President Joe Biden came into office promising to unify the country. So far, unity has proved elusive. On confirmations, immigration policy, Iran, and countless other issues, the parties seem as combative and disunited as ever.
But if unity is elusive, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s just a matter of finding issues on which both parties can unite.
Here is one: Freeing Dr. Shakil Afridi.
His is not exactly a household name. But it should be. Millions of Americans who watched the 2012 Academy Award winning Zero Dark Thirty caught a glimpse of a Pakistani doctor who set up a polio vaccination program in an effort to secure DNA samples from the residents of the compound which the CIA suspected housed Usama Bin Laden. That character, unnamed in the movie, is based on Dr. Afridi.
I go to my favorite hot dog stand
And the dude says,
“You come here all the time! Here’s one for free”
I said, “Man! What I look like? A charity case?”
I took it and threw it on the ground!
I don’t need your handouts!
I’m an adult!
You can’t buy me hot dog, man!
The Lonely Island (“Threw it on the Ground”)
In his Threw It On the Ground video, Adam Samberg demonstrates to an energy drink salesman, a hot dog vendor, his girlfriend, and others, that he is not a man to be trifled with. Whether he is handed a free sample drink, a complimentary hot dog, or a cellphone on which his Dad is calling, he shows his fierce independence by throwing it on the ground.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not exactly throw President Donald Trump’s October 9, 2019 letter on the ground, but he was animated by the same defiant spirit when he visited the White House and returned the letter to its author.
In fairness to the Turkish President, President Trump’s letter could be viewed, much like the hot dog man’s gesture, as an attempt to buy him. The U.S. leader had written that in return for halting his invasion of Syria, Trump would help him “make a great deal.” Not only that, but also: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.” He warned him not to be “a tough guy” or “a fool.”
Last month, hours before the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body.” An interesting question. But a better question would have been: Why has the United States chosen to remain a member of that body?
It is easy to understand why the United States joined originally. The UN emerged from the World War II alliance formed to combat the Axis Powers. On January 1, 1942, three weeks after Pearl Harbor, the United States and 25 other nations signed the “Declaration of the United Nations,” pledging to commit their full military and economic resources to defeat Germany and Japan. During the war, 20 additional countries signed the Declaration. These 46 countries were invited to attend the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which formally established the organization.
We are now three generations removed from that genesis. During those years, the UN has metamorphosed from its original mission as a bulwark against dictatorships to a safe harbor for them. According to Freedom House, only 45% of the members of the General Assembly are full-fledged democracies. The rest range from repressive authoritarian regimes such as Russia, Iran, and China, to full blown prison camps like North Korea.
If the United States were not already a member, would it make sense for it to join the UN in its present form? Continue reading →
The President of the United States confronted a difficult decision concerning recognition in the volatile Middle East. He was personally sympathetic to the Israeli side. Many of his closest friends and confidantes were Jews, including some with whom he had participated in business ventures. But now his Secretary of State argued forcefully against recognition. The Secretary’s opposition was shared by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, as well as by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He was warned that if he proceeded with recognition, violence would erupt throughout the Middle East, America’s position at the United Nations would be weakened, and he himself would be accused of pandering for the Jewish vote.
Bucking the advice of his Secretary of State, the President decided in favor of recognition. The Prime Minister of Israel thanked him, and told him that his decision would earn him an immortal place in Jewish history.
These events, as recounted by Clark Clifford, occurred 70 years ago, when the President was Harry Truman, not Donald Trump; the Secretary of State was George Marshall, not Rex Tillerson; the Prime Minister was David Ben Gurion, not Benjamin Netanyahu; and the issue was recognition of the State of Israel, not recognition of its capital. With the benefit of hindsight, most would agree that Truman made the right decision in May of 1948. Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel — though almost universally condemned by the supposed experts on the region today — ultimately will also be seen as the right move. Continue reading →
The 2016 Republican and Democratic Party conventions are history, but nothing said there can be aptly labeled historic. Of course, partisans on both sides insisted that their favorites delivered oratorical performances that were one part Winston Churchill and two parts Hank Aaron. The preferred phrase was: “He (or, equally often, she) hit it out of the ballpark.” In fact, even though many speakers did creditable jobs reading the words others wrote for them, no one really hit it out of the infield.
But if most of the noise was sound and fury signifying nothing inside the convention halls, at least one memorable statement was made outside. That statement was made by Donald Trump, and it was a statement that he, the nation, and the world, may live to rue. Continue reading →
In a strange coincidence of timing, the world marked two events of great import to the Jewish people during this past Fourth of July weekend. The first was the death of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of 54 books, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The second was the 40th anniversary of the Raid on Entebbe, in which Israeli commandos flew 2500 miles to Uganda to rescue 102 hostages.
The two events inform the way the world sees modern Jewry. But they do so from opposing poles. Elie Wiesel’s life and works embody the Jew as Victim. When he wrote about genocide or evil on a mass scale, Wiesel commanded respect because these were not merely academic issues for him. They were part of his personal biography. The Raid on Entebbe, on the other hand, symbolizes the Jew as Warrior. The Israeli soldiers stunned the world with their lethal military effectiveness.
The differences have consequences. As the Jewish State’s image shifted from Wiesel’s world of suffering and oppression, to the triumph of the Entebbe operation, so did sympathy and support. Israel became perceived more as master than martyr. Continue reading →
On October 5, 2014, a huge orange fireball illuminated Tehran. The explosion took place at Parchin, an Iranian military installation used for testing nuclear weapon triggers. Witnesses reported that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two neighboring villages were burned, while windows in the capital were shattered.
Under a secret side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran, not the IAEA, will provide photographs, videos, and environmental samples of the site. The evidence will be furnished “using Iranian authenticated equipment.” In short, as two commentators have noted, the agreement leaves it to Iran to take an inspection selfie. The Director General of the IAEA will be permitted to visit the site but only “as a courtesy by Iran.”
Until now, opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could marshal their arguments with some degree of respect for its apologists. Granted this was difficult, with the Obama administration insisting – falsely – that Israel was the only nation opposing the treaty, and implying – deviously – that domestic opponents were guilty of double loyalty. But the Parchin deal marks the point where tragedy turns into farce.
Torture is a complex subject. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about it, says torture is beneath us. “We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.” That sounds good, but is it realistic? If a terrorist kidnapped a newborn baby, and left it to die of exposure at an undisclosed location, what mother would balk at using torture to force the terrorist to reveal the baby’s whereabouts? I suspect most mothers would eagerly torture a terrorist personally if necessary to save their newborns.
So the morality of torture comes down to a question of when, not whether, it is justified.
Torturing the English language, on the other hand, is never justified. It is always unpardonable.
That’s what makes the Senate report so disturbing. What kind of government manacles our language, rips into its verbal womb, and extracts such lexical malformations as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “rectal rehydration”?
“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” Senator McCain said last week, presumably meaning orally, not rectally. “But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”
So here’s the truth, America. Our government is a serial torturer of the English language. Continue reading →
Daniel Pearl. Nicholas Berg. James Foley. Steven Sotloff.
Four American noncombatants have been beheaded by Islamic fanatics, and the videos of their murders brazenly circulated over the internet for the world to witness. Another Westerner — David Cawthorne Haines, a security expert hired by international aid organizations – faces the same gruesome fate.
Why do they behead us?
The question goes to the method, not the motive, of the madness. Murderers’ motives don’t matter much in the Middle East. In local eyes, there are so many causes to kill for, and so many victims deserving death. But assuming one is inclined to butcher, why do so by the particularly peculiar method of beheading? Why not butcher by shooting, or by hanging, or by detonation?
This is, to put it mildly, a grim inquiry. But it is worth the trouble to explore. For the answer may tell us something about the nature of the evil we face. Continue reading →
Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are rarely compared. But the way these two presidents have dealt with crises in the Middle East provides instructive contrasts on the nature of leadership.
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon, a man more associated with skullduggery than leadership. But in October 1973, when his Vice President was resigning in disgrace and the congressional investigation into his own misconduct was moving to its fatal conclusion, Nixon demonstrated how a leader can take command, master events, and shape history.