Commentary Magazine


Topic: American government

The Responsibility of Government

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a new report measuring the values and basic beliefs of the American people. There are a lot of fascinating findings in the report, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on. The Pew survey found that just 40 percent of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, fully 62 percent expressed this view. For independents, the figure has dropped from 70 percent in 1987 to 59 percent today.

Taken literally, this question means a solid majority of Republicans (60 percent) – as well as 41 percent of independents — don’t believe government should care for people who are suffering from dementia, Down syndrome, crippling disease, or debilitating war wounds. It would mean government has no role to play in unemployment insurance or medical coverage to low-income children. Government has no affirmative duty to care for those who are defenseless, vulnerable, handicapped, and have hit hard times through no fault of their own.

As a friend put it to me, if he were asked the question he would be inclined to think that it offered a careless way to put a point that he agrees with: that we have a responsibility to care for the needy among us and that government can be one very important means of meeting that responsibility. To say it is the responsibility of government to care for those who can’t take care of themselves, however, definitely rubs him the wrong way, though upon even modest reflection he would say he agrees with the idea being conveyed as opposed to its libertarian opposite.

Read More

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a new report measuring the values and basic beliefs of the American people. There are a lot of fascinating findings in the report, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on. The Pew survey found that just 40 percent of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, fully 62 percent expressed this view. For independents, the figure has dropped from 70 percent in 1987 to 59 percent today.

Taken literally, this question means a solid majority of Republicans (60 percent) – as well as 41 percent of independents — don’t believe government should care for people who are suffering from dementia, Down syndrome, crippling disease, or debilitating war wounds. It would mean government has no role to play in unemployment insurance or medical coverage to low-income children. Government has no affirmative duty to care for those who are defenseless, vulnerable, handicapped, and have hit hard times through no fault of their own.

As a friend put it to me, if he were asked the question he would be inclined to think that it offered a careless way to put a point that he agrees with: that we have a responsibility to care for the needy among us and that government can be one very important means of meeting that responsibility. To say it is the responsibility of government to care for those who can’t take care of themselves, however, definitely rubs him the wrong way, though upon even modest reflection he would say he agrees with the idea being conveyed as opposed to its libertarian opposite.

I would add that if the question was disaggregated and Republicans were asked whether they believed government had a role in helping, say, wounded veterans or those suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, there’s no question that the numbers would be hugely supportive. The survey question is probably a measure of people’s general attitudes toward government as opposed to particular government programs.

The question is probably still influenced as well by the public’s (proper) view that the federal government’s effort to aid the poor, especially in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), did genuine harm to the underclass. (AFDC was eventually replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program.)

In addition, my hunch is that we’re seeing the effects of the progressive overreach. When government combines unprecedented intrusiveness with incompetence, it leads to a deep distrust of our public institutions, including government itself. The view of the public, with all the proper caveats in place, is that government should do relatively few things well. In many respects, we have inverted this, with government doing far too many things poorly. The effect of this has been the near-complete discrediting of government itself.

In thinking through the large, complicated topic of the role and purpose of the state, then, a caution is in order. Skepticism toward government is often warranted and legitimate; contempt and outright hostility are not. It was Burke who averred that God instituted government as a means to human improvement. Government is not simply a necessary evil; so long as it acts within its proper boundaries and in a responsible fashion, it has a positive and constructive role to play in human affairs.

The end of government, we’re told in Federalist #51, is justice. Justice is defined as the quality of being impartial and fair and bestowing equal treatment. But it also means caring for the defenseless, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. This is a public as well as a private concern. A society ought to be judged on whether the weak and disadvantaged are cared for or exploited. And a just society is incompatible with one where government doesn’t care for people who can’t care for themselves.

Conservatives should be in the business of restoring confidence in the legitimacy of government by reminding people of its prescribed, limited and proper role in human society. And among those responsibilities is to care for those who can’t care for themselves. That understanding of the proper and humane use of the state has largely been lost; and it is the duty of responsible political leaders to reclaim it.

Read Less

Obama’s Unease with Free Enterprise

In a speech last week in St. Louis, Mitt Romney spoke about the “liberating power of the free enterprise system” and went on to say this:

That same system has helped lift more people out of poverty across the globe than any government program or competing economic system. The success of America’s free enterprise system has been a bright beacon of freedom for the world. It has signaled to oppressed people to rise up against their oppressors and given hope to the once hopeless. It is called the Free Enterprise System because we are both free to engage in enterprises, and through those enterprises we ensure our freedom.

For conservatives, this has been a terribly underutilized argument. When it comes to measuring an economic system based on its moral outcomes, there is simply no competitor when it comes to the free enterprise system. No economic system in history has come nearly as close as capitalism to raising the poor from the dust and elevating the dignity of the human person.

As Arthur Brooks and I explain in Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, there is a certain irony in the fact that capitalism is best at doing what it is most often accused of doing worst: distributing wealth to people at every social stratum rather than simply to elites. The evidence of history is clear on this point – the poor gain the most from capitalism, in part because, in most other economic systems, the game is rigged for the well-to-do. “The capitalist engine is first and last an engine of mass production,” is how the economist Joseph Schumpeter put it, “which unavoidably means also production for the masses…. It is the cheap cloth, the cheap fabric, boots, motor cars and so on that are the typical achievements of capitalist production and not as a rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man.”

Beyond that, capitalism places intrinsic limits on the authority of the state. It requires private spheres of human action that are beyond the reach of government. As Michael Novak has said, in a free society the state should be subsidium. It loses legitimacy as it encroaches into areas where it does not belong.

Read More

In a speech last week in St. Louis, Mitt Romney spoke about the “liberating power of the free enterprise system” and went on to say this:

That same system has helped lift more people out of poverty across the globe than any government program or competing economic system. The success of America’s free enterprise system has been a bright beacon of freedom for the world. It has signaled to oppressed people to rise up against their oppressors and given hope to the once hopeless. It is called the Free Enterprise System because we are both free to engage in enterprises, and through those enterprises we ensure our freedom.

For conservatives, this has been a terribly underutilized argument. When it comes to measuring an economic system based on its moral outcomes, there is simply no competitor when it comes to the free enterprise system. No economic system in history has come nearly as close as capitalism to raising the poor from the dust and elevating the dignity of the human person.

As Arthur Brooks and I explain in Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, there is a certain irony in the fact that capitalism is best at doing what it is most often accused of doing worst: distributing wealth to people at every social stratum rather than simply to elites. The evidence of history is clear on this point – the poor gain the most from capitalism, in part because, in most other economic systems, the game is rigged for the well-to-do. “The capitalist engine is first and last an engine of mass production,” is how the economist Joseph Schumpeter put it, “which unavoidably means also production for the masses…. It is the cheap cloth, the cheap fabric, boots, motor cars and so on that are the typical achievements of capitalist production and not as a rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man.”

Beyond that, capitalism places intrinsic limits on the authority of the state. It requires private spheres of human action that are beyond the reach of government. As Michael Novak has said, in a free society the state should be subsidium. It loses legitimacy as it encroaches into areas where it does not belong.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that capitalism is perfect, that it doesn’t ever become exploitive and self-destructive, or that regulations aren’t necessary. True friends of capitalism understand that it has to assist people through wrenching economic and social transitions. I understand, too, that President Obama claims to be a strong defender of capitalism. But what I have noticed is that when he speaks about capitalism and free enterprise, his words of praise are almost always qualified, minimalist, and pro forma. Their purpose appears to be inoculation, to prevent his critics from charging that Obama is not a strong defender of the free market and limited government. Yet the president’s record belies his claims.

The last three-and-a-half years, combined with his previous records, has a unifying theme to it: Barack Obama is constantly looking to expand the reach and power of government. He believes it’s the solution to almost everything that ails us. He reiterated that belief as recently as last week. There is no apparent off switch when it comes to the president’s spending habits.

In health care, Obama believes the solution is granting greater control to government, whereas conservatives believe the solution is granting greater control to individuals. For Obama, the word profit is almost always used despairingly, as synonymous for greed, as though it is an impairment rather than the engine of national wealth. He believes there is a moral imperative for government to redistribute wealth. He accuses strong champions of the free market (like Representative Paul Ryan) of supporting “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” And as the president’s stance toward Catholic institutions have shown, he wants to force religious institutions and civil society to bow and to bend to the will of government. His goal is for government to manage more and more of our private lives – not because he wishes us harm but because he believes it is in our self-interest. That is at the core of the progressive theory he clearly embraces.

The president is enchanted with the vision of a government-centered society to a degree that is highly unusual in American politics. That wasn’t as clear in 2008 as it is today. And it’s one reason why the outcome of the election this time around is likely to be different than the outcome of the election last time around.

Read Less

Sputnik, Egypt, and the Consensus

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

Read Less

Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

Read Less

Guess We’re Governable After All

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims. Read More

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims.

The present circumstance should serve as a “teachable moment” for those frustrated Obama enthusiasts who were more outraged by a non-compliant citizenry than they were by an entitled leadership. If there was a threat to the structural soundness of our democracy, it came not from voices of opposition but rather from the ideological bullies who assumed that dissent could only mean defectiveness. In a democracy, the machinery of governance comes to a halt when the people sense someone has tried to override the system. In despotic countries, friction can stop the gears. In the U.S., it’s the energy source that keeps things moving.

On matters of policy, this administration still has much to learn. A new NBC–Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest wrong-track number since Obama became president. The figure mostly reflects Americans’ concern about the economy and the government’s failure to raise employment prospects. As grim as things are, the good news is that America is now poised to tackle its toughest challenges. Accountability and ideological pluralism have come out of hiding. As Americans, we need to panic only when they go missing, not when our elected officials don’t get their way.

Read Less

A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

Read Less

WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Read Less

On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

Read Less

Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel’s] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him — to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel’s] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him — to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Read Less

Blocking Ricciardone

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

Read Less

What’s Really Eating David Axelrod

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

Read Less

Brooks Cheers Beck — Honest!

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

Read Less

Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Read Less

NY Times: Tax-Exempt Status Only for Groups That Agree with the Administration

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

Read Less

Delegitimizing the Delegitimizers

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

Read Less

Barack Obama vs. Jerusalem Day

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

Read Less

How the West’s Silence Undermines Its Mideast Policy

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

Read Less

Hillary Tilts Talks Even Further Against Israel

The New York Times noted today a curious use of wording by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to describe the United States approach to prospective peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Answering a question in a news conference about the possibility of more peace talks, Clinton stated explicitly what the basis of negotiations should be: “Of course, we believe that the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders.”

As the Times reported, this is not a new concept. This notion was at the heart of previous Israeli offers made first by Ehud Barak and then by Ehud Olmert. But what the Times fails to point out is that the Palestinians have always rejected every possible swap, insisting that every inch of the land illegally occupied by Jordan (in the West Bank and Jerusalem) and Egypt (in Gaza) should be part of a Palestinian state. But as the Times does correctly note:

Mrs. Clinton’s mention of them went farther than the Obama administration’s standard script on the Middle East: that the positions of Israel and the Palestinians can be reconciled. Analysts said it could augur a new American emphasis, after a frustrating year in which President Obama failed to jump-start the peace process by pressuring Israel to halt construction of settlements. In particular, Mrs. Clinton’s reference may appeal to the Palestinians, who have long declared that the 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations.

So far, the Palestinians have refused to restart talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions. What they want is for the United States to guarantee more Israeli concessions in advance of any talks that would mandate the Jewish state’s surrender of all of this territory, including Jerusalem, without giving up anything in exchange. This is not a basis for a negotiation but a diktat in which Israel will be forced to withdraw from territory that, as the experience of the withdrawal from Gaza showed, would soon be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks on Jewish targets. That is why there is virtually no support within Israel for more withdrawals under the current circumstances. The American effort to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party at the expense of his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza makes sense in that it is clearly in the interests of both Israel and the United States to undermine Hamas. But the idea that Fatah is any sense ready to make peace, or willing or able to make a deal allowing a single Jew to remain anywhere in the West Bank or in eastern Jerusalem, even if they were given parts of Israel as part of the transaction, is nothing more than a fantasy.

In the last year, the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlement freezes as part of a package of Israeli concessions to lure the Palestinians to the table achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, but to teach the Palestinians that if they keep saying no, they can escalate American pressure on Israel and widen the breach between Netanyahu’s popular coalition and an American government clearly more unsympathetic to Israel than any since the first president Bush.

This sort of pressure is exactly what left-wing groups like the J Street lobby seek as they launch a campaign to further undermine American Jewish support for Israel’s democratically elected government. That may please Obama and Clinton. But it also demonstrates just how disconnected both the administration and its left-wing Jewish cheerleaders are from the realities of the Middle East.

The New York Times noted today a curious use of wording by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to describe the United States approach to prospective peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Answering a question in a news conference about the possibility of more peace talks, Clinton stated explicitly what the basis of negotiations should be: “Of course, we believe that the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders.”

As the Times reported, this is not a new concept. This notion was at the heart of previous Israeli offers made first by Ehud Barak and then by Ehud Olmert. But what the Times fails to point out is that the Palestinians have always rejected every possible swap, insisting that every inch of the land illegally occupied by Jordan (in the West Bank and Jerusalem) and Egypt (in Gaza) should be part of a Palestinian state. But as the Times does correctly note:

Mrs. Clinton’s mention of them went farther than the Obama administration’s standard script on the Middle East: that the positions of Israel and the Palestinians can be reconciled. Analysts said it could augur a new American emphasis, after a frustrating year in which President Obama failed to jump-start the peace process by pressuring Israel to halt construction of settlements. In particular, Mrs. Clinton’s reference may appeal to the Palestinians, who have long declared that the 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations.

So far, the Palestinians have refused to restart talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions. What they want is for the United States to guarantee more Israeli concessions in advance of any talks that would mandate the Jewish state’s surrender of all of this territory, including Jerusalem, without giving up anything in exchange. This is not a basis for a negotiation but a diktat in which Israel will be forced to withdraw from territory that, as the experience of the withdrawal from Gaza showed, would soon be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks on Jewish targets. That is why there is virtually no support within Israel for more withdrawals under the current circumstances. The American effort to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party at the expense of his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza makes sense in that it is clearly in the interests of both Israel and the United States to undermine Hamas. But the idea that Fatah is any sense ready to make peace, or willing or able to make a deal allowing a single Jew to remain anywhere in the West Bank or in eastern Jerusalem, even if they were given parts of Israel as part of the transaction, is nothing more than a fantasy.

In the last year, the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlement freezes as part of a package of Israeli concessions to lure the Palestinians to the table achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, but to teach the Palestinians that if they keep saying no, they can escalate American pressure on Israel and widen the breach between Netanyahu’s popular coalition and an American government clearly more unsympathetic to Israel than any since the first president Bush.

This sort of pressure is exactly what left-wing groups like the J Street lobby seek as they launch a campaign to further undermine American Jewish support for Israel’s democratically elected government. That may please Obama and Clinton. But it also demonstrates just how disconnected both the administration and its left-wing Jewish cheerleaders are from the realities of the Middle East.

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.