December 11, 2017 · 11:18 pm
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 →
July 31, 2016 · 10:28 pm
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 →
July 10, 2016 · 10:36 am
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 →
August 24, 2015 · 4:37 pm
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.
Last week, the Associated Press reported that this same Parchin facility will be subject to inspection – by the Iranians themselves.
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.
There is no historical precedent for such an arrangement. Or is there? Continue reading →
December 15, 2014 · 11:08 pm
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 →
September 8, 2014 · 12:59 pm
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 →
August 25, 2014 · 5:39 pm
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.
His example provides a contrast to the current President, whose concept of leadership involves “leading from behind.” To the extent it involves taking initiative, it is the initiative of “avoiding doing stupid shit.” Continue reading →
July 16, 2014 · 9:39 pm
“Then the Philistines seized Samson, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.” Judges 16:21.
Something about Gaza, and the way its Hamas bosses periodically goad Israel into military action, turn otherwise sensible observers into sightless chumps — incapable of distinguishing between initiating and responding to force, and blind to the difference between attempted murder and self-defense.
We see that day after day after day in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets, which report on the crisis as if it were a contest between two antagonists competing on a morally level playing field. It appears in the television graphics of careful neutrality: charts showing the number of Israeli air strikes compared to the number of Hamas missiles and mortars; comparisons of the number of casualties on both sides; and reports on the relative suffering of the noncombatants.
This is nonsense. Three important principles underlie this crisis, which ought to be evident to anyone with eyes to see. First, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Second, inchoate crimes are still crimes, and in wartime, they are war crimes. And third, “proportionality” has no proper role when thugs are trying to murder your children. Continue reading →
April 17, 2013 · 3:56 pm
Today, the Baroness Thatcher (after her retirement from politics, she was given a peerage) was laid to rest. In death as in life, Margaret Thatcher poses problems for feminists. As the first and the only female Prime Minister of Great Britain, she shattered a ceiling whose hardness resembled granite more than glass. Yet once in office, she did not fit the role expected of women pioneers. She did not merely part company with contemporary feminists. She disdained and ridiculed them.
The feminists hate me, don’t they?” she asked in a 1982 interview, three years into her tenure as Prime Minister. “And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”
“I owe nothing to women’s lib,” she announced, and many feminists gladly returned the compliment. They have accused her of pulling up the drawbridge behind her once she had gained entry into the corridors of power. They have noted that in her eleven years at Ten Downing Street, she appointed only one woman cabinet member, and that one was to a rather unimportant position in the House of Lords. Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post blogger, has recorded Thatcher’s place in feminist history. Or rather, her lack of place.
Look at your average list of Female Trailblazers and Great Women in History and Women Leaders — Ashley Judd’s there, Chelsea Clinton, even Princess Diana — but there’s a giant hole shaped like the Iron Lady. The Guardian’s list of 10 Best Female Pioneers includes Coco Chanel and Kathryn Bigelow, but Margaret Thatcher? Go fish.
The Guardian’s list of the Ten Best Female Pioneers includes Eva Peron, but Thatcher’s nowhere to be seen. She does make About.com’s list of Top 100 Women of History, but then again, so does Rosie the Riveter, who is literally a fictional character.
Yet Thatcher’s position on feminism was more nuanced than her critics, and Thatcher’s own dismissive comments, might suggest. Continue reading →
February 24, 2013 · 9:31 pm
One year after the killing of Usama bin Laden, the U.S. Government has declassified some of the materials seized during the raid on his compound. The media had earlier reported that the terrorist leader was concerned that his organization’s brand had become tarnished by its association with attacks on noncombatants. CNN gave this account last April:
Bin Laden well understood that al Qaeda’s brand name was in deep trouble, in particular, because the group and its affiliates had killed so many civilians. …. So badly tarnished had the al Qaeda brand become that bin Laden noodled with changing the name of his group. In an internal memo, bin Laden pointed out that “[President] Obama [says] that our war is not on Islam or the Muslim people, but rather our war is on the al Qaeda organization. So if the word al Qaeda was derived from or had strong ties to the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslims,’ or if it had the name ‘Islamic party’ it would be difficult for Obama to say that.”
A recently declassified transcript of an audiotape seized during the raid documents bin Laden’s trademark concerns. The following transcript was translated by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, located in Monterey, California. Continue reading →