Commentary Magazine


Topic: Americas

The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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Smearing 68% of America

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

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Re: Iran Strike, Out

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.'” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.'” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

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A Losing Season

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

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Friends, Enemies–What’s the Diff?

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

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A Mistake Hillary Could Not Afford

As the Jeremiah Wright scandal was breaking, I speculated that trouble of this sort for her rival was precisely the reason Hillary Clinton was staying in the race for the Democratic nomination — that the longer the primary season extended, the more chances there would be for Obama to stumble, and that she would be there to seize the baton and run for the finish line. But of course, the longer the primary season, the more chances there are for Hillary Clinton to stumble as well. And the difference between Obama and Clinton is that he can stumble and still win because he’s in the lead. She can’t afford to stumble at all if she is trying to gain on him.

And stumble she has. Her bizarre lie about the nonexistent sniper fire that threatened her in Bosnia was the first nail. The hurried departure of her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, is the second. It makes perfect sense that Penn has been defenestrated for doing something entirely sensible — meeting with representatives of a U.S. ally, Colombia, that wishes to pursue a closer trade relationship with us. Colombia is not only a friend of the United States; it is engaged in a battle with the worst player in the Americas, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which is trying to destabilize it. But because Hillary is engaged in a gross act of deception toward Democratic primary voters on the matter of free trade — which she has decided to oppose solely for P.T. Barnum reasons even as she would surely support it for every good reason once in the White House, — Penn had to go and go fast.

Whatever kind of error this was — Penn’s for taking the meeting, Hillary for employing Penn, or Hillary for chucking Penn out the door now when she might have done it more profitably two months ago once it became clear his strategy for her nomination had failed utterly —  it’s one error too many for her. How can she make the case that she is a better candidate in the general election than Obama if she can’t go five days without making a major blunder on the campaign trail?

She can’t.

As the Jeremiah Wright scandal was breaking, I speculated that trouble of this sort for her rival was precisely the reason Hillary Clinton was staying in the race for the Democratic nomination — that the longer the primary season extended, the more chances there would be for Obama to stumble, and that she would be there to seize the baton and run for the finish line. But of course, the longer the primary season, the more chances there are for Hillary Clinton to stumble as well. And the difference between Obama and Clinton is that he can stumble and still win because he’s in the lead. She can’t afford to stumble at all if she is trying to gain on him.

And stumble she has. Her bizarre lie about the nonexistent sniper fire that threatened her in Bosnia was the first nail. The hurried departure of her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, is the second. It makes perfect sense that Penn has been defenestrated for doing something entirely sensible — meeting with representatives of a U.S. ally, Colombia, that wishes to pursue a closer trade relationship with us. Colombia is not only a friend of the United States; it is engaged in a battle with the worst player in the Americas, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which is trying to destabilize it. But because Hillary is engaged in a gross act of deception toward Democratic primary voters on the matter of free trade — which she has decided to oppose solely for P.T. Barnum reasons even as she would surely support it for every good reason once in the White House, — Penn had to go and go fast.

Whatever kind of error this was — Penn’s for taking the meeting, Hillary for employing Penn, or Hillary for chucking Penn out the door now when she might have done it more profitably two months ago once it became clear his strategy for her nomination had failed utterly —  it’s one error too many for her. How can she make the case that she is a better candidate in the general election than Obama if she can’t go five days without making a major blunder on the campaign trail?

She can’t.

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IOWA: Edwards Just Doesn’t Like Greed

It was hard not to be impressed listening to John Edwards’s “second-place victory” speech.  It was a good rendition of his war on insurers, bankers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and fatcat CEOs, mixed with a lot of stuff about change,  a torch passed, a new generation, standing upon the shoulders of those who came before us, etc.  While it hasn’t lit the country on fire, his corporate greed message is clearly more powerful than his more analytical “Two Americas” speech of four years ago. He goes to New Hampshire against Obama’s, Hillary’s, and Romney’s $100 million campaigns.  That’s not the worst possible place to be.

It was hard not to be impressed listening to John Edwards’s “second-place victory” speech.  It was a good rendition of his war on insurers, bankers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and fatcat CEOs, mixed with a lot of stuff about change,  a torch passed, a new generation, standing upon the shoulders of those who came before us, etc.  While it hasn’t lit the country on fire, his corporate greed message is clearly more powerful than his more analytical “Two Americas” speech of four years ago. He goes to New Hampshire against Obama’s, Hillary’s, and Romney’s $100 million campaigns.  That’s not the worst possible place to be.

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Edwards’s Poverty Mistake

John Edwards’s vision of American economic suffering is neatly summed up in this quote, from 2004 campaign:

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

That second America refers to the middle- and working-classes, and particularly the poor. The government’s annual statistical report on household income and poverty—which this year indicated a drop in poverty from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006 but a net rise of 11.3 percent since 2000—seem on its surface to support Edward’s point of view.

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John Edwards’s vision of American economic suffering is neatly summed up in this quote, from 2004 campaign:

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

That second America refers to the middle- and working-classes, and particularly the poor. The government’s annual statistical report on household income and poverty—which this year indicated a drop in poverty from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006 but a net rise of 11.3 percent since 2000—seem on its surface to support Edward’s point of view.

As do the responses of left and centrist liberals. For example, Bernard Wasow of the Century Foundation contends that if poverty is measured properly, not in terms of what it costs to buy things but as the relative income of poor as compared to median households, poverty is worse than ever. Official poverty, notes Wasow, “has fallen from more than 40 percent of median income when it was introduced in 1964 to less than 30 percent of median income today.” In the center, the DLC blog Ideas Primary points out that for the third year in a row, full-time workers experienced a decline in median earnings. “Income went up,” says Katie Campbell, “because Americans must work more hours to make up for their falling wages.”

But economics writer Robert Samuelson says that the conventional wisdom that “poverty is stuck” is only “superficially” true. Samuelson argues that we are, in fact, importing poverty, and that comparisons with past census statistics miss the point. “Only an act of willful denial,” he argues, “can separate immigration and poverty.” Samuelson explains that while white and (even more sharply) black poverty have declined substantially, Hispanic poverty has been growing right along with large-scale immigration. This gives the lie to Edward’s vision of the Two Americas: rising poverty is a problem confined largely to a new immigrant population. Samuelson notes that

[f]rom 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006.

Samuelson is certainly right to argue, as he does later in the piece, that absence of an honest look at demographics makes the current poverty debate largely irrelevant. The Edwards stratagem, after all, makes sense to few Americans because it’s not consistent with what they’ve seen and experienced, and this inconsistency stems from its failure to take demographics into account.

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Confusion at the Quai Branly

When the Quai Branly Museum in Paris opened last June, it was greeted with both acclaim and outrage. For the New York Times, it was nothing less than “an act of dissent that forces us to feel the world again.” Not since Herbert Muschamp called the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao “a shimmering, Looney tunes, post-industrial, post-everything burst of American optimism wrapped in titanium” has the Times been so effusive in its praise. For others, however, the Quai Branly was offensively patronizing, presenting its ethnographic collection as a kind of fictitious Dark Continent hidden within a “mock jungle.” Recently I was able to inspect it for myself.

The Quai Branly originated in 1995, when it was decided to consolidate several anthropological and ethnographic collections in Paris, including that of the recently-defunct Museum of African and Oceanic Arts. These collections had become controversial and were perceived as the spoils and trophies of colonialism. The project was given to the architect Jean Nouvel and endorsed by President Jacques Chirac, who, like so many French rulers, sought to leave his mark on Paris.

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When the Quai Branly Museum in Paris opened last June, it was greeted with both acclaim and outrage. For the New York Times, it was nothing less than “an act of dissent that forces us to feel the world again.” Not since Herbert Muschamp called the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao “a shimmering, Looney tunes, post-industrial, post-everything burst of American optimism wrapped in titanium” has the Times been so effusive in its praise. For others, however, the Quai Branly was offensively patronizing, presenting its ethnographic collection as a kind of fictitious Dark Continent hidden within a “mock jungle.” Recently I was able to inspect it for myself.

The Quai Branly originated in 1995, when it was decided to consolidate several anthropological and ethnographic collections in Paris, including that of the recently-defunct Museum of African and Oceanic Arts. These collections had become controversial and were perceived as the spoils and trophies of colonialism. The project was given to the architect Jean Nouvel and endorsed by President Jacques Chirac, who, like so many French rulers, sought to leave his mark on Paris.


Recognizing the non-Western origin of its collections, Nouvel set about designing a non-Western building. He quickly seized on the idea of the building as “a simple façade-less shelter in the middle of a wood:”

In a place inhabited by symbols of forests and rivers, by obsessions of death and oblivion, it is an asylum for censored and cast off works from Australia and the Americas. It is a loaded place haunted with dialogues between the ancestral spirits of men, who, in discovering their human condition, invented gods and beliefs. It is a place that is unique and strange, poetic and unsettling.

His museum is indeed unsettling. What strikes the viewer is its peculiar formlessness, which refuses to present a comprehensible shape or object to the eye. No facade and no surface are similar, and there is no place where one might stand and grasp it as totality. Borne aloft on a series of randomly-placed piers (which could be taken “for trees or totems,” Nouvel tells us), it forms a kind of wobbly trough, as if the spiral of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim had been laboriously uncoiled and pinned to a giant board. The experience inside is equally bewildering, free of all right angles and offering sumptuous free-form contours, clad in brown leather and squirming off into the dimly lit distance.

In the end, the problem with Nouvel’s building is not its anti-form ideology, which is hardly revolutionary at this late date (after all, the Pompidou Centre was built over thirty years ago). It is that he sought to make a non-Western museum for non-Western objects without fully recognizing that there is not one non-Western art, but many. (All that they have in common is the prefix non-.) And to be sure, he has made an ostentatious show of negation (no parallel lines, no palpable shapes, no uniform materials) without offering an affirmation of any sort.

This formal incoherence is of a piece with its museology. The great museum displays of the past were indeed condescending in their neat divisions between civilized and barbaric peoples, which produced, respectively, objects of aesthetic or of merely ethnographic interest. But they did produce systems of order, categorizing objects by their workmanship or function. The Quai Branly offers no such comprehensive taxonomy. Objects are sprinkled in loose clusters, with minimal explanatory material. The display is exquisite in the soft lighting and the aesthetic isolation of each object (no cumbersome taxonomy of axe-heads here), but instead of treating the object as an anthropological artifact it is now treated as a showpiece in a Tiffany’s window. It is not clear which is the more condescending.

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