Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jen

RE: A Significant Letter

I agree with both Pete and Jen that this is a significant development. Along with Senator McConnell’s admission today that earmarks are unacceptable to the American electorate, we’re off to a good post-election start.

The letter from the group of distinguished economists, writers, and investors reminds me of another letter, written in 1930, regarding the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. What came to be known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff (after its Congressional sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep.Willis Hawley) started out as a campaign promise to American farmers by Herbert Hoover to provide relief from foreign competition because of a deep and persistent drop in food prices. (Blame Henry Ford: the disappearance of horses and mules from farms and roadways caused vast area of land once devoted to fodder crops to be turned over to human food production.)

But the passage through Congress went badly out of control. Hoover had wanted reductions in industrial tariffs to offset any increase in agricultural ones. Instead, a lobbyists’ feeding frenzy erupted, and tariffs went up across the board. Even tombstone manufacturers got increased tariff protection. No fewer than 1028 economists, including many of great distinction such as Irving Fischer, wrote a letter to Hoover pleading with him to veto the bill. Thomas Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Co. wrote later that “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot tariff. That act intensified nationalism all over the world.” Henry Ford personally went to the White House to urge a veto of what he called “an economic stupidity.”

Hoover hated the bill as it was presented to him, calling it (in private) “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious.” But heavily pressed by his fellow Republicans and the party’s industrial base, he signed it regardless. The result was disaster. American exports declined by 78 percent in the next two years, and the tariff was one of the major government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.

Will Bernanke be a latter-day Herbert Hoover? Let’s hope not, but I wouldn’t bet against it, alas.

I agree with both Pete and Jen that this is a significant development. Along with Senator McConnell’s admission today that earmarks are unacceptable to the American electorate, we’re off to a good post-election start.

The letter from the group of distinguished economists, writers, and investors reminds me of another letter, written in 1930, regarding the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. What came to be known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff (after its Congressional sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep.Willis Hawley) started out as a campaign promise to American farmers by Herbert Hoover to provide relief from foreign competition because of a deep and persistent drop in food prices. (Blame Henry Ford: the disappearance of horses and mules from farms and roadways caused vast area of land once devoted to fodder crops to be turned over to human food production.)

But the passage through Congress went badly out of control. Hoover had wanted reductions in industrial tariffs to offset any increase in agricultural ones. Instead, a lobbyists’ feeding frenzy erupted, and tariffs went up across the board. Even tombstone manufacturers got increased tariff protection. No fewer than 1028 economists, including many of great distinction such as Irving Fischer, wrote a letter to Hoover pleading with him to veto the bill. Thomas Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Co. wrote later that “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot tariff. That act intensified nationalism all over the world.” Henry Ford personally went to the White House to urge a veto of what he called “an economic stupidity.”

Hoover hated the bill as it was presented to him, calling it (in private) “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious.” But heavily pressed by his fellow Republicans and the party’s industrial base, he signed it regardless. The result was disaster. American exports declined by 78 percent in the next two years, and the tariff was one of the major government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.

Will Bernanke be a latter-day Herbert Hoover? Let’s hope not, but I wouldn’t bet against it, alas.

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Obama’s Repudiation of Promises to Israel Comes Back to Haunt Him

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

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Queen Esther Goes to Alaska

As Jen noted yesterday, Sarah Palin, widely considered intellectually deficient by many Jews I know, appeared at a shabbaton (a study session on the Jewish Sabbath) the evening before she spoke at Glenn Beck’s rally. The shabbaton took place at the Hershey Lodge, near Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, which has probably been attended more frequently on the Sabbath by many Northeastern Jews than their local synagogues. Benyamin Korn offers details in an article in the online New York Sun:

My colleague Sheya, director of PalinTV, presented Mrs. Palin with the ArtScroll edition of Perek Shira, a commentary on the song of celebration sung by Jewish women during the exodus from Egypt. Mrs. Palin received the Hebrew volume with obvious delight; she has used the biblical Book of Esther as bedtime reading material for her eight-year-old daughter, Piper. She wants Willow to emulate Esther, Jewish history’s great heroine, who risked everything to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plan for genocide.

Although 65 years have passed since the Holocaust, the threat of genocide still hangs over the Jewish people — and again from Persia. Iran openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, with its charter calling for the extermination of the Jewish State, fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. Syria races to build chemical and biological weapons to use against Israel. Mrs. Palin makes it clear that she recognizes these threats to America’s ally, Israel, and wants to end them. She minced no words in her remarks to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, criticizing the Obama administration for “coddling our enemies while abandoning our treasured ally, Israel.”

Maybe it’s not just Palin’s right-wing politics that gets secular Jews so riled up. Maybe it’s also that Palin, that idiot, may actually know more about Judaism and feel no discomfort about emulating  Jewish traditions and Jewish particularism in the way that they seem to.

As Jen noted yesterday, Sarah Palin, widely considered intellectually deficient by many Jews I know, appeared at a shabbaton (a study session on the Jewish Sabbath) the evening before she spoke at Glenn Beck’s rally. The shabbaton took place at the Hershey Lodge, near Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, which has probably been attended more frequently on the Sabbath by many Northeastern Jews than their local synagogues. Benyamin Korn offers details in an article in the online New York Sun:

My colleague Sheya, director of PalinTV, presented Mrs. Palin with the ArtScroll edition of Perek Shira, a commentary on the song of celebration sung by Jewish women during the exodus from Egypt. Mrs. Palin received the Hebrew volume with obvious delight; she has used the biblical Book of Esther as bedtime reading material for her eight-year-old daughter, Piper. She wants Willow to emulate Esther, Jewish history’s great heroine, who risked everything to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plan for genocide.

Although 65 years have passed since the Holocaust, the threat of genocide still hangs over the Jewish people — and again from Persia. Iran openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, with its charter calling for the extermination of the Jewish State, fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. Syria races to build chemical and biological weapons to use against Israel. Mrs. Palin makes it clear that she recognizes these threats to America’s ally, Israel, and wants to end them. She minced no words in her remarks to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, criticizing the Obama administration for “coddling our enemies while abandoning our treasured ally, Israel.”

Maybe it’s not just Palin’s right-wing politics that gets secular Jews so riled up. Maybe it’s also that Palin, that idiot, may actually know more about Judaism and feel no discomfort about emulating  Jewish traditions and Jewish particularism in the way that they seem to.

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Richard Cohen on the Ground Zero Mosque

Of late it has become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America. The event that seems to have triggered the latest outpouring of rage is the debate about the proposal to build a mosque and community center, led by Imam Rauf, near Ground Zero. It’s not simply the debate itself that is causing the venom; it is that defenders of building the mosque are losing the argument. The public — including those in New York City, that well-known epicenter of conservatism — overwhelmingly sides with those who oppose building the mosque. This is causing some liberals to spin out of control.

The latest liberal to do so, as Jen noted earlier, is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, who writes:

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

It has become something of a cliche, I know, but no one ever put this sort of thing better than William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming.” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some passionate intensity from the best is past due.

Cohen is right about one thing; the Yeats quote is a cliché. But he’s wrong that those who are arguing for a compromise are bigots, demagogues, or merely uninformed. And his argument that what this debate is missing is “passionate intensity” is ludicrous. In fact, the debate has often been dominated by passion rather than by reason, as evidenced by the left’s eagerness to brand the mosque’s opponents as racists, bigots, and Islamophobes. (I have expressed concerns about what some on the right, such as Newt Gingrich, have said as well; see here and here.)

In addition, the deep, eternal meaning the left has tried to infuse this issue with — the effort to cast this debate as pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, between those who revere the Constitution and those who want to shred it — is both wrong and slightly amusing. One can imagine the lyrics of Peter, Paul, and Mary running through the minds of animated liberals everywhere. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. v. Bull Connor all over again.

This is not a debate about high constitutional principle; if it were, presumably President Obama — the icon of so many liberals and a former professor of constitutional law — would have taken a stand on where the mosque belongs. Instead, he has refused to say what he thinks. The debate is about whether it is prudent and wise for Imam Rauf to build the mosque and community center within two blocks of Ground Zero. And on this, reasonable people can disagree.

On this particular matter one other point needs to be repeated: If the point of this enterprise was to deepen interfaith dialogue and understanding, it has failed miserably. And if those insisting the mosque be built at the original location persist in their efforts — if they heed Cohen’s advice and jettison compromise as morally treasonous — things will get a good deal worse. Contrary to what some liberals are arguing, no great constitutional principle will have been ratified. Instead, a debate that is harmful to our country, including to Muslim Americans, will be intensified.

This is potentially dangerous stuff we’re dealing with — and I can’t understand why those who insist that they are pining for reconciliation and comity are pushing an idea that is doing the opposite.

Of late it has become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America. The event that seems to have triggered the latest outpouring of rage is the debate about the proposal to build a mosque and community center, led by Imam Rauf, near Ground Zero. It’s not simply the debate itself that is causing the venom; it is that defenders of building the mosque are losing the argument. The public — including those in New York City, that well-known epicenter of conservatism — overwhelmingly sides with those who oppose building the mosque. This is causing some liberals to spin out of control.

The latest liberal to do so, as Jen noted earlier, is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, who writes:

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

It has become something of a cliche, I know, but no one ever put this sort of thing better than William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming.” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some passionate intensity from the best is past due.

Cohen is right about one thing; the Yeats quote is a cliché. But he’s wrong that those who are arguing for a compromise are bigots, demagogues, or merely uninformed. And his argument that what this debate is missing is “passionate intensity” is ludicrous. In fact, the debate has often been dominated by passion rather than by reason, as evidenced by the left’s eagerness to brand the mosque’s opponents as racists, bigots, and Islamophobes. (I have expressed concerns about what some on the right, such as Newt Gingrich, have said as well; see here and here.)

In addition, the deep, eternal meaning the left has tried to infuse this issue with — the effort to cast this debate as pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, between those who revere the Constitution and those who want to shred it — is both wrong and slightly amusing. One can imagine the lyrics of Peter, Paul, and Mary running through the minds of animated liberals everywhere. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. v. Bull Connor all over again.

This is not a debate about high constitutional principle; if it were, presumably President Obama — the icon of so many liberals and a former professor of constitutional law — would have taken a stand on where the mosque belongs. Instead, he has refused to say what he thinks. The debate is about whether it is prudent and wise for Imam Rauf to build the mosque and community center within two blocks of Ground Zero. And on this, reasonable people can disagree.

On this particular matter one other point needs to be repeated: If the point of this enterprise was to deepen interfaith dialogue and understanding, it has failed miserably. And if those insisting the mosque be built at the original location persist in their efforts — if they heed Cohen’s advice and jettison compromise as morally treasonous — things will get a good deal worse. Contrary to what some liberals are arguing, no great constitutional principle will have been ratified. Instead, a debate that is harmful to our country, including to Muslim Americans, will be intensified.

This is potentially dangerous stuff we’re dealing with — and I can’t understand why those who insist that they are pining for reconciliation and comity are pushing an idea that is doing the opposite.

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You Don’t Have to Be a Weatherman . . .

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

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RE: RE: The UN Human Rights Circus Plays On

At this moment of high farce, let us remember the Obama administration’s rationale for joining the UN Human Rights Council after the Bush administration had thrown up its hands in frustration at the irredeemable hypocrisy of this dictators’ club. The United States would lend its moral stature to this appalling institution, the Obami reassured us, so that we could reform it from within. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. … We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” …

“This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective,” said a human rights advocate familiar with the decision. “I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.”

As Jen noted, in refusing to lift a finger in opposition to Iran’s bid to join the Commission on the Status of Women, the Obami have once again abdicated the traditional role America has played at the UN: as a moral firewall preventing the incineration of Turtle Bay in a blaze of Orwellian farce. This is not only another example of smart diplomacy in action, but of the frequently noted phenomenon that all Obama’s promises come with an expiration date. Instead of helping to reform the UN’s appalling human-rights system, the United States is now complicit in it. Maybe Obama will say that we are “bearing witness.”

At this moment of high farce, let us remember the Obama administration’s rationale for joining the UN Human Rights Council after the Bush administration had thrown up its hands in frustration at the irredeemable hypocrisy of this dictators’ club. The United States would lend its moral stature to this appalling institution, the Obami reassured us, so that we could reform it from within. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. … We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” …

“This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective,” said a human rights advocate familiar with the decision. “I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.”

As Jen noted, in refusing to lift a finger in opposition to Iran’s bid to join the Commission on the Status of Women, the Obami have once again abdicated the traditional role America has played at the UN: as a moral firewall preventing the incineration of Turtle Bay in a blaze of Orwellian farce. This is not only another example of smart diplomacy in action, but of the frequently noted phenomenon that all Obama’s promises come with an expiration date. Instead of helping to reform the UN’s appalling human-rights system, the United States is now complicit in it. Maybe Obama will say that we are “bearing witness.”

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Iraq, One of the Great Achievements of This Administration?

I wanted to add my thoughts to those of Jen and Max, made in response to Vice President Biden’s claim that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.”

Come again? This administration? Even for the Obama administration, this is a rather audacious claim. To begin with, “this administration” is comprised of people — most especially Messrs. Obama and Biden — who opposed the surge at every point, who said it would make things worse rather than better, and who would have given up on the Iraq war at the very time when things were beginning to turn around in our favor. [I have documented Obama and Biden’s records here and here.]

If Obama and Biden had had their way, they would have engineered an epic American military loss. They would have handed jihadists their most important victory ever. And in Iraq mass death, and quite probably genocide, would have followed.

It was also the previous administration, not the Obama administration, which is responsible for the Status of Forces agreement that is unwinding, in a responsible way, American involvement in Iraq.

More important, the success we’re experiencing in Iraq is due above all to the most remarkable fighting force in the world: the United States military; to commanders like David Petraeus, who implemented a new strategy when it was clear the old one was failing; and to the Iraqis themselves, who are taking impressive, if halting, steps toward self-government.

I’m pleased that the Obama administration, having been handed a situation in Iraq that on every front was getting better, has decided to embrace that success. But to claim they are responsible for it is a bit hard to take. It’s wonderful news if the town prostitute converts; but she should not immediately insist on being credited for the purity of her life or author a book on the virtues of modesty.

Before Biden and Obama claim credit for the success in Iraq, perhaps they can admit — in the honest, transparent, “new politics” way they had promised — that they were wrong. Perhaps they can admit to us how flawed their counsel on the surge was, how massive the damage would have been if we had followed their counsel, and what was at the root of their errors in judgment.

If we are going to have a discussion about Iraq, let’s make it an honest one.

It is quite a thing to behold — Obama and Biden incessantly blaming Bush for problems of their own making while at the same time claiming credit for things they opposed and Bush brought to pass. There is a through-the-looking-glass quality to all of this. Such things have a way of catching up to an administration, as we’re seeing day by day, poll by poll, and election by election.

I wanted to add my thoughts to those of Jen and Max, made in response to Vice President Biden’s claim that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.”

Come again? This administration? Even for the Obama administration, this is a rather audacious claim. To begin with, “this administration” is comprised of people — most especially Messrs. Obama and Biden — who opposed the surge at every point, who said it would make things worse rather than better, and who would have given up on the Iraq war at the very time when things were beginning to turn around in our favor. [I have documented Obama and Biden’s records here and here.]

If Obama and Biden had had their way, they would have engineered an epic American military loss. They would have handed jihadists their most important victory ever. And in Iraq mass death, and quite probably genocide, would have followed.

It was also the previous administration, not the Obama administration, which is responsible for the Status of Forces agreement that is unwinding, in a responsible way, American involvement in Iraq.

More important, the success we’re experiencing in Iraq is due above all to the most remarkable fighting force in the world: the United States military; to commanders like David Petraeus, who implemented a new strategy when it was clear the old one was failing; and to the Iraqis themselves, who are taking impressive, if halting, steps toward self-government.

I’m pleased that the Obama administration, having been handed a situation in Iraq that on every front was getting better, has decided to embrace that success. But to claim they are responsible for it is a bit hard to take. It’s wonderful news if the town prostitute converts; but she should not immediately insist on being credited for the purity of her life or author a book on the virtues of modesty.

Before Biden and Obama claim credit for the success in Iraq, perhaps they can admit — in the honest, transparent, “new politics” way they had promised — that they were wrong. Perhaps they can admit to us how flawed their counsel on the surge was, how massive the damage would have been if we had followed their counsel, and what was at the root of their errors in judgment.

If we are going to have a discussion about Iraq, let’s make it an honest one.

It is quite a thing to behold — Obama and Biden incessantly blaming Bush for problems of their own making while at the same time claiming credit for things they opposed and Bush brought to pass. There is a through-the-looking-glass quality to all of this. Such things have a way of catching up to an administration, as we’re seeing day by day, poll by poll, and election by election.

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Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Read Less




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