Have some fun and make a good point

I had noticed today, when I checked out the British paper the Telegraph, an article in which people were asked to summarize their lives in six words. What I didn’t realize is that there is something of a meme going on out there, not in the internet so much as in the MSM. As Laer explains at Cheat-Seeking Missiles this meme is also playing out in the NY Times:

Stephen Dubner, writing at the Freakonomics blog at the NYT, is running a contest for a six-word slogan for the U.S.A.

The idea was triggered by a book of six-word memoirs of famous and not-so-famous people, and by England’s recent national slogan concept (“No Motto Please. We’re British”). As of this posting, Dubner’s post has generated 677 comments.

It’s a cute idea but would it surprise you to discover, as Laer did, that many of those comments are relentlessly negative?

Some are fresh: “Still Using Fahrenheit, Feet, and Gallons.”

Some are progressive deploringly negative and ignorant of how dynamic this land of opportunity and equality is: “White? Straight? Christian? Rich? Welcome Home!” or “‘Number One? Smells like number two.”

Some get it right: “To each, according to his ability”

It seems that few NY Times readers can summon six nice words to say about America. Laer would like to remedy that. He asks people to join him at his blog and to come up with some good six words descriptions of America, and starts with some ideas of his own:

Planet Earth’s shining light of freedom.

Give us your poor. Terrorists excluded.

Proving the magnetic attraction of opportunity.

Can you name one place better?

If you have some good ideas, please go here and share with Laer your six words describing what’s good about America.

UPDATE: Yay! Michelle Malkin gave a whole post to Laer. That ought to send people streaming over to his site, so please go there and check for all the good (and, sometimes, mean and loony) six word ideas they’re leaving in the comments section.

UPDATE II:  My current favorite, from the brilliant Bill Whittle at Eject! Eject! Eject!:  “Great Country! (Needs more math education though.)”


Explaining American Jews’ love for Israel and America

I did something fun tonight: I went to a moderated talk concerning Israel. The speakers were Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz and Mona Charen, with Michael Medved moderating. As you can imagine, the discussion was informed, vigorous, amusing, intelligent and opinionated. I enjoyed every minute of it and I gathered from the applause, laughter, murmurs of agreements and other sounds of an engaged audience that the hundreds of other people attending did as well. (And believe me, it impressed me tremendously that there were hundreds of conservative Jews who could be gathered together in San Francisco. Before I arrived, part of me suspected that only about 10 people would show up — just enough for a political minyan.)

At the end of the evening, I asked a question that got some very interesting answers. I didn’t go into the evening expecting to ask this question, by the way, but it seemed an appropriate question by evening’s end. You see, it was patently clear, both from the conversation at the front of the room, the periodic audience applause, and the audience questions, that people in that room were both fiercely supportive of Israel and deeply patriotic Americans. That love for and belief in two countries reminded me of a question that’s been thrown at me over the years (or, perhaps, it could be categorized more accurately as an accusation): “How can you support Israel and call yourself a loyal American?” So when Michael Medved went around the room with a microphone, I caught his eye, and quickly asked “For those people who claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other, how do we justify or explain our loyalty to both?”

John Podhoretz answered first by pointing to the common values shared by both nations — their belief that all men (and women, of course) are equal before God and their commitment to true Democratic values (however imperfectly that commitment may sometimes be realized). He noted that these shared values have resulted in two unusually free societies, free by any standards, but especially when one compares Israel’s society to her neighbors. Although I don’t think he quite said it outright, I gather that Mr. Podhoretz believes that American Jews are not disloyal to America when they support Israel because it is the morally correct thing to do: one beacon of light supporting another. I think he’s right.

When he’d wrapped up, Mona Charen chimed in to point out that the most fervent support for Israel comes, not from American Jews, but from Evangelical Christians. In other words, support of Israel is not some shady Jewish conspiracy, but is part of the value system religious conservatives of all stripes, both Christian and Jewish.

Finally, Michael Medved closed with the flip side to these preceding answers. That is, after Mr. Podhoretz and Ms. Charen pointed out that it is not unpatriotic to support Israel, he explained why Jews are — or should be — patriotic. His take, and one with which I strongly agree, is that America is one of the great blessings bestowed on the Jews. In America, they have enjoyed freedom and opportunity the likes of which has never been seen before during diaspora history — and probably wasn’t seen that often during the Jews’ own Biblical history. We have every reason to be profoundly grateful to this nation that has treated us so generously over the centuries, and there is no reason to doubt the patriotism of Jews who recognize America’s beneficence.

Mr. Medved also suggested a thought experiment: if Jews could magically vanish onto a space ship (kind of like the space ship that Louis Farrakhan assures his followers will be coming for them), would the world like America any better? It’s doubtful that the Europeans would. Our support for Israel isn’t why they dislike us, it’s just a piece of evidence in the litany of complaints they have against us. As for the Muslim world, Medved believes that it is our support for Israel — real support, not just lip service — that forces the Muslim world to pay attention to us and to give us some influence in those lands, influence we’d never have if there was no Israel and they dealt with us only as supplicants for oil. He also pointed out that, in the Arab hierarchy, we’re the Great Satan, with Israel ranking only as the Little Satan. That may relate to geographic size, but one has to suspect it also goes to influence and importance.

I gathered that the panel thought it was a good question (something reinforced by the fact that Mr. Medved was kind enough to tell me — twice — that it was a good question). I liked their answers, but I’d be interested in what you have to say as well. So, my question again: Can American Jews be both patriotic Americans and supporters of Israel? And to take Mona Charen’s point, if an American Evangelical Christian supports Israel, should that call his patriotism into question in the same way that people feel it calls a Jewish person’s patriotism into question?

Ken Burns’ “The War”

Ken Burns’ new series about World War II is off to a good start although his stately pace can often be somewhat sleep inducing.  It’s one of those slightly bizarre situations where it’s worth your while to force yourself to stay awake.

Part of the first episode includes a run-down of what Americans were watching in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor:  they were watching three Axis powers, each of which considered its race superior to all others and each of which believed that its racial superiority justified its conquering lands and killing people.  It occurred to me that those who love the Bushitler analogy, and who constantly liken America’s current war to some imperialist Nazi act of aggression are missing something very fundamental.  Americans do have a superiority complex, but it’s not racial.  Instead, we believe that our values are superior.  But values, unlike race, are exportable.  We don’t need to murder to prove our superiority.  Our culture is what it is, and people who seek freedom inevitably drift in our direction.

In this regard, it’s worth comparing us to the Jihadists, who have taken a religion and elevated it to the same status as a race. They believe that they are so far superior to other people that it is totally okay to squash other people like flies, to murder them and their children, and to occupy their countries as if the native people were not there.  There is no moral equivalence between them and us.  In their outlook, they are precisely the same as the Nazis, and the World War II Japanese and Italians.  And we, in the 20th and 21st Centuries, have never changed:  our affirmative actions, when we’re not called upon to defend ourselves against attacks such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, consist of exporting our freedom and our culture, and that is all.

The Israel lobby

With the resurgent charge that there is a pro-Israel lobby destroying U.S. interests around the world, I’d like you to read this essay, from George Friedman, of Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence organization. I’m publishing it with permission of Stratfor, which included this message in the email I receive regularly with Stratfor articles:

This report may be distributed or republished with attribution to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com. For media requests, partnership opportunities, or commercial distribution or republication, please contact pr@stratfor.com.

Having got the legalisms out of the way, here’s the analysis:

The Israel Lobby in U.S. Strategy


By George Friedman

U.S. President George W. Bush made an appearance in Iraq’s restive Anbar province on Sept. 3 — in part to tout the success of the military surge there ahead of the presentation in Washington of the Petraeus report. For the next month or two, the battle over Iraq will be waged in Washington — and one country will come up over and over again, from any number of directions: Israel. Israel will be invoked as an ally in the war on terrorism — the reason the United States is in the war in the first place. Some will say that Israel maneuvered the United States into Iraq to serve its own purposes. Some will say it orchestrated 9/11 for its own ends. Others will say that, had the United States supported Israel more resolutely, there would not have been a 9/11.

There is probably no relationship on which people have more diverging views than on that between the United States and Israel. Therefore, since it is going to be invoked in the coming weeks — and Bush is taking a fairly irrelevant pause at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Australia — this is an opportune time to consider the geopolitics of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Let’s begin with some obvious political points. There is a relatively small Jewish community in the United States, though its political influence is magnified by its strategic location in critical states such as New York and the fact that it is more actively involved in politics than some other ethnic groups.

The Jewish community, as tends to be the case with groups, is deeply divided on many issues. It tends to be united on one issue — Israel — but not with the same intensity as in the past, nor with even a semblance of agreement on the specifics. The American Jewish community is as divided as the Israeli Jewish community, with a large segment of people who don’t much care thrown in. At the same time, this community donates large sums of money to American and Israeli organizations, including groups that lobby on behalf of Israeli issues in Washington. These lobbying entities lean toward the right wing of Israel’s political spectrum, in large part because the Israeli right has tended to govern in the past generation and these groups tend to follow the dominant Israeli strand. It also is because American Jews who contribute to Israel lobby organizations lean right in both Israeli and American politics.

The Israel lobby, which has a great deal of money and experience, is extremely influential in Washington. For decades now, it has done a good job of ensuring that Israeli interests are attended to in Washington, and certainly on some issues it has skewed U.S. policy on the Middle East. There are Jews who practice being shocked at this assertion, but they must not be taken seriously. They know better, which is why they donate money. Others pretend to be shocked at the idea of a lobbyist influencing U.S. policy on the Middle East, but they also need not be taken seriously, because they are trying to influence Washington as well, though they are not as successful. Obviously there is an influential Israel lobby in Washington.

(more, including an update)

A (somewhat) sympathetic look at Christiane Amanpour

For six hours this Sunday I watched my TIVOed copies of Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warriors specials. Amanpour’s biases clearly showed through, especially when she tried to portray Muslim radicals as some kind of a small fringe group, or when she spoke to fundamentalist Christian leaders in a tone dripping with disdain. But, it appeared, she also did her best to present reasonable looking and sounding spokespersons for the Warriors and allowed them to present themselves in their own words.

Thus, I was a bit startled to see the links Bookworm provided in her post in the subject, to writers who blasted Amanpour as if her report were a broad-sided attack on Israel. Had these people watched the same reports I had? It appears Amanpour’s attackers were as biased (in the other direction, of course) as she was.

Bookworm suggested that I blog on the subject, pointing out correctly that I do not have a dog in the fight, being neither a Jew, nor a Muslim, nor a practicing (never mind fundamentalist) Christian. That’s a tall order, but let me at least share some reactions on the “God’s Jewish Warriors” piece and reaction to it.

Bookworm’s first link is to a highly entertaining and well-written attack by Robert J. Avrech. Avrech gets off to a rocky start, though, by claiming that he stopped counting after Amanpour said “God’s Jewish Warriors” 57 times. In truth, the phrase is used a grand total of 20 times in the entire piece. Poetic license and all that, but if he’s going to criticize someone else for not getting her facts right, he might focus a little more on getting his own facts right.

Next, he takes Amanpour to task for saying that “The second intifada was an attempt by the Palestinians to shake off the Israeli occupation.” Though he puts this comment in quotes, he is paraphrasing. Here is what she actually said:

“Intifada, in Arabic, it means ‘shaking off.’ And beginning in September 2000, Palestinians turned increasingly to suicide bombs in the Second Intifada to shake off Israeli occupation and strike at the Jewish state.” This is hardly the “poisonous Arab propaganda” Avrech claims. Note especially the phrase “strike at the Jewish state” which at least implies what Avrech is saying – that nothing short of the destruction of the Jewish state will satisfy the Palestinians.

Avrech goes on to decry the bias of the “experts” presented and Amanpour’s bias, but he completely overlooks the extent to which Amanpour presents the Warriors sympathetically and in their own words.

But before we get to that, a word about the “experts.” It’s true she uses Jimmy Carter a lot, but she presents him as the controversial figure he is, not as an objective source. She introduces him in the following words: “I spoke with former President Jimmy Carter who has written a controversial book that’s critical of Israel and its settlement policy.” She discusses the charges he is anti-Semitic openly with Carter, even placing on the air a talk show caller who calls him “a bigot, a racist and an anti-Semite.” No reporter could resist the opportunity to interview an ex-President and public figure such as Carter, but Amanpour presents him as the controversial figure that he is.

Similarly, she introduces John Mearsheimer as “a prominent political scientist at the University of Chicago, co-authored one of the most controversial essays of late, arguing pro-Israel advocates have too much influence on American policy.” And so he is. Surely, Amanpour can present people on all sides of the issue, including people we disagree with, so long as she identifies them fairly and accurately.

Critically, Avrech all but ignores the positive “Warriors” Amanpour presents:

She begins with the haunting story of Tzippi Shissel, whose father was murdered by a terrorist and who, nevertheless, continues to live near to where he died. As Shissel explains, “We have the Holy Land. It’s where God says this is where the Jews has to live.” Amanpour has been criticized for commenting, “But it is also Palestinian land. The West Bank — it’s west of the Jordan River — was designated by the United Nations to be the largest part of an Arab state.” But this statement is true. It may be a bit misleading – the Arabs rejected the plan and the United Nations is hardly the authority for anything, but at most this exposes Amanpour’s bias in favor of international organizations and international law.

Aside: This bias really comes through when Amanpour declares that the settlements are illegal. She cites to international law and specifically to the International Court of Justice. She is 100% right and 100% wrong. The ICJ did conclude the settlements are illegal and the ICJ is the final arbiter of international law. But there is no such thing as international law, and there cannot be until there is one international government. The United States, as a country, supports the ICJ, but when was the last time any American got to vote on accepting its law? But I digress.

Amanpour ends with Idit Levinger, a West Bank settler who speaks eloquently of her beliefs: “I walk around here with my children and tell them this is the hill that Abraham climbed. This is where Jacob had his dream. It’s not something that was once upon a time. It’s alive and now. . . . I feel I’m part of these hills. I can’t see myself living without them. . . . My bond with this place is far more than a house.” Amonpour could have ended with a negative portrayal of the settlers. Instead, she closes with their fight (even against their own government) to remain, and presents their views through a most sympathetic spokesperson.

In between Shissel and Levinger, Amanpour presents many positives that her critics choose to ignore. She returns again and again to Hanan Porat, an attractive, well-spoken man who presents the settlers’ position in measured terms. She includes this exchange:

HANAN PORAT: If you think we are messianic with our beliefs, now, what they think, those who believe in peace with the Palestinians, is pure mysticism.

AMANPOUR: To God’s Jewish warriors, turning land over to the Palestinians would just bring more blood and more tears.

This is not nearly the hatchet job Amanpour’s critics are making it out to be. She shows Shimon Peres making the legal point that the territories are disputed, not occupied. She shows Morris Amitay accusing Carter and Mersheimer of “Promoting an agenda in which Israel is the bad guy. Basically the United States and Israel have the same goals in the Middle East. Peace, prosperity, keeping terrorists out. I just think that the success of the pro-Israel community is the fact that they have good arguments on their side.” She shows David Ha’ivri noting that “The Arabs have 22 of their own countries” – a point that Avrech makes as if Amanpour somehow hid it.

True, she stretches to find Jewish terrorists, but carefully explains the Palestinian terrorist act that turn Baruch Goldstein into a terrorist and, in turn, led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

True, she doesn’t make a big deal of the West’s condemnation of their own terrorists or contrast that to the Arab world’s celebration of their terrorists as martyrs, but she explains that the plot to blow up the girls’ school is foiled by Israeli police, and the would-be-Israeli-terrorists tried and convicted. Their acts clearly are not celebrated. (By contrast, in the next segment, she shows Muslim mothers proudly describing their terrorist sons as martyrs. The point is made, if not as overtly as some would like.)

In short, Amanpour does the best she can within her restricted world view, and she does so by finding articulate and sympathetic “warriors” and presenting their stories sympathetically. She could have done far worse.

Perhaps the best and worst part of Amanpour’s report (depending on your point of view) is that she showed parallels in her presentation but nowhere overtly claims the “warriors” of the various faiths are at all parallel. Oddly, I’m reminded of the Fox News slogan, “We Report. You Decide.” Amanpour reported. She presented some experts who have little credibility in my eyes, but she identified them as the controversial figures that they are. She let her own biases show through at times, but I’m convinced that she tried to be fair as best she was able. She could have found crazed “warriors” who would have discredited all “warriors” but, to her credit, she did the opposite. Having presented the least biased report she was capable of, she leaves it to the viewer to decide whether there is any moral equivalence. There is not. And, in the end, with all its faults, Amanpour’s report demonstrates that; it does not refute it.

Why fight?

One of my favorite of the many conservative slogans printed on products sold at Protest Warrior is the one that says “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.” To me, it’s always been self-evident that there are good wars, just as there are bad and pointless wars. And as the Protest Warriors’ slogan makes clear, good wars are those that use arms to destroy poisonous ideologies. In this regard, it’s important to note that these ideologies are themselves life destroying. That is, they’re not bad things that make people kind of sad. If that were the case, it would be difficult to justify blood shed as a means to destroy a merely depressing ideology. Instead, each of these horrible political systems has resulted in the deaths of millions or hundreds of millions of people. Even more significantly, the dead are not just those in the “enemy” nations countries in thrall to these ideologies attack to keep their citizens from focusing on their own misery. Instead, countries that have taken these dark paths routinely destroy their own citizens in huge numbers.

Given this reality (see, I’m a realist), I’ve never been able to understand the liberal mindset that says all wars are bad, without any exceptions. Historical evidence tells me that fatuous statement is just not true. Reading Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, however, has finally offered an explanation for this amazing world view, one American liberals clearly copy from their European mentors.

The lead-up to the following quoted material is a conversation Bawer had with two Dutchmen who sneered at America, including American involvement in WWII. As one Dutchman said, “The idea that America entered the war to defend the cause of freedom is a fiction.” To these Marxist infused Dutchman, America’s motive could only have been the spread of economic imperialism. Here’s Bawer’s conclusion on this subject (p. 93):

And yes, maybe that’s what being an American does come down to — a sentimentalism, about liberty among other things, that many Western Europeans just can’t fathom. If they’re so quick to ascribe purely economic motives to America’s involvement in World War II, perhaps it’s because those are the only reasons they can imagine their own country — itself once a major colonial power — ever having for involvement in a far-away war, or any war.

Sitting there with Niek and Tom, I realized that they were genuinely unable to comprehend a land whose people take liberty seriously enough to die for it. Indeed, for these two men who had been born only a decade or so after the Nazi occupation, worlds like “freedom” and “tyranny” hardly appear to have any real meaning at all. To talk of freedom, in their view, was simply to spout emotionally charged rhetoric that — either naively or with cynical calculation — sugarcoated the evil reality of capitalism.

Having looked at the way in which Europeans fail to understand the American approach to war, since they can only project their cynical values, erasing American idealism, Bawer, using Kosovo as a springboard, contemplates the practical implications of this outlook — and they are serious realities indeed, with profound consequences for American interests at home and abroad (p. 95):

In America, we feel obliged to do something about the Milosevics of this world. In a way, this need to set things right is, again, a kind of romanticism. What else (aside from a desire to avenge Pearl Harbor) can explain the alacrity with which we renounced the safety of isolationism in 1941 and committed ourselves to the fight against fascism in places far from home?

Western Europeans are different. For the, the Milosevics of the world, however monstrous, are also, quite simply, a fact of life. Nothing will ever end that. Get rid of one, and another will come along soon enough to take his place. They think of themselves as realists — but this isn’t realism; it’s fatalism. And (as I have since come to recognize, but didn’t then) it can shade into a strange, disturbing respect for dictators, a respect rooted in Europe’s own history tyranny.

Bawer’s understanding of European cynicism and passivity certainly explains a lot. I don’t have anything to add to it. Do you? (I do have some useful images, though.)
Continue reading

What is the effect of disbelief on war?

Thank you as always for your insightful and thoughtful comments.  I always love throwing out topics and seeing the wonderful places you take them. 

Today, I’d like to ask another question that relates to faith.  One thing that cannot be denied about the Islamists is that they have a deep faith.  It is hardly surprising that young men who truly believe they have 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven can’t wait to blow themselves up and take as many innocents with them as possible.  I suspect, though, that a person who does not believe in the afterlife, who believe that life is a one-shot deal, will be a lot less ready to sacrifice that life for any cause.

This difference might also account for some of the strangeness of the liberal viewpoint.  By and large, liberals do not have an abiding faith in God and an afterlife and they simply do not understand (and are a bit suspicious of) those who have a deep faith, be they Chriatian, Jewish or Islamic.   They can’t imagine sacrificing their lives for anything, and they act as if they can’t imagine anyone else doing so either.  How can they possibly have anything intelligent to say about the war against Islamists if they have no understanding of their foes?

So what effects do Bookwormroom readers think the loss of faith of so many in the West will have on the battle against the Islamists?  Also, those of you who don’t believe in an afterlife, who believe this life is a one-shot deal — what do you believe is worth dying for?  What would you give your life for, if you thought you were giving up everything for all eternity?