Popular Posts

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Prayer

It has been a wonderful Memorial Day weekend for my family, and I am grateful for that. I hope it has been a comforting weekend for you who might be reading this. But I also want to demonstrate solidarity with all those for whom Memorial Day is a time of renewed sorrow and painful reflection. In that spirit, I offer this prayer for your consideration. I looked at quite a few reflections and found this to express the prayer of my heart most clearly. Especially on my heart are those soldiers with, as the prayer says, "minds sickened by the sight and sounds of war."

Almighty God,
In whom we live, love, and have our being,

We take time today to uplift the heavy hearts 

Of those for whom Memorial Day 

Is more than a mere diversion, 

But is, instead, a painful time of reflection, lamentation 

And enduring bereavement.
This day we remember with compassion

Your children who have lost their lives to war;

Incline us to honor their memory, dear Lord, 

With a sincere pledge to seek peace

And nonviolent solutions to world conflict.
We pray for the safety of those entering military service,

And succor for the many returning from combat 

With wounded bodies,

Or minds

Sickened by the sight and sounds of war.
Our prayers also extend, Great Comforter, 

To those who still wait and pray

Day by anxious day

For that precious moment of reunion

With a distant family member, friend, or loved one.
And to others – whose reunion has been sorrowfully delayed

Until that Heavenly homecoming with Christ

In the fullness of time – 

We offer the gentle assurance 

Of your promise to all believers,

“Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Imperial Presidency Meets Legislative Resistance (FINALLY)

A necessary factor in the extraordinary growth of the Imperial Presidency over the last 60 years has been a compliant Legislative Branch. With the exception of the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, Congress has provided weak resistance at best and active complicity at worst to the ever-expanding powers of the Executive Branch. Could this trend be changing? Could the budget crisis combined with a war-weary public lead an awakened Congress to reassert its constitutional powers? Three stories this week show that the Legislative Branch is finally starting to push back against Executive overreach.
In each case, President Obama has faced resistance from both parties.


The president’s speech on the Middle East and Israeli/Palestinian Peace talks, which I supported, provided the most dramatic instance of congressional resistance. There was, of course, the spectacle of both houses of Congress giving Prime Minister Netanyahu, fresh off of his public rebuke of Obama, more standing ovations than the president received at his State of the Union. In addition, the president received pointed criticism from his own party, including the dressing down that Senate Majority Leader Reid gave to the president at the AIPAC conference.


While the New York Times is reporting that “President Obama has subtly shifted Washington’s public explanation of its goals in Libya, declaring now that he wants to assure the Libyan people are 'finally free of 40 years of tyranny' at the hands of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, after first stating he wanted to protect civilians from massacres.”, one of the leading voices in foreign policy among Democrats, Senator Jim Webb, is asking hard questions about the president’s decision making in Libya.
 “We still have not severed diplomatic relations with the Gadhafi government against which we are participating in the use of military force...I find that extremely odd. The second concern that I have is with respect to the precedent for the unilateral decision by a president of the United States to use force in an environment where, to summarize, we were not under attack, we were not under a threat of an attack, we were not implementing a treaty, we were not rescuing American citizens, we were not responding directly to an incident…

I find it really troubling--particularly now two months later--that a unilateral decision by a president of the United States in an environment where these other factors were not present could set a very disturbing precedent for how decisions are made for the use of force.”


A significant vote took place Thursday in the House where an amendment “that would have required the Obama administration to provide a plan and time frame for an accelerated draw down of military operations in Afghanistan” fell just short of passage, 215-204.

This quote from the Daily Kos nails the signficance of this vote: "It would have been a shocker if it had passed. But with 26 Republicans joining all but eight Democrats…it's clear that Congress is growing ever more fed-up with U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan."

Politico expands on this story with news of growing pressure from House Democrats, including some moderates, on President Obama to accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In all of these cases, President Obama would do well to recall Senator Obama, who once said:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation…History has shown us time and again…that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

While all of this Legislative Branch resistance was sorely missing under President Bush, it is good to see it nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Same sex marriage and political choices

A reader wrote to me recently asking “As a professing 'Christian' you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Defending Obama, Really? What kind of Christian defends the Same Sex Marriage President?”

Without boring you with the details of my own views about gay marriage, I just want to say that I don’t see how even those who are sure that same sex marriage is against God’s will can feel like our political choices should be determined by this one issue when the president and CEO of Focus on the Family is saying this:

"We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that," - Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family.

In other words, even if I accept the over the top description of Obama as the “same sex marriage president” (which I don't), and I allow a narrow understanding of what a Christian must believe about same sex marriage (which I don't), why would I have to allow my political choices to be determined by an issue that even a conservative culture warrior believes is “probably lost”, not because of Obama’s decision to have the Justice Department stop arguing for the Defense of Marriage Act but because of broad cultural and demographic changes beyond the scope of national politics to dent?

Netanyahu's Nonsense

I would encourage anybody committed to the idea that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a credible critic of Obama’s speech to meditate deeply upon this statement issued not by the New York Times or the ACLU, but by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the long ago day, November 11, 2010:

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Clinton had a good discussion today, with a friendly and productive exchange of views on both sides. Secretary Clinton reiterated the United States' unshakable commitment to Israel's security and to peace in the region.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that "the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.

The discussions between the Prime Minister and the Secretary focused on creating the conditions for the resumption of direct negotiations aimed at producing a two-state solution. Their teams will work closely together in the coming days toward that end. (emphasis added)

Perhaps something has happened that I missed in the six months since that statement, but I have a hard time understanding how the person whose government released that statement can be lecturing, hectoring, embarrassing, attacking and otherwise seeking to humiliate the President of the United States for stating a plan exactly like what Secretary Clinton is quoted as stating and that Netanyahu’s government agreed would “be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.”

Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician of extraordinary skill and audacity. It is what has allowed him to remain relevant after a series of scandals and political defeats that would have ended the careers of lesser politicians. But even for a politician, this type of calculated deception and overreaction is stunning. He gives credence to a principle for peace and then six months later accuses the leader of Israel’s most trusted ally of endangering the very survival of Israel for saying the exact same thing. The question that so many are throwing at President Obama deserves to be thrown at Netanyahu: Is this man a reliable partner for peace?

Monday, May 23, 2011

American Exceptionalism in a progressive key

I had a chance to hear most of the president's speech in Dublin, Ireland on the way home from Home Depot and while folding laundry and three things come to mind.

1. I can't speak for all progressives, but I and the ones that I know believe in a form of American exceptionalism but the stories we tell and the values we extol in our telling of the story are different than what many conservatives mean by it. This speech can be seen as relishing in the progressive vision of American exceptionalism

2. The president remains an extraordinary stump speaker when in front of large crowds and his riff on birtherism is disarming and potent. He is going to be a tough opponent for whoever emerges in 2012 from Republicans challenge him.

3. It is good in the midst of all our arguments and debates and disagreements to revel once in a while in our love of patria---place, home, story, belonging. This speech does that with a good Irish twist.

Backlash Against Netanyahu

The foreign policy center in America is rightly criticizing Netanyahu’s misguided reaction to Obama and the increased diplomatic isolation of Israel that is will create worldwide.

Last week, Obama threw Netanyahu a lifeline. He outlined the parameters that should guide Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the 1967 border, plus land swaps. Obama’s strategy was clear: He promised to veto the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the U.N. Security Council, but also hoped that by getting the Israeli government to endorse a contiguous Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, he could persuade the Palestinians to abandon their United Nations strategy in favor of a return to negotiations. And even if the Palestinians wouldn’t budge, Israel’s acceptance of Obama’s guidelines would make it easier to persuade European governments to oppose the Palestinians at the U.N.
Netanyahu’s response was, on its face, bizarre. The 1967 borders, he shot back, were “indefensible.” But Obama had not demanded a return to 1967 borders; he had very explicitly endorsed the 1967 borders with land swaps, which is essentially what Bill Clinton endorsed in late 2000 and Ehud Olmert endorsed in 2008. (In fact, Clinton and Olmert went further than Obama: Both endorsed a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and in different ways, signaled an openness to the return of small numbers of Palestinian refugees to Israel)…It makes you wonder whether Netanyahu has any grasp of the world in which he is living.

Right after Obama made his big speech, it was welcomed in most of the world and by most major U.S. Jewish organizations. The immediate critics were Mitt "throw Israel under the bus" Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Binyamin Netanyahu. Explain to me the universe in which this is a wise strategic choice for a nation highly dependent on stable relations with the United States -- and on ultimately making an agreement in the region that allows it to survive as a Jewish democratic state.

Think of this contrast: when China's Hu Jintao came to Washington for a state visit, each of the countries had profound disagreements with the other. (Chinese leaders hate the U.S. policy of continued arms sales to Taiwan, much more so than Netanyahu could sanely disagree with any part of Obama's speech.) Neither China nor America is remotely as dependent on the other as Israel is on the United States. Yet Obama and Hu were careful to be as respectful as possible, especially in public, while addressing the disagreements. High-handed and openly contemptuous behavior like Netanyahu's would have seemed hostile and idiotic from either side. As it is from him.

The real service Netanyahu may have done is allowing easier U.S. discussion of the difference between Israel's long-term interests and his own.

Jonathan Chait:  what Netanyahu wants is driven far more by his attempts to hold together a right-wing political coalition than any plausible vision for Israel's future.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Leading Jewish American Defends Obama's Week

Jeffrey Goldberg and Obama's Week

Jeffrey Goldberg is without question a leading Jewish American commentator in the secular media on all things relevant to the security of Israel and the United States’ role in that security. I follow his blog at The Atlantic regularly. He is anything but “opposed to Israel” or "an enemy from within" (as a reader described the Israeli ex-military men who signed the letter supporting 1967 borders). He is regularly criticized throughout the blogosphere for his strong support for the State of Israel. He has had a lot to say this week and we should all be listening.

On Obama’s speech today at the most important Anerican lobbyist for Israel, AIPAC:

[Obama] understands Israel's dilemma in the same way Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin understood their country's dilemma.

On why Netanyahu was “shockingly” misguided in his attitude to Obama this week.

It wasn't the content of Netanyahu's lecture that I found so shocking -- Jews, over a few thousand years, have earned a great deal of our paranoia -- but that he chose to hector the American president, an American president who, the day before, gave Netanyahu two enormous gifts -- a denunciation of the radical Islamist terror group Hamas, and a promise to fight unilateral Palestinian efforts to seek United Nations recognition as an independent state -- in public, in the White House, in a tone that suggested he thought he was speaking to an ignoramus. 

On the importance of Abe Foxman’s praise of Obama’s speech:

I know of no one on this planet who loves the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, more than Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. I'm not exaggerating; I quite literally can't name anyone who has a love of his people as profound as Abe's… the man has devoted his life to Jewish survival, and to Israel's defense. So when he declares that President Obama isn't anti-Israel, it's safe to believe him. 

On the fact that the predecessor to Netanyahu as the leader of Israel said the same thing as Obama:

Mitt Romney stated yesterday that Barack Obama threw Israel under a bus by calling for Israel's borders to be based on the pre-Six Day War lines. Does Romney know that Benjamin Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did the same thing? That's a busy bus.

On why Netanyahu should have been happy with the president’s speech: He "got everything he could have hoped to get. If he's not happy with Obama, then he's kidding himself. I know this is a Twitter-length post, but it sums up the Israeli-Palestinian portion of the speech nicely, IMHO."

On the reality of the Obama administrations support for Israel the last two years: "Top officials of the Israeli defense ministry have been telling me, and other reporters, for a couple of years now that military cooperation between their country and America has never been better. Some bus. There are a lot of countries out there that would like to be thrown under simliar buses."

This is not to say that Goldberg has had no criticisms to offer of the president this week. In two separate posts he referred to thoughtful critiques of the President’s initial speech by serious thinkers. That is as it should be. The president’s speeches were not inspired by God and like any statement of policy goals they call for honest, careful engagement. That is what Goldberg has provided in spades this week and deserves our highest praise. In a week in which in many lost their minds and perspectives, Goldberg kept his and we are the better for it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lahaye, Camping and the politics of Israel

I have been engaged in a discussion on facebook that I want to carry on to this blog. It is my position that while I take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of Christians in America, including the overwhelming majority of evangelicals, had absolutely no interest in or sympathy towards Harold Camping and his outlandish prediction that the world would end today, it is nonetheless a fact that the noxious fumes of end-times extremism continues to pollute evangelicalism and by extension American political discourse.

In support of my proposition I have already written two blogs: one outlining the growing alliance between John Hagee and Glenn Beck, and another laying out the extreme reaction to the president’s speech on the Middle East in the evangelical and conservative community. I would like now to turn your attention to Tim Lahaye, an evangelical end-times writer second to none, including the legendary Hal Lindsey. In both his fiction and non-fiction work, Lahaye has done more than anyone to rehabilitate end-times obsession in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the entity who earlier “prophets” had assured with Camping-like certainty was the harbinger of “Tribulation and Rapture”.

One of the things that Harold Camping has managed to accomplish with his insanity is to make Lahaye come off as wise (rather like Glenn Beck opening for Rush Limbaugh). But in a lengthy interview with the Daily Beast, Lahyae’s reasonableness about the folly of predicting a day for the end times, gives way to the extremism at the root of his style of “biblical interpretation”.

Like any good interviewer, Marlow Stern weaves questions about the two major religious stories of the week: Camping’s prediction and Obama’s speech on the Middle East and Israel. On Camping, Lahaye seizes the opportunity to appear restrained and circumspect in his own view of the end times:

What do you think of Harold Camping’s claim that the Rapture will occur on May 21?
Well, coming from a two-time loser on date setting before, I’m not overly anxious. He’s an engineer, not a theologian. He’s got a very meticulous-type mind, and no one can tell him everything. He knows everything. He’s got his mindset that it’s going to be this way, but he’s just flat-out wrong. He violates a very, very important statement of Jesus in Matthew 24: “Surely I say to you this generation will by no means pass way until all these things be fulfilled… but that day and hour knows no one in the angels of Heaven, but my Father only.”
From their Lahaye, who has himself been reviled as a “false prophet”, grabs at the chance to turn the tables.

So he’s a false prophet?
Exactly right. And you know the Old Testament rules on false prophets [stoning]. But prophecy is my life. I think we can prove who Jesus was and how authoritative the Bible is by the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy in the past. [Camping] comes around and trivializes prophecy, and ignores the words of Jesus himself. That’s a disgrace.

But then comes the question that gets us to the nub of Lahaye’s own extraordinary claims:

You do believe, however, that the Rapture is near.
Yes, I do. But there are things fomenting geopolitically, like the Arab world and the rise of the radical Islamics within the Arab people that are a threat to the whole world. I was just reading today that they want to conquer the whole world! I think it’s a demonic religion, to be honest with you. Ezekiel 38 and 39 predicts that Russia and the Islamic world are going to get together, go down and drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel…[following a later question, he continues on this theme] One of the things that we don’t know is whether the Russian-Islamic invasion of Israel is going to take place, and God destroys them as a testimony to the world that he is the supernatural God. It’s going to be an overt action, witnessed on TV by those around the world so the whole world will know that there is a sovereign God who they’re responsible to one day. The problem with governments today is we have too many people in charge who live as if they’re never going to be accountable to God for what they do, and that’s not true. They will give an account to God.

At this point, it is worth a quick reminder of the scope of Lahaye’s popularity in the evangelical world. Although Lahaye first registered in the broader American culture in 1995 with the launch of the Left Behind Series (more on that later), he and his wife were by then already leading voices in the evangelical community and the Religious Right. He had already authored a number of popular books, including his highest selling book pre-Left behind, Spirit Controlled Temperament. He had, in 1979, helped found the tremendously influential creationist group the Institute for Creation Research. In terms of political activism, Lahaye was arguably the most influential person in the emergence of the Religious Right (RR). He was a formative presence in the development of the first major RR group, Christian Voice. This group was for years headquartered at the Heritage Foundation, now the leading conservative think tank. He then helped found the Council for National Policy in 1981. Although hardly known to the general public, it is hard to overstate the significance of this group. The New York Times has described it as a "little-known group of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” In the 1980s he helped found and served on the board of Falwell’s Moral Majority (which he served on the board of), the American Coalition for Traditional Values and the Coalition for Religious Freedom. Despite this impressive track record, Lahaye’s wife Beverly was arguably more important to the growth of the Religious Right in the 1980s. In 1979 she founded and served as president of Concerned Women for America, by some measures a more significant force than the Moral Majority ever was.

All of this to say, that by 1995 the Lahayes, and Tim in particular, were major players in the evangelical Christian community. With the Left Behind series they reached a whole other plane of popularity and influence. The sixteen books in the series have sold over 63 million copies, spawned a wildly successful children’s series, inspired two video games, and been turned into three different motion pictures. Time magazine was undoubtedly correct in naming Tim and Beverly to their list of the 25 most influential evangelicals.

It is therefore way more important that this man believes that “Ezekiel 38 and 39 predicts that Russia and the Islamic world are going to get together, go down and drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel” than it is that Harold Camping (again) predicted the end of the world. And it is important not merely culturally and religiously, but most certainly politically, that Lahaye goes on in the interview to say that President Obama is “a committed socialist. He was educated by a socialist, he thinks like a socialist, and he surrounds himself with socialist, ultra, ultra-liberal thinkers.” It is significant that he thinks Hillary Clinton is “a socialist. She is ultra, ultra liberal.” And it is important that he believes that “many communists or socialists…have been appointed as tsars in our country? There are 134 of them and they’ve been appointed…They’re unapproved. They’ve never been voted on and yet they’re the key people who run the government for the president.”

I am glad Harold Camping has been debunked. I appreciate Tim Lahaye helping people steer clear of Camping. I know that evangelicalism is not defined in its totality by Tim Lahaye. But I can not deny the continued influence of Tim Lahaye. I am distressed by what his “prophetic insights” on the state of Israel reveal about the ideological foundations of some of the evangelical criticisms of Obama’s speech. And I find his toxic conspiratorial view of President Obama ominous for the future of American politics. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Fear and Loathing" of Obama's speech on Israel

This link image is showing up on facebook portraits and on blogs. It gets at the raw “fear and loathing”  around Obama’s speech on Israel yesterday within the Christian conservative world. Here are four more examples from a variety of major sources (I am not highlighting minor figures in the Christian and conservative media, I assure you.)

1. The influential Joel Rosenberg, one of the most widely read and quoted figures on the religious right, has stated in clear terms his opinions of the president’s speech:

 The President made an enormous mistake this week in calling for the Land of Israel to be divided and Jerusalem to be divided along pre-1967 borders. This is in direct defiance of the Bible. It won’t work, and it will bring judgment to the U.S., according to Joel chapter 3. Please pray that the President changes his heart and changes course very soon. (emphasis added)

 Rosenberg’s influence is wide. He is considered a leading voice of evangelicals whose devotion to the modern state of Israel is deeply rooted in their views of Old and New Testament prophecies. The complete trinity of conservative radio hosts--Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck—have hosted him on their show. His views on Joel chapter 3 are textbook examples of the belief of many Christians.

 2. The news service of the  conservative Media Research Center has an article by a rabbi who says Obama’s speech shows he wants to “ethnically cleanse” Israel of Jews.

3. Hugh Hewitt, a leading Christian conservative commentator with a national talk show, hosted the hard-right commentator Mark Steyn yesterday for a discussion of Obama’s speech. Hugh begins by claiming Obama has “given Israel away” with the speech. Later in the interview Hugh asks Steyn about the significance of Obama  calling for the 1967 borders, and Steyn seizes the question to state:

If you have the Western faculty lounge attitude, which is the sewer that Obama has been marinated in, in his entire adult life, then 1967 matters far more than 1973 or 1948, or 1922, because 1967 is, as the faculty lounge left see it, the moment when the Israeli occupation began. Why, by the way, did it begin? It began because Israel’s neighbors launched another disastrous war on them. The enemy, Israel’s enemies are incompetent at fighting conventional war. And they discovered that actually instead of sending your troops into battle and keep losing their wars, why not instead play Western public opinion like a fiddle, and eventually the pressure, you start with the low hanging fruit, your average European foreign minister. But eventually if you keep the pressure up, you’ll land an American president who basically is not prepared to stand by the state of Israel. And that’s what they’ve got right now. (emphsasis added)

4. The Brody file, the lead political blog at Pat Robertson’s CBN site, endorses Huckabee’s statement that the president’s speech is “an outrage to peace, sovereignty of Israel, and a stable Middle East.”

Hagee/Beck Alliance hardening

The over the top reaction among many Christians to President Obama's speech yesterday should be a matter of concern to religious and political leaders in America. The near apocalyptic language being used to describe his idea of restoring Israel's boundaries to the same place that they were for the first 20 years of the modern state of Israel's existence is disturbing enough, but when combined with the already growing alliance between John Hagee, the leader of "Christian Zionism", and Glenn Beck it should awaken action on the part of Christian and Jewish leaders. Here are links outlining the growing relationship between the two extremists and how they are exploiting their relationship in the wake of Obama's speech. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Significant Jewish support for Obama's speech (UPDATE)

Andrew Sullivan has helpfully catalogued the outrage that flowed almost immediately from some conservatives and Christianists in response to the president’s speech. The incendiary language being used to describe the president’s statement about Israel’s 1967 border is extraordinary. And yet the very thing that he is calling for is what major figures in Israel are calling for. Printed below is the text of an advertisement running in papers around the world. Below it are those signers who are either former military or intelligence leaders. Following the text and the list of signers is a statement from a leading American Jewish group, the American Defamation League, in full support of the president’s speech.
Recognizing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is vital for Israel’s existence

 We, the citizens of Israel, call on the public to support the recognition of a democratic Palestinian state as a condition for ending the conflict, and reaching agreed borders on the basis of the 1967 borders. Recognition of such a Palestinian state is vital for Israel’s existence. It is the only way to guarantee the resolution of the conflict by negotiations, to prevent the eruption of another round of massive violence and end the risky isolation of Israel in the world. The successful implementation of the agreements requires two leaderships, Israeli and Palestinian, which recognize each other, choose peace and are fully committed to it. This is the only policy that leaves Israel's fate and security in its own hands. Any other policy contradicts the promise of Zionism and the welfare of the Jewish people.

We, the undersigned, therefore call upon any person seeking peace and liberty and upon all nations to join us in welcoming the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and support the efforts of the the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the basis of secure borders and good neighborliness. The end of the occupation is a fundamental condition for the liberation of the two peoples, the realization of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and a future of peaceful coexistence.

Maj Gen (Ret.) Avraham Adan (“Bren”) | former Commander of the Armored Corps
Brig Gen (Ret.) Dr. Yitzhak Arad | former Chairman of Yad Vashem
Col (Ret.) As’ad As’ad | former Member of Knesset, Likud
Brig Gen (Ret.) Menachem Aviram | former Commander of Paratroopers Brigade and of the IDF Command and Staff College
Avner Azulai | former senior Mossad official
Brig Gen (Ret.) Mordechai Bar-On | former Chief Education Officer
Col (Ret.) Ran Cohen | former Minister of Trade and Industry
Maj Gen (Ret) Nehemiah Dagan | former Chief Education Officer
Brig Gen (Ret.) Prof. Eran Dolev
Brig Gen (Ret.) Yitzchak Elron
Maj Gen (Ret.) Shlomo Gazit | former Head of Military Intelligence, Chairman of the Jewish Agency and President of Ben Gurion University
Maj Gen (Ret.) Yosef Geva | former OC Central Command
Col (Ret.) Paul Kedar | former Consul in New York
Maj Gen (Ret.) Amos Lapidot | former Commander of Israeli Air Force
Dr. Alon Liel | former Director General of Foreign Ministry
Brig Gen (Ret.) Asher Levy
Maj Gen (Ret) Zeev Livneh | established the Home Front Command
Ram Loevy | Israel Prize laureate
Prof. Avishai Margalit | Israel and Emet Prize laureate
Hanna Maron | Israel Prize laureate
Maj Gen (Ret.) Menachem Meron (Mendy) | former Commander of Military Colleges
Sami Michael | Emet Prize laureate
Ohad Naharin | Israel and Emet Prize laureate
Nachik Navot | former Deputy Head of Mossad
Brig Gen (Ret.) Ilan Paz
Maj Gen (Ret.) Dr. Elad Peled | former Commander of National
Brig Gen (Ret.) Giora Ram | former Deputy Commander of the Israeli Air Force
Maj Gen (Ret.) Nathan Sharoni | President of Council of Peace and Security
Maj Gen (Ret.) Aviezer Yaari | former Commander of MilitaryColleges

We welcome President Obama's compelling speech on the priorities for American policy in the Middle East.  We applaud his strong outlining of the principles which motivate that policy, including supporting the universal rights of free speech, equality and religious freedom, opposing the use of force and political repression, and promoting political and economic reforms.  These are a reflection of American values and promote American interests.

We further commend his strong affirmation of the importance of the deep and unshakeable U.S.-Israel relationship, and his clear articulation of the moral and strategic connections between America and Israel.  We support the President's vision of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement with strong security provisions for Israel, and a non-militarized Palestinian state.  We appreciate his direct rejection of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and his understanding that the Hamas-Fatah agreement poses major problems for Israel.

The Palestinians must heed the President's warnings about imprudent and self-defeating actions, including through campaigns to delegitimize Israel, plans to unilaterally declare statehood, and a unity agreement with a Hamas which remains committed to violence, rejection and anti-Semitism. 

This Administration has come a long way in two years in terms of understanding of the nuances involved in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better understanding of the realities and challenges confronting Israel.

UPDATE: Among thoughtful, decidedly pro-Israle people, the ADL statement is getting significant coverage, including here and here, as well it should. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obama's Biggest Failure Continues

Arguably, the most disappointing aspect of Obama’s presidency has been his failure to consistently and comprehensively reform the finance sector of the economy. As I said on an earlier blog,He has failed to connect the legitimate rage at our economic collapse with the truest causes of it and now we are seeing unions of all things getting blamed and demonized.” The phony economic populism of the Right has resonated in part because an authentic economic populism of the Left has not been coming from the White House. Now comes news that even the one significant step for economic reform, the Dodd-Frank law, is lagging in enforcement muscle. A leading site providing journalistic oversight of the financial system is Pro Publica. They reported today that

"With Sheila C. Bair soon to leave her post at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Obama administration will have five major bank regulatory positions either unfilled or staffed with acting directors…The vacancies come at a time that calls for stiffer regulatory examination. The financial regulatory system was remade under Dodd-Frank and requires strong leaders to put the changes into effect. Though the acting heads insist they feel empowered to make serious decisions, they have roughly the same authority as substitute high school teachers."

Although some of the blame for these vacancies falls on Republicans, Pro Publica is right in saying that “much of the blame for this situation lies with the Obama administration. It's almost as if the president and his staff have thrown up their hands. The administration has had trouble finding good candidates who are willing to go through the vetting process and has shied away from fights. It also hasn't seeded the ground or supported the nominations it has made, people complain.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Justice or Vengeance?

Critics of the strike on bin Laden have not only raised questions about international law, but also about just war theory in their critique of President Obama’s decision. I devoted a recent post to  what I see as the key defense within international law for the action in Pakistan, and I want to give this blog over to a look at the justice aspect of this strike.

In a post at the Christian Century that I stole the title for this post from, the ethicisit Tobias Winright gives a helpful overview of relevant just war questions posed by the attack:

Just wars are supposed to restore and maintain a semblance of that tranquil order. The aim of a just war—its right intent—should be to restore a just and lasting peace. Augustine wrote,
“Peace should be the object of your desire. War should be waged only as a necessity and waged only that through it God may deliver men from that necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not to be sought in order to kindle war, but war is to be waged in order to obtain peace. Therefore even in the course of war you should cherish the spirit of a peacemaker.
He argued that wars were justified to defend the innocent, avenge injuries, punish wrongs, and to take back something wrongfully taken. He ruled out revenge and vengeance, let alone mere retributive justice. Rather—and this is tied to his understanding of right intent—his hope was to have evil persons repent and reform, thereby restoring the peace. "We do not ask for vengeance on our enemies on this earth. Our sufferings ought not constrict our spirits so narrowly that we forget the commandments given to us. . . . We love our enemies and we pray for them. That is why we desire their reform and not their deaths."
Augustine did not think that just war contradicted Jesus' injunction to love one's enemies. Just war is a form of love in going to the aid of an unjustly attacked innocent party; however, it is also an expression of love, or "kind harshness," for one's enemy neighbor. It aims at turning the enemy from his wicked ways and toward making amends and helping him rejoin the community of peace and justice. "Therefore, even in waging war," Augustine wrote, "cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace." (emphasis added)

 I think that many critics are convinced that the attack against bin Laden was not just because they think it was “mere retributive justice”, and that rather than “restoring a just and lasting peace” it will “escalate violence”.  In making this argument they fail to appreciate the broader context of this strike—they see it only as an example of vigilante justice, not part of a wider vision to “restore and maintain a semblance of that tranquil order.” It is my strong conviction that such arguments are knee jerk reactions rooted in an ignorance of President Obama’s long-term goals and efforts in the region. When the strike against bin Laden is seen in this broader context it is clear that its intent fits within the just war tradition. Today’s Washington Post gives major coverage to the fact that the President has quickened the pace of negotiations for a just peace in Afghanistan after the death of bin Laden and it is clear that the strike in Pakistan has given renewed hope for the success of those negotiations, which had started months before the strike against bin Laden. In other words, the strike fits within a larger strategy of strengthening existing efforts to negotiate a just peace for Afghanistan. It was not a random act of retributive justice, but part of a broader effort to weaken Al-Quaeda so that the Taliban will see the chance to break their ties with Al-Quaeda and enter into the negotiations that can allow for the lasting peace needed in Afghanistan. The president has repeatedly said there is not a final military solution to Afghanistan. There must be a political reconiciliation there and the strike against bin Laden makes that reconciliation more possible than before. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

But was it lawful?

Since writing my piece challenging Tom Wright, a number of people have asked me to go into more detail about the question of international law and the strike against bin Laden. I have been busy with other writing but I want to return to the question now.

One of the things that I have found troubling, both in Tom Wright’s article and in other responses from what might be called the religious Left, is this baseline assumption that the United States action was clearly and automatically outside the bounds of international law. Typically these folk sight one or more of these issues:

1.     Pakistan’s sovereignty was broken.
2.     We were required to treat bin Laden as a criminal and seek to arrest him through the normal channels of criminal law and the international law prescripts surrounding criminal law.
3.     At the very least, the killing of bin Laden was unjust and an obvious break with clear international law.

Variations of these three points are sighted as if there is no international law based argument against them, or as Noam Chomsky states, it is clear that the U.S. has violated “elementary norms of international law”. The assumption quickly becomes that the only justification for the American action is “American exceptionalism” or the American addiction to militarism. While I am not an expert in international law, I have taken classes on international law in my master’s work at Boston University and I have continued to read on the issue. Simply put, there is a strong argument to be made that the actions of the United States against bin Laden stand well within the norms and common interpretations of international law. This case is being made throughout the international law community and it would serve the debate if people consulted these discussions before blithely speaking of the clarity of international law and justice as though they had just come down from Mount Sinai.

A great place to start is with an analysis at the website of the American Society of International Law. There you will find an excellent article by Ashley S. Deeks of Columbia Law School. I think she is correct in focusing the defense of the United States action on what’s known as the “unwilling or unable test” which she helpfully explains:
If the territorial state is either unwilling or unable, it is reasonable for the victim state to consider its own use of force in the territorial state to be necessary and lawful (assuming the force is proportional and timely).  If the territorial state is both willing and able, the victim state’s use of force would be unlawful.  Thus, if the United States located a senior member of al Qaeda in Stockholm, it almost certainly would be unlawful for the United States to use force against that individual without Sweden’s consent, because there is no reason to believe that the Swedish government would be unwilling or unable to take appropriate measures against that al Qaeda member.

The clear judgment then is on whether or not the United States had justification in assuming that Pakistan was, unlike Sweden in her example or the United States in Tom Wright’s infamous IRA example, “unwilling or unable” to cooperate in action against bin Laden. Her conclusion is that

Based on the facts that have come to light to date, the United States appears to have strong arguments that Pakistan was unwilling or unable to strike against Bin Laden.  Most importantly, the United States has a reasonable argument that asking the Government of Pakistan to act against Bin Laden could have undermined the mission.  The size and location of the compound and its proximity to Pakistani military installations has cast strong doubt on Pakistan’s commitment to defeat al Qaeda. The United States seems to have suspected that certain officials within the Pakistani government were aware of Bin Laden’s presence and might have tipped him off to the imminent U.S. action if they had known about it in advance.[11] Further, it would have been reasonable for the United States to question Pakistan’s capacity to successfully raid Bin Laden’s compound, given that he was known to be a highly sophisticated and likely well-protected enemy…Pakistan’s defense of its sovereignty in this case, while understandable from a political perspective, seems weak as a matter of international law. The facts and politics in this case make it unlikely that Pakistan’s defense of its sovereignty will find significant international support. (Emphasis added)

 Of course, an even clearer case for the lawfulness of American action can be made if the reports are true that Pakistan actually had given the United States clearance to do precisely this type of raid. David Bosco has a helpful discussion of that possibility here.

Friday, May 13, 2011


There were three things that launched this website and the top one was the despicable demagoguery done by vast segments of the Republican Party on the issue of health care. The rhetoric of raw fear flowing from baseless innuendo played a far bigger role than many on the Right care to acknowledge and the failure to repudiate what was in so many cases ideology unhinged from history and reality continues to stain the body politic. A clear and dare I say haunting reminder of this way of thinking was on clear display this week. In a performance getting the kind of widespread coverage it deserves Rand Paul shows the true face of libertarian hysteria over health care reform. It must be seen to be believed, but here are two quotes to give a flavor for his effort at a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

"With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have to realize what that implies. It's not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery."

"If I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to healthcare, you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be."

What is the plan in Libya?

You might recall that I did quite a bit of initial blogging on Libya that was quite critical of Obama. I concluded that series of blogs with a list of “three big ifs” for success in Libya. The situation has been stuck on the final “if”, “if Qadhafi transfers power”. This post at The Atlantic raises all the right questions about Libya policy. After his successful work in guiding the effort against bin Laden, I feel like the president has earned my trust on Libya, but it is a tenuous trust, especially when I read things like this:

The United Nations's resolution establishing the no-fly zone over Libya was a defensive statement, he [NATO Secretary Rasmussen] said, authorizing the use of international force to stop the slaughter of a citizenry that was under attack by its own commander.
 But publicly, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have called for the end of Qaddafi's reign, though Western leaders say they won't move toward that end with a military escalation.
 This has led many observers to worry that, with air power insufficient to remove Qaddafi and the Libyan leader apparently unwilling to go of his own accord, there's no endgame in sight.

Wallis is Right on Afghanistan

Jim Wallis and the folks at Sojourners are pushing hard for citizen action against the war in Afghanistan in the wake of bin Laden’s death. I don’t always agree with Sojourners action campaigns, but I think this one is worth your serious consideration. There are times when a clear, simple message has to be sent to Congress and the president and I think this may be one of those times. Here is a letter their website helped me prepare.

Dear friend,

We've spent almost 10 years and billions of dollars on military operations in Afghanistan. While I value the importance of security and stability in Afghanistan, we need to realize that this war is draining both countries of resources and human life.
I just sent an email to my members of Congress urging them to support H.R.1735, a bill calling for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
If you are interested, you can send a letter from the Sojourners website as well.


Greg Metzger

Here is Wallis making his case:

After 10 long years, the national conversation on the war in Afghanistan has changed significantly. And now, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, used for years to justify the war, is over. The official reasons for continuing the war are disappearing each day. The threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan has significantly weakened. Many people are shocked when they learn that there are only 100 al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, but more than 100,000 American troops remain. As the debate on the deficit heats up, we need to say again and again that the more than $100 billion a year that is spent on the war is no longer sustainable. Every American should know these numbers: 100 terrorists; 100,000 troops; $100 billion -- it just isn't adding up anymore. There are no more excuses for delaying a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released this week shows that 59 percent of Americans agree that the "United States has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and should bring its troops home." Congressional pressure is also growing. News reports indicate that those who favor "a swift reduction of U.S. forces" have been gaining momentum.
A significant part of this pressure to end the war is the introduction of the "Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act" by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). H.R. 1735 was submitted with 14 additional sponsors, eight Democrats, and six Republicans. Ending the war is now a bipartisan effort. The legislation would require the president to submit a plan with a timeline and completion date for the transition of military operations to the Afghan government, and require quarterly progress reports along with projections of how much would be saved if the transition were completed in six months.
In his statement, Rep. McGovern said: "We're told that we can't afford vital domestic funding, but we should continue to borrow billions and billions of dollars for nation-building in Afghanistan. That's nuts. … On Monday [May 2], the Pentagon reported that 1,550 American troops have died in Afghanistan. Last week, another one of my constituents was killed. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. … Enough is enough."
Rep. Walter Jones' opposition to this war has made him a modern profile of courage. He turned against the war after visiting constituents who lost their children, fathers, and mothers, as well as soldiers in the hospital whose lives have been forever shattered. He doesn't think this war is worth their sacrifice. He is right.
Although the president has committed to begin withdrawing troops in July, the military is working behind the scenes to make this withdrawal as small as possible. In their initial proposal, the military floated a news story suggesting a withdrawal of only 5,000 troops. This is not acceptable anymore, and we must insist on a clear, quick, and responsible exit -- not one slowly drawn out over years. Too much money has been spent, and too many lives have been lost. It's time for the war to end.