Commentary Magazine


Topic: Washington

Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

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Martin Luther King Jr.

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Read More

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

King went on to say this:

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.

King concluded his sermon this way:

I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This has been one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicureans and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summum bonum of life? I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

One of the things we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, then, is that he saw great injustice and sought to confront it within the American tradition and his Christian faith rather than outside them. In that sense, King was very much like Lincoln, who consistently urged Americans to return to the truths of the Declaration of Independence and “take courage to renew the battle which [the founding] fathers began, so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land.”

We celebrate Dr. King’s birth because he was among the greatest men America ever produced, his words among the most powerful and evocative ever written. They changed the trajectory of American history for the better, and only a handful of others can make the same claim.

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Was Obama’s Speech His Finest Hour?

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

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What Loughner’s Mental State Will Mean for His Trial

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

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Deterring Chinese Adventurism

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has been visiting China at a time when it is beginning to flex its military muscles in ways that should alarm its neighbors and their protector — us. While Gates was meeting with President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army was testing its J-20 Stealth fighter, a clear challenge to American power in the western Pacific. To make matters worse, American officials got the distinct impression that President Hu had not been aware of the test beforehand.

That raises questions about how firmly civilians are actually in control of the armed forces — not normally a problem in a Communist state, which is designed to have parallel lines of authority (party and state, military and secret police) precisely to ensure that the oligarchs at the top are in control of everything that happens. It is no secret that the Chinese armed forces are full of ultra-jingoistic officers who make hair-curling threats about going to war against the United States. If they are not firmly under the sway of the central party bosses, that is a worrisome development. Even if they are under control, however, we can hardly relax, for the senior party leadership has indicated that it is bent on pursuing a nationalistic agenda, with Chinese triumphalism replacing Marxism-Leninism as their ruling theology.

That is all the more reason why we need to ensure that our own military is strong enough to deter Chinese adventurism — something that further defense cuts in Washington will endanger.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has been visiting China at a time when it is beginning to flex its military muscles in ways that should alarm its neighbors and their protector — us. While Gates was meeting with President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army was testing its J-20 Stealth fighter, a clear challenge to American power in the western Pacific. To make matters worse, American officials got the distinct impression that President Hu had not been aware of the test beforehand.

That raises questions about how firmly civilians are actually in control of the armed forces — not normally a problem in a Communist state, which is designed to have parallel lines of authority (party and state, military and secret police) precisely to ensure that the oligarchs at the top are in control of everything that happens. It is no secret that the Chinese armed forces are full of ultra-jingoistic officers who make hair-curling threats about going to war against the United States. If they are not firmly under the sway of the central party bosses, that is a worrisome development. Even if they are under control, however, we can hardly relax, for the senior party leadership has indicated that it is bent on pursuing a nationalistic agenda, with Chinese triumphalism replacing Marxism-Leninism as their ruling theology.

That is all the more reason why we need to ensure that our own military is strong enough to deter Chinese adventurism — something that further defense cuts in Washington will endanger.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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SPJ Executive Committee Recommends Renaming Helen Thomas Award

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision. Read More

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision.

“I’ve had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened,” Benton told the Washington Post. “She’s not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you’re allowed that.”

According to the Post, Benton has been criticized by Jewish leaders in the past for publishing views that some believed bordered on anti-Semitism. “In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy,” reported the Post.

The Post is likely referring to a 2004 column written by Benton, in which he endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Jim Moran, who was running against “the well-financed campaign of a political neophyte, Alexandria attorney Andy Rosenberg.” Benton wrote that the election had become “about a cabal of powerful Washington, D.C., based interests backing the Bush administration’s support for rightwing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s handling of the Middle East conflict trying to upend an outspoken and powerful Democratic opponent.”

It’s not exactly like telling Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, but with those editorial leanings, it sounds like Thomas will feel very much at home at the paper.

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Re-Reading the Constitution

Alana, I may be in the minority here, but I think the reading of the superseded sections of the Constitution would have been useful. We fought a Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, to secure full rights and equal protection for all persons. Our struggle for equal rights is worth recalling — and a full reading would have made clearer the progress we have made. It seems especially important now that some Republicans have decided to ignore the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Just yesterday, a group of GOP state legislators gathered in Washington to discuss introducing bills in their legislatures that would grant state citizenship only to children born in the United States who had at least one parent who was a citizen or permanent resident alien. But if the GOP lawmakers had been present for the reading of the 14th Amendment, they’d know that

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. …

The language “subject to the jurisdiction of” exempts the children of diplomats (and, at the time of passage of the Amendment, Native Americans, who were considered citizens of sovereign nations within U.S. territory and weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924) — and no one else. And there certainly should be no question of whether individual states have the right to usurp the Constitution when it comes to establishing qualifications for U.S. citizenship. Selective reading of the Constitution, alas, sometimes clouds the views of conservatives as well as liberals.

Alana, I may be in the minority here, but I think the reading of the superseded sections of the Constitution would have been useful. We fought a Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, to secure full rights and equal protection for all persons. Our struggle for equal rights is worth recalling — and a full reading would have made clearer the progress we have made. It seems especially important now that some Republicans have decided to ignore the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Just yesterday, a group of GOP state legislators gathered in Washington to discuss introducing bills in their legislatures that would grant state citizenship only to children born in the United States who had at least one parent who was a citizen or permanent resident alien. But if the GOP lawmakers had been present for the reading of the 14th Amendment, they’d know that

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. …

The language “subject to the jurisdiction of” exempts the children of diplomats (and, at the time of passage of the Amendment, Native Americans, who were considered citizens of sovereign nations within U.S. territory and weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924) — and no one else. And there certainly should be no question of whether individual states have the right to usurp the Constitution when it comes to establishing qualifications for U.S. citizenship. Selective reading of the Constitution, alas, sometimes clouds the views of conservatives as well as liberals.

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New Complaint: The GOP ‘Sanitized’ the Constitution

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

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The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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SPJ Voting on Whether to Rename Helen Thomas Award

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.” Read More

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.”

“[T]he same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America, protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” wrote Weston. “And while I vehemently disagree with the opinions she has expressed about Jews and Zionists, I will defend, as long as I live, her right to express them.”

How courageous for Weston to vow to “defend” Thomas’s right to an opinion, but I don’t think anybody here is attempting to deny her that right. This issue isn’t about freedom of speech; it’s about the public image of a respected institution. Societies like the SPJ give these types of awards because they’re considered prestigious for both the honoree and the organization. Well-regarded groups probably wouldn’t pass out awards named after, say, David Duke or Paris Hilton.

So to echo what Foxman said, I’m not sure many journalists would want to put “Recipient of the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement” alongside their byline. I also have a hunch that the SPJ’s public affairs department probably doesn’t want to deal with the inevitably uncomfortable press coverage every time they hand out the award.

Thomas still has a great deal of friends, supporters, and defenders in the journalism industry, but I have a feeling that this vote will result in a name change. It would be a nightmare for SPJ if its Executive Committee decided otherwise. As unfortunate as it may be, Thomas’s recent anti-Semitic statements have come to define her. And fair or not, if SPJ votes to continue to issue the award in her name, it will be viewed as a nod of support for her remarks.

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Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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Does the Army’s ‘No-Beard’ Rule Discriminate Against Jews?

A rabbi from Brooklyn is challenging the Army’s “no-beard” policy after his application to become a chaplain was rejected because of military rules against facial hair. The rabbi says the service is discriminating against religious Jews because it has waived the rule for other religions:

Menachem M. Stern’s lawsuit argues the Army is discriminating against him because it has waived the “no-beard” rule for several Sikhs and a Muslim, but not for him. Advocates hope the case, if successful, will pave the way for more bearded rabbis to become chaplains and minister to historically underserved Jewish soldiers.

“While they’re stalling me, they’re taking in other religions, for instance, Sikhs and Muslims with beards and turbans at the same time,” Stern said. “At that point, my question became, ‘Who says yes and who says no?’ It shows how in a great institution such as the Army, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

I can understand a general military rule against beards, but it’s surprising that the rules don’t carry an exception for chaplains, as Stern’s attorney points out:

“Even if the military thinks regular servicemen should be clean-shaven, clearly chaplains who are teaching religion are in a different category,” said Stern’s Washington attorney, Nathan Lewin. “If a rabbi wears a beard and a beard is after all traditionally associated with the Jewish faith, nobody’s going to take it as being some violation of military discipline. It just means the rabbi, like he puts a yarmulke on his head, is wearing a beard because that’s what’s religiously required of him.”

According to the article, there is only one Jewish chaplain with a beard in the Army. His beard was approved before 1986, so it’s apparently not subject to the current rules. The Army has also waived the no-beard rule at least four times over the past two years, for two Sikh officers, a Muslim intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and a Sikh enlisted soldier.

I suppose the Army might have had an urgent need to fill these four positions and granted facial-hair exceptions under those circumstances. And perhaps there isn’t a similar need for Jewish chaplains. Unless the Army is committing a blatant act of religious discrimination, those seem to be the most likely explanations.

A rabbi from Brooklyn is challenging the Army’s “no-beard” policy after his application to become a chaplain was rejected because of military rules against facial hair. The rabbi says the service is discriminating against religious Jews because it has waived the rule for other religions:

Menachem M. Stern’s lawsuit argues the Army is discriminating against him because it has waived the “no-beard” rule for several Sikhs and a Muslim, but not for him. Advocates hope the case, if successful, will pave the way for more bearded rabbis to become chaplains and minister to historically underserved Jewish soldiers.

“While they’re stalling me, they’re taking in other religions, for instance, Sikhs and Muslims with beards and turbans at the same time,” Stern said. “At that point, my question became, ‘Who says yes and who says no?’ It shows how in a great institution such as the Army, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

I can understand a general military rule against beards, but it’s surprising that the rules don’t carry an exception for chaplains, as Stern’s attorney points out:

“Even if the military thinks regular servicemen should be clean-shaven, clearly chaplains who are teaching religion are in a different category,” said Stern’s Washington attorney, Nathan Lewin. “If a rabbi wears a beard and a beard is after all traditionally associated with the Jewish faith, nobody’s going to take it as being some violation of military discipline. It just means the rabbi, like he puts a yarmulke on his head, is wearing a beard because that’s what’s religiously required of him.”

According to the article, there is only one Jewish chaplain with a beard in the Army. His beard was approved before 1986, so it’s apparently not subject to the current rules. The Army has also waived the no-beard rule at least four times over the past two years, for two Sikh officers, a Muslim intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and a Sikh enlisted soldier.

I suppose the Army might have had an urgent need to fill these four positions and granted facial-hair exceptions under those circumstances. And perhaps there isn’t a similar need for Jewish chaplains. Unless the Army is committing a blatant act of religious discrimination, those seem to be the most likely explanations.

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Maliki’s Confidence

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

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Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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Obama Rebounds in December After Devastating November

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

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Horrible Message Discipline Indeed

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

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