Commentary Magazine


Topic: founder

The Wondrous Comedy Stylings of Rabbi Michael Lerner

I must confess I get a thrill up my leg when I see I’ve received an e-mail from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun magazine, because I know I’m about to have a really good laugh. Today’s e-mail is a Thanksgiving missive:

No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, there are moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and focus on all the good. And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!!!! …

It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. … It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a cd or dvd) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful. …

Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the
gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or care-giver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving. …

So at this point you’re probably wondering, what’s the joke? Ah, it’s all in the set-up, you see. Because here’s the punchline:

I think you will find that when you’ve followed some of these steps preparatory to the meal, that you can then turn the conversation to talk about the absurdity of the War in Afghanistan and the misguided nature of the War on Terror. … Or talk about the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East and the need for a progressive Middle Path which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and refuses to play the “blame game” of which side is “really bad” and which side is “really good” but instead recognizes that both sides have co-created this mess. You might even want to discuss the misguided move by the US to offer military incentives to Israel to restart negotiations. … For all the “realists” at your table ask them how well they think things turned out for Obama and the Democrats these past two years by following the “realistic” path in D.C. rather than fighting for a more progressive or visionary alternative.

Yes, greet Thanksgiving with wonder and amazement by attacking the U.S. and Israel, and then attack people at your Thanksgiving table for having the temerity to think or have thought otherwise!!!! (Those four exclamation points courtesy of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who loves exclamation points almost as much as he likes to draw analogues between Israel and Nazi Germany!!!!)!!!!

I must confess I get a thrill up my leg when I see I’ve received an e-mail from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun magazine, because I know I’m about to have a really good laugh. Today’s e-mail is a Thanksgiving missive:

No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, there are moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and focus on all the good. And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!!!! …

It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. … It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a cd or dvd) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful. …

Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the
gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or care-giver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving. …

So at this point you’re probably wondering, what’s the joke? Ah, it’s all in the set-up, you see. Because here’s the punchline:

I think you will find that when you’ve followed some of these steps preparatory to the meal, that you can then turn the conversation to talk about the absurdity of the War in Afghanistan and the misguided nature of the War on Terror. … Or talk about the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East and the need for a progressive Middle Path which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and refuses to play the “blame game” of which side is “really bad” and which side is “really good” but instead recognizes that both sides have co-created this mess. You might even want to discuss the misguided move by the US to offer military incentives to Israel to restart negotiations. … For all the “realists” at your table ask them how well they think things turned out for Obama and the Democrats these past two years by following the “realistic” path in D.C. rather than fighting for a more progressive or visionary alternative.

Yes, greet Thanksgiving with wonder and amazement by attacking the U.S. and Israel, and then attack people at your Thanksgiving table for having the temerity to think or have thought otherwise!!!! (Those four exclamation points courtesy of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who loves exclamation points almost as much as he likes to draw analogues between Israel and Nazi Germany!!!!)!!!!

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Shot Trying to Escape?

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

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Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

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Afghanistan: Snapshots from the Morning Papers

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

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Mohammed Oudeh’s Lesson: Attacking the West Pays

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

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Obama’s Faulty Middle East Vision

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

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Turkish Flags

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

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Ignoring the Enemy

Cliff May has an important piece on the West’s reluctance to recognize the nature of the enemy we face:

We Americans are uncomfortable with such ideas as holy war and religiously motivated mass murder. Raised to believe in equality, tolerance, and diversity, we cannot imagine slaughtering fellow human beings so that adherents of the “true faith” might prevail over “enemies of God.” Nor can most of us imagine others acting in this way. Our imaginations are failing us.

As May explains, the averting-our-eyes problem is exacerbated by dim liberals searching for sociological or economic motivations for terrorists and by jihadist propagandists:

For example, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born academic — he holds the His Highness Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford (no kidding) — last week told the Washington Post that jihad “has nothing to do with holy war. … Where you are trying to resist bad temptations and reform yourself with good aspirations that you have, this is a jihad of the self.”

What makes this lie so brazen — though the Post did not think to question it — is that Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna himself stated clearly that the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines “summon people … to jihad, to warfare, to the armed forces, and all means of land and sea fighting.”

But, of course, the current administration has made the problem much worse, by refusing to name the enemy and by systematically downplaying in our Middle East diplomacy the nature of the jihadist threat. (This was on display in the Rashad Hussain interview, even as corrected by the State Department.) This only undermines the position of moderate Muslims:

Commenting on the Times Square bombing attempt, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent American Muslim reformer, stated what so many others will not: “Islamists are at war intellectually and kinetically with western liberal democracies.” He added that while Americans are often the victims, “most Islamists globally actually target moderate Muslims who are their greatest existential threat.”

Anti-Islamist Muslims know, too, that the Islamists have not “hijacked” a “religion of peace,” comforting as that might be for us to believe. Islamists are fundamentalists, not heretics. Their reading of Islam is neither new nor unorthodox. They advocate a return to Islam as it was practiced in the seventh century. In that era, Islam was, without apology or ambiguity, a warrior faith dedicated to conquest — with power, wealth, and glory accruing to conquerors.

Americans’ natural disinclination to take at face value the extremist ideology of its foes can only be corrected by leadership from the president and his administration. It is their obligation to explain what we are fighting, to give support to anti-jihadist Muslims, and to focus all our anti-terror policies on aggressively combating an ideological foe. Until this is accomplished, we remain at a severe disadvantage against an enemy that suffers no lack of clarity, determination, and ideological focus.

Cliff May has an important piece on the West’s reluctance to recognize the nature of the enemy we face:

We Americans are uncomfortable with such ideas as holy war and religiously motivated mass murder. Raised to believe in equality, tolerance, and diversity, we cannot imagine slaughtering fellow human beings so that adherents of the “true faith” might prevail over “enemies of God.” Nor can most of us imagine others acting in this way. Our imaginations are failing us.

As May explains, the averting-our-eyes problem is exacerbated by dim liberals searching for sociological or economic motivations for terrorists and by jihadist propagandists:

For example, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born academic — he holds the His Highness Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford (no kidding) — last week told the Washington Post that jihad “has nothing to do with holy war. … Where you are trying to resist bad temptations and reform yourself with good aspirations that you have, this is a jihad of the self.”

What makes this lie so brazen — though the Post did not think to question it — is that Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna himself stated clearly that the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines “summon people … to jihad, to warfare, to the armed forces, and all means of land and sea fighting.”

But, of course, the current administration has made the problem much worse, by refusing to name the enemy and by systematically downplaying in our Middle East diplomacy the nature of the jihadist threat. (This was on display in the Rashad Hussain interview, even as corrected by the State Department.) This only undermines the position of moderate Muslims:

Commenting on the Times Square bombing attempt, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent American Muslim reformer, stated what so many others will not: “Islamists are at war intellectually and kinetically with western liberal democracies.” He added that while Americans are often the victims, “most Islamists globally actually target moderate Muslims who are their greatest existential threat.”

Anti-Islamist Muslims know, too, that the Islamists have not “hijacked” a “religion of peace,” comforting as that might be for us to believe. Islamists are fundamentalists, not heretics. Their reading of Islam is neither new nor unorthodox. They advocate a return to Islam as it was practiced in the seventh century. In that era, Islam was, without apology or ambiguity, a warrior faith dedicated to conquest — with power, wealth, and glory accruing to conquerors.

Americans’ natural disinclination to take at face value the extremist ideology of its foes can only be corrected by leadership from the president and his administration. It is their obligation to explain what we are fighting, to give support to anti-jihadist Muslims, and to focus all our anti-terror policies on aggressively combating an ideological foe. Until this is accomplished, we remain at a severe disadvantage against an enemy that suffers no lack of clarity, determination, and ideological focus.

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The Dubai Hit

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas’ downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas’ downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.'”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.'”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

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Today’s Yeshiva Massacre in Jerusalem

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

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Huckabee’s Further Flip-Flopping

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

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The New CW

The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

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The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

And in Newsweek Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, writes

I have been troubled by the reluctance of my fellow liberals to acknowledge the progress made in Iraq in the last six months, a reluctance I am embarrassed to admit that I have shared. Giving Gen. David Petraeus his due does not mean we have to start saying it was a great idea to invade Iraq. It remains the terrible idea it always was. And the occupation that followed has been until recently a continuing disaster, causing the death or maiming of far too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Still, the fact is that the situation in Iraq, though some violence persists, is much improved since the summer. Why do liberals not want to face this fact, let alone ponder its implications?

These accounts reinforce what some observers have been saying for months now: the Democratic Party crossed into treacherous political territory when its leadership declared the “surge” to be lost even before it was in place. This mistake was compounded when scores of Democrats denied, and even seemed to get agitated at, the progress the United States military was making in Iraq; when Democrats went out of their way to attack the credibility of General David Petraeus, the architect of our success there; and when they persisted, and continue to persist, in their attempts to subvert a military strategy that is showing extraordinary gains.

The better things got in Iraq, the more frantic the Democratic leadership seemed to get. While it is entirely legitimate for Democrats to criticize the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, and while it was also understandable for them to be skeptical about the progress in the early part of this year, given the false summits we have experienced, what was unpardonable, according to Christopher Hitchens, was “the dank and sinister impression [liberals and Democrats] give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased.”

That this happened at all ranks among the most disheartening and disturbing political developments we have seen. That there will be an accounting for it is only just—and, perhaps, only now a matter of time.

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Nazi Mitfords

On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

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On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

Although Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters is being marketed by its publisher as a glamorous item penned by the “great wits and beauties of their age,” there is nothing either witty or beautiful about Diana’s and Unity’s ardent crushes on Hitler, with whom they socialized regularly in the 1930’s. In 1937 Unity tells Diana, “Nazism is my life,” while Diana replies, “I thirst for only a glimpse of” Hitler, and in 1938 informs Unity: “The Fuehrer is the kindest man in the world, isn’t he?”

Readers who dissent from this view will find astonishingly adamant defenses here of Diana by the editor Charlotte Mosley, her daughter-in-law. Charlotte is the wife of Diana’s son Oswald Alexander Mosley (born 1938), and as editor of previous collections of Nancy’s letters, Ms. Mosley repeatedly defended her mother-in-law, despite Diana’s being an unrepentant Nazi to her dying day. Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters amps up this unapologetic stance, accusing Nancy of “disloyalty” and “betrayal” because during World War II, she sensibly told friends in the British government of her concern that Diana was an “extremely dangerous person.” Moreover, Nancy pointed out that another sister, Pamela, was “anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and defeatist.” Rather than applauding Nancy’s good sense and courage, Ms. Mosley equates Nancy’s passion for a French Gaullist officer to Diana’s and Unity’s doting on Hitler, writing that Nancy “became as indiscriminately pro-French as Unity had been pro-German.”

Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters mashes the sisters into a conglomerate, describing them as knowing “Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Hitler; [they] were friends of Lytton Strachey, Evelyn Waugh, and Maya Angelou.” This conjures up confused images of Hitler socializing with Maya Angelou. Historical mish-mash is a bad approach for a book dealing with six sisters of whom only one, Nancy, produced work that is as fresh today as when she wrote it.

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Al Qaeda in . . . Mesopotamia?

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

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In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

In a single sentence, the Times does three things. First, it refers to Iraq as Mesopotamia, thereby using a more obscure term in an effort to disconnect al Qaeda from Iraq. Second, it goes out of its way to say that “homegrown Sunni Arab extremists” constitute the group, thereby emphasizing the indigenous rather than foreign element of al Qaeda in Iraq. And third, it attempts to put a question mark around the foreign involvement of AQI by saying that “American intelligence” has concluded it’s being run by foreigners.

The problem is that while the Times wants to separate the Iraq war from al Qaeda, al Qaeda itself does not. Osama bin Laden has declared:

The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.

As for the homegrown aspect of AQI: it’s true (as you would expect) that many members of AQI are Iraq Sunnis—and it’s also true that our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists brought into Iraq for a single purpose: to blow themselves up in the cause of killing innocent Iraqis, which in turn will push Iraq closer to civil war.

As for the foreign composition of AQI: it’s not incidental. Al Qaeda in Iraq was in fact (not alleged to have been) founded by foreign terrorists linked to senior al Qaeda leadership. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded AQI—and his successor (Zarqawi was killed in June 2006) is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is Egyptian. Zarqawi, who ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, had long-standing relations with senior al Qaeda leaders and had met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of al Qaeda. In 2004, Zarqawi and his jihadist organization formally joined al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden, promising to “follow his orders in jihad.” And bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the “prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.”

Clearly the Times wants to disconnect the Iraq war from al Qaeda and the wider war against Islamic jihadists. The more they can pry the two apart, the more unpopular the Iraq war will be. And the Times, if it wants anything at all, wants America’s involvement in Iraq to end, regardless of the cost, including genocide, a victory and safe haven for jihadists, a victory for Iran, and a wider regional war. And as we have seen, they will go to ridiculous ends to play their part.

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On Bayard Rustin

Last Friday, I had a short essay at The New Republic Online discussing the legacy of Bayard Rustin, the 20th anniversary of whose death was August 24th. Rustin was a towering figure among American liberals, even though some could no longer recognize him as one of their own at the time of his death in 1987. Rustin, who got his start in politics as a Quaker pacifist, ended up as a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, a founding board member of the pro-Scoop Jackson/anti-McGovernite Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, and as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Freedom House. All of these organization had incurred the disfavor and wrath of large segments of the American Left, because of their unabashedly anti-Communist, pro-democratization policies and aims.

Rustin was also the most prominent African-American defender of the state of Israel (another casus belli for much of the American Left), having founded the Black American Israel Support Committee (BASIC) in 1975, as a response to the United Nations’ resolution equating Zionism to racism and to the then-rising tide of black anti-Semitism. In honor of Rustin, COMMENTARY has made available some of his most trenchant essays written in its pages.

From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement—February, 1965.

Written after the congressional passage of major civil rights legislation, this article was a call to African-Americans to involve themselves in political organizing. Rustin would soon become a target of the Black Panthers and other radicals for arguing against black nationalism.

The “Watts Manifesto” & The McCone Report—March, 1966.

In this essay, Rustin analyzes the roots of black anger that led to the Watts riots of 1965.

The War Against Zimbabwe—July, 1979.

In April of 1979, Rustin was part of a Freedom House delegation to monitor elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. This is the most thorough and convincing attack on the Carter administration’s policies towards this southern African state and its feckless dealings with communist-sponsored movements more generally, and delivers a prescient warning against the horrors of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Rustin was one of the very few black American leaders to speak out against a transition to power that put Mugabe in control.

Last Friday, I had a short essay at The New Republic Online discussing the legacy of Bayard Rustin, the 20th anniversary of whose death was August 24th. Rustin was a towering figure among American liberals, even though some could no longer recognize him as one of their own at the time of his death in 1987. Rustin, who got his start in politics as a Quaker pacifist, ended up as a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, a founding board member of the pro-Scoop Jackson/anti-McGovernite Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, and as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Freedom House. All of these organization had incurred the disfavor and wrath of large segments of the American Left, because of their unabashedly anti-Communist, pro-democratization policies and aims.

Rustin was also the most prominent African-American defender of the state of Israel (another casus belli for much of the American Left), having founded the Black American Israel Support Committee (BASIC) in 1975, as a response to the United Nations’ resolution equating Zionism to racism and to the then-rising tide of black anti-Semitism. In honor of Rustin, COMMENTARY has made available some of his most trenchant essays written in its pages.

From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement—February, 1965.

Written after the congressional passage of major civil rights legislation, this article was a call to African-Americans to involve themselves in political organizing. Rustin would soon become a target of the Black Panthers and other radicals for arguing against black nationalism.

The “Watts Manifesto” & The McCone Report—March, 1966.

In this essay, Rustin analyzes the roots of black anger that led to the Watts riots of 1965.

The War Against Zimbabwe—July, 1979.

In April of 1979, Rustin was part of a Freedom House delegation to monitor elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. This is the most thorough and convincing attack on the Carter administration’s policies towards this southern African state and its feckless dealings with communist-sponsored movements more generally, and delivers a prescient warning against the horrors of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Rustin was one of the very few black American leaders to speak out against a transition to power that put Mugabe in control.

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Iran’s Long Arm

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

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Michael Lerner, Vulgarian

April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

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April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

Michael Lerner is someone about whom I would not ordinarily comment, except that this display of vulgarity cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. Lerner was a 1960’s New Leftist, founder of the Seattle Liberation Front. When a demonstration he organized turned into a riot, he was tried as part of the “Seattle Seven.” While many other 60’s radicals eventually rethought their juvenile beliefs, Lerner set his mind instead to carving out new turf. He reappeared as a psychotherapist, dressing his old ideology in a new robe by founding the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, which purported to study the “psychodynamics of American society.”

Lerner married wealth, and although the marriage did not last, the wealth did, enabling him to found the magazine Tikkun. A few years later, a disillusioned employee revealed that letters to the editor that ran in its pages, lavishing praise on the magazine and Lerner, were in fact fabricated by Lerner himself.

In his next self-reinvention, Lerner appeared as a rabbi, although his theological training was as sketchy as that of such other famous self-promoters as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In this guise, he propounded the “politics of meaning”—the meaning of which was indecipherable. Of greater moment, Lerner used his rabbinic title as cover for a relentless campaign against Israel, including the embrace of such unsavory enemies of the Jewish state as Cindy Sheehan, prompting the scholar Edward Alexander to observe, “nothing anti-Semitic is entirely alien to him.”

Like other leftists cloaking themselves in rabbinic garb, Lerner redefined Passover as a vehicle on which to display ideological bumper stickers rather than as a commemoration of the creation of Judaism through the exodus from Egypt, the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and the settlement of the promised land.

However, his use of Yom haShoah for his own purposes sets a new standard of coarseness. Lerner writes: “I want to explain to you why we picked the Holocaust Memorial Day to launch this initiative. To the starvation and suffering on the planet today (with 2.4 billion people living on less than $2 a day) we say: Never Again.” If taken seriously, this is moronic. Never again? Again what? There has always been starvation and suffering. And while suffering is impossible to measure, there is, proportionately, less starvation today than ever before. However sad the perdurance of these afflictions may be, it is not a discrete event. What can it possibly mean to say “never again” in this context?

But of course, Lerner’s explanation is not to be taken seriously. The true explanation is that this is just one more stage performance by a “rabbi” whose self-absorption is bottomless and for whom nothing, apparently, is sacred. As attorney Joseph Welch said famously to Senator McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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Ramadan’s Exclusion

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.

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Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.


Even leaving aside this and other contacts with leading terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, and the “blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center—all of which Ramadan denies—his claim to be a leading moderate who seeks to “westernize Islam” and believes in freedom of speech does not square with his public pronouncements. (For fuller documentation of these charges against Ramadan, please see this from the indispensible Daniel Pipes.) It is rank hypocrisy for Ramadan, who rarely condemns censorship in the Muslim world, to accuse the United States of “muffling critical opinion” and “requiring all its citizens to think the same way.”

Ramadan justified the protests against Danish cartoons of Mohammed, claiming that the Koran prohibits representations of Islamic prophets. (In fact, it does not.) He supported the Islamist campaign to ban Voltaire’s play about Mohammed, Fanaticism, at the French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. He refers to Islamist atrocities such as 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and Bali as “interventions” and denies that bin Laden was behind 9/11. He has praised the genocidal Sudanese Islamist regime. He attacked the French intellectuals Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy for “betraying the French Republic” by their support for “sectarianism”, a euphemism for Zionism, and scandalized many by identifying them as Jews. According to Mike Whine, head of the British Community Security Trust, an organization which monitors anti-Semitism, Ramadan has made many anti-Jewish statements and “is at the soft end of the extreme Islamist spectrum.”

We do not know precisely why the U.S. Department for Homeland Security has repeatedly turned down his application for a visa, despite elements in the State Department who would like to revoke the ban. The evidence against him may well include classified information. What we do know is that Ramadan has never abandoned his project of Islamification, and that he wants to pursue it in the heart of the United States. As the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan sees his own destiny in exalted terms. In his Chronicle piece, he speaks of the “period of transition” on which the West has embarked since the emergence of large Muslim minorities, who will require the host societies to make “major adjustments” to accommodate them. “We must move forward from integration,” he declares, while Muslims “must no longer see themselves as a ‘minority.’”

What does all this mean? What is Western society supposed to be in transition to—an Islamic one? What are these “major adjustments” that the Western democracies must make? What is wrong with the model of integration, which has served the United States well in the past, and why is it no longer good enough for Muslims? And why must Muslims no longer see themselves as a minority, if that is what they are?

Ramadan’s manifesto, moderate as it may sound, in reality amounts to a program of Islamification by stealth. His family was exiled from Egypt, and Ramadan remains persona non grata there, because the Muslim Brotherhood was and is seen as dangerous. It was the first and is still the largest Islamist organization in the world. Ramadan has achieved respectability in Europe, where he is feted by academics at Oxford and Geneva—he was even invited by the British government to sit on an advisory committee after the 7/7 subway bombings in London.

But the United States has looked more carefully at his record and decided that he represents a threat. To allow Ramadan’s brand of Islamism a platform in the heart of the American academy would be the equivalent of allowing, say, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt to lecture in the United States during the Third Reich. It was the judge who had prosecuted many Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, who warned that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” It is not incumbent on a democracy to allow its enemies the freedom to subvert its very existence. Tariq Ramadan is just such an enemy.

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Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960’s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960’s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Read Less




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