Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bret Stephens

Hagel Did the Smearing, Not His Critics

The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.

But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.

This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.

Read More

The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.

But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.

This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.

Far from being inaccurate or unfounded, Stephens was right on the money when he noted that Hagel’s comments about “the Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress were straight out of the traditional anti-Semitic playbook.

The only other example that MacGillis provides for his charge that Stephens “smeared” Hagel is his citation of a column about a speech Hagel gave at Rutgers University. MacGillis says Stephens was out of line for noting that the speech was sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies that was chaired by an academic who had been charged with obstruction of justice in an investigation of a front group for the Iranian government. According to the TNR scribe that was nothing less than guilt by association.

But MacGillis either didn’t read the piece thoroughly or was at pains to conceal the real reason Hagel’s speech was significant. The appearance became the subject of comment when it was revealed that during the course of his appearance, Hagel made the astounding charge that the U.S. State Department was run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, a smear so absurd that it reveals as much about the nominee’s stupidity as it does his malevolence. Yet nowhere in his diatribe about how wrong it was of Stephens to mention this incident does MacGillis mention Hagel’s comments.

MacGillis doesn’t attempt to dispute Stephens’s takedowns of Hagel (with which I repeatedly concurred both here on COMMENTARY’s blog and in my article about the controversy in the April issue of the magazine). He merely dismisses them. In his view, anyone who thinks there’s something wrong with a U.S. Senator engaging in these kinds of slurs against American Jews or the State of Israel in terms that are redolent with anti-Semitic insinuations is at fault.

No one need argue with MacGillis about Stephens’s qualifications for journalism’s highest honor. The only surprise here was that the Pulitzers, which honor the unworthy at least as often as they do those who deserve the plaudits, had the sense to recognize Stephens.

There is one more thing to be said about this tawdry attack on a great writer. There was a time not so long ago when the New Republic could always be counted on as one Israel’s great defenders as well as among the ranks of those most vocal in denouncing exactly the kind of anti-Semitic innuendo that Hagel was guilty of spreading around. But instead of joining the Journal and COMMENTARY in holding Hagel accountable, TNR has become one of those seeking to silence those who speak out against such vile slurs. Its new ownership and editors apparently have a different view of their responsibilities in this regard than their predecessors. They should be ashamed.

Read Less

Bret Stephens in COMMENTARY

Congratulations go today to our friend and colleague Bret Stephens for winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns in the Wall Street Journal. The Pulitzer’s citation speaks of Bret’s “incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Bret’s work is essential reading for anyone cares about the issues of the day as well as composed in a style that highlights his erudition and the cogency of his worldview.

Though the Pulitzers have often blundered in the past and given their prize to undeserving writers, in this case, they could not have found a more worthy recipient. We’re proud to be associated with him and congratulate the Pulitzers for adding his name to the roster of their winners.

We at COMMENTARY take a special pride in Bret’s achievement because he began his career at COMMENTARY and continues to be one of our most valued contributors.

In tribute to his work, here is a selection of some of Bret’s writing in COMMENTARY over the last several years. These articles, like his award-winning columns in the Journal, speak to the breadth of his expertise and to the brilliance of his thinking.

January 2013: What is the Future of Conservatism? A Symposium.

October 2012: The Coming Global Disorder

June 2012: Born on the Fourth of June

November 2011 Optimistic or Pessimistic About America?

July 2010: Iran Cannot Be Contained

March 2009: The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It

September 2008: How to Manage Savagery

November 2007 The Israel Lobby by Walt and Mearsheimer

September 2007: Jews and Power by Ruth Wisse

February 2007: Realists to the Rescue?

November 2006: Shopping for Bombs

Congratulations go today to our friend and colleague Bret Stephens for winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns in the Wall Street Journal. The Pulitzer’s citation speaks of Bret’s “incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Bret’s work is essential reading for anyone cares about the issues of the day as well as composed in a style that highlights his erudition and the cogency of his worldview.

Though the Pulitzers have often blundered in the past and given their prize to undeserving writers, in this case, they could not have found a more worthy recipient. We’re proud to be associated with him and congratulate the Pulitzers for adding his name to the roster of their winners.

We at COMMENTARY take a special pride in Bret’s achievement because he began his career at COMMENTARY and continues to be one of our most valued contributors.

In tribute to his work, here is a selection of some of Bret’s writing in COMMENTARY over the last several years. These articles, like his award-winning columns in the Journal, speak to the breadth of his expertise and to the brilliance of his thinking.

January 2013: What is the Future of Conservatism? A Symposium.

October 2012: The Coming Global Disorder

June 2012: Born on the Fourth of June

November 2011 Optimistic or Pessimistic About America?

July 2010: Iran Cannot Be Contained

March 2009: The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It

September 2008: How to Manage Savagery

November 2007 The Israel Lobby by Walt and Mearsheimer

September 2007: Jews and Power by Ruth Wisse

February 2007: Realists to the Rescue?

November 2006: Shopping for Bombs

Read Less

The Hagel Insult

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens writes that Chuck Hagel has a “Jewish problem”–reflected in the “especially ripe” odor of prejudice evidenced in his past comments. Stephens shows that Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense would confirm that Obama “is not a friend of Israel,” and would be an insult to the Jewish Americans who voted in lopsided numbers for Obama.

Actually, it would be much worse than that.

Read More

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens writes that Chuck Hagel has a “Jewish problem”–reflected in the “especially ripe” odor of prejudice evidenced in his past comments. Stephens shows that Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense would confirm that Obama “is not a friend of Israel,” and would be an insult to the Jewish Americans who voted in lopsided numbers for Obama.

Actually, it would be much worse than that.

On November 29, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Israel. In the hearing, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute observed that the perceived gap between the U.S. and Israel has broader strategic consequences:

[O]ne of the most interesting things that you hear from Gulf leaders is their shock at the gap that had opened up between Israel and the United States over recent years. They view that as a barometer of American friendship and loyalty. If you won’t stand by Israel, how can we trust you to stand by us against Iran? And the answer is, of course, that they don’t.

 Later in the hearing, Pletka expanded on her point:

I think this is really a larger problem … It’s not just where we stand on the question of Israel. It’s where we stand in the Middle East. It’s where we stand on the question of Iran. Are we going to negotiate with Iran and allow them to have a nuclear capability, because I can tell you that that’s what they think and that’s what our allies think.

Hagel’s nomination would be a twofer: a signal that Obama (a) plans to negotiate an Iranian nuclear capability, and (b) is unconcerned about any resulting gap with Israel. You don’t nominate a person to head the American military who is admittedly still haunted by Vietnam and known for his opposition to the Iraq War (and to the surge that won it), his antagonism to Israel, his willingness to talk with Hamas, etc., without realizing the signal it sends. Nominating a John McCain or Joe Lieberman would signal that time is running out and other options are being considered. With Hagel, the signal is that the President’s last election is over and he is ready to be more flexible.

Gary Schmitt of AEI was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying Obama and Hagel “share a larger strategic view, which is draw down in Europe, disengage from the Middle East and accept we are going to have a much smaller military.” Given that view, the administration’s “pivot” to Asia seems less like a strategy than a search for something to do after American power is withdrawn elsewhere. In that connection, the point Pletka made immediately after the one above is worth noting as well:

You know, if we are adrift as a nation in shaping our foreign policy and unsure of whether we wish to lead the world or we wish to just sort of play along with the world, then we’re going to have these problems in more places than just the Middle East.

The Hagel nomination would be what Obama likes to call a “defining moment.” It would be a signal–to allies and adversaries alike–of something much larger, and much more unfortunate, than the calculated insult that will accompany it.

Read Less

A Nation of Political Imbeciles

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

Read Less

A More Dangerous World

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

Read Less

A Friend on a Friend

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Read Less

Women Paved the Way for Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

Read Less

The 31 Years’ War

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

Read Less

What Objection to the Ground Zero Mosque Is Not

Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

Read More

Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

Religion is  deserving of mockery at all turns—unless it is the Muslim strain to be practiced two blocks from Ground Zero. Of course, objections to the comparison are predictable. Palin was vying for the vice president’s office and Rauf is merely . . . the bridge-building embodiment of Muslim outreach that the post-9/11 world has been waiting for.

The Left’s shift from defamers of faith to champions of faith has come complete with the characterization of the Right as hateful bigots. That thousands of American liberals have in the past protested Papal visits, with some placards comparing Christianity to Nazism, is a testament to freedom of speech. That non-liberal Americans protest only the building of a specific mosque in a specific location is a testament both to prejudice and to indifference on religious freedom.  In the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks, in high dudgeon, “Remember when George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies used to say that the ‘war on terror; was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me?” No matter that neoconservatives like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens writes that the problem with celebrating Rauf as a moderate is that doing so steals support and recognition from “Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad [Manji] who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform.” And never mind that in the New Republic Reuel Gerecht, a neoconservative,  envisions a potential mosque built by a true moderate that “would honor us all.” Dowd, Beinart, and the like can only enjoy hero status if their opponents are depicted as convincing villains.

The myths about those opposed to the mosque don’t stop there. Conservatives, we are told, are eager to invent new instruments of government to block the mosque’s construction. While fewer than a handful of conservatives have made passing references to zoning laws, the overwhelming majority have gone out of their way to note that there is no legal argument against the mosque. As Peter Kirsanow pointed out at National Review’s Corner blog, “You don’t need to have been a lecturer in constitutional law like Obama to know that the mosque’s backers have a right to build at Ground Zero.”

Those uneasy about Rauf and the Cordoba House project are not hysterical, hateful, or statist. Their objections have to do with something less devious than prejudice and simpler than the law: common sense. Here is a thought experiment: If the mosque was slated to be built not two blocks away from Ground Zero, but actually on it, would those opposed still be exposing their contemptible hysteria by complaining? The site would still be private property, after all. And if the imam of that mosque openly preached a naked form of extremist Islam, should anyone who objects still be ashamed of themselves, as New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has suggested? Freedom of religion would still be a fundamental American tenet, would it not? In other words, there are points at which it is very clear that non-prejudiced objections to legal undertakings become common sense. For the mosque’s unflappable admirers, the current location and the current imam don’t court that tipping point. For most Americans, forever transformed by the deadly attack on our homeland, they eclipse it.

Read Less

Wikibore

From the left, right, and center, we finally have consensus on Afghanistan — or at least the Wikileaks about Afghanistan. In short — as Max ably pointed out yesterday — so what? As the Washington Post editors note:

Though it may represent one of the most voluminous leaks of classified military information in U.S. history, the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 reports on the war in Afghanistan hardly merits the hype offered by the Web site’s founder. …

The Obama administration harshly condemned the release of documents, saying they “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.” But that, too, seemed an exaggeration. Both Wikileaks and the news organizations said they had withheld documents and other information that might endanger individuals. On the whole, the reports appear likely to add modestly to public understanding of the war. But they are not likely to change many minds.

Bret Stephens was similarly bored by the Wikileaks “revelations”:

Innocent civilians become the tragic casualties of war. Insurgents plant thousands of IEDs. Special-ops teams hunt down insurgents. The Taliban may have a few Stinger missiles. Pakistan plays a double game with the Taliban. The U.S. government can’t keep its secrets. The New York Times has about as much regard for those secrets as a British tabloid has for a starlet’s privacy. The Obama administration blames everything on Bush. Is any of this news? Not exactly.

This is no doubt a downer to the antiwar left, which had hoped this would shock the administration, lawmakers, and the public, accelerating the demand for a quick retreat. But Americans know the war is tough, and are waiting — as they did on Iraq — for the administration to take charge and turn things around. There remains a curious void at the center of the Afghanistan operation — no commanding president to explain, cajole, and inspire. That void is filled with exaggerated news stories, gaffes, and leaks.

It would be helpful if the president — not Robert Gibbs, not Gen. David Petraeus, and not the media feeding frenzy — would set the tone of the debate and explain the stakes. Obama’s diminishing popularity and the impending backlash from an irate public will not make his task easier. Before he and the country are entirely absorbed by the November election, it might be a good idea for Obama to get out in front of the news, and not simply scramble to react to events.

From the left, right, and center, we finally have consensus on Afghanistan — or at least the Wikileaks about Afghanistan. In short — as Max ably pointed out yesterday — so what? As the Washington Post editors note:

Though it may represent one of the most voluminous leaks of classified military information in U.S. history, the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 reports on the war in Afghanistan hardly merits the hype offered by the Web site’s founder. …

The Obama administration harshly condemned the release of documents, saying they “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.” But that, too, seemed an exaggeration. Both Wikileaks and the news organizations said they had withheld documents and other information that might endanger individuals. On the whole, the reports appear likely to add modestly to public understanding of the war. But they are not likely to change many minds.

Bret Stephens was similarly bored by the Wikileaks “revelations”:

Innocent civilians become the tragic casualties of war. Insurgents plant thousands of IEDs. Special-ops teams hunt down insurgents. The Taliban may have a few Stinger missiles. Pakistan plays a double game with the Taliban. The U.S. government can’t keep its secrets. The New York Times has about as much regard for those secrets as a British tabloid has for a starlet’s privacy. The Obama administration blames everything on Bush. Is any of this news? Not exactly.

This is no doubt a downer to the antiwar left, which had hoped this would shock the administration, lawmakers, and the public, accelerating the demand for a quick retreat. But Americans know the war is tough, and are waiting — as they did on Iraq — for the administration to take charge and turn things around. There remains a curious void at the center of the Afghanistan operation — no commanding president to explain, cajole, and inspire. That void is filled with exaggerated news stories, gaffes, and leaks.

It would be helpful if the president — not Robert Gibbs, not Gen. David Petraeus, and not the media feeding frenzy — would set the tone of the debate and explain the stakes. Obama’s diminishing popularity and the impending backlash from an irate public will not make his task easier. Before he and the country are entirely absorbed by the November election, it might be a good idea for Obama to get out in front of the news, and not simply scramble to react to events.

Read Less

Blinking Barack

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens is one of the finest foreign-policy writers in America. This column, on President Obama’s ambivalence on the Afghanistan war, demonstrates why. Read it.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens is one of the finest foreign-policy writers in America. This column, on President Obama’s ambivalence on the Afghanistan war, demonstrates why. Read it.

Read Less

Now It’s Up to Israel — and American Jews

Even the New York Times has figured out that Obama has been checkmated by the mullahs’ deal to send an itty bit of its enriched uranium to Iran-friendly Brazil and Turkey:

Iran announced an agreement on Monday to ship some of its nuclear fuel to Turkey in a deal that could offer a short-term solution to its nuclear standoff with the West, or prove to be a tactic aimed at derailing efforts to bring new sanctions against Tehran. …

Obama now faces a vexing choice. If he walks away from this deal, it will look like he is rejecting an agreement similar to one he was willing to sign eight months ago. But if he accepts, many of the urgent issues he wants resolved with Iran in coming months — mostly over suspected weapons work — will be put on hold for a year or more. Many American officials believe the delay is Iran’s most immediate goal.

By opening the door to an enrichment-shuffling deal and pleading for Iran to come back to the bargaining table, Obama set himself up for failure. He now faces the collapse of his anemic sanctions effort and the evaporation of the last chance to stave off Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, short of military action — which no one (not Congress, not Iran, not Israel, not American Jewish “leaders”) believes Obama will undertake.

Bret Stephens observes:

In yesterday’s phony triumph of diplomacy, any real hope for a diplomatic outcome ended. In its most crucial foreign policy test, the administration has lost, or ceded, control of the process. Iran is either going to become a nuclear power, or it will be stopped from doing so by military action. Either a war will be upon us, or a cycle of Mideast nuclear proliferation. The administration fancies it can contain all this—Iran’s ambitions, Arab insecurities, Israel’s existential anxiety—via more smart diplomacy. The record so far does not inspire confidence.

But to be clear: either Israel will take military action or Iran will become a nuclear power. It is not simply that Obama has ceded control to and been outmatched by the mullahs. It is that he has made clear that the U.S. will not use military force if needed to guarantee the security of an ally and to prevent a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East. By renouncing the use of force, he has declared the U.S. out of the superpower business. By refusing to confront a threat to us and our allies, Obama will cripple U.S. credibility (the unacceptable is being accepted) for the foreseeable future and leave our allies to the whims of despotic bullies.

I eagerly await statements by American Jewish “leaders” remarking on the collapse of the diplomatic option and demanding that the president commit to the use force if necessary and reiterate that Israel will receive unqualified support from the U.S. in the event of military action and retaliation against the Jewish state. What — you think it’s not going to happen? You think American Jewry is sleepwalking and enabling the Obama administration as it allows an existential threat to Israel to go unchecked? Me too.

Even the New York Times has figured out that Obama has been checkmated by the mullahs’ deal to send an itty bit of its enriched uranium to Iran-friendly Brazil and Turkey:

Iran announced an agreement on Monday to ship some of its nuclear fuel to Turkey in a deal that could offer a short-term solution to its nuclear standoff with the West, or prove to be a tactic aimed at derailing efforts to bring new sanctions against Tehran. …

Obama now faces a vexing choice. If he walks away from this deal, it will look like he is rejecting an agreement similar to one he was willing to sign eight months ago. But if he accepts, many of the urgent issues he wants resolved with Iran in coming months — mostly over suspected weapons work — will be put on hold for a year or more. Many American officials believe the delay is Iran’s most immediate goal.

By opening the door to an enrichment-shuffling deal and pleading for Iran to come back to the bargaining table, Obama set himself up for failure. He now faces the collapse of his anemic sanctions effort and the evaporation of the last chance to stave off Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, short of military action — which no one (not Congress, not Iran, not Israel, not American Jewish “leaders”) believes Obama will undertake.

Bret Stephens observes:

In yesterday’s phony triumph of diplomacy, any real hope for a diplomatic outcome ended. In its most crucial foreign policy test, the administration has lost, or ceded, control of the process. Iran is either going to become a nuclear power, or it will be stopped from doing so by military action. Either a war will be upon us, or a cycle of Mideast nuclear proliferation. The administration fancies it can contain all this—Iran’s ambitions, Arab insecurities, Israel’s existential anxiety—via more smart diplomacy. The record so far does not inspire confidence.

But to be clear: either Israel will take military action or Iran will become a nuclear power. It is not simply that Obama has ceded control to and been outmatched by the mullahs. It is that he has made clear that the U.S. will not use military force if needed to guarantee the security of an ally and to prevent a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East. By renouncing the use of force, he has declared the U.S. out of the superpower business. By refusing to confront a threat to us and our allies, Obama will cripple U.S. credibility (the unacceptable is being accepted) for the foreseeable future and leave our allies to the whims of despotic bullies.

I eagerly await statements by American Jewish “leaders” remarking on the collapse of the diplomatic option and demanding that the president commit to the use force if necessary and reiterate that Israel will receive unqualified support from the U.S. in the event of military action and retaliation against the Jewish state. What — you think it’s not going to happen? You think American Jewry is sleepwalking and enabling the Obama administration as it allows an existential threat to Israel to go unchecked? Me too.

Read Less

Iran Disarray: What Happens When Multilateralism Runs Amok

Obama’s fetish for multilateralism and nuclear nonproliferation reached the inevitable and farcical result that any policy which ascribes good motives to evil regimes must. Obama — if we take him at his word — suggests that multilateral institutions like the UN and paper agreements among democratic regimes will have an impact on the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons. But neither those institutions or those scraps of paper are up to the task. Rather, they provide ample room for the mullahs and their genocide-cheering president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to run circles around the Obami. As Bret Stephens notes of the UN:

As for the effect of the administration’s gesture politics, it probably hasn’t been what Mr. Obama envisioned. A biting U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran is nowhere in sight. The regime’s nuclear bids proceed undeterred. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly entertaining doubts about U.S. seriousness—while entertaining nuclear futures of their own.

[I]t turns out that when it comes to a U.N. beauty contest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beats Barack Obama every time. Twenty-four countries walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. Another 168 remained in their seats, including those virtuous Scandinavians.

And of course the administration contributes to the mullahs’ aura of legitimacy and to Israel’s pariah status in that august body by remaining silent as Iran joins UN bodies without U.S. objection and Obama entertains the possibility of an abstention on a resolution that would vilify Israel for building homes in its capital.

When it comes to the NPT, once again, Iran seems to get the better of the deal:

Now Iran, in connivance with the usual Middle Eastern suspects (and their useful idiots in the West), is trying to use the NPT as a cudgel to force Israel to disarm. That makes perfect sense if you subscribe, as Mr. Obama does, to the theology of nuclear disarmament. It makes no sense if you think the distinction that matters when it comes to nuclear weapons is between responsible, democratic states, and reckless, unstable and dictatorial ones. Nobody lies awake at night wondering what David Cameron might do if he gets his finger on the U.K.’s nuclear trigger.

There is no mystery as to why our Iran policy is in disarray. It is what happens when we cast off the instruments of American power, place faith in international bodies that don’t share common interests or values, and assume our adversaries will respond to grand gestures and acts of goodwill.

Obama’s fetish for multilateralism and nuclear nonproliferation reached the inevitable and farcical result that any policy which ascribes good motives to evil regimes must. Obama — if we take him at his word — suggests that multilateral institutions like the UN and paper agreements among democratic regimes will have an impact on the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons. But neither those institutions or those scraps of paper are up to the task. Rather, they provide ample room for the mullahs and their genocide-cheering president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to run circles around the Obami. As Bret Stephens notes of the UN:

As for the effect of the administration’s gesture politics, it probably hasn’t been what Mr. Obama envisioned. A biting U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran is nowhere in sight. The regime’s nuclear bids proceed undeterred. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly entertaining doubts about U.S. seriousness—while entertaining nuclear futures of their own.

[I]t turns out that when it comes to a U.N. beauty contest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beats Barack Obama every time. Twenty-four countries walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. Another 168 remained in their seats, including those virtuous Scandinavians.

And of course the administration contributes to the mullahs’ aura of legitimacy and to Israel’s pariah status in that august body by remaining silent as Iran joins UN bodies without U.S. objection and Obama entertains the possibility of an abstention on a resolution that would vilify Israel for building homes in its capital.

When it comes to the NPT, once again, Iran seems to get the better of the deal:

Now Iran, in connivance with the usual Middle Eastern suspects (and their useful idiots in the West), is trying to use the NPT as a cudgel to force Israel to disarm. That makes perfect sense if you subscribe, as Mr. Obama does, to the theology of nuclear disarmament. It makes no sense if you think the distinction that matters when it comes to nuclear weapons is between responsible, democratic states, and reckless, unstable and dictatorial ones. Nobody lies awake at night wondering what David Cameron might do if he gets his finger on the U.K.’s nuclear trigger.

There is no mystery as to why our Iran policy is in disarray. It is what happens when we cast off the instruments of American power, place faith in international bodies that don’t share common interests or values, and assume our adversaries will respond to grand gestures and acts of goodwill.

Read Less

Mearsheimer Makes a List

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

Read Less

The Scud Saga Continues

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star, has a fine column parsing the latest developments on Syria, Lebanon, and the Obama administration. He confirms the interpretation I made recently on this blog, that the administration is puzzled at the failure of its opening gambits and unsure of what to do next:

The problem is that Washington is of several minds over what to do about Syria…because there is no broad accord, and because the president has not provided clear guidance on resolving Mideastern problems, there is confusion in Washington. And where there is confusion there is policy bedlam, with everyone trying to fill the vacuum. That explains why the Syrians feel they can relax for now, and why the Iranians see no reason yet to fear an American riposte.

Lebanon should be worried about American uncertainty. When there is doubt in Washington, it usually means the Israelis have wide latitude to do what they see fit here. With much of the Lebanese political class openly or objectively siding with Hezbollah, rather than shaping an American approach to Lebanon that might reinforce its sovereignty, we can guess the calamitous effect of that abdication.

Young’s worry is confirmed by this remarkable report from Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin:

As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the [Obama administration] official said….”We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”

This is quite simply amazing. The Assads, father and now son, have run the same foreign policy for decades. It is a very simple model, and one that gets discussed in detail on a regular basis: They are the arsonists who sell water to the fire department. The administration official should start his odyssey of discovery by reading Bret Stephens’s 2009 Commentary essay, “The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It.”

Bashar is a promoter of a remarkable array of death and destruction in the Middle East: killing American soldiers in Iraq, murdering Lebanon’s pro-democracy community into submission, killing Israelis, arming Hezbollah, hosting Hamas, and so on. This is intended not only to make Syria into a bigger player than it would otherwise be, but allows Bashar to maintain his illegitimate police state of a regime by constantly invoking foreign threats. And it ensures that the United States and other western powers will continuously drag themselves to Syria to beg for cooperation. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Nancy Pelosi famously declared on her visit in 2007, unintentionally confirming to Assad the wisdom of the mayhem he sponsors. This is like saying that the road to the brothel is a road to virginity.

In the Obama administration, there are a few people, like Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who understand Syria. But foreign policy is run from the top. The person who doesn’t get it is the president, who seems confused by the failure of the region’s dictators and terrorists to respond constructively to his sensitive reorientation of American foreign policy. Right now he is stuck between his ideological commitments and the reality of their failure, and in the meantime the Middle East’s rogues are not waiting around for The One to figure out what level of nuance he ultimately wishes to pursue. They see naivety and irresolution, and they capitalize.

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star, has a fine column parsing the latest developments on Syria, Lebanon, and the Obama administration. He confirms the interpretation I made recently on this blog, that the administration is puzzled at the failure of its opening gambits and unsure of what to do next:

The problem is that Washington is of several minds over what to do about Syria…because there is no broad accord, and because the president has not provided clear guidance on resolving Mideastern problems, there is confusion in Washington. And where there is confusion there is policy bedlam, with everyone trying to fill the vacuum. That explains why the Syrians feel they can relax for now, and why the Iranians see no reason yet to fear an American riposte.

Lebanon should be worried about American uncertainty. When there is doubt in Washington, it usually means the Israelis have wide latitude to do what they see fit here. With much of the Lebanese political class openly or objectively siding with Hezbollah, rather than shaping an American approach to Lebanon that might reinforce its sovereignty, we can guess the calamitous effect of that abdication.

Young’s worry is confirmed by this remarkable report from Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin:

As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the [Obama administration] official said….”We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”

This is quite simply amazing. The Assads, father and now son, have run the same foreign policy for decades. It is a very simple model, and one that gets discussed in detail on a regular basis: They are the arsonists who sell water to the fire department. The administration official should start his odyssey of discovery by reading Bret Stephens’s 2009 Commentary essay, “The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It.”

Bashar is a promoter of a remarkable array of death and destruction in the Middle East: killing American soldiers in Iraq, murdering Lebanon’s pro-democracy community into submission, killing Israelis, arming Hezbollah, hosting Hamas, and so on. This is intended not only to make Syria into a bigger player than it would otherwise be, but allows Bashar to maintain his illegitimate police state of a regime by constantly invoking foreign threats. And it ensures that the United States and other western powers will continuously drag themselves to Syria to beg for cooperation. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Nancy Pelosi famously declared on her visit in 2007, unintentionally confirming to Assad the wisdom of the mayhem he sponsors. This is like saying that the road to the brothel is a road to virginity.

In the Obama administration, there are a few people, like Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who understand Syria. But foreign policy is run from the top. The person who doesn’t get it is the president, who seems confused by the failure of the region’s dictators and terrorists to respond constructively to his sensitive reorientation of American foreign policy. Right now he is stuck between his ideological commitments and the reality of their failure, and in the meantime the Middle East’s rogues are not waiting around for The One to figure out what level of nuance he ultimately wishes to pursue. They see naivety and irresolution, and they capitalize.

Read Less

A Rhetorical Commitment from the Words-Matter Administration

Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech ended with a rhetorical flourish, reaching back to David Ben-Gurion to list the Israeli leaders who made “difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace” by giving up land. Her final paragraph was an exhortation to continue this “tradition”:

[F]or the state to flourish, this generation of Israelis must also take up the tradition and do what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky. And of this they can be absolutely sure: the United States and the American people will stand with you. We will share the risks and we will shoulder the burdens, as we face the future together.

It is extraordinary for a nation to advise another to do what seems “too dangerous, too hard, and too risky” — in reliance upon a promise of the first nation to “stand with” it and “share the risks” from far away.

Sometimes what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky is in fact too dangerous, hard, and risky. And sometimes you cannot be absolutely sure the United States will stand with you — ask Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic.

Or ask Ariel Sharon (if you could) about the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel turned over half the putative Palestinian state in one of those difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace. As Bret Stephens notes in his column, the disengagement was done in exchange for a letter, signed by the president of the United States, containing explicit assurances (described in the letter as the “steadfast commitment” of the United States) about the positions the U.S. would take on (a) defensible borders and (b) the major Israeli settlements necessary to defend them. The commitment given in exchange for Israel’s dangerous, hard, and risky action proved inoperative (or “unenforceable,” as Hillary might say). This is not a tradition that any nation would want to repeat.

As Benjamin Netanyahu noted last night in his AIPAC speech, the strategic position of Israel is now comparable to that of New Jersey facing thousands of rockets both from its north and south (and its back to the sea), with more demands to give up land for “peace.” Hillary Clinton might have used her speech at least to endorse the two minimal conditions for the “peace process” that Netanyahu has put forth: Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and demilitarization of any Palestinian one. Instead she chose a meaningless rhetorical commitment — one that would be relied upon only by a nation without a tradition of learning from history.

Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech ended with a rhetorical flourish, reaching back to David Ben-Gurion to list the Israeli leaders who made “difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace” by giving up land. Her final paragraph was an exhortation to continue this “tradition”:

[F]or the state to flourish, this generation of Israelis must also take up the tradition and do what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky. And of this they can be absolutely sure: the United States and the American people will stand with you. We will share the risks and we will shoulder the burdens, as we face the future together.

It is extraordinary for a nation to advise another to do what seems “too dangerous, too hard, and too risky” — in reliance upon a promise of the first nation to “stand with” it and “share the risks” from far away.

Sometimes what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky is in fact too dangerous, hard, and risky. And sometimes you cannot be absolutely sure the United States will stand with you — ask Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic.

Or ask Ariel Sharon (if you could) about the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel turned over half the putative Palestinian state in one of those difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace. As Bret Stephens notes in his column, the disengagement was done in exchange for a letter, signed by the president of the United States, containing explicit assurances (described in the letter as the “steadfast commitment” of the United States) about the positions the U.S. would take on (a) defensible borders and (b) the major Israeli settlements necessary to defend them. The commitment given in exchange for Israel’s dangerous, hard, and risky action proved inoperative (or “unenforceable,” as Hillary might say). This is not a tradition that any nation would want to repeat.

As Benjamin Netanyahu noted last night in his AIPAC speech, the strategic position of Israel is now comparable to that of New Jersey facing thousands of rockets both from its north and south (and its back to the sea), with more demands to give up land for “peace.” Hillary Clinton might have used her speech at least to endorse the two minimal conditions for the “peace process” that Netanyahu has put forth: Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and demilitarization of any Palestinian one. Instead she chose a meaningless rhetorical commitment — one that would be relied upon only by a nation without a tradition of learning from history.

Read Less

Bibi’s “Note” to Obama

In a must-read and quite delightful column, Bret Stephens pens a Bibi Netanyahu “note” (not really, but it’s a doozy). The heart of it is this explanation for what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East gambit:

Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Stephens/”Bibi” has some advice to Obama: start “building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians.” No, Obama’s not going to drive Bibi from office, but he will, Stephens/”Bibi” argues, cause the Jewish state to  lose faith in the U.S. president where it matters most — on the Iran nuclear threat. (“Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.”) Yes, “acceptable” is the word the Obami toss around like confetti, but it is fast becoming meaningless as the Obami’s actions appear utterly divorced from the preferred intention of depriving the Iranians of a nuclear weapon.

This is an argument of reverse linkage. You recall that the Obami were all about linking progress on the Palestinian issue to a successful effort to block the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it was a non sequitur, but that’s what they said. In reality, the Obami’s Middle East policy is communicating a different message to Israel: you’re going to have to take care of Iran on your own. The U.S. is so enamored of getting along in the Muslim World and so unwilling to draw a line with the mullahs that Israel will/is faced with a choice: do nothing (which is the same as waiting around for the Obami to act) or take military action themselves.

By his recent verbal assault, Obama meant perhaps to paralyze Israel, creating uncertainty as to whether the U.S. would be with Israel if it came down to a military action against Iran. But Israel cannot be paralyzed into inactivity (for reasons amply stated by Alan Dershowitz on the same newspaper page). The result then of all the Obami carrying on is to create a less secure U.S.-Israel relationship and to spur Israel to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, that part isn’t fictional.

In a must-read and quite delightful column, Bret Stephens pens a Bibi Netanyahu “note” (not really, but it’s a doozy). The heart of it is this explanation for what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East gambit:

Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Stephens/”Bibi” has some advice to Obama: start “building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians.” No, Obama’s not going to drive Bibi from office, but he will, Stephens/”Bibi” argues, cause the Jewish state to  lose faith in the U.S. president where it matters most — on the Iran nuclear threat. (“Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.”) Yes, “acceptable” is the word the Obami toss around like confetti, but it is fast becoming meaningless as the Obami’s actions appear utterly divorced from the preferred intention of depriving the Iranians of a nuclear weapon.

This is an argument of reverse linkage. You recall that the Obami were all about linking progress on the Palestinian issue to a successful effort to block the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it was a non sequitur, but that’s what they said. In reality, the Obami’s Middle East policy is communicating a different message to Israel: you’re going to have to take care of Iran on your own. The U.S. is so enamored of getting along in the Muslim World and so unwilling to draw a line with the mullahs that Israel will/is faced with a choice: do nothing (which is the same as waiting around for the Obami to act) or take military action themselves.

By his recent verbal assault, Obama meant perhaps to paralyze Israel, creating uncertainty as to whether the U.S. would be with Israel if it came down to a military action against Iran. But Israel cannot be paralyzed into inactivity (for reasons amply stated by Alan Dershowitz on the same newspaper page). The result then of all the Obami carrying on is to create a less secure U.S.-Israel relationship and to spur Israel to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, that part isn’t fictional.

Read Less

AIPAC Panel: The Sands of Change Here in D.C.

A mesmerizing discussion Sunday afternoon was held among Elliott Abrams, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University as they examined the “sands of change in the Middle East.” Both Stephens and Susser traced the emergence of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey (which is pivoting away from Europe as it becomes increasingly more Islamist in domestic policy and anti-Israel in its foreign policy), the decline of secular pan-Arabism, the tension between radicals and moderates, and the ascendancy of Shia regimes, which are displacing aging Sunni leaders as the region’s powerhouses.

Abrams made a different case: “The most important shift is in Washington.” He noted that in 1967, Israel won a tremendous, and the British left Aden, opening an era in which the U.S.-Israel alliance dominated the region. (“It took the 1973 war for the Arabs to learn that lesson.”) The question Arabs are asking now, Abrams said, is about what the American policy is on maintaining its dominance in the region. They want to know “whether the U.S. is prepared to maintain its position or let the region slip into a period of Iranian dominance.” On Iran’s nuclear ambitions specifically, Abrams reminded the crowd that the Obama administration says it is “unacceptable” if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?”

As for the Obami’s effort to separate the U.S. from Israel to increase our credibility with the Arabs, it is “no accident” Abrams said, that the Saudi’s 2002 peace plan, while not the basis for any viable peace agreement,  would have ended with the recognition of Israel. When the Arab states realize that the U.S. commitment to Israel is unyielding and that they “can’t do anything about Israel, they begin to make peace.” If the U.S. should begin to change its position, Abrams cautioned, their attitude toward Israel will change as well. Then, Abrams added, citing Lee Smith’s book The Strong Horse, they will decide which is the weak and which is the strong horse in the region and act accordingly. How we act toward Israel affects how Arab states regard us. As we distance ourselves from Israel, the Arabs see that we “are proving to be an undependable ally.” So the place to determine the fate of the Middle East, he summed up, is “here.”

All the panelists in their presentations and the Q & A discussed the recent conflict and the “peace process.” Stephens noted that putting the “squeeze on our friends while coddling our enemies comes with a cost. Israel will take less risks for peace. The Palestinians are encouraged to make maximalist demands. Radicals in the region take comfort that the U.S. is slowly withdrawing.” Susser deemed the ruckus raised by the administration over a Jersulem housing project “ludicrous.” The Obama team is focused on the “1967 file” — settlements and Jerusalem. But the Palestinians are still stuck on the “1948 file” — the right of return of refugees and “Israel’s being.” What’s working against us and serving as the reason that status quo is unsustainable, he says, are both the demography and the movement internationally to try to delegitimize Israel.

What to do about that international effort? Abrams: “It is not an accident that the worst challenges to Israel’s legitimacy have occurred in the last two years.” When the U.S. “condemns” Israel over a housing permit, the Quartet rushes in to do the same. The way to stop this, he said bluntly, is “for the U.S. to get 100% behind Israel.” Stephens took it up from there, arguing that Israel’s efforts at peace and its withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon have not gained it applause. “The depth of the hatred increased with proof of Israel’s good intentions.” We need, he says, not to make a “defense case” but a “prosecutorial case” against powers that would find it acceptable to welcome Robert Mugabe with open arms but that would arrest Tzipi Livni, and against entities like the UN Human Rights Council, which is stocked with the likes of Libya, Egypt, and other human rights abusers. “Who are they to point fingers at Israel?”

The panel was greeted with great enthusiasm, as if a dose of reality had finally been served up after days and days of administration flailing and the resulting furor within the Jewish community. But if this crowd surely shares the Abrams-Stephens-Susser view, what then is to be done about the Obami? The issue isn’t a housing flap, but the Obami’s dangerous notion that distancing itself from Israel is “smart diplomacy.” It is anything but, and the AIPAC activists will have to devise a smart response for combating a dangerous and ill-advised approach.

A mesmerizing discussion Sunday afternoon was held among Elliott Abrams, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University as they examined the “sands of change in the Middle East.” Both Stephens and Susser traced the emergence of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey (which is pivoting away from Europe as it becomes increasingly more Islamist in domestic policy and anti-Israel in its foreign policy), the decline of secular pan-Arabism, the tension between radicals and moderates, and the ascendancy of Shia regimes, which are displacing aging Sunni leaders as the region’s powerhouses.

Abrams made a different case: “The most important shift is in Washington.” He noted that in 1967, Israel won a tremendous, and the British left Aden, opening an era in which the U.S.-Israel alliance dominated the region. (“It took the 1973 war for the Arabs to learn that lesson.”) The question Arabs are asking now, Abrams said, is about what the American policy is on maintaining its dominance in the region. They want to know “whether the U.S. is prepared to maintain its position or let the region slip into a period of Iranian dominance.” On Iran’s nuclear ambitions specifically, Abrams reminded the crowd that the Obama administration says it is “unacceptable” if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?”

As for the Obami’s effort to separate the U.S. from Israel to increase our credibility with the Arabs, it is “no accident” Abrams said, that the Saudi’s 2002 peace plan, while not the basis for any viable peace agreement,  would have ended with the recognition of Israel. When the Arab states realize that the U.S. commitment to Israel is unyielding and that they “can’t do anything about Israel, they begin to make peace.” If the U.S. should begin to change its position, Abrams cautioned, their attitude toward Israel will change as well. Then, Abrams added, citing Lee Smith’s book The Strong Horse, they will decide which is the weak and which is the strong horse in the region and act accordingly. How we act toward Israel affects how Arab states regard us. As we distance ourselves from Israel, the Arabs see that we “are proving to be an undependable ally.” So the place to determine the fate of the Middle East, he summed up, is “here.”

All the panelists in their presentations and the Q & A discussed the recent conflict and the “peace process.” Stephens noted that putting the “squeeze on our friends while coddling our enemies comes with a cost. Israel will take less risks for peace. The Palestinians are encouraged to make maximalist demands. Radicals in the region take comfort that the U.S. is slowly withdrawing.” Susser deemed the ruckus raised by the administration over a Jersulem housing project “ludicrous.” The Obama team is focused on the “1967 file” — settlements and Jerusalem. But the Palestinians are still stuck on the “1948 file” — the right of return of refugees and “Israel’s being.” What’s working against us and serving as the reason that status quo is unsustainable, he says, are both the demography and the movement internationally to try to delegitimize Israel.

What to do about that international effort? Abrams: “It is not an accident that the worst challenges to Israel’s legitimacy have occurred in the last two years.” When the U.S. “condemns” Israel over a housing permit, the Quartet rushes in to do the same. The way to stop this, he said bluntly, is “for the U.S. to get 100% behind Israel.” Stephens took it up from there, arguing that Israel’s efforts at peace and its withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon have not gained it applause. “The depth of the hatred increased with proof of Israel’s good intentions.” We need, he says, not to make a “defense case” but a “prosecutorial case” against powers that would find it acceptable to welcome Robert Mugabe with open arms but that would arrest Tzipi Livni, and against entities like the UN Human Rights Council, which is stocked with the likes of Libya, Egypt, and other human rights abusers. “Who are they to point fingers at Israel?”

The panel was greeted with great enthusiasm, as if a dose of reality had finally been served up after days and days of administration flailing and the resulting furor within the Jewish community. But if this crowd surely shares the Abrams-Stephens-Susser view, what then is to be done about the Obami? The issue isn’t a housing flap, but the Obami’s dangerous notion that distancing itself from Israel is “smart diplomacy.” It is anything but, and the AIPAC activists will have to devise a smart response for combating a dangerous and ill-advised approach.

Read Less

The Escalation of U.S.-Israel Tensions Continues

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.