Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Question: The Veiled Face and Liberal Democracy: (and, of Course, the Jews)

Faces and Faiths

Washington Diarist

Leon Wieseltier July 27, 2010 | 12:00 am /TNR

Is there any more eloquent or definitive evidence of human individuality, of human dignity, than the face? My face shows that I am unlike you, that I am myself; and in this beautiful incommensurability we establish solidarity with each other, because your face also looks only like itself, only like you.The hiddenness of the face—the Divine face, too—is commonly regarded as a curse or a punishment, and its revelation as an epiphany.

This is certainly the case in the mystagogic morality of Levinas, for whom the sight of the face is “a visitation,” “the first disclosure,” “a bareness without any cultural ornament”: “the face enters our world from an absolutely foreign sphere, that is, precisely from an absolute,” and so it signifies “a command.” Where the face is covered, ethics cannot exist. I have been pondering all this again on the occasion of “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public,” or the anti-burqa measure recently passed by the National Assembly in France.

It has been defended on grounds of human rights. France, declared its minister of justice, “does not accept attacks on human dignity. It does not tolerate the abuse of vulnerable people.” Uh-huh. I confess that I am watching the French struggle with the distinction between Islam and Islamism—I mean the French who are struggling with it at all—with a certain malicious delight. Is the distinction really so slippery?

When did France become the homeland of l’Autre, naturally tolerant and welcoming to cultures unlike its own? (The philosophy of Levinas was, among other things, a prophetic castigation of France.) And the same question may be asked of other European societies whose suspicion of, or hostility to, the Muslims in their midst has a foul familiar air. Otherness is the challenge that Europe never mastered. (I apologize for the gross historical generalization, but I have been immersed in Jordi
Savall’s monumental reconstruction in music of the Cathars and their destruction.)

And now, to fight Islamism in France, the power of the state, the frightened state, is being used to forbid the free practice of religion. It is of course shocking to encounter a person in a burqa, as it is to encounter a person tattooed from head to toe: it is a mutilation of personhood. But by what right does the state intervene?

If some Muslim women are forced into their hideous sartorial prison, the state will not relieve them, and the Muslim men who are solicitous of their humanity, of the need to dissent and to rebel—of the rupture of modernization, which can only occur within, as it did in Christianity and Judaism; and if many Muslim women cover themselves consensually, the state should leave them be. Intolerance is a poor security policy. Moreover, the face is not all it’s cracked up to be. The face may be manifest but deceptive, and no disclosure at all; or it may disclose anger and hatred and violence. A visible face may be more dangerous than an invisible one. I am thinking of nineteen faces in particular.

The French state is not the only state that is trampling upon religious liberty. So is the Jewish state. And the religious liberty being violated belongs not to the Other, but to the Same. Or more precisely, the Rotem bill that would secure the control of the Chief Rabbinate over all conversions to Judaism represents a denial that Reform and Conservative Jews are indeed the Same, and their banishment to the perdition of the Other.

Many critics have rightly observed that the success of such a measure would lead to schism in the Jewish world, and bitterly alienate the Jewish diaspora from the Jewish state; and Netanyahu has rightly vowed not to allow this monstrosity to become law. But the thwarting of Rotem is not the end of the matter. There is a larger problem for my Reform and Conservative brothers and sisters. The problem is the very existence of the Chief Rabbinate. It is a poisonous institution. It has diminished Judaism into an apparatus of the state and conflated it with power and patronage. It disguises low politics with high theology. Its resort to coercion in matters of belief is a mark of spiritual emptiness. In its outrageous pretension to central religious authority, it is a deeply unJewish office that would abolish the local and improvisatory and variegated character of Jewish religious life since the Sanhedrin.

The Chief Rabbinate was not created by God at Sinai; it was created by the attorney general of the British mandatory government in Palestine. Many of its occupants (though not the one who was my cousin, of course) have been intellectually mediocre. It has become the most powerful instrument of the takeover of Orthodoxy by the ultraOrthodox, who grow wilder and more insular all the time: they prefer the Torah without Jews to the Jews without Torah, and their lack of compassion for anyone but themselves is sinister.

Worst of all, the Chief Rabbinate solves nothing: if it did not exist, the legal and denominational perplexities of Jewish life after the era of religious reform—the rupture, again—would still be with us. Two hundred years ago this week, in the town of Seesen, in Westphalia, “Jacob’s Temple,” a synagogue with a bell tower and an organ, was dedicated with a German chorale and a sermon about universal brotherhood—and there is nothing that any of the holy beards in Jerusalem can do about it.

This is the actually existing Jewish people. Insofar as the ultras in Israel do not believe in religious liberty, they are at odds with the state in which they live, whose Declaration of Independence “guarantees full freedom of religion [and] conscience”; and insofar as politicians in Israel pander to them and play their sordid games, they, too, are in defiance of first principles. “Laws do not alter convictions; arbitrary punishments and rewards produce no principles, refine no morals. Fear and hope are no criteria of truth. Knowledge, reasoning, and persuasion alone can bring forth principles.” Those Jeffersonian words were not written by Jefferson.

They were written by an observant Jew in Dessau, in the most neglected classic of the Enlightenment, and the greatest Jewish contribution to it. Moses Mendelssohn established this wisdom in Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism, in 1783. In one of the more sublime coincidences of history, he was composing these reflections at precisely the time when Jefferson, a world and a culture away, was preparing his own argument, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “[i]t is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” The rabbis Mendelssohn and Jefferson.


A paraphrase:

"So, as I wuz sayin', your face is yours, mine's is mine's, and that be that. What the big guy up there looks like, who knows? He ever shows himself, that'll be huge".

One guy wuz sayn", "You see a face, boom, there it is, and nuthin' else matters. It makes you deal with it. It's covered, you can't." Very heavy all this, with laws comin' down sayin', "Yo'! No covering!"

Heavy French guy says, "Very bad news, chicks have to cover their faces, and what makes em' is very bad news too." I says back, "Whu'r you, anybody, tellin' chichks they can't cover up, if they want. Next your gonna' tell me ixnay on tats"? I says more, "Muslims gotta' do for themselves. Can't have the country sayin' that. Plus, faces ain't all that."

I says, "Take the Jews. Israel be as bad as France. Big law comin' down there: only head religious dude can say what's up with gettin' to be a Jew. Orthos okay, but later for Refos and Conservs." I'm sayin' "Yo, big split in the ranks comin' with that, make the wanderers move away more." And I'm sayin', "Worse is even having a head religious dude at all. Sounds all holy, but it's just a few guys gettin' to call the shots, have things just like they say, gettin' all the say-so weight. Buncha' hacks mostly, headin' that show. It's not like the big guy up there said so, just some guys made up a law makin' the job." I says "Hey, I be thinking Israel says, right there in its D. of I. 'Religious freedom, yo' !' What's about that"?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mubarak: a Comment

Before he is dead

In Israel and Washington, where some have begun to calculate how much time is left before his demise, they are behaving as if Hosni Mubarak is eternal.

By Zvi Bar'el // Haaretz

"Is he already dead?" an acquaintance asked me late last week. "Not yet," I thought. "The Egyptians are reporting that even his bodyguards are unable to keep up with him during walks." He was not convinced. "Too bad, because he was a serious man," he said, as if he had already died.

The "deceased" is the Egyptian president, who has not ceased to be very much alive and very active. But in Israel and Washington, where some have begun to calculate how much time is left before his demise, they are behaving as if Hosni Mubarak is eternal.

Mubarak remains the leader who wants and can advance political movement. If convinced that the time has come, he could push forward direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and he is the only one who can bring this process under his auspices. He is also the rumbling engine behind the three-year effort for internal Palestinian reconciliation. Mubarak is the sole Arab leader who does not fear Hezbollah, does not talk with Bashar Assad and is blocking Hamas. Together with Saudi Arabia, he is placing a solid wall against the spread of Iranian influence in the region, and is leading an axis once described as "moderate" which today faces a new axis in which the partners are Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Mubarak is not a Zionist activist and his policy is not determined by Israeli interests. But the situation has developed so that Israeli and Egyptian interests have met, and they are getting along quite well.

On the other hand, Syria is already revving its engines, so that it could position itself for a more influential, hegemonic role in the region when Mubarak is gone. Last week, for example, the candidates for the premiership in Iran met in Damascus with the Turkish Foreign Minister, who also met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. Syria has suddenly become a broker in domestic affairs in Iraq, and thus its significance in Washington has increased since the U.S. wants to begin withdrawing its forces from Iraq in August. Turkey, which engineered the uranium exchange deal with Iran, is also aiming to become a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul traveled to Egypt to coordinate their positions.

Mubarak is in no rush to include the Turks, and like Israel he is concerned that Turkey is bolstering Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority. He believes that the Israeli-Palestinian issue needs to remain within the Arab context and not pass over to the Turks or the Iranians. He is concerned that Iranian involvement and Turkish participation may have a detrimental effect on the Arab League's initiative from 2002, which has become an important Arab common denominator that could guarantee an end to the conflict. New partners may not only bolster Syria at Egypt's expense - they are removed from local interests, including those of the Palestinians themselves, and all the more so of Israel.

However, Mubarak's initiatives, and especially his efforts to retain the pro-American axis, are straining under particularly heavy weights. Israel is behaving like a removed observer, as if the issue at hand does not affect it. Instead of rushing to close a deal through Mubarak, so long as it is possible, it is certain that this summer camp will last forever.

True, it is possible to enjoy the sensation that followed the latest Mubarak-Netanyahu meeting - the warm embrace, the joint photo-op that is so important - but this fling has a high price. Because in Israeli eyes the local processes are nonsense lacking strategic value. It prefers to concentrate on apocalyptic prognoses about "war-no war," counts the warheads of Hezbollah and calculates Iran's uranium enrichment. Success in Israel's view is the development of Iron Dome, or some other advanced weapon system. But the more difficult battleground is today in the flotillas, in the UN, in the investigative reports and in the degree of American affection. By the way, Mubarak's strength was proven in these too, or at least in the latest flotilla sponsored by Libya, which agreed to berth in the port of El-Arish. Mubarak shares Israel's love for these flotillas.

In a short while Israel will have to examine what it could have managed to do during Mubarak's era and did not/neglected to do, and in short committed a crime against its people. The opportunity has not passed yet, but all those who are following Mubarak's pulse should, like his bodyguards, keep up with his pace.

Following up on Goldstone

Goldstone committee head denies bias


German jurist Christian Tomuschat says he won't step down.

BERLIN – The chairman of the UN committee responsible for following up on the findings of the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead acknowledged on Saturday that he had helped prepare an advisory opinion analyzing legal aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the 1990s, but said he could not recall whether he had done this work on behalf of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In any case, said German jurist Christian Tomuschat, the legal work had been objective, should not be regarded as “a blemish” and did not constitute a reason for him to step down from the Goldstone follow- up panel.

Goldstone follow-up panel slammed
UN appoints Goldstone monitoring c'tee

The Jerusalem Post had asked Tomuschat to comment on information it received over the weekend to the effect that he and four other international jurists prepared a brief for Arafat in 1996 concerning the international law aspects of the peace process, which suggested that Arafat should bring his case to the UN General Assembly, which could then refer it to the International Court of Justice.

The fact that Tomuschat had worked directly for one of the relevant parties should have been disclosed to Israel when his appointment to the Goldstone follow-up committee was made, but this was not done, according to the information received by the Post.

The panel was appointed last month by the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, and is about to start its work, with a view to publishing a report in October.

Tomuschat’s appointment had already attracted criticism from pro-Israel legal watchdogs because of his characterization of Israel’s policy of targeted killings as akin to “state terrorism.”

Furthermore, the Post learned over the weekend, Tomuschat has already made plain his conviction that states are incapable of effectively conducting investigations into alleged excesses by their military forces. His established stance on this issue is relevant because the mandate of the panel includes examining whether the Israeli judicial system is capable of properly investigating the alleged IDF excesses documented in the Goldstone Report.

Tomuschat set out this assessment in a study titled “The Individual Threatened by the Fight Against Terrorism?” In that study, published in 2002, he wrote: “In such instances, there is little hope that the judicial system of the state concerned will conduct effective investigations and punish the responsible agents. Nowhere have excesses committed by security forces been adequately punished.”

In the same study, he also wrote that “If a state strikes blindly against presumed terrorists and their environment, accepting that together with the suspects other civilians lose their lives, it uses the same tactics as the terrorists themselves. In this perspective, many actions carried out by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories would also have to be scrutinized very carefully.

“Normally,” he went on, “states see themselves as guardians of human rights. However, by ordering the systematic commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity they themselves deserve the same blame as those targeted by them.”

Tomuschat said on Saturday that he had done nothing that should require him to resign from the committee, that he was “not biased” against Israel, and that he had been in Israel many times and had participated in legal forums there.

Israel is acutely concerned about the Goldstone follow-up committee, whose mandate includes examining the efficiency, independence and professionalism of Israel’s court system and its adherence to internationally accepted standards.

It fears the unprecedented UN investigation into the effectiveness of both the Israeli civilian and military hierarchies, by a committee whose motives and preconceptions it acutely mistrusts, could undermine the credibility of the Israeli judiciary internationally and leave Israel vulnerable to censure in international legal forums.

Critics of the panel, and its membership, have asserted that it is incapable of performing its work fairly because all three of its members are affiliated with the International Commission of Jurists, which “has had a long history of anti-Israel bias going back to Jenin [after the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in 2002],” according to Gerald Steinberg of the NGO Monitor human rights watchdog. “Involving ICJ officials in an UN-related commission is another illustration of the link between the UN [Human Rights] Council and ideological NGOs,” he said earlier this month.

The other two committee members are Malaysian Param Cumaraswamy and American Mary Davis.

Tomuschat, in a 2007 interview in which he discussed Israel’s killing of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, said, “Targeted killings are as ruthless as the attacks of terrorists.”

Asked if Israel’s targeted killings constituted “state terrorism,” Tomuschat said, “It is very much in that direction.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Morality as Reasoning and Natural Law

Does moral action depend on reasoning?

Yes, by nature.

Robert P. George

At the foundation of our moral thinking is our understanding that some things are worth doing or pursuing for their own sake. It makes sense to act on them even when we expect no further benefit from doing so. When we see the point of performing a friendly act, for example, or when we see the point of someone’s studying Shakespeare or the structure of distant galaxies, we understand the intrinsic value of such activities. We grasp the worth of friendship and knowledge not merely as means to other ends but as ends in themselves. Unlike money or insurance coverage, these goods are not valuable only because they facilitate or protect other goods. They are themselves constitutive aspects of our own and others’ fulfillment as human persons.

Of course, feelings and emotions can and do motivate our actions. But the point here is that certain intrinsically worthwhile ends or purposes appeal not merely to our emotions but also to our understanding (what Aristotle called our “practical reason”). A complete account of human action cannot leave out the motivating role of reasons provided by these ends or purposes, which are sometimes called “basic human goods.”

It is this truth that the brilliant 18th-century philosopher David Hume spectacularly missed in proclaiming that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and may pretend to no office other than to serve and obey them.” For Hume, our brute desires specify our ultimate goals (like survival), and the most that reason can do is to tell us how to achieve those goals (eat this, refrain from eating that). But human deliberation and action are a great deal more complex (and interesting) than Hume allows in his reduction of reason to the role of emotion’s ingenious servant.

If someone performs a friendly act just for the sake of friendship itself, and not solely for some ulterior motive, we are not left baffled by it, as we would be left baffled by, for example, someone who for no reason beyond the act itself spent time repeatedly opening and closing a closet door. Indeed, we grasp the intelligible point of an act of friendship even if we judge the particular act, though motivated by friendship, to be morally forbidden. (Consider, for example, someone’s telling a lie to protect the reputation of a friend who has done something disgraceful.) We understand friendship as an irreducible aspect of our own and other people’s well-being and fulfillment.

But friendship and knowledge are just two aspects of our well-being and fulfillment. We human beings are complex creatures. We can flourish (or decline) in relation to various aspects of our nature: our physical health, our intellectual vigor, our character. Although we are individuals, relationships with others in a variety of forms are also intrinsic aspects of our flourishing and not merely means to the fuller or more efficient realization of common individual goals. The list could go on. My point is that there are many basic human goods, many irreducible (and irreducibly different) aspects of human well-being and fulfillment.

The variegated nature of human flourishing and the fact that basic human goods can be instantiated in an unlimited number of ways means that we must make choices. Of course, many of our choices, including some serious and even tragic ones, are choices between or among morally acceptable options. No moral norm narrows the possibilities to a single uniquely correct option. But moral norms often do exclude some possible options, sometimes even narrowing them to one. How can that be?

Among those who share the view that morality is, in a deep sense, about human flourishing, there are two main schools of thought. The first, known as utilitarianism (or, more broadly, as consequentialism), proposes that people ought always to adopt whichever option offers the best proportion of benefit to harm overall and in the long run. There are many problems with this idea, but the most fundamental is that it presupposes, quite implausibly, that different human goods (this human life, that friendship, this part of someone’s knowledge, those aesthetic or religious experiences) can be aggregated in such a way as to render the idea of “the net best proportion of benefit to harm” coherent and workable.

This is a mistake. To say, for example, that friendship and knowledge are both basic human goods is not to say that friendship and knowledge are constituted by the same substance (“goodness”) manifested in different (but fully replaceable) ways or to different degrees. They are, rather, two different things, reducible neither to each other nor to some common factor. To say that friendship and knowledge are basic human goods is merely to say that they have this, and only this, in common: Each can provide us with a reason for acting whose intelligibility is dependent neither on some further or deeper reason nor on some subrational motivating factor to which it is a means.

The alternative to utilitarianism, at least for those who believe that ethical thinking proceeds from a concern for human well-being and fulfillment, is what is sometimes called “natural law” ethics. Its first principle of moral judgment is that one ought to choose those options, and only those options, that are compatible with the human good considered integrally, that is to say, with an open-hearted love of the good of human persons considered in all of its variegated dimensions.

The specifications of this abstract master principle are the familiar moral precepts that most people, even today, seek to live by and to teach their children to respect, such as the Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), the Pauline Principle (“never do evil that good may come of it”), and Kant’s categorical imperative (stated most vividly in the maxim that one ought to “treat humanity, whether in the person of yourself or others, always as an end, and never as a means only”). However one formulates these precepts and the more concrete norms of conduct that derive from them, they are alike in depending fundamentally, and decisively, on the work of reason.

Palestinian Democracy

Re: Palestinian Democracy Requires Palestinian Democrats

Rick Richman - 07.23.2010 - 10:27 AM // Contentions

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.” When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dialectical Dessert ?

Bill Kristol Unwittingly Joins the Left’s Campaign Against Israel

Jonathan Chait

July 21, 2010 | TNR

Neoconservatism long ago ceased to have any meaningful ideological difference with just plain old conservatism. Perhaps the one remaining vestigial trait of the ideological tendency is a mania for forming committees and stuffing them with progenies (of both the ideological and the literal sort). The glory days of neoconservatism in the 1970s revolved around such committees as the Committee on the Present Danger and the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. Numerous such committees have followed—the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Committee for the Free World, the Project for a New American Century, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Many of them have at least one Kristol or Podhoretz. Last week saw the formation of the latest such group: the Emergency Committee for Israel, whose board consists of Bill Kristol, son of noted neoconservative Irving Kristol; Gary Bauer, a Christian Right activist, Kristol sidekick, and regular on such committees; and Rachel Abrams, stepdaughter of Norman Podhoretz.

The emergency that has instigated the Emergency Committee for Israel—other than the always-urgent need to create more sources of employment for new generations of Podhoretzes, Kristols, and henchmen thereto—is the Obama administration. The committee views the Obama administration, as Bauer puts it, as “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

In fact, it is the policy of “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States” to provide Israel with $3 billion in annual foreign aid along with diplomatic support, deployed most recently when the United States declined to condemn Israel’s response to the Gaza flotilla. This would seem to make Obama more pro-Israel than, at the very least, Lyndon Johnson, who took a neutral stance when Israel faced potential annihilation in 1967, and Dwight Eisenhower, who condemned Israel’s 1956 joint raid with Britain and France on the Suez Canal.

Obama, meanwhile, has actually increased military aid to, and cooperation with, Israel, including an anti-missile defense system. On this matter, Obama has actually taken a more pro-Israel position than George W. Bush. A senior Israeli official recently told The Washington Post, “in many ways the cooperation has been extended and perhaps enhanced in different areas.”

Now, it is true that diplomatic relations between the two countries have worsened noticeably under Obama. Part of the chill results from Obama’s inability to communicate any genuine affinity for, or understanding of, Zionism to Israelis. But a large share of it results from one of the most right-wing governments in the history of Israel, which seems bent upon national suicide in general and the purposeful alienation of the state’s few allies in particular. Last year, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon responded to an actual provocation—Turkey refused to condemn anti-Semitic propaganda on its airwaves—by subjecting the ambassador to a bizarre, televised humiliation, pointing out the absence of a Turkish flag and noting that his guest was seated in a lower chair. The same government proceeded, less flamboyantly, to humiliate Joe Biden on what was intended to be a conciliatory trip to Israel in March.

The combination of the Netanyahu government’s incompetent diplomacy, enthusiasm for settlement construction, and lack of enthusiasm for peace negotiation suggests, at least to me, the need for Israel’s friends to warn it away from the cliff. The Emergency Committee for Israel not only disagrees with the particulars of this assessment, but also seems to regard the notion of Israeli error as a conceptual impossibility. Committee spokesman Michael Goldfarb—also a lobbyist and adviser to Sarah Palin—says, “ECI is for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a strong, secure Israel at peace with the Palestinians and all its neighbors—but Israel is a democratic ally that must determine for itself the best way to achieve this goal.” This formulation allows for no possibility, even theoretically, that Israel could bear more than zero percent of the responsibility for the failure of peace.

The fact that the committee considers Obama the most anti-Israel president ever betrays the lack of imagination in right-wing Zionist circles. In the minds of the neoconservatives, a president who maintains the U.S.-Israel alliance while scolding a reprobate government for its excesses is as bad as things can get. They seem not to consider the possibility that a future American president might abandon the alliance altogether.

The intellectual groundwork is being laid. Left-wing critics of Israel portray supporters of the U.S.-Israel alliance as “Likudnik” or “neoconservative.” The tactic here is to frame support for Israel as incompatible with liberalism, in order to define opposition to Israel as a core liberal value. They define support for Israel as the neocons do: It means unconditional support for Israel, utter indifference to the Palestinians, at least tacit support for settlements. In reality, it is possible to sympathize with Israel in general while opposing its excesses, to believe that the most fundamental obstacle to peace is Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state, and that Israeli actions like the settlements and the excessive strictness of the Gaza blockade contribute to the problem.

The neoconservatives are the inadvertent allies of the left-wing critics. They, too, define support for Israel in maximalist terms, as something incompatible with liberalism. It is a pincer attack on liberal Zionism.

Israelis themselves have long feared such a dynamic taking hold. Earlier this year, Israeli officials pleaded with Republicans not to turn support for their country into a partisan issue. The subtlety of this dynamic clearly escapes the neocons, whose process of strategic thought on any political question, domestic or foreign, begins with “identify the bad guys” and ends with “attack the bad guys,” with no steps in between.

The neocons confidently believe they can force pro-Israel Democrats to embrace their maximalist vision. The ECI, writes an excited Jennifer Rubin in Commentary, presents “ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers [with] the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel.” What a brilliant idea—force Democrats who sympathize with Israel to choose between their party and the Likud Party. The neocons really can’t imagine how such brinksmanship could produce a result they don’t want. They never do.


This is, for a reasonable part of it, a balanced and sane piece.

Good point on the policy continuum in the U.S. Israel relationship as opposed to some of the chilly diplomacy, partly engendered by Obama's seeming innate coolness toward Israel. I do think you overstate Israel's complicity in the creation of that chill. Among other things, Israel has, as noted here, frozen settlement growth, wants to sit down face to face with Abbas and has Netanyahu’s commitment to a two state solution.

For myself, I have no problem with ECI maintaining a defiantly stalwart defence of Israel against all comers, even if I disagree with its extreme positions and inflexibility. That kind of support is, I'd argue, a tactical boon to Israel. After all, she needs all the American champions she can find. She has rabid bashers aplenty and has the in house, so to speak, hurtful positions taken by J Street, which itself gives cover and legitimacy to many meaning Israel no good. If ECI can be a force for holding politicians' feet to the fire on their positions on Israel—think Sestak--it's okay with me.

When, I am confident, Israel has a partner for peace, operating in good faith, she will make such concessions as she needs for peace consistent with security. But no such partner appears anywhere even amongst the supposedly Palestinian moderates, who will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will not renounce the right of Palestinian return to Israel proper. Arab failing to renounce the latter makes stated recognition of Israel's statehood-even without "Jewish" before it—hollow, merely rhetorical.

The concern that ECI will profoundly facilitate the liberal left extreme criticism of Israel is overblown, I think. That criticism exists quite nicely under its own steam and does not need ECI to facilitate it, for all that it is intellectually pleasing for you to imagine rightist support generating that kind of antithetical leftist opposition, sort of, for you, like eating dialectical dessert, a happy meal, if you will. The ubiquitous and disturbing potency of extreme anti Israelism is way beyond whatever may ramify at the margins from ECI. That potency is part of the raison d’ĂȘtre for ECI—just the opposite of your thesis.

Journolist: A View

Steering the press


Posted: 11:58 PM, July 20, 2010

For decades the right has used the term "media bias" as shorthand for the way journalists tend to slant to the left -- but in recent years many on the left have taken up the term to account for what is, to them, the inexplicable durability of conservative ideas.

The latest revelation from the database of private e-mails circulated among the left-liberals of JournoList should end once and for all the preposterous fantasy that right-wing forces have great sway over the way the mainstream media do business. They show how these writers, thinkers and activists managed to help prevent the potential 2008 media inferno over Barack Obama's history with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Until disbanding last month, JournoList was an Internet ingathering of several hundred left-of-center intellectuals. The Web site Daily Caller yesterday published a series of JournoList e-mails dating back to the 2008 campaign and Obama's relationship with Wright, his spiritual leader for two decades.

The exposure during the primary season of Wright's disgusting words -- blaming the United States for 9/11; accusing the US government of creating the AIDS virus; declaring "God damn America" -- raised questions about the silent acceptance of Wright's opinions by his most famous congregant.

It was always easy to imagine how the Wright matter could have brought down the Obama candidacy. Candidates have been stymied by far less when the media pressure became relentless -- lead stories day after day on the evening newscasts; dozens of investigative reporters assigned to expose every word and action of the questionable associate; the pounding and hammering of press secretaries and endorsers and others not by political rivals but by prestigious news outlets.

That didn't happen, not really, in this case -- because the media covering Obama were uncomfortable playing that adversary role with him. And in part that was surely due to the efforts made by the JournoListers.

After both George Stephanopoulos (hardly a conservative icon) and Charles Gibson of ABC asked Obama about Wright in an April 16, 2008 debate, JournoListers collaborated on an open letter attacking them -- their crime apparently being in part that Stephanopoulos dared ask Obama whether Wright "loves America as much as you do." (Stephanopolous was, said one charming JournoLister, "a disgusting little rat snake.")

The letter -- whose genesis is well covered in the Daily Caller story -- declared that two ABC men had engaged in "a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world."

The accusation that asking Obama about his association with Wright was nothing more than "tabloid journalism" was intended to strike directly at the deep desire of newspaper and TV reporters and editors to be high-minded and elevated.

The issue wasn't Obama's chances against Hillary Clinton; by this point he had all but won the Democratic race. It was whether Wright was going to bedevil Obama's bid against the Republicans in November. As the columnist Michael Tomasky e-mailed: "We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time. Otherwise the questions in October will be exactly like this."

Although there's no way to prove it directly, it worked. The uneasiness with which the mainstream media approached the Wright story -- given the sensitivities of the racial politics that Obama claimed to be rising above during his bid for the presidency -- increased manifold after the letter.

Challenging Obama on these matters -- not to mention others, like his relationship with his close friend Rashid Khalidi, a one-time spokesman for PLO terrorists in Beirut, and his nonprofit foundation colleague, the domestic terrorist Bill Ayers -- became very nearly the sole province of conservative media outlets.

Indeed, as Election Day approached, The Los Angeles Times sat on a 2003 videotape of Obama praising Khalidi -- with Ayers in attendance -- on the bizarre grounds that the tape was "off the record."

This was nothing more than an electioneering decision. And it was within the Times's right -- just as the JournoListers can say and do whatever they please to get the people they want elected and stand in the way of politicians and thinkers they don't like.

But the game of pretending that the ideologues of the left and the mainstream media aren't on the same team should really be called on account of it just ain't true.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When Heather MacDonald Talks, I Listen: Inexcusable Black Looting: Inexcusable Black Crime

Excusing the Oakland Rioters

Looting is not a form of civil rights protest.


July 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42

In a remarkable demonstration of defining deviancy down, Oakland is congratulating itself for the scale of the riots that broke out July 8 in response to the verdict in a police shooting case. “So a hundred businesses were damaged and looted,” the conventional wisdom in Oakland holds, “so police were assaulted with rocks and bottles, a California Highway Patrol car’s windshield was smashed, and fires were set in the streets. Such violence is cause for relief because it could have been so much worse”—as indeed it was a year and a half ago, when the original incident occurred.

On New Year’s Day 2009, a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer fatally shot an unarmed man at an Oakland subway station during a melee between fighting passengers and the police, who had been called to the station to subdue the violence.

Several guns had already been found along BART train tracks that night. Officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old father and parolee with a gun conviction, as Grant was lying on the platform face down. Mehserle claims that Grant was resisting arrest and seemed to be reaching for a gun, a claim disputed by some witnesses. Mehserle testified that he thought that he had grabbed his Taser; instead, he mistakenly reached for his gun.

Evidence was presented at trial regarding BART’s failure to properly train its officers in Taser use during high-stress situations. The shooting—Mehserle was white and Grant black—set off a month of recurrent rioting in Oakland in January 2009. It was the transit officer’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter this July 8 that triggered the current round of riots, because, according to the race agitators, the unusually severe manslaughter verdict, arrived at after an aggressively prosecuted, immaculately fair trial, was not severe enough; the officer should have been convicted of murder.

Coverage of the violence’s effect on local businesses, already meager to begin with, has all but disappeared from the press. But before Americans’ usual oblivion regarding yesterday’s news sets in, it may be worth pondering a few matters regarding this latest episode of civil destruction.

- Who is compensating the Oakland business owners whose windows were shattered, merchandise cleaned out, and walls defaced with obscenities and slogans such as “Kill all cops!” and “Say no to work, yes to looting!”? (An entire store of sneakers, as well as jewelry—including diamond-studded “grills” worn over teeth—hair and cosmetic products, ice cream, cereal, and potato chips, were among the consolation prizes to which disappointed “justice”-seekers helped themselves.

Photos show several grinning festively as they cart off their new shoes. Nearly every bank along one thoroughfare was broken into.) Even if insurance covers all the proprietors’ losses, their premiums, undoubtedly already high, will go even higher. The rioters should be forced to repay the costs of looting. The businesses that weren’t physically destroyed lost customers on Thursday as word of the impending verdict was broadcast, leading to a near evacuation of downtown as terrified commuters fled the area. Those entrepreneurs and their employees are also victims of the mayhem.

- Where are the official voices condemning this violence? Oakland mayor Ron Dellums may well have blasted the rioters for their assault on Oakland’s fragile civic order, but the available press coverage does not reflect any such pronouncements. His website contains a statement issued in anticipation of the verdict, but nothing since. That pre-verdict message is hardly a ringing endorsement of the American judicial system:

Voices are crying out for justice. My hope is that justice will be served. I want to reiterate that the journey to justice does not have to end here. If young Oscar Grant’s parents, who out of respect should make this decision, determine that justice has not been served, then I will commit myself to work with the family and their attorneys to continue this journey to justice.

Translation: Unless you get the verdict you want, no matter how scrupulously due process was observed, “justice” will not have been done and the cause of racial grievance will live on. Dellums has welcomed the Justice Department’s superfluous investigation into the verdict. Representative Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) backed up that support by reminding U.S. attorney general Eric Holder in a letter that “we are still not in a place where we are judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

Speaking to the press after this latest round of riots, Dellums portrayed the trashed businesses’ losses as the cost of “democracy”:

“If you embrace the reality of people’s legitimate rights and step back, then things are going to happen,” he said. “Some people will exploit that openness. I would rather err on the side of guaranteeing the constitutional prerogatives of people rather than to have been oppressive and militaristic.”

After all, he acknowledged, “de-mocracy can be messy.”

Actually, looting is not an inevitable concomitant of the exercise of speech rights.

- What is the contribution of the American elite’s anti-cop ideology to these still sadly-recurrent urban riots? A little over 24 hours after the destruction in Oakland’s downtown, a 30-year-old man was shot multiple times in East Oakland and killed. The next morning, another man was found dead in his car, also a suspected homicide victim. Neither of those killings received the slightest bit of attention from Oakland’s mayor or the activists who have been whipping up anti-cop, anti-society sentiment.

The routine, daily bloodshed in inner cities is regarded as the ordinary course of affairs. The hundred or so homicides in Oakland each year are part of nearly 6,000 murders nationally committed by blacks, mostly of other blacks, compared to just over 5,300 homicides committed by whites and Hispanics combined. (Blacks are 12.8 percent of the U.S. population, whites and Hispanics, 81 percent.) Only in those extremely rare cases where a white police officer mistakenly shoots a black man do the activists, who allegedly care so much about the unjustified taking of black life, spring into action. (Needless to say, fatal police shootings of whites rarely get national press coverage and don’t raise fears of riots.)

Such a double standard regarding police shootings of blacks and criminal shootings of blacks is perfectly in keeping with elite priorities regarding crime and the police. The academic world and the media churn out a constant barrage of reports purporting to show that the police unfairly target blacks for unnecessary enforcement and that the criminal justice system is racist. Just last week, the New York Times delivered a long article on police stops in Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct in Ocean Hill-Brownsville—part of an ongoing series on the New York Police Department’s stop rate of blacks, which is higher than the city’s black population rate (but lower than the black violent crime rate). The alleged bias against blacks is the only law enforcement topic that consistently gets media, professorial, and professional attention; the costs of crime on victims and society are beneath notice.

The prestigious law firm of Paul, Weiss sued New York City in January on the preposterous claim, inter alia, that police patrols in the city’s housing projects are “intentionally discriminatory” because the residents of those projects are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic—a typical big firm pro bono effort. The complaint, which is joined by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Legal Aid Society, offers no suggestion as to how the NYPD is otherwise to combat the high rates of violent crime that afflict the city’s public housing residents. On Sunday, July 11, an 11-year-old girl was sodomized in an elevator in her Brooklyn housing project. The assailant escaped, but it is just such predation that trespass patrols in public housing stairwells, elevators, and roofs are designed to prevent.

The disproportionate rate of black crime is assiduously kept out of the public eye, whether through deliberate press policies to conceal the race of individual crime suspects or through an informal practice of suppressing aggregate crime data. The Times article on stop-and-frisks in the 73rd Precinct did not mention that the per capita rate of shootings there is 81 times higher than in the mostly white 68th precinct, to choose just one local benchmark; not surprisingly, the stop rate in the 73rd precinct is 15 times higher than in the 68th.

Blacks in New York City commit 80 percent of all shootings, whites 1.4 percent, though blacks are 23 percent of the population, and whites 35 percent. Police tactics are color-blind; they target crime, not race. But given the reality of wildly disproportionate racial crime rates, rational, data-driven police activity cannot help but have a disproportionate impact on black neighborhoods, because that is where the overwhelming amount of violent crime occurs and where the victims who most need police protection live.

The drumbeat from the media, politicians, and the professoriate regarding alleged racial injustice in law enforcement is not innocuous. It creates the intellectual context in which rioting over trial verdicts and police shootings is expected and almost accepted. There is a nexus between the endless search for unexplained racial disparities in incarceration and arrests that occupies vast swathes of the legal academy and the sociology profession, and the belief among many blacks that the criminal justice system is stacked against them.

If there were any countervailing interest among our opinion-makers in the contribution of proactive policing to urban revival or the enormous benefits of lowered crime to the social and economic health of minority neighborhoods or the fervent support for the police among many law-abiding blacks, the effects of the “law enforcement is racist” conceit would be mitigated. But in fact the “racist police and court system” trope is the only discourse about law enforcement that circulates in the upper reaches of intellectual and public culture. It is no surprise that it is echoed and sometimes acted on by the alleged victims of that racism as well.

Meanwhile, Oakland is already bracing for Officer Mehserle’s sentencing in November. For all of July, the entire Bay Area law enforcement community was on nervous riot alert while waiting for the trial verdict. A San Francisco police official predicts even more intense preparations as the sentence date nears. If Officer Mehserle is not given what the activists demand—the maximum 14 years in prison, though such a sentence might be inconsistent the jury’s finding of involuntary manslaughter—Oakland businesses could once again be cleaning up their shattered storefronts and salvaging what they can of their merchandise.

Hass: Get Out of Afghanistan

We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It.

Here’s how to draw down in Afghanistan.

by Richard N. Haass July 18, 2010

GOP chairman Michael Steele was blasted by fellow Republicans recently for describing Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing,” and suggesting that the United States would fail there as had many other outside powers. Some critics berated Steele for his pessimism, others for getting his facts wrong, given that President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan soon after 9/11. But Steele’s critics are the ones who are wrong: the RNC chair was more correct than not on the substance of his statement, if not the politics.

The war being waged by the United States in Afghanistan today is fundamentally different and more ambitious than anything carried out by the Bush administration. Afghanistan is very much Barack Obama’s war of choice, a point that the president underscored recently by picking Gen. David Petraeus to lead an intensified counterinsurgency effort there. After nearly nine years of war, however, continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn’t likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.

The first thing we need to recognize is that fighting this kind of war is in fact a choice, not a necessity. The United States went to war in October 2001 to oust the Taliban government, which had allowed Al Qaeda to operate freely out of Afghanistan and mount the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban were routed; members of Al Qaeda were captured or killed, or escaped to Pakistan. But that was a very different war, a necessary one carried out in self-defense. It was essential that Afghanistan not continue to be a sanctuary for terrorists who could again attack the American homeland or U.S. interests around the world.

The Bush administration was less clear on what to do next. Working in the State Department at the time, I was appointed by President Bush as the U.S. government’s coordinator for the future of Afghanistan. At a National Security Council meeting chaired by the president in October 2001, I was the one arguing that once the Taliban were removed from power there might be a short-lived opportunity to help establish a weak but functional Afghan state. There and at subsequent meetings I pressed for a U.S. military presence of some 25,000–30,000 troops (matched by an equal number from NATO countries) to be part of an international force that would help maintain order after the invasion and train Afghans until they could protect themselves.

My colleagues in the Bush administration had no interest in my proposal. The consensus was that little could be accomplished in Afghanistan given its history, culture, and composition, and that there would be little payoff beyond Afghanistan even if things there went better than expected. They had no appetite for on-the-ground nation building. The contrast with subsequent policy toward Iraq, where officials were prepared to do a great deal because they hoped to create a potential model for change throughout the Middle East, could hardly be more stark.

As a result, the United States decided not to follow up its ouster of the Taliban with anything ambitious. U.S. troop levels did top out at about 30,000, but most of those just hunted the handful of Al Qaeda who remained. The United States never joined the international force sent to stabilize Afghanistan and in fact limited its size and role.

By the time Obama became president in 2009, the situation inside Afghanistan was fast deteriorating. The Taliban were regaining a foothold. There was concern in Washington that if left unchecked they could soon threaten the existence of the elected government in Kabul headed by Hamid Karzai. Trends were judged to be so bad that the president ordered 17,000 more American combat troops to Afghanistan even before the first review he’d ordered up was finished.

Since then Obama has had several opportunities to reassess U.S. goals and interests in Afghanistan, and in each instance he has chosen to escalate. Upon completion of that first review in March 2009, he declared that the U.S. mission would henceforth be “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” But in reality the U.S. objective went beyond taking on Al Qaeda; the president announced in those same remarks that the additional U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan would “take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border.” In short, the return of the Taliban was equated with the return of Al Qaeda, and the United States became a full protagonist in Afghanistan’s civil war, supporting a weak and corrupt central government against the Taliban. Another 4,000 U.S. troops were sent, to train Afghan soldiers.

Just five months later, a second, more extensive policy review was initiated. This time the president again described U.S. goals in terms of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan, but again he committed the United States to something much more: “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.”

The decisions that flowed from this were equally contradictory. On the one hand, another 30,000 U.S. troops were pledged, both to warn the Taliban and to reassure the shaky government in Kabul. Yet the president also promised that “our troops will begin to come home” by the summer of 2011—to light a fire under that same government, as well as to placate antiwar sentiment at home.

Today the counterinsurgency strategy that demanded all those troops is clearly not working. The August 2009 election that gave Karzai a second term as president was marred by pervasive fraud and left him with less legitimacy than ever. While the surge of U.S. forces has pushed back the Taliban in certain districts, the Karzai government has been unable to fill the vacuum with effective governance and security forces that could prevent the Taliban’s return. So far the Obama administration is sticking with its strategy; indeed, the president went to great lengths to underscore this when he turned to Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Kabul. No course change is likely until at least December, when the president will find himself enmeshed in yet another review of his Afghan policy.

This will be Obama’s third chance to decide what kind of war he wants to fight in Afghanistan, and he will have several options to choose from, even if none is terribly promising. The first is to stay the course: to spend the next year attacking the Taliban and training the Afghan Army and police, and to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in July 2011 only to the extent that conditions on the ground allow. Presumably, if conditions are not conducive, Petraeus will try to limit any reduction in the number of U.S. troops and their role to a minimum.

This approach is hugely expensive, however, and is highly unlikely to succeed. The Afghan government shows little sign of being prepared to deliver either clean administration or effective security at the local level. While a small number of Taliban might choose to “reintegrate”—i.e., opt out of the fight—the vast majority will not. And why should they? The Taliban are resilient and enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, whose government tends to view the militants as an instrument for influencing Afghanistan’s future (something Pakistan cares a great deal about, given its fear of Indian designs there).

The economic costs to the United States of sticking to the current policy are on the order of $100 billion a year, a hefty price to pay when the pressure to cut federal spending is becoming acute. The military price is also great, not just in lives and matériel but also in distraction at a time when the United States could well face crises with Iran and North Korea. And the domestic political costs would be considerable if the president were seen as going back on the spirit if not the letter of his commitment to begin to bring troops home next year.

At the other end of the policy spectrum would be a decision to walk away from Afghanistan—to complete as quickly as possible a full U.S. military withdrawal. Doing so would almost certainly result in the collapse of the Karzai government and a Taliban takeover of much of the country. Afghanistan could become another Lebanon, where the civil war blends into a regional war involving multiple neighboring states. Such an outcome triggered by U.S. military withdrawal would be seen as a major strategic setback to the United States in its global struggle with terrorists. It would also be a disaster for NATO in what in many ways is its first attempt at being a global security organization.

There are, however, other options. One is reconciliation, a fancy word for negotiating a ceasefire with those Taliban leaders willing to stop fighting in exchange for the chance to join Afghanistan’s government. It is impossible, though, to be confident that many Taliban leaders would be prepared to reconcile; they might decide that time is on their side if they only wait and fight. Nor is it likely that the terms they would accept would in turn be acceptable to many Afghans, who remember all too well what it was like to live under the Taliban. A national-unity government is farfetched.

One new idea put forward by Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. ambassador to India, is for a de facto partition of Afghanistan. Under this approach, the United States would accept Taliban control of the Pashtun-dominated south so long as the Taliban did not welcome back Al Qaeda and did not seek to undermine stability in non-Pashtun areas of the country. If the Taliban violated these rules, the United States would attack them with bombers, drones, and Special Forces. U.S. economic and military support would continue to flow to non-Pashtun Afghans in the north and west of the country.

This idea has its drawbacks as well as appeal. A self-governing “Pashtunistan” inside Afghanistan could become a threat to the integrity of Pakistan, whose own 25 million Pashtuns might seek to break free to form a larger Pashtunistan. Any partition would also be resisted by many Afghans, including those Tajik, Baluchi, and Hazara minorities living in demographic “islands” within the mostly Pashtun south, as well as the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and others elsewhere in the country who want to keep Afghanistan free of Taliban influence. And even many Pashtuns would resist for fear of the harsh, intolerant rule the Taliban would impose if given the chance.

Another approach, best termed “decentralization,” bears resemblance to partition but also is different in important ways. Under this approach, the United States would provide arms and training to those local Afghan leaders throughout the country who reject Al Qaeda and who do not seek to undermine Pakistan. Economic aid could be provided to increase respect for human rights and to decrease poppy cultivation. There would be less emphasis on building up a national Army and police force.

The advantage of this option is that it works with and not against the Afghan tradition of a weak ruling center and a strong periphery. It would require revision of the Afghan Constitution, which as it stands places too much power in the hands of the president. The United States could leave it to local forces to prevent Taliban inroads, allowing most U.S. troops to return home. Leaders of non-Pashtun minorities (as well as anti-Taliban Pashtuns) would receive military aid and training. The result would be less a partition than a patchwork quilt. Petraeus took a step in this direction last week by gaining Karzai’s approval for the creation of new uniformed local security forces who will be paid to fight the insurgents in their communities.

Under this scenario, the Taliban would likely return to positions of power in a good many parts of the south. The Taliban would know, however, that they would be challenged by U.S. air power and Special Forces (and by U.S.-supported Afghans) if they attacked non-Pashtun areas, if they allowed the areas under their control to be used to supply antigovernment forces in Pakistan, or if they worked in any way with Al Qaeda. There is reason to believe that the Taliban might not repeat their historic error of inviting Al Qaeda back into areas under their control. Indeed, the United States should stop assuming that the two groups are one and the same and instead start talking to the Taliban to underscore how their interests differ from Al Qaeda’s.

Again, there are drawbacks. This approach would be resisted by some Afghans who fear giving away too much to the Taliban, and by some Taliban who don’t think it gives enough. The Karzai government would oppose any shift in U.S. support away from the central government and toward village and local leaders. Fighting would likely continue inside Afghanistan for years. And again, areas reclaimed by the Taliban would almost certainly reintroduce laws that would be antithetical to global norms for human rights.

So what should the president decide? The best way to answer this question is to return to what the United States seeks to accomplish in Afghanistan and why. The two main American goals are to prevent Al Qaeda from reestablishing a safe haven and to make sure that Afghanistan does not undermine the stability of Pakistan.

We are closer to accomplishing both goals than most people realize. CIA Director Leon Panetta recently estimated the number of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to be “60 to 100, maybe less.” It makes no sense to maintain 100,000 troops to go after so small an adversary, especially when Al Qaeda operates on this scale in a number of countries. Such situations call for more modest and focused policies of counterterrorism along the lines of those being applied in Yemen and Somalia, rather than a full-fledged counterinsurgency effort.

Pakistan is much more important than Afghanistan given its nuclear arsenal, its much larger population, the many terrorists on its soil, and its history of wars with India. But Pakistan’s future will be determined far more by events within its borders than those to its west. The good news is that the Army shows some signs of understanding that Pakistan’s own Taliban are a danger to the country’s future, and has begun to take them on.

All this argues for reorienting U.S. Afghan policy toward decentralization—providing greater support for local leaders and establishing a new approach to the Taliban. The war the United States is now fighting in Afghanistan is not succeeding and is not worth waging in this way. The time has come to scale back U.S. objectives and sharply reduce U.S. involvement on the ground. Afghanistan is claiming too many American lives, requiring too much attention, and absorbing too many resources. The sooner we accept that Afghanistan is less a problem to be fixed than a situation to be managed, the better.

O'Reilly V. McWhorter

We’re drinking Tea, not Kool-Aid

By Bill O’Reilly | Sunday, July 18, 2010 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Op-Ed

According to NAACP President Ben Jealous, the Tea Party movement is chock full of racist people bent on harming African-Americans. Speaking at the organization’s annual convention this week, Jealous let loose on the tea folks: “Here comes the genetic descendent of the White Citizens Council, burst from its coffin, carrying signs and slogans like ‘Lynch Barack Hussein Obama’. . .”

An exhaustive search of media reportage on tea parties turnedup no mention of signs like that. And even if they existed, is it fair to demonize an entire movement because a few nuts are associated with it?

Does the NAACP want to be evaluated on that basis?

From the beginning of its ascent, the Tea Party has been targeted by the far left in America. They fear the populist movement because of its small-government philosophy and its successful activism. The cheapest, easiest way to attack any political opponent is to level accusations of bigotry. Almost every conservative broadcaster and columnist in America has been subjected to that.

The NAACP picked a bad time to brand the Tea Party with the racist label. Recently, the New Black Panther Party has been in the news because the Justice Department declined to prosecute a case in which three of its members apparently intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place. One DOJ lawyer even quit his job, saying he was ordered not to pursue the case because it involved race.

In response to the story, a number of New Black Panthers have been shown on TV saying incredibly bigoted things. NBPP member King Samir Shabazz even suggested that black Americans kill white babies. This is on tape. Obviously, racial bigotry cuts both ways.

It is true that there’s a big difference between the Tea Party and the NBPP. The tea people have quickly become a potent political force in America, while the NBPP is few in number and brain cells. If it were just about the Panthers, the story would be meaningless. But because Attorney General Eric Holder is involved in the dismissal of the criminal charges, the situation takes on some importance.

One of the weaknesses of the NAACP is that it has rarely acknowledged black racism. The organization is silent on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan. Yet, it is outraged about the Tea Party. There might be something hypocritical about that.

It is long past time for all Americans to drop the skin color deal. President Obama was smart and correct when he ran as an American, not as an African-American. The president made one misstep - involving himself in the Cambridge police-Harvard professor controversy - but otherwise has steered clear of racial politics.

The NAACP, however, is obviously not as astute as Obama. By saying the Tea Party members are sympathetic to racism when proof of that is scant, the organization has defined itself as irresponsible. America’s motto continues to be: Out of many, one.

Don’t tread on that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Further to the Just Below


p.s One further thing that passes for a thought: the request for that disavowal would be like asking the Democratic Party to disavow the anti Semitic, and just generally rabid Code Pink.


"One further thing that passes for a thought: the request for that disavowal would be like asking the Democratic Party to disavow the anti Semitic, and just generally rabid Code Pink."

basman, I call BS on that one. The reason is this: name me one subgroup within the Tea Party [or whatever] that is explicitly as racist as Code Pink is anti-Semitic, according to you. [I don't necessarily disagree, but I don't know. And that is not the point.]


Sorry rigordonma--it's me, not you--but I'm missing "the point". Could you be more clear and then I'll either admit the error of my ways or quarrel with you some.


basman, I think the point might be that Code Pink is a fringe organization (grouplet?), doesn't dominate the intellectual debate inside the Democratic Party, and most certainly has little to no influence on candidate selection and state primaries. Therefore to suggest the parallel is to obscure the fact that the Tea Party is a powerful presence in the GOP, has a considerable influence on the intellectual landscape of the party, and has played a major role in candidate selection and primaries. Apples and pears.


Well let me, and be, quarrel some.

The argument is that firstly the issue is not so much a parallel which entails exactitude, as a comparison; but the bigger point is that the comparison is that: racist lunatics are to the Tea Party--a fringe grouplet, (the racists, that is to say)--what Code Pink is to the Democrats. If it's true, as I believe, that Code Pink is notoriously anti Semitic, where does that comparison break down?

Apples and at least crab apples.


"where does that comparison break down?"

I think the comparison breaks down where things don't make sense as elements in a comparison. The teabaggers can be compared to the codepinkers, but to compare the TP to the Democratic Party (or Code Pink to the GOP, come to that) seems intuitively suspect as the question of scale and part-to-whole proportion is ignored. Parties go with parties (and nobody invites me to parties anymore boohoo!) and fringe groups with fringe groups. So -- fruit trees with fruit trees (generic) and apples with apples.


I don’t think so Ironyroad.

The Tea Party is nothing in any way near the Democratic Party of course. That goes without saying and I was never meaning to say anything different. But it’s not comparable to Code Pink in that the Tea Party is a movement and somewhat of an organization of national significance and some measure of some power and influence in America. It’s an important component of the Republican Party, has some national sway and will affect and effect numbers of elections in pivotal ways.

In that sense it’s nowhere near the fringe nuts that Code Pink consists of. So the comparison is apt between the racist elements of the Tea Party on its fringe, just as the Code Pink is on the Democratic Party’s fringe. In these terms, size does not matter. In these terms, the Democratic Party’s towering predominance as a national political presence over the Tea Party is not to the point at all. It’s entirely irrelevant. The point— or my point anyway—is the matter of their like institutional reluctance –as against what McWhorter support Jealous in calling for—to disavow their fringes out of concerns for legitimating them, getting tarred by their brush in the process and so on. But if you persist in seeing the Tea Party, for whom by the way I carry no brief, as comparable to the marginality of Code Pink, what I can tell you?

And there you have it as easy as apple pie: plus, so many parties, so little time.

And To Follow Up On That

Suck It Up, Tea Partiers— the NAACP's Right On This One
John McWhorter July 16, 2010 | 9:19 am//TNR

Much to my surprise, I’m with Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP on this Tea Party business this week.

Jealous has called on the Tea Partiers to officially disavow the racists, such as there are, in the movement. I am pleased to see that he has been on good behavior—no melodrama, no exaggeration, no pretending it’s 1962 (which I read as one more sign that that style of race discussion is on the ropes). Complementing his call for the Tea Partiers to be explicit, he has been explicit in saying—admitting! This really is something special, folks—that the Tea Partiers themselves are not a racist body.

If he’s going to actually admit that in public, then it’s a fair trade for the Tea Partiers to speak up about racism in their organization.

My guess is that they don’t think the issue of possible racism among them is a big deal. I get where they’re coming from. Are there actual bigots among them? We can assume so, just as we know that there are people who cheat on their taxes. But is the movement fundamentally motivated by anger that Barack Obama is black? I don’t see it.

Those who disagree point to the tacky T-shirt slogans (“There are lions in Africa and there’s a lyin’ African in the White House”) or the epithets reportedly hurled at John Lewis and comrades after the health care bill passed.

But I do not classify this stuff as the “Racism” we are to be concerned with. This kind of thing comes down to a particular question: will insult ever be polite? Or, are we really thinking that there could be a society where race never figures in an insult hurled at a black person?

The irony is that as long as we maintain a culture of sounding aggrieved whenever someone says or does something tacky, we are preserving such actions as opportunity for prime insult – that is, it’s what insults are intended for, to injure. I discussed this some months ago here.

In any case, that’s just me. Elsewhere, it is considered the informed view of the Tea Partiers to see them as acting out in a disguised protest against there being a black President. The proper way to start the discussion is to say that there is “an element” of racism—but since racism is considered as abhorrent as pedophilia, even that is enough, rather like there being an “element” of arsenic one’s beer.

And people who think this way need a lesson. The idea has been first that America needed not to segregate people; next came that America needs not to be racist in general; and now the idea is that America needs to learn to harbor no negative sentiments about black people even in its heart of hearts. That’s a tough one, but lots of people smarter than me seem to think it’s a worthy quest.

Well, here’s a lesson America also needs to learn, especially those who read a T-shirt and think it’s their responsibility to think of it as a direct descendant of what got John Lewis’ head cracked on the Pettus Bridge in Selma. Maybe this lesson will be as tough a sell as teaching Americans to have no racist sentiments of any kind, ever—but it’s equally worthy of proposal.

Lesson: deep anger at a black person can occur without the root of it being a hatred of black people. Corollary lesson: when said anger is harbored by groups, chance will dictate that some individuals within it will be less decorous than most, and that they will “Go there”—expressing their anger in disrespect, which when aimed at a black person, will logically entail phraseology singling out color. Sometimes the tackiest among them will pop off with, yes, the one that starts with n.

Once it was clear Obama would be elected, I knew that once the honeymoon was over, a hot new issue would be explorations as whether criticisms of Obama were “racial,” and here we are. First off was the Joe Wilson eruption ("You Lie!"), and now the Tea Partiers.

So, Tea Partiers—if you’re really so concerned about the state of the country as a whole, take a time out and help us learn a lesson. Condemn racism and its expressions in your midst. Try this: likely there will be fewer of the T-shirts and envelope-pushing aspersions, which will render your message that much more effective with the media.

In the meantime, you will contribute to the nationwide sea change in the race discussion that has the NAACP approaching this issue so temperately in the first place. This is the most constructive, untheatrical statement that has come from the NAACP in eons—it’s worthy of what they were about a hundred years ago. Let’s go with it.


Mr. M. to draw possible connections between this post and your *last* one on Jesse Jackson, can I read you to be saying, when you say things like:

...Those who disagree point to the tacky T-shirt slogans (“There are lions in Africa and there’s a lyin’ African in the White House”) or the epithets reportedly hurled at John Lewis and comrades after the health care bill passed.

But I do not classify this stuff as the “Racism” we are to be concerned with. This kind of thing comes down to a particular question: will insult ever be polite? Or, are we really thinking that there could be a society where race never figures in an insult hurled at a black person...

that these slurs constitute “pseudo-events” as you described that term in your last post? Which is to ask, are these insults, however obnoxious, more about “symbolism and drama rather than substance”? Following that line of thought, given the terms of your previous post, you would say, I’d think, that, for Tea Partiers, these events are a distraction from their hard, unglamorous work of pushing forward their fiscally conservative, libertarian agenda of marked fiscal restraint, lowering taxes, and, generally, very limited government,

(I understand one significant difference here is that the symbolic, dramatic events Jackson helps transform into pseudo-events are built on the imputation of racism, which ostensibly at least has Jackson advancing the cause of Black Americans, while the imputation of Tea Party racism is explicitly counter to any formulation of the Tea Party agenda. That agenda in trumpeting individual liberty and individual achievement is markedly against any kind of identity politics.)

For what it’s worth, I don’t expect public Tea Party disavowals of racism any time soon if they are to take the form of some organized statement. That’s not because the Tea Party is racist but because, amongst other possible reasons, firstly, the Tea Party is not that kind of a national organization, it’s more, now, a kind of inchoate movement; and that’s because, secondly, Tea Partiers will argue that disavowing racism in the way Jealous is calling for, which is to say institutionally, is like disavowing “beating your mother”, the disavowal implicitly tarring the disavower with some of the sin being disavowed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jesse Jackson: Yesterday's Man and the "Pseudo-Event"

But Is Jesse Jackson *Interesting*?

John McWhorter

July 15, 2010 | 12:00 am TNR

Jesse Jackson has never interested me much. I’m a little late out of the gate in commenting about Jackson’s latest diversion, analogizing LeBron James to a runaway slave in light of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s sputtering about James’ departure to Miami. I’ve always been a little laggard in dogpiling on Jesse. When I first started writing about race, I quickly noted a certain cognitive dissonance: everybody expected the new cranky black “conservative” to have a Jesse obsession. I never did, and don’t now.

He shouldn’t be news, really. For me, the key image of Jackson is the photo of him with Martin Luther King’s blood on his shirt. That was fake: Jackson never cradled King’s head in his arms and in fact, like most of us would have, fled the scene upon hearing the shots that killed him. Jackson transparently wanted to be “the new King.”

Now, one could want to do that in order to forge the kinds of changes King did—but then there’s the next Jackson image, lesser known but always sticking with me. A few years later at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, Jackson, complete with the big Afro, stood before the black crowd shouting “The water has broke. The blood is spilled. A new black baby is going to be born.” But there had been not a sign at this event that any such thing was happening that would bear any fruit. What excited people there was the crackle in the air, the pop music on the loudspeakers, the outfits, the incense, the theatre. “We met, therefore we won!” Brooklyn Assemblyman Thomas Fortune exclaimed to the media, which said it all.

Here was gesture in the guise of action, a theme that would sadly live on in the black political community—one can imagine Brooklyn’s Charles Barron today, making noises about a new black political party, saying the same kind of thing at the same kind of event. In fact, at that convention in Gary, Jackson actually led the audience with “When we form a political party what time is it?” “NATION TIME!” everybody yelled back. Jesse was right on board with the new groove. And that was all.

Some black leaders have been all about service. That was King, of course, as well as lesser known figures like The Other Robert Moses, who was key in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and has since worked humbly in teaching math. Some are one part service and one part drama—Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was Exhibit A—central to desegregation efforts but also a walking party, such that he played along with the Black Power routines when he had to, and was eventually done in by hubris.

Then there are black leaders who are pretty much all about drama, and it has been hard to escape that verdict on Jackson. Upon which it has never been clear to me why he is continually listed as important. I agree with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates for once here, although I’d expand his point. Not only is it unclear who Jackson was speaking for in his performance over James. You could ask who Jackson speaks for in general at all these days.

This is not, although it will seem like it, a hit piece—because, once we’re done sniping about the man, what exactly would we prefer that a Jesse Jackson have done along the lines of being a single Leader of Black America? Jackson, ultimately, was just born too late. By the late sixties, there were no more signs to get taken off of the doors, and no more “Don’t buy where you can’t work” marches to hold as Powell did. The work that remained, and remains, was slow and undramatic. By 1970, to take your place as the new Leader of Black America was to give oneself a kind of figurehead position. You didn’t really have anything to do—at least, nothing constructive.

Crucial point here: I can well imagine not being aware of this while living through the period day-by-day. Bigotry and racism and even segregation didn’t vanish entirely overnight after 1965 (I spent years of my childhood living on the other side of a fence from a golf course that was notoriously closed to blacks—in New Jersey). There is no need to paint Jackson as willfully holding out against the reality of change in an evil quest to line his pockets (more on the pockets in a bit). Jackson is one of those people who came of age when America turned upside down and, while appreciating the new reality, has never found it quite as exciting and gratifying as the old fight.

Is this really so appalling? To suppose so is to tar an awful lot of innocent people. We’re talking Maxine Waters, Julian Bond, Jeremiah Wright, Ishmael Reed, Harry Belafonte (remember that little dust-up when he called Colin Powell a “house slave”?), and so on. These people fought to create my life, I well know. But is it all that odd that they have tended to wish they could keep blowing the walls down? Again, I know I would.

Some years ago, I was on a double bill at a university with a man of this vintage, complete with the adopted African name (no, it was not Amiri Baraka). I spoke for 20 minutes. He actually went on for an hour and ten without a break—and just talking, not preaching. In his ranging over one anecdote after another about what he had helped to do in the sixties with no reading of his audience, there was a certain latent frustration evident, a questing for a catharsis that he couldn’t quite nail.

As he sat there, often pointing to his well-thumbed copy of a book he wrote 25 years ago, I could see that he knew that an era was over and didn’t quite know what to do about it. No, I’m not being condescending, either, because during those 70 minutes I kept thinking, “There but for the grace of being born in 1965 rather than 1945 goes I.” –I’d even have been carrying a copy of my book just like him.

And that is, in the end, Jesse Jackson, just smaller-scale. To treat Jackson as unique in this, worthy of news for statements which, big surprise, do not dovetail with modern America, is like blaming the recession on one Wells Fargo branch in Connecticut. Jesse Jackson is a microcosm.

As such, nothing he does ever strikes me as interesting. How interesting is it, for example, that the Rainbow Coalition is really a kind of shakedown operation prizing money out of corporations accused of racism in order to give boosts to black businesses favored by Jackson? This, and its modern manifestations as the Citizen’s Education Fund and the Wall Street Project, certainly have had their seamier moments (Kenneth Timmerman’s Shakedown is the must-read here if you need a dirt fix). But surely, Jackson sees this as his being a modern Booker T. Washington-style kingmaker enforcing a kind of Affirmative Action, innocently making a living as well.

Ego? Sure—but how many famous figures don’t turn out to be driven by it? Almost anywhere you look it’s the same story—Theodore Roosevelt. The White Robert Moses. Betty Friedan. W.E.B. DuBois. As always with Jackson, old story. So, Jackson has done what we’d expect—perform. The media goes crazy every time he draws a parallel between some event and the way America was 100 years ago—but in the grand scheme of things, imagine a black history book of the future: “As a result of the efforts of Jesse Jackson, _______.”

Fill in the blank. See? What would it be, imprinting “African American” as a term? Okay, although I’m not sure that has helped anyone. He ran for President, but the idea that this “paved the way” for Barack Obama or that Obama “stands on his shoulders” is more cadential than real. Think about it: it is perfectly plausible that in our moment, Obama would have won if Jesse Jackson had never left Chicago. Meanwhile, Jesse goes around Taking Offense—lately, Michael Richards; Jena, Louisiana; and now a basketball team owner speaking critically about a star black player leaving the nest—and offensive things keep happening.

There are those who would appear to suppose that Jackson has some kind of influence over black thought, presumably part of the media’s impulse to cover his statements as worthy of chewing over. But there’s a difference between thrilling to his oratorical knack and his being a “leader.” The man can definitely make a speech. I’ve heard him do it twice, and had that weird feeling of agreeing with someone without being able to remember what he said. Language is partly music, and Jackson, like Obama, could whip a crowd into a frenzy reading Finnegan’s Wake backwards. And there is that certain Element X charisma: meet him in person and you immediately see how he got ahead in the pack. Unlike most celebrities, he’s physically larger than he tends to look on television, and your eyes would naturally go to him even if you didn’t know who he was.

He has star quality. But that’s really it. The black community is not checking in with the man whose most prominent statement about Barack Obama involved testicles.

And yet at least once a year we can count on Jackson getting serious press for some Thing he says somewhere. My favorite example of the media obsession with the man: one reviewer of my essay collection Authentically Black had clearly read only the handful of pages I wrote about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and trashed the whole book as claiming that the black community’s problem was them. What the essay was actually mostly about was lesser known local black leaders and how the rock stars like Jackson are a distraction from their activities. The reviewer’s red-hot hankering for what I had to say about Jesse Jackson—he must have gone straight to the index to smoke out what I had to say about him—was highly indicative, and sadly typical.

Daniel Boorstin’s book The Image is one of those that is now ancient but still so dead on that I have even given it as a present once or twice. He identifies the pseudo-event as too prevalent in media coverage, about symbolism and drama rather than substance. To me, as meaningful black activism and history goes, Jesse Jackson has always classified as a pseudo-event.

And yet I am aware that the very existence of this post will only contribute to the impression otherwise—which is why this is only the second time, after those pages in that essay collection, that I have written about Jackson at any length. And it will be the last.


Mr. M. I agree with the general line of argument in your spritely post.

But I wouldn’t be so quick to proclaim that this is the last time you'll write about Jesse Jackson “at any length”. Who knows what occasions the future will throw your way for extended comment? So your proclamation shows defensiveness for having written about Jackson here as you have, a desire, sub textually, to make your distance from him palpable in order to allay some anxiety or nervousness. Your proclamation is unnecessary and revealing. And it’s consistent with your very first sentence: “Jesse Jackson has never interested me much.”

There used to be a TV show a few decades ago—from 78 to 81— called The White Shadow, in which Ken Howard played a white basketball coach at an inner city high school in L.A,. the team of which consisted of mostly Black kids, and a Hispanic kid or two and a White kid or two. In one episode Jackson came to the school to address all the students in the auditorium. He was mesmerizing and just blew me away--a 19 year old Jewish guy in Vancouver, B.C. Right through the TV screen, even on this middling TV show, you could feel his power and his presence, the relative intimacy of the setting, making his address even more affecting and resonant. You could just imagine the kids hearing his rhythmic, impassioned down home cadences, feeling shivers of affirmation running through them as though his words were reaching down to the very inner sources of their potential.

So it sounds right to me, and I think you capture some of his essence, when you say, at a minimum:

…The man can definitely make a speech. I’ve heard him do it twice, and had that weird feeling of agreeing with someone without being able to remember what he said. Language is partly music, and Jackson, like Obama, could whip a crowd into a frenzy reading Finnegan’s Wake backwards. And there is that certain Element X charisma: meet him in person and you immediately see how he got ahead in the pack. Unlike most celebrities, he’s physically larger than he tends to look on television, and your eyes would naturally go to him even if you didn’t know who he was.

He has star quality…

I’d add to that at, a minimum, on the plus side, that he is very, very smart and very, very tough.

That said, as I say, I find your general line of argument persuasive: that he is, sadly, on issues of race a kind of yesterday’s man: “Jackson is one of those people who came of age when America turned upside down, and, while appreciating the new reality, has never found it quite as exciting and gratifying as the old fight.”

There is in these in comments and in your overall line of argument here something that matches up with one of your overarching theses: the hard, unglamorous, roll up your sleeves work that has to be done as manifest in the “lesser known black leaders” you mention. What that work demands, informs, as you say, a distinction between it and the notion of a “pseudo-event”. And I am persuaded that you are dead right to say that Jesse Jackson was a rock star who now is a distraction from that kind of work.

There is always need for inspiration; but you’re right that inspiration needs hard, dogged work to try to sustain it. Obama, today’s man, for me, yokes together inspiration and the hard slogging, patient work that inspiration necessitates to make change.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The Trouble with International Forces

Evelyn Gordon - 07.14.2010 - 12:27 PM

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter