Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Justice, Politics and the Poor. By Peter Wehner.

Justice, Politics and the Poor. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, March 5, 2013.

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic. By Arthur Brooks. Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2013.

Palestinians Will Never Be Satisfied With a Small Independent State. By Giora Eiland.

Palestinians will never be satisfied with a small independent state; they want revenge. By Giora Eiland. Ynet News, March 4, 2013.


US President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are expected to visit the region together in late March to try and promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is amazing to see how American policy has not changed in 20 years. Each administration creates expectations regarding a solution to the conflict without reassessing it and asking the basic question: Why have the peace efforts failed so far?

It seems that the American approach is: There is a problem (the conflict), so there must be a solution. What’s the solution? Two states. Why hasn't the solution been implemented until now? Apparently because we haven’t put enough effort into it. What’s the conclusion? We have to try harder.

This conclusion is obviously wrong. The solution has not been implemented yet because both sides don't really want it. For both sides the cost of adopting the solution is much greater than the benefit. From Israel’s perspective, the solution has two main problems: One is the great security risk involved in withdrawing to the 1967 borders, along with the possibility that the other side will not keep its promises.

Israel fears that after it withdraws Hamas, or an even worse regime, will rise to power in the West Bank and simply ignore the peace agreement. The other price is the evacuation of at least 120,000 Israelis. The political, social and economic cost would be huge. The direct compensation for the settlers alone would amount to 120 billion shekels (about $32 billion). Where would this money come from? And what about the Palestinian side?

The American assumption may sound reasonable, but it is completely false. According to this assumption, the Palestinians want to free themselves of the “occupation” and establish a small independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. The first part is true, but the second part is not. The Palestinians were never willing to make do with a small state of their own. They want “justice,” revenge, recognition as victims and above all – the “right of return.”

The Palestinians do not really want a small and divided state, and therefore are not willing to pay the price for it: A commitment to declare an end to the conflict, promising not to make any other demands in the future and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. When the desire is not genuine, there will not be a willingness on the part of the Palestinians to make “painful compromises,” which are necessary for achieving peace.

So what should be done? The Americans must take a few steps back and reexamine their basic assumptions. Most importantly, they should try to determine what is really important for the various players: Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. They should also determine whether the “two states” solution is the only one. Many people believe it is a bad solution, as it has a “zero–sum game” element to it. Perhaps there are other solutions.

Should the Americans insist on the old paradigm, Israel must continue to play the game: Agree to return to the negotiation table without preconditions and recognize that the peace process is a positive thing. Will the process bring peace? Probably not, but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we will not be blamed for its failure.

Syria’s Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion.

Syria’s Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion. By Rania Abouzeid. Time, March 5, 2013.

Apologetics, Politcs, and Our Moral Imagination. By Peter Wehner.

Apologetics, Politics, and Our Moral Imagination. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, March 4, 2013.

Hagel and the “Israel Lobby.” By Max Boot.

Hagel and the “Israel Lobby.” By Max Boot. Commentary, March 2, 2013.

The Global Middle Class Is Destroying Democracy. By Joshua Kurlantzick.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. By Joshua Kurlantzick. Foreign Policy, March/April 2013.

To Achieve Mideast Peace, Suspend Disbelief. By Dennis B. Ross.

To Achieve Mideast Peace, Suspend Disbelief. By Dennis B. Ross. New York Times, March 2, 2013.

“Hatufim” (Prisoners of War): “Homeland” in the Holy Land. By Debra Kamin

 “Homeland” in the Holy Land. By Debra Kamin. Foreign Policy, March/April 2013.

A TV thriller taps into Israel’s collective subconscious.

Prisoners of War on Hulu.

Think Again: The Pentagon. By Thomas P. M. Barnett.

Think Again: The Pentagon. By Thomas P. M. Barnett. Foreign Policy, March/April 2013.

The military’s Chicken Littles want you to think the sky is falling. Don’t believe them: America has never been safer.


Please remember amid all this frenetic scaremongering that the Pentagon is never more frightened about our collective future than when it’s desperately uncertain about its own. Given the rising health-care costs associated with America’s aging population and the never-ending dysfunction in Washington, we should expect to be bombarded with frightening scenarios of planetary doom for the next decade or two. None of this bureaucratic chattering will bear any resemblance to global trends, which demonstrate that wars have grown increasingly infrequent, shorter in duration, and diminished in lethality. But you won’t hear that from the next-warriors on the Potomac.

The Inside Story of How the White House Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan. By Vali Nasr.

The Inside Story of How the White House Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan. By Vali Nasr. Foreign Policy, March/April 2013.

But You Are the Pizza Police. By Andrew C. McCarthy

But You Are the Pizza Police. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, March 5, 2013.

The Evolving Terror Threat. By Walter Russell Mead.

The Evolving Terror Threat. By Walter Russell Mead. Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013.


As France announces plans to stand down in Mali and the United States builds a new drone base in neighboring Niger, the conflict formerly known as the global war on terror is spreading and intensifying. Many in Washington would like to talk about other things, but while the West might be tired of the war on terror, the war on terror isn’t tired of the West. America and its allies face an “existential threat,” as British Prime Minister David Cameron recently said, and the conflict may last for decades. So it is worth stepping back to see where matters stand.

On 9/11, it became clear that all was not well in the post-Cold War, post-historical world. The war on terror has since gone through several phases.

The first was Osama bin Laden's attempt to launch a true “clash of civilizations” between the West and the world of Islam. His strategy for achieving this goal was a series of spectacular blows against the citadels of Western power that would weaken the West and vest his movement with the prestige to draw Muslims world-wide to his banner.

Bin Laden failed. In phase two of the war, effective counterterrorism blocked his efforts to mount repeated attacks on the scale of 9/11. The war in Iraq (however misguided some consider it) forced al Qaeda in Iraq into a contest that it lost politically as much as militarily. When the chips were down, Iraq’s Sunni Muslims chose the Americans over al Qaeda.

The awakening in Iraq was part of a much larger tide of opinion among Muslims around the world: The more they saw of al Qaeda, the less they liked it, and the less they thought it had anything to do with the Islam they learned from the Quran. By the end of the George W. Bush administration, the effort to launch a grand war against the West under the flag of al Qaeda had decisively failed.

The Obama administration hoped to complete the marginalization and destruction of al Qaeda, extending Mr. Bush’s military strategy and developing a more effective political counterstrategy that would further sideline radicalism by building deeper ties between the U.S. and the moderate Muslim majority. The military strategy worked reasonably well. The campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan that included the death of bin Laden continues to degrade the capabilities and prestige of the original al Qaeda network, even if the American exit strategy from this difficult conflict remains unclear.

The political strategy to reach out to Muslims has had less success. Failed American attempts to broker a peace between Israel and Palestinians undermined many Muslims’ faith in the Obama administration’s intentions (or capacity). The Arab Spring caught the administration off balance, and Washington has struggled to maintain its priorities as the Middle East has drifted away from liberal democratic protest toward a darker agenda. American efforts to build bridges to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have alienated Egyptian liberals without establishing strong bonds with the Islamists. The U.S. failure to support effective humanitarian intervention in Syria (even if prudent in terms of American domestic politics) has dramatically undermined the administration’s effort to portray the new U.S. as a pro-democracy, humanitarian power guided by the responsibility to protect.

Meanwhile, even a weakened and ideologically marginalized al Qaeda has found ways to assert itself as a credible and sometimes powerful force. The emerging sectarian war in the Middle East between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites makes al Qaeda’s fanatical fighters valuable once again to the powers of the Persian Gulf. The ultramilitants are emerging as significant forces on the Sunni side in Syria and Iraq, and as a result they are regaining lost credibility and access to funding from affluent sympathizers in the region. They have also found fertile ground in the weak states of North Africa.

The question that confronts the U.S. and its allies now is twofold. How to counter the explosive growth of radical jihadist organizations and networks in Libya’s post-Gadhafi vacuum and in surrounding states? And what to do about the integration of terrorist groups into the sectarian Sunni-Shiite war that spans the region and to some degree overlaps with America's own struggle to stop the Iranians from getting a nuclear weapon?

At this stage, the terrain favors America's enemies. In places like the wide swath of Africa’s Sahel region, and in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, it is difficult to establish strong states that can keep the extremists in check. The free-floating nature of the new jihadist movement also poses problems: At any given moment, from Afghanistan to Mauritania, dozens of groups are competing for funds and followers, moving swiftly in response to perceived opportunities.

Yet this is war: One side makes a move, the other counters it, and so it goes until one side finds a strategy that the other cannot overcome—or until the exhausted combatants accept a compromise peace. In the first phase of the war, al Qaeda tried to lead the world’s Muslims on a grand jihad. In the second phase the U.S. and its allies (including Muslim religious and civic leaders around the world) dealt effectively with that threat. Now al Qaeda has developed a way to remain relevant even without the broad support it once hoped for.

The fourth stage of war, one hopes, will see the U.S. and its allies once again push al Qaeda and its allies to the margins, relegating them permanently to the nuisance fringe. At present al Qaeda appears to have only a limited capacity to attack the U.S. and its principal European allies. But that could change quickly if the terrorists succeed in establishing havens in North Africa. This war isn't over, and the danger isn’t past.

Obama’s Pelosi II Strategy.

Stymied by a GOP House, Obama looks ahead to 2014 to cement his legacy. By Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker. Washington Post, March 2, 2013.

Obama’s Pelosi II Strategy. Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013.


Old Washington hands have been scratching their heads about the start of President Obama’s second term, with its aggressive liberal priorities and attacks on Republicans. Whatever happened to governing? Well, the answer arrived this weekend as the Washington Post reported that Mr. Obama’s real plan for the next two years is returning Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker in 2014.

“The goal is to flip the Republican-held House back to Democratic control, allowing Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy during his final two years in office, according to congressional Democrats, strategists and others familiar with Obama's thinking,” reports the Post, which is hardly hostile to the President.

The article says that shortly after finishing his speech on Election Night last year, Mr. Obama called Mrs. Pelosi and Steve Israel, who runs the Democratic House re-election campaign, to discuss 2014. The strategy fits Mr. Obama’s unprecedented new effort to raise $50 million in $500,000 chunks to fund Organizing for Action (OFA), which will spend millions in GOP-held districts. Mr. Israel says he met in January with Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign manager who now runs OFA, to discuss the 2014 races.

White House press secretary Jay Carney pushed back against the article on Monday, saying 2014 is “not a focus” for Mr. Obama. But that looks like an attempt at damage control after the Post blew the White House’s cover. Mr. Obama has to appear to want bipartisan deals even as he prepares the ground for blaming Republicans in 2014 when those efforts fail.

This is already clear on the budget, as Mr. Obama insists on a second tax increase that Republicans can't accept. We’re also increasingly worried about White House sabotage on immigration reform, as it pushes the bill left on a guest-worker program and enforcement. Mr. Obama is doing exactly what you’d expect if he doesn’t want a deal and plans to use the issue to drive minority turnout in 2014.

It’s important to understand how extraordinary this is. Presidents typically try to secure major bipartisan deals in their fifth or sixth years, before their political capital ebbs. That’s what Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan did, and George W. Bush tried on Social Security. Mr. Obama seems to think he can use the next two years mainly to set up a Pelosi House that would let him finish his last two years with a liberal bang.

The next time you hear Mr. Obama, House Democrats or one of their media acolytes talk about GOP “obstructionism,” refer them to the Washington Post article that shows what they really intend for the current Congress. Bipartisan failure is their strategy.

Israelite Life Before the Kings. By Robert D. Miller.

Archaeological Views: Israelite Life Before the Kings. By Robert D. Miller. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (March/April 2013).

The Spade and the Text: The Interaction between Archaeology and Israelite History Relating to the Tenth-Ninth Centuries BCE. By Amihai Mazar. Proceedings of the British Academy, No. 143 (2007).

Israel, Edom and Egypt in the 10th Century B.C.E. By Nadav Na’aman. Tel Aviv, Vol. 19, No. 1 (March 1992).