for treatment; over the past two years, Israel has treated both his granddaughter and his sister’s husband. So while some Palestinians undoubtedly objected to accepting help from the enemy, it’s hard to believe there weren’t also Palestinians who simply wanted the best possible care for their loved ones, and would gladly have accepted it from Israel had they not feared retaliation from a group with no qualms about shooting dissenters.

It’s also worth noting that “humanitarian” organizations in Gaza actively contributed to this particular problem. UNRWA and the Red Cross did refer a few patients to the Israeli field hospital. But you have to wonder why they opted to refer most patients to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital and then make videos about how difficult conditions there were instead of easing the burden on Shifa by referring more patients to the Israeli hospital.

Then, of course, there’s the dire electricity shortage–also courtesy in part of Hamas, which destroyed two power lines carrying electricity from Israel to Gaza and subsequently prevented their repair by shelling the area nonstop.

Finally, there’s the massive destruction of houses in Gaza, which has left thousands of families homeless. That, too, was largely courtesy of Hamas: It booby-trapped houses and other civilian buildings, like a UNRWA clinic, on a massive scale and also used such buildings to store rockets and explosives.

Sometimes, it blew up these buildings itself in an effort to kill Israeli soldiers. Other times, the buildings blew up when relatively light Israeli ammunition like mortar shells–which aren’t powerful enough to destroy a building on their own–caused the booby traps or stored rockets to detonate. As Prof. Gregory Rose aptly noted, Hamas effectively turned all of Gaza into one big suicide bomb. In one neighborhood, for instance, 19 out of 28 houses were either booby-trapped, storing rockets, or concealing a tunnel entrance, thereby ensuring their destruction.

Now, the organization is gleefully watching the world blame Israel for the humanitarian crisis Hamas itself created. And that gives it every incentive to repeat these tactics in the future.

Read Less

The Repeal of Due Process on Campus

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and seven co-sponsors have introduced a truly appalling bill in the Senate. It could have been written, and perhaps basically was, by the most rabidly misandrist feminists. (Misandrist is the little-used antonym of misogynist. It deserves wider circulation.)

Read More

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and seven co-sponsors have introduced a truly appalling bill in the Senate. It could have been written, and perhaps basically was, by the most rabidly misandrist feminists. (Misandrist is the little-used antonym of misogynist. It deserves wider circulation.)

It is intended to stop the supposed “epidemic” of sexual assault on American college campuses, requiring colleges to handle accusations of such assaults in certain ways. But it gives away its bias by consistently calling accusers in campus sexual assault cases “victims,” while the accused are just called the accused. That, of course, begs the question as to whether there actually was a sexual assault in the first place.

Any sexual violence of any kind is unacceptable. But when it comes to much of what falls under the purview of this bill, categorizing some conduct is not so easy. Was it a sexual assault or nothing more than a clumsy, unwelcome pass? Was it a morning-after regret? Because many campus sexual assault accusations turn out to be he said/she said cases, false accusations face little downside risk.

Throughout the bill, the accusers are supported and the accused are left to fend for themselves. The bill, for instance, requires that colleges receiving any federal funding whatever, “shall establish a campus security policy that includes the following: ‘(1) The designation of 1 or more confidential advisor roles at the institution to whom victims of crime can report anonymously or directly ….”

The accused gets no such advice or counseling. The accuser can demand and get a “forensic interview” with the accused. Can the accused do the same? Nope.

And while being convicted of sexual assault can be a life-changing—indeed life-ruining—event even if there is no criminal prosecution, a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard is applied. If it is considered even slightly more probable that the accuser is telling the truth, that’s all that’s needed to convict. Sexual assault is a felony in every state, but conviction in the criminal justice system requires a beyond-reasonable-doubt standard, a much tougher standard to meet in order to ensure that innocent people are not convicted.

But the consequences of being convicted of sexual assault in a college proceeding can be devastating. Expulsion is often the punishment. Any future background check would quickly turn up the fact that the person had been expelled for sexual assault, which would be the end of that job application.

In other words, this bill is a travesty of due process and even simple fairness.

But is there an actual epidemic of rape and assault on American college campuses in the first place? Much of the evidence is based on feminist propaganda and a deeply flawed study that showed that 20 percent of female undergraduates are assaulted during their college careers. That is a preposterous figure. There are 11.7 million female college students in this country, and yet, according to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey there are only 237,000 cases of sexual assault, on or off campus, in the entire country every year.

Feminists claim that many cases of sexual assault go unreported. No doubt that’s true. The usual statistics for campus sexual assault are that while 20 percent of women are assaulted in their college years, only 12 percent of those assaults are reported. But as Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute points out, those two numbers cannot be both correct. In the years 2009-2012, there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State University. If that’s 12 percent of the total number of assaults, then the total number would be 817. But there are 28,000 female students at Ohio State, and 817 is 2.9 percent of 28,000, not 20 percent. (When George Will used this example, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch was so outraged at his use of entirely correct sixth-grade math to demolish a feminist argument that it dropped his column.)

I have two observations to make.

We should repeal the federal law mandating a drinking age of 21. It would greatly reduce drunkenness on college campuses with a concomitant reduction in sexual assault. It is, by orders of magnitude, the most widely flouted federal law on the books. But by forcing students to drink in private instead of in public, it greatly reduces the social pressure to behave. So they often don’t.

I understand why six liberal Democratic senators would sponsor this junk. The feminist movement is an important constituency. But why on earth would Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa and Marco Rubio of Florida cosponsor it? My respect for both of them is much diminished.

Read Less

Why Grief Can Exist Alongside Hope

Throughout my life I’ve mostly been shielded from dealing with the death of people whom I love. But since the end of last year some very important people in my life have passed away, or now look to be near death.

Read More

Throughout my life I’ve mostly been shielded from dealing with the death of people whom I love. But since the end of last year some very important people in my life have passed away, or now look to be near death.

The fact of death isn’t new to me, of course; but the subject has necessarily become less abstract.

How each person processes such a thing is highly and properly personal. But what I did want to touch on is how a person of faith–in my case the Christian faith–tries to make sense of things.

When I was still sorting through my belief system, there was something about Christianity that drew me to it. It was (among other things) that Christianity made sense of pain, loss, and sorrow in ways that nothing else quite did, at least to me, and in ways that seemed to me most true. That is, it didn’t deny suffering happens; it didn’t promise that good and faithful people wouldn’t suffer; and it didn’t pretend that suffering and the death of those whom we love won’t be searing. Jesus never told us that those things should be minimized in any way. He wept, after all.

And yet even in the midst of valleys and heartache, we believe God is present. The notion that joy and peace can transcend circumstances, that there is a reality beyond our senses and that there are blessings to be found even in mourning, were things that had resonance with me. I came to believe that the Lord can redeem and restore all things, including areas of brokenness. I was captivated, even then, by the thought that our life here on earth is intensely real–we’re not talking about shadows on the walls of caves–but also, in the full scheme of things, momentary. That it’s part of a very meaningful and authentic story, but it’s not the full story, and it’s not the end of the story.

This past weekend I was in the company of someone I’ve written about before, Steve Hayner, who earlier this year was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and whose life on this earth is now likely to be counted in weeks or months. In struggling to find a way to express some of these sentiments, I found myself recalling the movie Shadowlands.

C.S. Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins, is shattered by the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. Near the end of the movie he’s told he must talk to Douglas, the young son (by another marriage) of Davidman. “I don’t know what to say to him,” Lewis admits.

The next scene is of Lewis and Douglas talking.

“I don’t know why she had to get sick,” a grief-stricken Douglas says.

“No, nor me,” Lewis replies. But you can’t hold on to things, he says; you have to let them go.

“Do you believe in heaven,” Douglas asks Lewis.

“Yes, I do,” Lewis replies. (By this time Lewis’s faith, which had buckled a bit in the aftermath of Joy’s death, has recovered.)

Douglas, who at that point says he doesn’t believe in heaven, tells Lewis, with tears in his eyes, “I sure would like to see her again.”

“Me, too,” Lewis replies. And he and Douglas embrace, weeping.

One can believe, as Lewis wrote in The Last Battle (the last book in his Chronicles of Narnia series), that our lives in this world are only the cover and the title page; that with death we begin “Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Yet when cancer struck down the person Lewis most loved, he understood that future chapters are not present ones; that covers and title pages matter, too; and that grief, to paraphrase the essayist Chad Walsh, is the price of the knowledge–the knowledge of love and affection, of intimacy and friendship. Those who live in the glow of people’s love eventually live in the shadow of grief. That’s the nature of things in this broken world, and why grief can exist alongside hope.

One final thought struck me in reflecting on this past weekend. Now and again there is in my estimation some confusion within Christianity on the relationship between the eternal and the temporal. They are hardly synonymous; but neither are they inverse or antithetical, which is how they are sometimes cast. Nor is the demarcation between the two quite what we might think. This world is surely a vale of tears. But it can also pre-shadow the glories and joy that awaits us. It is also home to people like Steve and his wife Sharol who are, in the words of St. Paul, “imitators of God.” They offer intimations not of immortality but of divine grace and love.

Death is not the way things were meant to be. But it is, for now, the way things are. That doesn’t make accepting it any easier. But here’s what does: Finding individuals who, in the face of a terrible ordeal, choose to trust God and offer their fears to God; who are dignified and transparent in recounting their journey; and who, when facing the prospect of death, can still say (and mean) that “everyday has always been an opportunity for attentiveness, gratitude, and living into God’s call” and admit to having much less of a desire to “seize the day” and a greater desire to welcome it with all it’s twists and turns, surprises and disappointments, moments of delight and sorrow. To live joyfully and faithfully, come what may.

Read Less

National Defense Panel’s Bombshell Report

It has gotten pretty much zero press attention, but last week the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel issued what should have been seen as a bombshell review of American military readiness, or lack thereof. The bipartisan credentials of the board members cannot be doubted. The panel was co-chaired by Clinton-era Defense Secretary Bill Perry and retired General John Abizaid. Members included both Bush-era Defense Department appointees such as Eric Edelman and Obama-era successors such as Michele Flournoy. The only thing uniting the members of the panel was deep knowledge of, and interest in, defense policy.

Read More

It has gotten pretty much zero press attention, but last week the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel issued what should have been seen as a bombshell review of American military readiness, or lack thereof. The bipartisan credentials of the board members cannot be doubted. The panel was co-chaired by Clinton-era Defense Secretary Bill Perry and retired General John Abizaid. Members included both Bush-era Defense Department appointees such as Eric Edelman and Obama-era successors such as Michele Flournoy. The only thing uniting the members of the panel was deep knowledge of, and interest in, defense policy.

Such a group might be expected to endorse the status quo as the lowest-common-denominator option. But that’s not what they did. Instead they issued a blistering denunciation of the impact that budget cuts–amounting to a trillion dollars over 10 years–are having on the armed forces. These cuts, they warned, “constitute a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States. Not only have they caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities, they have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve. Unless reversed, these shortfalls will lead to a high risk force in the near future. That in turn will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous.”

The panel identified “disturbing” and “dangerous” gaps between the “capabilities and capacities” called for under the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and the actual “budget resources made available to the [Defense] Department.” Specifically the panel determined that both the Navy and Air Force need to grow and the Army and Marine Corps should not shrink as much as currently envisioned.

The Navy, the panel noted, should have between 323 and 346 ships yet it is currently “on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less.”

The Air Force, the panel found, “now fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history” and that situation is going to get much worse because it is going to lose half of its current inventory of bombers, fighter aircraft, and surveillance aircraft by 2019. The panel called for an increase in “the number of manned and unmanned aircraft capable of conducting both ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] and  long range strike in contested airspace.”

The panel also found that currently contemplated reductions in Army end-strength go too far. “We believe the Army and the Marine Corps should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 end strengths–490,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army and 182,000 active Marines,” the panel concluded. Yet on the current trajectory the army is likely to wind up with 420,000 soldiers and the Corps with 175,000 marines.

The defense panel rightly warned that “sustaining these significant cuts to our defense budgets will not solve our fiscal woes, but will increasingly jeopardize our international defense posture and ultimately damage our security, prospects for economic growth, and other interests.”

But no one in Washington, on either side of the aisle, seems to care. All Republicans seem to care about anymore is avoiding tax hikes. All that Democrats seem to care about anymore is avoiding cuts in entitlement programs. Whatever happened to the parties of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy? They seem to be as gone as those presidents. And America is going to pay the price unless we see some leadership on defense issues at the top of our political system on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Read Less

Bibi and Barack After Gaza

As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

Read More

As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

What’s puzzling is not President Obama’s desire for peace. It is always admirable to want wars to go on for no longer than they must. But in this case, once Israel discovered the terror tunnels, the state had to act in its own defense. The New York Times has a story today on the administration’s frustration with its lack of control over another sovereign state’s actions, but the entire piece can be boiled down to the following paragraph, appearing early on in the story:

With public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Obama has had few obvious levers to force Mr. Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it.

Well that pretty much explains it, doesn’t it? Not only did Israel have public support in the U.S., but its actions were backed by its Arab neighbors and the U.S. Congress. Obama was the odd man out–or one of the few, anyway. There was a rare consensus in Israel’s part of the Middle East that included Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Everyone was on the same page both with Israel and the U.S. for once. It was an easy diplomatic call for Obama, but he still made the wrong one.

Additionally, the efficacy of American pressure on Israel depends to a large extent on the Israeli public. In this particular case, Hamas had constructed an underground city with tunnels that led into Israeli territory. Of course the Israeli public wanted those tunnels gone. And the threat from the rockets flying from Gaza, often derided by the world as glorified firecrackers, had increased as well. The rockets practically shut down Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s gateway to the outside world, which had the effect of temporarily isolating a Jewish polity that, for clear and rational reasons, is a bit sensitive to their enemies’ attempts to ghettoize them.

As Ruthie Blum writes today in Israel Hayom:

One could argue that the reason public support for Operation Protective Edge reached a ‎whopping 95 percent was the utter justice of its cause; that the incessant rocket-‎fire from Gaza, now hitting the center of country, was too much even for the peace ‎utopians to bear. ‎

One could assume that no matter what an Israeli’s personal political leanings, he would ‎see the virtue in defeating an enemy that glorifies death; uses children as canon fodder; ‎abuses women; tortures homosexuals and the disabled; and vows to annihilate the world’s ‎Jews while converting or slaughtering its Christians. ‎

Nevertheless, it is usually impossible to get even those Israelis with similar outlooks to ‎agree on anything, including where to hang a communal clothesline, for more than five ‎minutes. Hence the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.”‎

Blum also mentions the surprising fact that this unity occurred under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose essential pragmatism tends to leave Israelis wary of his intentions. Netanyahu doesn’t really have a political base in the traditional sense, since the right wing doesn’t trust him. Yet in this current conflict, virtually the entire country was his base.

Such unity of spirit and support for Israel in the Arab world should have been inspiring. To Obama, it was a source of aggravation. As the Times notes:

The blunt, unsparing language — among the toughest diplomats recall ever being aimed at Israel — lays bare a frustrating reality for the Obama administration: the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely dismissed diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the violence in Gaza, leaving American officials to seethe on the sidelines about what they regard as disrespectful treatment.

Obama has always been more receptive to the angst of the Democratic Party’s base than other elected Democrats who didn’t, after all, become the most powerful person in the world by riding a wave of feverish antiwar anger. And the Democratic Party’s base is the one sector of American politics whose open hostility to Israel is not only growing stronger by the day but also seeping into the rest of the party from the margins.

Obama has often left commentators perplexed by the battles he chooses and the fights he picks, since they’re so often with steadfast allies. And it should be noted that he hasn’t abandoned Israel in the military realm–far from it. But the diplomatic aggression toward Israel is far from meaningless. The Times explains that “a senior American official predicted that the tough State Department statement would ‘box [Israel] in internationally.’”

Despite having the Arab world on their side in this fight, not to mention the U.S. Congress and the public they represent, the Obama administration is trying to rally international–European, presumably–opinion against Israel. It’s strategically foolish and diplomatically illogical. Perhaps the end of Operation Protective Edge, then–if indeed this is the end–will serve to protect the Obama administration from itself by preventing further self-inflicted wounds, or at least remove Gaza as their source.

Read Less

The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

Read More

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

As has become standard practice in the academic BDS movement, the ASA’s Executive Committee has an academic pretext for its intervention in the Middle East: the recent strike on the Islamic University of Gaza. The committee understands that most observers will think an organization devoted to American culture should not have a stance on the Gaza conflict. But the statement almost immediately drops that pretext and concedes that the ASA’s stance is really about “Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates [sic] of life and freedom.

There follows a link you can click to give the ASA money to “to join in financially supporting our principled response to attacks on the organization and our continued growth and impact as an association. As Rahm Emanuel once said, you never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste.

Of course, the ASA stand is sheer self-indulgent theater. Still, it is revealing. Last year, it was at least possible to imagine that the American Studies Association distinguished between the West Bank and Gaza, understanding Israel’s need to defend itself against Hamas, an organization devoted to its violent destruction and to violence against Jews altogether. Today, like others in the BDS movement, the American Studies Association has openly sided with Hamas’s military wing, or, as BDS darling Ali Abunimah likes to call its members, “resistance fighters.”

With this latest ill-advised statement, the ASA leaves no daylight between its own position and Abunimah’s, namely that Israel is the bad guy in the fight between Israel and Hamas, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and placing its own civilians in harm’s way notwithstanding. All that is lacking is the open celebration, which we find in Abunimah, of the military exploits, such as they are, of the Al Qassam Brigade. I suppose the executive committee thinks that such a celebration might frighten the donors.

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has predicted that this year’s anti-Israel activity on American campuses will be even more virulent than it was last year and may even turn violent. I hope he is wrong about the latter but sure he is right about the former.

Those of us who care not only about Israel but also about the enterprise of colleges and universities must point out again and again that the avowedly nonviolent academic BDS movement, which has always shied away from criticism of Hamas and has long hugged the lunatic fringe, is now vying to turn American college campuses into propaganda mills for the “military wing” of Hamas, which even the European Union considers a terrorist group.

Despite the wall to wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect that most faculty members and students alike know very little about it in general or about Hamas in particular. Even on college campuses, the debate against BDS can be won. They can’t hide from that charter.

Read Less

Putting Compassion for Palestinians in Perspective

While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

Read More

While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

Some of the discussion on this topic is easy to dismiss. In the case of Northeastern University’s Dov Waxman, who writes in the Forward to lament the lack of Jewish empathy for Palestinian casualties, it’s hard not to see his piece as a display of moral preening that tells us little about the situation or even what is motivating the discussion among pro-Israel activists. Of course, we should care about Palestinians. But other than demanding that friends of Israel gnash their teeth about the situation, it’s difficult to understand what he’d like them to do about it especially since he acknowledges that the fault for their plight largely belongs to Hamas. If, as Cynthia Ozick once aptly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews,” all Waxman here seems to be saying is that it’s necessary for Jews to do more conspicuous wailing about the Palestinians without in any way diminishing their support for Israel’s justified defensive war. Far from being callous, pro-Israel activists are concentrating their efforts on pointing out what the media has failed to about Hamas responsibility for the war and those who have been hurt by it.

More serious are Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments in his Bloomberg column on Friday. Ponnuru acknowledges that Israel is in the right in this contest and that Hamas and its apologists—especially those who falsely accuse Israel of “genocide”—are in the wrong. But he’s worried about those who go a step further in defense of the Jewish state and claim that there are no “true” civilians in Gaza.

Ponnuru takes particular aim at New York University Law School’s Thane Rosenbaum for writing in the Wall Street Journal that those in Gaza who give not only vocal support to Hamas but actively assist its fighters cannot claim to be mere civilians when they come under Israeli counter-fire. Ponnuru also thinks ill of historian Benny Morris who recently wrote that Israel needed to demonstrate a willingness to “exact a heavy price in blood from Palestinian civilians.”

According to Ponnuru, this is more than callousness. Rather it is, he says, a violation of the rules of war that call upon combatants to attempt at all times to make distinctions between enemy soldiers and civilians in their midst. Rosenbaum asserts that sympathy for Gazans who are active Hamas supporters who place their children in the path of violence in order to further group’s causes is misplaced. Ponnuru derides this as not merely unfeeling but a “disgusting sentiment.”

To the extent that these comments reflect a lack of sympathy for any child caught in the crossfire of even a justified war, he’s right. Children don’t choose to be part of a war any more than they choose their parents. Anyone who can view the suffering of Palestinians as they regard those who have been wounded and maimed and mourn their dead with indifference is wrong. Those who have lost the capacity to realize the common humanity even with an enemy have lost their moral compass.

But the discussion about the wave of empathy for Palestinians as their casualty toll mounts and the accompanying anger at Israel is not as simple as that. Rosenbaum may have overstepped his mark, as did Morris, whose main point was to correctly assert that Hamas could not be left standing if there was to be any hope for peace. But to merely assert, as Ponnuru does, that Palestinians civilians “aren’t the bad guys” in this drama is just as unhelpful.

Strip away some of the overheated rhetoric and what Rosenbaum has written is not merely true but inarguable. Palestinians who voted for Hamas, support their charter that calls for Israel’s eradication and the genocide of its Jewish population, cheer the deaths of Jewish civilians, and provide all possible aid to terrorists are not exactly innocent bystanders in this war.

Ponnuru is correct that American civilians can’t be legally targeted for acts of war conducted by their government overseas even if they happened to vote for that government. In that sense, the mere act of voting for Hamas or cheering their terrorist exploits does not make anyone in Gaza a legitimate target. But the distinction that Rosenbaum is attempting to make here is not one that would legitimize the wholesale slaughter of Hamas voters. Nor is Morris, when taken in context, advocating that. Rather, the point here is that those who actively assist Hamas “military” actions are not mere civilians.

But there is a broader point here that touches on just war theories.

As Ponnuru rightly notes, just war theory demands that we always distinguish between soldiers and civilians. But what we should understand is that as much as compassion should be extended to every human being in difficult situations no matter what their beliefs, the attempt to falsely brand Israel as behaving brutally must also be put in the context of a conflict that is happening specifically because Hamas believes killing more Jews will increase its popularity. One need not forfeit sympathy for injured Palestinian children to realize that if their society honors terrorism and incites hatred for Israel, the ensuing violence will take a terrible toll on its people. Those who point out that many of those decrying Israeli strikes on Gaza are themselves advocates of genocide against Israelis are not being callous. They are merely calling Palestinians to account for the culture of violence they have embraced at a time when much of the world is prepared to give them a pass. The suffering of their people will not abate until they reject that culture. To say so is not immoral. It is merely the truth.

Read Less

David Remnick’s Distorted Judgment

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Read More

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:

He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.

Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.

To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.

One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”

It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.

And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?

It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.

Read Less

While West Dithers, ISIS Creates Facts on the Ground

“ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected.”

Read More

“ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected.”

So wrote my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Janine Davidson on July 24. And that was before this weekend’s reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had routed Kurdish fighters from the town of Sinjar near the Iraq-Syria border–one of the few border posts it did not already control–and that it may have taken control of the Mosul dam, which if blown up could flood much of northern Iraq with a 65-foot wave.

Other reports indicate that ISIS has taken control of a Syrian oil field near Homs. As the Washington Post notes in a very comprehensive round-up of depressing news: “Experts estimate the group is pocketing as much as $3 million per day in oil revenue by selling off resources on black markets in the greater Levant.” Oh and ISIS also just staged an attack in yet another country–Lebanon.

In short, the news is about as bad as it could be. The question that remains is: What is the U.S. doing about it? So far President Obama has dispatched 825 military personnel to Iraq to make a survey of the situation and to conduct some liaison work with the Iraqis in two headquarters. That’s about it, aside from some fiery rhetoric from Washington denouncing ISIS excesses. One wonders if the president is once again assuming that denouncing something is the same thing as doing something about it.

There are no air strikes, no Special Operations raids, no attempts to rally Sunni tribesmen to resist their new overlords. Granted, one should not rush willy-nilly into action before gaining an accurate assessment of the situation and deploying the resources necessary to be successful. That is why, for example, the Bush administration did not start bombing Afghanistan until weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But one fears that this time around the U.S. is not preparing a devastating response–or any meaningful response at all–to the alarming expansion of Islamist terrorist control in Iraq and Syria.

One fears that Washington is busy analyzing while ISIS is altering facts on the ground. And that eventually we will hear about Iraq the same thing we have been hearing about Syria: that the situation is so grim that there is nothing we can do about it. That, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy–the less we do, the worse the situation gets, and the less likely we are to intervene in any form.

Read Less

Hamas Reaps Perverse Rewards of Its Media Strategy

If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

Read More

If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

Hamas has presented Israel with a no-win situation: Either the Israel Defense Forces declare Hamas militants and weapons off-limits for attacks (in which case Hamas can continue barraging Israel with its rockets and sending its terrorists to infiltrate via tunnels so they can kidnap and kill Israelis) or Israel attacks Hamas installations and produces inevitable collateral damage which then creates sad but true stories of innocent civilians getting killed.

The world, perversely if expectedly, draws a simple moral from all this: Not that Hamas is guilty of war crimes (which it is) by hiding its military infrastructure in civilian areas but that Israel is guilty of war crimes (which it isn’t) for targeting that infrastructure while doing its level best to avoid civilian casualties.

Even observers who are willing to admit that Israel has a right to self-defense then play the Hamas game by subjecting every single Israeli military operation to the kind of minute scrutiny that no other military in the world–not even the American Armed Forces–must face. For instance, there is this New York Times investigative article which begins: “An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.”

I have no idea precisely what happened during the operation which apparently hit a school in Gaza on July 30–and neither does the New York Times, because its reporters were able to get only one side of the story. That is, they are able to get the story provided by Hamas, which is happy to allow Palestinian civilians to be interviewed as long as they say what they’re supposed to say (namely, to blame all casualties on the Zionist imperialists).

Journalists know they are at risk of violent retribution from Hamas if they report how that terrorist organization is, for example, firing rockets from the parking lot of Al Shifa hospital, something that was only reported by an obscure Finnish TV reporter.

Or as an Italian journalist tweeted after leaving Gaza: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”

Those journalists who remain in Gaza, whatever their noble intentions, are serving as a mouthpiece, intentional or not, for the story that Hamas–an organization openly dedicated to genocide–wants the world to hear. This is a brilliant use of “information warfare” on the part of the terrorists, but it’s a disgrace that so many well-meaning people fall for the Hamas line without bothering to learn anything about the extraordinary care that Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties including routinely dropping leaflets on buildings before they are targeted.

Does the IDF still make mistakes and kill civilians they shouldn’t have killed? Of course. That’s the nature of war. Especially of a war fought against an enemy that disdains the most basic laws of war, which call for fighters to openly identify themselves and not shelter behind human shields. Is it tragic that Palestinian civilians are being killed? Of course.

But at the end of the day it’s hard to see what more the IDF can do to avoid public opprobrium without simply giving Hamas a free-fire license. As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz (no hawk he) says: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Unfortunately few people around the world bother to grapple with the moral complexity of his question–or to imagine what their own governments would do if thousands of rockets were raining down on their territory. It’s much easier to simply blame big bad Israel for the supposed “disproportionality” of its response.

Read Less

The Missing Pictures of Gaza

Last week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency posed an interesting question to the New York Times: Why isn’t it publishing any pictures of Hamas fighters in Gaza? The answer from the Times and from other media outlets about the lack of any depictions of Hamas terrorists or rocket launchings speaks volumes about the biased nature of much of the coverage of the war.

Read More

Last week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency posed an interesting question to the New York Times: Why isn’t it publishing any pictures of Hamas fighters in Gaza? The answer from the Times and from other media outlets about the lack of any depictions of Hamas terrorists or rocket launchings speaks volumes about the biased nature of much of the coverage of the war.

The answer from the Times communications shop was candid if not particularly helpful. According to their spokesman, out of the hundreds of images of the fighting filed from Gaza by their photographers, there wasn’t a single clear one of one of the two sides in the conflict. The same appears to be true of all the other major news outlets, not to mention the broadcast networks and cable news channels operating in Gaza in large numbers. How is it that we have yet to see a single photo or video of Hamas personnel launching rockets at Israel even though we know that has happened literally thousands of times in the last few weeks? Is it that the intrepid war correspondents and video teams just happened to miss the chance to take the picture every single time the rockets went up? Or is there some other explanation?

There is simply no way that the battalions of journalists wandering around in the relatively tight confines of Gaza could have possibly missed every time a rocket was launched. Nor are the excuses being put forward by some journalists when asked about this astonishing gap in their coverage credible. We know that Hamas has thousands of armed fighters in Gaza.

It is true that most spend as much time as possible in the underground city of tunnels and bunkers that Hamas has constructed at great expense underneath the narrow strip. But they are not vampires. It is possible to take a picture of them when they emerge from their lairs to launch attacks on their enemies or to indiscriminately shoot rockets at Israeli cities. Indeed, unless the foreign journalists in Gaza are making a concerted effort to avoid doing so it would be hard for them to have contrived not to bump into some of them in the course of their efforts to cover instances of Israeli fire causing Palestinian casualties. Since the Israelis are returning fire at Hamas personnel either launching rockets or conducting other military operations, it would be next to impossible for them not to have noticed their presence.

The answer is fairly obvious: despite denials, foreign journalists in Gaza take great care not to depict Hamas military actions because to do so would be to jeopardize their ability to continue to report from Gaza or, even worse, invite attacks from these terrorists. This is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happening. A generation ago, Thomas Friedman and others wrote about the difficulty of reporting accurately about the Palestine Liberation Organization when Yasir Arafat’s terrorists exercised their reign of terror in southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut. The same was true in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when CNN defended its exclusive niche in Baghdad by failing to tell the truth about what that evil regime was doing. Subsequent admissions from CNN about making tough decisions after Saddam’s fall make the network’s current disclaimers about its reporters and camera operators being subjected to intimidation ring false.

In saying this, I’m not castigating those reporters who are trying to report on the fighting in Gaza. It’s dangerous work in the best of circumstances and who are we to ask any of them to dare Hamas to kill them by taking pictures that would give the lie to the Islamists’ attempt to have the world believe the only thing going on in the strip is Israeli aggression and cruelty.

But that’s the reason why this is a topic that needs to be honestly addressed by the networks and publications that are helping to spread these talking points. If, as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough argued last week, the Jewish state is losing friends because of the pictures of horror emanating from Gaza, it’s fair to ask why those depictions are never balanced with footage or stills of the actions of terrorists inviting return fire from the Israelis.

To state this fact is not to deny that the suffering of civilians in Gaza is real. Nor can or should anyone claim that the injuries being inflicted on civilians by fire from Israeli aircraft or troops, including many children, is anything but horrific. There is no doubt that Israeli troops, like those American soldiers and marines operating under similarly restrictive rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes make mistakes. But to tell the story of this war without including the photographic and video proof of the way Hamas deliberately endangers Palestinian civilians is a travesty. Those who lecture Israel on the damage done to its image from the pictures of Palestinian children should at least have the guts to demand that those reporters and photographers working in Gaza either start doing their jobs or admit that they are either being intimidated from doing so or are engaging in biased journalism.

Read Less

The Price in Palestinian Lives of Israel’s Gaza Pullout

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Read More

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Here, too, a comparison to the second intifada is instructive. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, 1,727 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between September 2000, when the intifada began, and the August 2005 pullout. Since then, the numbers have soared. Another 1,271 Palestinians were killed between the pullout and December 2008, when the first Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began; 1,391 were killed during that war, and 481 between then and the start of the current war. That’s 3,143 Palestinian fatalities in total, and Palestinians claim another 1,600 or so have been killed during this war. So even if you assume, which I do, that B’Tselem’s numbers are exaggerated (it tends to believe Palestinian reports far too uncritically), the trend is undeniable: Since the pullout, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has produced more than twice as many Palestinian fatalities as the peak years of the second intifada did.

Moreover, as in the case of Israeli fatalities, this increase represents a sharp contrast to the trend in the West Bank, which the Israel Defense Forces still control: There, Palestinian fatalities have fallen from 1,491 between September 2000 and August 2005 to 395 in the nine years since August 2005, meaning annual fatalities have fallen by more than 85 percent (they haven’t dropped to zero because neither has Palestinian terror; terror attacks still kill Israelis every year, but the level is dramatically lower than at the height of the intifada).

The question is why Palestinian fatalities in Gaza have risen so sharply. The anti-Israel crowd will doubtless cite this fact as “proof” that recent Israeli premiers are even more bloodthirsty than “the butcher of Beirut,” as they fondly dubbed Ariel Sharon, the prime minister during the second intifada. But anyone not convinced that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu are simply monsters who like eating Palestinian children for breakfast will have to consider the obvious alternative: Palestinian casualties have soared because the IDF’s departure from Gaza allowed terrorist organizations to entrench their rockets, tunnels, and explosives among the civilian population in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

In the current war, Palestinians have stored rockets in schools and launched them from hospitals and from amid civilian houses. They have built cross-border tunnels to attack Israel that pass under civilian houses and emerge straight into a mosque. They have booby-trapped civilian houses and even health clinics. In short, by embedding their war material among the civilian population, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have made it impossible for the IDF to target them without also hitting civilians.

This Hamas strategy increases Palestinian casualties in another way as well: by magnifying the impact of any Israeli strike. Precision bombs can sometimes take out a building without touching the ones next to it. But precision strikes don’t work when the building they hit is booby-trapped or serves as a rocket warehouse; in that case, secondary explosions will create a much broader swathe of destruction. And Israel has no way of knowing when a target has been booby-trapped; Hamas doesn’t provide it with maps.

Problems like this didn’t arise when the IDF still controlled Gaza, because it could take preventive action to keep Hamas from entrenching war material in civilian areas to begin with. And that’s precisely why counterterrorism operations in the IDF-controlled West Bank have produced vastly lower Palestinian casualties.

Hamas certainly isn’t going to abandon its “dead baby strategy” voluntarily; conducting operations from amid a civilian population so as to maximize civilian casualties has proven wildly successful in turning the world against Israel. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Should the IDF ever leave the West Bank, the pullout won’t just result in more dead Israelis. It will certainly result in more dead Palestinians as well.

Read Less

Rewarding Hamas for Its Crimes

Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

Read More

Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

The most immediate reward for Hamas has been in the field of public relations, and here the international media–perhaps unwittingly–has been incredibly cooperative. A public-relations victory for Hamas does not require anyone to say anything nice about Hamas. The objective is simply to tarnish Israel in an effort to mobilize world opinion against the Jewish state. Hamas’s extensive use of human shields must be primarily understood in this context. By embedding its terror infrastructure in civilian areas Hamas doesn’t simply seek to deter Israeli attacks, but inevitably this tactic is about pushing up the civilian casualty rate on its own side. The more civilians killed in Gaza, the better it is for Hamas.

The greater attention the media devotes to these casualties, the more hysterically it flaunts these images of apparent Israeli barbarism, the more Israel is condemned and the more it comes under pressure to restrain its military activities against Hamas. The very upsurge in killing that reporters declare must be brought to an end is in fact encouraged by their own incessant reporting. The more that the press emphasizes civilian suffering in Gaza, the more it is in Hamas’s interest to keep that suffering coming. Hence, Hamas has learned that the prime location to operate from is adjacent to UN facilities. Israel then has the choice of either not returning fire or doing so with the risk of hitting a UN compound and thus igniting a frenzy of condemnation against itself.

This condemnation at the diplomatic level is another key part of the Hamas strategy. An Israel that is chastised by its allies for these military operations soon becomes unable to do anything meaningful to counter Hamas. Furthermore, this kind of open criticism adds to a wider perception that Israel should be isolated and perhaps even ejected from the community of nations. The decision by the UN human rights council to investigate war crimes in Gaza is a particularly important victory for Hamas on this front. It is true that the UNHRC is supposed to be investigating Hamas as well as Israel, but since Hamas is already a proscribed terrorist organization it really has nothing to lose as far as international standing is concerned. Israel, on the other hand, has very much to lose from being presented in this way.

Hamas always knew that in provoking this war it would cause a humanitarian crisis that would in turn lead to an international outcry. Western publics appalled by the images being endlessly flashed across their television screens will understandably demand that “something be done.” That something comes in the form generous pledges of financial assistance for Gaza. Prior to the outbreak of this war Hamas was broke. It couldn’t even afford to pay its civil servants. Now every government around the world is writing big checks for the authorities in Gaza; the U.S. alone has pledged $47 million. But since Hamas runs the ministries and public services of Gaza, this financial assistance will help keep Hamas rule afloat well into the foreseeable future.

This of course is the third war in Gaza in recent years. It should be clear by now that culpability rests with Hamas. Each time these wars have erupted at the point that increasing rocket fire from Gaza forced an Israeli response. Yet Western leaders—most prominently president Obama–have gradually been adopting the Hamas narrative that insists the underlying cause of all of this violence is actually Israeli policy, and that while the rockets may be illegitimate, they are the result of legitimate Palestinian grievances. These grievances, we’re told, center on the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza. In reality that blockade only concerns items that could potentially be used for terrorist activities, but Hamas insists Gaza’s borders must be fully open. Such a move would not only bolster Hamas rule but it would allow for a free flow of weapons into Gaza.

It appears that negotiations for a full truce will soon commence in Cairo and an expectant Hamas has submitted an extensive list of demands. But we’ve been here before. Last time there was a war in Gaza it ended with the November 2012 ceasefire agreement that greatly eased the blockade and granted a host of other concessions to Hamas. We now risk sending the message that whenever Hamas would like some more concessions it need only let us know by provoking another war and getting large numbers of Palestinians killed. This is a crime. If the world is serious about preventing yet another Gaza war erupting in the near future, then it must resist rewarding Hamas for these outrages. That means no concessions at the diplomatic level and  a recognition that the Western media’s addiction to dramatic footage is causing it to serve as the primary outlet for Hamas’s emotive propaganda war.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.