Commentary Magazine


Topic: America

The Logic Behind Israel’s Parliamentary Inquiry on NGO Funding

Israel’s much-discussed parliamentary inquiry into nongovernmental organizations’ funding seems set to go ahead, after the ruling Likud Party’s Knesset faction voted yesterday to support it. The inquiry carries real risks, as it could easily degenerate into McCarthyism. But if done right, it could serve the same valuable purpose many previous parliamentary inquiries have: providing the Knesset with the information needed to craft sensible legislation.

The inquiry’s opponents charge that since it will focus on leftist NGOs specifically, it can’t be anything but a political witch hunt. Yet there’s a valid reason for this focus that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of NGO funding in Israel.

Almost all Israeli NGOs receive funding from foreign individuals or foundations, and most would likely collapse without it. That widely known fact makes an inquiry into foreign donations in general unnecessary, because no MK would even consider curbing them: it would destroy Israel’s nonprofit sector. At most, the Knesset may (and should) promulgate regulations to increase transparency.

Hence the inquiry is focusing on one specific subset of foreign funding that gained prominence due to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war: funding by foreign governments.

Set up by the virulently anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Committee was never intended to be anything but a tool to bludgeon Israel. Thus the fact that certain Israeli NGOs collaborated with it made many Israelis question their hitherto widely accepted claim to have Israel’s best interests at heart — especially when it later emerged that many of the anti-Israel allegations they supplied were false. Even Hamas, for instance, now admits that Israel’s army was right and Israeli NGOs wrong about the combatant-to-civilian casualty ratio.

When it also emerged that many of these groups receive funding from foreign governments, Israelis concluded that this issue needed to be addressed. But right now, that is impossible, because too much crucial information is unknown.

How many groups are funded by foreign governments? Are foreign governments a major or marginal source of these groups’ funding? Are government donations mainly made directly or channeled through foreign foundations? Without answers to such questions, it’s impossible even to decide whether legislation is really needed, much less craft sensible regulations.

One thing, however, is known: foreign governments fund left-wing NGOs exclusively. They don’t fund groups that, for instance, build Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Hence, to investigate this issue, the Knesset has to focus on left-wing groups.

Previous parliamentary inquiries have successfully amassed information that led to legislation. A five-year inquiry into Holocaust-era assets in Israel, for instance, recently resulted in the establishment of a government company to restitute such assets. And while NGO funding is clearly a more controversial topic, legislatures elsewhere often hold inquiries on equally controversial subjects — for example, Rep. Peter King’s planned congressional hearings on radical Islam in America — for the same reason: to find out what the scope of a problem really is.

The NGO inquiry could easily go wrong. But in principle, it’s a legitimate use of legislative powers for legislative ends. And it deserves to be treated as such.

Israel’s much-discussed parliamentary inquiry into nongovernmental organizations’ funding seems set to go ahead, after the ruling Likud Party’s Knesset faction voted yesterday to support it. The inquiry carries real risks, as it could easily degenerate into McCarthyism. But if done right, it could serve the same valuable purpose many previous parliamentary inquiries have: providing the Knesset with the information needed to craft sensible legislation.

The inquiry’s opponents charge that since it will focus on leftist NGOs specifically, it can’t be anything but a political witch hunt. Yet there’s a valid reason for this focus that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of NGO funding in Israel.

Almost all Israeli NGOs receive funding from foreign individuals or foundations, and most would likely collapse without it. That widely known fact makes an inquiry into foreign donations in general unnecessary, because no MK would even consider curbing them: it would destroy Israel’s nonprofit sector. At most, the Knesset may (and should) promulgate regulations to increase transparency.

Hence the inquiry is focusing on one specific subset of foreign funding that gained prominence due to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war: funding by foreign governments.

Set up by the virulently anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Committee was never intended to be anything but a tool to bludgeon Israel. Thus the fact that certain Israeli NGOs collaborated with it made many Israelis question their hitherto widely accepted claim to have Israel’s best interests at heart — especially when it later emerged that many of the anti-Israel allegations they supplied were false. Even Hamas, for instance, now admits that Israel’s army was right and Israeli NGOs wrong about the combatant-to-civilian casualty ratio.

When it also emerged that many of these groups receive funding from foreign governments, Israelis concluded that this issue needed to be addressed. But right now, that is impossible, because too much crucial information is unknown.

How many groups are funded by foreign governments? Are foreign governments a major or marginal source of these groups’ funding? Are government donations mainly made directly or channeled through foreign foundations? Without answers to such questions, it’s impossible even to decide whether legislation is really needed, much less craft sensible regulations.

One thing, however, is known: foreign governments fund left-wing NGOs exclusively. They don’t fund groups that, for instance, build Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Hence, to investigate this issue, the Knesset has to focus on left-wing groups.

Previous parliamentary inquiries have successfully amassed information that led to legislation. A five-year inquiry into Holocaust-era assets in Israel, for instance, recently resulted in the establishment of a government company to restitute such assets. And while NGO funding is clearly a more controversial topic, legislatures elsewhere often hold inquiries on equally controversial subjects — for example, Rep. Peter King’s planned congressional hearings on radical Islam in America — for the same reason: to find out what the scope of a problem really is.

The NGO inquiry could easily go wrong. But in principle, it’s a legitimate use of legislative powers for legislative ends. And it deserves to be treated as such.

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A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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LIVE BLOG: Limited Government or Greece

Ryan’s speech lays down the choice for America: embrace limited government or face the fate of Greece.

Ryan’s speech lays down the choice for America: embrace limited government or face the fate of Greece.

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LIVE BLOG: Belief in America Is What Truly Unites Us

The conclusion to the speech was properly Reaganesque in its optimistic belief in America. Most of the speech was a weak attempt to defend his record in expanding the role of government while trying to paper over the real differences that led to his party’s defeat last November. But his ending was a proper paean to the greatness of our nation. It was a good conclusion to a generally weak speech.

The conclusion to the speech was properly Reaganesque in its optimistic belief in America. Most of the speech was a weak attempt to defend his record in expanding the role of government while trying to paper over the real differences that led to his party’s defeat last November. But his ending was a proper paean to the greatness of our nation. It was a good conclusion to a generally weak speech.

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LIVE BLOG: I Guess He’s for Eminent-Domain Reform

In the course of praising America, Obama says that, in some countries, “If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad — no matter how many homes are bulldozed.” I guess he never read the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision allowing just such outrages if a state or city wants to do a favor to a large corporation or entity.

In the course of praising America, Obama says that, in some countries, “If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad — no matter how many homes are bulldozed.” I guess he never read the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision allowing just such outrages if a state or city wants to do a favor to a large corporation or entity.

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LIVE BLOG: Still in Denial About Iraq

Speaking of Iraq, Obama says: “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.” Translation: President Bush was right and I was wrong about that war, but I’ll never admit it.

Speaking of Iraq, Obama says: “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.” Translation: President Bush was right and I was wrong about that war, but I’ll never admit it.

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LIVE BLOG: Contradiction II

This:

None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from.

And this:

We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.

Sounds like he’s decided the next big industry is clean energy, doesn’t it?

This:

None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from.

And this:

We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.

Sounds like he’s decided the next big industry is clean energy, doesn’t it?

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LIVE BLOG: Obama on American Exceptionalism

President Obama is still talking American greatness: “What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

Bill Kristol first noted this change in Obama’s references to America in early January.

President Obama is still talking American greatness: “What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

Bill Kristol first noted this change in Obama’s references to America in early January.

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LIVE BLOG: We’re Pretty Good, After All

Finally, Obama sounds impressed by his country:

Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.

This is a welcome shift from the two-plus years of hearing about how we’re okay but nothing to brag about. Doubtless, he’s realized that the national confidence-suppression workshop gave us a complex we can now ill afford if we hope to excel.

And then this declaration of American exceptionalism:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea — the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.

It’s been a long time coming.

Finally, Obama sounds impressed by his country:

Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.

This is a welcome shift from the two-plus years of hearing about how we’re okay but nothing to brag about. Doubtless, he’s realized that the national confidence-suppression workshop gave us a complex we can now ill afford if we hope to excel.

And then this declaration of American exceptionalism:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea — the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.

It’s been a long time coming.

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LIVE BLOG: Yes, America Is Still Great

Obama’s rhetoric about America’s continuing greatness is welcome and very much to the point, especially in contrast to the whining about China that we hear from people like the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman, who seems to envy its autocracy.

Obama’s rhetoric about America’s continuing greatness is welcome and very much to the point, especially in contrast to the whining about China that we hear from people like the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman, who seems to envy its autocracy.

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Rep. Ackerman Throws J Street Under the Bus

Despite J Street’s eagerness to blame its “political enemies” for its public-relations troubles, all its image problems have been brought on by itself. Nobody forced the group the take money from George Soros, surreptitiously aide Richard Goldstone, and engage in unethical self-dealing. These actions are a sign of a deep-seated moral corruption within the organization, and they’re likely to keep occurring unless the group dismantles its leadership entirely.

This seems to be the realization that one of J Street’s strongest political allies, Rep. Gary Ackerman, came to today. Appalled that the organization is supporting the pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the congressman has told J Street in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with them anymore:

“After learning of J-Street’s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and—critically—would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”

And Ackerman is by no means opposed to progressive pro-Israel groups — he just notes that J Street isn’t one of them.

“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” said the congressman. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”

This is the strongest sign so far that J Street’s political support on Capitol Hill has completely dried up. Ackerman isn’t denouncing the group in a last-minute attempt to win an election, as other politicians have done. He’s doing it because being linked to J Street has become a political liability even when it’s not a campaign season.

He’s also doing it because J Street’s actions over the past year — culminating in its support for this UN resolution — have made it impossible to logically claim that the group is still pro-Israel.

Ackerman rightly notes that J Street’s support for the resolution “is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

In a press release for a fundraiser that J Street held for Ackerman and a few other members of Congress just three months ago, the group called the politicians “excellent advocates for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in Congress and courageous leaders on other progressive issues as well.”

And now Ackerman — lauded as “progressive” and “pro-Israel, pro-peace” by J Street — has concluded that J Street can no longer be considered pro-Israel. That should certainly give other J Street supporters in Congress pause (that is, if there are any of them still left).

Despite J Street’s eagerness to blame its “political enemies” for its public-relations troubles, all its image problems have been brought on by itself. Nobody forced the group the take money from George Soros, surreptitiously aide Richard Goldstone, and engage in unethical self-dealing. These actions are a sign of a deep-seated moral corruption within the organization, and they’re likely to keep occurring unless the group dismantles its leadership entirely.

This seems to be the realization that one of J Street’s strongest political allies, Rep. Gary Ackerman, came to today. Appalled that the organization is supporting the pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the congressman has told J Street in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with them anymore:

“After learning of J-Street’s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and—critically—would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”

And Ackerman is by no means opposed to progressive pro-Israel groups — he just notes that J Street isn’t one of them.

“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” said the congressman. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”

This is the strongest sign so far that J Street’s political support on Capitol Hill has completely dried up. Ackerman isn’t denouncing the group in a last-minute attempt to win an election, as other politicians have done. He’s doing it because being linked to J Street has become a political liability even when it’s not a campaign season.

He’s also doing it because J Street’s actions over the past year — culminating in its support for this UN resolution — have made it impossible to logically claim that the group is still pro-Israel.

Ackerman rightly notes that J Street’s support for the resolution “is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

In a press release for a fundraiser that J Street held for Ackerman and a few other members of Congress just three months ago, the group called the politicians “excellent advocates for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in Congress and courageous leaders on other progressive issues as well.”

And now Ackerman — lauded as “progressive” and “pro-Israel, pro-peace” by J Street — has concluded that J Street can no longer be considered pro-Israel. That should certainly give other J Street supporters in Congress pause (that is, if there are any of them still left).

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The Guardian‘s Spin on the Palestine Papers

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

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Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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Democracy and Homogeneity in Tunisia

As we try to determine the odds of a successful democracy in post-revolution Tunisia, it’s worth considering the question of ethnic and religious homogeneity. This quote jumped out from a Reuters story: “‘Tunisia is a small country but it has room for everyone and everyone’s ideas. They thought there would be chaos in Tunisia but we are united. We do not have Shi’ites, Christians, Jews. We are all Sunni Muslims and this unites us,’ worshipper Rida Harrathi told Reuters before Friday prayers.”

The argument that there’s room for everyone because everyone is the same sounds funny to American ears, but there’s actually a solid point here. In a wonderful COMMENTARY article from March 2000, James Q. Wilson identified homogeneity as one of four important conditions that have “underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies.” (The other three being isolation, property, and tradition.) Wilson wrote the following:

Several democratic nations are today ethnically diverse, but at the time democracy was being established, that diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English; so also, by and large, were Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. . . . I am not suggesting that ethnic homogeneity is a good thing or ought to be preserved at any cost; nor am I denying that democracies can become ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly one of the great glories of the United States is to have become both vigorously democratic and ethnically diverse. But it is a rare accomplishment. Historically, and with few exceptions, the growth of democracy and of respect for human rights was made easier—often much easier—to accomplish in nations that had a more or less common culture.

Indeed, in the formative years of a nation, ethnic diversity can be as great a problem as foreign enemies. The time, power, and money that must be devoted to maintaining one ethnic group in power is at least equivalent to the resources needed to protect against a foreign enemy. When one part of a people thinks another part is unworthy of rights, it is hard for a government to act in the name of the “rights of the people.” That is why democracy in England preceded democracy in the United Kingdom: because many parts of that kingdom—the Scots, the Irish—had very different views about who should rule them and how.

This was written three years before the Iraq invasion, but its wisdom readily brings to mind the ongoing challenges of uniting Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis to serve a common national purpose. In addition to being saturated by Sunni Islam, the Tunisian population doesn’t have much in the way of meaningful ethnic division. There are many Berbers among the Arabs, but they’ve all more-or-less assimilated. As the revolt in Tunisia has thrown us all into the tea-leaves-reading business, we could do a lot worse than to consider the question of democracy from this reality-based angle.

As we try to determine the odds of a successful democracy in post-revolution Tunisia, it’s worth considering the question of ethnic and religious homogeneity. This quote jumped out from a Reuters story: “‘Tunisia is a small country but it has room for everyone and everyone’s ideas. They thought there would be chaos in Tunisia but we are united. We do not have Shi’ites, Christians, Jews. We are all Sunni Muslims and this unites us,’ worshipper Rida Harrathi told Reuters before Friday prayers.”

The argument that there’s room for everyone because everyone is the same sounds funny to American ears, but there’s actually a solid point here. In a wonderful COMMENTARY article from March 2000, James Q. Wilson identified homogeneity as one of four important conditions that have “underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies.” (The other three being isolation, property, and tradition.) Wilson wrote the following:

Several democratic nations are today ethnically diverse, but at the time democracy was being established, that diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English; so also, by and large, were Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. . . . I am not suggesting that ethnic homogeneity is a good thing or ought to be preserved at any cost; nor am I denying that democracies can become ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly one of the great glories of the United States is to have become both vigorously democratic and ethnically diverse. But it is a rare accomplishment. Historically, and with few exceptions, the growth of democracy and of respect for human rights was made easier—often much easier—to accomplish in nations that had a more or less common culture.

Indeed, in the formative years of a nation, ethnic diversity can be as great a problem as foreign enemies. The time, power, and money that must be devoted to maintaining one ethnic group in power is at least equivalent to the resources needed to protect against a foreign enemy. When one part of a people thinks another part is unworthy of rights, it is hard for a government to act in the name of the “rights of the people.” That is why democracy in England preceded democracy in the United Kingdom: because many parts of that kingdom—the Scots, the Irish—had very different views about who should rule them and how.

This was written three years before the Iraq invasion, but its wisdom readily brings to mind the ongoing challenges of uniting Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis to serve a common national purpose. In addition to being saturated by Sunni Islam, the Tunisian population doesn’t have much in the way of meaningful ethnic division. There are many Berbers among the Arabs, but they’ve all more-or-less assimilated. As the revolt in Tunisia has thrown us all into the tea-leaves-reading business, we could do a lot worse than to consider the question of democracy from this reality-based angle.

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‘Conversing’ About Afghanistan

I had not previously suspected that Grover Norquist has quite the sense of humor. I had thought of him as a dour ideologue, but he shows hidden strains of mirth in responding to my blog post expressing skepticism about his attempts to rally a “center-right” coalition against the Afghan war. The Daily Caller quotes him as follows:

Norquist said Boot’s comments underscore the need for a real debate on America’s strategy in the Af-Pak theatre. “OK, people for whom everything is World War II haven’t read much history. Because they have no other analogies other than things they have seen from World War II movies,” he told me. “There’s got to be a better case for what we’re doing in Afghanistan than Max Boot’s. Somewhere. ‘Shut up’, he argued. It’s, you know, it’s embarrassing.”

At the same time, Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet. “I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” he said. “There are guys who do this for a living, and they’re focused on it, who have strong criticisms of the status quo in different places. I’m very comfortable saying this is not for free and that the benefits are not clear to me. Could we have a conversation about the cost, and please make the benefits clear to me and others?”

“When somebody says ‘I don’t want to have a conversation about [what] this costs, I don’t want to have a conversation about what the benefits are, I surely don’t want to be asked what the point of this is’. … I think they have a weak case, because I do other things in life, right? But [proponents of the war] are focused on this all day. They think they have a weak case, and that’s scary, that’s frightening. I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

I will bypass his jape about not reading “much history,” which as it happens is what I do pretty much all day, every day — it’s necessary to read a lot of history to write your own works of history, which is what I spend most of my time doing.

I am more amused by his attempt to walk away from his viewpoint. As Alana pointed out earlier, he’s not really suggesting getting out of Afghanistan, he claims; he just wants to have a “conversation” about it. As if we had not debated it before, ad nauseum. Grover may not have noticed while he was doing “other things in life,” but this conversation has been going on for quite some time, both inside and outside the administration. I am hardly “embarrassed” to debate the merits of the war effort. If he is interested in my explanation of why we can win and why we must do so, he might start by reading two COMMENTARY articles I wrote — here and here.

I am hard put to see, however, why we must revive the debate now on Norquist’s say-so. President Obama — hardly a hawk — oversaw a fairly intensive debate within the administration in the fall of 2009. The surge strategy he approved then is only now being implemented. It makes sense to wait until we see how it plays out before starting a “conversation” about a pullout. Read More

I had not previously suspected that Grover Norquist has quite the sense of humor. I had thought of him as a dour ideologue, but he shows hidden strains of mirth in responding to my blog post expressing skepticism about his attempts to rally a “center-right” coalition against the Afghan war. The Daily Caller quotes him as follows:

Norquist said Boot’s comments underscore the need for a real debate on America’s strategy in the Af-Pak theatre. “OK, people for whom everything is World War II haven’t read much history. Because they have no other analogies other than things they have seen from World War II movies,” he told me. “There’s got to be a better case for what we’re doing in Afghanistan than Max Boot’s. Somewhere. ‘Shut up’, he argued. It’s, you know, it’s embarrassing.”

At the same time, Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet. “I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” he said. “There are guys who do this for a living, and they’re focused on it, who have strong criticisms of the status quo in different places. I’m very comfortable saying this is not for free and that the benefits are not clear to me. Could we have a conversation about the cost, and please make the benefits clear to me and others?”

“When somebody says ‘I don’t want to have a conversation about [what] this costs, I don’t want to have a conversation about what the benefits are, I surely don’t want to be asked what the point of this is’. … I think they have a weak case, because I do other things in life, right? But [proponents of the war] are focused on this all day. They think they have a weak case, and that’s scary, that’s frightening. I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

I will bypass his jape about not reading “much history,” which as it happens is what I do pretty much all day, every day — it’s necessary to read a lot of history to write your own works of history, which is what I spend most of my time doing.

I am more amused by his attempt to walk away from his viewpoint. As Alana pointed out earlier, he’s not really suggesting getting out of Afghanistan, he claims; he just wants to have a “conversation” about it. As if we had not debated it before, ad nauseum. Grover may not have noticed while he was doing “other things in life,” but this conversation has been going on for quite some time, both inside and outside the administration. I am hardly “embarrassed” to debate the merits of the war effort. If he is interested in my explanation of why we can win and why we must do so, he might start by reading two COMMENTARY articles I wrote — here and here.

I am hard put to see, however, why we must revive the debate now on Norquist’s say-so. President Obama — hardly a hawk — oversaw a fairly intensive debate within the administration in the fall of 2009. The surge strategy he approved then is only now being implemented. It makes sense to wait until we see how it plays out before starting a “conversation” about a pullout.

Or is the war of such urgent fiscal concern that we need to pull out tomorrow? Hardly. We are spending roughly $100 billion a year in Afghanistan. Our budget deficit last year was $1.29 trillion. So even if we suddenly stopped all spending on Afghanistan, that would reduce the deficit by less than 8 percent. But of course, not even most advocates of a troop drawdown suggest that we should abandon Afghanistan entirely. Most agree we need to keep Special Operations forces there, keep trainers there to help the Afghan Security Forces, etc. So our actual savings would be considerably less than that. There are many reasons for opposing the war effort, but Norquist’s chosen argument — calling for fiscal rectitude by withdrawing — is not terribly compelling.

Nor am I convinced by a poll sponsored by the liberal New America Foundation, with which Norquist has affiliated himself, claiming that most conservatives favor drawing down our troop numbers now. I suspect this is typical of the partisan “polls” that Washington operatives like Norquist put together to make their cause du jour appear more popular than it actually is. In reality, Republicans in Congress are solidly behind the war effort; I rather doubt they do so in the face of adamant opposition from their conservative constituents. In any case, I have not seen much sign of conservative opposition to the Afghan war effort — which is why Norquist is working with the New America Foundation, not, say, the Heritage Foundation.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: America: The Left’s Dispensable Nation

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Norquist Dodging, Again, on Afghanistan

If Grover Norquist wants U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan right now, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?

Last week, at a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation, Norquist tiptoed around the issue, but “stopped short of personally calling for a rapid withdrawal,” according to the Huffington Post.

Instead he called for a “conversation” on the war, saying that he was “confident about where that conversation would go” — i.e., in the direction of withdrawal.

And in an interview with the Daily Caller today, Norquist again avoided giving a direct answer. “Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet,” reported the Caller.

“I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” said Norquist, adding that “I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

Well, nobody is stopping him from having a conversation. In fact, the discussion has been going on for years inside the conservative movement. And, no, it hasn’t led to the conclusion that Norquist “confidently” alluded to but for some reason declined to say outright.

Could it be that Norquist isn’t yet ready to throw his lot in with those on the right who have openly supported withdrawal — Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimondo, for example?

Whatever the reason, it’s a good move on his part. By framing this as a “conversation,” Norquist can shoot out anti-war talking points while refusing to commit himself to a solid position on the issue. After all, he’s just asking questions, right?

If Grover Norquist wants U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan right now, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?

Last week, at a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation, Norquist tiptoed around the issue, but “stopped short of personally calling for a rapid withdrawal,” according to the Huffington Post.

Instead he called for a “conversation” on the war, saying that he was “confident about where that conversation would go” — i.e., in the direction of withdrawal.

And in an interview with the Daily Caller today, Norquist again avoided giving a direct answer. “Norquist insisted that he is not calling for America to pull out of the war — at least not yet,” reported the Caller.

“I see enough to say that I think about it, and that’s what I’ve tossed out there,” said Norquist, adding that “I just think we ought to have a conversation.”

Well, nobody is stopping him from having a conversation. In fact, the discussion has been going on for years inside the conservative movement. And, no, it hasn’t led to the conclusion that Norquist “confidently” alluded to but for some reason declined to say outright.

Could it be that Norquist isn’t yet ready to throw his lot in with those on the right who have openly supported withdrawal — Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimondo, for example?

Whatever the reason, it’s a good move on his part. By framing this as a “conversation,” Norquist can shoot out anti-war talking points while refusing to commit himself to a solid position on the issue. After all, he’s just asking questions, right?

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Replacing the White House Economic Team May Not Be Enough

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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