Commentary Magazine


Topic: first president

Obama’s Hopes for Israeli ‘Regime Change’ Will Backfire

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

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Why Are Americans Pro-Israel? They Hate Muslims

M.J. Rosenberg is a leading light in the “progressive” scene. He was formerly at the Israel Policy Forum and today posts embarrassing rants at the Talking Points Memo blog and is a “Senior Foreign Policy Fellow” at Media Matters. His new obsession is calling people racists. Here he is today saying in one short post that Jeffrey Goldberg, Lee Smith, and Rob Satloff are all racists (and Smith’s latest Tablet piece is “Islamophobic neocon claptrap,” an interesting charge coming from someone who has barely spent any time in the Islamic world against someone who has spent much of the past several years living in Cairo and Beirut).

A couple of weeks ago he appeared on a New America Foundation panel to discuss “American perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Here is Rosenberg’s analysis:

The whole south shifts to the Republican Party over one issue, they don’t like black people…so you have the racism thing, the fact that we’ve eradicated the separation of church and state essentially, which started I have to say when Jimmy Carter was first elected. As a Jew I noticed it — first president who talked about Jesus Christ, and that was sort of like, “whoa, presidents don’t talk about Christ!”…and now you have the modern Republican Party that has to cater to these racists and that gets me to my fundamental point, it is not that they are pro-Israel. They are anti-Muslim. They do not like Muslims. They are on the side of Israel because Israel is — they don’t like Jews that much to start out with, either — but compared to Muslims, they like Jews fine.

They’re infatuated with the Israeli army. Why? Because the Israeli army kills Muslims. I mean, this is what it’s all about….When you hear them talk to the, I don’t want to say the average American, but certainly the average American south of the Mason-Dixon line, “these Muslims” — well, someone said to me the other day, “how’s Keith Ellison doing?” Because he’s a Muslim member of congress, with all these crazy wackos wandering around, I said “how’s Keith Ellison doing?” and he said, “oh, they don’t bother with Keith Ellison, he’s just Al-Qaeda.” …

And that’s what we saw on Saturday, the sheer hatred that has infused our politics, and the strongest strain in it right now, and one you are allowed to get away with, is the anti-Muslim strain. So I just don’t buy into the pro-Israel thing so much as it’s anti-Muslim.

There you have it, folks. Watch it in all its glory below. He starts getting warmed up around the 23-minute mark.

M.J. Rosenberg is a leading light in the “progressive” scene. He was formerly at the Israel Policy Forum and today posts embarrassing rants at the Talking Points Memo blog and is a “Senior Foreign Policy Fellow” at Media Matters. His new obsession is calling people racists. Here he is today saying in one short post that Jeffrey Goldberg, Lee Smith, and Rob Satloff are all racists (and Smith’s latest Tablet piece is “Islamophobic neocon claptrap,” an interesting charge coming from someone who has barely spent any time in the Islamic world against someone who has spent much of the past several years living in Cairo and Beirut).

A couple of weeks ago he appeared on a New America Foundation panel to discuss “American perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Here is Rosenberg’s analysis:

The whole south shifts to the Republican Party over one issue, they don’t like black people…so you have the racism thing, the fact that we’ve eradicated the separation of church and state essentially, which started I have to say when Jimmy Carter was first elected. As a Jew I noticed it — first president who talked about Jesus Christ, and that was sort of like, “whoa, presidents don’t talk about Christ!”…and now you have the modern Republican Party that has to cater to these racists and that gets me to my fundamental point, it is not that they are pro-Israel. They are anti-Muslim. They do not like Muslims. They are on the side of Israel because Israel is — they don’t like Jews that much to start out with, either — but compared to Muslims, they like Jews fine.

They’re infatuated with the Israeli army. Why? Because the Israeli army kills Muslims. I mean, this is what it’s all about….When you hear them talk to the, I don’t want to say the average American, but certainly the average American south of the Mason-Dixon line, “these Muslims” — well, someone said to me the other day, “how’s Keith Ellison doing?” Because he’s a Muslim member of congress, with all these crazy wackos wandering around, I said “how’s Keith Ellison doing?” and he said, “oh, they don’t bother with Keith Ellison, he’s just Al-Qaeda.” …

And that’s what we saw on Saturday, the sheer hatred that has infused our politics, and the strongest strain in it right now, and one you are allowed to get away with, is the anti-Muslim strain. So I just don’t buy into the pro-Israel thing so much as it’s anti-Muslim.

There you have it, folks. Watch it in all its glory below. He starts getting warmed up around the 23-minute mark.

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New World’s Record for Chutzpah: Obama’s Seder

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

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No Denying White House Animus Toward Israel

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

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Preconditions

The good news is that George Mitchell is staying home rather than traveling to Israel today. If nothing, we’ve seen the danger in too much face time between the U.S. and Israel. The bad news is that the Obami are imposing three new conditions on Israel — they have the pretext, you see, after days of invented and exaggerated outrage. (1) Reverse the decision on Jerusalem housing units (what Israeli government could?). (2) Declare itself willing to discuss all “core issues” at the bargaining table, including the final status of Jerusalem (a demand that “could split Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government”). (3) Make a “substantial gesture” toward the Palestinians (because you can never humiliate Israel enough). One suspects the Obami have regime change — Israel’s — in mind.

The voices may now go quieter, but the behavior is the same — the Obami are seeking to corner Israel and demand of the Jewish state what it would never ask of the Palestinians. And they’d be delighted to force Netanyahu out in the process. As the Washington Post‘s editors write:

American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. Mr. Netanyahu already has made a couple of concessions in the past year, including declaring a partial moratorium on settlements. But on the question of Jerusalem, he is likely to dig in his heels — as would any other Israeli government. If the White House insists on a reversal of the settlement decision, or allows Palestinians to do so, it might land in the same corner from which it just extricated itself.

A larger question concerns Mr. Obama’s quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. He is not the first president to do so; in fact, he is not even the first to be hard on Mr. Netanyahu. But tough tactics don’t always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.

The editors also note that this is where we came in over a year ago — a failed and rather mean-spirited effort to wring maximum concessions out of Israel. Well at least the curtain has been pulled back and we know just how these people operate.

The American Jewish community has indulged the Obami up until now. Devotion to a liberal president (he’s pro-choice and will give us health care!) has trumped other concerns. It’s been interpreted by the Obami as a green light. At next week’s AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton will speak and there will be ample opportunity to correct the impression.

Maybe three conditions need to be imposed on the Obami: no more unilateral demands of Israel, an apology for the “condemnation” language, and an end to the “summoning” and the  scoldings. That should be the price of American Jews’ public and private support for Obama’s Israel policy — at the very least. It’s distressing that even that must be demanded.

The good news is that George Mitchell is staying home rather than traveling to Israel today. If nothing, we’ve seen the danger in too much face time between the U.S. and Israel. The bad news is that the Obami are imposing three new conditions on Israel — they have the pretext, you see, after days of invented and exaggerated outrage. (1) Reverse the decision on Jerusalem housing units (what Israeli government could?). (2) Declare itself willing to discuss all “core issues” at the bargaining table, including the final status of Jerusalem (a demand that “could split Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government”). (3) Make a “substantial gesture” toward the Palestinians (because you can never humiliate Israel enough). One suspects the Obami have regime change — Israel’s — in mind.

The voices may now go quieter, but the behavior is the same — the Obami are seeking to corner Israel and demand of the Jewish state what it would never ask of the Palestinians. And they’d be delighted to force Netanyahu out in the process. As the Washington Post‘s editors write:

American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. Mr. Netanyahu already has made a couple of concessions in the past year, including declaring a partial moratorium on settlements. But on the question of Jerusalem, he is likely to dig in his heels — as would any other Israeli government. If the White House insists on a reversal of the settlement decision, or allows Palestinians to do so, it might land in the same corner from which it just extricated itself.

A larger question concerns Mr. Obama’s quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. He is not the first president to do so; in fact, he is not even the first to be hard on Mr. Netanyahu. But tough tactics don’t always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.

The editors also note that this is where we came in over a year ago — a failed and rather mean-spirited effort to wring maximum concessions out of Israel. Well at least the curtain has been pulled back and we know just how these people operate.

The American Jewish community has indulged the Obami up until now. Devotion to a liberal president (he’s pro-choice and will give us health care!) has trumped other concerns. It’s been interpreted by the Obami as a green light. At next week’s AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton will speak and there will be ample opportunity to correct the impression.

Maybe three conditions need to be imposed on the Obami: no more unilateral demands of Israel, an apology for the “condemnation” language, and an end to the “summoning” and the  scoldings. That should be the price of American Jews’ public and private support for Obama’s Israel policy — at the very least. It’s distressing that even that must be demanded.

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They Don’t Make ’em Like Charlie Wilson Anymore

The death yesterday of former Texas Congressman “Good Time Charlie” Wilson will, no doubt, revive the discussion of what went wrong with American policy in the aftermath of the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Wilson played a key role in helping to fund Afghan resistance fighters in the 1980s and subsequently received a good deal of credit for the Soviet defeat, which was a factor in the eventual fall of the “evil empire.”

Recriminations about the way an Islamic resistance eventually morphed into the Taliban have served to tarnish that Cold War triumph in some eyes. But as much as we may second-guess the way the first President George Bush and his foreign-policy team helped muff the aftermath of the fall of Communism — as Wilson did of Congress’s post–Cold War interest in Afghanistan — there is no reason for anyone to question the rightness of Wilson’s war to defeat a brutal Communist tyranny in that country. It is a tragedy that the strange political culture of Afghanistan, combined with Western indifference, led to an Islamist tyranny that played host to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 murderers. But as is the case today as American and other allied troops struggle to give that country a chance for freedom, allowing the Soviets’ misrule of Afghanistan to stand without a fight was wrong. Charlie Wilson knew that — and for that alone his memory deserves to be honored.

Immortalized by George Crile’s book Charlie Wilson’s War and the movie of the same name, in which he was played by Tom Hanks, Wilson’s singular dedication to the cause of freeing Afghanistan, as well as a wild personal life in which alcohol, drugs, and loose women were staples, made him anything but your run-of-the-mill politician. No one could assert, at least not with a straight face, that womanizers like Wilson are a thing of the past in Congress. But it is doubtful that any today would dare be as open about their shenanigans as Wilson was.

However, Wilson was also a last vestige of a vanishing breed: a liberal Democrat who was also a hawk on national-defense issues. Like Joe Lieberman, who was chased out of his party in 2006 by a leftist anti-war primary majority, Wilson, a former naval officer, wedded liberal stands on domestic issues to a robust belief in national defense, as well as a loathing of Communists and other foes of his country. Even in the South, they just don’t make ’em like Charlie Wilson anymore. At a time when our nation remains at war against brutal Islamist enemies, pro-defense Democrats are harder and harder to find. Our nation is the poorer for the absence of patriots like Wilson, on both sides of the political aisle.

The death yesterday of former Texas Congressman “Good Time Charlie” Wilson will, no doubt, revive the discussion of what went wrong with American policy in the aftermath of the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Wilson played a key role in helping to fund Afghan resistance fighters in the 1980s and subsequently received a good deal of credit for the Soviet defeat, which was a factor in the eventual fall of the “evil empire.”

Recriminations about the way an Islamic resistance eventually morphed into the Taliban have served to tarnish that Cold War triumph in some eyes. But as much as we may second-guess the way the first President George Bush and his foreign-policy team helped muff the aftermath of the fall of Communism — as Wilson did of Congress’s post–Cold War interest in Afghanistan — there is no reason for anyone to question the rightness of Wilson’s war to defeat a brutal Communist tyranny in that country. It is a tragedy that the strange political culture of Afghanistan, combined with Western indifference, led to an Islamist tyranny that played host to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 murderers. But as is the case today as American and other allied troops struggle to give that country a chance for freedom, allowing the Soviets’ misrule of Afghanistan to stand without a fight was wrong. Charlie Wilson knew that — and for that alone his memory deserves to be honored.

Immortalized by George Crile’s book Charlie Wilson’s War and the movie of the same name, in which he was played by Tom Hanks, Wilson’s singular dedication to the cause of freeing Afghanistan, as well as a wild personal life in which alcohol, drugs, and loose women were staples, made him anything but your run-of-the-mill politician. No one could assert, at least not with a straight face, that womanizers like Wilson are a thing of the past in Congress. But it is doubtful that any today would dare be as open about their shenanigans as Wilson was.

However, Wilson was also a last vestige of a vanishing breed: a liberal Democrat who was also a hawk on national-defense issues. Like Joe Lieberman, who was chased out of his party in 2006 by a leftist anti-war primary majority, Wilson, a former naval officer, wedded liberal stands on domestic issues to a robust belief in national defense, as well as a loathing of Communists and other foes of his country. Even in the South, they just don’t make ’em like Charlie Wilson anymore. At a time when our nation remains at war against brutal Islamist enemies, pro-defense Democrats are harder and harder to find. Our nation is the poorer for the absence of patriots like Wilson, on both sides of the political aisle.

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Hillary Tilts Talks Even Further Against Israel

The New York Times noted today a curious use of wording by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to describe the United States approach to prospective peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Answering a question in a news conference about the possibility of more peace talks, Clinton stated explicitly what the basis of negotiations should be: “Of course, we believe that the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders.”

As the Times reported, this is not a new concept. This notion was at the heart of previous Israeli offers made first by Ehud Barak and then by Ehud Olmert. But what the Times fails to point out is that the Palestinians have always rejected every possible swap, insisting that every inch of the land illegally occupied by Jordan (in the West Bank and Jerusalem) and Egypt (in Gaza) should be part of a Palestinian state. But as the Times does correctly note:

Mrs. Clinton’s mention of them went farther than the Obama administration’s standard script on the Middle East: that the positions of Israel and the Palestinians can be reconciled. Analysts said it could augur a new American emphasis, after a frustrating year in which President Obama failed to jump-start the peace process by pressuring Israel to halt construction of settlements. In particular, Mrs. Clinton’s reference may appeal to the Palestinians, who have long declared that the 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations.

So far, the Palestinians have refused to restart talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions. What they want is for the United States to guarantee more Israeli concessions in advance of any talks that would mandate the Jewish state’s surrender of all of this territory, including Jerusalem, without giving up anything in exchange. This is not a basis for a negotiation but a diktat in which Israel will be forced to withdraw from territory that, as the experience of the withdrawal from Gaza showed, would soon be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks on Jewish targets. That is why there is virtually no support within Israel for more withdrawals under the current circumstances. The American effort to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party at the expense of his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza makes sense in that it is clearly in the interests of both Israel and the United States to undermine Hamas. But the idea that Fatah is any sense ready to make peace, or willing or able to make a deal allowing a single Jew to remain anywhere in the West Bank or in eastern Jerusalem, even if they were given parts of Israel as part of the transaction, is nothing more than a fantasy.

In the last year, the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlement freezes as part of a package of Israeli concessions to lure the Palestinians to the table achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, but to teach the Palestinians that if they keep saying no, they can escalate American pressure on Israel and widen the breach between Netanyahu’s popular coalition and an American government clearly more unsympathetic to Israel than any since the first president Bush.

This sort of pressure is exactly what left-wing groups like the J Street lobby seek as they launch a campaign to further undermine American Jewish support for Israel’s democratically elected government. That may please Obama and Clinton. But it also demonstrates just how disconnected both the administration and its left-wing Jewish cheerleaders are from the realities of the Middle East.

The New York Times noted today a curious use of wording by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to describe the United States approach to prospective peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Answering a question in a news conference about the possibility of more peace talks, Clinton stated explicitly what the basis of negotiations should be: “Of course, we believe that the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders.”

As the Times reported, this is not a new concept. This notion was at the heart of previous Israeli offers made first by Ehud Barak and then by Ehud Olmert. But what the Times fails to point out is that the Palestinians have always rejected every possible swap, insisting that every inch of the land illegally occupied by Jordan (in the West Bank and Jerusalem) and Egypt (in Gaza) should be part of a Palestinian state. But as the Times does correctly note:

Mrs. Clinton’s mention of them went farther than the Obama administration’s standard script on the Middle East: that the positions of Israel and the Palestinians can be reconciled. Analysts said it could augur a new American emphasis, after a frustrating year in which President Obama failed to jump-start the peace process by pressuring Israel to halt construction of settlements. In particular, Mrs. Clinton’s reference may appeal to the Palestinians, who have long declared that the 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations.

So far, the Palestinians have refused to restart talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions. What they want is for the United States to guarantee more Israeli concessions in advance of any talks that would mandate the Jewish state’s surrender of all of this territory, including Jerusalem, without giving up anything in exchange. This is not a basis for a negotiation but a diktat in which Israel will be forced to withdraw from territory that, as the experience of the withdrawal from Gaza showed, would soon be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks on Jewish targets. That is why there is virtually no support within Israel for more withdrawals under the current circumstances. The American effort to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party at the expense of his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza makes sense in that it is clearly in the interests of both Israel and the United States to undermine Hamas. But the idea that Fatah is any sense ready to make peace, or willing or able to make a deal allowing a single Jew to remain anywhere in the West Bank or in eastern Jerusalem, even if they were given parts of Israel as part of the transaction, is nothing more than a fantasy.

In the last year, the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlement freezes as part of a package of Israeli concessions to lure the Palestinians to the table achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, but to teach the Palestinians that if they keep saying no, they can escalate American pressure on Israel and widen the breach between Netanyahu’s popular coalition and an American government clearly more unsympathetic to Israel than any since the first president Bush.

This sort of pressure is exactly what left-wing groups like the J Street lobby seek as they launch a campaign to further undermine American Jewish support for Israel’s democratically elected government. That may please Obama and Clinton. But it also demonstrates just how disconnected both the administration and its left-wing Jewish cheerleaders are from the realities of the Middle East.

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One Last Time: Can the Chinese Bluff Obama Out of Meeting the Dalai Lama?

Peter, thanks for pointing out that there were other meetings between President Bush and the Dalai Lama. That is certainly to the former president’s credit, though we both know that there is a diplomatic distinction between “public” and “private” meetings that, in this case, was much remarked upon at the time and since.

But the point here is very much policy toward China. And what isn’t debatable is the lamentable continuity that stretches from the first president Bush to Clinton to the second Bush and now to Obama when it comes to concern about human rights in China.

Peter, thanks for pointing out that there were other meetings between President Bush and the Dalai Lama. That is certainly to the former president’s credit, though we both know that there is a diplomatic distinction between “public” and “private” meetings that, in this case, was much remarked upon at the time and since.

But the point here is very much policy toward China. And what isn’t debatable is the lamentable continuity that stretches from the first president Bush to Clinton to the second Bush and now to Obama when it comes to concern about human rights in China.

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Why Is Obama Acting So Weird?

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament – defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament – defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

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Blame America First — World War II Edition

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

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Obama’s Moment of Choosing

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

Read Less




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