Commentary Magazine


Topic: arbiter

J Street Launches Campaign Against Ros-Lehtinen

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

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Read the Great Thinkers You Quote Before You Quote Them

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

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Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

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Barack Obama, Voting Present in the Middle East

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

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Re: ANNAPOLIS: Bush’s Remarks

Noah, I think your concern about the role of the United States as arbiter of the progress toward peace is a little misplaced. Clearly, it’s far better that the U.S. be the judge rather than the Quartet, or the United Nations, or some working group that might emerge from the nations attending the Annapolis Conference.

Noah, I think your concern about the role of the United States as arbiter of the progress toward peace is a little misplaced. Clearly, it’s far better that the U.S. be the judge rather than the Quartet, or the United Nations, or some working group that might emerge from the nations attending the Annapolis Conference.

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Boot and Hanson, Round One: Victory Before Peace

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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