Commentary Magazine


Topic: Naval Academy

Flotsam and Jetsam

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

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The Centuries-Old Bond Between America and the Jews

The essential new website Jewish Ideas Daily today features a link to an extraordinary document — a letter from the Founding Father Benjamin Rush to his wife describing his experience attending a Jewish wedding ceremony in Philadelphia. Not only is Rush’s description simple, plain, and accurate, then and now, it testifies to the wondrous imaginative sympathy that even these 18th-century Americans had toward the Jewish people, and offers (like George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro synagogue) a glimpse of the unparalleled freedom and friendship this nation would extend toward Jews, ever more generously, as the years went on.

As it turns out, the issue of that marriage, Uriah Levy, was, my friend Robert Frost tells me, “a major figure in the history of the US Navy. In addition to saving Monticello from ruin, he was the Commodore of the Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) which was a major accomplishment given that he faced significant anti-semitism in the Navy (not quite Dreyfus, but not fun). The recently opened Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy is named after Levy.”

More on Levy’s astonishing life, including his six courts-martial and how his purchase of Monticello proved to be the salvation of Thomas Jefferson’s home, can be found here. It demonstrates that the course of true friendship between America and the Jews was not a simple upward arc.

The essential new website Jewish Ideas Daily today features a link to an extraordinary document — a letter from the Founding Father Benjamin Rush to his wife describing his experience attending a Jewish wedding ceremony in Philadelphia. Not only is Rush’s description simple, plain, and accurate, then and now, it testifies to the wondrous imaginative sympathy that even these 18th-century Americans had toward the Jewish people, and offers (like George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro synagogue) a glimpse of the unparalleled freedom and friendship this nation would extend toward Jews, ever more generously, as the years went on.

As it turns out, the issue of that marriage, Uriah Levy, was, my friend Robert Frost tells me, “a major figure in the history of the US Navy. In addition to saving Monticello from ruin, he was the Commodore of the Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) which was a major accomplishment given that he faced significant anti-semitism in the Navy (not quite Dreyfus, but not fun). The recently opened Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy is named after Levy.”

More on Levy’s astonishing life, including his six courts-martial and how his purchase of Monticello proved to be the salvation of Thomas Jefferson’s home, can be found here. It demonstrates that the course of true friendship between America and the Jews was not a simple upward arc.

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Re: The Real Age Issue

I think you are on to something, Abe. What’s more: I think John McCain is subtly trying to make the same point.

McCain left his youth behind at the Naval Academy. His current angst is not personal ( Who is he? Who were his mentors?) but policy-related. Will immigration reform undo him? Will the troop surge rescue America from military defeat and him from political oblivion? Obama is another story. Every week now brings a demonstration of the arrogance of youth that McCain left behind decades ago.

On his biographical tour McCain declared:

When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest attainment, and all glory was self-glory. My parents had tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

Although ostensibly speaking about himself, McCain could easily have been talking about his opponent. Obama perceives all that has come before him as corrupt, base, and, in his wife’s words, “mean.” Only an incredibly gifted, still-young man who has never faced real adversity, never managed a crisis, never fought in a war, and never championed a major piece of legislation could assume that his own innate judgment and character are superior to everyone else’s in public life. Obama runs on the presumption that he can revolutionize politics and make America anew. McCain offers a more modest profile, one which eschews just such presumption.

I think you are on to something, Abe. What’s more: I think John McCain is subtly trying to make the same point.

McCain left his youth behind at the Naval Academy. His current angst is not personal ( Who is he? Who were his mentors?) but policy-related. Will immigration reform undo him? Will the troop surge rescue America from military defeat and him from political oblivion? Obama is another story. Every week now brings a demonstration of the arrogance of youth that McCain left behind decades ago.

On his biographical tour McCain declared:

When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest attainment, and all glory was self-glory. My parents had tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

Although ostensibly speaking about himself, McCain could easily have been talking about his opponent. Obama perceives all that has come before him as corrupt, base, and, in his wife’s words, “mean.” Only an incredibly gifted, still-young man who has never faced real adversity, never managed a crisis, never fought in a war, and never championed a major piece of legislation could assume that his own innate judgment and character are superior to everyone else’s in public life. Obama runs on the presumption that he can revolutionize politics and make America anew. McCain offers a more modest profile, one which eschews just such presumption.

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Who Is He Talking About?

John McCain gave a speech at Annapolis on Wednesday centered on service and patriotism. (A web ad contains much of the same text.) I can’t help thinking it was a sharp criticism of a common contemporary attitude (and one assumed by Michelle Obama), an attitude of self-indulgent indifference to America’s achievements:

[C]ynicism about our country, government, social and religious institutions seems not a reaction to occasions when they have been let down by these institutions, but because the ease which wealth and opportunity have given their lives led them to the mistaken conclusion that America, and the liberties its system of government is intended to protect, just aren’t important to the quality of their lives . . .

All lives are a struggle against selfishness. All my life I’ve stood a little apart from institutions that I had willingly joined. It just felt natural to me. But if my life had shared no common purpose, it would not have amounted to much more than eccentric. There is no honor or happiness in just being strong enough to be left alone. As one of my potential opponents often observes, I’ve spent fifty years in the service of this country and its ideals. I have made many mistakes, and I have my share of regrets. But I’ve never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I wasn’t grateful for the privilege. That’s the benefit of service to a country that is an idea and a cause, a righteous idea and cause. America and her ideals helped spare me the worst consequences of the deficiencies in my character. And I cannot forget it.When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest attainment, and all glory was self-glory. My parents had tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

McCain’s speech points beyond individual heroism, beyond what he calls “self-glory.” It’s hard not to see this as being aimed, at least in part, at Barack Obama. Obama, who has cast himself as a great bridger of divides, a unifier, has crafted a campaign which is all about him. He’s elevated himself and his cause to near messianic proportions and indicted an entire political system. So he risks appearing not just arrogant, but ungrateful and ignorant about his country’s strengths and accomplishments. For those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid in the Left blogosphere, this is slowly becoming clear:

should Obama be the nominee, we’re going to see a GOP assault very similar to what hit Gore and Kerry — Obama thinks he’s better than you ordinary Joes, and he thinks patriotism is for rubes . . .

John McCain gave a speech at Annapolis on Wednesday centered on service and patriotism. (A web ad contains much of the same text.) I can’t help thinking it was a sharp criticism of a common contemporary attitude (and one assumed by Michelle Obama), an attitude of self-indulgent indifference to America’s achievements:

[C]ynicism about our country, government, social and religious institutions seems not a reaction to occasions when they have been let down by these institutions, but because the ease which wealth and opportunity have given their lives led them to the mistaken conclusion that America, and the liberties its system of government is intended to protect, just aren’t important to the quality of their lives . . .

All lives are a struggle against selfishness. All my life I’ve stood a little apart from institutions that I had willingly joined. It just felt natural to me. But if my life had shared no common purpose, it would not have amounted to much more than eccentric. There is no honor or happiness in just being strong enough to be left alone. As one of my potential opponents often observes, I’ve spent fifty years in the service of this country and its ideals. I have made many mistakes, and I have my share of regrets. But I’ve never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I wasn’t grateful for the privilege. That’s the benefit of service to a country that is an idea and a cause, a righteous idea and cause. America and her ideals helped spare me the worst consequences of the deficiencies in my character. And I cannot forget it.When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest attainment, and all glory was self-glory. My parents had tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

McCain’s speech points beyond individual heroism, beyond what he calls “self-glory.” It’s hard not to see this as being aimed, at least in part, at Barack Obama. Obama, who has cast himself as a great bridger of divides, a unifier, has crafted a campaign which is all about him. He’s elevated himself and his cause to near messianic proportions and indicted an entire political system. So he risks appearing not just arrogant, but ungrateful and ignorant about his country’s strengths and accomplishments. For those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid in the Left blogosphere, this is slowly becoming clear:

should Obama be the nominee, we’re going to see a GOP assault very similar to what hit Gore and Kerry — Obama thinks he’s better than you ordinary Joes, and he thinks patriotism is for rubes . . .

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The Un-Obama

Mickey Kaus thinks two negative themes are percolating about Barack Obama. The first: he lacks “moral courage” — “he won’t speak up against his own church’s victim mentality until he absolutely has to.” The second: he is arrogant. (Again, he cannot “even admit to the slightest mistake in the Wright affair.”)

There is plenty of evidence for both the courage problem (e.g. he really knows NAFTA didn’t cost America jobs, but couldn’t level with Ohio voters) and the arrogance (e.g. only he is above all the corruption of Washington and only through him can we achieve “change”). And John McCain is already making the case that he is the un-Obama on exactly these points.

On the courage front, McCain has two aces in the hole. The first, of course, is his personal valor and courage in war. The second, which was a liability in the primary but now a virtue in the general election, is his determination to maintain his own principled positions (e.g. on immigration and torture) to his political detriment and to tell voters “no — and I really mean it.” (He’ll tell anyone “no” – Michigan autoworkers, Florida coastal inhabitants and lots of homeowners.)

As Abe pointed out, his very first general election ad features POW footage and includes the rhetorical questions: “Where has he been? Has he walked the walk?” The message here is clear: he is personally and politically brave. That message resonates with particular power when his likely opponent is being asked to account for why he did not condemn or exit the church of his race baiting mentor. ( The ultimate contrast: the man who couldn’t summon the courage to leave the church vs. the man who refused to accept an offer of early release from the Hanoi Hilton.)

As for the arrogance, McCain often refers to himself as an “imperfect servant” of the country he loves. After his victories in the Potomac primaries he explained:

When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest ambition, and that all glory was self-glory. My parents tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.In that confrontation I discovered that I was dependent on others to a greater extent than I had ever realized, but that neither they nor the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, I discovered that nothing is more liberating in life than to fight for a cause that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone. And that has made all the difference, my friends, all the difference in the world.I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me. I am running to serve America, and to champion the ideas I believe will help us do what every American generation has managed to do: to make in our time, and from our challenges, a stronger country and a better world.

Now this, I think, is more than humility; it is an exercise in differentiation. Could there be any greater contrast between the real hero who rejects egocentrism and an opponent who fancies himsef the savior of our political system, who has created a creepy cult of personality and whose wife tells us only he has evoked pride in our country? McCain, it seems, is on to Obama’s weaknesses and intends to tell Americans exactly how different he is from his opponent.

Mickey Kaus thinks two negative themes are percolating about Barack Obama. The first: he lacks “moral courage” — “he won’t speak up against his own church’s victim mentality until he absolutely has to.” The second: he is arrogant. (Again, he cannot “even admit to the slightest mistake in the Wright affair.”)

There is plenty of evidence for both the courage problem (e.g. he really knows NAFTA didn’t cost America jobs, but couldn’t level with Ohio voters) and the arrogance (e.g. only he is above all the corruption of Washington and only through him can we achieve “change”). And John McCain is already making the case that he is the un-Obama on exactly these points.

On the courage front, McCain has two aces in the hole. The first, of course, is his personal valor and courage in war. The second, which was a liability in the primary but now a virtue in the general election, is his determination to maintain his own principled positions (e.g. on immigration and torture) to his political detriment and to tell voters “no — and I really mean it.” (He’ll tell anyone “no” – Michigan autoworkers, Florida coastal inhabitants and lots of homeowners.)

As Abe pointed out, his very first general election ad features POW footage and includes the rhetorical questions: “Where has he been? Has he walked the walk?” The message here is clear: he is personally and politically brave. That message resonates with particular power when his likely opponent is being asked to account for why he did not condemn or exit the church of his race baiting mentor. ( The ultimate contrast: the man who couldn’t summon the courage to leave the church vs. the man who refused to accept an offer of early release from the Hanoi Hilton.)

As for the arrogance, McCain often refers to himself as an “imperfect servant” of the country he loves. After his victories in the Potomac primaries he explained:

When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest ambition, and that all glory was self-glory. My parents tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.In that confrontation I discovered that I was dependent on others to a greater extent than I had ever realized, but that neither they nor the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, I discovered that nothing is more liberating in life than to fight for a cause that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone. And that has made all the difference, my friends, all the difference in the world.I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me. I am running to serve America, and to champion the ideas I believe will help us do what every American generation has managed to do: to make in our time, and from our challenges, a stronger country and a better world.

Now this, I think, is more than humility; it is an exercise in differentiation. Could there be any greater contrast between the real hero who rejects egocentrism and an opponent who fancies himsef the savior of our political system, who has created a creepy cult of personality and whose wife tells us only he has evoked pride in our country? McCain, it seems, is on to Obama’s weaknesses and intends to tell Americans exactly how different he is from his opponent.

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Jimmy McCain

Since John Podhoretz has posted an article on John McCain’s son, Jack, at the Naval Academy, I thought I would post an update on Jack’s younger brother, Jimmy. To his credit, John McCain refuses to make political hay out of his family on the campaign trail, so it is possible to overlook this CNN item which notes that Jimmy, a Marine, has just gotten back from serving a seven-month tour in Iraq, safe and sound. That’s great news.

The fact that his two sons are following John McCain into military service is not only a tribute to the ethos of service and sacrifice that he inherited from his ancestors, but it also makes it all the harder for Democrats to play the “we only support the troops” game when they call for withdrawal from Iraq. The strongest advocate of the surge is also someone with the deepest possible personal stake in its success.

Since John Podhoretz has posted an article on John McCain’s son, Jack, at the Naval Academy, I thought I would post an update on Jack’s younger brother, Jimmy. To his credit, John McCain refuses to make political hay out of his family on the campaign trail, so it is possible to overlook this CNN item which notes that Jimmy, a Marine, has just gotten back from serving a seven-month tour in Iraq, safe and sound. That’s great news.

The fact that his two sons are following John McCain into military service is not only a tribute to the ethos of service and sacrifice that he inherited from his ancestors, but it also makes it all the harder for Democrats to play the “we only support the troops” game when they call for withdrawal from Iraq. The strongest advocate of the surge is also someone with the deepest possible personal stake in its success.

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Midshipman Jack McCain

A refreshing and very interesting long interview with Jack McCain, the 22 year-old son of the sure-to-be presidential nominee, who is now at the Naval Academy, can be found here.

A refreshing and very interesting long interview with Jack McCain, the 22 year-old son of the sure-to-be presidential nominee, who is now at the Naval Academy, can be found here.

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Annapolis: Engaging With What?

Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

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Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

The engagement camp says that it wishes to bolster the moderates while engaging the extremists, which is presented as a cost-free way to conduct diplomacy—never mind that U.S. diplomatic attention directed at Hamas thoroughly would discredit Mahmoud Abbas, whose only selling point to the Palestinian people at this point is the fact that he is the Palestinians’ only focal point for American and Israeli attention. That is a rather obvious point, of course. But the one I wish to emphasize involves the incompleteness with which the engagement camp makes its case.

What I have always found strange about the engagers is their reluctance to make arguments that move beyond bumper-sticker bromides about the need to talk to your enemies, and to explain precisely what would be up for discussion with Hamas. The Hamas charter seems to preempt diplomacy insofar as it says that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” I say “seems,” because perhaps in practice Hamas does not hew to the strict language of its founding declaration—but alas, there is no historic or contemporary evidence for this conceit. Hamas is famous for denying the right of Israel to exist, but not many people seem to pay much regard to the fact that Hamas also denies the right of Palestine to exist: Hamas has always been abundantly clear that its goal is the violent imposition of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East—not the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So what, pray tell, do people like Daniel Levy and Robert Malley propose is up for negotiation with Hamas? In the face of both Hamas’s plainly stated antipathy to diplomacy, in addition to decades of concrete experience of the same, would it not behoove Levy and Malley to pay special attention to this particular aspect of engaging Hamas? Shouldn’t an explanation about the contours of, and prospects for, a successful pursuit of diplomacy with Hamas indeed be the very first thing to which Levy and Malley set themselves? I know that if I were arguing in good faith for engagement, this is where I would be compelled to start: to provide an answer to the question, What can Israel offer Hamas other than its own suicide?

At yesterday’s event, as he has elsewhere, Levy proposed an Israel-Hamas cease-fire as a starting measure…and then changed the subject. Well, what comes after that, Daniel? How many times has Hamas agreed to cease-fires with Israel (and with Fatah) out of its own need to regroup and rearm, only to attack later at a time of its choosing? At what point in the course of the “engagement” process do the leaders of Hamas renounce the basic premises and tactics for which their movement stands? Does Khaled Mashal march down to his local Al Jazeera office in Damascus to announce to the world that because he got a phone call from a member of the Quartet, he’s realized that all the crazy stuff in the Hamas charter—about how the Jews started the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, both World Wars, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rotary Club and the Freemasons, all in pursuit of Zionist world domination—was perhaps a bit too anti-Semitic? Can you tell us, Robert Malley—you who has argued repeatedly that giving money, diplomatic attention, and concessions to Hamas will change the group—of a single instance in which Hamas permanently has moderated a position or altered its behavior because of diplomatic pressure? As people who continuously are banging on the table about “genuine engagement” with Hamas, is it too much to ask, you know, for some genuine details?

As it stands right now, the intellectual output of the Levy-Malley faction involves bromides about “engagement” that are quickly buried in an avalanche of ambiguous diplomatic jargon designed to avoid the possibility of having to commit themselves to engaging in a serious explanation of how diplomacy is going to transform Hamas from a genocidal Islamic supremacist group to a peaceful Palestinian nationalist movement. This is an act of alchemy that Levy and Malley cannot credibly perform, and it is the reason why all of their voluminous babble about engagement never manages to rise above the level of the vague cliché.

There are dozens of reasons why Annapolis will be unable to achieve anything close to its stated goals, but, contrary to popular opinion, one of them is not the absence, next week, of representatives of Hamas at the Naval Academy. Nevertheless, that absence will emerge, from the Scowcrofts and Malleys, as a major source of the peace process’s failure. I propose a different failure: the refusal of the most prolific advocates for engagement to display a little intellectual courage and put themselves on the record explaining how their concessions are going to transform Hamas. Because if that actually works, and one of the most intransigent Islamist groups in the world can be defeated by diplomacy, then clearly there are two other diplomatic summits that should be convened—between Israel and Hizballah, and the United States and al Qaeda.

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Men in Black

The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

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The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

Nor do most of Prince’s employees conform to the stereotype of drunken gunslingers shooting up a town for fun. Most are straight arrows like him with extensive experience in military Special Operations or big-city police SWAT teams. That is not to say that some of them don’t make mistakes or misbehave. But so do some soldiers. The attempts to demonize an entire industry based on the misbehavior of a few are akin to attempts by some to demonize the entire American armed forces based on what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In the Los Angeles Times this morning, I try to put the promise and problems of the private military industry into perspective. One of the points I make is that if we can impose more accountability and oversight on security contractors, we can make more extensive use of them in certain situations where we are not willing to commit our armed forces.

One example I mention is Darfur. Another example is provided in the newest issue (not yet online) of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s journal Orbis, which contains an essay called “Blackwaters for the Blue Waters: The Promise of Private Naval Companies.” The author, Claude Berube, a professor at the Naval Academy, suggests reviving the ancient practice (explicitly recognized in the Constitution) of issuing “letters of marquee” to “privateers,” who would supplement the efforts of our navy in combating drug smugglers, terrorists, and pirates on the high seas. This seems to me a compelling idea. Our navy now has fewer than 300 ships and every single additional ship will cost billions of dollars. Employing private companies at sea could be a cost-effective alternative.

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