Commentary Magazine


Topic: Director

Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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The Difference Between Public and Private Words

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

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J Street U Sponsors Anti-IDF Event

It looks like J Street’s new university chapter in Jerusalem, whose director’s anti-Israel statements have already ignited controversy, is taking more steps to align itself with the anti-Israel left. The organization is sponsoring an event with Combatants for Peace, a “bi-national movement of Israelis and Palestinians who have decided to lay down their arms and realize their vision of resolving the conflict by peaceful means.” In other words, it’s a group that encourages IDF soldiers to drop out of the military.

And as the Independent Media Review Analysis points out, the event appears to conflict with J Street U’s own statement of principles, which support Israel’s right to self-defense:

When J Street U states in its Statement of Principles that is supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats” J Street U is supporting Israel’s right to have an army strong enough “to defend itself against external threats.”

#3 Now hold that thought and now consider the following evening sponsored by
J Street U Jerusalem:

J Street U Jerusalem presents Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace Join us for an evening with Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace. …

These are Israeli soldiers who declare that they will not participate in defending Israel against external threats.

#5. So while J Street U supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats,” J Street Y’s Jerusalem branch sponsors an evening promoting a group that wishes to strip Israel of its ability to defend itself against external threats.

First, some background on Combatants for Peace. The CFP is one of those organizations that sound fairly benign on the surface but in reality promote some pretty destructive and phony narratives about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For example, if you skim through the “personal stories” section of the Combatants for Peace website, you’ll find that the group’s Israeli and Palestinian members became involved in the program for very different reasons.

The typical Israeli members are former IDF soldiers, who claim that they left the military because it intentionally committed atrocious human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and illegally occupied Palestinian land. In contrast, the typical Palestinian members allege that they suffered years of inhuman cruelty at the hands of the IDF. This supposedly led them to commit small acts of violent resistance before they realized that peaceful resistance could bring about an even faster end to the illegal Occupation.

Most of the stories are chock-full of fantastical claims of Israeli military abuse, including allegations that soldiers lock Palestinians prisoners in water-filled coffins for days, snatch 10-year-olds from their beds at night on phony terrorism charges, and regularly shoot activists in the head for no reason.

One of the members, Chen Alon, even equates the IDF to suicide bombers:

There is a common thought in Israeli society that Palestinian mothers care less about their children – and the proof is that Palestinian mothers send their children to commit suicide attacks. And yet Israeli mothers are willing to sacrifice their children in exactly the same way by sending their children into the army. The mindset is no different.

You cannot be pro-Israel without supporting the existence of the Israeli military. Period. As J Street struggles to recover from its numerous political and financial scandals, I suspect that its Jerusalem university chapter is going to continue to be a thorn in its side.

It looks like J Street’s new university chapter in Jerusalem, whose director’s anti-Israel statements have already ignited controversy, is taking more steps to align itself with the anti-Israel left. The organization is sponsoring an event with Combatants for Peace, a “bi-national movement of Israelis and Palestinians who have decided to lay down their arms and realize their vision of resolving the conflict by peaceful means.” In other words, it’s a group that encourages IDF soldiers to drop out of the military.

And as the Independent Media Review Analysis points out, the event appears to conflict with J Street U’s own statement of principles, which support Israel’s right to self-defense:

When J Street U states in its Statement of Principles that is supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats” J Street U is supporting Israel’s right to have an army strong enough “to defend itself against external threats.”

#3 Now hold that thought and now consider the following evening sponsored by
J Street U Jerusalem:

J Street U Jerusalem presents Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace Join us for an evening with Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace. …

These are Israeli soldiers who declare that they will not participate in defending Israel against external threats.

#5. So while J Street U supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats,” J Street Y’s Jerusalem branch sponsors an evening promoting a group that wishes to strip Israel of its ability to defend itself against external threats.

First, some background on Combatants for Peace. The CFP is one of those organizations that sound fairly benign on the surface but in reality promote some pretty destructive and phony narratives about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For example, if you skim through the “personal stories” section of the Combatants for Peace website, you’ll find that the group’s Israeli and Palestinian members became involved in the program for very different reasons.

The typical Israeli members are former IDF soldiers, who claim that they left the military because it intentionally committed atrocious human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and illegally occupied Palestinian land. In contrast, the typical Palestinian members allege that they suffered years of inhuman cruelty at the hands of the IDF. This supposedly led them to commit small acts of violent resistance before they realized that peaceful resistance could bring about an even faster end to the illegal Occupation.

Most of the stories are chock-full of fantastical claims of Israeli military abuse, including allegations that soldiers lock Palestinians prisoners in water-filled coffins for days, snatch 10-year-olds from their beds at night on phony terrorism charges, and regularly shoot activists in the head for no reason.

One of the members, Chen Alon, even equates the IDF to suicide bombers:

There is a common thought in Israeli society that Palestinian mothers care less about their children – and the proof is that Palestinian mothers send their children to commit suicide attacks. And yet Israeli mothers are willing to sacrifice their children in exactly the same way by sending their children into the army. The mindset is no different.

You cannot be pro-Israel without supporting the existence of the Israeli military. Period. As J Street struggles to recover from its numerous political and financial scandals, I suspect that its Jerusalem university chapter is going to continue to be a thorn in its side.

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Some Thoughts on Israel’s Problematic New NGO Law

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

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So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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Is CPAC Going to Be Hurt by the Recent Calls for Boycott?

A growing number of conservative organizations have been pulling out of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference, reportedly in protest of conservative gay-rights group GOProud’s involvement in the annual event.

The Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America announced they would be boycotting the conference in December, and now two major conservative groups — the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center — have joined the boycott as well:

Two of the heavyweight groups of the broader right, the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center, have dropped out of CPAC and are expected, planners said, to add to the Value Voter Summit’s heft.

And with CPAC scheduled for Feb. 10, the presidential hopefuls scheduled to speak there – including Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney – will take the stage against the backdrop of a puzzlingly heated intramural conflict.

But while there’s no denying that these groups are heavily influential in the movement, how much impact will the boycott have on the actual conference?

At least at the moment, movement activists don’t seem to be too concerned that it will do much damage. “I don’t think it will have an impact at all,” a long-time D.C.-based conservative activist who is not affiliated with CPAC told me. “This thing is marketed so well, I don’t think they’re going to hurt for money. They may lose a little corporate underwriting, but they’ll make it up from other revenue sources, like single-admission fees, table sales at dinners, that sort of thing.”

According to Dave Weigel, who has been at the forefront of covering this story, it sounds like the boycott might actually benefit both the boycotters and GOProud. “This is one of those fights that produces wins for both sides — GOProud and the social conservatives — without any lasting consequences for either of them,” he wrote at Slate.

This certainly seems to be the case — by pulling out of the event, social conservatives can appear to take a principled stance on the gay-rights issue. Meanwhile, the attacks on GOProud will help the group gain sympathy from other conservatives, as well as a ton of positive media coverage.

But this might also be a sign of growing problems for CPAC. Multiple reports have noted problems with the conference that go far beyond the GOProud controversy. David Keene — the director of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the event — has been known for micromanaging it in a way that has apparently turned off some conservative groups. Keene has also been at the center of several recent financial scandals.

As of now, it doesn’t sound like the boycott will cause any long-term damage to the conference. Unless major speakers or large financial backers start to pull out, the event this year should still be a major draw, as it tends to be at the beginning of a presidential election cycle.

A growing number of conservative organizations have been pulling out of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference, reportedly in protest of conservative gay-rights group GOProud’s involvement in the annual event.

The Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America announced they would be boycotting the conference in December, and now two major conservative groups — the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center — have joined the boycott as well:

Two of the heavyweight groups of the broader right, the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center, have dropped out of CPAC and are expected, planners said, to add to the Value Voter Summit’s heft.

And with CPAC scheduled for Feb. 10, the presidential hopefuls scheduled to speak there – including Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney – will take the stage against the backdrop of a puzzlingly heated intramural conflict.

But while there’s no denying that these groups are heavily influential in the movement, how much impact will the boycott have on the actual conference?

At least at the moment, movement activists don’t seem to be too concerned that it will do much damage. “I don’t think it will have an impact at all,” a long-time D.C.-based conservative activist who is not affiliated with CPAC told me. “This thing is marketed so well, I don’t think they’re going to hurt for money. They may lose a little corporate underwriting, but they’ll make it up from other revenue sources, like single-admission fees, table sales at dinners, that sort of thing.”

According to Dave Weigel, who has been at the forefront of covering this story, it sounds like the boycott might actually benefit both the boycotters and GOProud. “This is one of those fights that produces wins for both sides — GOProud and the social conservatives — without any lasting consequences for either of them,” he wrote at Slate.

This certainly seems to be the case — by pulling out of the event, social conservatives can appear to take a principled stance on the gay-rights issue. Meanwhile, the attacks on GOProud will help the group gain sympathy from other conservatives, as well as a ton of positive media coverage.

But this might also be a sign of growing problems for CPAC. Multiple reports have noted problems with the conference that go far beyond the GOProud controversy. David Keene — the director of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the event — has been known for micromanaging it in a way that has apparently turned off some conservative groups. Keene has also been at the center of several recent financial scandals.

As of now, it doesn’t sound like the boycott will cause any long-term damage to the conference. Unless major speakers or large financial backers start to pull out, the event this year should still be a major draw, as it tends to be at the beginning of a presidential election cycle.

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Why Aren’t There Any Republican Scientists? The Answer May Not Be So Complicated.

Over at Slate, Daniel Sarewitz cites a 2009 Pew Research poll that found only 6 percent of scientists are Republicans, while 55 percent are Democrats. According to Sarewitz, this poses a problem because several controversial scientific issues — such as global warming and embryonic stem cell research — are intrinsically tied to partisan policy positions.

But while Sarewitz looks into the potential political dilemmas of this trend, he doesn’t spend as much time focusing on the really interesting question: why are so few scientists Republicans?

Left-wing bloggers have come up with the predictably unconvincing responses (i.e., there are no Republicans in science because Republicans hate facts), but there may be a much more simple explanation buried in the original polling report. According to Pew, the survey’s sample of scientists was extracted entirely from the membership rolls at the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

And the society didn’t just provide Pew with its membership list. “[AAAS Director] Waylon Butler and his colleagues as AAAS were instrumental at constructing the sample of scientists and managing the recruitments of participants for the scientist survey,” says the Pew report.

This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.

So it makes sense that the Pew poll may be skewed in favor of liberal Democrats. But the question of where most scientists stand on the political spectrum is still worth looking into, and I’m curious to see what a broader study might show.

Over at Slate, Daniel Sarewitz cites a 2009 Pew Research poll that found only 6 percent of scientists are Republicans, while 55 percent are Democrats. According to Sarewitz, this poses a problem because several controversial scientific issues — such as global warming and embryonic stem cell research — are intrinsically tied to partisan policy positions.

But while Sarewitz looks into the potential political dilemmas of this trend, he doesn’t spend as much time focusing on the really interesting question: why are so few scientists Republicans?

Left-wing bloggers have come up with the predictably unconvincing responses (i.e., there are no Republicans in science because Republicans hate facts), but there may be a much more simple explanation buried in the original polling report. According to Pew, the survey’s sample of scientists was extracted entirely from the membership rolls at the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

And the society didn’t just provide Pew with its membership list. “[AAAS Director] Waylon Butler and his colleagues as AAAS were instrumental at constructing the sample of scientists and managing the recruitments of participants for the scientist survey,” says the Pew report.

This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.

So it makes sense that the Pew poll may be skewed in favor of liberal Democrats. But the question of where most scientists stand on the political spectrum is still worth looking into, and I’m curious to see what a broader study might show.

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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RE: Krugman in High Dudgeon

John, one of the biggest problems with federal pay scales is that there is no differentiation in pay between federal departments. A GS 15 with a B.A. in education at the Department of Education will make the same pay as a GS 15 supervisory aerospace engineer at NASA. In the private sector, we realize that people in some fields make more — much more — than those in others. But not so in government. Instead, we underpay government employees in highly technical, sought-after fields and overpay them in others.

But the real problem with the federal workforce is job security. It is nearly impossible to fire someone after his probationary period is over. Most federal managers deal with problem employees by moving them into jobs where they can do little harm — even if it means promoting them. When I was the director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan era, I managed to fire one employee (he had been accused of stealing money from the agency, repeatedly). And I had to go through a lengthy formal appeals and arbitration process that took nearly a year. Until federal workers can be fired for poor performance, we will continue to have a bloated federal workforce.

John, one of the biggest problems with federal pay scales is that there is no differentiation in pay between federal departments. A GS 15 with a B.A. in education at the Department of Education will make the same pay as a GS 15 supervisory aerospace engineer at NASA. In the private sector, we realize that people in some fields make more — much more — than those in others. But not so in government. Instead, we underpay government employees in highly technical, sought-after fields and overpay them in others.

But the real problem with the federal workforce is job security. It is nearly impossible to fire someone after his probationary period is over. Most federal managers deal with problem employees by moving them into jobs where they can do little harm — even if it means promoting them. When I was the director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan era, I managed to fire one employee (he had been accused of stealing money from the agency, repeatedly). And I had to go through a lengthy formal appeals and arbitration process that took nearly a year. Until federal workers can be fired for poor performance, we will continue to have a bloated federal workforce.

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Needed: Better Dem Salesmen

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows the precarious situation in which Obama now finds himself. His approval is at 44 percent. The poll’s director explains the extent of Obama’s problem:

“President Barack Obama’s job approval is an ominous measure of his problems with American voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He does poorly among whites, older voters, men, political independents and those who earn more than $50,000 a year.”

“We see similar results on whether the country is better off because of the president’s policies, and his handling of the economy. He has lost his majority support in the middle class and that’s why his numbers remain at an all-time low,” Brown added. …  “Americans want both sides to compromise, but they want the president to make concessions more than they do congressional Republicans,” said Brown.

If it’s any consolation to Obama, he’s still a rock star with the voters compared to Nancy Pelosi, who is sporting a 25/55 percent approval-disapproval rating, or Harry Reid, who has the approval rating of only 17 percent of voters. Unfortunately, that’s little comfort to Democrats as a whole, who now are led by figures in whom the American people, at least for now, have lost confidence.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows the precarious situation in which Obama now finds himself. His approval is at 44 percent. The poll’s director explains the extent of Obama’s problem:

“President Barack Obama’s job approval is an ominous measure of his problems with American voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He does poorly among whites, older voters, men, political independents and those who earn more than $50,000 a year.”

“We see similar results on whether the country is better off because of the president’s policies, and his handling of the economy. He has lost his majority support in the middle class and that’s why his numbers remain at an all-time low,” Brown added. …  “Americans want both sides to compromise, but they want the president to make concessions more than they do congressional Republicans,” said Brown.

If it’s any consolation to Obama, he’s still a rock star with the voters compared to Nancy Pelosi, who is sporting a 25/55 percent approval-disapproval rating, or Harry Reid, who has the approval rating of only 17 percent of voters. Unfortunately, that’s little comfort to Democrats as a whole, who now are led by figures in whom the American people, at least for now, have lost confidence.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

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Blood Libel: The Sequel

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

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The Military Elephant in the Room

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s an understatement: “Juan Williams said Friday morning that NPR fired him this week because the radio network had become ‘vindictive’ over his appearances on Fox News.” Exhibit A: “NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Thursday said that Williams should have kept his comments between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’ Schiller later apologized for the comment.” As a recovering labor lawyer, I can tell you that’s a plaintiff’s dream come true.

There’s a signal here: “The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.” So many voters operating with the lizard brain, aren’t there?

There’s another reason to repeal ObamaCare. “Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said Friday that ObamaCare includes work disincentives likely to shrink the amount of labor used in the economy.”

There’s no indication as to how they feel about Juan Williams. “Al-Qaeda Troubled by Helen Thomas’s Firing.”

There’s no indication that Jews agree with the tut-tutters that Israel is too “divisive” a campaign issue. JTA reports: “The National Jewish Democratic Council is running a ‘Day of Action,’ a get out the vote effort, nationwide on Sunday. The Republican Jewish Coalition is  chockablock with events in the coming days, including an appearance by former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in Chicago, where a lot of RJC attention has been focused, backing candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for the Senate and Joel Pollak and Bob Dold for the House. The RJC is running TV ads in the Philadelphia area targeting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — not for J Street deviations from dogma, as in the past, but for backing civilian trials for terrorists.”

There’s not a single one predicting the Democrats will hold the House (number of predicted losses are in parenthesis): Larry Sabato (47), RCP (“up to 57″), Charlie Cook (52), Jay Cost (61), and Nate Silver (51).

There’s a headline for Peter Sellers’s fans: “Not Even Clouseau Could Make Panthers Disappear.” Quin Hillyer cites the Washington Post front-page story from yesterday and explains, “[Eric] Holder’s stonewalling can’t work. The truth will out. The truth appears to involve a pattern of race-based enforcement decisions at DOJ. Such a policy is unlawful. Period.” Actually, “Exclamation point!”

There’s no hotter Republican than Chris Christie. “He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. ‘If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union. … But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.'”

There’s a lot of hype in the reporting on the WikiLeaks documents, says Tom Joscelyn. But, he explains, the documents do confirm “that Iran was, and remains, a principal sponsor of Shia extremist groups in Iraq. These same groups helped bring Iraq to the brink of chaos — along with al-Qaeda, which was also happy to fuel the sectarian violence. … They killed far more civilians than the American-led coalition ever did.”

There’s probably been a more counterproductive ad than Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. But I just can’t think of one.

There’s an understatement: “Juan Williams said Friday morning that NPR fired him this week because the radio network had become ‘vindictive’ over his appearances on Fox News.” Exhibit A: “NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Thursday said that Williams should have kept his comments between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’ Schiller later apologized for the comment.” As a recovering labor lawyer, I can tell you that’s a plaintiff’s dream come true.

There’s a signal here: “The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.” So many voters operating with the lizard brain, aren’t there?

There’s another reason to repeal ObamaCare. “Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said Friday that ObamaCare includes work disincentives likely to shrink the amount of labor used in the economy.”

There’s no indication as to how they feel about Juan Williams. “Al-Qaeda Troubled by Helen Thomas’s Firing.”

There’s no indication that Jews agree with the tut-tutters that Israel is too “divisive” a campaign issue. JTA reports: “The National Jewish Democratic Council is running a ‘Day of Action,’ a get out the vote effort, nationwide on Sunday. The Republican Jewish Coalition is  chockablock with events in the coming days, including an appearance by former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in Chicago, where a lot of RJC attention has been focused, backing candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for the Senate and Joel Pollak and Bob Dold for the House. The RJC is running TV ads in the Philadelphia area targeting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — not for J Street deviations from dogma, as in the past, but for backing civilian trials for terrorists.”

There’s not a single one predicting the Democrats will hold the House (number of predicted losses are in parenthesis): Larry Sabato (47), RCP (“up to 57″), Charlie Cook (52), Jay Cost (61), and Nate Silver (51).

There’s a headline for Peter Sellers’s fans: “Not Even Clouseau Could Make Panthers Disappear.” Quin Hillyer cites the Washington Post front-page story from yesterday and explains, “[Eric] Holder’s stonewalling can’t work. The truth will out. The truth appears to involve a pattern of race-based enforcement decisions at DOJ. Such a policy is unlawful. Period.” Actually, “Exclamation point!”

There’s no hotter Republican than Chris Christie. “He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. ‘If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union. … But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.'”

There’s a lot of hype in the reporting on the WikiLeaks documents, says Tom Joscelyn. But, he explains, the documents do confirm “that Iran was, and remains, a principal sponsor of Shia extremist groups in Iraq. These same groups helped bring Iraq to the brink of chaos — along with al-Qaeda, which was also happy to fuel the sectarian violence. … They killed far more civilians than the American-led coalition ever did.”

There’s probably been a more counterproductive ad than Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. But I just can’t think of one.

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A Human-Rights Forum Gone Awry

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

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Talks with the Taliban?

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.'”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].'”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.'”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.'”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].'”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.'”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

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Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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“Count the Lies”

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

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