Commentary Magazine


Topic: Today’s New York Times

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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Is There a Replacement for Syria’s Friend in the Senate?

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

Read Less

A Crack in the College Cartel?

Say one thing for recessions: they force companies, governments, and institutions (not to mention individuals) to look for ways to be more efficient and to decrease costs. That’s why productivity always soars in a recession.

Today’s New York Times reports that people are increasingly fed up with the high costs and high-handed ways of American colleges. It’s about time. As the Times reports: “‘One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,’ said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, ‘is the vote of no confidence we’re getting from the public. They think college is important, but they’re really losing trust in the management and leadership.’”

College tuition has risen far faster than inflation. In the 1960s, I paid $2,200 a year to attend a first-rate university. From the month I graduated to December 2009, there was an inflation of slightly over 550 percent. So tuition today, net of inflation, should be on the order of $12,500. It’s $37,005, almost three times higher. Why?

Well, high-prestige colleges have market power and can charge more. But even second- and third-tier institutions in terms of prestige have been able to jack up their tuition far beyond inflation because there is a cartel in operation. Entrance into the marketplace by new competitors is very restricted, and colleges and universities are not subject to antitrust laws, so they are free to conspire to set prices. In effect, they do. But all cartels require an enforcement mechanism, and in this case, it is the accrediting agencies that often prevent colleges from competing by means of price. They often require ever more elaborate plants and facilities, like a large library even if the institution is located in a city with a large, easily accessible municipal library. Unnecessary courses are often required, even if the student can demonstrate competence in the subject. Colleges often cannot fully use the new communications technologies that would greatly lower costs, and they often cannot employ great ideas like the wonderful college-level courses offered by, for example, The Teaching Company.

If colleges were able to compete freely in terms of prices — still better, if they were required to compete, like profit-seeking corporations — those prices would come down wondrously. In fact, today’s New York Times has a perfect example of that near the article on the public’s growing resistance to college costs. It’s a full-page advertisement by Fidelity, the huge brokerage and mutual fund company, offering stock trades for $7.95 each and bragging that that’s cheaper than the prices charged by its largest competitors.

From the first beginnings of what would become the New York Stock Exchange, in 1792, members were required to charge the same fees, no competing by means of price. In the 1970s, trading 100 shares could easily cost you $70.00. Trading 1,000 shares cost 10 times as much, even though the cost to the firm of executing the trade was the same. But May 1, 1975, (May Day in Wall Street history) was the day the SEC required the NYSE to stop fixing prices. They immediately declined drastically and, despite inflation, have been declining ever since. That is by far the most important reason behind the huge increase in stock exchange volume in the last 35 years and the ever-higher percentage of American families owning securities in their own right. The brokers had to undergo an agonizing restructuring, and many did not survive. But I notice few tears being shed for Wall Street these days.

It will take a lot of pressure to kill the higher-education cartel, but it will do a lot of good if the effort succeeds.

Say one thing for recessions: they force companies, governments, and institutions (not to mention individuals) to look for ways to be more efficient and to decrease costs. That’s why productivity always soars in a recession.

Today’s New York Times reports that people are increasingly fed up with the high costs and high-handed ways of American colleges. It’s about time. As the Times reports: “‘One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,’ said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, ‘is the vote of no confidence we’re getting from the public. They think college is important, but they’re really losing trust in the management and leadership.’”

College tuition has risen far faster than inflation. In the 1960s, I paid $2,200 a year to attend a first-rate university. From the month I graduated to December 2009, there was an inflation of slightly over 550 percent. So tuition today, net of inflation, should be on the order of $12,500. It’s $37,005, almost three times higher. Why?

Well, high-prestige colleges have market power and can charge more. But even second- and third-tier institutions in terms of prestige have been able to jack up their tuition far beyond inflation because there is a cartel in operation. Entrance into the marketplace by new competitors is very restricted, and colleges and universities are not subject to antitrust laws, so they are free to conspire to set prices. In effect, they do. But all cartels require an enforcement mechanism, and in this case, it is the accrediting agencies that often prevent colleges from competing by means of price. They often require ever more elaborate plants and facilities, like a large library even if the institution is located in a city with a large, easily accessible municipal library. Unnecessary courses are often required, even if the student can demonstrate competence in the subject. Colleges often cannot fully use the new communications technologies that would greatly lower costs, and they often cannot employ great ideas like the wonderful college-level courses offered by, for example, The Teaching Company.

If colleges were able to compete freely in terms of prices — still better, if they were required to compete, like profit-seeking corporations — those prices would come down wondrously. In fact, today’s New York Times has a perfect example of that near the article on the public’s growing resistance to college costs. It’s a full-page advertisement by Fidelity, the huge brokerage and mutual fund company, offering stock trades for $7.95 each and bragging that that’s cheaper than the prices charged by its largest competitors.

From the first beginnings of what would become the New York Stock Exchange, in 1792, members were required to charge the same fees, no competing by means of price. In the 1970s, trading 100 shares could easily cost you $70.00. Trading 1,000 shares cost 10 times as much, even though the cost to the firm of executing the trade was the same. But May 1, 1975, (May Day in Wall Street history) was the day the SEC required the NYSE to stop fixing prices. They immediately declined drastically and, despite inflation, have been declining ever since. That is by far the most important reason behind the huge increase in stock exchange volume in the last 35 years and the ever-higher percentage of American families owning securities in their own right. The brokers had to undergo an agonizing restructuring, and many did not survive. But I notice few tears being shed for Wall Street these days.

It will take a lot of pressure to kill the higher-education cartel, but it will do a lot of good if the effort succeeds.

Read Less

It’s Time to Withdraw the Iran NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

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The Other Holocaust Doctrine

Gordon and Noah have been duking it out below about Charles Krauthammer’s bold call for a presidential “Holocaust statement,” in which the President would declare that any nuclear attack on Israel would be seen as an attack on the US, and that there would be no “second Holocaust.”

Today’s New York Times carries an op-ed by Zev Chafets, a former advisor to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It’s really worth reading. Chafets accepts Krauthammer’s opening premise, that Bush has reneged on his commitment to preventing Iran from going nuclear. Yet he sees Krauthammer’s conclusion–that we should move all our thoughts towards how to deter an already-nuclear Iran–as premature.

Chafets lays into Bush’s non-response to Iran’s claim of having put online another 6,000 centrifuges, calling it “the abashed silence of an American president whose bluff has been called in front of the entire world.” But his real point is that the ball is now in Israel’s court. He writes:

I’m not questioning American friendship. But even friendship has practical limits. Presidents change and policies change. George W. Bush, the greatest friend Israel has had in the White House, hasn’t been able to keep a… commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is a good thing that Israel didn’t build its deterrence on that commitment.

What’s more, it is fair to say that Israel is not a weak country. It has developed a powerful set of strategic options. In the best case, it would be able to act on its own to degrade and retard the Iranian nuclear program as it did in Iraq (and, more recently, Syria). In a worse case, if the Iranians do get the bomb, Iranian leaders might be deterred by rational considerations. If so, Israel’s own arsenal — and its manifest willingness to respond to a nuclear attack — ought to suffice.

If, on the other hand, the Iranian leadership simply can’t resist the itch to “wipe Israel off the map” — or to make such a thing appear imminent — then it would be up to Israel to make its own calculations. What is the price of 100,000 dead in Tel Aviv? Or twice that? The cost to Iran would certainly be ghastly. It would be wrong for Israel to expect other nations to shoulder this moral and geopolitical responsibility.

Chafets cites Begin’s example: In 1981 the Prime Minister ordered the bombing of the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq, an act universally denounced at the time, but with hindsight proved to be crucial in preventing a nuclear Saddam. In Begin’s view, the true lesson of the Holocaust was that Jews should never be dependent on others, even good friends, for their fundamental security. Now, Israel faces a possibly much graver threat, and again will have to bear the burden all on its own. As Chafets puts it, “Sovereignty comes with a price. Israel’s willingness to pay it is the only Holocaust doctrine that it can really rely on.”

Gordon and Noah have been duking it out below about Charles Krauthammer’s bold call for a presidential “Holocaust statement,” in which the President would declare that any nuclear attack on Israel would be seen as an attack on the US, and that there would be no “second Holocaust.”

Today’s New York Times carries an op-ed by Zev Chafets, a former advisor to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It’s really worth reading. Chafets accepts Krauthammer’s opening premise, that Bush has reneged on his commitment to preventing Iran from going nuclear. Yet he sees Krauthammer’s conclusion–that we should move all our thoughts towards how to deter an already-nuclear Iran–as premature.

Chafets lays into Bush’s non-response to Iran’s claim of having put online another 6,000 centrifuges, calling it “the abashed silence of an American president whose bluff has been called in front of the entire world.” But his real point is that the ball is now in Israel’s court. He writes:

I’m not questioning American friendship. But even friendship has practical limits. Presidents change and policies change. George W. Bush, the greatest friend Israel has had in the White House, hasn’t been able to keep a… commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is a good thing that Israel didn’t build its deterrence on that commitment.

What’s more, it is fair to say that Israel is not a weak country. It has developed a powerful set of strategic options. In the best case, it would be able to act on its own to degrade and retard the Iranian nuclear program as it did in Iraq (and, more recently, Syria). In a worse case, if the Iranians do get the bomb, Iranian leaders might be deterred by rational considerations. If so, Israel’s own arsenal — and its manifest willingness to respond to a nuclear attack — ought to suffice.

If, on the other hand, the Iranian leadership simply can’t resist the itch to “wipe Israel off the map” — or to make such a thing appear imminent — then it would be up to Israel to make its own calculations. What is the price of 100,000 dead in Tel Aviv? Or twice that? The cost to Iran would certainly be ghastly. It would be wrong for Israel to expect other nations to shoulder this moral and geopolitical responsibility.

Chafets cites Begin’s example: In 1981 the Prime Minister ordered the bombing of the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq, an act universally denounced at the time, but with hindsight proved to be crucial in preventing a nuclear Saddam. In Begin’s view, the true lesson of the Holocaust was that Jews should never be dependent on others, even good friends, for their fundamental security. Now, Israel faces a possibly much graver threat, and again will have to bear the burden all on its own. As Chafets puts it, “Sovereignty comes with a price. Israel’s willingness to pay it is the only Holocaust doctrine that it can really rely on.”

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Cadets in New Jersey “Peace Lab”

A fresh-faced West Point cadet was on Fox News yesterday talking about a three-day-long class trip that helped him break a certain habit of mind. Prior to the field trip, he’d made a connection between terrorism and Islam. But after visiting Jersey City, New Jersey with other attendees of the semester-long “Winning the Peace” course, he saw this for the falsehood it plainly was. Where better than the city that housed the mosque headquarters of “Blind Shiek” Omar Abdel-Rahman’s terrorist organization to be disabused of such a baseless and
counterproductive notion?

Today’s New York Times describes the exquisitely balanced “cultural adventure” as it unfolded over the weekend:

On Thursday, the cadets, dressed sharply in gray uniforms, met members of the Jersey City Police Department and visited an Egyptian Christian church, St. George and St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church on Bergen Avenue. On Friday, they spoke with Jerramiah T. Healy, the mayor of Jersey City, ate lunch with Pakistanis and dinner with Indians. On Saturday, they visited a synagogue, Temple Beth-El, and then, after taking off their shoes, sat in front of the altar at a Hindu temple, Govinda Sanskar Center. And for two days, they were welcomed as overnight guests of the Islamic Center of Jersey City.

Then there’s this culinary cuteness: “They debated the roots of Middle East tensions with a Muslim scholar over omelets and falafel at breakfast, and then stood next to a rabbi as he went over a sacred, handwritten Torah scroll.” Why no kreplach with the rabbi?

The four-year-old “Winning the Peace” course is designed ostensibly to expose future officers to the cultural and religious practices of the people they’ll be encountering overseas. On its face, no one could object. The long war against Islamism requires that our soldiers have a nuanced understanding of traditional Muslim values and Arabic cultural practices. But the truth is, in speaking to any U.S. military officer who’s spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan, you’ll find they know more about how to communicate with and instill trust in Middle Easterners than could be gleaned from a long weekend in New Jersey. Contrary to the Times’ condescending claim that “For many cadets, a number of whom had never been to Jersey City, this year’s trip amounted to a lesson in how big the world really is,” the world that U.S. officers come to understand is a lot bigger than most journalists will ever know.

So, what is this field trip really about? It’s about the U.S. Armed Forces demonstrating their “cultural sensitivity.” It’s about the PC-ing of a war whose true nature is rarely discussed. It’s about quieting the multi-culti chorus. None of which helps the U.S. win wars. Pretending that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism is a deadly farce.

The Times quotes West Point senior Alex Smith as saying, “[We are from] different cultures, but we’re still the same people.” If that means anything, it’s incorrect. Different cultures create different types of people—who become different types of enemies. And any blurring of that understanding within the military could cost this country dearly. Over the past six years, the U.S. military has demonstrated an unprecedented ability in isolating enemies and minimizing civilian casualties. And they are to be commended for it, as distinguishing between moderate Muslims and Islamists is not only an ethical necessity, but a strategic one as well. However, if a PC-inspired denial of the connection between Islam and terrorism creeps into the military mind, the resulting setbacks could jeopardize the policies and practices that make U.S. operations honorable and effective. Everyone talks of the dangers of “the fog of war.” Let’s not make things more dangerous by making them foggier.

A fresh-faced West Point cadet was on Fox News yesterday talking about a three-day-long class trip that helped him break a certain habit of mind. Prior to the field trip, he’d made a connection between terrorism and Islam. But after visiting Jersey City, New Jersey with other attendees of the semester-long “Winning the Peace” course, he saw this for the falsehood it plainly was. Where better than the city that housed the mosque headquarters of “Blind Shiek” Omar Abdel-Rahman’s terrorist organization to be disabused of such a baseless and
counterproductive notion?

Today’s New York Times describes the exquisitely balanced “cultural adventure” as it unfolded over the weekend:

On Thursday, the cadets, dressed sharply in gray uniforms, met members of the Jersey City Police Department and visited an Egyptian Christian church, St. George and St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church on Bergen Avenue. On Friday, they spoke with Jerramiah T. Healy, the mayor of Jersey City, ate lunch with Pakistanis and dinner with Indians. On Saturday, they visited a synagogue, Temple Beth-El, and then, after taking off their shoes, sat in front of the altar at a Hindu temple, Govinda Sanskar Center. And for two days, they were welcomed as overnight guests of the Islamic Center of Jersey City.

Then there’s this culinary cuteness: “They debated the roots of Middle East tensions with a Muslim scholar over omelets and falafel at breakfast, and then stood next to a rabbi as he went over a sacred, handwritten Torah scroll.” Why no kreplach with the rabbi?

The four-year-old “Winning the Peace” course is designed ostensibly to expose future officers to the cultural and religious practices of the people they’ll be encountering overseas. On its face, no one could object. The long war against Islamism requires that our soldiers have a nuanced understanding of traditional Muslim values and Arabic cultural practices. But the truth is, in speaking to any U.S. military officer who’s spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan, you’ll find they know more about how to communicate with and instill trust in Middle Easterners than could be gleaned from a long weekend in New Jersey. Contrary to the Times’ condescending claim that “For many cadets, a number of whom had never been to Jersey City, this year’s trip amounted to a lesson in how big the world really is,” the world that U.S. officers come to understand is a lot bigger than most journalists will ever know.

So, what is this field trip really about? It’s about the U.S. Armed Forces demonstrating their “cultural sensitivity.” It’s about the PC-ing of a war whose true nature is rarely discussed. It’s about quieting the multi-culti chorus. None of which helps the U.S. win wars. Pretending that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism is a deadly farce.

The Times quotes West Point senior Alex Smith as saying, “[We are from] different cultures, but we’re still the same people.” If that means anything, it’s incorrect. Different cultures create different types of people—who become different types of enemies. And any blurring of that understanding within the military could cost this country dearly. Over the past six years, the U.S. military has demonstrated an unprecedented ability in isolating enemies and minimizing civilian casualties. And they are to be commended for it, as distinguishing between moderate Muslims and Islamists is not only an ethical necessity, but a strategic one as well. However, if a PC-inspired denial of the connection between Islam and terrorism creeps into the military mind, the resulting setbacks could jeopardize the policies and practices that make U.S. operations honorable and effective. Everyone talks of the dangers of “the fog of war.” Let’s not make things more dangerous by making them foggier.

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Have We Become Complacent About Terrorism?

Now that Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, many Islamist attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted by individuals who have spent time in Pakistan. Here in the U.S. we have had a spate of recent cases.

On April 12, an Ohio man, Christopher Paul, was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas. According to prosecutors, he had been schooled in paramilitary techniques at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s and later signed up with the terrorist group in Pakistan.

On April 2, a Maryland taxicab driver, Mahmud Faruq Brent al Mutazzim, pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist organization after admitting he attended training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan in 2002 and was involved with that terrorist group from 2001 through 2005.

On January 8, Shahawar Matin Sira, a Pakistani immigrant living in New York, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in an unsuccessful plot to blow up a Manhattan subway station as revenge for alleged wartime abuses of Iraqis.

If we connect these three dots—and there are many more such dots overseas—we can see why Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, has been dickering with his British counterparts about curbing the travel of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.

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Now that Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, many Islamist attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted by individuals who have spent time in Pakistan. Here in the U.S. we have had a spate of recent cases.

On April 12, an Ohio man, Christopher Paul, was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas. According to prosecutors, he had been schooled in paramilitary techniques at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s and later signed up with the terrorist group in Pakistan.

On April 2, a Maryland taxicab driver, Mahmud Faruq Brent al Mutazzim, pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist organization after admitting he attended training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan in 2002 and was involved with that terrorist group from 2001 through 2005.

On January 8, Shahawar Matin Sira, a Pakistani immigrant living in New York, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in an unsuccessful plot to blow up a Manhattan subway station as revenge for alleged wartime abuses of Iraqis.

If we connect these three dots—and there are many more such dots overseas—we can see why Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, has been dickering with his British counterparts about curbing the travel of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.

Today’s New York Times reports that all British citizens currently enjoy the right to enter the U.S. without a visa. There are approximately 800,000 Britons of Pakistani origin in the United Kingdom. Members of this subgroup have been disproportionately behind recent successful and thwarted terrorist plots in England.

But the effort to address the problems posed by a particular nationality raises delicate political issues. Thus, one proposal put forward by the U.S. would be “to single out Britons of Pakistani origin, requiring them to make visa applications for the United States.” The Times reports that, at the moment, “the British are resistant, fearing that restrictions on the group of Britons would incur a backlash from a population that has always sided with the Labor party.”

Will such political considerations trump the imperative of protecting our security? It is impossible to say. But strange things are taking place in American counterterrorism that raise all sorts of questions about whether, nearly six years after 9/11, we have become complacent.

In late April, the New York Times reported that under a system set up by the FBI in 2004, every time a terrorism suspect tries to buy a gun in the U.S., counterterrorism officials have three days to block the transaction. If the officials are successful in doing so, they can then find out what kind of gun was being sought and where exactly the transaction was to have taken place. But if they are unsuccessful, they are barred from gaining any further information.

To end this unsatisfactory state of affairs, the Justice Department has proposed legislation that would empower the attorney general to block gun purchases by buyers found “to be or [to] have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.”

But what, one wonders, are these terrorism suspects doing roaming freely around? How many are there of them? Are they being monitored, or is it only when they try to buy a firearm that authorities even learn of their whereabouts?

That is not the end of it. In mid-March, the FBI issued a bulletin to local police departments noting that it was investigating foreigners, “some with ties to extremist groups,” who had been engaged in “recent suspicious activity” and been purchasing school buses and acquiring licenses to drive them. Facing public alarm as word of the advisory leaked out, the FBI issued a statement: “Parents and children have nothing to fear.”

Perhaps we do have nothing to fear. But I, for one, doubt that the FBI, an agency beset with profound internal problems, has a handle on counterterrorism. See my How Inept is the FBI? for a picture of some of their earlier failures.

As CNN’s Glenn Beck has put it, the FBI’s reassurances about the school buses are “kind of like saying, ‘Your drinking water is now laced with anthrax and Clorox, but don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’re going to be fine,’. . . [it] sounds a little like the Muslims who were taking flying lessons without learning how to land the plane. How can the FBI warn law enforcement about this and then tell us, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it,’”?

A very good question. Let’s hope that we do not have to wait for another September 11 for some answers.

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