Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Times

Further Food for Reflection

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

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The South’s Past Haunts Barbour’s Candidacy

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States. Read More

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States.

Evidence of the possibilities for such problems was displayed on the Times‘s website this week with a troubling article about a “Secession Gala” held in Charleston, South Carolina, where 300 participants dressed up like extras from Gone With the Wind to celebrate the anniversary of that state’s decision to leave the Union in 1860. While the event and the NAACP-sponsored protest outside the party went off without violence, the comments from the secession celebrants — in which they claimed that the Civil War was not fought over slavery — reflected the fact that many in the South are still in denial about this epic moment in American history. Post–Civil War reconciliation between the regions was based on a willingness by both sides to acknowledge the bravery of the combatants, but surely enough time has passed since the fighting that Americans no longer have to pretend that the “lost cause” was a noble one in order to unify the nation.

Even if all of the above were not an issue, it is still far from clear that Barbour’s prodigious political skills can transform him into a serious presidential contender in 2012. But if Barbour is really determined to run, he is going to have to do more to dispel this negative perception than the sort of damage-control comments we heard from him this week.

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Iraq: Before and After Saddam

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship. Read More

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship.

With Iraq’s governing achievement in mind, it’s perhaps worth recalling the words of the late Michael Kelly, one of the greatest journalists and columnists of his generation. Mike, who covered the first Gulf war, had been deeply affected by what Iraq under Saddam Hussein had done to the people of Kuwait. He told about the innocent civilians who had been killed, ritualistically humiliated, robbed, beaten, raped, and tortured by Saddam’s forces. “Shattered people were everywhere,” he said. “I watched one torture victim, a big, strong man, being interviewed in the place of his torture by a BBC television crew — weeping and weeping, but absolutely silent, as he told the story.”

Kelly — who died in 2003 while on assignment in Iraq — went on to write this:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

Thanks to the sacrifices and beneficence of America, Iraq is now free from the boot. That may not be everything, but it is quite a lot.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Views on Afghanistan: Intel Agencies vs. the Military

Just a day ahead of the official release of the administration’s Afghanistan review, someone has leaked the intelligence community’s assessment of the situation — which apparently is less optimistic than the military’s view. As the New York Times notes, part of the discrepancy is due to “the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote ‘can do’ optimism.”

There is also the highly significant fact that apparently the intelligence assessment is based on information received as of October 1 — i.e., 10 weeks ago. A lot has happened in that time, with U.S. forces continuing to solidify their hold in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, as I saw for myself last week. Judging Afghanistan based on what it looked like on October 1 hardly provides an accurate picture of where it is today — or where it is going.

According to the Times, the chief reason for gloom in the intel community assessment is the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan — “there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border,” the spooks claim. The military command — which I just visited — hardly disputes the problems created by Pakistan sanctuaries. The question is whether we can succeed even with Pakistan playing an unhelpful role. I believe we can, because  most insurgents come from the areas where they stage attacks; if we can do a better job of spreading security and addressing local grievances, the insurgents will find it hard to gain traction, notwithstanding all the support they may continue to get in Pakistan.

Just a day ahead of the official release of the administration’s Afghanistan review, someone has leaked the intelligence community’s assessment of the situation — which apparently is less optimistic than the military’s view. As the New York Times notes, part of the discrepancy is due to “the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote ‘can do’ optimism.”

There is also the highly significant fact that apparently the intelligence assessment is based on information received as of October 1 — i.e., 10 weeks ago. A lot has happened in that time, with U.S. forces continuing to solidify their hold in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, as I saw for myself last week. Judging Afghanistan based on what it looked like on October 1 hardly provides an accurate picture of where it is today — or where it is going.

According to the Times, the chief reason for gloom in the intel community assessment is the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan — “there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border,” the spooks claim. The military command — which I just visited — hardly disputes the problems created by Pakistan sanctuaries. The question is whether we can succeed even with Pakistan playing an unhelpful role. I believe we can, because  most insurgents come from the areas where they stage attacks; if we can do a better job of spreading security and addressing local grievances, the insurgents will find it hard to gain traction, notwithstanding all the support they may continue to get in Pakistan.

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Morning Commentary

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

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Turns Out Russia Is Still Russia

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

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Holiday Cheer at the Times: British Author Doesn’t Get Hanukkah

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

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Muslim Leaders Blame FBI for Foiling Portland Bomb Plot

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

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David Brooks’s Unconvincing Defense of His Employer

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

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The New York Times in the Age of Gawker

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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RE: Wishful Thinking, Again, by the Gray Lady

Not all reporters are as driven by ideology and ignorant of the conservative movement as is the New York Times. Others have not ignored the obvious conclusion that today, conservatives as a group are more pro-Israel than are liberals as a group. Josh Rogin reported back in July:

Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel “to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force.”

The lead sponsor of the resolution was Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, one of four congressmen to announce the formation of the 44-member Tea Party caucus at a press conference on July 21. The other three Tea Party Caucus leaders, Michele Bachmann, R-MN, Steve King, R-IA, and John Culberson, R-TX, are also sponsors of the resolution. In total, 21 Tea Party Caucus members have signed on, according to the latest list of caucus members put out by Bachmann’s office.

Rogin noted that isolationist Ron Paul did not sign on. But Ron Paul is a barometer of conservative foreign-policy opinion only in the imagination of New York Times reporters. As for the rest of conservatives, the overwhelming number are, for reasons ranging from religious faith to enlightened self-interest (i.e., Israel is a valued democratic ally), extraordinarily pro-Israel — a fact that the Times chooses not to share with its left-leaning readership.

Not all reporters are as driven by ideology and ignorant of the conservative movement as is the New York Times. Others have not ignored the obvious conclusion that today, conservatives as a group are more pro-Israel than are liberals as a group. Josh Rogin reported back in July:

Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel “to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force.”

The lead sponsor of the resolution was Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, one of four congressmen to announce the formation of the 44-member Tea Party caucus at a press conference on July 21. The other three Tea Party Caucus leaders, Michele Bachmann, R-MN, Steve King, R-IA, and John Culberson, R-TX, are also sponsors of the resolution. In total, 21 Tea Party Caucus members have signed on, according to the latest list of caucus members put out by Bachmann’s office.

Rogin noted that isolationist Ron Paul did not sign on. But Ron Paul is a barometer of conservative foreign-policy opinion only in the imagination of New York Times reporters. As for the rest of conservatives, the overwhelming number are, for reasons ranging from religious faith to enlightened self-interest (i.e., Israel is a valued democratic ally), extraordinarily pro-Israel — a fact that the Times chooses not to share with its left-leaning readership.

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Wishing Thinking, Again, by the Gray Lady

There is a whole genre of New York Times front-page articles that can be called “wishful thinking by the left.” These pieces usually allege that some bad thing happening on the right — dissension, racism, etc. — but never quite get around to providing many (sometimes any) evidence thereof. Its “G.O.P. and Tea Party Are Mixed Blessing for Israel” is precisely this sort of piece.

You’d think the voluminous polling showing that conservatives and evangelicals support Israel to a much greater degree than do liberals and nonbelievers would cause the ostensible reporters to rethink their premise. The gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats is apparent to everyone who has looked at this issue — except the Times reporters. And indeed, the only example the reporters can come up with on the Republican side is Rand Paul. No mention that it was exclusively Democrats who signed the Gaza 54 letter. No whiff that it was Republicans, led by Rep. Peter King, who went after Obama’s tepid support for Israel during the flotilla incident. No suggestion that it was Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer who pulled their punches while Obama condemned Israel for building in its capital. The real story, of course, is that Democrats’ support for Israel has been declining to an alarming degree and that the left is quite upset when groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel point this out.

In short, the Times story is bunk. The fact that there are so many anti-Israel Democrats (e.g., Joe Sestak, Mary Jo Kilroy, Kathy Dahlkemper) who lost is undiluted good news for Israel. The fact that exuberant friends of Israel like King will hold committee chairmanships is reason for Israel’s friends to celebrate. And the election of senators like Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio, and Dan Coats who have been boisterous defenders of the Jewish state and critics of the administration’s anemic approach toward Iran is more reason for Israel’s friends to cheer. In other words, Israel would be lucky to have many more “mixed blessings” like the 2010 midterms.

There is a whole genre of New York Times front-page articles that can be called “wishful thinking by the left.” These pieces usually allege that some bad thing happening on the right — dissension, racism, etc. — but never quite get around to providing many (sometimes any) evidence thereof. Its “G.O.P. and Tea Party Are Mixed Blessing for Israel” is precisely this sort of piece.

You’d think the voluminous polling showing that conservatives and evangelicals support Israel to a much greater degree than do liberals and nonbelievers would cause the ostensible reporters to rethink their premise. The gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats is apparent to everyone who has looked at this issue — except the Times reporters. And indeed, the only example the reporters can come up with on the Republican side is Rand Paul. No mention that it was exclusively Democrats who signed the Gaza 54 letter. No whiff that it was Republicans, led by Rep. Peter King, who went after Obama’s tepid support for Israel during the flotilla incident. No suggestion that it was Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer who pulled their punches while Obama condemned Israel for building in its capital. The real story, of course, is that Democrats’ support for Israel has been declining to an alarming degree and that the left is quite upset when groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel point this out.

In short, the Times story is bunk. The fact that there are so many anti-Israel Democrats (e.g., Joe Sestak, Mary Jo Kilroy, Kathy Dahlkemper) who lost is undiluted good news for Israel. The fact that exuberant friends of Israel like King will hold committee chairmanships is reason for Israel’s friends to celebrate. And the election of senators like Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio, and Dan Coats who have been boisterous defenders of the Jewish state and critics of the administration’s anemic approach toward Iran is more reason for Israel’s friends to cheer. In other words, Israel would be lucky to have many more “mixed blessings” like the 2010 midterms.

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North Korea — Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

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New E-Mails May Bolster Ethics Case Against Rep. Maxine Waters

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

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New York Times, Cool with Ghailani Verdict

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

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The NY Times‘s Overblown Reaction to New START

Yesterday I suggested that there was no need for Republicans to get too worked up over New START, because it won’t compromise America’s nuclear deterrent. The same advice applies to liberals touting the treaty: Keep calm, everyone. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Yet to read the New York Times editorial page today, you would think that this is the most important issue since … well, pretty much ever. In a seriously overwrought editorial, the Times claims: “The world’s nuclear wannabes, starting with Iran, should send a thank you note to Senator Jon Kyl. After months of negotiations with the White House, he has decided to try to block the lame-duck Senate from ratifying the New Start arms control treaty.”

Talk about over the top. How on earth will Kyl’s opposition to the treaty help Iran and other rogue states? The Times again: “If the treaty founders, it would … do huge damage to American credibility just as Mr. Obama is making progress rallying many countries — including Russia — to press Iran to curb its illicit nuclear program.” That’s quite a stretch: the Times assumes that if the treaty passes, Russia will take harsh steps to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. I wish it were so, but I very much doubt it. Russia has its own reasons for not cracking down on Iran, with which it has a longstanding business relationship, and that is unlikely to change no matter what happens with New START.

The rest of the Times‘s editorial is just as unconvincing — it consists primarily of hyping this modest treaty out of all recognition by claiming that it’s “central to this country’s national security” and that “the stakes couldn’t be higher.” Actually, as I argued yesterday, the stakes are pretty low — which is why I don’t think it will do any harm for the GOP to pass the treaty in return for Obama’s commitment to modernize our nuclear arsenal. But the bullying tone of the Times‘s editorial is the sort of thing that is likely to drive Republicans into the anti-ratification camp.

Yesterday I suggested that there was no need for Republicans to get too worked up over New START, because it won’t compromise America’s nuclear deterrent. The same advice applies to liberals touting the treaty: Keep calm, everyone. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Yet to read the New York Times editorial page today, you would think that this is the most important issue since … well, pretty much ever. In a seriously overwrought editorial, the Times claims: “The world’s nuclear wannabes, starting with Iran, should send a thank you note to Senator Jon Kyl. After months of negotiations with the White House, he has decided to try to block the lame-duck Senate from ratifying the New Start arms control treaty.”

Talk about over the top. How on earth will Kyl’s opposition to the treaty help Iran and other rogue states? The Times again: “If the treaty founders, it would … do huge damage to American credibility just as Mr. Obama is making progress rallying many countries — including Russia — to press Iran to curb its illicit nuclear program.” That’s quite a stretch: the Times assumes that if the treaty passes, Russia will take harsh steps to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. I wish it were so, but I very much doubt it. Russia has its own reasons for not cracking down on Iran, with which it has a longstanding business relationship, and that is unlikely to change no matter what happens with New START.

The rest of the Times‘s editorial is just as unconvincing — it consists primarily of hyping this modest treaty out of all recognition by claiming that it’s “central to this country’s national security” and that “the stakes couldn’t be higher.” Actually, as I argued yesterday, the stakes are pretty low — which is why I don’t think it will do any harm for the GOP to pass the treaty in return for Obama’s commitment to modernize our nuclear arsenal. But the bullying tone of the Times‘s editorial is the sort of thing that is likely to drive Republicans into the anti-ratification camp.

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Economic Growth as a Way out of Debt

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

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