Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Bush

New Defense of Obama Tactics: Blame Bush

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, to his credit, can’t quite bring himself to equate the Obama campaign’s insinuations that Mitt Romney is culpable in the death of innocents with the Romney campaign’s attacks on President Obama’s controversial welfare executive order. But he does happen to have another justification of the Obama campaign’s rhetorical excesses, and it’s one that should come naturally to Obama: it’s all Bush’s fault.

“What’s different this time,” Milbank writes, “is that the Democrats are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success.” And what finally pushed the Democrats over the edge was the defeat of John Kerry. Milbank writes that Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who was caught making false claims about the now-infamous murder ad and her role in orchestrating that line of attack, was especially affected by that election. He writes:

Eight years ago, Cutter was a staffer on the Kerry campaign when the candidate was undone by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on his war record. Cutter, like other Democrats, learned a hard truth back then: Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.

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The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, to his credit, can’t quite bring himself to equate the Obama campaign’s insinuations that Mitt Romney is culpable in the death of innocents with the Romney campaign’s attacks on President Obama’s controversial welfare executive order. But he does happen to have another justification of the Obama campaign’s rhetorical excesses, and it’s one that should come naturally to Obama: it’s all Bush’s fault.

“What’s different this time,” Milbank writes, “is that the Democrats are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success.” And what finally pushed the Democrats over the edge was the defeat of John Kerry. Milbank writes that Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who was caught making false claims about the now-infamous murder ad and her role in orchestrating that line of attack, was especially affected by that election. He writes:

Eight years ago, Cutter was a staffer on the Kerry campaign when the candidate was undone by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on his war record. Cutter, like other Democrats, learned a hard truth back then: Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.

Now, Milbank gets much about the Kerry election wrong–and as Jonathan wrote, he isn’t the only one to try to use the Swift Boat veterans against the GOP this time–but he’s right in his conclusion: negative campaigning tends to be effective, and the Obama campaign is far more concerned with winning than adhering to honest electioneering. It may be true that Cutter learned from the Kerry debacle to turn this campaign into a carnival of obscene personal attacks and extraordinarily irresponsible unfounded accusations—but that’s not the case with the president.

As Victor Davis Hanson wrote at NRO, Obama knows the “Chicago way” works because he’s never run any other kind of campaign:

Obama demolished his U.S. Senate Democratic primary rival through leaked divorce records. He demolished his initial Republican rival through leaked divorce records. When he got through with Hillary Clinton, the liberal former first lady and U.S. senator had transmogrified into a prevaricating hack and veritable racist, as Bill Clinton lamented the race card being played. John McCain released his health records and his general dismal ranking at Annapolis, leading to a false narrative that he was naturally inattentive and reckless, and scarcely hale, while Obama released neither his medical nor his college records; as Sarah Palin — heretofore a reformist governor of Alaska who in bipartisan fashion had fought special interests — was reduced to a caricature of an uninformed poor (and trashy) mom. All of the above transpired while Barack Obama ran as a “reformer” and proponent of “civility,” who vowed to run a “transparent” campaign of full disclosure, and to leave the old “petty” and “gotcha” politics behind.

The fiction that Democrats like to tell themselves about the 2004 Bush-Kerry election grows out of their refusal to admit what everybody knew: Kerry was an absurd candidate, produced by a bizarre primary season. In the end, they nominated for president a man who made a big show of tossing away his Vietnam War ribbons and smearing his fellow soldiers—to challenge a wartime president, no less. To compensate for this, that nomination took place, as Andrew Ferguson wrote in COMMENTARY, “in a hall festooned with so much military paraphernalia and overrun by so many saluting veterans that you might have thought you were watching a Latin American coup.”

It is also the case that Kerry didn’t think much of the American people he was asking to lead, and it showed. In one of Matt Taibbi’s columns about the 2004 election, he writes that he noticed Kerry was using a quote from George Bernard Shaw in his speeches,

but he always introduces it by saying, “He (Ted Kennedy) quoted the poet who said…” When I asked a Kerry spokesman why Kerry didn’t just say the poet’s name out loud, he told me that the average voter might be confused by the mention of too many academic references.

It turned out that the “average voter” was smarter than Kerry gave him credit for—smart enough to vote against Kerry. The sooner the Democrats make peace with Kerry’s failed candidacy, the better. There are many things Obama was able to blame on Bush, but the negativity of this election isn’t one of them.

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Obama Makes it Too Easy on His Critics

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

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In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

Annual economic growth was three times higher under President Bush than under President Obama. Under Bush, the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent; under Obama, it has never been under 8 percent. In the wake of a recession that began roughly seven weeks after President Bush took office, America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation that produced more than 8 million new jobs. We saw labor-productivity gains that averaged 2.5 percent annually — a rate that exceeds the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent. And from 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a gain of nearly $2.1 trillion. As for the deficit, it fell to 1 percent of GDP ($162 billion) by 2007. Indeed, before the financial crisis of 2008 – which I’ll return to in a moment — Bush’s budget deficits were 0.6 percentage points below the historical average.

As for the Obama record, as I point out in this essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY, President Obama has overseen the weakest recovery on record. He is on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. The standard of living for Americans has fallen more dramatically during his presidency than during any since the government began recording it five decades ago. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. Home values are nearly 35 percent lower than they were five years ago. The United States has amassed more than $5 trillion in debt since January 2009, with the president having submitted four budgets with trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Prior to Obama, no president had submitted even a single budget with deficits in excess of a trillion dollars. In addition, government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history. And a record 46 million Americans are now living in poverty.

On Obama’s record, then, it’s not like we have to engage in some theoretical debate. We’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that.

Now unlike Obama, some of us are willing to concede that things need to be placed within a proper context. Obama took the oath of office in the wake of a financial collapse that made every economic indicator much worse; it’s only fair to take that into account. But even here, in characterizing what happened, Obama insists on presenting a distorted picture of reality, pretending that it was wholly the fault of his predecessor and the GOP. In fact, it was a complex set of factors that involved everything from credit default swaps to the Federal Reserve to policies in which both parties were complicit. But this much we know: Democrats bear the majority of the blame for blocking reforms that could have mitigated the effects of the housing crisis, which in turn led to the broader financial crisis.

As Stuart Taylor put it in 2008:

The pretense of many Democrats that this crisis is altogether a Republican creation is simplistic and dangerous. It is simplistic because Democrats have been a big part of the problem, in part by supporting governmental distortions of the marketplace through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending practices necessitated a $200 billion government rescue [in September 2008]. … Fannie and Freddie appear to have played a major role in causing the current crisis, in part because their quasi-governmental status violated basic principles of a healthy free enterprise system by allowing them to privatize profit while socializing risk.

The Bush administration warned as early as April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged and that their failure “could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity” well beyond housing. Bush’s plan would have subjected Fannie and Freddie to the kinds of federal regulation that banks, credit unions, and savings and loans have to comply with. In addition, Republican Richard Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) reform in 2005. And who blocked these efforts at reforming Fannie and Freddie? Democrats such as Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, along with the then-junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who backed Dodd’s threat of a filibuster (Obama was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004).

So Obama and his party bear a substantial (though not exclusive) responsibility in creating the economic crisis that Obama himself inherited. And even if you set all this aside, Obama entered office knowing what he faced, including a deficit and debt that was exploding. And rather than promote policies that accelerated economic growth and began to address our fiscal entitlement crisis, Obama went in exactly the opposite direction.

One other observation: historically, the worse the recession, the stronger the recovery (it’s referred to as the “rubber band effect.”) What is noteworthy about Obama’s economic record is how, in an environment in which one would expect the recovery to be unusually strong, it has been historically anemic. It seems to me, then, that “the other side” has quite a persuasive theory when it comes to moving the nation forward, at least compared to the theory being advanced by the current occupant in the White House.

Sometimes it seems as if Barack Obama is making it too easy on his critics.

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Hamas and History

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

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Holocaust Scholar Quoted in Anti-Glenn Beck Letter Criticizes the Campaign

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

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Insights on Egypt from Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

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Egypt: Why America Can’t Work to Prevent Change

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

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Look Who’s Back at the White House

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

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Why Is Jim Wallis Polishing the Windows on His Glass House?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries. Read More

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Perhaps the deeper thing to take away from this is that civility is difficult to achieve unless we gain some mental and emotional distance from political disputes. People on both sides of the divide employ double standards to advance their cause. What a reasonable person would consider an ad hominem attack is, for an ideologue, considered a self-evident truth. If  you’re a person on the hard left, as Wallis is, accusing Rumsfeld, Cheney, a conservative journalist and the Tea Party Movement of being liars, corrupt, war criminals, and racists is giving expression to what you consider to be a self-evident truth. Wallis even goes so far as to portray himself as a force moving us to a “kinder and gentler public square.” This is self-deception of a high order.

Those on the right are susceptible to the same temptations. They can accuse Barack Obama of hating white people and of being committed to destroying the country while also believing no lines have been crossed, that the charges are themselves incontestable.

This doesn’t mean that harsh judgments are never called for. Some people are knaves, while others are fools. My point is simply that all of us in the public arena come to it with certain predispositions and tendencies through which we interpret events. As a conservative, I would be among the last people in the world to reject the use of a philosophical system, of a worldview, to help us make sense of things.

On the other hand, people like Jim Wallis provide a cautionary tale of the blinding effects of zealotry. It can become so acute that even dispensers of libel can fashion themselves as peacemakers.

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Muslim Leaders Warn of ‘Backlash’ from Rep. King Hearings

As Rep. Peter King prepares to hold hearings to investigate homegrown Islamic radicalization next month, opponents of the investigation have fallen back on a familiar defense mechanism: they allege that the hearings will spur a “backlash” of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Washington Post reported that the upcoming hearings “have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community, which has spent much of the past year battling what it sees as a rising tide of Islamophobia.”

At the New York Daily News, Douglas Murray noted the recurrent fears of anti-Muslim “backlash”:

Across the media and blogosphere, pundits and certain politicians have been warning of the “fear” that Muslims are said to be feeling about the hearings. Not a witness has been confirmed, but self-appointed Muslim “leaders” have expressed their fears of the mythical “backlash” that is meant to be always about to occur.

Murray makes a good point. Just a few examples of incidents that so-called advocates for the Muslim community claimed would lead to a “backlash” in recent years include the Iraq war; when the FBI uncovered an Islamic terrorist attack in New Jersey; when a professor with terrorist links was put on trial; when Americans were beheaded by Islamic extremists; the sale of “Left Behind” video games; President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascism”; and the movie United 93.

Of course, the most recent incident that was supposed to spark a backlash was the public anger at the Islamic center near Ground Zero last summer.  “You saw some anti-Muslim views after 9/11, but they were relegated to the fringes of society where they should be,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 10. “Now anti-Muslim sentiment has really been mainstreamed.”

But, as Jonathan pointed out last November, that doesn’t match up with the facts. Hate crimes against Muslims reached a high after the 9/11 attacks, but they have dropped steadily — and significantly — since then.

The backlash theory has become nothing more than an easy way for some people to shut down uncomfortable conversations they don’t want to have. And this isn’t a debate they’re going to be able to put off any longer.

As Rep. Peter King prepares to hold hearings to investigate homegrown Islamic radicalization next month, opponents of the investigation have fallen back on a familiar defense mechanism: they allege that the hearings will spur a “backlash” of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Washington Post reported that the upcoming hearings “have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community, which has spent much of the past year battling what it sees as a rising tide of Islamophobia.”

At the New York Daily News, Douglas Murray noted the recurrent fears of anti-Muslim “backlash”:

Across the media and blogosphere, pundits and certain politicians have been warning of the “fear” that Muslims are said to be feeling about the hearings. Not a witness has been confirmed, but self-appointed Muslim “leaders” have expressed their fears of the mythical “backlash” that is meant to be always about to occur.

Murray makes a good point. Just a few examples of incidents that so-called advocates for the Muslim community claimed would lead to a “backlash” in recent years include the Iraq war; when the FBI uncovered an Islamic terrorist attack in New Jersey; when a professor with terrorist links was put on trial; when Americans were beheaded by Islamic extremists; the sale of “Left Behind” video games; President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascism”; and the movie United 93.

Of course, the most recent incident that was supposed to spark a backlash was the public anger at the Islamic center near Ground Zero last summer.  “You saw some anti-Muslim views after 9/11, but they were relegated to the fringes of society where they should be,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 10. “Now anti-Muslim sentiment has really been mainstreamed.”

But, as Jonathan pointed out last November, that doesn’t match up with the facts. Hate crimes against Muslims reached a high after the 9/11 attacks, but they have dropped steadily — and significantly — since then.

The backlash theory has become nothing more than an easy way for some people to shut down uncomfortable conversations they don’t want to have. And this isn’t a debate they’re going to be able to put off any longer.

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Are We All Neocons Now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

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A Policy That Pleases No One

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?” Read More

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?”

The problem with the Obama administration’s policy — which has basically been the policy of most U.S. administrations since 1961, with the partial exception of the more Euroskeptic tenure of George W. Bush — is that it raises these concerns about American bullying all over again, and raises them in a uniquely unhelpful way. Let us suppose for a moment that you desire — as I do not — that Britain should remain in the EU. U.S. declarations to this effect do nothing to convince those skeptical of this policy, because they suggest that the U.S. is cooperating with the EU to destroy British sovereignty, which is precisely why the skeptics are opposed to EU membership in the first place. Americans who desire Britain to stay in will best achieve this aim by not talking about it.

On the other hand, if you favor British withdrawal, it is regrettably true that the ambassador’s statements will anger the Euroskeptics — who tend to be more pro-American — and damage the Special Relationship by suggesting that the Americans have more or less given up on the idea of Britain as a sovereign and self-governing partner. The result is not to encourage strong Anglo-American relations; it is to encourage weaker British relations with both Europe and the U.S. Paradoxically, again, Americans who believe Britain should leave the EU have little to gain from statements like the ambassador’s, no matter how much public uproar they cause in Britain.

I am tempted to say it’s amazing that the administration has come upon a policy in this realm that will not achieve good results for anyone, no matter what they believe. But, as events in other parts of the world are illustrating, they seem to have a positive knack for this kind of thing.

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Vindication for Bush’s Freedom Agenda

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

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Partial Freezes, Complete Freezes, and Eskimos

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States! Read More

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States!

Shapiro suggested that the Palestinians had a sympathetic U.S. president and should start negotiating, given his commitment to them:

DE: The President has demonstrated a personal and real commitment to you. What you are saying indicates that you tend to discount the President’s commitment. It strikes me that it doesn’t seem to be worth a lot to you.

SE: This is not about personalities or conscience. Bush did not wake up one day and his conscience told him “two state solution.” It’s about interests. We have waited a painful 17 years in this process, to take our fate in our own hands.

But quite a lot happened in those 17 years. They got three offers of a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned all three down. They received all of Gaza and a chance to show they could build a state without threatening Israel — and demonstrated the opposite. They got a U.S. president personally committed to them, who undoubtedly would eventually push “bridging proposals” more to their liking than to Israel’s — and they refused to start negotiations without a complete freeze. A lot of opportunities came their way during those 17 years, while they were “waiting.”

In an old joke, a man tells a bartender he lost his religion after his small plane crashed in frozen Alaskan tundra and he lay there for hours, crying for God to save him, and nothing happened. The bartender says, “wait — you’re here.” “Right,” says the man, “because finally a damned Eskimo came along.” Some day Saeb Erekat will explain to some bartender that he was a negotiator for 17 years but nothing happened, except for all the damned Eskimos who came along.

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Soros-Funded Jewish Group Calls for Fox to Sanction Glenn Beck

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice sent an open letter to Rupert Murdoch asking him to sanction Fox News host Glenn Beck for using “Holocaust and Nazi images” on his show:

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

Jewish Funds for Justice was referring to an episode of Beck’s show that looked into left-wing philanthropist George Soros’s actions as a child during the Holocaust. As Jonathan wrote at the time, Beck’s portrayal of Soros as a teenage Nazi collaborator was inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as wrong as Beck’s Holocaust references were, the intentions of this open letter are questionable, to say the least. First, Jewish Funds for Justice is actually funded by Soros, which makes the group’s campaign appear to be more of a personal vendetta than anything else.

It’s also interesting that Soros and his organizations have suddenly become so sensitive to anti-Semitism. That’s certainly a new development.

Anti-Semitism and Holocaust imagery didn’t seem to bother Soros back in 2004, when his organization MoveOn.org aired a video comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, which the ADL rightly denounced as “vile and outrageous.”

And it was Soros who apologized back in 2003 for anti-Semite Mahathir Mohamad, who said he understood why people believe that “Jews rule the world by proxy.”

Soros has also blamed anti-Semitism on U.S. and Israeli policy. “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” he said, adding that if “we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish.” Soros has also funded anti-Israel groups, including J Street.

And of all the people in recent months who have used Holocaust or anti-Semitic rhetoric — including Helen Thomas, Oliver Stone, and Rep. Steve Cohen — it’s telling that Jewish Funds for Justice has come out only against Glenn Beck, especially since Beck’s statements were far less offensive than those of the others.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Jewish Funds for Justice has no real interest in combating anti-Semitism — unless, of course, it helps the group’s political goal of demonizing conservatives.

And if that’s the case, then this letter is far more offensive than anything Beck has ever said on his show. Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, and throwing it around based on a political motive isn’t just counterproductive; it’s dangerous.

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice sent an open letter to Rupert Murdoch asking him to sanction Fox News host Glenn Beck for using “Holocaust and Nazi images” on his show:

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

Jewish Funds for Justice was referring to an episode of Beck’s show that looked into left-wing philanthropist George Soros’s actions as a child during the Holocaust. As Jonathan wrote at the time, Beck’s portrayal of Soros as a teenage Nazi collaborator was inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as wrong as Beck’s Holocaust references were, the intentions of this open letter are questionable, to say the least. First, Jewish Funds for Justice is actually funded by Soros, which makes the group’s campaign appear to be more of a personal vendetta than anything else.

It’s also interesting that Soros and his organizations have suddenly become so sensitive to anti-Semitism. That’s certainly a new development.

Anti-Semitism and Holocaust imagery didn’t seem to bother Soros back in 2004, when his organization MoveOn.org aired a video comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, which the ADL rightly denounced as “vile and outrageous.”

And it was Soros who apologized back in 2003 for anti-Semite Mahathir Mohamad, who said he understood why people believe that “Jews rule the world by proxy.”

Soros has also blamed anti-Semitism on U.S. and Israeli policy. “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” he said, adding that if “we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish.” Soros has also funded anti-Israel groups, including J Street.

And of all the people in recent months who have used Holocaust or anti-Semitic rhetoric — including Helen Thomas, Oliver Stone, and Rep. Steve Cohen — it’s telling that Jewish Funds for Justice has come out only against Glenn Beck, especially since Beck’s statements were far less offensive than those of the others.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Jewish Funds for Justice has no real interest in combating anti-Semitism — unless, of course, it helps the group’s political goal of demonizing conservatives.

And if that’s the case, then this letter is far more offensive than anything Beck has ever said on his show. Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, and throwing it around based on a political motive isn’t just counterproductive; it’s dangerous.

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GOP Gets Net Boost in Favorability Rating

According to Gallup, the GOP has its first net positive rating with the public since 2005.

Forty-seven percent of Americans view the Republican Party as favorable vs. 43 percent who view it as unfavorable. The last time the favorability numbers were this high was in the immediate aftermath of George W. Bush’s re-election.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is viewed unfavorably by 47 percent of the public vs. 46 percent who view it favorably — somewhat better numbers than last year but still among the worst since the early 1990s.

What this means, I think, is that the “branding” problem the GOP has been plagued with since the midpoint of the last decade has been largely, if not completely, overcome. And GOP leaders, since the midterm election, have come across as focused and principled, mostly likable and nonthreatening. There will be plenty of challenges ahead, particularly as Democrats try to portray the GOP as ruthless budget cutters in the coming months. For the time being, though, Republicans have done an impressive job in rebuilding the public’s trust. Now they have to maintain it.

According to Gallup, the GOP has its first net positive rating with the public since 2005.

Forty-seven percent of Americans view the Republican Party as favorable vs. 43 percent who view it as unfavorable. The last time the favorability numbers were this high was in the immediate aftermath of George W. Bush’s re-election.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is viewed unfavorably by 47 percent of the public vs. 46 percent who view it favorably — somewhat better numbers than last year but still among the worst since the early 1990s.

What this means, I think, is that the “branding” problem the GOP has been plagued with since the midpoint of the last decade has been largely, if not completely, overcome. And GOP leaders, since the midterm election, have come across as focused and principled, mostly likable and nonthreatening. There will be plenty of challenges ahead, particularly as Democrats try to portray the GOP as ruthless budget cutters in the coming months. For the time being, though, Republicans have done an impressive job in rebuilding the public’s trust. Now they have to maintain it.

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LIVE BLOG: Still in Denial About Iraq

Speaking of Iraq, Obama says: “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.” Translation: President Bush was right and I was wrong about that war, but I’ll never admit it.

Speaking of Iraq, Obama says: “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.” Translation: President Bush was right and I was wrong about that war, but I’ll never admit it.

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Pre-Speech Thoughts

1. Obama’s text is 6,700 words. Clinton’s 1996 SOTU was, if I count right, 500 words shorter. And it took an hour and 15 minutes. Bush in 2004: 5,400 words.

2. Obama is citing the roaring recovery of the stock market, and indeed, it is an indicator of something important: its recovery was due to the pricing in of the 2010 anti-Obama tsunami and the extension of the tax cuts.

3. He can continue to try to make the case that government spending is equivalent to private-sector investment, but it didn’t work for him before, to put it mildly. And at a time when his poll numbers were much higher.

1. Obama’s text is 6,700 words. Clinton’s 1996 SOTU was, if I count right, 500 words shorter. And it took an hour and 15 minutes. Bush in 2004: 5,400 words.

2. Obama is citing the roaring recovery of the stock market, and indeed, it is an indicator of something important: its recovery was due to the pricing in of the 2010 anti-Obama tsunami and the extension of the tax cuts.

3. He can continue to try to make the case that government spending is equivalent to private-sector investment, but it didn’t work for him before, to put it mildly. And at a time when his poll numbers were much higher.

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A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

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The Difference Between Public and Private Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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