Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New York Times

Obama’s Policies in Sync with Incoming Socialist, so Proclaims the Times

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

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The Lesson of Livni’s Resignation: Don’t Believe Media Reporting on Israel

Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the Knesset today offers a good opportunity to reflect on just how unreliable mainstream media reporting about Israel often is.

Just two months ago, Newsweek and The Daily Beast put Livni on their lists of “150 women who shake the world,” describing her as “one of the most powerful women in the country.” Yet while that was undoubtedly true a few years ago, by the time the Newsweek list came out in March 2012, Livni was almost universally regarded as a has-been even by her erstwhile supporters.

In an editorial published later that month, for instance, Haaretz mourned that in the three years since her “praiseworthy” decision not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009, “she has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.” In a poll published just four days after the Newsweek list, the public ranked Livni dead last among 16 leading Israeli political figures, behind even such nonentities as Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. And three weeks later, Livni’s own party unceremoniously dumped her: She lost Kadima’s leadership race by a landslide 25-point margin. Now, her political career in ruins, she is even quitting the Knesset.

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Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the Knesset today offers a good opportunity to reflect on just how unreliable mainstream media reporting about Israel often is.

Just two months ago, Newsweek and The Daily Beast put Livni on their lists of “150 women who shake the world,” describing her as “one of the most powerful women in the country.” Yet while that was undoubtedly true a few years ago, by the time the Newsweek list came out in March 2012, Livni was almost universally regarded as a has-been even by her erstwhile supporters.

In an editorial published later that month, for instance, Haaretz mourned that in the three years since her “praiseworthy” decision not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009, “she has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.” In a poll published just four days after the Newsweek list, the public ranked Livni dead last among 16 leading Israeli political figures, behind even such nonentities as Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. And three weeks later, Livni’s own party unceremoniously dumped her: She lost Kadima’s leadership race by a landslide 25-point margin. Now, her political career in ruins, she is even quitting the Knesset.

That Livni was a has-been by March 2012 was obvious to anyone who had even cursory familiarity with Israel. Thus, either Newsweek and The Daily Beast were completely ignorant of the Israeli reality, or they deliberately disregarded the facts in order to promote their own agenda: Livni, after all, is a darling of the international media, because as Newsweek said in its profile, she is “a steadfast proponent of the peace process” who has led final-status talks with the Palestinians and supported the 2005 pullout from Gaza. Regardless of which explanation is true, the bottom line is the same: Their reporting on Israel can’t be trusted.

Nor is this problem unique to Newsweek. Indeed, Jonathan cited another example  just yesterday: The New York Times’s decision to play up former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s verbal attack on Netanyahu earlier this week as something that “may add to recent pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to tack to the left.” Anyone with any knowledge of Israel knows that Olmert has virtually no political support, being widely viewed as both corrupt and incompetent. By treating him as someone whose opinions actually matter in Israel, the Times was either demonstrating cosmic ignorance or pushing its own political agenda at the expense of the facts.

The media’s job is supposed to be informing the public. But when it comes to Israel, it often seems to prefer misinforming the public. By portraying has-beens like Livni and Olmert as important and influential politicians, media outlets make it impossible for readers to understand the real Israel – the one that elected Netanyahu in 2009 and seems likely to reelect him this fall. And it thereby betrays its own calling.

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Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012

Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

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Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

This tough-mindedness—and Hilton was nothing if not tough-minded—is what hastened this Greenwich Village bohemian’s ideological journey from Left to Right. The philistinism of the New Left and the 1960s radicals, their arrant sentimentality and their belief that art should exist in service to their political views, inspired both contempt and outrage in him. He became an American conservative because only American conservatives had come to believe that Western culture was the great flowering of man, and that it had to be defended and upheld.

Hilton came to occupy an almost uninhabitable critical space of his own construction, in which he entered mid-century Modernism into the Pantheon of greatness and then stoutly defended that Pantheon against any later intruders. The daring and experimental art and fiction and poetry of his own youth was considered highly praiseworthy, whereas the transgressive efforts created and displayed in his middle age drew from him exactly the sort of response the Abstract Expressionists had drawn from leading critics in his own early days. While it is almost certain that the work to which he took a hatchet will not survive the test of time, it’s far from clear that the work he did champion will either—outside the world of collectors and academics.

I didn’t like him—and he didn’t like me more—but there was never any question Hilton Kramer was a man to reckon with, a formidable intellect and a writer of great exactitude, incorruptible and dedicated, and in Hilton’s own terms, there could probably not be higher praise. Our intellectual life cannot survive without people like him. Hilton took it as his mission to enlighten, to talk about what was enduringly great, to defend critical standards against the constant efforts to coarsen them, and to live as though art and culture were all that mattered.

He wrote two dozen pieces for COMMENTARY, and this is my favorite—a review of two novels, one by V.S. Naipaul and one by Joyce Carol Oates, that shows his gift for finding interesting and unexpected things to praise and his even more exemplary talent for the eviscerating attack.

I won’t say we shall not see his like again, because if that is so, then we’re sunk, and we’re not.

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Media Undermines its Case Against Israel

The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

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The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

That is, Iran may possibly target American troops overseas, which it is already doing. Additionally, the U.S. recently prevented a massive Iranian terrorist operation on U.S. soil, so an attack on the homeland would not be an escalation. And Cartwright’s quote suggests an attack on Iran might have the reverse effect. As does this quote from the story:

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory…. If Israel did attack, officials said, Iran would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to invite an overpowering retaliation by directly attacking United States military targets — by, for example, unleashing its missiles at American bases on the territory of Persian Gulf allies.

So in fact, an attack on Iran might encourage the Iranians to stand down for fear of inviting more attacks on their soil. The Washington Post story, on the other hand, tries to portray Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the boy who cried wolf. He’s been warning the world of an Iranian nuclear threat for 16 years now, the article notes. Most of the story is armchair psychoanalysis that is almost entirely irrelevant, now that we know Iran has indeed been working toward a nuclear weapon all these years. The article also spends some time ridiculing the notion that Netanyahu, for some strange reason, believes that as prime minister of Israel his job entails the protection and safety of the Jewish people.

But the last two paragraphs of the story are where the action is. Here’s the first:

Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Haaretz, who covered Netanyahu for years as the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, said the prime minister had succeeded in shifting the diplomatic conversation, after the Obama administration had been focused previously on peace efforts with the Palestinians. Then, Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which was loudly opposed by Washington.

Leave aside the fact that Netanyahu’s concentration on Iran “was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building” only by extreme partisans on the left who obsess about Jews adding rooms to their homes in West Bank towns that will be part of Israel in any peace agreement anyway. Also leave aside the fact that anyone who thinks that clearly doesn’t take the Iranian threat seriously, and is thus not paying much attention to reality. The claim itself is disputed by the entire article leading up to it. If Netanyahu has been obsessing about the Iranian threat for 16 years, then it long preceded President Obama’s bizarre decision to pick a fight with Netanyahu about settlements.

And here’s the final paragraph:

“He did a very good job of changing the world’s priorities,” Benn said, “and he achieved that by saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran. The problem is that you can reach a point when the political price of not going to war becomes too much to bear. If the Iranian nuclear program is a Holocaust, then the question becomes: What did you do, Mr. Netanyahu, to prevent it? You have to deliver.”

Here’s a riddle for you: When, in a democracy, does the political price of not doing something become too much to bear? Answer: When the public overwhelmingly supports that action. The ongoing attempt to paint Netanyahu as the leader of some kind of military junta is exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from a Haaretz editor, but it’s not something that will earn the Washington Post or its reporter much credibility.

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Judgment Calls and the Muslim Brotherhood

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

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Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

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RE: Why Did Peace Talks Fail?

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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LIVE BLOG: Yes, America Is Still Great

Obama’s rhetoric about America’s continuing greatness is welcome and very much to the point, especially in contrast to the whining about China that we hear from people like the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman, who seems to envy its autocracy.

Obama’s rhetoric about America’s continuing greatness is welcome and very much to the point, especially in contrast to the whining about China that we hear from people like the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman, who seems to envy its autocracy.

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Turkel Report Reveals Ankara’s Responsibility for Flotilla Deaths

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

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Send in the Mercenaries

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

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The Unraveling of the New York Times‘s ‘Citizens United Scandal’ Story

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Liberals’ Civility Test

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

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Why Not Blame Slipknot?

If the following gets around, watch how quickly those who blamed the Arizona massacre on Sarah Palin will embrace the schizophrenia explanation:

“Loughner, now 22, would come over several times a week from 2007 to 2008, the Oslers said,” The Associated Press reported. “The boys listened to the heavy metal band Slipknot and progressive rockers The Mars Volta, studied the form of meditative movement called tai chi, and watched and discussed movies.”

Slipknot is known for referring to its band members by numbers instead of names and for wearing what the New York Times has described as “gruesome masks.”

In a Feb. 6, 2000, feature article in its Sunday Arts section, the Washington Post said: “Slipknot’s lyrics articulate isolation and frustration. Mostly, though, they articulate rage. ‘(Expletive) it all! (Expletive) the world! (Expletive) everything that you stand for!’ chants vocalist Number 8 in ‘Surfacing,’ while ‘Eyeless’ asks, ‘How many times have you wanted to kill/ Everything and everyone — say you’ll do it but never will.’”

“But there’s no question,” the Post reported, “that Slipknot is tapping into something very dark in the mixed-up, muddled minds of thousands of angst-ridden young people, fans the band members refer to affectionately as ‘maggots.’”

If the following gets around, watch how quickly those who blamed the Arizona massacre on Sarah Palin will embrace the schizophrenia explanation:

“Loughner, now 22, would come over several times a week from 2007 to 2008, the Oslers said,” The Associated Press reported. “The boys listened to the heavy metal band Slipknot and progressive rockers The Mars Volta, studied the form of meditative movement called tai chi, and watched and discussed movies.”

Slipknot is known for referring to its band members by numbers instead of names and for wearing what the New York Times has described as “gruesome masks.”

In a Feb. 6, 2000, feature article in its Sunday Arts section, the Washington Post said: “Slipknot’s lyrics articulate isolation and frustration. Mostly, though, they articulate rage. ‘(Expletive) it all! (Expletive) the world! (Expletive) everything that you stand for!’ chants vocalist Number 8 in ‘Surfacing,’ while ‘Eyeless’ asks, ‘How many times have you wanted to kill/ Everything and everyone — say you’ll do it but never will.’”

“But there’s no question,” the Post reported, “that Slipknot is tapping into something very dark in the mixed-up, muddled minds of thousands of angst-ridden young people, fans the band members refer to affectionately as ‘maggots.’”

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Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

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Chris Christie’s Troubling Appointment

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.” Read More

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.”

Terror researcher Steve Emerson was quoted at the time as calling Christie’s involvement in the case “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” especially since “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.”

Why would a man who was otherwise tasked as a U.S. attorney with defending America against such Islamists intervene on behalf of a Hamas supporter? The answer was obvious. Christie was already looking ahead to his race for governor against Corzine in 2009 and wanted the enthusiastic support of the state’s not-insignificant Muslim population. Christie’s record in the Qatanani case is a troubling chapter in his biography, and his willingness to further solidify his friendship with the American Muslim Union with his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the court shows that his judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable. If Christie’s name is mentioned again in the context of a presidential politics or even as a possible nominee for vice president, he is going to have to answer some tough questions about all this.

(Hat tip to Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish blog)

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Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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Our Greatest Generation, in Afghanistan

The New York Times has a harrowing if heartening report from the front lines in Afghanistan — specifically from Sangin in Helmand Province, which is the most dangerous district in the entire country. Times reporter Michael Kamber deserves some kind of journalistic medal for going on foot patrol with the Marines in an area where a single false step can lead to the loss of life or limbs. The Marines have been in a hard, costly fight since taking over the area from the British. The insurgents’ IEDS, many of them cunningly camouflaged, have taken a terrible toll. But the Marines have kept pushing back, and they are having an impact. Kamber writes:

Hemmed in at nearby Forward Operating Base Jackson at the beginning of their tour, the Marines of Company I fought fierce, almost daily battles through the months of October and November.

On Dec. 6, they fought their way up Route 611, blowing up scores of I.E.D.’s along the way and taking over an abandoned and booby-trapped British Army base, Patrol Base Bariolai, on a barren hilltop here. …

The Marines can now patrol throughout the surrounding village every day, Sergeant Beckett said. And he has been encouraged by the increasing trust that local villagers are showing, sometimes offering the Marines information that has tipped them off to I.E.D.’s or potential ambushes.

That is the way good counterinsurgency works. It is a slow, agonizing, costly process, but if skillful soldiers or Marines stick to their mission, they will gradually drive the insurgents away, as the Marines are doing in Sangin.

It is impossible to offer enough praise or admiration for the grueling, dangerous patrols that these leathernecks are undertaking day in, day out. The Greatest Generation had nothing on them in terms of heroism — especially when one considers that all the Marines in Sangin are volunteers.

The New York Times has a harrowing if heartening report from the front lines in Afghanistan — specifically from Sangin in Helmand Province, which is the most dangerous district in the entire country. Times reporter Michael Kamber deserves some kind of journalistic medal for going on foot patrol with the Marines in an area where a single false step can lead to the loss of life or limbs. The Marines have been in a hard, costly fight since taking over the area from the British. The insurgents’ IEDS, many of them cunningly camouflaged, have taken a terrible toll. But the Marines have kept pushing back, and they are having an impact. Kamber writes:

Hemmed in at nearby Forward Operating Base Jackson at the beginning of their tour, the Marines of Company I fought fierce, almost daily battles through the months of October and November.

On Dec. 6, they fought their way up Route 611, blowing up scores of I.E.D.’s along the way and taking over an abandoned and booby-trapped British Army base, Patrol Base Bariolai, on a barren hilltop here. …

The Marines can now patrol throughout the surrounding village every day, Sergeant Beckett said. And he has been encouraged by the increasing trust that local villagers are showing, sometimes offering the Marines information that has tipped them off to I.E.D.’s or potential ambushes.

That is the way good counterinsurgency works. It is a slow, agonizing, costly process, but if skillful soldiers or Marines stick to their mission, they will gradually drive the insurgents away, as the Marines are doing in Sangin.

It is impossible to offer enough praise or admiration for the grueling, dangerous patrols that these leathernecks are undertaking day in, day out. The Greatest Generation had nothing on them in terms of heroism — especially when one considers that all the Marines in Sangin are volunteers.

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