Commentary Magazine


Topic: Andrew Roberts

WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

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An Alternative to the Insiders’ Game

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers — don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach — one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers — don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach — one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

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The Irish and the Flotilla Inquiry

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

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Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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Andrew Roberts: On Iran, Israel Must Emulate Nelson and Churchill

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

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Talk and Listen and Meet and Sail with COMMENTARY

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

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Vacation Stimulation—A Conference and Alaskan Cruise in One

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

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A Vacation with Benefits—a Conference with a Vacation Attached

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

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Bush the Bookworm

No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

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No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

According to Roberts, he and his wife Susan “spent 45 minutes alone with the President in the Oval Office” before they were joined at lunch by Vice President Cheney and other senior officials. Then Mr. Bush proudly showed his guests the desk at which Churchill and Roosevelt were sitting when the latter broke the news of the British defeat at Tobruk—the opening scene of Roberts’s next book. In other words, the President had not only read the current book but had taken the trouble to inform himself about Roberts’s next one, too.

So how does this distinguished historian think President Bush compares to his predecessors? “He’s an amazingly well-read man, contrary to the way he’s portrayed in the media,” Roberts told the Daily Telegraph.

This chimes with the experience of my father, Paul Johnson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr. Bush last December. In his eulogy, the President listed a few of my father’s many books and added, with typically self-deprecating irony, “I’ve read them all, of course.” The audience laughed, but it emerged in conversation that he actually had read some of them. Like Reagan, whose reading—including Modern Times, my father’s history of the world since 1917—encouraged him to persevere in his mission to win the cold war, George W. Bush has been strengthened by books in his determination not to give up in the war on terror.

Is it only the natural modesty of this President that leads him to wear his erudition so lightly that a cynical intelligentsia assumes that he has never opened a book? Or is it native cunning? Far better to be “misunderestimated” by your enemies than to flaunt your academic prowess and then—like the former president of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing—find your admission to the Académie Française publicly ridiculed. The only possible motive for President Bush to read big books by historians like Andrew Roberts and Paul Johnson is that he thinks history has important lessons to teach him. Whether he draws the correct conclusions from what he reads is another matter—but he can be sure that future historians of the early 21st century will at least judge him without the insufferable condescension of his contemporaries.

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