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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: December 2012

When Left and Right come together, it usually is quite revealing. The issue that binds them this time is the campaign to have the president continue the fight for Chuck Hagel to get the nomination as secretary of Defense.

First, a group of self-proclaimed foreign policy “realists,” including the usual suspects, have endorsed Hagel’s nomination. The group is best summarized by one of Hagel’s major supporters among the pundit class – Robert Wright of The Atlantic:

Hagel has now drawn support from liberals all across the foreign policy spectrum, from well left to center if not right of center: John Judis of The New Republic, Josh Marshall of TPM, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, Joe Klein of Time, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic (who, like Friedman, makes a pro-Israel argument for Hagel), etc. Hagel has also been embraced by many on the non-neocon right, as evinced not only by the politicos mentioned above, but by pundits ranging from paleocons to a bunch of libertarians. A few progressives are skeptical of Hagel because of his past conservative positions on issues with little bearing on foreign policy, but by and large this fight is between some neocons (plus a few reliable supporters) and everybody else.

Most importantly, the Washington Post ran a letter endorsing Hagel by the deans of the “realist” school: James L. Jones, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Frank Carlucci. Hagel, they wrote:

 … is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies.

You get the thrust: Hagel has widespread popular support among the foreign policy and media establishment. Therefore, the only ones contesting him are from the “Israel lobby,” led by the hated neocons, who are fighting a last-ditch battle to show their power against those who truly represent America’s national interest.

On the Left, the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan — in his usual hysterical tone — leads the charge against the neocon menace:

Because [William Kristol] operates on the premise that policy toward Greater Israel is not something that a president should have any serious control over. Policy in that respect is set in Congress aided and abetted by AIPAC and batshit crazy Christianist Zionists. Like the NRA, this lethal lobby will destroy any politician it can who stands in its way. It will also try to destroy the careers and reputations of any who criticize it. Nothing exemplifies this more clearly than the chilling, and repulsive headline in Kristol’s own magazine when launching this character assassination

One has come to expect this kind of talk; it avoids substance, and its authors engage in the very smear they accuse their opponents of carrying out.

The latest endorsement of Hagel should give the aforementioned some pause. It comes from none other than the paleo-conservative, isolationist, and anti-Israel zealot whose anti-Semitism is second to none, Pat Buchanan. In his column, Buchanan echoes all of the now familiar “realist” themes, but unlike the others — who try to distance Hagel from being crudely anti-Israel (indeed, they back him by making the argument his appointment would be better for Israel) — Buchanan wants Hagel precisely because he sees him as one who would stand firm against the Jewish nation.

Buchanan, like Walt and Mearsheimer, believes in the undue power of the insidious Israeli lobby, of which he says: “Its existence is the subject of books and countless articles,” and it always gets bills it supports passed — they are “whistled through” Congress whenever one comes up.

Hagel is opposed, Buchanan writes, because he does not “treat these [AIPAC] sacred texts with sufficient reverence,” and because Hagel “puts U.S. national interests first,” especially when “those interests clash with the policies of the Israeli government.”

One must understand, when reading these words, that Buchanan always believes that whatever Israel supports should be opposed by the United States.

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On Christmas Day, Tom Friedman gave his readers what may possibly be his worst columns ever (having written so many bad columns, this is of course a judgment call). Here he joins the less influential John B. Judis of The New Republic in defending the status of Chuck Hagel as the leading nominee for the position of secretary of Defense.

Like Judis, Friedman argues that it is precisely because Hagel’s views are not “mainstream” that he would be the perfect secretary of Defense. He is upset that Hagel has been “smeared as an Israel-hater at best and an anti-Semite at worst.” He buys the line of the Obama administration that Hagel is “committed to Israel’s survival” but is to be praised because he, like Friedman himself, knows what is best for Israel — a besieged nation trying to defend its right to exist in a world composed of implacable enemies. Thus, Friedman writes, Hagel is to be praised for arguing that favoring Israel’s survival does not mean “going along with Israel’s self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution.”

Let us pause to dissect the above paragraph. Israel, in Friedman’s eyes, is the nation that is doing all it can to stop a two-state solution.

This, of course, is his first major error. Prime Minister Netanyahu has reversed the course of previous Israeli leaders in publicly supporting that goal. What really irks Friedman, however, is Netanyahu’s clear-sighted realization that the Palestinian leadership has been consistently intransigent from 1948 on in proclaiming its lifelong opposition to any agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In the eyes of its leaders, from those of Fatah to the so-called worse extremists of Hamas, all of Israel is a settlement that must eventually return to Palestinian Arab control. A one-state solution, with an Arab majority eliminating a Jewish nation and creating a subordinate Jewish population.

As David Horovitz explains today in The Times of Israel:

Far from seeking to avoid talks with Abbas [another Friedman charge] Netanyahu has repeatedly shown a desire to re-engage — and … this is recognized everywhere from Amman to Washington. The problem isn’t Netanyahu, it’s Abbas …The PA president wants a state all right, but he doesn’t want to make peace with Israel — hence his material breach of the bilateral process and his scamper to endorsement by the UN General Assembly.

Horovitz acknowledges that the announcement of the new settlements in the E1 corridor is a “unilateral Israeli response” to Abbas’ policy, and that Israel needs to show “it does not accept the purported new ‘legitimacy’ of ‘Palestine’ and the consequent asserted international legal designation of the West Bank as occupied Palestinian territory — and will not be deterred from taking actions to underline its claims to that land.”

He notes, as does the prime minister’s office, that even in the left’s much heralded citation of Ehud Olmert’s 2008 map for Abbas of West Bank territory that Israel would retain — a map that supposedly was the most magnanimous offer by an Israeli prime minister to Abbas, and which the PA leader rejected — “Israel would retain” that portion of land for itself. As Horovitz writes: “Gaza and the West Bank are 50 miles apart, and that’s no bar to a two-state solution,” and in the E1 corridor, “overpasses, underpasses and bypasses can maintain Palestinian contiguity.”

Mr. Friedman should also take a look at Alan Dershowitz’s important column: “Hagel: The Wrong Man.” We must pause to note that Professor Dershowitz met with the president in the Oval Office before the election, and came out proclaiming the president’s commitment to Israel and to stopping a nuclear Iran — and publicly endorsed him. Now I wonder if he is having second thoughts about that decision, given that he is saying in effect that in supporting Hagel, Obama is making the wrong choice. He writes:

Were Chuck Hagel to be nominated as secretary of defense, the Iranian mullahs would interpret President Obama’s decision as a signal that the military option was now, effectively, off the table. It would encourage them to proceed with their development of nuclear weapons without fear of an attack from the United States. It would tell them that if they can endure the pain of sanctions and continue the charade of negotiations, they will ultimately be allowed to win the prize of a deliverable nuclear bomb.

Hagel’s nomination would also validate the fears of Israeli leaders who have never really believed that the United States would attack Iran’s nuclear program even if that were the only way to stop it. It would make an Israeli military attack more likely.

Hagel’s position, he argues, is “the exact opposite” of that which the president says is his announced policy. Dershowitz reasonably asserts that putting a man in the Cabinet as head of the Defense Department who is against the proclaimed administration policy is a disaster in the making. (Remember: Dershowitz is taking Obama at face value, unlike many of this column’s readers, who believe the president does not actually support the kind of policy favored by Alan Dershowitz.)

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A little over a week ago, the Obama administration floated the name of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense. Obviously, his name was publicly put out to give the administration forewarning of what, if any, opposition they might receive to the possibility. It would be but a matter of days before both conservatives and centrist Democrats made known their serious opposition to Hagel’s appointment to such a major post.

Opposition began with a searing column by Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. Stephens noted that like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Hagel is among those who rant about the undue influence of what Hagel called “the Jewish lobby,” which he went on to say “intimidates a lot of people up here.” As Stephens writes, the word “intimidates” has the effect of ascribing “to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear.”

Hagel also made other similar remarks that indicated the nature of how he thinks. He told Aaron David Miller in 2006 “I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator” as if consideration of the needs of our greatest ally in the Middle East is somehow contrary to his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. Stephens writes:

Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty. Nobody questions Mr. Hagel’s loyalty. He is only making those assertions to question the loyalty of others.

Still, Mr. Hagel managed to say “I support Israel.” This is the sort of thing one often hears from people who treat Israel as the Mideast equivalent of a neighborhood drunk who, for his own good, needs to be put in the clink to sober him up.

On other issues pertinent to the Middle East, Hagel took positions contrary to the interests of our own country. In 2006 he called Israel’s war against Hezbollah “the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon.” He opposed calling Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and urged Obama to support “direct, unconditional” talks with Iran. In 2009 he urged direct talks as well with Hamas. Then, with John Kerry, he wrote an op-ed in 2008 urging talks with Syria — a double-standard second to none. For these rogue states: no preconditions; for Israel: toughness and opposition.

Bret Stephens concludes by writing that if Obama appoints Hagel, it would serve to confirm his argument that for those who wish to see the truth, “Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel.”

Some, like Mayor Ed Koch, who supported Obama and believed the president’s assurances that he is a supporter of Israel, immediately came out in opposition to a potential Hagel appointment. Speaking to The Algemeiner newspaper, Koch said:

“I believe it would be a terrible appointment,” he said, “and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.”

Explaining his opposition to the appointment, which is looking increasingly likely to materialize, Koch said that it would lead Arab states to believe that President Obama was seeking to create distance between his administration and Israel.

“Such an appointment would give great comfort to the Arab world that would think that President Obama is seeking to put space between Israel and his administration,” Koch said, “I hope he doesn’t go forward with that appointment.”

Koch once again was a lonely voice among Democrats, most of whom have chosen to remain silent.

Writing at The Daily Beast, Eli Lake was told by an anonymous pro-Israel advocate on the hill that “The pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.” And from Josh Block, formerly AIPAC’s communications director and now CEO of The Israel Project,

While in the Senate, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, refused to call on the E.U. to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, and consistently voted against sanctions on Iran for their illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. It is a matter of fact that his record on these issues puts him well outside the mainstream Democratic and Republican consensus.

Block’s point is most important. Hagel’s position — and this cannot be stressed too much — is way out of line with sensible mainstream views on the nature of the Iranian regime, terrorism, and how the United States must deal with the problem. Therefore, it is important to look at who is supporting Hagel, and their reasons for doing so. Sometimes, the reasons why others support Hagel are most revealing.

First, let us turn to the would-be pro-Israel journalist Peter Beinart, who is most well-known for harsh criticism of Israel’s defense policies, of the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and for his taking positions that are an anathema to most of the Israeli electorate. Unlike Stephens, Caroline Glick, Josh Block and Ed Koch, all of whom make a strong case against a Hagel appointment, Beinart is completely in favor of it.

Beinart, who in the past favored the Cold War liberalism and tough policies of the Truman administration, now faults Truman for taking the US on the road to the war in Vietnam, and contrasts Dwight Eisenhower favorably with Truman, for supposedly favoring less defense spending and criticizing the “military-industrial complex.” Hagel, he argues, would move us away from those who followed Truman, like George W. Bush, who got us into war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and moved us closer- — according to Beinart — to war with Iran. He writes:

Hagel’s assumption is the same: that since economic strength forms the foundation of national security, slashing the Pentagon budget, and thus reducing the debt, may actually make America stronger. “The Defense Department,” Hagel has argued, “has been bloated” and must “be pared down.” Hawks warn that cutting defense will make America more vulnerable to foreign threats. But Hagel, like Eisenhower, understands that a nation cannot meaningfully define its threats without first defining its interests. That means determining which corners of the globe really matter to the United States, and which don’t, and then figuring out how much defense spending you need. “We have not had any real strategic thinking in this country for years and years and years—strategic thinking in what are our interests,” Hagel told the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s right, and just asking the question would be a big shift from the Bush era.

Indeed, he argues that had Hagel been in Obama’s first administration, the president might not have fought the Taliban in Afghanistan and agreed to a surge which, temporarily at least, forced the terrorists to retreat:

Had Hagel been around to “speak for those ghosts [of Vietnam],” I’m not sure the Obama administration would have sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in a “surge” that, as Bob Woodward has shown, few in the White House believed could succeed. Hagel has also been more reluctant than Obama to support, even hypothetically, military action against Iran. Like Eisenhower, who scorned the idea that any war, once unleashed, could be controlled, Hagel reviles the bloodless, almost casual, way in which commentators discuss “air strikes” against Iran. Hagel doesn’t talk about air strikes; he talks about war.

To put it differently, Beinart favors Hagel because he sees him as someone like himself: a former hawk who now favors any option based on peace, even if it means that our opponents would advance and make the world a less safe place.

Another major defender of Hagel is none other than Andrew Sullivan, Beinart’s colleague at Newsweek/The Daily Beast. To Sullivan, serious opponents are only making “vile insinuations” that come from “the Greater Israel Lobby” that wants only to “to kill a nomination because a US Senator actually believe his job is to care first about the security and interests of the US, not Greater Israel; the reflexive equation of opposition to the Netanyahu administration or the settlements or the Gaza wars with pure bigotry.” He concludes his vitriolic screed with these words:

But for utopian fanatics, if casually calling honorable public servants anti-Semites helps them retain their dream of a Greater Israel, so be it. Which is why the president, if indeed he is contemplating an appointment for the Nebraska Republican, should not listen to the AIPAC thugs. He should what is right for this country, and not any other’s.

Rather than even try to answer the arguments of people like Josh Block who cite chapter and verse of Hagel’s anti-mainstream positions, he uses ad hominem words such as “AIPAC thugs” and claims Hagel’s opponents are guilty of dual loyalty — to Israel, and perhaps not even to the United States at all. In Sullivan’s eyes, Hagel’s opponents want only a “Greater Israel” and war with Iran, since they are “utopian fanatics.” Does Sullivan really think the foolish belief that the tyrants of Syria, Iran, and the Islamists of Hezbollah and Hamas (whom Hagel seems to think are open to reason) is a valid and correct view? Is he also not worried at all about what Iran might do with a nuclear weapon?

Finally, Hagel’s other most recent supporter is the liberal/leftist journalist John B. Judis, writing today at The New Republic. Judis, echoing Hagel and his supporters, sees the opposition coming exclusively from what he obviously sees as nefarious neo-conservative and Jewish interests. He writes:

The stories of Hagel’s looming nomination have aroused intense opposition–but almost exclusively from individuals and organizations that back Israel’s right-wing government and find Hagel’s views on Israel repellent.

These critics include the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is funded by gambling mogul and greater-Israel proponent Sheldon Adelson; the Zionist Organization of America, which also opposes a two-state solution; and a sundry collection of fellow travellers, (sic) including the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy,” one Republican aide told The Weekly Standard. “This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.”

Unlike Josh Block, who correctly shows that Hagel is out of the mainstream (Block is a centrist Democrat). Judis writes that Hagel’s foreign policy views, “including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination.”

Note first his description of AIPAC as an Israeli lobby, rather than a group made up of Americans, including many Democrats, who support a strong Israel and an American-Israeli friendship. It is NOT an “Israeli lobby.”  Note also his concentration on Adelson and the fringe ZOA, rather than mainstream Zionists, and his description of those who disagree with him as “fellow travelers” of Israel — a term that somehow impugns their criticism.

Judis then notes that Hagel asked for a seat on a non-existent “Foreign Policy Committee,” by which he probably means the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Judis likes Hagel’s preference for diplomacy, rather than war, and praises him for turning against the war in Iraq and refusing to favor “a phantom victory by escalation.” If Judis is referring to the surge, I hope that he is aware that it worked, and turned the tide.  Referring to him as a “principled realist” akin to Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, he argues that Hagel favors the U.S. knowing “the limits of its power to unilaterally effect  (sic) events, whether in Syria or Iran.”

Of course, Judis also praises Hagel for favoring the flawed “peace process” in the Middle East, as well as his belief  that the US should engage in direct talks with Iran. In other words, Judis’s reasons for favoring Hagel would lead to more disasters for the U.S. in the world. He praises Hagel for seeking not the ouster of Hamas, but that they modify their behavior. He agrees with Hagel that the would-be “moderate elements” in Hamas should prevail, and that the US should talk to them and “test its behavior.” What, I ask, are the moderate elements in a group whose raison d’etre is to destroy Israel and create an Islamic state in its place? No wonder he agrees with those who call for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Then Judis presents his worst argument — one that is almost impossible to believe:

When America has refused to talk to adversaries, or to adversaries of its allies, it has courted disaster. That was certainly the case with the American decision not to recognize China after the Chinese revolution. If the United States had had relations with China in 1950, the Korean War might not have occurred, or might have been much shorter.

As one of my friends asked when he called this to my attention, “What is John Judis smoking?”

Is Judis implying that had we recognized Communist China in 1950, Kim Il-Sung would not have invaded North Korea? He obviously does not know, or has forgotten, that we had diplomatic relations with Stalin’s Soviet Union. And Stalin gave Kim the go-ahead to invade North Korea, having previously refused his requests to do so. After Dean Acheson had famously testified that North Korea was outside the U.S. defense perimeter, Stalin believed that the Communist bloc would face no opposition to a North Korean unification of Korea by force, and that he would be able to easily score a major victory for world Communism.

Finally, Judis is so sure of AIPAC’s power that he believes many in Congress vote for support to Israel because they are fearful of it, and not because of conviction. Evidently, he is not aware of the many polls that show overwhelming US support for Israel among our citizens, and that members of Congress reflect their constituents’ views. Moreover, many of Israel’s strongest supporters are Christians, and many Jews, particularly in New York and Florida, are the most critical of Israel and the least supportive of it. Yet he refers to AIPAC as a “Jewish organization.”

One can know a lot about Hagel’s worthiness by looking at the views of those who support him, and those who oppose him. Fortunately, the argument of writers like Beinart, Sullivan and Judis, who want to argue that only hard-line neo-cons oppose Hagel’s appointment, was torn apart when The Washington Post,  a liberal establishment paper, editorially joined the opponents of a Hagel appointment. The editors wrote:

FORMER SENATOR Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama is reportedly considering for defense secretary, is a Republican who would offer a veneer of bipartisanship to the national security team. He would not, however, move it toward the center, which is the usual role of such opposite-party nominees. On the contrary: Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him….

Mr. Hagel was similarly isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously.

Mr. Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that “the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.” The former senator from Nebraska signed on to an op-edin The Post this September that endorsed “keeping all options on the table” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But Mr. Hagel has elsewhere expressed strong skepticism about the use of force.

We share that skepticism — but we also understand that, during the next year or two, Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. He will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement such a decision. …

Mr. Hagel is an honorable man who served the country with distinction as a soldier in Vietnam and who was respected by his fellow senators. But Mr. Obama could make a better choice for defense secretary.

Now, the opposition to Hagel is bi-partisan, and those supporting his appointment with spurious arguments reflect only their own preference for being tough only with Israel and for not wanting to assert American power against our own very real enemies abroad.

 

What Can We Do to Prevent Future Newtowns?

December 17th, 2012 - 11:13 am

Like everyone else trying to make sense of the tragedy at Newtown, Ct., I have been reading all that has appeared on the subject. The massacre of young school children is so horrendous, that it has sparked a debate about what can be done, and has forced some people to reconsider their own previous opinions.

Here, in my opinion, are some of the must articles to consider reading about what, if anything, can be done to prevent further such occurrences:

1: Jeffrey Goldberg’s path breaking article in The Atlantic. As Goldberg concludes:

A balanced approach to gun control in the United States would require the warring sides to agree on several contentious issues. Conservative gun-rights advocates should acknowledge that if more states had stringent universal background checks—or if a federal law put these in place—more guns would be kept out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally unstable. They should also acknowledge that requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows would not represent a threat to the Constitution. “The NRA position on this is a fiction,” says Dan Gross, the head of the Brady Campaign. “Universal background checks are not an infringement on our Second Amendment rights. This is black-helicopter stuff.” Gross believes that closing the gun-show loophole would be both extremely effective and a politically moderate and achievable goal. The gun lobby must also agree that concealed-carry permits should be granted only to people who pass rigorous criminal checks, as well as thorough training-and-safety courses.

Anti-gun advocates, meanwhile, should acknowledge that gun-control legislation is not the only answer to gun violence. Responsible gun ownership is also an answer. An enormous number of Americans believe this to be the case, and gun-control advocates do themselves no favors when they demonize gun owners, and advocates of armed self-defense, as backwoods barbarians. Liberals sometimes make the mistake of anthropomorphizing guns, ascribing to them moral characteristics they do not possess. Guns can be used to do evil, but guns can also be used to do good. Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder, Jonathan Rauch launched a national movement when he wrote an article for Salon arguing that gay people should arm themselves against violent bigots. Pink Pistol clubs sprang up across America, in which gays and lesbians learn to use firearms in self-defense. Other vulnerable groups have also taken to the idea of concealed carry: in Texas, African American women represent the largest percentage increase of concealed-carry permit seekers since 2000.

2. Goldberg’s thoughts today:

He writes: 

People should have the ability to defend themselves. Mass shootings take many lives in part because no one is firing back at the shooters. The shooters in recent massacres have had many minutes to complete their evil work, while their victims cower under desks or in closets. One response to the tragic reality that we are a gun-saturated country is to understand that law-abiding, well-trained, non-criminal, wholly sane citizens who are screened by the government have a role to play in their own self-defense, and in the defense of others (read my print article to see how one armed school administrator stopped a mass shooting in Pearl Mississippi). I don’t know anything more than anyone else about the shooting in Connecticut at the moment, but it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back.

3. The reconsiderations of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an NRA member who received the organization’s endorsement in his campaign for election to the Senate, and those of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who was supported by the NRA when he was in Congress:

Manchin says:

I just came with my family from deer hunting. I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common-sense discussion and move in a reasonable way. I want to call all our friends in the NRA, sit down and have this discussion. Bring them into it. They have to be at the table. We all have to.

He adds the following:

I don’t know anyone in the hunting or sporting arena that goes out with an  assault rifle,” he said. “I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in the clip  to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.

Scarborough put it this way:

It’s not all about guns, or all about violent movies and videogames. But we must no longer allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And we must not excuse total inaction by arguing that no single action can solve the problem and save our children.

I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA’s highest ratings over 4 terms in Congress. I saw the debate over guns as a powerful, symbolic struggle between individual rights and government control. In the years after Waco and Ruby Ridge, the symbolism of that debate seemed even more powerful to my colleagues and me.

But the symbols of that ideological struggle have since been shattered by the harvest sown from violent, mind-numbing video games and gruesome Hollywood movies that dangerously desensitizes those who struggle with mental health challenges. Add military-styled weapons and high capacity magazines to that equation and tragedy can never be too far behind.

 He went on to say that he was “daring to question my long-held beliefs,” and to add that “I have always taken a libertarian’s approach to Hollywood’s 1st Amendment rights and gun collectors’ 2nd Amendment rights. I stood by those libertarian beliefs after Columbine, Aurora and Arizona. Those young men who slaughtered innocents were crazy, after all, and they would have found another way to kill their victims if their guns of choice were not available. But last Friday a chilling thought crossed my mind as I saw the Times Square ticker over ABC spit out the news of yet another tragic shooting in yet another tortured town by yet another twisted son of that community.” Hence, he concluded, “our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-styled high-caliber semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.”

4. The issue of the culture is raised by David Frum at The Daily Beast. Frum argues that rather than a campaign for gun control, which he doubts will work, the nation needs a campaign “led from outside the political system, by people who have suffered loss and grief from gun violence. Only that way can the campaign avoid being held hostage by the usual conflict of parties — Democrats who fear that gun control will lose them rural congressional districts; Republicans who exaggerate for partisan gain exactly what gun control would mean.”

Gun control should no more mean the abolition of guns than Mothers Against Drunk Driving abolished the car. Guns are part of the cherished American culture of the outdoors. In many parts of the country, a deer rifle literally puts meat on the table.

In other parts, a revolver in the bedroom dresser drawer is the frightened spouse’s last defense against an abusive partner, or the gay urban homesteader’s final protection against violent bigots. Guns can be souvenirs of heroic moments on faraway battlefields, mementoes of national history, or art objects of great beauty.”

 Frum adds that “gun ownership is one of the freedoms specifically cited in the Constitution. Responsible gun owners have a right to their guns. The challenge for the grass-roots gun-safety movement of the future is to focus on the danger posed by irresponsible owners. The goal should be less to ban particular classes of weapons — such a goal puts the law in a race against technology, a race the law will likely lose — and more to change the rules defining who may keep a gun.” He writes the following:

 Prospective gun owners should be required to take serious training and pass a safety exam before qualifying for a license. They should be screened for mental illness and histories of violence, very much including domestic violence. They should be required to buy insurance against the harm done by wrongful use of their weapons, and if that insurance proves expensive — well, too bad. People apprehended in possession of an unlicensed weapon should face severe sanctions.

 5. My own thoughts:

 Of course, there is the critical issue of mental health. Evidently, Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun a few days earlier, and was turned away by the gun shop owner. Why his mother did not put her own guns under lock and key, in a place not accessible to her son, will forever remain an unknown. Evidently, she knew of her son’s severe mental problems, and had even warned a baby-sitter to be careful around him.

 I am not so sure that a ban on semi-automatic weapons would not work. In Australia, after a similar shooting some years ago, a ban was introduced, and the results showed a great decline in such horrendous attacks, as well as scores of Australian citizens handing in military style weapons to a government hand-back program. If Joe Manchin, a hunter and NRA stalwart, can reevaluate the sensibility of refusing to even consider such a ban, others can as well. The NRA’s silence on the issue cannot go on, and their spokesmen should come forth with a willingness to engage in an honest dialogue, and not with simple platitudes to be repeated endlessly after every such massacre.

 Yesterday, outgoing Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman called for a national commission to talk about options, without anything being off the table. This is the least we can do, and that conversation and commission cannot and should not be put off for long.

Update:

Some critics have pointed out to me an article from The Washington Examiner, by Timothy P. Carney. He points to the fact that legally and more importantly, technically, the AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle or gun. Read his article yourself. He argues that The New York Times article on this issue is completely wrong. He writes:

The Times article implies that the “assault weapons ban,” which banned the AR-15, would ban “assault rifles.” But assault rifles, which are automatic, are already banned. Again, the Times cites these facts only as an opinion “argued” by “Defenders of the firearm.” So yes. Let’s have a discussion on firearms. It may be that some restrictions can make us safer without unduly infringing on liberty. But those distinctions probably don’t involve terms like “assault weapons” and “semiautomatic.”

Even if Carney is correct, in my eyes, this does not mitigate the point made by Joe Scarborough and by Joe Manchin.  These are still “military-style” weapons that allow shooters to load and shoot more easily than other guns, and do great damage.

The second article I neglected to point to is in Tablet Magazine today, by Liel Liebowitz. He addresses the question of why Israel, despite an armed citizenry, has no Newtowns. He writes:

 Go to any shooting range in Israel, as a soldier or a civilian, and the instructor is likely to talk about responsibility even before he or she begin to cover the basics of shooting. Those of us who are passionate about firearms should pursue the same path. I was dismayed to observe the National Rifle Association, an organization to which I belong, remain silent in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre; any organization that takes gun ownership seriously should dedicate itself not only to rights but to duties as well and provide its members with the resources to teach themselves and their children the same lessons my father taught me. The NRA should have been the first to vehemently condemn the shooting. Then they should have used the plethora of platforms at their disposal—including three magazines and a robust presence on social media—to assert the values that unite the many of us who are responsible and mature gun owners and who spend just as much time thinking about a gun’s tremendous potential for destruction as they do thinking about its muzzle velocity.

He agrees that gun control is not an answer; but he too, an NRA member, is dismayed at the organization’s inability to grasp why this attack is a turning-point on the gun issue.

 

 

 

 

 

As the Obama administration does little to free Alan Gross from imprisonment in Cuba, and at the same time acts to make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel there, we tend to forget the truth about the Castro brothers’ prison island. Our media does little to report about conditions there, about the state of their civil society, and about the continuing repression of its citizens by the Communist authorities.

Filling the gap is a bold and truthful report from an unexpected source: al-Jazeera.

Yes, that al-Jazeera — their reporters took dangerous steps to alert their audience to the truth about the Communist regime. In our country, had it chosen to do so, 60 Minutes might have been the outlet for this kind of brave investigative reporting. The last time it reported on Cuba, however, it was the usual kind of soft story carried out with the cooperation of Cuban government authorities. No one, it seems, loves Fidel and Raul Castro more than our American TV correspondents, who from Barbara Walters on down would do anything to gain the adoration and respect of our own hemisphere’s left-wing tyrants.

You must watch the amazing video linked above before reading further. “What is it like,” their reporter asks, “to live in such a pervasive culture of surveillance and fear?” To answer that question, the network sent a journalist from their program People and Power to the island. In order to protect his ability to gain access later, they did not give his name or show him on camera, something I suspect any U.S. journalist who wants recognition would agree to as a condition of an assignment.

He worked with independent Cuban journalist Ivan Hernandez — who is now in hiding, and the two prepared a video that would document how the state security forces carry out repression of the civilian populace. In 2003, Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime of publishing what the regime called “false information.” Hernandez was put in a high-security prison, isolated from other prisoners, and deprived of contact with anyone except his guards. The “state secrets” he wrote about? Simply the truth about the tough conditions in which average Cubans live.

In 2011, he was set free as a gesture of good will towards Pope Benedict, who was coming to visit Cuba in 2012. (The pope refused, in return, to pay heed to the dissidents’ plea that he meet with them during his visit.)

His spirit undaunted, Hernandez willingly worked with al-Jazeera despite the assumed risk of future imprisonment. The report continued:

To Fidel Castro, Ivan is a “counter-revolutionary” working for the American right-wing Cuban lobby. In reality, Ivan is just an independent freelance journalist, albeit one with a very critical view of the Cuban Revolution. … The released prisoners were given the option of leaving the island. Most of them did. But not Ivan. “This is my country,” he told me when I asked him about his decision. “Why would I leave? This is my calling, my mission — to tell the truth. Life is terrible here. There’s a U.S. blockade against Cuba, and inside Cuba there’s a blockade of the government against the people.”

One out of every five Cubans, Ivan told the network, is most likely a police informer — something undoubtedly developed from the days in which East Germany’s STASI was brought to Cuba to train the island’s security forces. To avoid their suspicion, they decided to film with tiny mini-cameras that would escape detection. They gave human rights activists their own cameras in order to film a daily diary of their lives. In addition, they set up safe houses in which to conduct interviews.

They succeeded in doing five interviews without detection, until they filmed Antonio Rodiles, a 40-year-old man with a degree in physics who returned to Cuba voluntarily after living abroad in order to do his part to open up the regime. Rodiles set up a group called SATS, an organization of artists, intellectuals, and professionals who want what he calls “a better reality.”

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Last week, a book review appeared in the Wall Street Journal by South African journalist Rian Malan, a man from the Afrikaner family who ran the apartheid regime but broke with them and became an opponent of apartheid. Still, he was a journalist of integrity who did not hesitate to report on and to write about the dark side of the African liberation movement.

His first book, My Traitor’s Heart, was an international bestseller in which Malan traced out his return from exile as he sought to learn the truth about his racist ancestors, as well as about the liberation movement that arose in response to the brutal apartheid regime. His new book, just out, is composed of a series of essays about South Africa today, including his investigation of the origins of the hit song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” made famous most recently by the hit play and film The Lion King.

In his book review, Malan reports on what to my knowledge is a little-known fact about Nelson Mandela, the first president of the post-apartheid South Africa and the titular leader of the African National Congress, which he became the symbol of during his many years of imprisonment on Robben Island.

Mr. Malan refers to the fact that all the contemporary black South African leaders, from Mandela on, have sung the praises of leftist dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and among other things have been vigorous opponents of Israel. Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, they all depict Israel, as Tutu recently put it, as a state even worse than apartheid South Africa. Malan writes, commenting on how liberal journalists have dealt with this:

Mr. Foster finds it “strange” that the leader of a noble liberation movement should side with a nasty dictator. Well, yes. American liberals have always viewed the ANC as an army of hymn-singing moderates, striving for democracy in a Western sense. Readers of Foreign Affairs in the 1980s will recall Thomas Karis’s campaigns against troglodytes who claimed that the ANC was communist-dominated. The New York Times’s Joseph Lelyveld took a similar line in his reporting, then offered readers of “Move Your Shadow” (his Pulitzer-winning 1986 book about apartheid) several witty caricatures of seemingly demented anti-Communists who cast South Africa as a Cold War battlefield. At the time, it was fashionable to laugh at such people. But I am not laughing anymore.

Why is Malan at this late date looking at this issue again, years after the Cold War’s end? The answer comes from reading one of the books he reviews, Stephen Ellis’s External Mission. What he found is the following:

“External Mission” begins by annihilating conventional understandings of the circumstances surrounding the ANC’s 1961 declaration of war on apartheid. According to Mr. Ellis, all critical decisions were actually taken by the South African Communist Party (SACP), which sought support from Moscow and Beijing and then “bounced” the ANC into following its lead. Since white and Indian Communists couldn’t join the racially exclusive ANC, much of this bouncing was done by a charismatic black lawyer who was secretly a member of both organizations: Nelson Mandela. Indeed, Mr. Ellis goes so far as to report that Mr. Mandela was almost certainly a member, at least for a time, of the SACP’s central committee. (emphasis added)

As Mr. Ellis tells it, Mr. Mandela and those around him were intoxicated by the ease of Fidel Castro’s victory in Cuba and imagined a similar outcome for their own military venture. They sidelined ANC President Albert Luthuli, who was opposed to violence, and launched an amateurish bombing campaign. Within two years, they were all in prison or in exile.

Mr. Mandela’s membership of a militantly pro-Soviet movement was unlikely to win friends in the free world. More could be gained by portraying him as a black liberal, and Mr. Mandela and his lawyers crafted a masterful speech for Mr. Mandela to deliver from the dock during his 1964 trial for treason.

“The ideological creed of the ANC is African nationalism,” he said. “It is true that there has been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But cooperation in this case is merely proof of a common goal — the removal of white supremacy.” Mr. Mandela went on to describe himself as a democrat in the classic Western sense, an admirer of the British and American systems of governance. “Africans just want a share in the whole of South Africa,” he concluded. “Above all, we want equal political rights. … It is an ideal I hope to live for. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

If Mr. Ellis is correct, Nelson Mandela was pulling wool over the eyes of the West. The SACP advocated not “equal political rights” but the establishment of what SACP theoretician Joe Slovo called a “vigorous dictatorship” in the Soviet style, with Slovo himself as Lenin. Comrade Slovo, a white man, dreamed of becoming black South Africa’s supreme leader after the Marxist takeover. His day never came. The Boers rumbled his bomb plot, and Mr. Slovo fled to London. His followers, the ANC’s rank and file, were consigned to military camps in Tanzania and later, Angola.

The bombshell, of course, is the news that Mandela himself was not only a Communist Party member, but a member of its central committee as well.

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