Cease the Ceasefires

From Thomas Sowell:

Many years ago, on my first trip around the world, I was struck by how the children in the Middle East — Arab and Israeli alike — were among the nicest-looking little children I had seen anywhere. It was painful to think that they were going to grow up killing each other. But that is exactly what happened.

It is understandable that today, many people in many lands just want the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians to stop. Calls for a ceasefire are ringing out from the United Nations and from Washington, as well as from ordinary people in many places around the world.

According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a ceasefire to “open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution.” President Obama has urged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” — again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement.

If this were the first outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, such hopes might make sense. But where have the U.N., Kerry, and Obama been during all these decades of endlessly repeated Middle East carnage?

The Middle East must lead the world in ceasefires. If ceasefires were the road to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet. “Ceasefire” and “negotiations” are magic words to “the international community.” But just what do ceasefires actually accomplish? In the short run, they save some lives. But in the long run they cost far more lives by lowering the cost of aggression.

At one time, launching a military attack on another nation risked not only retaliation but annihilation. When Carthage attacked Rome, that was the end of Carthage. But when Hamas or some other terrorist group launches an attack on Israel, the aggressor knows in advance that whatever Israel does in response will be limited by calls for a ceasefire, backed by political and economic pressure from the United States.

It is not at all clear what Israel’s critics can rationally expect the Israelis to do when they are attacked. Suffer in silence? Surrender? Flee the Middle East? Or — most unrealistic of all — fight a “nice” war, with no civilian casualties? General William T. Sherman said it all, 150 years ago: “War is hell.”

If you want to minimize civilian casualties, then minimize the danger of war, by no longer coming to the rescue of those who start wars.

Not only was Israel attacked by vast numbers of rockets, but it was also invaded — underground — through mazes of tunnels. There is something grotesque about people living thousands of miles away, in safety and comfort, loftily second-guessing and trying to micromanage what the Israelis are doing in a matter of life and death. Such self-indulgences are a danger, not simply to Israel, but to the whole Western world, for they betray a lack of realism that shows in everything from the current disastrous consequences of our policies in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq to future catastrophes from a nuclear-armed Iran.

Those who say that we can contain a nuclear Iran, as we contained a nuclear Soviet Union, are acting as if they are discussing abstract people in an abstract world. Whatever the Soviets were, they were not suicidal fanatics, ready to see their own cities destroyed in order to destroy ours.

As for the ever-elusive “solution” to the Arab–Israeli conflicts in the Middle East, there is nothing faintly resembling a solution anywhere on the horizon. Nor is it hard to see why.

Even if the Israelis were all saints — and sainthood is not common in any branch of the human race — the cold fact is that they are far more advanced than their neighbors, and groups that cannot tolerate even subordinate Christian minorities can hardly be expected to tolerate an independent, and more advanced, Jewish state that is a daily rebuke to their egos.

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Bush’s War?

VDH refreshes our collective memory regarding the Iraq War:

So who lost Iraq?

The blame game mostly fingers incompetent Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Or is Barack Obama culpable for pulling out all American troops monitoring the success of the 2007–08 surge?

Some still blame George W. Bush for going into Iraq in 2003 in the first place to remove Saddam Hussein.

One can blame almost anyone, but one must not invent facts to support an argument.

Do we remember that Bill Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that supported regime change in Iraq? He gave an eloquent speech on the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

In 2002, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution authorizing the removal of Saddam Hussein by force. Senators such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid offered moving arguments on the Senate floor why we should depose Saddam in a post-9/11 climate.

Democratic stalwarts such as Senator Jay Rockefeller and Representative Nancy Pelosi lectured us about the dangers of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. They drew on the same classified domestic- and foreign-intelligence reports that had led Bush to call for Saddam’s forcible removal.

The Bush administration, like members of Congress, underestimated the costs of the war and erred in focusing almost exclusively on Saddam’s supposed stockpiles of weapons. But otherwise, the war was legally authorized on 23 writs. Most of them had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and were unaffected by the later mysterious absence of such weapons — which is all the more mysterious given that troves of WMD have turned up in nearby Syria and more recently in Iraqi bunkers overrun by Islamic militants.

Legally, the U.S. went to war against Saddam because he had done things such as committing genocide against the Kurds, Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs, and attacking four of his neighbors. He had tried to arrange the assassination of a former U.S. president, George H. W. Bush. He had paid bounties for suicide bombers on the West Bank and was harboring the worst of global terrorists. Saddam also offered refuge to at least one of the architects of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and violated U.N.-authorized no-fly zones.

A number of prominent columnists, Right and Left — from George Will, David Brooks, and William F. Buckley to Fareed Zakaria, David Ignatius, and Thomas Friedman — supported Saddam’s forcible removal. When his statue fell in 2003, most polls showed that over 70 percent of Americans agreed with the war.

What changed public opinion and caused radical about-faces among the war’s most ardent supporters were the subsequent postwar violence and insurgency between 2004 and 2007 and the concurrent domestic elections and rising antiwar movement. Thousands of American troops were killed or wounded in mostly failed efforts to stem the Sunni–Shiite savagery.

The 2007–08 surge engineered by General David Petraeus ended much of the violence. By Obama’s second year in office, American fatalities had been reduced to far below the monthly accident rate in the U.S. military. “An extraordinary achievement,” Obama said of the “stable” and “self-reliant” Iraq that he inherited — and left.

Prior to our invasion, the Kurds were a persecuted people who had been gassed, slaughtered, and robbed of all rights by Saddam. In contrast, today a semi-autonomous Kurdistan is a free-market, consensual society of tolerance that, along with Israel, is one of the few humane places in the Middle East.

In 2003, the New York Times estimated that Saddam Hussein had killed perhaps about 1 million of his own people. That translated into about 40,000 deaths for each year he led Iraq.

A Saddam-led Iraq over the last decade would not have been a peaceable place.

We can also imagine that Saddam would not have sat idly by the last decade as Pakistan and North Korea openly sold their nuclear expertise, and as rival Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear enrichment program.

Nor should we forget that the U.S. military decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq. Tens of thousands of foreign terrorists flocked to Anbar Province and there met their deaths. When Obama later declared that al-Qaeda was “on the run,” it was largely because it had been nearly obliterated in Iraq.

Launching a costly campaign to remove Saddam may or may not have been a wise move. But it is historically inaccurate to suggest that the Iraq War was cooked up by George W. Bush alone — or that it did not do enormous damage to al-Qaeda, bring salvation for the Kurds, and by 2009 provide a rare chance for the now-bickering Iraqis to make something out of what Saddam had tried to destroy.

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A Terminal Case of Frivolity

From Thomas Sowell:

People are arguing about what the United States got out of the deal that swapped five top level terrorist leaders for one American soldier who was, at best, absent from his post in a war zone. Soldiers who served in the same unit with him call him a deserter. The key to this deal, however, is less likely to be what the United States got out of the deal than it is about what Barack Obama got out of the deal. If nothing else, it instantly got the veterans’ hospitals scandals off the front pages of newspapers and pushed these scandals aside on television news programs.

It was a clear winner for Barack Obama. And that may be all that matters to Barack Obama.

People who are questioning the president’s competence seem not to want to believe that any President of the United States would knowingly damage this country’s interests.

One of the problems of many fundamentally decent people is that they find it hard to understand people who are not fundamentally decent, or whose moral compass points in a different direction from theirs.

Many people who are painfully disappointed with President Obama have no real reason to be. The man’s whole previous history, from childhood on, was shaped by a whole series of people, beginning with his mother, whose vision of America was very much like that of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose church Barack Obama belonged to for 20 long years.

Obama is not a stupid man. There is no way that he could have sat in that church all that time without knowing how Jeremiah Wright hated America, and how his vision of the world was one in which “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.”

Even if the Reverend Wright had been the only such person in Barack Obama’s life — and he was not — it should have been enough to keep him out of the White House.

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a good rule in a court of law, which has the power to deprive a defendant of liberty or life. But it is mindless and dangerous nonsense to apply that standard outside that context — especially when choosing a President of the United States, who holds in his hands the liberty and lives of millions of Americans.

People who are disappointed with Barack Obama have no right to be. It is they whom others have a right to be disappointed with. Instead of taking their role as citizens seriously, they chose to vote on the basis of racial symbolism, glib rhetoric and wishful thinking.

Moreover, many are already talking about choosing the next President of the United States on the basis of demographic symbolism — to have “the first woman president.” And if she is elected on that basis, will any criticism of what she does in the White House be denounced as based on anti-woman bias, as criticisms of President Obama have been repeatedly denounced as racism?

And what if we have the first Hispanic president or the first Jewish president? Will any criticism of their actions in the White House be silenced by accusations of prejudice?

We may yet become the first nation to die from a terminal case of frivolity. Other great nations in history have been threatened by barbarians at the gates. We may be the first to be threatened by self-indulgent silliness inside the gates.

As for Barack Obama, you cannot judge any President’s competence by the results of his policies, without first knowing what he was trying to achieve.

Many wise and decent people assume automatically that President Obama was trying to serve the interests of America. From that standpoint, he has failed abysmally, both at home and abroad. And that should legitimately call his competence into question.

But what if his vision of the world is one in which the wealth and power of those at the top, whether at home or internationally, are deeply resented, and have been throughout his life, under the tutelage of a whole series of resenters? And what if his goal is to redress that imbalance?

Who can say that he has failed, when the fundamental institutions of this country have been successfully and perhaps irretrievably undermined, and when the positions of America and its allies on the world stage have been similarly, and even more dangerously, undermined around the world?

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A Vital Distinction

As Jonah Goldberg explains, the distinction between public and private is vitally important:

I hold no brief for Donald Sterling. My storehouse of sympathy runs bare long before I get to billionaire bigots and loudmouths. But it’s worth pondering the fact that Sterling’s loudmouthery was in a private conversation (unlike, say, Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark which was made to a black reporter he just assumed he could speak freely to without being exposed). Mel Gibson’s damning remarks were made during a drunken rant. The Reverend Billy Graham, pretty much a moral hero and a great champion of religious tolerance in public life, said some awful things about Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon. Anthony Weiner, neither a hero nor a champion of much other than his own interests, never said anything bigoted, but he sent lewd pictures of himself to young women who were not his wife. Tiger Woods . . . well, you remember all that.

I’m reminded of a wonderful op-ed the (wonderful) late Leonard Garment wrote in 1999 as then-new transcripts of Richard Nixon’s taped conversations were being released. Garment recounted how Nixon appointed numerous Jews in his administration and then concluded:

Thus we must face the Nixon Paradox. His anti-Semitic outbursts in the private conversations found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions.

At this point in our politics we should find this juxtaposition less implausible than we once might have. President Clinton was impeached, partly for reasons having to do with the administration of justice, but largely because of his private actions. Yet the country, with unmistakable clarity, declared that his private failings were not to determine our judgment of his public character.

Those who consider this verdict reasonable should consider how much more forcefully its logic applies to the private conversations of public persons. The best expression I have found of this logic comes from Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose country under Communism learned some lessons about the consequences of trampling the distinction between public and private.

”In private,” Mr. Kundera wrote in an essay, ”a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language . . . makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public.”

Mr. Kundera argues that this difference is not a mere curiosity but a fundamental fact: ”That we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged . . . ”

Mr. Kundera worries about this obliviousness, as we should, because an understanding of the distinction between public and private speech is indispensable to a decent politics — one built upon respect for individual privacy, a fundamental ingredient of freedom. What is on the Nixon tapes is undeniably ugly. It is for us to decide, however, what effect this private talk should have on our evaluation of Nixon’s public life.

It says something about Sterling that you cannot offer the same defense of him. There is far more congruity between the public and private Sterlings than the public and private Nixons. Similarly, it’s interesting and even significant to note that Lyndon Johnson said some terrible things about blacks, but they hardly have any weight on the scales when put alongside his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.

One last point. A common expression goes something like “character is what you do when no one is watching,” though I always preferred “character is what you do when only God is watching.” Neither aphorism is entirely fitting since all of these instances involved at least one other person. But it’s worth noting and pondering the fact that in an era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, recording devices, big data trawling, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. the realm of what is truly private is shrinking by the hour and will likely continue to shrink in one way or another for the rest of our lives. Character may remain what we do when we think no one is watching — or listening or taking notes — but the likelihood no one is watching is increasingly remote. What that means for decent politics is anyone’s guess.

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It’s About Control

My father-in-law, born and raised in Communist Romania, always said that everything done by the Communists — while ostensibly for the people — was ultimately about control of the people. Walter Williams shows how the Communists’ ideological brethren here are doing the same:

Some statements and arguments are so asinine that you’d have to be an academic or a leftist to take them seriously. Take the accusation that Republicans and conservatives are conducting a war on women. Does that mean they’re waging war on their daughters, wives, mothers and other female members of their families? If so, do they abide by the Geneva Conventions’ bans on torture, or do they engage in enhanced interrogation and intimidation methods, such as waterboarding, with female family members? You might say that leftists don’t mean actual war. Then why do they say it?

What would you think of a white conservative mayor’s trying to defund charter schools where blacks are succeeding? While most of New York’s black students could not pass a citywide math proficiency exam, there was a charter school where 82 percent of its students passed. New York’s left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio, is trying to shut it down, and so far, I’ve heard not one peep from the Big Apple’s civil rights hustlers, including Al Sharpton and Charles Rangel. According to columnist Thomas Sowell, the attack on successful charter schools is happening in other cities, too (http://tinyurl.com/nxulxc).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently stated that we must revisit the laws that ban convicted felons from voting. Why? According to a recent study by two professors, Marc Meredith of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Morse of Stanford, published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (http://tinyurl.com/pgolu8x), three-fourths of America’s convicted murderers, rapists and thieves are Democrats. Many states restrict felons from voting; however, there’s a movement afoot to eliminate any restriction on their voting. If successful, we might see Democratic candidates campaigning in prisons, seeking the support of some of America’s worst people.

Decades ago, I warned my fellow Americans that the tobacco zealots’ agenda was not about the supposed health hazards of secondhand smoke. It was really about control. The fact that tobacco smoke is unpleasant gained them the support of most Americans. By the way, to reach its secondhand smoke conclusions, the Environmental Protection Agency employed statistical techniques that were grossly dishonest. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a Food and Drug Administration official whether his agency would accept pharmaceutical companies using similar statistical techniques in their drug approval procedures. He just looked at me.

Seeing as Americans are timid and compliant, why not dictate other aspects of our lives — such as the size of soda we may buy, as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried in New York? Former U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman John Webster said: “Right now, this anti-obesity campaign is in its infancy. … We want to turn people around and give them assistance in eating nutritious foods.” The city of Calabasas, Calif., adopted an ordinance that bans smoking in virtually all outdoor areas. The stated justification is not the desire to fight against secondhand smoke but the desire to protect children from bad influences — seeing adults smoking. Most Americans don’t know that years ago, if someone tried to stop a person from smoking on a beach or sidewalk or buying a 16-ounce cup of soda or tried to throw away his kid’s homemade lunch, it might have led to a severe beating. On a very famous radio talk show, I suggested to an anti-obesity busybody who was calling for laws to restrict restaurants’ serving sizes that he not be a coward and rely on government. He should just come up, I told him, and take the food he thought I shouldn’t have from my plate.

The late H.L. Mencken’s description of health care professionals in his day is just as appropriate today: “A certain section of medical opinion, in late years, has succumbed to the messianic delusion. Its spokesmen are not content to deal with the patients who come to them for advice; they conceive it to be their duty to force their advice upon everyone, including especially those who don’t want it. That duty is purely imaginary. It is born of vanity, not of public spirit. The impulse behind it is not altruism, but a mere yearning to run things.”

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