Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nicholas Kristof

Can We Talk About Muslim Intolerance?

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

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In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Despite its shortcomings, Kristof deserves some credit for raising an issue that has heretofore been treated as a taboo in the pages of the liberal flagship of the mainstream print media establishment. The Times has been one of the loudest voices touting the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. It has campaigned against efforts to monitor homegrown Islamists and treated any concern about extremist Muslims as an expression of bigotry. It has also soft-pedaled Islamist extremism around the globe and rarely sought to explain the deep religious roots of this violent movement.

But confronted with the widespread evidence of religious persecution of non-Muslims throughout the Arab and Islamic world, Kristof does not avert his gaze. The opening of his column speaks for itself:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human-rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

These examples are, as Kristof makes clear, not isolated examples or the product of outlier forces. The trend he writes about is mainstream opinion in much of the Muslim world, even in countries that are often somewhat misleadingly labeled as “moderate” because they are supporting terrorist attacks on the West. As he rightly notes, Saudi Arabia is just as repressive toward minority faiths as Iran or Sudan. Though there are places, such as in China, where Muslim minorities are themselves the victims of religious persecution, the pattern of Islamic intolerance is almost uniform across the globe where they are in power.

But the consequences of this trend are not limited to the unfortunate fate of Christians who are being driven out of their homes in places where they have lived for millennia. Muslim aggression against non-believers is integral to the conflict with Islamist forces waging terrorist wars throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa.

American leaders have been at pains to try and differentiate our war against terror from a war against Islam and Muslims. They are right to do so because the West has no interest in a general war against any religion or its adherents. But you can’t understand what is driving the efforts of al-Qaeda and its many affiliates and allies, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq, without examining the way these groups exploit religious fervor and intolerance for non-Muslims. Islamist terror in the West cannot be separated from the intolerance against non-Muslims that Kristof laments. It is a sickness within Muslim culture and must be confronted (hopefully by Muslims) and openly discussed if it is ever to be contained.

But even as he finds his voice to speak out for the victims of this trend, Kristof pulls his punches, lest he be labeled as an Islamophobe, as so many others who have raised the alarm about this problem have been:

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it. …

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Muslims do have a lot on their plate these days. But as much as Kristof deserves applauses for having broken ranks with his Times brethren, he fails to connect the dots between the troubles Muslims are enduring in Gaza, Syria, and other hot spots and the virus in their political and religious culture that promotes not only religious intolerance but jihad against the West and Muslims who hesitate to join the dark forces spreading conflict.

More importantly, it’s really not possible to sound the alarm about widespread global Muslim religious persecution while at the same time still trying to stay within the boundaries of liberal political correct dogma about Islamophobia. While anti-Muslim bigots do exist and must be denounced, the use of the term Islamophobia is a buzzword for attempts to silence those seeking to highlight the very trend that Kristof seeks to bring to the attention of the readers of the Times.

Thinking seriously about Muslim intolerance and violence isn’t a function of chauvinism or hate. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging a fact about the world that can’t be ignored. A tentative step, such as the one Kristof took today, is better than none at all. But even this groundbreaking column illustrates the difficulty liberals have in talking about this subject.

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About that Fictional “Iranian Grand Bargain” Offer

Earlier this month, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian penned an op-ed in the New York Times offering advice about how to negotiate with Iranians. The piece was full of the usual sophistry, but one sentence caught my eye: “Following the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador to Iran reached out to Washington with an unofficial outline for a ‘grand bargain’ with Tehran that would cover everything from Iran’s nuclear program to its support for militant groups in the region.”

Mousavian chooses his words carefully: He is careful not to say what partisan American pundits like Nicholas Kristof or agenda-driven former journalists like Barbara Slavin so often declare: That the United States had dismissed an Iranian “grand bargain” offer.

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Earlier this month, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian penned an op-ed in the New York Times offering advice about how to negotiate with Iranians. The piece was full of the usual sophistry, but one sentence caught my eye: “Following the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador to Iran reached out to Washington with an unofficial outline for a ‘grand bargain’ with Tehran that would cover everything from Iran’s nuclear program to its support for militant groups in the region.”

Mousavian chooses his words carefully: He is careful not to say what partisan American pundits like Nicholas Kristof or agenda-driven former journalists like Barbara Slavin so often declare: That the United States had dismissed an Iranian “grand bargain” offer.

I explain here the genesis of the so-called offer and the illogic of those who, apparently motivated by their animosity toward George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, undercut their own professional credibility. What I did not know then—but only discovered with the release of the National Iranian American Council leader Trita Parsi’s emails as a result of a courtroom discovery process—was that an Iranian official had told Parsi point blank that the 2003 offer wasn’t Iranian. Parsi ignored that revelation and peddled fiction to journalists and in his books. Sometimes politics sells more than truth.

How ironic it is, then, that Kristof, Slavin, Parsi, and others embrace the idea that the Iranians offered a deal when both the Iranians dismiss it and senior officials sympathetic to engaging Iran like Richard Armitage and Condoleezza Rice also dismiss it.

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Kristof in the Dark

Nicholas Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a regular, twice-a-week column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Yet on Wednesday he wrote a piece that, had it been turned in to a freshman expository writing class (if such things exist anymore), it would have deserved to have been flunked cold. It would appear to have been written off the top of his head, without any fact checking that I can discern. He just dipped deeply into his prejudices and hit the keyboard.

The column is about the perceived growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, this time manifested in the fact that an increasing number of  the prosperous have stand-by generators installed at their homes in case the power fails. Given the fact that I lost power for four days in August 2011 (Hurricane Irene), six days in October 2011 (the freak 10-inch snow fall), two days in July 2012 (a bad thunderstorm) and for nine days in October-November 2012 (Hurricane Sandy), a stand-by generator sounds like a damn good idea to me. (For Hurricane Sandy, I decamped from my cold, dark, waterless house to stay at the house of friends who were traveling and have a generator).

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Nicholas Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a regular, twice-a-week column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Yet on Wednesday he wrote a piece that, had it been turned in to a freshman expository writing class (if such things exist anymore), it would have deserved to have been flunked cold. It would appear to have been written off the top of his head, without any fact checking that I can discern. He just dipped deeply into his prejudices and hit the keyboard.

The column is about the perceived growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, this time manifested in the fact that an increasing number of  the prosperous have stand-by generators installed at their homes in case the power fails. Given the fact that I lost power for four days in August 2011 (Hurricane Irene), six days in October 2011 (the freak 10-inch snow fall), two days in July 2012 (a bad thunderstorm) and for nine days in October-November 2012 (Hurricane Sandy), a stand-by generator sounds like a damn good idea to me. (For Hurricane Sandy, I decamped from my cold, dark, waterless house to stay at the house of friends who were traveling and have a generator).

Kristof attributes the spread of auxiliary generators to … tax cuts for the rich! He writes:

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

Has Mr. Kristof never heard of an electric bill? Public utilities such as electricity are not paid for through taxes.  The problem is not lower taxes on the rich, but the fact that burying the wires would be prohibitively expensive  in many suburban areas. In my town (admittedly borderline exurbia) there are 66 miles of roads and about 2,500 houses. According to Popular Mechanics it would cost on average $724,000 per mile to bury the lines. That comes to $47,784,000 in my small town, or $19,113.60 per household. Increase everyone’s electric bill by $100 a month (more than doubling the average bill) and it would take 15 years to pay for the buried wires (ignoring interest costs, which would be very considerable). That’s just not going to happen.

So the rich, increasingly, are installing big, propane-fueled generators to power their whole spread, while the less rich buy generators at Sears that run on gasoline. You can get one for the less-than-princely sum of $500 that will power the necessities, such as lights, water pump, and refrigerator. That’s $500, Mr. Kristof, not $19,000 dollars.

Kristof goes on to give us the usual garbage about the rich not paying their fair share and climate change, etc. Any clever 10-year-old could design software that would produce liberal boilerplate of equal quality. And he would be happy to be paid a lot less than Mr. Kristof gets per column.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

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Defending Our Afghanistan Policy

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

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What If Palestinians Were Jeffersonian Democrats?

As Nicholas Kristof’s Israel venom and infatuation with the Palestinian-victimhood narrative have increased, his columns have become other-worldly. His most recent contribution is a plea for a Palestinian women’s movement of Gandhi-like proportions on the West Bank:

But imagine if Palestinians stopped the rock-throwing and put female pacifists in the lead. What if 1,000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farmland? What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown? Those images would be on televisions around the world — particularly if hundreds more women marched in to replace those hauled away.

“This is what Israel is most afraid of,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a nonviolent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi’s famous 1930 salt march.

No, I think Israelis are most afraid of having their children blown to smithereens by terrorists. Or incinerated in a nuclear attack. Or killed by rockets launched from behind the skirts of Palestinian women.

But let’s get back to Kristof. What if Palestinian women didn’t delight in their children’s martyrdom? Yes, what if they didn’t send their offspring to Hamas summer camps? What if Palestinian women in ever-increasing numbers didn’t themselves resort to suicide-bombing? Yes, then it would just be a question of convincing the Palestinian men not to slaughter Israelis. But in the real world, far too many Palestinian women are either victims or enablers of the cult of death (and sometimes both).

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Kristof stubbornly clings to the notion that Israel is engaged in violence for violence’s sake against innocents. When he asks, “What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown?” you wonder if he’s serious. I mean, obviously, there wouldn’t be a need for tear gas if the rock-throwing stopped – and no need for checkpoints and fences if the terrorists stopped killing Jews. But let’s not let logic or reality mess up another ode to the nobility of the Palestinian cause.

Nevertheless, maybe Kristof is on to something. So let’s play along. What if Palestinian leaders had spent the past 60 years building civil institutions, training scientists and architects rather than terrorists, naming squares after artists rather than murderers, instituting the rule of law, stamping out terrorism, spending billions in aid for the welfare of their people rather than squirreling it away for themselves, and reading Gandhi rather than Nazi tracts? Not only would Palestinians have had their own state but we would also have been spared years of Kristof’s drivel.

As Nicholas Kristof’s Israel venom and infatuation with the Palestinian-victimhood narrative have increased, his columns have become other-worldly. His most recent contribution is a plea for a Palestinian women’s movement of Gandhi-like proportions on the West Bank:

But imagine if Palestinians stopped the rock-throwing and put female pacifists in the lead. What if 1,000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farmland? What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown? Those images would be on televisions around the world — particularly if hundreds more women marched in to replace those hauled away.

“This is what Israel is most afraid of,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a nonviolent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi’s famous 1930 salt march.

No, I think Israelis are most afraid of having their children blown to smithereens by terrorists. Or incinerated in a nuclear attack. Or killed by rockets launched from behind the skirts of Palestinian women.

But let’s get back to Kristof. What if Palestinian women didn’t delight in their children’s martyrdom? Yes, what if they didn’t send their offspring to Hamas summer camps? What if Palestinian women in ever-increasing numbers didn’t themselves resort to suicide-bombing? Yes, then it would just be a question of convincing the Palestinian men not to slaughter Israelis. But in the real world, far too many Palestinian women are either victims or enablers of the cult of death (and sometimes both).

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Kristof stubbornly clings to the notion that Israel is engaged in violence for violence’s sake against innocents. When he asks, “What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown?” you wonder if he’s serious. I mean, obviously, there wouldn’t be a need for tear gas if the rock-throwing stopped – and no need for checkpoints and fences if the terrorists stopped killing Jews. But let’s not let logic or reality mess up another ode to the nobility of the Palestinian cause.

Nevertheless, maybe Kristof is on to something. So let’s play along. What if Palestinian leaders had spent the past 60 years building civil institutions, training scientists and architects rather than terrorists, naming squares after artists rather than murderers, instituting the rule of law, stamping out terrorism, spending billions in aid for the welfare of their people rather than squirreling it away for themselves, and reading Gandhi rather than Nazi tracts? Not only would Palestinians have had their own state but we would also have been spared years of Kristof’s drivel.

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The Good, the Bad, and Nicholas Kristof

This is really quite amazing. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof, never much of a fan of Zionist self-affirmation, has published a column so transparent in its underlying philosophy as to qualify almost as a classic. It’s called “In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly,” and it contains all the predictable adulation of the weak, glorified Palestinians and their Israeli advocates (the “noble”) versus the nasty, thuggish settlers (“the ugly”). Leaving aside the question of aesthetics (is no noble person ugly?), the piece winds up and delivers with this zinger of a paragraph showing how wonderful Israel is because it has so many “noble” Israelis:

This “other Israel” extends far beyond Rabbis for Human Rights. The most cogent critiques of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians invariably come from Israel’s own human rights organizations. The most lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology comes from Israeli historians. The deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims come from Israeli archeologists…. This more noble Israel, refusing to retreat from its values even in times of fear and stress, is a model for the world.

So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, their historians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?

This is really quite amazing. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof, never much of a fan of Zionist self-affirmation, has published a column so transparent in its underlying philosophy as to qualify almost as a classic. It’s called “In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly,” and it contains all the predictable adulation of the weak, glorified Palestinians and their Israeli advocates (the “noble”) versus the nasty, thuggish settlers (“the ugly”). Leaving aside the question of aesthetics (is no noble person ugly?), the piece winds up and delivers with this zinger of a paragraph showing how wonderful Israel is because it has so many “noble” Israelis:

This “other Israel” extends far beyond Rabbis for Human Rights. The most cogent critiques of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians invariably come from Israel’s own human rights organizations. The most lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology comes from Israeli historians. The deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims come from Israeli archeologists…. This more noble Israel, refusing to retreat from its values even in times of fear and stress, is a model for the world.

So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, their historians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?

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Kristof Defames Another Country

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.’”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.’”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

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The Voiceless Victims

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

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The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

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Nicholas Kristof’s Imaginary Barack Obama

In his New York Times column today, Nicholas Kristof praises John McCain for his inability to pander convincingly to the conservative GOP base. “In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste,” Kristof writes. “That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.” This is an undoubtedly true (and hardly controversial) assessment of McCain, and explains why he will prove to be such a formidable candidate come November.

Yet towards the end of his piece — perhaps realizing that all these good words for a Republican are driving his regular readers crazy — Kristof compares McCain’s repeated insurrections against his own party to … Barack Obama. Kristof writes:

It’s also striking that Barack Obama is leading a Democratic field in which he has been the candidate who is least-scripted and most willing to annoy primary voters, whether in speaking about Reagan’s impact on history or on the suffering of Palestinians.

Has Barack Obama ever taken a stand against the prevailing winds within his own party on a substantive political issue (saying you have friends in red states does not count)? Granted, Obama’s political career is a mere shadow next to John McCain’s decades of experience, but there is still plenty of time for him to have opposed the entrenched thinking of his party on something. Obama never “annoys” primary voters (and, for the record, speaking of the “suffering of Palestinians” hardly “annoys” Democratic primary voters; it delights them); in fact, he does the opposite.

Hillary Clinton, if anyone, is the candidate who continually “annoys” primary voters with her refusal to apologize for her Iraq vote. Obama never offers McCain’s occasional and necessary bitter pill. Obama is, in fact, his party’s candy dispenser. And as for Kristof’s contention that Obama is the “least-scripted” candidate, what distinguishes Obama is that he is the most scripted candidate in recent political history; a candidate whose virtues seem to stem entirely from the speeches he delivers and the rhetorical style with which he delivers them. Indeed, when speaking without a script, he somehow loses his magical aura.

In his New York Times column today, Nicholas Kristof praises John McCain for his inability to pander convincingly to the conservative GOP base. “In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste,” Kristof writes. “That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.” This is an undoubtedly true (and hardly controversial) assessment of McCain, and explains why he will prove to be such a formidable candidate come November.

Yet towards the end of his piece — perhaps realizing that all these good words for a Republican are driving his regular readers crazy — Kristof compares McCain’s repeated insurrections against his own party to … Barack Obama. Kristof writes:

It’s also striking that Barack Obama is leading a Democratic field in which he has been the candidate who is least-scripted and most willing to annoy primary voters, whether in speaking about Reagan’s impact on history or on the suffering of Palestinians.

Has Barack Obama ever taken a stand against the prevailing winds within his own party on a substantive political issue (saying you have friends in red states does not count)? Granted, Obama’s political career is a mere shadow next to John McCain’s decades of experience, but there is still plenty of time for him to have opposed the entrenched thinking of his party on something. Obama never “annoys” primary voters (and, for the record, speaking of the “suffering of Palestinians” hardly “annoys” Democratic primary voters; it delights them); in fact, he does the opposite.

Hillary Clinton, if anyone, is the candidate who continually “annoys” primary voters with her refusal to apologize for her Iraq vote. Obama never offers McCain’s occasional and necessary bitter pill. Obama is, in fact, his party’s candy dispenser. And as for Kristof’s contention that Obama is the “least-scripted” candidate, what distinguishes Obama is that he is the most scripted candidate in recent political history; a candidate whose virtues seem to stem entirely from the speeches he delivers and the rhetorical style with which he delivers them. Indeed, when speaking without a script, he somehow loses his magical aura.

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Kristof Gets It Wrong (Again)

The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

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The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

We can, of course, quibble with the comparison between a foreign army’s trying to impose an atheist tyranny and a foreign army’s trying to strengthen the authority of a democratically elected government. Much of the Afghan population was mobilized to resist the Soviets, with the mujahideen fielding hundreds of thousands of fighters; in Iraq we face an enemy estimated to number no more than 20,000.

But the more important point here is that, objectively, the Soviet Union wasn’t better off after it withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. In fact, the Soviet Union ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Defeat in Afghanistan was widely seen, in retrospect, to have been one of the events precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. It also, of course, emboldened Islamist extremists, some of whom (e.g., the Chechen separatists) continue to commit terrorist acts against Russia. Many others continue to wage jihad around the world; al Qaeda, the central coordinating body for such attacks, was formed in Afghanistan immediately after the Soviet withdrawal.

Seen in this light, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, far from serving as an argument for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, makes the opposite case: of the dangers of giving up the fight.

From the Soviet experience there is another important lesson that Kristof never mentions: the need to send enough troops. The Red Army never had more than 100,000 or so soldiers in Afghanistan, and most of them were tied up in large garrisons. This effectively ceded the countryside to the guerrillas and made it impossible to impose stability. The Soviets could mount offensives to kill some guerrillas, but as soon as they returned to base, the mujahideen would reassert their control. That is a mistake we have too often repeated in Iraq since 2003. It is only now that we have substantially increased our troop strength to 160,000, and have begun to carry out the kind of serious counterinsurgency campaign that the Russians never really attempted in Afghanistan.

Given the gains our troops are now making, it is folly to give up the fight, especially considering the serious consequences of defeat. The repercussions would hardly be ameliorated by Kristof’s suggestions to maintain a battalion (a mere 1,000 troops) in the Kurdish region, or to “push for progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.” (Is that why Shiites and Sunnis are killing each other in Iraq? Because they’re mad about the lack of “progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace”?)

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Free Trade on Planet Kristof

This morning, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof launched a full-throated—and empty-headed—defense of free trade. Along the way he praised President Bush and attacked Senators Clinton and Obama.

Their offense? The pair of presidential hopefuls engaged in “cowboy diplomacy” by co-sponsoring legislation that targets China for manipulating the value of its currency (he was referring to the bipartisan Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill). The proposed legislation, in Kristof’s view, will antagonize the Chinese, politicize trade disputes, and betray President Clinton’s “outstanding legacy on economic issues.”

Outstanding legacy? There may be many magnificent aspects of Bill Clinton’s economic policies, but his strategy for dealing with the mercantilists in Beijing is not one of them. It was he, after all, who decided that China should be permitted to join the World Trade Organization without first reforming its currency regime. The Chinese, once admitted to the global trading body, pegged the renminbi and from July 2005 on have maintained a managed float. As a result, Middle Kingdom manufacturers have obtained an enormous price advantage, which has translated into outsized Chinese trade surpluses against the United States.

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This morning, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof launched a full-throated—and empty-headed—defense of free trade. Along the way he praised President Bush and attacked Senators Clinton and Obama.

Their offense? The pair of presidential hopefuls engaged in “cowboy diplomacy” by co-sponsoring legislation that targets China for manipulating the value of its currency (he was referring to the bipartisan Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill). The proposed legislation, in Kristof’s view, will antagonize the Chinese, politicize trade disputes, and betray President Clinton’s “outstanding legacy on economic issues.”

Outstanding legacy? There may be many magnificent aspects of Bill Clinton’s economic policies, but his strategy for dealing with the mercantilists in Beijing is not one of them. It was he, after all, who decided that China should be permitted to join the World Trade Organization without first reforming its currency regime. The Chinese, once admitted to the global trading body, pegged the renminbi and from July 2005 on have maintained a managed float. As a result, Middle Kingdom manufacturers have obtained an enormous price advantage, which has translated into outsized Chinese trade surpluses against the United States.

These surpluses have, in turn, cost Americans jobs, undermined our manufacturing base, and de-legitimized free trade. President Clinton engaged China before it was willing to embrace the notion of the mutuality of international commerce, and President Bush, for his part, has failed to hold China accountable for predatory trade and currency policies.

These policies, apparently, do not bother Kristof. In his view, it’s fine for the Chinese to pursue one-sided trade strategies and violate the obligations they undertook in joining the WTO. Only Americans, apparently, deserve condemnation on Planet Kristof.

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Kristof’s Sick Column

A few months ago, before Nicholas Kristof’s appearance in the Tufts University Hillel’s “Moral Voices” lecture series, a Tufts student asked him to define his own “guiding moral doctrine.” The New York Times columnist was able to articulate only this in response: “I don’t think I have any sort of, you know, particularly unusual or even sophisticated moral doctrine.” Kristof proves this, abundantly, in his column today: “Cheney’s Long-Lost Twin.”

Kristof ponders: “Could Dick Cheney and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be twins separated at birth?” The suggestion that Cheney and Ahmadinejad are “jingoistic twins” is fatuous, absurd on its face, whatever you may think of the Vice President. But the real damage that rhetoric of this kind does is to obscure the evil that Ahmadinejad represents. Suppose that the very worst accusations—cronyism, power-grabbing, even the subversion of the Constitution—leveled against Cheney by his fieriest critics were true. It’s hard to see how they would rank alongside the actions of which Ahmadinejad makes no secret: plans for genocide, a millenarian nuclearization program, proud sponsorship of Hizballah, interference in Iraq, scoffing at the IAEA. (David Billet exposes more of Kristof’s fatuities here.)

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A few months ago, before Nicholas Kristof’s appearance in the Tufts University Hillel’s “Moral Voices” lecture series, a Tufts student asked him to define his own “guiding moral doctrine.” The New York Times columnist was able to articulate only this in response: “I don’t think I have any sort of, you know, particularly unusual or even sophisticated moral doctrine.” Kristof proves this, abundantly, in his column today: “Cheney’s Long-Lost Twin.”

Kristof ponders: “Could Dick Cheney and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be twins separated at birth?” The suggestion that Cheney and Ahmadinejad are “jingoistic twins” is fatuous, absurd on its face, whatever you may think of the Vice President. But the real damage that rhetoric of this kind does is to obscure the evil that Ahmadinejad represents. Suppose that the very worst accusations—cronyism, power-grabbing, even the subversion of the Constitution—leveled against Cheney by his fieriest critics were true. It’s hard to see how they would rank alongside the actions of which Ahmadinejad makes no secret: plans for genocide, a millenarian nuclearization program, proud sponsorship of Hizballah, interference in Iraq, scoffing at the IAEA. (David Billet exposes more of Kristof’s fatuities here.)

Kristof contends that, as “61 percent [of Iranians] oppose the current Iranian system of government,” America should not bomb Iran, “the most pro-American Muslim country in the region.” But the props of his argument actually suggest a conclusion opposite from the one he draws: removing Ahmadinejad from power would be a welcome intervention for brutalized Iranians. Leaving the threat of a nuclear Islamic republic aside for a moment, one would think that Kristof, so concerned about the genocide in Sudan, would be in favor of removing Iran’s “wipe-Israel-off-the-map” president, and the regime that is the biggest sponsor of terror in the state system.

In a sorry irony, Kristof cites, as source of this wisdom, Gary Sick of Columbia University, perhaps the last man whose advice our country should heed. Sick oversaw Iranian affairs on Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council. Together with Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sick presided over the worst blunder in American postwar foreign policy: our inaction in the face of the fall of the Shah, and his replacement by revolutionary Islamists. As Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” “the Carter administration not only failed to prevent the undesired outcome, it actively collaborated in the replacement of moderate autocrats friendly to American interests with less friendly autocrats of extremist persuasion.”

And this is Kristof’s sage?

COMMENTARY research assistant Daniel Halper collaborated on this post.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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Debating Israel

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see? Read More

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see?

Still, there is no denying that political debate is somewhat more contentious in Israel than in the U.S. (although we seem gradually to be catching up). But it is also the case that, despite the rough-and-tumble of the debate Kristof praises so highly, a fairly stable consensus has been reached in Israel about certain policies pertaining to the Palestinians.

One is the need for a security fence to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel. Another is the disinclination to offer more concessions to a Palestinian entity that shows no inclination to live in peace with Israel. Despite his avowed admiration for Israel’s freewheeling brand of politics, Kristof takes the opposite view on both these questions.

His own analysis of the problem, such as it is, is little more than a series of clichés: he blames Israel and its “hard-line policies” for “radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hizballah, isolating Israel in the world.” It does not occur to him that these “hard-line policies” (though it’s hard to see what is “hard-line” about building a defensive barrier and refusing to negotiate with radical movements devoted to your destruction) might be a response to years of Palestinian terror. And nowhere in his column does Kristof press for the Palestinians (or the larger Arab world) to engage in the kind of self-lacerating debate he so admires in Israeli politics. Apparently, the mere fact that “the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people in coffee shops” across the Middle East is enough to warrant demanding of Israel that it bend over backward to address their grievance.

For all of the noise Kristof makes about candor in politics, his main concern is that Israel be cast, permanently and publicly, as the primary cause of its own problems: “The best hope for Israel isn’t a better fence or more weaponry. . . . Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Why Kristof ignores Israel’s repeated demonstrations of its willingness to make peace is unclear. But before he demands more concessions of Israel, or changes in American discourse on the Middle East, he ought to wait until some healthy “vitriol” appears in Palestinian political debate. The silence of dissenters in that arena is truly deafening.

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