Friday, August 27, 2004
Well, I think I've published enough for today. Hopefully my few and much-beloved readers will find enough here to hold them for the next week while I'm away on vacation. See you in September.
When Commentary came out with its piece about Christian understanding of Islam and the dangers of an ill-thought ecumenical attitude (a strange thing for Commentary to write - much more a First Things kind of piece) I intended to respond with some thoughts about the proper Jewish approach to ecumenical dialogue. But I never get around to it. Well, I'm going to try to sketch them now, albeit more briefly than I intended.
The traditional Jewish approach is to say: don't bother. All Jews want from other faiths is to leave us alone. We have no reason to try to comprehend them within our own religious framework, and we don't care what they think about us so long as they let us worship as we please. In the fullness of time, God will send the Messiah and everyone will acknowledge Him, but there's nothing we need to do to help bring that time other than follow His commandments faithfully.
I don't buy such a limited view, because I've bought into a progressive idea of Messianism that has origins in various places including the writing of Rav Kook (though I think Kook's singular focus on the Land of Israel is misguided, and his intellectual heirs have taken his thought in a disastrous direction). I believe, in other words, that the Messiah will come only when he is no longer needed; that we should prepare the way by repairing the world - not only obeying the commandments (which, admittedly, I myself don't always do) but changing the world through our actions to make it a more Godly place; and the obligation not to "force the end" I interpret as an obligation to anti-utopian thinking, an obligation not to try to create a crisis that necessitates divine intervention on the side of right, or to throw pragmatic considerations out the window when making decisions, rather than an obligation to be a quietist, which is how it has traditionally been understood. Anyhow, I don't see how I can believe that and yet think there is no obligation to have some kind of relation with other peoples and other faiths.
So how should dialogue proceed, in my view? I think Jews should seek three things from other faiths in dialogue: recognition that Judaism is a valid religion in and of itself; the rejection of idolatry; and the embrace of basic ethical values. In return, I think Jews should offer an open mind about what constitutes idolatry, and a willingness to articulate the validity of other faiths inasmuch as their are efficacious in bringing people closer to God and live ethical lives.
Judaism has an idea that is akin to natural religion, embodied in the seven Noahide laws. But Judaism also does not deny the validity of non-Jewish prophecy. Indeed, Bilam, Jethro and Job in the Bible are all non-Jews who receive divine communication, and Ishmael and Esau receive divine blessings. Revelation, then, is not limited to the Jewish people in Judaism. It may well be that God spoke to Muhammad, and to Siddartha Gautama, and to Joseph Smith. I don't know, and I think Jews can be agnostic about this going into inter-religious dialogue.
Why not ask other religions to be agnostic about Judaism, then? I actually think that's perfectly fine, in that, if another faith concludes that Judaism could be perfectly valid, nothing more is required. But this approach won't work with Christianity or Islam, because these faiths demand universal conversion. A Christian can't say, "maybe the Buddhists have an equally-valid vision" and so decide not to have missions to the Buddhists. The same holds for the Jews. With respect to the two universal monotheistic faiths, Judaism has to have an acknowledged place to be secure.
From Christianity, I think what Jews should seek is recognition that Judaism continues to be salvific. This is precisely what the Catholic Church has articulated in recent years: God's covenant with historic Israel is still operative, and if Jews seek salvation that way, they shall find it. Reconciliation between the people of Israel and the Church will be accomplished in the fulness of time, and Christians need not reject any of their own beliefs about the terms of that reconciliation.
What Jews should offer in return is an open mind and a willingness to engage with Christian ideas rather than simply concluding that they are idolatrous. This is a big issue in Judaism. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation sounds to Jews pretty much like the definition of idolatry: the worship of a human being. Religious Jews should, in dialogue with Christians, be willing to evaluate Christian explanations of this doctrine on their own terms. I think a persuasive case can be made that Trinitarianism, while nothing Judaism can endorse (obviously) can nonetheless be deemed non-idolatrous. This would be a big concession by institutional Judaism (not that there is such a thing, mind you). But it's one that rabbis committed to inter-religious dialogue should consider making. After all, the Christians deserve something in exchange for real doctrinal evolution on their part to recognize Judaism as a living religion. I think this is the least we could do in exchange.
Islam is tougher, because the process has barely begun and the politcal context for such a process is terrible. But the Quran contains verses affirming God's various promises to Israel, including the promise of the Land of Israel. I don't think it's inconceivable for a more liberal Islam to come to the conclusion that there was a revelation to the Jews as a people, and that, while the Quran is the final and ultimate truth, existing outside of history, nonetheless the Jewish revelation is genuine, and has not been maliciously twisted by the Jews as some Muslims sometimes claim (again, on the basis of other verses in the Quran that say we did just that). I've read things by liberal Muslims asserting, basically, that Islam is something pure and high, above all the sectarian differences that divide peoples, but that all true religions - not only Judaism and Christianity, but also a variety of faiths not based on revelation, like Hinduism - partake of the truth of Islam without having realized the whole. And, indeed, the Islamic sects like Sunni and Shia Islam similarly are partial understandings that partake of the truth without being the whole of it, or while having fallen away from it in some ways.
Now, obviously, a Sunni Muslim is not going to say, "I have only a partial, fallen-away version of the truth." But that same Sunni Muslim could conclude, philosophically, that "some of what I believe is tradition rather than revelation. Revelation is permanent, ahistoric and absolute. But its meaning is not obvious, and tradition is the means of interpreting that meaning. Jews had a true revelation, and they have their own, valid tradition for interpreting it. So do I, but while theirs is particularistic, mine is universal - Jews may embrace it; all nations may embrace it; and, in some form and in the fulness of time, all nations will embrace it. But God doesn't change his mind, so his revelation to the Jews must still be valid as well, even if the Quran and the tradition I follow based on it is grander."
Apart from this, Islam already affirms that the righteous of all nations will get into heaven, not only Muslims, and even righteous pagans will get into heaven. That, in some ways, is more generous than Christianity for much of its history, and is more in line with Jewish teaching on the topic.
What can Judaism offer Islam in return? Again, the main thing is the agreement that God may have spoken to Muhammad. We can't, after all, say that He did. But we should be able at least to say that we can't say He did not. And to the extent that Islam is in harmony with natural religion as understood through the Noahide laws - and there's no reason it couldn't be - Jews can affirm that Islam is an efficacious religion.
Islam, of course, is not idolatrous. Nor does it present the problems of conflicting interpretation that bedevil Christian-Jewish dialogue. But otherwise, the struggle to find common ground is similar. Traditionally, Jews believed they had to actively assert the falsehood of Christianity, because if Christianity were true then Judaism would necessarily be false. Now that many branches of Christianity affirm that Judaism is a living and efficacious religion, Jews can approach Christianity in a different spirit, and attempt to evaluate whether it is a valid religion (for non-Jews, of course) or not, and as I've said I think a good case can be made that it is valid. Similarly with Islam: Islam has, historically, asserted that Abraham and Moses were given the Quran, not a separate revelation, and were Muslims, and to the extent that Jews claim to have a distinct and particularistic revelation they are falsifying what their own prophets said. If this ever changed, and Islam affirmed that the Jewish tradition is a valid understanding of God's revelation, inasmuch as it is truly based on an authentic revelation, then Jews could evaluate the validity of Islam without concern that Islam invalidates Judaism.
Of course, beyond these key points of mutual validation to the degree such a thing is possible, the real fruit of inter-religious dialogue is greater understanding both of God and of human understandings of Him. Understanding of foreign traditions generates resonances that can improve understanding of our own tradition. And we may have a great deal to teach others as well. Moreover, even the most hard-core monotheist cannot deny that such a vastness as God can surely be understood many ways. Inter-religious dialogue is one way to appreciate that vastness. The real differences between religions, as much as what they have in common, are valuable for a religious person to explore. A climate that makes this possible without fear is a good thing.
Is there a point to all this? I hope so. I don't think you engage in inter-religious dialogue because you want to obscure the differences between religions, nor as a sneaky way of corrupting other religions and weakening them, nor out of pure politics. I believe that at the end of days, everyone will worship at God's holy mountain, and shall acknowledge Him as the only King. I do not, however, believe that the nations shall be abolished, nor that Israel shall be the rulers of the world, nor that the nations will have to adopt Israel's particularistic stringencies. (Indeed, a case can be made that many of those very stringencies will vanish in the Messianic age; there's a lot of conflicting ideas on this question which I'm not going to go into here.) So what must I believe? Either that the world is almost wholly dark, and that most of the traditions by which people know God will have to be obliterated before the Messianic age. Or that the world has a great deal of light mixed with the dark, with many traditions that have a genuine connection to the divine, albeit mixed with errors that will need to be corrected, as even my own tradition has. As a tempermental matter, I'd rather be an optimist on this question. And if I take the optimistic view, that means that inter-religious dialogue has a real, Messianic purpose.
So I got into a discussion with Randall Parker at Parapundit about the Iraq war and Iran, and I wound up writing so much that I thought I'd adapt my comments into a post here.
Randall posted about the continued war in Iraq, and asked when the level of attacks will drop significantly? By way of response, one of his readers said: only when we topple the government of Iran. That, I think, must be counted a pessimistic answer, because the Iranian government is stronger than Michael Ledeen and friends think.
At this point, if there were a significant popular revolt, I think China circa 1989 is a more likely outcome than Russia circa 1991. Those neo-cons who take the fall of the Soviets as emblematic of how tyrannies collapse are missing several key points.
First, the Soviet Empire in Europe was held together almost entirely by force. And once the Berlin Wall fell and the Poles had their revolution, the Soviet state was revealed as a paper tiger. This, in turn, dramatically emboldened domestic opponents of the Soviet regime. There's no clear analogy to Iran; they have no empire of captive nations whose liberation could create a crisis of confidence in the metropole. The only remote analogy that I can think of is to the terrorist groups like Hezbollah that Iran sponsors. If the U.S. were to attack the terror camps in Lebanon, the Iranian regime would have to respond somehow, which *might* create a minor crisis. But, while I used to tout this idea, the more I think about it the more it seems like an unlikely bank-shot. If we try to take out Hezbollah, it should be because we're worried about Hezbollah or because Hezbollah is helping al-Qaeda, not because we think it'll have some kind of trigger effect elsewhere.
Second, Gorbachev was too civilized to do what was necessary to keep the Soviet Union intact. How do you think Yuri Andropov would have dealt with Boris Yeltsin? For that matter, how do you think Putin would have dealt with him? The denuement of the Cold War could have worked out rather differently with different leadership at the top - the Soviets would still have had to abandon the Cold War, which was bankrupting them, but they might have held on to power in Russia, and held on to non-Russian territories like Ukraine, for a lot longer. In any event, I think the mullahs are fully ruthless enough to do what is necessary to retain power. The only thing that could change the equation that I can think of is the reaction of the Iranian army to a true uprising (in China in 1989, there were rumors at one point that different Chinese armies were shooting at each other; had any significant faction in the military sided with the students, the outcome in China might have been rather different).
Third, the leadership of the Soviet Union by Brezhnev's day no longer believed in the revolution in any meaningful sense. It wasn't just that the people were fed up with the system (and that had been true for a very long time by 1991) and viewed it cynically, but that the leadership was sclerotic and lacked faith itself. Gorbachev was chosen as a new type of Soviet leader precisely because he looked like he could restore faith in a transparently dying system by reforming it. Precisely because there was so little faith left in the Soviet Union, reactionary elements that might have acted to preserve it did not act decisively early enough or vigorously enough when they did act (remember the coup against Gorbachev?). So what's the situation in Iran? The leadership quite clearly still believes in the system and in the revolution. There is no charismatic anti-regime leader like Yeltsin or Walesa around which opposition can coalesce and which the regime would be leery of confronting directly. Moreover, the regime - rightly - views the United States as having plans to topple them from power. Given the patriotism of the Iranian people, that makes it very hard for us to separate them from the people by any forceful action, and if we take all military options off the table then what stops the regime from crushing the people by force the way Saddam did to his people in 1991, the way the Chinese regime did to the students in 1989, etc. etc.?
Iran is a very difficult challenge. We can't let them get nukes. But military action to prevent that would almost certainly drive the Iranian people to *support* the regime, against America. And, as noted above, I'm unconvinced that "encouragement" of domestic opponents of the regime will have any meaningful effect until the regime leadership itself loses confidence. Anyhow there were more signs of strong opposition two years ago than there are today.
Sp: how long will the attacks go on? Until someone wins. This is a civil war as well as a war against the occupying power. Allawi is trying to consolidate his power in the Sunni heartland versus rival clans. Part of the way he's doing this is by crushing the Shiite opposition in the south. The Shiites in the south generally are fighting not to be crushed by the historically-dominant Sunnis. But they are also engaged in their own mini civil war. Al-Sadr needs to provoke a crisis that unites the Shiites behind him. So his interests are kind of the same as Allawi's in that both of them want a fight (albeit, of course, each needs the other to lose). Sistani is, I think, playing a longer-term game. He's old enough to know that the Shiites usually lose these power struggles. He probably understands that keeping the world invested in Iraq is good for the Shiites long-term, because it limits how repressive the Sunnis can be and makes it at least conceivable that Iraq becomes either more democratic or more federal in character, either of which means more power and independence for the Shiites. But he (understandably) doesn't trust the Americans and knows that siding with us openly is a one-way ticket to irrelevance in Iraqi politics. So he's the one player with an interest in averting open conflict, but his ability to prevent it is acutely limited. In any event, I don't know how this multi-sided civil war ends until it reaches some kind of stable solution. Even if Iran stepped out of the picture, the internal dynamics would remain (albeit if one power with an interest in continued instability in the country were removed from the game, the chances of reaching a stable solution would of course go up).
Randall asked: hasn't the war with Iraq made it harder to deal with Iran? I think the record is mixed, but on the whole not positive. On the one hand, the clearer it is that we're sticking it out in Iraq, the more serious anyone has to take our threats. Our current election is crucial in that regard; Kerry will be tested shortly after he's elected, because our enemies will want to know whether he will stand behind his predecessor's commitments. But there's a lot on the other side of the ledger as well. Not finding WMD makes it much, much harder. How much you want to blame Bush for that failure is really a function of (a) whether you think he deliberately sexed-up intelligence to make a case for a war he'd already decided on, or (b) consistently read ambiguous intelligence in the most alarming way because of a post-9-11 syndrome that says "better safe than sorry." If the former, it's all his fault. If the latter, I cut him some slack. There were, after all, some smart people outside the Team B gang who thought Saddam had an active nuclear weapons program, Ken Pollack, most prominently.
The current situation - a consequence of really atrocious pre-war planning for the post-war (which boils down, to a great extent, to over-reliance on Ahmad Chalabi as the source of all intelligence) - does make it tougher to take on Iran, 'cause we've got our hands full. But, we now have over 100,000 troops in Iraq, and we're building more bases in neighboring countries. And I think it would have been very difficult to take on Iran while leaving Saddam in place; assuming we needed to fight a full-scale war with Iran, we would have wound up fighting a rear-guard action against Iraq at the same time. I understand why Bush wanted to avoid that contingency, and take care of unfinished business first before thinking beyond that.
I think this is actually a big reason why Bush *did* focus on Iraq - not because it was the most important target but because it was the easiest one to take down. Kind of how Churchill talked about attacking Italy as the "soft underbelly" of the Axis. Historians still debate whether the Italian campaign was, in fact, a key part of the victory strategy or a massive diversion from the main event. Iraq, having no meaningful connection to al-Qaeda, no cooperation with Iran (the major terrorism sponsor in the region), no ties to any terrorist group that America really worried about (Abu Nidal does not count, sorry), and no WMD, was certainly not part of any "axis" of evil or otherwise. He was just unfinished business that Bush decided to deal with before moving on. Takin him out would show we meant business. This is John Derbyshire's take on the Iraq war, and I think it's a lot of Bush's, Cheney's and Rumsfeld's take. The whole Chalabi/democracy/cake-walk business just made the idea of taking down Saddam look a lot easier and to have a lot of potential collateral benefits. Turns out finishing that unfinished business created a whole bunch of new headaches instead.
Anyhow, all the reasons why it's hard to tackle Iran now would have been true then as well. The regime would have put up a tough fight then as now. They'd get more popular support after an American invasion then as now. Drumming up international support for such a war would have been extraordinarily difficult before the Iraq war, at least as hard as it was to drum up support for war with Iraq. And the post-war in Iran would have been difficult for different reasons than Iraq (Iran has a very different culture, a relatively unified ethnic base, a strong national identity, etc.) but it wouldn't have been a cakewalk. Iran is much bigger than Iraq, and much more populous. And who wants to go to war with them? I'm just skeptical that non-military solutions to the Iranian proliferation problem would have worked. Whether surgical air attacks could have set them back the way Israel set back Iraq ten years with their 1981 strike, I don't know. What the political effect of such a strike would have been in the pre-Iraq-war context, after (presumably) lots of diplomatic maneuvering to try to get them to disarm voluntarily, I don't know, but I doubt it would have toppled the regime and I doubt it would have gotten support internationally. This stuff is tough, much tougher than, I think, most of us thought before Iraq.
By the way, the same thing is true of North Korea, though for different reasons. North Korea would probably collapse quickly under military assault, unlike Iran. But they'd kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in the process, and shred our system of collective security in Asia. Preemptive war against North Korea would definitely end the alliance with South Korea, and would make every other country in the region very scared of us. Which would push them into the arms of China. That's not exactly the outcome we want, which is why our hands are somewhat tied militarily over there. And this situation obtains with or without the Iraq war. I wrote a bunch of stuff on this back in late 2002, when I started to panic over Korea and wonder what on earth we were doing tackling Iraq when North Korea already *had* nukes, and was surely ready to sell to the highest bidder. But the more I thought about it, the harder it was to figure out what to do.
I wish I knew what to do about Iran or North Korea. Heck, I wish I knew what to do about Pakistan, which is a bigger threat than Iran and North Korea put together. Iran is actually a relatively rational enemy. I don't trust them. I don't want them getting nukes. I think it's worth risking war to prevent them from going nuclear. But in the end, they are relatively unlikely to give nukes to terrorists; they're more likely going to use nukes to deter us from fighting them as they wage proxy wars across the region to become the regional hegemon. Kind of like the Soviets did, on a smaller scale, but in a very important neighborhood. Nukes are the ultimate insurance policy against winding up like Saddam; once they have them, they'll harrass us and our allies in the region with impunity, and make us look like putzes. (Of course, the prospect of nuclear war with Israel goes up, but the Israelis do have a substantial nuclear deterrent of their own, and hopefully will get a real missile defense within a few years courtesy of us.) North Korea is a basket case; it just *might* be possible to keep them behaving well and not selling their nuclear technology by paying them a huge bribe, while putting a missile defense around Japan, interdicting and inspecting their shipping, and putting enough firepower offshore to wipe out their army in hours if they try anything. I'm not saying I like that solution, mind you, nor am I confident we could quarantine North Korea successfully. But it's better than the options we have with respect to Pakistan. Pakistan is already a nuclear power; has an intelligence service rife with al-Qaeda sympathizers; actually harbors a whole bunch of big-wig al-Qaeda types; is massively unstable, with a history of violent coups; and has sold nuclear technology to at least one other rogue state (North Korea). But it's a major non-NATO ally. Go figure. Anyone want to invade Pakistan? Not me. Anyone know what else to do about them? Not me.
I've been promising various people for some time that I would write something more lengthy about the situation in Israel and, specifically, my view of the settlements. So, before I go on vacation, I'm going to try to do that.
Let me begin by giving an overall view of where I stand in the Israeli political spectrum. If I were an Israeli, my security views would make me a classical right-wing Labor voter (that is to say, these days, a Shinui or Likud voter; Labor's right wing doesn't exist anymore), my religion-state views would probably make me a Likud or left-wing National Religious voter (I think religion should have a clear but circumscribed role in the state; I'm against both the fundamentalists of Shas and the radical secularists of Shinui, and I'd probably be most comfortable with the tiny left-wing Orthodox party, Meimad, on religious issues), and my economic views would make me a Shinui voter (the only free-market party in Israel). Used to be Natan Sharansky's party - Yisrael B'Aliyah - was the most congenial to me: centrist to hawkish on security matters, reformist on political issues (Israel has serious structural problems with its constitution and has a bad corruption problem), classically liberal on economic matters and centrist/nationalist on religion-state questions. But Sharansky has moved way to the right on the settlements and has opposed the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and I can't follow him there. This post is in part an attempt to explain why that is.
I am not going to reach back into the mists of time to discuss the legitimacy of the State of Israel or anything like that. Anyone who doesn't accept that Israel is a sovereign and legitimate state is not part of the conversation, as far as I'm concerned. (By the same token, anyone who talks about forcible expulsion of the Arab Palestinian population is not part of the conversation, as far as I'm concerned. Between those two poles, I think I can have a conversation with just about anyone.)
We start, then, with the aftermath of the Six Day War, with Israel in possession of new territories in Sinai, the Golan, Judea and Samaria, and with Israel's neighbors having decisively rejected peace and normalization in exchange for the return of the captured territories.
In the immediate years after the war, Israel outlined and began to implement a settlement policy based on security needs. Israel would plant a few settlements on the Golan, a few in Sinai, a few in Gaza and a few in the Jordan Valley to establish control of these territories. The people who founded these settlements did not think these territories could never be given away, but no one expected political conditions to permit a trade any time soon. In addition, settlements were planted along the Green Line (the cease-fire line that served as a border until June, 1967) to thicken Israel's waist at its narrowest point; in a ring around Jerusalem, to secure control of the newly united capital; in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem; at Ariel in the Samarian hills; and at Ma'ale Adumim east of Jerusalem. All of these settlements were established to provide additional security to pre-1967 Israel and to a united Jerusalem, and were expected to be retained in any peace settlement. All, apart from Ariel, could easily be incorporated into pre-1967 Israel if the bulk of the territories were ever traded away for peace.
I think all these settlement plans made sense at the time and still make sense in retrospect. Israel's pre-1967 borders left the state very insecure, leaving the country on a hair-trigger in matters of national defense (which fact was not incidental in triggering the 1967 war). The settlements established were designed to promote security for the State of Israel, and did not prejudice against any peace agreement in any meaningful way other than to prevent the re-division of Jerusalem, Israel's capital, which had never been divided historically until the Jordanian annexation. These settlements were not planted in Palestinian Arab population centers, did not impact their lives meaningfully, and need not have brought Israel and the Arab Palestinians under Israeli rule into conflict. Most important, there was no expectation that the settlements on the distant periphery - in Sinai, in Gaza, in the Golan, in the Jordan Valley - were absolutely permanent. The Israeli consensus of the time (which, admittedly, was never universal and certainly wavered in the Golda Meir years) contemplated the return of these territories when Arab governments were ready for peace, and given proper security arrangements, and it's hard to believe that most people thought settlements would remain if the territories were returned.
As for the legitimacy of the settlements, that depended on the status of the territories. If they were occupied land of another state, settlement would have been prohibited by international law. But the territories of Judea and Samaria were part of the original British Mandate for a Jewish state, were not generally recognized as anyone's sovereign territory, and were as reasonably claimed by Israel as by Jordan (which had annexed Judea and Samaria in 1950, but that annexation was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan, and not by any other Arab country, by Israel or by either the United States or the Soviet Union). They were and are properly considered disputed territory rather than occupied territory in the sense that they were not territory recognized as belonging to one state and occupied by another, but rather territory claimed by both Israel (a sovereign state), Jordan (a sovereign state) and (after its founding) the PLO, a private armed group claiming to represent the Palestinian Arab people. (Sorry to have to belabor this, but Israel - though unrecognized by any Arab state at that point - was not similarly "disputed territory" but rather was a sovereign state with unsettled borders. The United Nations and the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world recognized Israel as a sovereign state, as they continue to do, but Israel's final borders were subject to final resolution by agreement with its neighbors. Israel is far from unique globally in having borders that are in dispute.)
But at the same time that these settlements were established, the first settlements that did not follow this pattern were established as well. These settlements were driven by ideological motivations: to hold on to the entirety of the historic Land of Israel. Acquisition, retention and settlement of the entirety of that Land was part of the core of Revisionist Zionist ideology, and was the foundation stone of the Likud party. Moreover, the sanctity of the Land and the imperative to settle it in order to more quickly bring the Messianic Age was a key tenet of the religious ideology of Rabbi Avraham Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine, and after the 1967 war his ideological descendents took an increasingly strident line on this question, and began to crowd out other, more traditional religious perspectives among Zionist Orthodox Jews. Indeed, prior to 1967 Orthodox Jews who were Zionist were unlikely to adhere to Messianic ideas about the meaning of the State of Israel, and held to the traditional view that questions of territory and borders were matters of state that rabbis had no business meddling in. After 1967, the Messianic perspective progressively took hold, with disastrous consequences.
The first ideological settlement was the wildcat operation mounted in Hevron. In 1968, a group of Jews registered at the Park Hotel in the city of Hevron. The day after registering, they announced that they intended to reestablish the Jewish community in the city. (The ancient Jewish community of Hevron had fled after 67 Jews were murdered in a pogrom in 1929.) The government of Israel was faced with a choice: pull the wildcatters out, or allow them to dictate settlement policy. They ultimately agreed to what looked like a compromise, but was really a victory for the wildcat settlers: the government removed them from Hevron, but built a new community (then just a handful of people, now with over 6,000 residents) just outside the city called Kiryat Arba. In 1979, a group of Jews from Kiryat Arba moved into the old Jewish Quarter of Hevron proper, founding a settlement which remains there today.
Hevron was a tough issue for the government because of its religious significance to Jews. Hevron is one of four holy cities to Judaism. The holiest by far is Jerusalem, site of the ancient Temple built by Solomon and of its successor, built upon the return from exile in Babylon. After Jerusalem, the four other holy cities are Hevron, where (according to Jewish and Muslim tradition) Abraham and his family are buried; Tiberias, in northern Israel on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), where the ancient Sanhedrin convened and where parts of the Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud were compiled; and Safed, in the mountains of the Galilee, the epicenter of the Jewish mystical tradition popularly known as Kabbalah. Hevron, additionally, has special status in that according to the Biblical account, Abraham acquired the tomb for his wife (and himself and subsequent generations) by purchase, the first clear purchase of title to part of the Holy Land, and a title which is specified in the text as being perpetual. Because of its religious significance, and because of this special status in the Torah text, and because of the circumstances (a pogrom) that drove the original Jewish community from Hevron decades before, Israel's government had a hard time saying to these wildcat settlers: get out of there.
But that's what they should have done. Israel had not annexed Hevron, and was extremely unlikely to do so, for quite simple demographic reasons. The city is a large, hostile Arab city, and Israel was founded to be a Jewish state. Absorbing a large, hostile Arab population simply made no sense.
And, more important, Israel should have kicked these settlers out for a simple reason of principle: they were not authorized to be there. You cannot privatize matters of national security and the setting of borders. By allowing the Hevron settlers to remain, that's precisely what Israel's government did.
Back during the War of Independence, there was an incident that makes Likudnik blood boil to this day. Revisionist guerilla groups were smuggling arms into the country on a ship called the Altalena. Ben Gurion, leader of the incipient Jewish state, demanded that the Altalena place itself under his command and surrender its arms. The Altalena refused. Ben Gurion ordered the boat sunk. Yitzhak Rabin was the man who executed the order. Ben Gurion understood that first and foremost, the nascent state had to avoid a civil war. He had to be sure that the Irgun, the Stern Gang, and all the rest of the armed Jewish gangs roaming the country would obey a single central authority, or the state would be stillborn. He was willing to fire on Jews bringing much-needed weaponry to the country if they would not submit. Among Likudniks, the incident is proof of Ben Gurion's megalomania, his "fascist" or "Stalinist" tendencies, etc., etc. But firing on the Altalena was exactly the right thing for Ben Gurion to do. Allowing the wildcatters to blackmail the government into settling Hevron opened up the very Pandora's Box that Ben Gurion had slammed shut by sinking that ship.
Now, to be fair, I say that Israel was extremely unlikely to annex Hevron, but the second-largest political party in Israel did have a platform of doing pretty much just that. Likud was absolutely opposed to trading away any part of the Holy Land. (Which, I should note, did not include Sinai at any point in Jewish history; for that matter, it never included much of the Negev desert which is included in today's state of Israel, and the historic borders of Israel otherwise varied quite widely over time, sometimes not including much of today's coastal Israel, sometimes including not only today's Israel but chunks of what is today Jordan, etc. But I digress.) But what was to be done with the Arab population living there was never clearly specified.
I should digress a little more at this point. I understand Revisionist ideology. I even have some sympathy for it. The Revisionists were animated by a healthy nationalism and were free of utopian Socialist ideas. The Revisionists had a clearer-eyed view of the Arab population precisely because they were not deluded by Socialist and anti-Imperialist dream-talk. You get the feeling reading the Labor Zionists from the pre-State period that sometimes they thought the Arabs would welcome them with open arms and sometimes they forgot that the Arabs were even there. The Revisionists never thought either; they thought the Jews would have to fight to establish their right to return to their home, and that the only way they would win that right was through victory. The Revisionists have the better of that argument, in my view.
But the Revisionists had their own, profound delusions, and none more profound than the notion that the Arabs, after defeat, would join with their Jewish vanquishers to build what to readers today sounds like a right-wing version of a bi-national state. Jabotinsky, the father of Revisionist Zionism, actually talked about providing that each cabinet department would, by law, have either a Jewish Minister and an Arab Deputy Minister or vice versa. (He assumed that the Prime Minister would always be Jewish.) This idea of right-wing bi-nationalism, however appealing to Jews, was no less delusional than the Labor Zionist dream of class solidarity between Arab fellaheen and Jewish proletarians.
The difference between the Revisionist/Likud delusion and the Labor Zionist delusion is that Labor Zionism's dream of Socialist brotherhood was not central to their vision for the State, whereas Revisionist Zionism makes little sense without their dream. If a bi-national state dominated by Jews was not going to happen (because there would be too many Arabs, and because Arabs in large numbers would not accept being dominated by Jews) then how on earth was Israel supposed to hold on to all of the territories? There is no answer, and for this reason a series of Likud governments - under Begin, Shamir and Netanyahu - have declined to even try to answer this question.
Labor Zionists, from the days of the Allon Plan onward, assumed that one day the Sinai would be returned (as it was, under Likud PM Menahem Begin) in exchange for peace, that most of Judea and Samaria would be traded with Jordan for peace, and that - in the distant future - even the Golan would be traded with Syria for peace, in the latter two cases with territorial adjustments to provide for Israeli security and to reflect facts like the reunification of Jerusalem. The Likud, on the other hand, planned to retain the Golan (the territory was annexed by Begin in 1981) and Judea and Samaria, permanently. And, after Labor's terrible performance on multiple fronts in the 1970s (Golda Meir was unquestionably Israel's worst PM, whatever ignorant American Jewish feminists think), Likud took power, with Labor never to be restored to a clear majority until a very brief period under Rabin in 1992.
Under Begin's government, Ariel Sharon established settlements all through Judea and Samaria, specifically designed to make it impossible to carve up the territory in a hypothetical peace settlement. Israel pursued a war in Lebanon to wipe out the PLO, an ambition that was frustrated by President Ronald Reagan (who, understandably, was unwilling to risk a confrontation with the Soviet Union over the issue), and which in the course of the adventure spawned new enemies (Hezbollah) as formidable and deadly as the PLO had been. By the mid-1980s, a new Palestinian Arab resistance movement had sprung up, and while neither Israelis nor Palestinians suffered anything in the first intifadeh to compare to the suffering of the past four years, that first intifadeh did shake Israel profoundly. Israelis, by and large, did not want to rule the Palestinian Arabs by force. But force was just about the only thing the brought to the table to deal with them. Israel never seriously tried to implement the autonomy provisions of the Camp David accords with Egypt. Israel never contemplated any permanent status for the Palestinian Arabs that would relieve the weight of the occupation, whether the establishment of real territorial governments or the extension of Israeli citizenship. I don't know whether any such scheme would have worked, given Arafat's determination to prevent any kind of accommodation with Israel (friendly Arab mayors were routinely assassinated by PLO hit squads) but the fact is they were never seriously tried. Likud, the heir to Revisionist Zionism, never really tried to implement a fair version of right-wing bi-nationalism that their founders purported to believe in. Which left force as the only argument. And force was failing - the intifadeh wasn't easily crushed; Israel was morally weakened by the attempt; and Israel's generals increasingly worried about the security cost of deploying so much of the army doing police work in the territories.
This is the context that led to the first Labor government since 1977, the government of Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was considered a Labor hawk, but he had turned into a reluctant dove behind the scenes, convinced that Hamas was rising, and would pose a graver threat than the PLO; convinced that the territories were a losing proposition in terms of security, a drain on the army's resources and a drain on morale; and convinced that Israel needed peace urgently because they couldn't afford another war. Rabin signed on to the Oslo Accords (negotiated privately by leftist wildcatters - another example of privatization of fundamental state functions that neatly parallels the wildcat settlement of Hevron) in order to beat a strategic retreat under diplomatic cover. He had only two problems.
First, he lacked a popular mandate for such a revolutionary decision. He had been elected on a platform of never talking to the PLO, and he promptly signed a deal with the PLO. This undermined his government from the start, lost him a Jewish majority, and led to a situation where the opposition no longer believed the government was patriotic (it relied, at the end, on the Arab parties to avoid being toppled). This is not to excuse the assassination, which was a dispicable crime. But it is to explain a bit of why it happened. Rabin tried to turn the country too quickly from a situation where extremist settlers were coddled and allowed to blackmail the government to a situation where they realistically anticipated being uprooted and (much less realistically) feared that the entire enterprise of Zionism was being reversed before their eyes.
Second, he lacked a partner genuinely interested in reaching accommodation. Rabin gambled that Yasser Arafat would be a better partner than Sheikh Yassin; that Arafat could be made into Israel's puppet, to keep the Palestinians in line and allow for a calm withdrawal from Arab population centers, with a final political settlement well down the road. Arafat had no interest in playing ball. Arafat has never been interested in playing ball; he's never been interested in establishing himself as head of a Palestinian State, to say nothing of wanting to actually do anything good for his people. Arafat's only interest, throughout his murderous career - in Jordan, in Lebanon, and then in the territories - was in creating chaos, because in chaos he thrives and has no accountability. And boy, did he create chaos for Israel.
Rabin was succeeded by Netanyahu, who tried to put the Palestinian situation in a deep freeze. But this was impossible; diplomatic processes had begun and would move along of their own accord. Netanyahu was, I think, a terrible Prime Minister, who divided the country and lied to everyone he met. But his situation was, to be fair, impossible: he could neither back out of Oslo nor implement it. Barak figured out the winning formula for beating Netanyahu: cut to the chase. Call Arafat's bluff. Dare him to go directly to final-status negotiations. Put everything on the table, and dare Arafat to sign, and agree to end the conflict with a two-state solution.
Well, we know what happened.
Now, one thing worth mentioning, because all the pro-Palestinian factions out there will certainly mention it, is that all through the Oslo years, settlement activity expanded - indeed, settlements grew more in the 1990s than they did in the 1980s, by a considerable margin. What can explain this? If Israel was trying to disengage from the Palestinian Arab population, why on earth were they continuing to build?
There are several answers, none of them wholly satisfactory. First, as I mentioned, Rabin lacked a mandate to implement Oslo's radical plans. So he could hardly go beyond the letter of Oslo and restrain settlement growth. Second, because final status negotiations were deferred, it made sense for both sides to try to create "facts on the ground" in a hurry to try to influence where borders would ultimately be drawn - and both sides did do this. Relatedly, some within both Likud and in the Barak camp felt that continued settlement building put pressure on Arafat to come to a deal, before facts on the ground went against him. But the main reason settlement building continued is that Israel's political system is a mess, and one consequence of the mess is that advocates for the settlers held inordinate power in the Knesset. And no one was going to take them on until absolutely necessary.
Did continued building cause the failure of Oslo? No, I don't think so. If Arafat had ever wanted a deal, he could have had one. Arafat deliberately avoided preparing his people for a two-state solution; he even propagandized against it, even as much of Israel's leadership was slowly getting its people used to the idea. But continued building gave Arafat a good propaganda talking-point, and certainly did nothing to minimize tensions on the ground between settlers and Arabs.
So we come to today. There is now a very wide consensus in Israel in favor of unilateral moves to consolidate Israel's borders, withdrawing from indefensible areas near Palestinian population centers and putting up a fence to protect Israel from Palestinian terrorists. With 70% of the Israeli population, then, the dream of settling the whole of the Land of Israel is decisively dead. An overwhelming majority wants out of the territories, including removing settlements, and retreating to militarily and demographically secure borders. If I were an Israeli, I would certainly be part of this majority, even though I have real reservations about whether a "fighting retreat" will work in terms of preventing terrorism.
How do I feel about the settlement enterprise in retrospect? Mixed. I think the Allon Plan was a good one. I still think the only solution to the Palestinian problem is incorporation of the territories into Jordan; Palestinian politics is toxic in the extreme and any Palestinian state would be small and defenseless anyhow, and so would be a practical dependency of either Jordan or Israel or both, so why not make the relationship formal and clear? How to convince Jordan to take on this responsibility, I have no idea, but I still think it's the only long-term solution, so until we get there we probably will continue to have war.
I think the settlements that are in the "consensus" make sense and were perfectly legal. But I think the Begin/Sharon settlement plan, which planted Jews all through Judea and Samaria, was a historic mistake. And I think the expansion of these settlements in the 1990s was folly, though once they were there I don't see how politically you could stop them from expanding.
Most important, I think it is tragic that it took the Likud so long to understand the fundamental moral and intellectual flaw in their program. Yes, Israel had a claim to the territories of Judea and Samaria, probably a better claim than anyone. But the logical implication of this claim is that the residents of these territories had a logical claim to Israeli citizenship. Israel, after all, granted citizenship to all the Arabs who stayed put in the 1948 conflict. They could not, in any plausible way, hold on to the territories without granting citizenship to those who lived there - or, at a minimum, granting them sufficient autonomy that they could have prohibited Israelis from settling among them. No one in Israel wanted to grant citizenship to all the Arabs of the territories. Logically, that should have meant that no one in Israel wanted to hold on to the territories, certainly not to settle them. Because the Right in Israel did not understand this, Israel got itself into a mess from which it still does not know how to extricate itself.
The most under-appreciated damage to Israel that flows from the settlement enterprise, though, has been the destruction of Religious Zionism. This post has already gone on way too long. But I'm going to talk about this for a couple of paragraphs anyhow. Back in the pre-1967 years, Religious Zionism was the centrist position, holding that Israel, as the Jewish state, had to have a government of Jewish character, had to have religious significance, and had to relate to notions of self-government that spring from Jewish tradition, and not just from Socialist ideas brought from Poland, British institutions inherited from the Mandate period, or the vague liberalism of the international "community" (or, for that matter, American ideas about the social contract, non-establishment of religion, etc.). This attitude springs from Religious Zionism's progressive Messianism, the belief that the Messiah comes by means of a process - obscure and mysterious, but unfolding in history and hence capable of being assisted or hindered in time by human actions. All this is, I think, very good, in terms of strengthening the state but also in terms of religion. I can appreciate religious quietism, but I don't prefer it, generally; I think religion should speak to the world and should relate to history.
But after 1967, as noted, Religious Zionism began to change, and to focus with increasing exclusivity on the settlement of the Land of Israel. It also became more avowedly prophetic, claiming to know that the End Times were coming and that the 1967 victory was a sign of this, and that therefore anything that hindered - to say nothing of reversing - the ingathering of the exiles, the settlement of the Land, and the building of the third Temple, was a grave sin against God. As I say, I think this change was absolutely disastrous, even idolatrous. The arrogance implied in saying that any one can know what God has planned is stupifying. These people who claim to be prophets seem never to have read the Book of Jeremiah.
The consequence of this change, though, is negative beyond the fact that it created a dangerously Messianic group of Israeli Jews, and created foreign policy and security problems for the State of Israel. It gravely weakened Judaism by corrupting its strongest and most centrist branch, the branch that was both progressive and traditional. This left Judaism religiously split in three: liberals (mostly in the Diaspora) with decreasing ties to the tradition; nationalists (mostly in Israel) who veer into idolatry in their attitudes towards the state and their claims to know God's mind; and anti-moderns (in Israel and the Diaspora) who do not live in historic time, espouse fundamentalist and anti-scientific ideas, and (in Israel) have become increasingly parasitic on a larger society whose values and even existence they purport to reject. This split has been devastating; the center has not held, and Judaism has been badly weakened as a result.
And the consequence has been bad for Israel as well, because without the centrist Religious Zionist perspective to articulate how Israel can have Jewish content and relate to Jewish tradition as a state, Israel is split between two perspectives: the ultra-secularists of Shinui, who reject any such content (for them Israel is a Jewish state because it has mostly Jewish citizens, no more); and the fundamentalists of Shas, who want Israel to legislate religious law in the manner of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This, in turn, has progressively alienated Israelis from non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews, and vice versa; secular Israelis feel progressively less Jewish, and hence have no interest in Diaspora Jews, and Diaspora Jews feel Israel is increasingly Jewish only in a narrow, sectarian sense, and hence have less affinity for Israel. And, more dangerously, the loss of the religious center has undermined loyalty to the state among the religious, who are a growing proportion of Israelies. The ultra-Orthodox are already only equivocally loyal, because they reject a Jewish state before the advent of the Messiah. But the Religious Zionists who form something like 40% of the Israeli officer corps are only equivocally loyal as well. They may well be more loyal to their own ideology and their rabbis than they are to the state and their commanders in the army. That is a very, very bad situation, and one reason why Israel is moving so slowly to implement any kind of withdrawal.
The settlement enterprise did not necessarily have to lead to these dire consequences for Judaism by corrupting Religious Zionism. But it did lead to those consequences in fact, and the past cannot be undone.
What has to happen now, to me, is clear.
- Israel has to stage a fighting retreat, withdrawing settlers from indefensible areas and consolidating its borders. Whether the IDF continued to operate beyond the fence is a question; I think it will, and that peace or even quiet will be elusive for a long time. But civilians will be brought behind lines that Israel genuinely intends to defend, and that's the main thing.
- Israel has to try to lure Jordan and Egypt into a cooperative role in bringing the Palestinian areas under control. How they will do this is not clear to me. If the U.S. can help in this part of the process, we should, assuming we have any ideas.
- Orthodox Jewish leaders who are engaged with modernity have got to start work on rebuilding the centrist Orthodoxy that has died off in part as a consequence of the settlement enterprise.
- Israel's political system has to tackle long-overdue political reform: formalizing and circumscribing the place of religion in the state; tackling corruption; and, most important, devolving more power to regional governors and ending proportional representation and switching to a district-based first-past-the-post system for elections to the Knesset. The only way Arab Israelis will ever be integrated into Israeli political life is if they have some influence on the political system. That will never be the case so long as the only votes they cast are for disloyal Arab parties, and they will continue to cast such votes so long as Israel has proportional representation. If Israeli politicians have to campaign locally among Jews and Arabs (where districts or regions contain both Jewish and Arab voters), you'll slowly see Arab Israeli politics accommodating to the existence of the Jewish state. This is indispensible to the long-term future of Israel; Arabs are 20% of the population, and Israel cannot survive as a democracy if they become progressively more alienated.
It's late in the day, but it's never too late. The past cannot be undone, but the future is still there to be built.
You know, I've pretty resolutely avoided talking about the whole Swift Boat Veterans business, because I just didn't care. I don't care much about Kerry's service (which was clearly honorable and valiant, but was 35 years ago) and I don't care much about Bush's service (which was clearly adequate, and was also decades ago). Neither of these guys is John McCain, nor is either Bill Clinton. I don't care whether Kerry benefitted from medals inflation, and I don't care whether he was in Cambodia or near Cambodia. And I don't think the Swift Boat Veterans care either, frankly. What they hate about Kerry is what he did after the war.
The only reason I've decided to mention the whole business at all is that the ads are clearly having an impact on the election. I hope that Stanley Kurtz is right about why. Both he and - coming from the other end of the spectrum - Peter Beinart quickly dismiss the business about medals and Cambodia and cut to the chase: we're talking about Vietnam as a proxy for talking about the lessons of Vietnam for the current war. As Kurtz sees it, Kerry is being hurt because the lesson he learned from Vietnam is: blame America first. The American military commits atrocities as a matter of policy; interventionism always backfires; politicians who favor war are probably lying to cover up their failures. Peter Beinart, while not denying that Kerry is being hurt by the ads, has an on-point rejoinder: do the Swift Vets and the Bush campaign really want to defend the Vietnam War? Aren't many of the key accusations of that war's opponents - that atrocities were committed, and covered up; that politicians and generals did lie to cover up their failure; that, albeit we went into Vietnam with the noble intention of fighting Communism, our intervention was understood by the Vietnamese as a quasi-imperial adventure, and that we lost the war in large part because our enemies successfully claimed the mantle of nationalism. If, as Beinart sees it, these are the lessons of Vietnam, and that these are the lessons that Kerry has learned, they have obvious relevance for the current campaign and for the current war - and not the lessons that Kurtz thinks they have.
Does Beinart have a point? Yes and no. I think he's right that nobody should want to refight the Vietnam War. It is hard to see how, in retrospect, we could have won that war without invading North Vietnam, and we were not willing to do that because of the risk of escalation to a conflict with the Soviet Union. (That was the lesson of Korea, remember - by taking the war to the North, we turned the tide, but also brought the Chinese into the war, which turned the tide back. Those limited wars of the Cold War era were tough to win if for no other reason than we properly kept them limited for fear of the consequences of all-out war.) And it's true that the people who managed that war deserve a lot of the blame for the damage the war did to our country. They did lie - usually to convince us, and themselves, that all was going well when it wasn't.
But Beinart misses three key things. First, Kerry didn't just protest the war when he returned. He made (or repeated) specific accusations. He didn't just say the war was a mistake; he used the most inflammatory language to indict the war, its planners and the soldiers who fought it as criminal. I do not believe those charges are, in the most part, true. And many of Kerry's critics have similarly denounced the truthfulness of the accusations, and not merely the fact that they gave aid and comfort to the enemy. So Beinart is a bit off base in saying that people are attacking Kerry for making accusations without actually saying those accusations are false.
Second, and, I think, more important, Kerry has not properly explained those accusations. Look, this all happened a long time ago. Lots of people did lots of things in the '60s and '70s that wouldn't play so well today. The current foreign minister of Germany is a former radical leftist who consorted with terrorists and committed assault against the police in his youth. Joschka Fischer's views have changed over time; he's still a man of the left, but he has publicly repudiated the violence of his former comrades in arms, and has rejected the most radical parts of the Green agenda and supported NATO, which would have been absolutely anathema to his younger self.
Has Kerry similarly evolved? Yes, but. No one seriously thinks Kerry holds radical, anti-American views anymore. But has Kerry ever said, in effect, "we who fought against the war in Vietnam were right about the war, but in many ways we were wrong about America"? Because the radical groups that Kerry belonged to and allied with did not just indict the war; they indicted America. If Kerry has said something like the foregoing, the campaign hasn't made that clear at all, and they should. It would be the best response Kerry could make to the Swift Vets: no apology for having protested the war, but a genuine apology not just for using extreme rhetoric but for having professed a loss of faith in America, which I think accurately characterizes how he comes off when you read his testimony now.
Beinart wants to blame Bush and the Swift Vets for refighting the domestic front of the Vietnam War, but Kerry has not - as McCain has - tried to heal the breach that war opened. Rather, he has exacerbated it by arrogating to himself both the nobility of service and the nobility of opposition to an unjust war. No, I'm not saying there's some contradiction between volunteering for Vietnam and then opposing the war upon return; I see no contradiction there at all. Rather, I'm saying that Kerry behaves as if all the virtue in those years was on his side, and this only widens the breach because, correctly, those who remember those years know that he was emphatically on one side, and all the virtue was not there.
Third, and most important of all, is Kurtz's point. We're talking about Vietnam in part as a proxy for talking about Iraq. Kerry has been quite deliberately incoherent on Iraq, refusing to say the war was a mistake and refusing to explain how he'd win it while exploiting both anti-war sentiment on the left (which thinks the war was a criminal enterprise) and on the right (which thinks the war was unnecessary and that we should cut our losses), and holding out false hopes of a "secret plan" to win by bringing in foreign troops that will never come. So we're talking about Vietnam as a way of trying to understand what lessons Kerry drew from that war, and how he'd apply them to the current war. And I have to say, based on Kerry's history and his statements, I think Kurtz has him more right than not.
But I have a different question: what does Peter Beinart think are the lessons of Vietnam for the current war? TNR, after all, supported, and, retrospectively, still supports the war in Iraq. During the primaries, TNR endorsed Joe Lieberman, co-head of the refounded-for-the-third-time Committee for the Present Danger, headquarters of the unrepentant neo-cons. This is an intellectual group whose origin lies in revulsion at the McGovernization of the Democratic Party, and the determination to bury the Vietnam Syndrome and restore a hawkish Cold War liberalism. Those of this group who are still Democrats have basically fought their whole lives to save the party from people like the John Kerry of 1971. Beinart thinks those attacking Kerry are disingenuously re-fighting Vietnam. Grant him that for the sake of argument. What are the lessons that should be seared into John Kerry's brain from his experience? And what does Beinart think is seared there?
Since finishing the Shakespeare, I've been reading Saul Bellow's novel from the 1970s, Humboldt's Gift. I've read only one Bellow novel before, Henderson the Rain King, which I enjoyed. I have equivocal feelings about Humboldt, though. The language is gorgeous and lush, but I keep feeling like it's teetering on the edge of self-parody. And it is hard for me to get into the head of these sensual/intellectual Jews that the book is all about. The writers I know are nothing like this, even those with messy lives. It is very hard for me to internalize an era when sex had emerged from the realm of the forbidden and become part of the quest for more - more life, more experience, more everything. It's not that they are sensualists, nor that they are intellectuals, nor that they are both at once. I have an easier time relating to a sensualist/intellectual like Leopold Bloom - so internal and yet so perceptive - or one like a Singer protagonist - so equivocal and yet so yearning - than to the bald questing agon of the characters in Bellow's novel. They seem so determined to push themselves upon the world, I almost want to laugh at them. But I'm pushing on. I'm very curious to discover if Bellow has a sense of humor about the ridiculous way they make their hunger into a matter of principle. I'll probably report back when I'm finished with the book.
As always, before I head to Stratford, I re-read the plays we're going to see, or at least the Shakespeare. Dream is, of course, a marvel. I hope the production lives up to the play's potential; they rarely do. Macbeth I have never loved, but I think Harold Bloom's take on the play (that it is about the horror of the imagination, a force that overwhelms Macbeth against what he knows to be right) is correct, and the best way to understand its strengths. But it will never be my favorite tragedy. My favorite production is Kurosawa's adaptation in the film, Throne of Blood, which if you haven't seen you should definitely rent.
Cymbeline is an oddity. The plot makes almost no sense at all, and most of the characters are cartoons. Imogen is, of course, the luminous exception, but the tougher roles to get a handle on are Iachimo, Posthumus and Belarius, each of which hovers between two and three dimensions. The only production I've ever seen was a travesty by Joanne Akalitis at Joe Papp's Public Theater in New York. But I don't know how I'd stage the play. It is too equivocal to be a simple adventure tale like Pericles, or a profound romance like The Winter's Tale. It has some affinity for All's Well that Ends Well in its absurdity, but it is not, as All's Well is, a character study in a very equivocal heroine, but a perplexing and equivocal world into which an amalgam of Shakespeare's young victim/heroines - now Cordelia, now Desdemona, now Isabella, now Helena, now Viola, now Marina - is plopped. I can't say I exactly like the play, but I'm curious to see what they do with it.
Henry VIII I found quite moving, but it has no plot, which might be a rather serious problem. I had a vision, reading it, that it would work better as an opera than as a play - a John Adams opera, I think, with lots of pageantry. I also thought, here's a play about an absolute monarch and his scheming court, all terrified of his power but exhilarated by proximity to same. This is not, I think, what we take home from the Tudor era as its most interesting or enlightening aspect. I wondered, reading the play, whether it wouldn't be interesting to set the play not in Henry VIII's England but, say, in Josef Stalin's Russia. The fall of Cardinal Wolsey for corruption (and, more important, for scheming behind the King's back), the rise of Anne Bullen (which the play suggests was at least in part driven by the King's lust, which is surely historically correct but must have been dangerous to put on the stage at the time), the execution of Buckingham on dubious charges of treason, the general air of terror and the sense that the King floats above it all, both the source of the terror and strangely without responsibility - all this would work wonderfully better, in some ways, set in a more familiar period of absolute power than in Henry VIII's court. Of course, the last act - the birth of Elizabeth specifically - wouldn't really translate at all. But it was a thought.
In case folks are wondering whether I'm going to be blogging about the GOP convention, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Next week, I'm in Canada, at the Stratford Festival which we attend every year. We're seeing six shows: Cymbeline, Guys and Dolls, Henry VIII, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Noises Off. We'll also be seeing The Importance of Being Earnest at Niagara-on-the-Lake. I hope to post reviews some time over Labor Day weekend.
So I won't even get to hear Bush's acceptance speech. But I'll read it after the fact, and I'm sure I'll post my thoughts on it based on the text. Same as I did for Kerry, so I guess that's fair.
Forgive me, but I think Niall Ferguson's piece in today's Journal is just silly.
The thesis, as I take it, is that the incumbent party, faced with a challenge from a weak opposition and running a so-so candidate itself, should surrender, the better to come back strong in the following election.
He specifically thinks that the GOP would be better off losing this election to the very unappealing John Kerry than winning and then getting routed in 2008 after four more years of Bush bungling. And he draws the analogy to John Major's victory in 1992, which was followed by a disastrous term and the destruction of the Tories in 1997.
He goes further. Eisenhower should have lost in 1956, or the Democrats wouldn't have won with Kennedy in 1960, and gone on to glory with Johnson.
Okay, I'm thinking to myself. Was Kennedy's first term so great? Bay of Pigs. Cuban Missile Crisis. Yeah, he was popular. But was he hugely successful? By the standards Ferguson sets for Eisenhower, I'd have to say not. So . . . presumably Johnson should have surrendered to Goldwater, the better to assure a Democrat resurgence in 1968?
And Clinton. He had a pretty lousy first term. Lost the House and Senate to the GOP. Failed to enact his health plan. Fled from Somalia, dithered over Bosnia. Not much of a record to run on, you'd think. Better for the Democrats to let the sclerotic and idea-free Bob Dole win, and come back swinging in 2000 with, I dunno, Bill Bradley, or Al Gore, or Bob Kerrey, or Dick Gephardt.
And Nixon. What, precisely, did he accomplish in his first term? The Vietnam War dragged on. Inflation was rising, and the market struggled. There were urban riots, rising crime, all kinds of domestic strife. Shouldn't Nixon have surrendered to McGovern in 1972, the better to lay the groundwork for a Reagan resurgence in 1976?
And yes, what about Ronnie. The deepest recession since the Great Depression. All kinds of Administration scandals. The withdrawal from Lebanon. The big hike in Social Security taxes. Huge deficits. Yeah, the economy was booming by the time he was running for re-election. But could anyone say that Reagan's first term had been an unblemished success? That his leadership style was universally applauded? I think you can clearly make a case for Reagan taking a dive in 1984 to the inept Mondale, the better to pave the way for a [fill in the blank] resurgence in 1988.
I'm also fascinated to know how the Democrats benefitted from losing in 1976, or how the Republicans benefitted from losing in 1988. Reagan was, in 1980, considered pretty extreme. If Ferguson's theory held, the Democrats should have benefitted mightily from his victory. Instead, Reagan moved the country in his direction. Similarly, though less dramatically, Clinton rehabilitated the Democratic Party, and made it a force again in national elections. Yes, he presided over the loss of the House and Senate to the GOP, and the loss of many governorships. He didn't change the overall tides of American political history. But he did make a Democratic President thinkable again. He saw California become as solid for the Democrats as it had once been for the GOP, massively changing the Electoral College calculus that used to give the GOP a supposed "lock" on the Presidency. And, in certain ways, he definitely pulled the country in his direction. A lot of GOP teeth-gnashing about Bush's political correctness or apostasy on certain issues (e.g. affirmative action, the Medicare bill) reflects in part how Bill Clinton's two-term Presidency changed the terms of debate, and moved the country in a more Democrat-friendly direction.
To the extent that there's any underlying coherence to the argument, what Ferguson is really saying, I think, is that Presidents should be limited to one term. Then, by definition, the party isn't locked in to a weak incumbent as a nominee, and has to fight out in the primaries disagreements that otherwise would fester in a second term. But the downside of such an arrangement is that every President becomes a lame-duck, and lame-ducks generally have less political clout than politicians who can go to the voters to ratify their decisions. The exception, of course, is systems (like the old Mexican system) where the President picks his own successor. Is that what Ferguson would want? I doubt it.
In the end, all Ferguson is saying is: he doesn't like Bush. So he's got a tough choice: a guy he doesn't like from his own political corner, or a guy he doesn't like from the other political corner. Yeah, that's a tough choice. But it's not the basis of a theory about how to build a party, or win elections over a long term. Those Republicans who think that Kerry would be better than Bush because either will fail, so why not let the other guy bear the blame, are being too clever for their own good. They may indeed be very disappointed by a second Bush term. They shouldn't kid themselves that therefore, ipso facto, they'd be in a better position after four years of John Kerry.
Beautiful column by John Derbyshire about WWI.
I'm one of those who tended to make China-Germany comparisons, and I agree with Derb's reasons for faulting the analogy. The other analogy I tended to make is China today vs. Japan in the early years of its empire-building. But both analogies have big problems, I don't deny it.
One demurral on the subject of demographics, though: yes, China is now at below-replacement fertility, and as such should be reluctant to start wars that will cost lots of people. But: China still has lots and lots of people to spare. And, specifically, it has a hugely imbalanced sex ratio, due to the murder of newborn girls. 50 million unmarried young men can create a lot of trouble.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Just a brief note about the polls: I think Bush partisans are right to be optimistic at this point, but they shouldn't get carried away. The trend in the polls is pretty much unmistakeable: a small uptick in support for Bush pretty much across the board and a more significant drop for Kerry. Bush appears to be getting a bigger margin in solid Bush states, taking a slight lead from Kerry in battleground states that Bush must win like Florida, Arkansas and Ohio where a few weeks ago a number of polls showed Bush slightly behind, and even coming into contention in states that Kerry absolutely has to win, like Michigan and Wisconsin. Even the Iowa Electronic Market has taken note.
I think two things are happening. First, Bush is firming up support from his base. That's certainly what Gallup was indicating a week ago. I suspect that conservative voters who never seriously considered voting for Kerry but who are angry with Bush (about Iraq, or about immigration, or about domestic spending) are coming home out of antipathy for Kerry or residual support for Bush on social issues. (Buchanan - who is critical of Bush on a wide array of policies from the Iraq war to his support for Israel to his overspending to his (general) support for free trade to immigration to . . . I've lost track of how many things Buchanan disagrees with Bush on. Anyhow, Buchanan says he's still supporting Bush largely because of his likely impact on the courts and because Kerry won't be better than Bush on anything that matters.) Second, I suspect that Kerry has lost supporters to the "undecided" column for two reasons: because of the ads taken out by Swift Boat veterans who despise him and because he is resolutely incoherent on Iraq in a way that makes people really doubt whether he could be Commander in Chief.
But Bush still has to close the sale. He's the incumbent; the election is going to be a referendum on him, not John Kerry. Bush, of course, has to sow doubt about Kerry, and that's very appropriate. The recent what-Kerry-says-vs.-what-he-does are effective negative ads. But if we come into the home stretch with 46% of voters for Bush and 45% for Kerry, with the rest undecided, Bush is going to lose, because those undecideds are going to break for Kerry. Kerry can pretty much win just by convincing enough people that another guy deserves a shot; whether the ideal other guy is him is secondary. Bush has got to close the sale that he specifically deserves another term.
Bush has got to open a meaningful lead during and right after the convention. And then he has to keep working to maintain that lead; he can't sit back and coast like he did in 2000. Kerry is, as they say, a good closer. He's going to be more dangerous in the debates than Gore was. He's going to pull out everything he has in the last two weeks of the election, knowing that at that point there won't be time for a new rebuttal. Again, all Kerry has to do is keep Bush within striking distance; he doesn't have to pull way ahead this early to beat him. Bush is the one who needs to pull well ahead, over the next two weeks, and then stay there.
Monday, August 23, 2004
So a few months ago, I wrote a piece that described how I understood our political system, what I saw as its structural defects today, and how I would amend the Constitution to address these defects. The piece is here. One of the amendments I proposed was to adopt nationally the Maine-Nebraska system for allocating electoral votes. (Maine and Nebraska allocate their electoral votes as follows: 2 votes go to the winner of the state-wide vote, while 1 vote goes to the winner of each electoral district in the state.) As I mention in the piece, such a reform would make far more sense if combined with an amendment to prohibit gerrymandering (e.g., by having every state adopt the Iowa districting system). But even without such a reform, the Maine-Nebraska system has the virtue of (a) reducing leverage in the system (fraud in one location could steal at most 3 electoral votes - one for the district and two for the state - as against the current potential to steal an entire, closely-contested state) and (b) pushing campaigns toward the political center (candidates could not win a diverse state like Pennsylvania by running up their base in the state; more would depend on winning voters that actually occupied the political center).
What I didn't have a view on at the time was: would such a reform help either political party? But now I have the data to opine on this important question. Here can be found the district-by-district electoral results for the past nine Presidential elections. (I got the link from this article in Slate about the electoral prospects this year in Maine, which may well split its electoral votes for the first time since the district-based allocation system was adopted in 1969.)
The data yield the following results, by year:
Year EV change Change Election Result?
2000 GOP + 16 NO
1996 GOP + 33 NO
1992 GOP + 45 NO
1988 DEM + 49 NO
1984 DEM + 57 NO
1980 DEM + 94 NO
1976 GOP + 27 NO (but almost; new result is 270 to 268!)
1972 DEM + 47 NO
1968 DEM + 11 NO (George Wallace would also have gained electoral votes)
Apart from the most recent election, the pattern is clear. In each case, had the Maine-Nebraska system obtained nationwide, the election would have been closer in terms of electoral vote count.
This makes sense. Even in a landslide election like 1984 or 1972, a big chunk of the country votes for the loser, and to some extent this portion of the country is concentrated in certain Congressional districts. So it makes sense that, if you allocate the vote by district, you'd give somewhat greater representation to the losing side in the election.
But the 2000 election results suggest that this might not be the case with the current electoral map. Indeed, that result suggests that under the current 50-50 red-blue division of the country, switching to a district-based system would slightly favor the Republicans.
Why? The simple reason is that the GOP dominates more states, and more low-electoral-vote states, while the Democrats dominate fewer, but large and diverse states.
The GOP controls more states. In the 2000 election, the GOP took 30 states; the Democrats took 20, plus the District of Columbia. The popular vote split almost 50-50 in the last election. Imagine if each state had similarly split nearly 50-50, with 50% of the districts going Democrat and 50% going Republican (if the number of districts is odd, give the extra district to the state-wide winner). That's what the "maximum splitting" result would be. (The "minimum splitting" result would be exactly the same result as under the existing syste, - i.e., the state-wide winner would win each district in the state). With "maximum splitting" under the Maine-Nebraska system, the GOP would have won 281 electoral votes - 11 more than they actually won in 2000 - which entirely reflects the fact that they won 9 more states than the Democrats did.
The GOP takes 60% of states in a 50-50 year, but even in a losing year they do better than you'd think. In 1996 - a solid Democratic victory year - the GOP took 19 states. In 1988, the Democrats took only 11 (including DC), even though Mike Dukakis got a greater percentage of the popular vote than Bob Dole. If we look at the number of states in each party's "base" - narrowly construed - I count 17 GOP base states (Alaska, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana) versus only 10 Democrat base states (Hawaii, California, Illinois, Maryland, District of Columbia, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont). So in any given election, not just 2000, the GOP should be favored to win more states than the Democrats which, all things being equal, should benefit them in a Maine-Nebraska system of splitting electoral votes.
Relatedly, the GOP controls more small states, and more states with uniform political complexions. Of the 8 states (including DC) with 3 electoral votes, 5 (Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) are solid GOP states. The Democrats control only 3 such states. None of these states' votes would be changed by moving to the Maine-Nebraska system, since they have only one district each. And a number of other key GOP states - Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska (which splits its votes currently, not that you'd notice) - do not have much political variety internally from district to district. So for many core GOP states, there would be no change resultant from the switch to a Maine-Nebraska system.
By contrast, the Democrats' strength comes from clear dominance of three mega-states: California, New York and Illinois. But all three states show real internal diversity, and if their vote was split by Congressional district, the GOP would pick up a nice minority of votes (32 electoral votes between the three states in 2000, as many votes as New York has in the current scheme all by itself). Yes, the GOP controls one mega-state - Texas - which in 2000 would have given 10 electoral votes to the Democrats under the Maine-Nebraska system. And the GOP would have lost electoral votes in swing states that they won in 2000 (Ohio, Florida, Missouri). But these would have been offset by Democrat losses in states that they won (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon). All-told, because there are fewer states that are wall-to-wall Democrat (e.g., Massachusetts, which would have lost no electoral votes under Maine-Nebraska) than there are states that are wall-to-wall Republican (e.g. Alabama, which actually would have lost 1 electoral vote under Maine-Nebraska, but close enough), the GOP would have a structural advantage today if the country shifted to a Maine-Nebraska system.
Of course, if the country did shift to such a system, campaigning would change and this could erase part of the structural advantage. But it does seem to me that at the present moment, my proposed reform of the electoral college would slightly tilt the playing field towards the GOP.
Just thought you might like to know.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
You know, I understand the feelings of the Likudniks who don't want a unity government. I understand why they don't trust Labor. I understand why they feel betrayed.
But they are out of their minds if they think they can stop the withdrawal.
Forget whether withdrawal will work. (I don't think it will, in the sense that I think it will not be so easy to get the IDF out even once the settlers are removed; Israel cannot let a terrorist state spring up in Gaza.) Some time after the next Presidential election, Israel is going to get out of Gaza.
Sharon knows that he's been given all the rope he's going to get. Bush gave Sharon an enormous bit of support by rejecting the idea of a Palestinian "right to return" - this is the one thing that no Israeli government can ever accept, and Bush took it entirely off the table. He needs something in return. Bush needs some kind of positive development on the Israeli-Palestinian front for him to credibly prosecute America's war. Israel's own war on terrorism has got to be divorced from Israel's war to retain the territories. A precondition - necessary but not sufficient - to achieving that divorce is pulling the settlers out of Gaza and, ideally, out of a big chunk of Judea and Samaria, leaving only a few defensible blocs near the 1967 lines that could be incorporated into a sovereign Israel without absorbing a large Arab Palestinian population.
And, of course, if Kerry is the new President things will be even worse. On the one hand, Kerry will probably be reluctant to overtly pressure Israel early in his Administration - if he wins, it'll be because Jews in Florida care more about abortion rights than friendship with Israel, and he won't want to spit in those voters' faces quite so soon after they put him in office. But when Israel comes under further pressure from Europe, Kerry will be no help. And he will, within a year, position himself as a friend of Israel . . . just one who agrees with the Israeli left, not the Israeli right.
The whole point of withdrawal is to get out ahead of the pressure that is going to build, to take the initiative and get back to a defensible position, without granting Arafat renewed legitimacy, without letting the Europeans stick their fingers into everything, without accepting in principle the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiation or any other part of the Palestinian negotiating position.
If Sharon's own party prevents him from delivering, this will be just another instance where the Likud cut off its nose to spite its face. As Tzippi Livni has pointed out, after Shamir rejected Madrid, Israel got Oslo instead, which was much worse. After the right-wing parties torpedoed Netanyahu, they got Barak, Camp David, Taba and the second Intifadah. If the Right torpedos Sharon, they will reap the whirlwind once again.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
As promised in the post below, here is my draft of George Bush's acceptance speech for the GOP convention. I have constructed the speech with a view to the analysis of what Bush has to accomplish that I laid out in the post below this one. I'm interested to hear responses to that analysis as well as to the execution.
I want to stress that I have not constructed this speech with a view to what I think are the best policies for Bush to adopt, nor the best way to communicate with me specifically. But, necessarily, I'm going to be biased towards my own views. Where Bush is clearly going support a policy that I don't agree with, I've probably tried to make it more palatable to someone like me; where he's clearly going to support a policy that I strongly agree with, I've probably been more full-throated. But I have tried to let Bush be Bush, and not try to make him into someone else. (Well, I may have tried to make him a little more like Reagan; I did read Reagan's 1984 acceptance speech, as well as Clinton's 1996 acceptance speech, before writing this.)
Like I said, I'm interested to hear whether people think this is a good draft, in terms of *predictive* power (i.e., Bush *will* probably say something like this) and *prescriptive* power (i.e., Bush *should* probably say something like this).
Here it is.
Thank-you, thank-you. I want to salute the brave people of the city and state of New York for the great reception you've given us. A lot of folks back in Texas think New Yorkers are rude and unfriendly, but I've never felt a warmer welcome. I guess everyone really is happy when the circus comes to town.
And I want to thank Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki for opening the doors of New York to the Republican Party convention. We are truly a national party, and we speak to the American people as one people, as we have since the days of Abraham Lincoln. We are the party of Lincoln, and every Republican, whether you're from New York, New York or from Crawford, Texas, should be proud of our party's legacy.
Being back in New York is a wonderful feeling. I visited downtown with Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki earlier in the week. It is amazing how quickly New Yorkers are rebuilding. Seeing the energy and vitality of the people of this city, its fortitude in the face of adversity, well, let me just say if Alexander Hamilton were to come back today, he'd feel right at home.
Friends, fellow citizens, it is humbling to be President of the United States at any time. But at this time, a time of so much uncertainty but so much opportunity, it is especially humbling.
Four years ago, when I accepted our party's nomination to stand for the Presidency of the United States, I knew it was an awesome charge. And I prayed that I would be able to serve the People of the United States, with honor and with steadfastness. And so I am humbled all the more to once again be the repository of your trust.
Ladies and gentlemen, I accept your nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America.
Anyone who runs for reelection these days is bound to hear a voice in the back of his head, asking a question that President Ronald Reagan asked in his 1980 campaign, and again in 1984: are you better off today than you were four years ago? I ask myself that question every day: has our leadership made America better off?
Four years ago, America stood unchallenged, the only superpower, the indispensible nation. People called it the end of history, the beginning of an era when the spread of democracy and free markets would usher in a lasting peace.
One year and nine days later, we learned that history had not ended.
One year and nine days later, our nation's capital and this city, our nation's financial capital, came under attack by murderous terrorists. Their aim was to kill as many civilians as possible, to paralyze us with horror. They claimed to act in the name of a compassionate God, but they showed no compassion, not towards the innocents they slaughtered, not even towards their own co-religionists whom they massacred without pity.
They aimed to paralyze us with horror, but we were not paralyzed. The people of the great city of New York and all over America poured out their hearts to the victims of terror, to their families, and bound up our country’s wounds.
There were small stories of heroism everywhere you looked. One man heard about the attack while at work in Connecticut. An ex-Marine, he knew at once America was at war. He drove to church and asked his pastor for a blessing before driving down to New York, to the site of the attack. He climbed right onto the burning pile of rubble. And out there on the pile, he and another former Marine found two police officers, buried alive.
The man is Dave Karnes. And it’s men and women like him, like the heroes of United Flight 93 who attacked the terrorists who aimed to fly their plane into the U.S. Capitol, and saved so many lives at the cost of their own, who showed the world what kind of country the terrorists of al-Qaeda had attacked.
We were not paralyzed. America understood that, after such an atrocity, the pinprick responses of the 1990s would not suffice. We could never win a game of tit-for-tat, a war of attrition with terrorists. We had too much to lose. We could only win by taking the war to the enemy.
One month after the attacks, the United States military, with the support of most of the world, commenced combat operations against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
We were warned that Afghanistan had repelled many foreign armies in the past, that we could not sustain operations against a landlocked country, that the brutal winter and the mountainous terrain would overmatch even our best men and equipment.
But with the help of the Afghani people, who had been oppressed for years under one of the most barbaric regimes in the world, we overthrew the Taliban regime, liberated the Afghani people, and destroyed the main headquarters of our terrorist enemies.
American troops are still in Afghanistan, fighting against our enemies and the enemies of freedom in that country, and helping the Afghani people to rebuild after a long night of tyranny. And we are joined by allies from around the world.
But we did not rest after that battle, because we knew that our enemies were not resting.
Twenty weeks after our nation was attacked, I outlined our strategy for bringing the war to the enemy, and bringing our enemies to defeat.
Our nation is threatened not only by this one organization, al-Qaeda, but by those rogue states that provide al-Qaeda with aid and comfort, that provide arms, shelter, intelligence, and political cover to those who would make war against America. And we are threatened as well by those states who, having declared themselves our enemies, would miss no opportunity to do us harm. I gave notice then: those who ally themselves with our enemies will be treated as enemies.
We did not choose war; our enemies did. But we will not win that war by playing defense, by waiting to be attacked again before taking action in our own defense.
For over a year after I laid out that strategy, I worked with the U.S. Congress and with our allies to respond to the threat posed by the government of Iraq.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein had repeatedly made war on its neighbors, harbored terrorists, used weapons of terror and pursued a nuclear arsenal, violated its agreements and refused to disarm as required by the terms of the cease-fire at the end of the first Gulf War. Like most of our allies and the United Nations, we believed that Saddam Hussein maintained stockpiles of illegal weapons, and continued to pursue weapons of mass destruction. The only question was: how successful was he in pursuing his aims.
Saddam Hussein had defied the United Nations and declared himself the sworn enemy of the United States of America. We decided to be conservative in our assessment.
Seeking the widest possible support for military action should it prove necessary, we turned to the Congress, and got the support of 77 out of 100 Senators, including both Democratic Senators Schumer and Clinton of this great state, and I thank them for their support. We turned to the United Nations Security Council and obtained a resolution promising serious consequences if Iraq failed to comply immediately with its obligations. We exhausted no diplomatic avenue to eliminate this threat short of war. When that proved impossible, we turned to military action.
The war with Iraq was conducted with the utmost regard for the lives of innocent Iraqis. We came not to conquer, and bearing no grudge against the Iraqi people. We came to eliminate a bandit regime that had declared itself America’s enemy. And we intended to leave the Iraqi people a legacy not of oppression and resentment, but of freedom, and of hope.
We are still building that legacy. Saddam Hussein is no longer in power; he is now on trial before an Iraqi court with Iraqi judges for the crimes he committed against the Iraqi people. His mass graves are closed to new victims, but open to human rights investigators. Iraq is now governed by its own people, who have their first chance in history to live under a free government. Our soldiers are still in Iraq, helping the government to fight those who would restore the old tyranny or install a new one. And we will stay there as long as they are wanted and needed – and not a day longer.
America was challenged on September 11th, to defend itself against those who would do us harm, but also to show the world that there was an alternative to the appeasement of tyranny and terror. That a free society can muster the will, and find the way, to defeat its enemies, wherever they may be found.
We were challenged – and we met that challenge. But the war is not yet won.
Al-Qaeda has been denied its best sanctuary. Its leaders are dead, captured or on the run. But the organization survives, and it continues to inspire those who resent our freedom and our achievements, and need a cause to kill and die for.
Our friends and allies, in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, in the Philippines and Indonesia, in Britain and Poland, Spain and Italy, Germany and Russia, still face the daily threat of attack from terrorist groups cut from the same mold as the ones who targeted this city on September 11th. We must not abandon them to their enemies now any more than we did during the long struggle against Communist tyranny.
Terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran continue to pursue nuclear weapons, the ultimate tool of terror. And rogue states such as North Korea continue to supply the technology for nuclear proliferation. We must not cease our diplomatic efforts to reverse these dangerous policies. And we must not flinch from military action should we exhaust all real alternatives.
Let me tell you something. There are folks out there who think that if you can either be a fighter, or a talker. If you talk, you must be afraid to fight; if you fight, you must be afraid to talk. Well, I think the world is a little more . . . nuanced than that.
Diplomacy without a willingness to use force is a recipe for failure. We’ve tried it before, in the 1930s, and again in the 1990s: with Hitler, with Milosevic, with Saddam Hussein.
But you know, when you put them together, things are very different. Our Administration negotiated for months, alongside our British and Italian allies, to end Libya’s nuclear weapon’s program, end their support for terrorism, and return Libya to the family of nations. And when Colonel Qaddafi was asked why he finally signed the deal, you know what he said? “I didn’t want to wind up like Saddam Hussein.”
This Administration has undertaken the most comprehensive effort in history, to slow and reverse the spread of nuclear weapons. Our Proliferation Security Initiative has the cooperation of dozens of countries and all our major allies. We have exposed the network that provides components, missile technology, and nuclear material to would-be proliferators, and we are shutting it down.
Some people have said: we need a break. Now, you know I’ve got nothing against a little vacation. That old line of Ronald Reagan’s: they say hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance? Well, I’ve got some sympathy for that point of view.
But we had our holiday from history. And history isn’t on holiday anymore.
I’m been asked many times if I’ve made mistakes. I’m sure I have. There's an old saying: you show me a man who's never done anything wrong, I'll show you a man who's never done anything. I’m sure, when history is written, there will be many decisions I made that with hindsight seem ill-timed or ill-considered. I accept that as the price of leadership. My Secretary of State, a great man whom I admire and rely upon, Colin Powell, once wisely said that a good leader acts when he has 70% of the information he needs. If he waits for 100%, he’ll never act in time.
Our Administration and our country have surely made mistakes. But when we have, we have learned from them.
We learned how vulnerable we were on September 11th to attacks on our homeland. And we responded. We established a new cabinet position – the Department of Homeland Security – to consolidate those functions essential to protecting our ports, our roads, our bridges, our office towers, our power plants and our factories from attack or sabotage.
We implemented a law, the Patriot Act – passed overwhelmingly by the Congress – that gave our law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies the tools they needed to track down those who seek to harm us before an attack is launched.
And, as recommended by the bi-partisan September 11th Commission, we will reorganize America’s vital intelligence agencies into a single cabinet position, fully accountable to the President.
But the most important lesson we’ve learned since September 11th is a simple one that the Boy Scouts still teach: be prepared. Be prepared for the unexpected as well as the expected, because however smart you are, you won’t think of everything.
Be prepared. That’s why we have continued to invest, and why we will continue to invest, in a defense against ballistic missile attack. Some people ask: why are we spending money on a defense against missiles when we’re fighting a war on terror? Well, on September 10th, nobody thought we were fighting a war against terror. But terror was already fighting a war against us, a war for which we were unprepared.
And let me tell you, our allies, like Japan, Taiwan and Israel, who live under threat of missile attack, they appreciate our efforts to defend them from that threat as well.
Be prepared. That’s why more than two years ago I proposed a comprehensive energy bill, to give incentives for domestic energy production, including environmentally-sensitive drilling in the vast oil fields of Alaska, and to invest in breakthrough technologies like fuel cells that will eventually end our dependence on oil altogether. So that we will never again be vulnerable to economic blackmail as we were in the 1970s. Congress still has not passed that bill, and I challenge them to do so.
In this business, people call you lots of things, and I don’t really mind that. I know it comes with the job. I don’t mind if people make fun of the way I talk, or even what I believe. Matter of fact, I kind of like being misunderestimated that way.
But the one thing I couldn’t bear for people to say about me is: he let his country down.
There is a saying by an ancient Jewish rabbi that I cherish. It says, in just a few words, so much of what I believe about life. “You are not obliged to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it.”
We are engaged in a generational struggle. We should not expect that it will be won in a year, or even in a single Presidential term. It is a struggle for the soul of a civilization, and for the defense of the civilized world.
The terrorists of al-Qaeda and their allies are determined to conquer the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and remake that world in their hate-filled and tyrannical image. To achieve their aims, they have declared war on the United States of America.
We did not ask for this challenge; it sought us out. But sometimes God challenges us precisely so we can show Him whether we truly believe. Whether we can be as strong and compassionate when our faith is tested as we think we are when it is not.
We will not meet this challenge by relaxing our vigilance and trusting that terrorists can be hunted down after they have committed their atrocities.
We will not meet this challenge by appeasing our enemies and abandoning our allies to those who are as eager for their destruction as for ours.
We will not meet this challenge by abandoning one fifth of the world to tyranny and corruption and the death of hope for a better life.
We will meet this challenge by holding high the torch of freedom, by continuing to serve as a beacon for peoples all over the world, by continuing to be what Ronald Reagan memorably called a shining city on a hill.
President Ronald Reagan transformed this party, and then he transformed the United States of America, by placing values at the core of policy. Freedom at home – from excessive taxation and regulation. And freedom abroad – from Communist tyranny. Morality at home – support for the family, respect for life, pride in one’s work and one’s independence. And morality abroad – the conviction that the spread of freedom was in America’s interests as surely as it was consistent with American values.
Those values at home and abroad were inseparable in 1980 and 1984. And they are inseparable today.
We cannot be the last best hope of earth if we lose hope in our ability to change the world.
And we cannot be the last best hope of earth if we do not maintain our strength at home.
Our strength springs from our economic vitality, which in turn springs from our extraordinary commitment to freedom.
Four years ago, a period of enormous prosperity that began in 1995, after the election of the first Republican Congress in more than a generation, was coming to a close. The stock market had begun to drop, and business confidence was on the brink of collapse. We faced the prospect of an investment recession. And as happened in Japan over a decade ago, once the virtuous cycle of investment and growth is broken, it is very hard to restart.
To keep America strong, and to keep America free, my first priority upon my inauguration as President was: cut the excessive taxes that were discouraging productive investment. During the campaign, in 2000, we were criticized for proposing tax cuts at a time of prosperity, because, they said, we’d boost growth too much, and cause inflation. Then, when the stock market bubble burst, and the economy began to slide, we were criticized for cutting taxes during a recession – because the recession had caused tax receipts to drop, and turned the budget surplus into a deficit.
It seems to me that for some people, there’s no good time to cut taxes. But it’s always a good time to raise them.
Well, that’s not the way I feel about it. We cut taxes not once, not twice, but three times in the course of my Administration. We returned the money to the people who earned it – everyone who paid taxes got a tax cut.
We made the steepest cuts in income taxes on the lowest-income earners, because those hard-working families faced the sharpest pinch as the economy slowed. And we sent out rebate checks to every taxpayer just when the economy needed a boost.
We made the tax code support the American family, not discourage family formation, by eliminating the marriage penalty and increasing the tax credit for children.
We cut taxes because it was the best way to ensure the long-term health of the American economy, to ensure that people have incentives to invest and grow and produce jobs.
And we cut taxes because the more of your earnings you keep, to spend or invest or donate as you wish, the freer you are, and the stronger America is.
And we are not finished. Some people seem to think that the American people are eager to have their taxes raised. Or they think the American people can be fooled by calls to raise taxes on "the rich." Well let me tell you about one of those taxes on "the rich." There's a tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax, designed to hit only the wealthiest families. But as incomes rise with a growing economy, more and more middle-class families are being hit with this "rich man's tax." And even as we cut income taxes with one hand, the AMT is taking the money back with the other.
The AMT is a stealth tax on middle class, and we are going to put a stop to it.
Our tax policy has consistently aimed to improve the incentives for ordinary Americans to save and invest. Because when you save for the future, and invest your savings, you are building wealth. You are building a stake in the health of society. You are creating jobs and bringing America together and making this country stronger. And government can't do that. Only the American people can do that. The best government can do is not make it harder than it has to be.
We want an ownership society. I am proud that under our Administration, African-American homeownership rates have risen to the highest level in American history. Home mortgage rates are at historic lows. We want the dream of homeownership to become a reality for every hardworking American family - and we are making that happen, right now.
We want every American to have an ownership stake in their retirement security. They used to call Social Security the "third rail" of American politics. Well, we called for Social Security reform four years ago, and it looks to me like we survived touching that third rail. But some people didn't get the message. So I'm going to touch it again: we have got to reform Social Security.
Not only because to do otherwise would be irresponsible to the next generation of retirees.
Not only because the American people deserve a higher return on their money than they get from lending it to the government, which is what they do now.
Because it's the right thing to do.
Even the poorest working family deserves an asset they can call their own, that they can see growing, that they can pass on to their children.
It is time to end the dependency on government for our retirement security, and give Americans back some ownership.
We want an investor society. America suffers from a savings deficit. Our businesses and our markets are the most efficient in the world, and draw capital investment from all over the world. But we don't generate enough capital here at home. We have got to strengthen the incentives to save and invest, which is the best, the only sure route to financial security for most Americans.
The most revolutionary development in American finance in the past generation is the IRA. For the first time, Americans could save for retirement without the government taking a bite out of their savings every year. The accumulated earnings in IRAs are now so large, that if they were subject to tax they would wipe out the entire projected Social Security shortfall.
That is money that instead of going to government, is working in the productive free market economy, creating good paying jobs, and building America.
And that gives you an idea of just how big each of our nest eggs could be, if we could keep and save more of what we earn, and get a market rate of return instead of a government rate.
So we want to build on that success. We're going to expand and simplify this country's tax-deferred savings plans into a single, universal saving plan, to save for retirement, or to buy a first home, or to go to college, or to pay for unexpected medical costs or nursing care.
I know, so many Americans are terribly worried about the cost of education, the cost of medical care, the cost of buying a home. And some people will tell you that they have the solution: government money. But time and again, studies have shown that government subsidies only drive up the price of services.
But the key to any long-term solution is to help Americans save for these expenses. When you pay for something yourself, you pay attention to price and quality. And competition will ensure that prices stay low while quality goes up.
We can give every American the ability to save for education, for medical expenses, for a first home, and for retirement, without taxing their savings every time it earns a return. We can, and we will.
With an ownership society, an investor society, every American has a stake in the growth of our economy. And if we’re going to grow that economy, if we’re going to create good jobs, we’ve got to keep it free.
Some of the biggest threats to free enterprise today come not from Federal regulation but from the courts. Junk lawsuits based on junk science are driving up the cost of capital and inhibiting investment. And they are driving up the cost of healthcare, too, as doctors pay more for insurance, or even leave expensive fields like obstetrics, or even leave entire states when they can no longer afford to practice medicine.
The trial lawyer industry has become a powerful lobby, and it has fought any reform of American tort law to stop this kind of abuse.
And now they are hoping to put one of their own a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
Let me give you an example of the kind of abuse I’m talking about. Asbestos litigation has driven dozens of companies into bankruptcy, many of them companies that never even produced asbestos. And as much as 90% of claims go to people who by their own admission are not even sick.
So much money goes to the trial lawyers and to claimants who aren’t even sick, that many truly deserving victims of asbestosis have never seen a penny in compensation. All the money is sucked up by the system.
Now there are many people who have been seriously harmed by asbestos. And they deserve due compensation for their suffering.
But when most of the money goes to people who aren’t sick, and most of the money comes from companies that did nothing wrong, there is something very broken about our tort system.
That has got to change. The people who are hurt the most by our broken tort system are those who truly deserve compensation, whose claims are watered down and whose suits are delayed by our junk-clogged judicial system. But the American economy is hurt as well, by stealth regulation by tort that imposes irrational costs and drives honest men and women out of some businesses altogether.
The system is supposed to serve the injured, not the trial lawyers. But the system is broken. And we’re going to fix it.
Now friends, we know there are people who think that for every problem, government is the solution. And we don’t believe that, never have and never will. But we also know that there are things government must do, and we expect government to do them well. And that is what the American people expect as well.
There is no more important investment we can make in our future as a nation, than to provide our children with a quality education. But too often, our schools – even some schools that spend the most per pupil – fail to do the job.
More money can help, sometimes. But spending more money without accountability for results is often the worst thing you can do. Because once the money is gone, and the results are in, what do you do then? And what do you tell the children when they ask, where did it go?
That’s why one of my top priorities in my first term was to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, to strengthen accountability in American education.
Yes, we increased spending on public education. We increased spending at a faster rate than any of the last three Administrations. But if that money is spent wisely, it is well spent.
For the first time, the Federal government has the tools to determine which schools are performing, and which are not. And when a school fails to perform, there is a consequence.
Naturally, there are a lot of people who don’t like that. The teachers’ unions don’t like that. The education bureaucracy doesn’t like that. They don’t want to face the consequences of failure. But one day, whatever you do, someone is going to face the consequence. Isn’t it better to close a failing school than to keep failing students?
We are not going to let our students down. We are not going to weaken that bill, we are going to strengthen it. We are going to ensure that every part of our education system is accountable to parents and to taxpayers; that schools teach what works, not what’s fashionable; and that money is spent wisely, not just spent. And we are going to make sure that when the public schools are failing, parents have the option of choosing an alternative.
Empower parents. Empower teachers. And give the taxpayer the tools and the information to make informed decisions, and hold the system accountable. That’s our education policy, and I am confident that the next time I ask the question, is our children learning? the answer will be: yes, we are.
My friends, when we are strong abroad, when our economy is strong at home, when we help every American invest for retirement and when we invest in every child’s education, then we are truly on the way to building that shining city on a hill.
But the cornerstone of that building is our values.
We will be judged, as a civilization, not by how tall our buildings are, nor how strong our armies, nor how grand our estates, but by how we treat the most vulnerable among us. Do we treat them with compassion and with respect? Or with contempt, and with condescension.
Four years ago, when asked how I’d describe my philosophy, I called it “compassionate conservatism.” You know, there’s a bumper sticker some of my fans made up, it says, “Compassionate Conservatism is an Oxymoron. George Bush is just a . . .” well, I’ll let you fill in the rest.
But really, it never struck me as some kind of novel or strange idea. It’s just another way of putting common sense, and the values we all learned long ago.
One of the greatest social epidemics of the past 40 years was the growth of welfare dependency. Turns out, if you hand out money to people for not working, some of them won’t go back to work. And if you keep that up for long enough, you can pass that dependency down from generation to generation.
That kind of dependency eats your soul out from the inside. You become spiritually dead. And once you're in that rut, it's terribly hard to get out.
I don’t think there’s anyone I admire more than the millions of women who have picked themselves up out of that state and gotten a job, sometimes for the first time in years. Bit by bit, she regains her dignity.
Well there are millions more people who’ve gotten their dignity back now than there were before the Republican Congress passed their historic welfare reform, hundreds of thousands of people in this city alone. Welfare caseloads under Republican Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have dropped in half from their peak under the last Democratic Mayor. And most of these people have gone into the job market, are contributing to their city and have regained their dignity.
There are lots of people who want to undo this historic reform. But we cannot go back to the old ways of dependency and government handouts.
I meet people sometimes who say, oh, these people are only going into dead-end jobs. Those jobs aren’t even worth doing.
Well let me tell you: look these hardworking women and men up ten years from now, and tell me if they are still in a dead end. The only dead-end is welfare dependency, and we are breaking the cycle.
Those jobs are not dead-end jobs. They are the first rung on a ladder, a ladder that rises to a better job, and a permanent home, and a better life for your children.
Our philosophy is: grab onto that first rung, and we’ll help you climb.
As any social scientist will tell you, one of the biggest obstacles to getting on that ladder is single motherhood. If I had to name the one most important thing you can do to better your long-term prospects for health and well-being, I’d say: get married. In fact, I’d say: get married to my wife. But she’s not available at the present time.
When men and women join in marriage, they create something new that didn’t exist before. They create a family. A family is not just two people who are joined at the heart. A family is something bigger than you. Everyone is born into a family and, when you marry, you build a new one with someone else. It is a place to dwell, a shelter for your children.
In marriage, we learn to give, including the greatest gift of all, the gift of life.
We do not do enough to cherish marriage in our culture today. We divorce too quickly; we are too willing to treat marriage as just another lifestyle choice. But it is something altogether more sacred.
Marriage is how men and women learn to complement each other, how to work together and not against each other. And from watching them, their children learn the same lesson. It’s not easy; it doesn’t happen automatically. It takes support, affirmation, and the belief that a marriage is worth sacrificing for.
That’s why we are committed to giving people the help they need. To make the decision to marry before they have children. And to stay married once they do.
Some people say this is none of the government’s business. It’s a private matter. But every year, the government spends more and more money cleaning up the mess left by the breakdown of the American family. And that’s a job government really isn’t very good at.
Of course, not everyone can or will marry. And we must always be compassionate towards those who, through no fault of their own, cannot be happy in marriage.
Jesus Christ, when he saw the people ready to stone the woman taken in adultery, said: let he who is without sin cast the first stone. We should be ever watchful not to condemn only sins that we ourselves would not commit.
And we must not close the door, to single mothers struggling to provide for their children, to men and women trapped in cruel marriages, and to men and women who cannot honestly love someone of the opposite sex, and are searching for the right way to bring love into their lives.
We must cherish, and show compassion, towards all Americans.
And we must strengthen and protect the American family – for their sakes as well.
Marriage and the family are the foundation of society. And whatever laws we pass, whatever arrangements we give sanction to out of compassion, we must not open cracks in that foundation.
There are those who say, it’s no business of the government to talk about values. But too often, they are eager to have the government get in the business of values – just not the values that work.
Let me give you an example. This Administration has budgeted more money to fight AIDS than any previous Administration. AIDS is a devastating scourge around the world, and nowhere more so than in the poorest countries of Africa. In some countries, more than 1 in every 4 adults is infected with the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS has reduced life expectancies in some countries by as much as ten years, and is one of the greatest causes of poverty and underdevelopment on the African continent.
We have spent money and we will spend more caring for the sick and providing life-sustaining medicine. But the only way we will ever end this plague is by preventing new infections. And that means changing behavior.
One country in Africa – Uganda – pioneered an approach focused on changing behavior, what they call ABC. Abstain if you are not married. Be Faithful if you are. And only if you cannot follow those rules do you turn to strategies for safer intercourse.
It sounds like common sense. But it flew in the face of the wisdom of the experts, who said you couldn’t change behavior. They attacked the ABC approached, saying it would be too judgmental, and would only drive people away.
Well, guess what? Uganda today has a rate of infection as low as one-third the rate of many similar African countries.
The conventional wisdom was nothing more than the soft bigotry of low expectations – and it cost millions of lives.
We have committed ourselves to a better approach, to changing people’s behavior by focusing on values. We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is, in Africa and right here in America. And we will save lives.
I said we are judged by the most vulnerable among us, and we will be.
We will be judged by the conditions of our prisons, where too many are subject to the risk of rape or other personal violence. That is unacceptable in a civilized society, and we will put an end to it.
We will be judged by our commitment to truly leave no child behind, leave no child trapped in a failing school.
But no human being is more vulnerable to harm than those yet unborn.
You know, some of my advisors say I shouldn’t bring this subject up too much, because it makes people uncomfortable.
Well, maybe we should be uncomfortable.
People of goodwill can disagree about when we can be sure a human life has begun. And people of goodwill can disagree about whether, at some times and in some circumstances, abortion is the lesser of two evils.
But it is an evil.
One day, generations will look back on an America that called a terrible decision fraught with evil nothing more than personal choice and wonder, how could they? Just as we look back on our slave-owning ancestors who called suffering human beings mere personal property and wonder, how could they?
We should not be comfortable. We can change – we can change our values; we can change our behavior. And we will fight to make that change.
We can come together to do this. The issues that so often divide us, they can unite us.
No one wants to see a life snuffed out before its time.
No one wants to trap a child in a failing school without hope.
No one wants to stand idly by while innocent blood is spilled, whether the blood of our neighbor or someone far away – in the Balkans, in Iraq, or in the Sudan.
We all cherish the vision of the prophet Micah, of the day when we shall sit every man under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make us afraid.
And we pray to see that promised day.
But if we believe in it, we should set our hands to work for it.
Not Democrats and Republicans.
Not liberals and conservatives.
Not men and women, black and white, native-born and immigrants, Christians, Jews and Muslims.
With liberty, and justice for all.
You know, of all the necessary security measures we took after September 11th, none pained me more than the closure of the Statue of Liberty.
For generations, her burning torch was the first light people saw on their long hard journey to America. And when people see her for the first time, they still get a lump in their throat.
Well about a month ago Lady Liberty opened to visitors again. And people from across America traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to greet her when her doors opened for the first time in almost three years.
Some came to show their gratitude, for opening our doors, to them, or to their ancestors. The doors to hope. The doors to freedom. The doors to opportunity.
But they came to show their pride as well. Not as newcomers yearning to be breathe free, but as free and equal American citizens.
They came to say: those are my arms holding up that torch.
Those are my hands holding open the golden door.
This is my America.
Even though she's a gift from France, Lady Liberty is 100% American. But her light shines not only for Americans, but for the whole world.
When the students in Tiananmen Square cried out for freedom and justice, what symbol did they choose? The built a Goddess of Democracy, and they modeled her on Lady Liberty.
And when their hopes were crushed under the treads of tanks, Lady Liberty's torch burned a little dimmer, for us as well.
American is the custodian only of our own freedom. But we are, and we must be, the friend of freedom everywhere.
"You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
I pray, with God's help, that we will not desist. That we will keep that torch held high, for all Americans, and for all who love freedom.
So let's get back to work.
God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.