Friday, August 8, 2014

Jonah Goldberg: "Box-Checking as Leadership"

The Goldberg File
By Jonah Goldberg
August 8, 2014
Dear Reader (and the millionth monkey who randomly typed out an identical "news"letter on his own — except for typing "Darth Rayburn" instead of "Dear Reader" and for that weird 5,000-word stretch that just says "Banana, Banana, Banana" over and over again),
The other night Mike Barnicle tweeted "Make Dick Cheney read this." The "this" was a link to an article in the Washington Post about the plight of the Yazidis, trapped on a mountaintop.
Now lest you take me for the sort of person who follows Mike Barnicle on Twitter, let me explain that I saw the tweet because Paul Begala thought it was sufficiently perspicacious to warrant retweeting. Now, lest you think I am the sort of person who follows Paul Begala on Twitter, let me say in my defense that I find it useful to monitor some enemy broadcasts, as it were.
 Anyway, the tweet was simply part of a whole plague of prattle from an army of argle-barglers that seem to think they're taking a bold moral stance by aiming all of their attention on people with no power to make any decisions. Trapped on a mountaintop by savages who make the Thuggees seem civilized, watching their children die of thirst, presented with the choice of renouncing their faith (and being condemned to Hell by doing so) or execution (for the men; slavery for the women), no doubt the Yazidis were deeply gratified when they got word that Mike Barnicle had taken to Twitter to hold accountable a man who can do nothing for them. Nothing takes the pain out of slow death, genocide, and seeing your wives and daughters carried off into slavery more than the firm knowledge that fingers are being pointed thousands of miles away at men who've been in retirement for five years.
Heaven forbid Barnicle tweet "Make Barack Obama read this" or even "Make Joe Biden read this" (which would require his drawing in the margins of the Washington Post article pictures of flying saucers shooting each other. "Pew-pew! Boom! Good article."). After all, Obama is the actual president of the United States. He could actually do something to help the Yazidis.
Let us stipulate — at least for the sake of argument — that the First Cause of Iraq's unraveling was the Iraq War. That doesn't change the fact that the second, third, fourth, fifth, and nth causes of the chaos are the result, directly or indirectly, of President Obama's decisions (or indecisions). Obama chose to pull troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. Obama chose to dismiss ISIS as the "jayvee squad"this year. Obama chose to issue a "red line" ultimatum, then chose to say "never mind." The guy has been president for five years. And yet to listen to him and his defenders he's been utterly powerless to undo his predecessors' mistakes, real or alleged. It's like these people think the twice-elected president of the United States is still new to the job.
Life, the Movie
But all of that is irrelevant, too, at least when it comes to the question of what to do now. And bear in mind, Barnicle was tweeting this hairball when Obama had done and said nothing to indicate that the U.S. would actually do anything to help the Yazidis (just as Obama has done little to nothing to help the slaughtered Shiites and Christians of Iraq, the rebels in Syria, the sovereign government in Ukraine, et al). The vital priority for Barnicle (and Begala) was to unleash the full gale of Barnicle's moral authority and righteous indignation (which is like talking about the raging tempest let loose upon the land by a mouse fart) against a retired guy in Wyoming. Never mind that the retired guy in Wyoming wanted to keep U.S. forces in Iraq so as to prevent anything like what we're seeing from happening!
Now that events in Iraq have descended from "urgent" to"Hieronymus Bosch," Obama has finally acted, and I am glad for it. Let us send as much aid as we can to the Yazidis; if in the process, we kill a lot of ISIS fighters, that'll be a nice bonus.
But there's a common theme to Obama's foreign policy and Barnicle's rodent flatulence. They both work on the assumption that global events are things that happen out there. "The world stage" used to be a platform for U.S. leadership. For Obama, the world stage is more like, well, astage where other nations put on a show for our benefit. There are plenty of good arguments for America to be more circumspect internationally (and plenty of bad ones). But I don't think Obama and his supporters fully recognize that when the lead actor on the world stage decides to walk off and sit in the audience, it changes the performance and the roles of the other performers.
Box-Checking as Leadership
I will confess I never really appreciated the perfidy of the phrase "leading from behind" until Wednesday's presidential press conference.
Earlier that day, the secretary of defense, who has been kept away from the press lest the cameras remove all doubt about his incompetence, announced that 20,000 Russians were massing on the Ukrainian border in what seemed like preparation for an invasion.
(I often hear this would be the first instance of a European nation invading another since 1939. I'm not sure that's exactly true from, say, the Georgian or Hungarian perspective. But that's quibbling. Such a crime would be, in the parlance of international-relations scholars, a huge frick'n deal.)
At the press conference, the president made no mention of this in his prepared remarks about the Africa summit, which he read aloud with all of the passion of a DMV bureaucrat explaining the different methods of payment for a parking ticket. He then took questions. Chris Jansing of NBC asked whether the sanctions against Russia were working. With his customary logic-chopping defensiveness, the president responded that the sanctions were doing what they were intended to do, but it was unclear whether they were actually working. This is like explaining that the pepper spray did everything it was supposed to do but the bear is eating your face anyway.
It's also perfectly Obamaesque. I did exactly what I set out to do. If it's not working, it's only because someone else isn't responding the way they're supposed to. I gave a speech telling the oceans to stop rising, damn it! I even said "let me be clear."
The point of the sanctions isn't to prove that sanctions can cause "economic pain." The point is to deter Vladimir Putin. And on that score, they clearly aren't working at all. It's amazing to me how much Obama thinks and talks like a bureaucrat. I've checked my box! I did my job! I've fulfilled my responsibilities. If the bear is eating your face, it must be the fault of Jones in accounting. Hate that guy.
This has been Obama's standard response to problems around the globe. He did what he was "supposed to do," and whenever the consequences of his actions create problems, it's because others didn't do what they were supposed to do. I pulled troops out of Iraq. I reneged on missile defense in Eastern Europe. I "reset" with Russia. I intervened in Libya. I didn't intervene in Syria. I told Leon Panetta to deal with Benghazi. I took the blue pill. The fact that the Iraqi pullout was destabilizing, that Putin saw his moves as weakness, that Islamists took over Libya, that Assad stayed in power, that the Matrix revealed itself anyway: These all reflect someone else's failures.
He was then asked if the 20,000 troops massed on the Ukrainian border might lead him to "reconsider" sending lethal military aid to the Ukrainians. After prattling on about how Ukraine doesn't need aid to beat the separatists, Obama added, "Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that's obviously a different set of questions. We're not there yet."
Now, I don't want to go to war to defend Ukraine. I don't want Obama to say we would go to war to defend Ukraine —and not because I think that such a statement would necessarily be irresponsible if it came from a different president. But I don't think Barack Obama would go to war to defend Ukraine even if he said he would. As with his "red line" debacle, the worst thing a president can do is vow to take a hardline and then not take it. But would it be too much to ask the president of the United States to characterize a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as outrageous?
Keep in mind that "outrageous" is safer than "unacceptable." The problem is that his use of "unacceptable" is almost entirely ironic. He uses it like a theater critic saying a cast change is "unacceptable" when it is obvious the critics' acceptance is irrelevant. His use of "unacceptable" has been more promiscuous than Vizzini's use of "inconceivable" in The Princess Bride. (How long has it been since Putin's annexation of the Crimea was "unacceptable"?)
Leading from the Sidelines
In the best sense, "leading from behind" sounds like something a football coach does. He can't be out on the field, but he coordinates, instructs, and inspires from the sidelines. Among the myriad problems with this analogy is the simple fact that international affairs isn't like a football game, where the coach can bench players for failing to follow instructions or execute the plays. In Obama's version of leading from behind, he's more like a football handicapper who has no control of events and merely watches from the virtual sidelines as events transpire, adjusting the odds as they unfold. This analogy fails, too, of course because thepresident of the United States isn't an observer.Obama is open to sending lethal aid — it seems — only if Ukraine is invaded. But refusing to send lethal aid makes invasion all the more likely. I understand that the president thinks he's very clever by seeing the guiding principle of his foreign policy as "don't do stupid sh*t." But the real-world consequence of that principle is to let events unfold and then whine about being neck-deep in sh*t you think you can blame on others. It's not leading from behind, it's failing from behind.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Showing off Israel

RE:  Michael Totten, "Israel is not going anywhere."

My late colleague Gideon Doron once told me the following story: Doron was, c. 1996, briefly head of the policy planning staff of Israel's Foreign Ministry, under David Levy. He invited his counterpart in the Palestinian Authority to spend a day together so he could show how Israeli's live. Gideon showed the Palestinian official his beautiful house in Omer, shopping malls, beaches, cafes, etc. Gideon concluded by telling the fellow, "and you could have all this, if you wanted, by concentrating on building for yourselves instead try to destroy us." The Palestinian official, according to Gideon, was convinced; he want back to Ramallah and started preaching to his colleagues.
A few days later Gideon called the Palestinian official and asked when he was going to reciprocate by inviting him to Ramallah. The PA guy said: you brainwashed me, and I repeated your line to my colleagues, and they told me that if I didn't shut up, or if I continued to meet with you, I would be fired.
Gideon from this point could not get any PA officials to take his phone calls, so after seven weeks he had no choice but to resign from the Foreign Ministry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Go ahead and send your kid to the Ivy League

Comments on William Deresiewicz, "Don't send your kid to the Ivy League."

Count me as "not persuaded." After a research appointment at Princeton in 02-03, I taught at Yale in 2003-4, during the Deresiewicz years, and my youngest sister Beth is Yale '07. 
1. My sister and her friends went to grad school in science or tech jobs, not Wall Street.
2. Plenty of my students were fascinated by electoral politics, and one of them was even the campaign manager for a (longshot) New Haven mayoral candidate.
3. Two of my wife's nephews, the sons of a very successful physician, went to Ohio State to study engineering. They certainly could have gone to fancier schools.
At Princeton the engineering students were third-rate compared to the engineering students at major public engineering schools, because the curriculum is exactly the same across schools and the public schools are cheaper (and many of the public schools offer much better networking opportunities for engineers than Princeton).
4. A good liberal, Deresiewicz refuses to recognizes that elite higher education has become more caste-based because it has successfully sorted out a cognitive elite, and intelligence is inherited to the same degree as height. 
5 .What is true is that the competition to get in is so stiff that it leaves high school kids no slack for self-exploration, which means that the "winners" don't really know what they want from life. Perhaps they are more vulnerable to the temptations of Wall Street than they were in my time (I am Harvard '89) for this reason.
6. I am a big believer in noblesse oblige. So as a former "entitled little shit" I have no problem bringing up my children and educating my students to be aware of their status (or station) and its duties.
7. It is true that because liberal religion died and was replaced by the religion of liberalism, because most elite colleges have internationalized and so have lost their patriotism, and because today's elite high school students are busy cramming their resumes to grow up even a little, American elite schools aren't as successful at instilling the service ethic as they once were. There are things they can do to mitigate this, and they are doing some of them (e.g. ROTC is back in administration favor at Harvard).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why is ignorance as to whether your partner is too drunk to consent a defense to rape of an adult?

Jurisprudence 101
A person cannot lawfully consent to sexual intercourse if they are beneath the age of consent or too drunk.
Ignorance of the age of your partner is not a defense for rape.
Why is ignorance as to whether your partner is too drunk to consent a defense to rape of an adult?

State of Ohio R.C.
--HT Rhys Cartwright-Jones.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

4 points on J-Street (response to Nancy Goroff)

1. The US cannot survive with out God. And God chose the Jews. But the US may not survive in recognizable fashion -- certainly the Obama administration has done a lot to move toward a polity and society that is typical of the Americas. The salient question is "will the US survive without Israel." Realistically, the answer is so, but the causal chain is not so simple. See:
2. Whether Israel can survive with the backing of the US as a great power -- that too is an experiment that is going to be tried.
3. J-Street, in every case in which it has lobbied, has lobbied to oppose Israel's actions against Palestinian or Arab aggression. 
4. The J-Street point of view, judging by its record, is that Israel must risk its existence in order to secure an agreement with the Palestinians. Should (or realistically, when) the Palestinians then violate such an agreement by launching or tolerating attacks on Israel, J-Street will lobby against American support for Israel's actions. This is the view of J-Street held by every serious political actor in Israel.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Generally I try to stay out of my students' personal lives, but sometimes, no matter what I do, I get dragged in anyway. Take Ophir. Ophir is one of the brighter students in my class on gender and political thought, but he is especially striking as one of the few Ethiopian students here at Ramat Aviv U. He talks, and thinks, like a Tzfonik, like an upper-middle-class kid from North Tel Aviv. This was explained, though, when I found out that he had been adopted at age four by the famous Professors Zeilengold (he is a law professor, she teaches French literature, both at Ramat Aviv U.), after both his parents died on the trek to Addis Ababa. Ophir was a serious student, a committed political activist (for the Left, of course), and had served in Lebanon as a paratrooper before coming to study with us in the political science department.

I had just given my lecture for the week, on Montesquieu's Persian Letters. Ophir followed me up to my office with a group of students after class. When I had finished with the others, and they had left, Ophir asked me if he could speak to me privately. "Sure," I said, and we walked into my office. I wasn't in any hurry to get home, since my wife had gone back to the States for her grandfather's funeral.

Ophir closed the door behind him, and sat down "You've heard a little bit, I suppose, about my story; that I came here, a four-year-old orphan from Ethiopia, and was brought up by the Zeilengolds," Ophir began.

"Yes, I'd heard that," I said.

"I don't have many Ethiopian relatives left at all; the only one I knew of was my biological mother's old Aunt, who lives in Kiryat 'Arba. But the Zeilengolds have always treated me like their own son, and even my adoptive brother Erez, who was sixteen when I came along-- he and I are really brothers. But now..."

"What's the problem," I said.

"Everybody's mad at me, my father won't speak to me; my mother just cries when I come home, and Erez hangs up when I try to call him in Finland."

"In Finland," I said.

"Yes, Erez married a Finnish woman, they have two kids, and he runs a grocery store in a little town north of Helsinki.

" "Oh. But what happened?" I asked.

"Well, see, I've been going with this Ethiopian girl, Hagit, for a year, since about a year-and-a-half after I got out of the Army. And we want to get married."

"And your family doesn't like her."

"No, they think she's really great, or at least they did. It's just that she is my sister."

"What?" I couldn't believe I'd understood him correctly.

"Yeah, she's my sister, my half-sister, on my father's side. I never met her in Ethiopia, I don't think, and I certainly didn't remember meeting her under THAT description. We were introduced at a party a year ago. You see, my father was the only Jew in Gondar, my aunt says, who knew how to fix radios. So he walked from village to village, fixing a radio or two at each stop; he must have walked thousands of kilometers a year."

"I see."

"So you know, what with traveling all the time on the one hand, and making a nice living on the other hand, he had a number of wives, though each of them lived in a different village. My aunt says he was very handsome, which couldn't have hurt. When she wants to tease me she says I look just like he did."

"Go on."

"Well, he'd married my mother, and then about two or three years later, he married Hagit's mother. She must have been pretty small when he died: she doesn't remember him, certainly. Hagit was their only child who survived, just like I was his only child with my mother."

"Yes," I said.

"But I didn't know anything about this, nor did my Aunt. I mean, she knew that my father had several wives beside my mother, but that's all she knew. Hagit and her mother came to Israel about the same time I did, and settled in Dimona. But Hagit was too smart for Dimona; she got a high-school matriculation certificate, was drafted into Intelligence, in fact she's an officer, which is better than I did. She was working at Defense Headquarters when I met her, and she's still there. Don't ask what she does though. Well, we met, and we're in love, and we want to get married. But everyone says we can't." "You understand why, though."

"I do and I don't. But let me tell you how this all came out. Hagit and I, we used to go out in Tel Aviv, after she got off work and I was done with class. Sometimes she'd stay with me at my parents' house; sometimes she'd go home on the last bus. We always had a great time. My parents adored her; they thought she was wonderful, just like me. And I guess she was... Well, anyway, about a month ago we decided it was time for me to go to Dimona, to meet her mother, her stepfather, and her brothers and sisters. We were a little concerned because her next oldest brother has become quite religious, a Chabad chassid, even, and you know, I'm as secular as can be. But we decided that if we were going to get married we'd just have to give it a shot. So I went with her after she got off work, we drove down to Dimona. Her siblings were home, and her stepfather, we were talking, seriously but not too seriously. Her Chabadnik brother, he wasn't too bad, he just asked me questions about the Army, and about Lebanon. Then her mother came in. She came in, she took one look at me, screamed, 'But you're dead!' And fainted."

"Oh," I said.

"Yeah, my Aunt always said I looked just like my father. When Hagit's mother recovered, she started screaming in Amharic. I didn't understand any of it. Then she said, very calmly, in Hebrew, 'Your father was Musa,' wasn't he, 'Musa the Radio Man?' "'Yes, my Aunt tells me so, but I don't remember him,' I replied.

"'Hagit is Musa's daughter,' Hagit's mother sobbed. Then she almost fainted again. "Huh," I said.

"'Hagit is your sister, on your father's side' Hagit's brother said. 'That means, the two of you together, it's incest, the worst sin of all 'You shall be killed and not transgress.'' By the time I figured it out, everybody was screaming at me and Hagit. 'Whore,' they called her. Her stepfather said that if I didn't leave right now he'd kill me or Hagit."

"So what did you do?" I asked.

"I left. What else could I do. I needed to think. On the drive home, I realized, we weren't hardly brother and sister at all; I mean, we were only half-siblings, and we had never met until our twenties. If there's some law that says we can't be together, it's just a silly, old-fashioned religious law, like the one about the Cohen and the divorcee, or the one that doesn't allow a woman to give a divorce even if her husband beats her. The kind of laws we're always protesting about. And I love Hagit. How can some old law keep us apart?

"I got home, it was pretty late. I just went in and lay on the bed. I couldn't sleep, not a wink. I though of all the times we'd made love, on that bed. Her brother, her stepfather, they wanted to call it a sin. But I knew, we knew, it was love, the real thing, that couldn't be a sin. When my parents got up, I went out of my room into the kitchen, where they were eating breakfast. They could see that I was upset.

"'Did something happen with Hagit's parents,' my mother asked.

"'I'd say,' I said. 'Did you know I had a sister?' I asked.

"'No,' my mother said. My father just stared blankly, the way he always does when he looks up from Ha'Aretz before he's finished his coffee.

"'Hagit is my sister, my half-sister, on my father's side' I said.

"'What?!' my mother said.

"'Hagit... is... my... sister...' I spoke very slowly. 'We never knew this, till last night. Her mother was another of my father's wives back in Ethiopia. She recognized Musa's, our biological father's, features in my face.'

"My mother screamed. My father, who has seen everything (he was a child in Buchenwald) just stared. Finally, he said, 'I guess you won't be getting married.'

"'Why?' I asked. 'I mean, she's not really my sister: we didn't grow up together, for twenty-two years we didn't know of each other's existence. Why should a little biological fact, from Ethiopia, of all places, make a difference.'

"'Because,' he said, 'it's incest.'

"'And that's ham,' I said, pointing to the meat he was eating, that he'd brought back from a conference in Florence ten days before. 'And last Friday night you two drove to the theater, and I and Hagit drove to a party in Ra'anana'.

"'Don't get smart with me, young man. This is different. It's against Israeli law, not just the religious law, the halacha.'

"'That didn't stop you from bringing in the ham. Or for suing to get that Russian kid whose mother wasn't Jewish a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall.'

"'We lost that case,' my father said. 'Besides, that's not against the law, just the Halacha.'"

"Never argue with a law professor," I interrupted.

Ophir went on: "I said, 'It's just a silly old law, whether it's Halacha or state law. What law can't be silly, that keeps two people apart who love each other.'

"'Why couldn't he at least have found a shiktsa, like Erez did' my mother said, sobbing.

"'You can never get married here,' my father said.

"'Maybe, if the story gets out to those Rabbis you are always complaining about, but we can certainly get married in Cyprus. Why, Musa's name isn't even on my ID card. It just says your name, father, Ephraim. And I am Ophir Zeilengold.'

"'You are Ophir Zeilengold the son of Musa, and Hagit is Musa's daughter, and so you can't get married,' my father said.

"'So you say, and your Rabbis say, and your silly laws say. But it's not fair, and it's not democratic.'

"'I know what's democratic and what isn't,' my father shouted, 'I wrote half of those laws, and taught half of those judges! And what about your kids... they'll be mamzerim! The Rabbis would never let them marry!'

"'Yeah, well, your friend Sarit Levitan, left her husband Joe thirty years ago, and took up with your friend Dudu Ben-Tzvi, they have three kids together, all, what did you call them, mamzerim, and you never batted an eyelash about it!' I shouted back. 'In fact, you even sued to get the kids' names taken out of the Rabbis' 'blacklist', you called it.'

"'We lost that case,' my father said. 'But we should have won, after all, Sarit married Joe Levitan in a double-ring Conservative ceremony in Long Island. Is it my fault that the Yemenite on the Bet Din didn't care for whatisname, Moshe Feldenstein? But that's not the point here. The point is that your kids, they'll be mamzerim, and what's worse, they are likely to have all sorts of genetic defects.'

"'Because we're so closely related, Hagit and I?'

"'That's right,' my father said.

"I thought for a minute. 'But if Hagit's mother had been my sister, the child of both my mother and my father, then Hagit and I would be uncle and niece,' I said. 'And if we were uncle and niece, we would legally be able to marry, even though genetically we'd be as closely related as a half-brother and a half-sister are. So scientifically, rationally, it's just like Hagit and I were uncle and niece. Wasn't there a professor of Bible at the University who married her uncle in Europe, back before the war?'

"'But it's not the same,' my father sputtered.

"'And why not?' I asked.

"'It just isn't.'"

"Well, that ended the argument," Ophir said to me, leaning back in the chair in my office. "When my father talks like that, he can't be reasoned with. So I called Hagit at work that morning. She told me that her mother, her stepfather, and her brother had berated her all night, and warned her repeatedly that if they ever saw the two of us together again they would kill both of us. 'You save them from sin at the price of their lives,' her brother quoted. Hagit also tried to argue with them, asking how they could be so cruel to me, Ophir, her brother. This just made them madder, she said. She told me she wasn't sure what to do, that she loved me more than ever, and that I would have to decide for both of us, because I was the one who was the big expert in moral philosophy. Since then we've talked, a minute here, a minute there, but she's worried that her stepfather, who cleans the floors at Bezek, has got somebody to bug our phones."

"The phones in Intelligence in Defense Headquarters," I said.

"I can't say that it makes much sense, but that what she told me."

"And you want my advice," I said.

"No. I know you are religious, and you'll say the same thing Hagit's brother said, more or less. I just wanted to tell you, so that you'd know why I won't be able to get my paper in on time. See, I haven't been sleeping hardly at all, with all the stress, and my doctor says that's why I can't study. I even brought a note from him" Ophir said, handing me the note.

"Oh," I said. I looked at the note: it was from a Dr. Har-Even, a psychologist practicing in North Tel Aviv, who wrote that "Ophir is suffering from extreme psychological stress, that has and will continue to interfere with his studies. If his studies stress him too, his stress levels may increase to a dangerous point."

"Well," I said, "just get it in when you can."

"Thank you, Dr. Kochin," Ophir said, and got up, opened the door, and left.

--Tel Aviv, 1999.