Commentary Magazine


Topic: Professor

Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Muslim Leaders Warn of ‘Backlash’ from Rep. King Hearings

As Rep. Peter King prepares to hold hearings to investigate homegrown Islamic radicalization next month, opponents of the investigation have fallen back on a familiar defense mechanism: they allege that the hearings will spur a “backlash” of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Washington Post reported that the upcoming hearings “have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community, which has spent much of the past year battling what it sees as a rising tide of Islamophobia.”

At the New York Daily News, Douglas Murray noted the recurrent fears of anti-Muslim “backlash”:

Across the media and blogosphere, pundits and certain politicians have been warning of the “fear” that Muslims are said to be feeling about the hearings. Not a witness has been confirmed, but self-appointed Muslim “leaders” have expressed their fears of the mythical “backlash” that is meant to be always about to occur.

Murray makes a good point. Just a few examples of incidents that so-called advocates for the Muslim community claimed would lead to a “backlash” in recent years include the Iraq war; when the FBI uncovered an Islamic terrorist attack in New Jersey; when a professor with terrorist links was put on trial; when Americans were beheaded by Islamic extremists; the sale of “Left Behind” video games; President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascism”; and the movie United 93.

Of course, the most recent incident that was supposed to spark a backlash was the public anger at the Islamic center near Ground Zero last summer.  “You saw some anti-Muslim views after 9/11, but they were relegated to the fringes of society where they should be,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 10. “Now anti-Muslim sentiment has really been mainstreamed.”

But, as Jonathan pointed out last November, that doesn’t match up with the facts. Hate crimes against Muslims reached a high after the 9/11 attacks, but they have dropped steadily — and significantly — since then.

The backlash theory has become nothing more than an easy way for some people to shut down uncomfortable conversations they don’t want to have. And this isn’t a debate they’re going to be able to put off any longer.

As Rep. Peter King prepares to hold hearings to investigate homegrown Islamic radicalization next month, opponents of the investigation have fallen back on a familiar defense mechanism: they allege that the hearings will spur a “backlash” of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Washington Post reported that the upcoming hearings “have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community, which has spent much of the past year battling what it sees as a rising tide of Islamophobia.”

At the New York Daily News, Douglas Murray noted the recurrent fears of anti-Muslim “backlash”:

Across the media and blogosphere, pundits and certain politicians have been warning of the “fear” that Muslims are said to be feeling about the hearings. Not a witness has been confirmed, but self-appointed Muslim “leaders” have expressed their fears of the mythical “backlash” that is meant to be always about to occur.

Murray makes a good point. Just a few examples of incidents that so-called advocates for the Muslim community claimed would lead to a “backlash” in recent years include the Iraq war; when the FBI uncovered an Islamic terrorist attack in New Jersey; when a professor with terrorist links was put on trial; when Americans were beheaded by Islamic extremists; the sale of “Left Behind” video games; President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascism”; and the movie United 93.

Of course, the most recent incident that was supposed to spark a backlash was the public anger at the Islamic center near Ground Zero last summer.  “You saw some anti-Muslim views after 9/11, but they were relegated to the fringes of society where they should be,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 10. “Now anti-Muslim sentiment has really been mainstreamed.”

But, as Jonathan pointed out last November, that doesn’t match up with the facts. Hate crimes against Muslims reached a high after the 9/11 attacks, but they have dropped steadily — and significantly — since then.

The backlash theory has become nothing more than an easy way for some people to shut down uncomfortable conversations they don’t want to have. And this isn’t a debate they’re going to be able to put off any longer.

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Getting a Grip on Obama’s Real Place in History

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

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

Actually, it doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, it doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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Civil Libertarians and the Arizona Shooting

Via the Daily Caller, Jake Tapper makes an interesting point. He wonders whether civil-libertarian groups may have made it more difficult for authorities to intervene against lunatics like Jared Loughner before they commit acts of violence:

“One thing that an older family member of mine said to me, as I mentioned earlier to you, is it used to be a lot easier to get people like this locked up,” Tapper said. “And then civil libertarians got active and became much more difficult to do so. I’m talking decades ago and that’s something that I want to read more about and learn more about, because that does sound interesting.”

Tapper argued that in the very least society needed to find a way to keep people like Loughner from owning a lethal weapon.

“I mean if this guy was literally terrifying his classmates at the community college, they thought, they described him as a serial killer, they thought he was unhinged, he was asked to not come back — that seems to me that society needs to figure out a way, to A – prevent people like that from getting lethal weapons, and B — maybe even go so far as to remove them from the street. That is a subject for debate, just as legitimately as the political rhetoric we hear.”

The normal reaction to these violent incidents is to wonder how such a dangerous individual slipped by unnoticed by the rest of society. In this case, Loughner obviously didn’t — several of his fellow students and professors feared he would shoot up his community college. One of his classmates said she sat near the door in case he opened fire on the class. Another professor remembered being wary about turning around to write on the board in case Loughner pulled out a gun when his back was turned.

Both the community college and the local police reportedly received multiple complaints about Loughner’s behavior. And yet it doesn’t seem like much action was taken to intervene. He was even able to purchase a gun.

So is Tapper’s idea about preemptive intervention worth investigating?

Brett Joshpe, an attorney who has worked on behalf of the American Center for Law and Justice, told me that Tapper “has a legitimate point that our criminal justice system is pretty reactive. It’s not good at dealing with threats before they materialize.”

But he also noted that there aren’t many public-policy steps we can take to prevent tragedies like the one in Arizona from occurring, and the idea that civil libertarians contributed to it is unrealistic.

“Every once in a while, something like this happens. You’re never going to completely eliminate it,” he said. “It’s hard to create a public-policy response when you’re talking about very isolated deranged people whose thinking process is not logical, and there’s not necessarily a direct cause and effect.”

Via the Daily Caller, Jake Tapper makes an interesting point. He wonders whether civil-libertarian groups may have made it more difficult for authorities to intervene against lunatics like Jared Loughner before they commit acts of violence:

“One thing that an older family member of mine said to me, as I mentioned earlier to you, is it used to be a lot easier to get people like this locked up,” Tapper said. “And then civil libertarians got active and became much more difficult to do so. I’m talking decades ago and that’s something that I want to read more about and learn more about, because that does sound interesting.”

Tapper argued that in the very least society needed to find a way to keep people like Loughner from owning a lethal weapon.

“I mean if this guy was literally terrifying his classmates at the community college, they thought, they described him as a serial killer, they thought he was unhinged, he was asked to not come back — that seems to me that society needs to figure out a way, to A – prevent people like that from getting lethal weapons, and B — maybe even go so far as to remove them from the street. That is a subject for debate, just as legitimately as the political rhetoric we hear.”

The normal reaction to these violent incidents is to wonder how such a dangerous individual slipped by unnoticed by the rest of society. In this case, Loughner obviously didn’t — several of his fellow students and professors feared he would shoot up his community college. One of his classmates said she sat near the door in case he opened fire on the class. Another professor remembered being wary about turning around to write on the board in case Loughner pulled out a gun when his back was turned.

Both the community college and the local police reportedly received multiple complaints about Loughner’s behavior. And yet it doesn’t seem like much action was taken to intervene. He was even able to purchase a gun.

So is Tapper’s idea about preemptive intervention worth investigating?

Brett Joshpe, an attorney who has worked on behalf of the American Center for Law and Justice, told me that Tapper “has a legitimate point that our criminal justice system is pretty reactive. It’s not good at dealing with threats before they materialize.”

But he also noted that there aren’t many public-policy steps we can take to prevent tragedies like the one in Arizona from occurring, and the idea that civil libertarians contributed to it is unrealistic.

“Every once in a while, something like this happens. You’re never going to completely eliminate it,” he said. “It’s hard to create a public-policy response when you’re talking about very isolated deranged people whose thinking process is not logical, and there’s not necessarily a direct cause and effect.”

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Unforgivable

Concerned about the closing of the American mind? How about slamming it shut and throwing away the key. Publishers Weekly reports on a new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be published without the “n” word:

Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud.

Here’s the joke: These protectors of fragile sensibilities think “slave” is safe from the larger PC police force. I’m in a slightly unique position to know otherwise. In another lifetime, I worked in educational publishing. Political correctness does not inform that industry; it defines it. The purpose of children’s textbooks is to orient kids to a PC worldview.

One time, I worked on a third-grade social-studies textbook for a Southern school district. A few weeks after completing the project — which covered regional history from before Columbus’s arrival to the present day — a directive came from on high: the chapters on slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction had to be reworked. There was, we were told, excessive use of a forbidden word. Dare to guess? Slave. The term, you see, was dehumanizing and had to be replaced with “enslaved person.”

Teaching about slavery without slaves — that’s enlightened, PC education.  It never dawned on these kindly censors that making slavery seem less dehumanizing than it actually is only serves to soften the perception of what was a horrific reality. They never considered that prettifying history’s abominations is an insult to those who suffered, a free pass to those who inflicted pain, and a partial guarantor of repeat performances.

Just as it surely does not occur to Prof. Gribben that in hiding behind a safe word he denies the history of a people who endured far worse than classroom awkwardness. He will find out soon enough, once he’s made to understand that “slave” isn’t safe. Words are not meant to be safe, after all. If Prof. Gribben hasn’t learned that from reading Twain, he’s not fit to teach the book in any iteration.

Concerned about the closing of the American mind? How about slamming it shut and throwing away the key. Publishers Weekly reports on a new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be published without the “n” word:

Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud.

Here’s the joke: These protectors of fragile sensibilities think “slave” is safe from the larger PC police force. I’m in a slightly unique position to know otherwise. In another lifetime, I worked in educational publishing. Political correctness does not inform that industry; it defines it. The purpose of children’s textbooks is to orient kids to a PC worldview.

One time, I worked on a third-grade social-studies textbook for a Southern school district. A few weeks after completing the project — which covered regional history from before Columbus’s arrival to the present day — a directive came from on high: the chapters on slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction had to be reworked. There was, we were told, excessive use of a forbidden word. Dare to guess? Slave. The term, you see, was dehumanizing and had to be replaced with “enslaved person.”

Teaching about slavery without slaves — that’s enlightened, PC education.  It never dawned on these kindly censors that making slavery seem less dehumanizing than it actually is only serves to soften the perception of what was a horrific reality. They never considered that prettifying history’s abominations is an insult to those who suffered, a free pass to those who inflicted pain, and a partial guarantor of repeat performances.

Just as it surely does not occur to Prof. Gribben that in hiding behind a safe word he denies the history of a people who endured far worse than classroom awkwardness. He will find out soon enough, once he’s made to understand that “slave” isn’t safe. Words are not meant to be safe, after all. If Prof. Gribben hasn’t learned that from reading Twain, he’s not fit to teach the book in any iteration.

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Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

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Evening Commentary

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

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An Ethics Code for Economists

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

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Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

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Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

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The Difference a Day Makes in American Politics

In his excellent essay in the Claremont Review of Books, titled “The Great Repudiation,” Professor James Ceaser wrote

The results of the 2010 election changed the landscape of American politics. … In fact, 2010 is the closest the nation has ever come to a national referendum on overall policy direction or “ideology.” … There is only one label that can describe the result: the Great Repudiation.

To understand just how much the landscape of American politics changed, consider (as John does) yesterday’s events — a day in which the Democratic majority in Congress averted across-the-board tax increases and enacted new tax breaks for individuals and businesses and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to pull an almost $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, replacing it (presumably) with a Continuing Resolution.

These were major substantive achievements by Republicans — and enormous substantive concessions by President Obama and his party. We have the Great Repudiation to thank for them.

In his excellent essay in the Claremont Review of Books, titled “The Great Repudiation,” Professor James Ceaser wrote

The results of the 2010 election changed the landscape of American politics. … In fact, 2010 is the closest the nation has ever come to a national referendum on overall policy direction or “ideology.” … There is only one label that can describe the result: the Great Repudiation.

To understand just how much the landscape of American politics changed, consider (as John does) yesterday’s events — a day in which the Democratic majority in Congress averted across-the-board tax increases and enacted new tax breaks for individuals and businesses and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to pull an almost $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, replacing it (presumably) with a Continuing Resolution.

These were major substantive achievements by Republicans — and enormous substantive concessions by President Obama and his party. We have the Great Repudiation to thank for them.

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NIF Cuts Off Funding for BDS Groups

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

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North Korea & Iran: Containment vs. Regime Change

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

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Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

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A Good Word for — and from — the White House

Obama’s chief economic adviser inside the White House, Austan Goolsbee — formerly a professor at the University of Chicago — offers a terrific three-minute explanation of the president’s trip to Asia and its macroeconomic purpose distributed over YouTube. Goolsbee, who once hosted a TV show about the economy on the History Channel, provides here an almost perfect example of the way policymakers can use the multimedia possibilities of the Internet to explain what they are seeking to accomplish.

Obama’s chief economic adviser inside the White House, Austan Goolsbee — formerly a professor at the University of Chicago — offers a terrific three-minute explanation of the president’s trip to Asia and its macroeconomic purpose distributed over YouTube. Goolsbee, who once hosted a TV show about the economy on the History Channel, provides here an almost perfect example of the way policymakers can use the multimedia possibilities of the Internet to explain what they are seeking to accomplish.

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What We Had Here Was Not a Failure to Communicate

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions — but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions — but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

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What the India-Pakistan Conflict Should Teach the West About the Middle East

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

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