Commentary Magazine


Topic: historian

Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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RE: RE: Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

J.E. Dyer’s reaction to my post on the “Sputnik moment” theme prompts this reflection: as a conservative, you can cite examples like the academy’s treatment of the Cold War all day long. If you’re a historian, you can point to the Arming America saga, which revealed that a few Second Amendment supporters and amateur historians had a better grasp of historical methodology and reality than the distinguished committee that awarded the Bancroft Prize to that faked book (and then was forced to take it back). If you’re interested in climate change, you can point, today, to the UN report on the non-melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and the shabby way that the UN panel — headed by a railway engineer — cribbed its so-called data from the World Wildlife Fund.

But always, the center-left returns, with mule-like stubbornness, to its default position: conservatives are stupid, probably on the corporate payroll somehow, and all the hubbub is just sound and fury around what are basically minor and unimportant issues. It’s J.E.’s disillusioning Cold War story all over again, in other words. The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

I’d like to go with J.E. and say this is the result of the educational system. But, unfortunately, while I agree that higher education isn’t helping, I fear — perhaps she agrees with me — that it’s as much symptom as it is cause.

J.E. Dyer’s reaction to my post on the “Sputnik moment” theme prompts this reflection: as a conservative, you can cite examples like the academy’s treatment of the Cold War all day long. If you’re a historian, you can point to the Arming America saga, which revealed that a few Second Amendment supporters and amateur historians had a better grasp of historical methodology and reality than the distinguished committee that awarded the Bancroft Prize to that faked book (and then was forced to take it back). If you’re interested in climate change, you can point, today, to the UN report on the non-melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and the shabby way that the UN panel — headed by a railway engineer — cribbed its so-called data from the World Wildlife Fund.

But always, the center-left returns, with mule-like stubbornness, to its default position: conservatives are stupid, probably on the corporate payroll somehow, and all the hubbub is just sound and fury around what are basically minor and unimportant issues. It’s J.E.’s disillusioning Cold War story all over again, in other words. The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

I’d like to go with J.E. and say this is the result of the educational system. But, unfortunately, while I agree that higher education isn’t helping, I fear — perhaps she agrees with me — that it’s as much symptom as it is cause.

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Irving Kristol and Republican Virtue

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

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Where Have All the Anti-War Rallies Gone?

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

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Getting a Grip on Obama’s Real Place in History

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

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About That Settlement Freeze

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

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Bobby Thomson

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

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Attacking American Muslims

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

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What’s in a Name?

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

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Winston Churchill in Perspective

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

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Why Are So Many Conservatives Backing a Radical Immigration Solution?

Mike Huckabee is showing some political courage:

Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is against changing the 14th Amendment to remove birthright citizenship.

“The Supreme Court has decided that, I think, in three different centuries,” Huckabeee said in a radio interview Wednesday with NPR. “In every single instance, they have affirmed that if you are born in this country, you are considered to be a citizen. The only option there is to change the Constitution.” …

But asked Wednesday if he supported such a change, Huckabee responded simply: “No.”

“Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders,” said the 2008 GOP presidential candidate. “But that’s where the federal government has miserably and hopelessly failed us.”

Now, there’s a dose of conservative common sense. It is rather strange to see so many conservatives blithely suggesting a major Constitutional revision for a problem that stems from the failure of the federal government to carry out its duties under existing law.

Michael Gerson provides some historical perspective on the meaning and intention of the 14th Amendment:

The amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This is not the only place in the Constitution where birth is decisive. Any “natural born citizen” who meets age and residency requirements can be elected president.

Critics of birthright citizenship are in revolt against the plain meaning of words. They sometimes assert that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” must exclude illegal immigrants. It doesn’t. Undocumented immigrants and their children are fully subject to American laws. The idea of “jurisdiction” had a specific meaning in the congressional debate surrounding approval of the 14th Amendment. “The language was designed,” says historian Garrett Epps, “to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law.”

As Gerson points out, it’s not as if this topic was ignored:

During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, “who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen.” Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases — and defended them.

Of course, we can amend the Constitution. But conservatives should at least be honest: this would be a radical change, not simply an effort to fill in some missing gap in our Constitutional structure. Nor should conservatives underestimate the possibility that once the 14th Amendment is put into play, liberal interest groups would seek to expand and extend the amendment in a number of ways that conservatives would certainly find objectionable. The prospect of a Constitutional free-for-all should alarm sober conservatives.

We’ll see how far the discussion goes and who else has the nerve, from a conservative perspective, to resist an extreme solution to what is a rather simple problem. Rather than take a meat cleaver to the Constitution, why not get the federal government to do its job?

Mike Huckabee is showing some political courage:

Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is against changing the 14th Amendment to remove birthright citizenship.

“The Supreme Court has decided that, I think, in three different centuries,” Huckabeee said in a radio interview Wednesday with NPR. “In every single instance, they have affirmed that if you are born in this country, you are considered to be a citizen. The only option there is to change the Constitution.” …

But asked Wednesday if he supported such a change, Huckabee responded simply: “No.”

“Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders,” said the 2008 GOP presidential candidate. “But that’s where the federal government has miserably and hopelessly failed us.”

Now, there’s a dose of conservative common sense. It is rather strange to see so many conservatives blithely suggesting a major Constitutional revision for a problem that stems from the failure of the federal government to carry out its duties under existing law.

Michael Gerson provides some historical perspective on the meaning and intention of the 14th Amendment:

The amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This is not the only place in the Constitution where birth is decisive. Any “natural born citizen” who meets age and residency requirements can be elected president.

Critics of birthright citizenship are in revolt against the plain meaning of words. They sometimes assert that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” must exclude illegal immigrants. It doesn’t. Undocumented immigrants and their children are fully subject to American laws. The idea of “jurisdiction” had a specific meaning in the congressional debate surrounding approval of the 14th Amendment. “The language was designed,” says historian Garrett Epps, “to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law.”

As Gerson points out, it’s not as if this topic was ignored:

During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, “who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen.” Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases — and defended them.

Of course, we can amend the Constitution. But conservatives should at least be honest: this would be a radical change, not simply an effort to fill in some missing gap in our Constitutional structure. Nor should conservatives underestimate the possibility that once the 14th Amendment is put into play, liberal interest groups would seek to expand and extend the amendment in a number of ways that conservatives would certainly find objectionable. The prospect of a Constitutional free-for-all should alarm sober conservatives.

We’ll see how far the discussion goes and who else has the nerve, from a conservative perspective, to resist an extreme solution to what is a rather simple problem. Rather than take a meat cleaver to the Constitution, why not get the federal government to do its job?

Read Less

Shirley Sherrod for White House Adviser

The Shirley Sherrod uproar is a quintessential example of the summer news story. Like last year’s story — the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama’s calling the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police action “stupid” — it has made the Obama administration look stupid.

The historian’s old standby, a timeline, is handy here. Last March, Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the Agriculture Department who grew up in the Jim Crow South and saw her father’s white murderers get away with that murder, gave a speech to the NAACP in which she recalled her own evolution on race.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative provocateur, used a short clip from the speech to make it seem as though Ms. Sherrod were a racist, working hard for black farmers and indifferent to the problems of white ones — thus, evidence of anti-white racism in the Obama administration. I have no idea if Breitbart knew he was being intellectually dishonest or not. But he was doing what provocateurs do: provoking.

The clip went viral, and the Obama administration panicked big-time. The White House told the Secretary of Agriculture to fire Ms. Sherrod. She had to pull over to the side of the road while he did so. She received not a scintilla of due process. Indeed, she wasn’t even asked what her side of the story was. The NAACP, which had a tape of the whole speech, didn’t bother to review it and piled on. It seems the administration was terrified that Glenn Beck would eat it for lunch unless it moved immediately. Beck must love that.

The Obama administration’s firing of a black employee because of racism against a white farmer was irresistible journalistic catnip in the midst of the summer doldrums, and the cable channels ran the Breitbart clip over and over.

But there was another side of the story. The incident in the clip had taken place 24 years earlier, when Ms. Sherrod was working for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, not the federal department, and she ended up saving that white family’s farm from foreclosure. She had merely been using the incident to show the lessons on race that she had learned from it. The farmer in question backed up her story. Both the Obama administration and the NAACP backtracked and apologized to her. (Obama called her personally.) And she has been offered another job at the Agriculture Department.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Howard Dean, obviously following the Obama line, tried to make it sound like Fox News had been part of the problem. Chris Wallace, in an unusually heated exchange, would have none of it. He pointed out that Fox did not carry the story or mention Ms. Sherrod’s name until she had been fired. It then ran the Breitbart tape, naturally, as part of the story. So did all other cable news channels.

So Fox, it seems to me, is blameless — it was reporting the news, which, after all, is its job. Breitbart was after attention and, perhaps, wanted to frighten the Obama administration into acting foolishly. If so, he sure succeeded. And the Obama administration has egg all over its face, contributing to the growing impression that it is incompetent.

The only hero here is Shirley Sherrod. She told her own moving story about how she managed to move beyond the racism of the past and enter the post-racial world that Barack Obama promised and has, rather spectacularly in this case, failed to deliver.

Maybe President Obama should fire one of the Chicago gang at the White House and replace that person with Shirley Sherrod. It seems the administration could use a little common wisdom and dignity around there.

The Shirley Sherrod uproar is a quintessential example of the summer news story. Like last year’s story — the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama’s calling the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police action “stupid” — it has made the Obama administration look stupid.

The historian’s old standby, a timeline, is handy here. Last March, Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the Agriculture Department who grew up in the Jim Crow South and saw her father’s white murderers get away with that murder, gave a speech to the NAACP in which she recalled her own evolution on race.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative provocateur, used a short clip from the speech to make it seem as though Ms. Sherrod were a racist, working hard for black farmers and indifferent to the problems of white ones — thus, evidence of anti-white racism in the Obama administration. I have no idea if Breitbart knew he was being intellectually dishonest or not. But he was doing what provocateurs do: provoking.

The clip went viral, and the Obama administration panicked big-time. The White House told the Secretary of Agriculture to fire Ms. Sherrod. She had to pull over to the side of the road while he did so. She received not a scintilla of due process. Indeed, she wasn’t even asked what her side of the story was. The NAACP, which had a tape of the whole speech, didn’t bother to review it and piled on. It seems the administration was terrified that Glenn Beck would eat it for lunch unless it moved immediately. Beck must love that.

The Obama administration’s firing of a black employee because of racism against a white farmer was irresistible journalistic catnip in the midst of the summer doldrums, and the cable channels ran the Breitbart clip over and over.

But there was another side of the story. The incident in the clip had taken place 24 years earlier, when Ms. Sherrod was working for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, not the federal department, and she ended up saving that white family’s farm from foreclosure. She had merely been using the incident to show the lessons on race that she had learned from it. The farmer in question backed up her story. Both the Obama administration and the NAACP backtracked and apologized to her. (Obama called her personally.) And she has been offered another job at the Agriculture Department.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Howard Dean, obviously following the Obama line, tried to make it sound like Fox News had been part of the problem. Chris Wallace, in an unusually heated exchange, would have none of it. He pointed out that Fox did not carry the story or mention Ms. Sherrod’s name until she had been fired. It then ran the Breitbart tape, naturally, as part of the story. So did all other cable news channels.

So Fox, it seems to me, is blameless — it was reporting the news, which, after all, is its job. Breitbart was after attention and, perhaps, wanted to frighten the Obama administration into acting foolishly. If so, he sure succeeded. And the Obama administration has egg all over its face, contributing to the growing impression that it is incompetent.

The only hero here is Shirley Sherrod. She told her own moving story about how she managed to move beyond the racism of the past and enter the post-racial world that Barack Obama promised and has, rather spectacularly in this case, failed to deliver.

Maybe President Obama should fire one of the Chicago gang at the White House and replace that person with Shirley Sherrod. It seems the administration could use a little common wisdom and dignity around there.

Read Less

A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

Read Less

The Irish and the Flotilla Inquiry

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

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U.S. Defense Merits Spending

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

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Waiting for “Isratine”

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s a smart argument for building up Palestinian institutions and encouraging economic growth as a prelude to peace. But the Obami have reversed it, spreading poverty as they stagger through the “peace process.” Insisting on a settlement freeze has only put the squeeze on Palestinian workers: “These are skilled construction workers, men who actually rely on jobs in those ‘illegitimate’ settlements for their livelihoods, and they’ve been penalized harshly by the moratorium—they used to earn $40 a day; now, if they’re working at all, they’re getting $13.  ‘The settlement freeze has only brought more poverty,’ [says] Abdel Aziz Othman. … If you were of a sardonic cast of mind, you might call this the freeze to nowhere.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes the KSM trial. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wakes up and opposes it too. (Did they think it was a good idea up until the Massachusetts Senate race?) Who thinks this is still going to happen? Not Rep. John Boehner. But Obama does. It seems he’s outside the bipartisan consensus on this one.

Why didn’t Obama move to the center like Bill Clinton did? The New York Times explains: “So the gamble underlying Mr. Obama’s speech seems to be that he can muddle through the November elections with perhaps 20 or 30 lost seats in the House, and a handful in the Senate, and avoid the kind of rout that led Mr. Clinton to declare the end of the big government era.” That doesn’t look like such a great bet these days, especially since “Mr. Obama has seen the passion of his own political base wither.”

Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court may turn out to be as politically tone deaf as his Gates-gate comments: “A noted Supreme Court historian who ‘enthusiastically’ voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night ‘really unusual’ and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.” When Obama loses the law-professor vote, he’s in real trouble.

Ben Bernanke is confirmed for another term as Fed chairman by a 70-30 vote. A good warning for Obama, perhaps, of the dangers of letting populist, business-bashing rhetoric get out of hand.

Sen. Judd Gregg goes after the MSNBC hosts: “You can’t make a representation and then claim you didn’t make it. You know, it just shouldn’t work that way. You’ve got to have some integrity on your side of this camera, too.” Yowser.

Republicans are getting feisty. Sen. Jon Kyl on the SOTU: “First of all, I would’ve thought by now he would’ve stopped blaming the Bush administration for the mess that he inherited. And I don’t think that the American people want a whiner who says, woe is me. It was a terrible situation. And more than a year after he’s sworn in, he’s still complaining about the Bush administration.”

There’s a smart argument for building up Palestinian institutions and encouraging economic growth as a prelude to peace. But the Obami have reversed it, spreading poverty as they stagger through the “peace process.” Insisting on a settlement freeze has only put the squeeze on Palestinian workers: “These are skilled construction workers, men who actually rely on jobs in those ‘illegitimate’ settlements for their livelihoods, and they’ve been penalized harshly by the moratorium—they used to earn $40 a day; now, if they’re working at all, they’re getting $13.  ‘The settlement freeze has only brought more poverty,’ [says] Abdel Aziz Othman. … If you were of a sardonic cast of mind, you might call this the freeze to nowhere.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes the KSM trial. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wakes up and opposes it too. (Did they think it was a good idea up until the Massachusetts Senate race?) Who thinks this is still going to happen? Not Rep. John Boehner. But Obama does. It seems he’s outside the bipartisan consensus on this one.

Why didn’t Obama move to the center like Bill Clinton did? The New York Times explains: “So the gamble underlying Mr. Obama’s speech seems to be that he can muddle through the November elections with perhaps 20 or 30 lost seats in the House, and a handful in the Senate, and avoid the kind of rout that led Mr. Clinton to declare the end of the big government era.” That doesn’t look like such a great bet these days, especially since “Mr. Obama has seen the passion of his own political base wither.”

Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court may turn out to be as politically tone deaf as his Gates-gate comments: “A noted Supreme Court historian who ‘enthusiastically’ voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night ‘really unusual’ and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.” When Obama loses the law-professor vote, he’s in real trouble.

Ben Bernanke is confirmed for another term as Fed chairman by a 70-30 vote. A good warning for Obama, perhaps, of the dangers of letting populist, business-bashing rhetoric get out of hand.

Sen. Judd Gregg goes after the MSNBC hosts: “You can’t make a representation and then claim you didn’t make it. You know, it just shouldn’t work that way. You’ve got to have some integrity on your side of this camera, too.” Yowser.

Republicans are getting feisty. Sen. Jon Kyl on the SOTU: “First of all, I would’ve thought by now he would’ve stopped blaming the Bush administration for the mess that he inherited. And I don’t think that the American people want a whiner who says, woe is me. It was a terrible situation. And more than a year after he’s sworn in, he’s still complaining about the Bush administration.”

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LIVE BLOG: The Warm Up

Excerpts are circulating of the president’s speech. The lawmakers are assembling. (Which incumbents want to rush to the aisle to shake the president’s hand, knowing that image wind up in some challenger’s campaign ad?) But this report sort of sums up where we are:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s guest list includes the expected array of family, political friends and a few union chiefs, including Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Anna Burger of SEIU. But interestingly, Pelosi’s guest list includes the last sitting speaker to lose election: former Rep. Tom Foley.

Nothing like having those special, special-interest folks with you when the president decries corruption and lobbyists. As for Foley, I’m sure he’s telling Pelosi she  has nothing to fear so long as the president doesn’t double down on healthcare, insist her members vote on repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and attack the Supreme Court for defending the First Amendment. Oh, wait.

UPDATE: A reader sends this along: “Foley worked as a lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld after serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan, representing clients such as AT&T, Walt Disney Co., CSX Corp. and the State University of New York. Jim Wright, a Texas Democrat who was speaker from 1987 to 1989, was a consultant for Arch Petroleum Co., although it is unclear if he was ever a registered lobbyist, said the Office of the Historian of the House.” Great image, Nancy.

Excerpts are circulating of the president’s speech. The lawmakers are assembling. (Which incumbents want to rush to the aisle to shake the president’s hand, knowing that image wind up in some challenger’s campaign ad?) But this report sort of sums up where we are:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s guest list includes the expected array of family, political friends and a few union chiefs, including Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Anna Burger of SEIU. But interestingly, Pelosi’s guest list includes the last sitting speaker to lose election: former Rep. Tom Foley.

Nothing like having those special, special-interest folks with you when the president decries corruption and lobbyists. As for Foley, I’m sure he’s telling Pelosi she  has nothing to fear so long as the president doesn’t double down on healthcare, insist her members vote on repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and attack the Supreme Court for defending the First Amendment. Oh, wait.

UPDATE: A reader sends this along: “Foley worked as a lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld after serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan, representing clients such as AT&T, Walt Disney Co., CSX Corp. and the State University of New York. Jim Wright, a Texas Democrat who was speaker from 1987 to 1989, was a consultant for Arch Petroleum Co., although it is unclear if he was ever a registered lobbyist, said the Office of the Historian of the House.” Great image, Nancy.

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