Commentary Magazine


Topic: Noah Pollak

The Guardian‘s Spin on the Palestine Papers

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

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More on How the Jewish Groups Did

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s executive director (and CONTENTIONS contributor), Noah Pollak, has released a statement:

Last night was a good night for the US-Israel relationship, with supporters of a strong alliance prevailing over a number of incumbents who had received financial and rhetorical support from anti-Israel groups. In Pennsylvania in particular, there was a close Senate race that resulted in the defeat of a candidate who had accused Israel of war crimes and helped raise money for an organization the FBI later called a front group for Hamas. ECI ran ads informing voters of that record, and no doubt many of those voters share our concerns. We are delighted with the result.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition points out that in 11 races in which RJC-supported candidates faced off against J Street–funded candidates, the RJC candidate came out on top in seven, including three Senate races.

It is important in trying to decipher all this to weed out the candidates who were always going to win and those who were never going to win. When you get down to competitive races, J Street proved to be no help to its chosen candidates and a great deal of trouble. In the future, do you think mainstream Democrats with a generally good record on Israel are going to take money from J Street? No. Why in the world would they? That will leave J Street with its hardened group of donors and the fringe Israel-bashers. Not so influential, I suppose. Maybe their big donor and his friend from Hong Kong will close up shop and spend their largess on groups that haven’t made themselves irrelevant.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s executive director (and CONTENTIONS contributor), Noah Pollak, has released a statement:

Last night was a good night for the US-Israel relationship, with supporters of a strong alliance prevailing over a number of incumbents who had received financial and rhetorical support from anti-Israel groups. In Pennsylvania in particular, there was a close Senate race that resulted in the defeat of a candidate who had accused Israel of war crimes and helped raise money for an organization the FBI later called a front group for Hamas. ECI ran ads informing voters of that record, and no doubt many of those voters share our concerns. We are delighted with the result.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition points out that in 11 races in which RJC-supported candidates faced off against J Street–funded candidates, the RJC candidate came out on top in seven, including three Senate races.

It is important in trying to decipher all this to weed out the candidates who were always going to win and those who were never going to win. When you get down to competitive races, J Street proved to be no help to its chosen candidates and a great deal of trouble. In the future, do you think mainstream Democrats with a generally good record on Israel are going to take money from J Street? No. Why in the world would they? That will leave J Street with its hardened group of donors and the fringe Israel-bashers. Not so influential, I suppose. Maybe their big donor and his friend from Hong Kong will close up shop and spend their largess on groups that haven’t made themselves irrelevant.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: “They’re Doing the J Street Jive”

Given the recent revelations regarding the J Street/George Soros connection, Noah Pollak’s April 2009 COMMENTARY article, “They’re Doing the J Street Jive,” seems particularly apt and timely:

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Given the recent revelations regarding the J Street/George Soros connection, Noah Pollak’s April 2009 COMMENTARY article, “They’re Doing the J Street Jive,” seems particularly apt and timely:

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

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Soros Unmasked

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart. Read More

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart.

The pattern is clear here: where there is a well-funded group seeking to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship, delegitimize Israel, or push for America’s retreat from the world, it’s a good bet Soros is behind it. HRW and J Street should be seen in that light — the facade for a billionaire whose animosity toward Israel is well documented and who figuratively and literally bets against the West. (He bragged in 1992 that he broke the Bank of England by selling short $10 billion in British pound sterling.) A pro-Israel activist sums up (I have provided links for reference purposes):

Jeremy Ben Ami says he wants to change the meaning of “pro-Israel,” and now this week we hear from him what we’ve suspected all along: that J Street is “with the values and principles” of George Soros, and we all know what that means when it comes to Israel. His $100m gift to Human Rights Watch after their founder denounces them in the New York Times as obsessed with Israel and having lost all moral basis, their top military analyst is outed as an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, and the head of their Middle East division, who has a poster in her office for a movie praising suicide bombing, is caught with her hand in the Saudi cookie jar begging for money to beat up on Israel, is a vivid reminder of who J Street’s mentor is.

And, of course, at the center of this operation is Soros’s right-hand man, Mort Halperin, who heads Soros’s OSI (the entity that spreads Soros’s money around). Follow the bouncing ball: Halperin is OSI’s senior adviser, but he’s also on Soros Street’s advisory council to keep an eye on Soros’s investment. And to boot, he wrote Richard Goldstone’s defense. How efficient.

A number of questions remain: How long will J Street survive? Are Jeremy Ben Ami’s days as a Beltway operator over? (The activist comments: “So when Jeremy says he wants to ‘redefine’ the word ‘pro-Israel,’ yeah, he does. So as to include anti-Israel, and hostile to Israel, and ambivalent to Israel, and  pretty much anything but actually ‘PRO-Israel.’ The jig is up.”) It will be fascinating to see if the media and politicians grasp that Soros-Halperin groups aren’t genuine expressions of popular opinion but rather the play things of a single billionaire. Will those who receive Soros’s money — think tanks, organizations, politicians — become concerned that they will be viewed as weapons in Soros’s personal arsenal?

And while we are on the subject of shadowy funders, Obama and David Axelrod have been whining about the influence of independent money in America politics. Obama has been obsessing over “corporate money.” (“The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”) He’s furious that “the biggest impediment we have right now is that independent expenditures coming from special interests — who we don’t know because they’re not obligated to disclose their contributions under a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United — means that in some places, you’ve got third parties that are spending millions more than the candidates combined, more than the parties in these states.” Axelrod is incensed about the “audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests.” He is so very concerned: “There is still time for the media to shine a light on these front groups. There is still time for an aroused public to rise up against this ominous special-interest hijacking of our elections. There is still time for candidates on both sides of the aisle to take the side of average Americans and challenge these groups to disclose their secret funders.”

So are they ready to call out Soros, demand that he stop flooding elections with his loot, and cut off ties with his lackeys? (One wonders if J Street’s officials will get any more White House visits.) Don’t hold your breath. It’s only the other guys’ money that is a threat; the liberals will — and apparently do — take Soros’s money anytime.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sounds like every pro-Israel organization and self-described pro-Israel candidate should be in agreement with Noah Pollak: “Congress funds 22 percent of the [UN Human Rights] Council’s activities. Is it right to collude in allowing a democratic ally to become an international punching bag for activists who are only prevented from treating us the same way by virtue of our greater power? And should the United States help promote the idea that one of the most important and effective national security tools we employ — targeted killings — is an act of state terrorism that must be prosecuted by international courts? … It is time that the administration abandoned the Council. And it is time that Congress stopped funding it.”

Sounds like Nixon: “The hypocrisy of the Obama Justice Department has reached staggering proportions on a host of issues stemming from the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Such systemic evasion of justice breeds lawlessness. The Justice Department’s latest thumb in the eye of its critics came in an Aug. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Sounds like the Big Apple is part of second America: “A majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to a mosque proposed as part of a planned Islamic cultural center near ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it.”

Sounds like the rest of California: “The city of Bell gave nearly $900,000 in loans to former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, city employees and at least two council members in the last several years, according to records reviewed by The Times. … The loans raise new questions about how officials were compensated in Bell. The Times revealed last month that top city administrators were among the highest paid in the nation, sparking outrage and investigations by both L.A. County prosecutors and the California attorney general. Rizzo’s contract for this year called for him to receive more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits. The loans appear to have come on top of that compensation.”

Sounds like Milton Friedman: “Almost every action the president has taken has deepened and lengthened the downturn. … His policies are anti-investment, anti-jobs, and anti-growth. Raising taxes — with a 15 percent hike on certain small business corporations, new taxes to pay for ObamaCare, and an increase on the dividend tax from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent — depresses new investment throughout the economy.” Worth reading in full; Mitt Romney appears ready to roll in 2012.

Sounds like Barney Frank is spitting mad: “President Obama, whom I greatly admire … when the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the ‘recovery bill,’ not the ‘stimulus’ bill; that’s what the focus groups tell us — he predicted or his aides predicted at the time that if it passed, unemployment would get under 8 percent. … That was a dumb thing to do.” Focus groups at the White House — how Clintonian!

Sounds like Charlie Crist is taking political lessons from Obama and Pelosi: “Crist recently refunded a $9,600 contribution from Jim Greer, the indicted former Republican Party of Florida chairman. ‘He asked for it back, so I gave it to him,’ said Crist. But Crist said that doesn’t apply to anyone who asks for a refund. Asked what was different about Greer, Crist said, ‘I think he really needed it.'” The rest of the donors will just spend it on dumb things like groceries, mortgages, family vacations, and Marco Rubio, you see.

Sounds like every pro-Israel organization and self-described pro-Israel candidate should be in agreement with Noah Pollak: “Congress funds 22 percent of the [UN Human Rights] Council’s activities. Is it right to collude in allowing a democratic ally to become an international punching bag for activists who are only prevented from treating us the same way by virtue of our greater power? And should the United States help promote the idea that one of the most important and effective national security tools we employ — targeted killings — is an act of state terrorism that must be prosecuted by international courts? … It is time that the administration abandoned the Council. And it is time that Congress stopped funding it.”

Sounds like Nixon: “The hypocrisy of the Obama Justice Department has reached staggering proportions on a host of issues stemming from the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Such systemic evasion of justice breeds lawlessness. The Justice Department’s latest thumb in the eye of its critics came in an Aug. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Sounds like the Big Apple is part of second America: “A majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to a mosque proposed as part of a planned Islamic cultural center near ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it.”

Sounds like the rest of California: “The city of Bell gave nearly $900,000 in loans to former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, city employees and at least two council members in the last several years, according to records reviewed by The Times. … The loans raise new questions about how officials were compensated in Bell. The Times revealed last month that top city administrators were among the highest paid in the nation, sparking outrage and investigations by both L.A. County prosecutors and the California attorney general. Rizzo’s contract for this year called for him to receive more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits. The loans appear to have come on top of that compensation.”

Sounds like Milton Friedman: “Almost every action the president has taken has deepened and lengthened the downturn. … His policies are anti-investment, anti-jobs, and anti-growth. Raising taxes — with a 15 percent hike on certain small business corporations, new taxes to pay for ObamaCare, and an increase on the dividend tax from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent — depresses new investment throughout the economy.” Worth reading in full; Mitt Romney appears ready to roll in 2012.

Sounds like Barney Frank is spitting mad: “President Obama, whom I greatly admire … when the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the ‘recovery bill,’ not the ‘stimulus’ bill; that’s what the focus groups tell us — he predicted or his aides predicted at the time that if it passed, unemployment would get under 8 percent. … That was a dumb thing to do.” Focus groups at the White House — how Clintonian!

Sounds like Charlie Crist is taking political lessons from Obama and Pelosi: “Crist recently refunded a $9,600 contribution from Jim Greer, the indicted former Republican Party of Florida chairman. ‘He asked for it back, so I gave it to him,’ said Crist. But Crist said that doesn’t apply to anyone who asks for a refund. Asked what was different about Greer, Crist said, ‘I think he really needed it.'” The rest of the donors will just spend it on dumb things like groceries, mortgages, family vacations, and Marco Rubio, you see.

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It Is Certainly an Emergency

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

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RE: RE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

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RE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

Noah Pollak’s superb piece on Beinart prompts, first, my regret that I left Yale just before Noah arrived, so I can’t claim to have taught him anything.  But it, along with Benjamin Kerstein’s essay on “Liberalism and Zionism,” prompts a further reflection. Both Noah and Ben argue that Beinart exemplifies the vacuity of liberalism. As Noah puts it, “Because the history of the peace process repudiates so many of liberalism’s most cherished premises, liberalism is increasingly repudiating Israel. … In this way, the failure of the liberal vision is transformed from being a verdict on liberalism to being a verdict on Israel.”

True. But it is both more and less than that. For Beinart is not really writing about Israel at all. For him, and for the thousands of allies this lonely man possesses, the real issue is that, as Ben points out, Israel was born of a 19th-century nationalist impulse. At the time, that was not illiberal. On the contrary, support for national self-determination, as long as the people in question were capable of founding and sustaining a legitimate, sovereign state, was the essence of liberalism. The only difference was that the Jewish people, instead of being oppressed by one foreign power — as the Poles were by the Russians, or the Greeks by the Turks — were being oppressed by many.

The problem today is not that the peace process has failed or that this reveals the failure of the liberal vision. All that is true enough. The problem is that the liberal vision itself has changed. Not all liberals reject the nation-state, but suspicion of the nation-state as the organizing unit for the world does stem predominantly from the left. In view of the importance that the left attaches to the state as the provider of welfare benefits, this is both ironic and contradictory. But it does not change the fact that one reason liberals (especially those of a European persuasion) have fallen out of love with Israel is that it — along with the United States — was founded on and persists in maintaining a democratic and nationalist vision.

This is why the liberal critics bracket Israel and the U.S. They claim they do so because the U.S. supports Israel. Actually, they do it because they reject the worldview on which both nations are founded, the worldview that has motivated the U.S. to support Israel. For the critics, democracy and nationalism must ultimately be in conflict. Hence the importance of the EU and transnational initiatives like the International Criminal Court. This is a worldview founded in the European reaction to the Second World War. The fact that this war led to the destruction of the European nations and the rise of the Israeli one is another reason for anti-national liberals to look upon it with scorn: to them, Israel appears to be resisting the lessons of history.

The failure of the peace process undoubtedly contributes to the rising scorn. But the liberal retreat from Israel began long before Oslo and its failure.  It dates from the 1967 war, which shocked the newly sensitive souls of many on the left. Israel, in other words, is really a case study. It was protected for a time from the decay of the ideology of liberal nationalism on the left by the socialism of many of its founders and by the horror of the Holocaust. But that immunity began to expire two generations ago, and the process is continuing, as essays like Beinart’s reveal. The fact that Beinart himself believes he is writing uniquely and revealingly about Israel is just more evidence that liberals of his ilk have no idea how far they have drifted from the ideology their forebears celebrated.

Noah Pollak’s superb piece on Beinart prompts, first, my regret that I left Yale just before Noah arrived, so I can’t claim to have taught him anything.  But it, along with Benjamin Kerstein’s essay on “Liberalism and Zionism,” prompts a further reflection. Both Noah and Ben argue that Beinart exemplifies the vacuity of liberalism. As Noah puts it, “Because the history of the peace process repudiates so many of liberalism’s most cherished premises, liberalism is increasingly repudiating Israel. … In this way, the failure of the liberal vision is transformed from being a verdict on liberalism to being a verdict on Israel.”

True. But it is both more and less than that. For Beinart is not really writing about Israel at all. For him, and for the thousands of allies this lonely man possesses, the real issue is that, as Ben points out, Israel was born of a 19th-century nationalist impulse. At the time, that was not illiberal. On the contrary, support for national self-determination, as long as the people in question were capable of founding and sustaining a legitimate, sovereign state, was the essence of liberalism. The only difference was that the Jewish people, instead of being oppressed by one foreign power — as the Poles were by the Russians, or the Greeks by the Turks — were being oppressed by many.

The problem today is not that the peace process has failed or that this reveals the failure of the liberal vision. All that is true enough. The problem is that the liberal vision itself has changed. Not all liberals reject the nation-state, but suspicion of the nation-state as the organizing unit for the world does stem predominantly from the left. In view of the importance that the left attaches to the state as the provider of welfare benefits, this is both ironic and contradictory. But it does not change the fact that one reason liberals (especially those of a European persuasion) have fallen out of love with Israel is that it — along with the United States — was founded on and persists in maintaining a democratic and nationalist vision.

This is why the liberal critics bracket Israel and the U.S. They claim they do so because the U.S. supports Israel. Actually, they do it because they reject the worldview on which both nations are founded, the worldview that has motivated the U.S. to support Israel. For the critics, democracy and nationalism must ultimately be in conflict. Hence the importance of the EU and transnational initiatives like the International Criminal Court. This is a worldview founded in the European reaction to the Second World War. The fact that this war led to the destruction of the European nations and the rise of the Israeli one is another reason for anti-national liberals to look upon it with scorn: to them, Israel appears to be resisting the lessons of history.

The failure of the peace process undoubtedly contributes to the rising scorn. But the liberal retreat from Israel began long before Oslo and its failure.  It dates from the 1967 war, which shocked the newly sensitive souls of many on the left. Israel, in other words, is really a case study. It was protected for a time from the decay of the ideology of liberal nationalism on the left by the socialism of many of its founders and by the horror of the Holocaust. But that immunity began to expire two generations ago, and the process is continuing, as essays like Beinart’s reveal. The fact that Beinart himself believes he is writing uniquely and revealingly about Israel is just more evidence that liberals of his ilk have no idea how far they have drifted from the ideology their forebears celebrated.

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Where Does Goldstone Fit in Mearsheimer’s List?

So here’s a question for John Mearsheimer. As Noah Pollak pointed out not so long ago, John Mearsheimer classified Jews into three categories — new Afrikaner Jews, righteous Jews, and the “great ambivalent in the middle.” In his useful lists, he included one Judge Richard Goldstone among the noble ones. And so, in light of the revelations about Judge Goldstone to which Jennifer Rubin referred earlier on today, one is left to wonder. Where would Mearsheimer now put Goldstone — among the “New Afrikaner” or the “Righteous”? Maybe we should create a separate category — Old Afrikaner but Righteous? Good Ol’ Afrikaner?

Is he a Righteous Afrikaner because he bashes Israel after having hung a few Africans — the bashing makes him righteous, the hanging makes him Afrikaner?

If so, is his righteousness diminished by his little flirt with the white supremacist apartheid? Or is his very practical complicity with it something that his later anti-Zionist righteousness washes away?

Will Mearsheimer continue to be his fan now that he knows what skeletons Mr. Goldstone had in the closet? Won’t he mind? Will anyone mind?

After all, what’s sending a few Africans to the gallows, between us, after you’ve authored a UN-sponsored indictment of Israel and peppered it with a healthy dose of self-righteousness about your Jewish conscience?

So here’s a question for John Mearsheimer. As Noah Pollak pointed out not so long ago, John Mearsheimer classified Jews into three categories — new Afrikaner Jews, righteous Jews, and the “great ambivalent in the middle.” In his useful lists, he included one Judge Richard Goldstone among the noble ones. And so, in light of the revelations about Judge Goldstone to which Jennifer Rubin referred earlier on today, one is left to wonder. Where would Mearsheimer now put Goldstone — among the “New Afrikaner” or the “Righteous”? Maybe we should create a separate category — Old Afrikaner but Righteous? Good Ol’ Afrikaner?

Is he a Righteous Afrikaner because he bashes Israel after having hung a few Africans — the bashing makes him righteous, the hanging makes him Afrikaner?

If so, is his righteousness diminished by his little flirt with the white supremacist apartheid? Or is his very practical complicity with it something that his later anti-Zionist righteousness washes away?

Will Mearsheimer continue to be his fan now that he knows what skeletons Mr. Goldstone had in the closet? Won’t he mind? Will anyone mind?

After all, what’s sending a few Africans to the gallows, between us, after you’ve authored a UN-sponsored indictment of Israel and peppered it with a healthy dose of self-righteousness about your Jewish conscience?

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RE: Why Didn’t Obama Call Off the Ambush?

Noah Pollak makes a fair point: President Obama should have told the leaders of Egypt and Turkey not to turn next week’s nuclear summit in Washington into a forum for bashing Israel. Nevertheless, I am still concerned about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to attend.

U.S.-Israeli relations are as bad as they have been in decades; perhaps ever. The fault is mainly Obama’s. I believe Netanyahu has been right not to ban the construction of new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem — a concession that might come at the end of negotiations with the Palestinians but should not be a starting point. (Actually, it’s not even clear whether Netanyahu could ban such construction under any circumstances, given the nature of the conservative coalition that keeps him in office.) Still, Israel cannot afford to draw too far away from the United States, its only reliable friend.

The nuclear summit next week will be marked by a good deal of blather and no significant action — a hallmark of this administration. In any case, it’s a pet project of the president, who is already steamed enough at Bibi. By refusing to attend, Netanyahu risks exacerbating the growing feud with Obama. I find it hard to accept his explanation that he would not go because the Egyptians and Turks would make the Israeli nuclear program an issue. Netanyahu is one of the world’s most accomplished debaters. Surely he would be able to deflect their accusations and turn attention where it belongs — toward Iran’s nuclear program.

Noah Pollak makes a fair point: President Obama should have told the leaders of Egypt and Turkey not to turn next week’s nuclear summit in Washington into a forum for bashing Israel. Nevertheless, I am still concerned about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to attend.

U.S.-Israeli relations are as bad as they have been in decades; perhaps ever. The fault is mainly Obama’s. I believe Netanyahu has been right not to ban the construction of new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem — a concession that might come at the end of negotiations with the Palestinians but should not be a starting point. (Actually, it’s not even clear whether Netanyahu could ban such construction under any circumstances, given the nature of the conservative coalition that keeps him in office.) Still, Israel cannot afford to draw too far away from the United States, its only reliable friend.

The nuclear summit next week will be marked by a good deal of blather and no significant action — a hallmark of this administration. In any case, it’s a pet project of the president, who is already steamed enough at Bibi. By refusing to attend, Netanyahu risks exacerbating the growing feud with Obama. I find it hard to accept his explanation that he would not go because the Egyptians and Turks would make the Israeli nuclear program an issue. Netanyahu is one of the world’s most accomplished debaters. Surely he would be able to deflect their accusations and turn attention where it belongs — toward Iran’s nuclear program.

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Re: A Dubai Victory

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

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Scoffed Power

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

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Noah Nailed It

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

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Doh! (As in Doha)

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

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The Theme Is There

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

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The Cost Of Talk

Ambassador John Bolton performs the invaluable service of explaining just what’s wrong with Barack Obama’s notion of unconditional talks with the world’s rogue state leaders. I will borrow the observation of my colleague Noah Pollak, who remarked to me that the average voter may not quite see what’s wrong with “talking to our enemies,” as Obama’s position is invariably and misleadingly phrased by mainstream media.

I share Bolton’s view that it is critical to explain why in certain exceptional cases, when no responsible negotiating partner is available and when the precious commodity of a presidential meeting is at issue, that the costs often outweigh the benefits of sitting down with leaders of terror-sponsoring states. But the logic of this position is hardly self-evident. Several of his prominent Democratic supporters don’t agree with Obama’s notion of unconditional, presidential talks with Ahmejinejad and other terror state leaders, but the mainstream media is loath to point that out or explain why even other liberal Democratic Senators don’t buy into his approach. It is therefore incumbent on John McCain to explain why this is so. McCain will need to articulate his own view, which, as Bolton puts it, is not “never talk to adversaries,” but rather “that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time.” Bolton’s column seems an ideal starting point for that discussion.

Ambassador John Bolton performs the invaluable service of explaining just what’s wrong with Barack Obama’s notion of unconditional talks with the world’s rogue state leaders. I will borrow the observation of my colleague Noah Pollak, who remarked to me that the average voter may not quite see what’s wrong with “talking to our enemies,” as Obama’s position is invariably and misleadingly phrased by mainstream media.

I share Bolton’s view that it is critical to explain why in certain exceptional cases, when no responsible negotiating partner is available and when the precious commodity of a presidential meeting is at issue, that the costs often outweigh the benefits of sitting down with leaders of terror-sponsoring states. But the logic of this position is hardly self-evident. Several of his prominent Democratic supporters don’t agree with Obama’s notion of unconditional, presidential talks with Ahmejinejad and other terror state leaders, but the mainstream media is loath to point that out or explain why even other liberal Democratic Senators don’t buy into his approach. It is therefore incumbent on John McCain to explain why this is so. McCain will need to articulate his own view, which, as Bolton puts it, is not “never talk to adversaries,” but rather “that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time.” Bolton’s column seems an ideal starting point for that discussion.

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Things Get Worse in Lebanon

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

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Obama Curbs His Enthusiasm

As he speaks in Indiana, Obama has his usual rally audience behind him. Only the difference here, as Noah Pollak just pointed out to me in an e-mail, is that there are eight white men in the camera shot with him, and several of them are acting as a visual advertisement for Abercombie and Fitch. Even weirder: one of them looks exactly like Larry David.

As he speaks in Indiana, Obama has his usual rally audience behind him. Only the difference here, as Noah Pollak just pointed out to me in an e-mail, is that there are eight white men in the camera shot with him, and several of them are acting as a visual advertisement for Abercombie and Fitch. Even weirder: one of them looks exactly like Larry David.

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Re: Seven Years Later

Noah Pollak writes that Israel seems finally to be implementing the Bush Doctrine: Jerusalem allegedly has warned Damascus that it will be held accountable for Hezbollah attacks on Israel’s northern border. I hope he’s right, but I remain skeptical.

After all, when Ehud Barak (then prime minister, now defense minister) withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, he issued similar warnings that Syria would be held accountable for any further aggression. Well, Hezbollah’s aggression continued and in 2006 Israel fought an inconclusive war against that terrorist group, ignoring the suggestions of some commentators (including yours truly) that it should expand the conflict to Syria.

Is there any reason to think that the current government-led by the same prime minister (Ehud Olmert) who so conspicuously mishandled the Hezbollah war-will be more far-sighted in the future? I wouldn’t bet on it.

A fundamental problem here is that, while Israel believes in retaliation and deterrence, it doesn’t by and large believe in another aspect of the Bush Doctrine-regime change. Most Israelis are deeply cynical (not without reason) about the prospects of positive political change in the Arab world. Their attitude is: Better the devil you know. In Syria, the devil in question is Bashar Assad and, all things considered, Israelis prefer keeping him in power.

I’m not sure this attitude makes much sense, since Assad is already an avowed enemy of Israel who is actively helping anti-Israeli terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. To the extent that his aggression is restrained-he is not, for example, firing missiles from Syria into Israeli cities-it is not because he is a nice guy but because he is deterred by the threat of Israeli retaliation. Presumably that same threat would function against any future Syrian regime, even if it is led by Islamists.

But Israelis, at least those who run the government, are comfortable dealing with traditional Arab strongmen and can point to the rise of Hamas in Gaza as evidence of the dangers of democracy. In point of fact, Hamas’s rise is actually the price that Israel pays for supporting an autocrat–Yasser Arafat–for so long on the theory that he would do Israel’s dirty work by suppressing Palestinian militants. Instead, Arafat nurtured a climate in which shahids (martyrs) were glorified, the Jewish state was reviled, and moderate political figures were intimidated into silence, jailed, exiled, or killed. The corruption and ineffectiveness of his administration eventually turned most Palestinians to an even more radical alternative.

But just about the only prominent Israeli who believes in supporting Arab democrats is Natan Sharansky, and he is not in government any more. That’s why it is so ironic that American “neoconservatives”–who champion the promotion of democracy–are derided in some quarters as practically Mossad agents. In fact, the Mossad, and other organs of Israeli government, while happy to rub out terrorist kingpins, are not interested in toppling state sponsors of terror.

Noah Pollak writes that Israel seems finally to be implementing the Bush Doctrine: Jerusalem allegedly has warned Damascus that it will be held accountable for Hezbollah attacks on Israel’s northern border. I hope he’s right, but I remain skeptical.

After all, when Ehud Barak (then prime minister, now defense minister) withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, he issued similar warnings that Syria would be held accountable for any further aggression. Well, Hezbollah’s aggression continued and in 2006 Israel fought an inconclusive war against that terrorist group, ignoring the suggestions of some commentators (including yours truly) that it should expand the conflict to Syria.

Is there any reason to think that the current government-led by the same prime minister (Ehud Olmert) who so conspicuously mishandled the Hezbollah war-will be more far-sighted in the future? I wouldn’t bet on it.

A fundamental problem here is that, while Israel believes in retaliation and deterrence, it doesn’t by and large believe in another aspect of the Bush Doctrine-regime change. Most Israelis are deeply cynical (not without reason) about the prospects of positive political change in the Arab world. Their attitude is: Better the devil you know. In Syria, the devil in question is Bashar Assad and, all things considered, Israelis prefer keeping him in power.

I’m not sure this attitude makes much sense, since Assad is already an avowed enemy of Israel who is actively helping anti-Israeli terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. To the extent that his aggression is restrained-he is not, for example, firing missiles from Syria into Israeli cities-it is not because he is a nice guy but because he is deterred by the threat of Israeli retaliation. Presumably that same threat would function against any future Syrian regime, even if it is led by Islamists.

But Israelis, at least those who run the government, are comfortable dealing with traditional Arab strongmen and can point to the rise of Hamas in Gaza as evidence of the dangers of democracy. In point of fact, Hamas’s rise is actually the price that Israel pays for supporting an autocrat–Yasser Arafat–for so long on the theory that he would do Israel’s dirty work by suppressing Palestinian militants. Instead, Arafat nurtured a climate in which shahids (martyrs) were glorified, the Jewish state was reviled, and moderate political figures were intimidated into silence, jailed, exiled, or killed. The corruption and ineffectiveness of his administration eventually turned most Palestinians to an even more radical alternative.

But just about the only prominent Israeli who believes in supporting Arab democrats is Natan Sharansky, and he is not in government any more. That’s why it is so ironic that American “neoconservatives”–who champion the promotion of democracy–are derided in some quarters as practically Mossad agents. In fact, the Mossad, and other organs of Israeli government, while happy to rub out terrorist kingpins, are not interested in toppling state sponsors of terror.

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