2020-01-07 04:02:32 UTC
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The Boston Globe
Arguable - with Jeff Jacoby
Monday, January 6, 2020
Soleimani had it coming
“Politics stops at the water’s edge,” Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously
declared in 1947, in the early years of the Cold War. The Michigan
Republican, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
argued that presidents shouldn’t be undermined by domestic politics as they
dealt with foreign policy crises abroad. He urged bipartisan support for
several of President Harry Truman’s signature policies, including the
Marshall Plan, the formation of NATO, and the Truman Doctrine.
Neither party has been especially rigorous about adhering to Vandenberg’s
principle over the years. The Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq wars, to mention the
most obvious examples, all became fodder for intense partisan skirmishes.
And in the wake of foreign disasters and blunders — think of the Bay of
Pigs, American hostages in Tehran, the mass murders of 9/11, or the 2012
Benghazi attack — the party that controls the White House has generally
taken plenty of flak from the opposition.
But with Friday’s US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani — the leader
of Iran’s murderous Quds Force, a monster with the blood of hundreds of
Americans on his hands — came something new: vehement partisan denunciation
of a president for a successful military action.
In the past, the killing of major terror chieftains has called forth
When SEAL Team Six, carrying out President Obama’s orders, killed Osama bin
Laden in 2011, Americans across the spectrum rejoiced, conservatives and
Obama critics (such as yours truly) very much included. A few years earlier,
when the US Air Force targeted and killed the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq
(AQI), a New York Times editorial cheered: “It is good news for Washington,
and even better news for Iraq, that the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi was finally killed on Wednesday by an American air strike.”
The operation last October that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of
the Islamic State terror organization, was welcomed by both Republicans and
Democrats; pretty much the only thing about that operation that evoked
criticism was President Trump’s bombastic mockery as he announced Baghdadi’s
death (“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying
and screaming all the way.”)
But the death of Soleimani — a more deadly enemy than Bin Laden, Zarqawi, or
Baghdadi — set off a paroxysm of recrimination and outrage from many on the
left. Some claimed that Trump exceeded his authority in ordering a drone
strike without first clearing it through Congress. Others accused him of
violating the US policy against assassinations.
“But that long-time ban has never applied to terrorists, which Soleimani
clearly was,” the Wall Street Journal noted on Saturday.
He ran Iran’s Quds Force, which the Bush Administration designated as a
terror group in 2007. He was also a general in the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps, which Trump designated as a terror group last year. If Trump’s
drone strike was illegal, then so were Barack Obama’s raid on Osama bin
Laden and his hundreds of drone strikes over eight years as president.
Actually, it was thousands of drone strikes over Obama’s eight years as
president. In April 2015, the Washington Times reported that “US forces
have now surpassed 2,800 strikes against targets in Iraq and Syria under
President Obama’s war against the Islamic State, all as part of a conflict
Congress has yet to specifically authorize.” Feeling pressure from Congress,
the Times story added, the Obama White House had “finally submitted a draft
authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State,” but
it languished on Capitol Hill, neither approved nor rejected by Congress.
Meanwhile, the Times reported,
The US military has been conducting strikes in Iraq for 10 months, and began
striking directly at targets in Syria last September as part of Obama’s
announced campaign to degrade the capabilities of the Islamic State.
This past weekend’s attacks brought the total to 1,458 strikes in Iraq and
1,343 in Syria by US forces. Coalition forces allied with the US have
conducted another 655 attacks on Iraqi targets and 95 in Syria.
Obama has justified the attacks under his commander-in-chief powers and
under the 2001 resolution authorizing force against al Qaeda, and the 2002
resolution authorizing the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
There is a serious argument to be made that presidents should have to get
congressional approval before embarking on any new military campaign, but
the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a military enemy of the United States
for 40 years. The Quds Force, through the military organizations it
controls, has attacked and killed hundreds of Americans and thousands of
American allies in Iraq.
A US drone destroyed a vehicle carrying Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia leader, near the Baghdad
International Airport Friday
Soleimani was a combatant in uniform; he commanded enemy attackers who
regularly carried out violent assaults on US troops and civilians. As
recently as last Tuesday, Soleimani-directed militiamen in Baghdad stormed
the US embassy, smashing windows and setting fires. A couple days earlier,
the Iranian-directed Kataib Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets at the K-1 air
base in Kirkuk, killing a US contractor and wounding four US personnel.
Other attacks by Iranian proxies in recent months included the destruction
of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and the shooting down of a US drone
flying in international airspace.
Thus — as Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security secretary in the Obama
administration, told Meet the Press on Sunday — Soleimani “was a lawful
military objective, and the president, under his constitutional authority as
commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out.”
The killing of Soleimani was also an act of justice on behalf of the
enormous numbers of non-American men, women, and children whose lives he
destroyed or shattered. “Soleimani spent the last decade replicating the
Hezbollah model in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, propping up local militias with
precision weapons and tactical know-how,” wrote the Hudson Institute’s
Michael Doran in the New York Times over the weekend.
In Syria, his forces have allied with Russia to prop up the regime of Bashar
al-Assad, a project that, in practice, has meant driving over 10 million
people from their homes and killing well over half a million. In Iraq, as we
have seen in recent days, Suleimani’s militias ride roughshod over the
legitimate state institutions.
Add to that tally the victims of Quds Force-organized violence in Israel,
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of dissidents
and protesters within Iran. Soleimani was responsible for “countless
atrocities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere,” editorialized the
Washington Post , which explains why “his death in a drone strike was being
cheered Friday by US allies and progressive forces across the region, from
Israelis and Saudis to the pro-reform demonstrators of Beirut and Baghdad.”
Journalist Kim Ghattas, writing in The Atlantic, noted that people in Syria
were “passing trays of baklava to celebrate Soleimani’s death.”
Before last week, US presidents several times considered killing Soleimani,
and always rejected the option. That didn’t make the Middle East safer, it
didn’t appease Tehran into halting its terror operations, and it degraded
American deterrence. Now Soleimani is dead. Whatever comes next, the world
today is a less evil place.
Gertrude Himmelfarb, RIP
Amid a raging crisis in the Middle East, a presidential impeachment, a
seemingly endless Democratic primary campaign, and the New Year’s holiday,
the death of a 97-year-old historian — especially one who never became a
pop-culture icon or appeared as a regular talking head on TV — wasn’t likely
to catch the attention of most Americans. Nonetheless, the passing of
Gertrude Himmelfarb last week is worth pausing to remark.
She was born in 1922 to Russian Jewish immigrants who had never had any
formal education, but who raised their daughter, informally known as “Bea,”
to cherish an intense respect and love for learning. As a student Brooklyn
College, she earned a triple degree — philosophy, economics, and history.
She also dabbled for a while in Marxism, and attended gatherings of the
Young People’s Socialist League. It was at one such meeting that she met
Irving Kristol, another young Jewish intellectual. They were married six
weeks after Pearl Harbor. Their shared attraction to Marxism didn’t last
long, but their attraction to each other sustained what Mona Charen the
other day called “one of the great marriages of our time.” It lasted 67
years, until Irving’s death in 2o09.
Gertrude 'Bea' Himmelfarb, 1922-2019
Himmelfarb became best known for her scholarship on the values of Victorian
England. At the start of her career, conventional wisdom tended to disdain
the Victorian era and its emphasis on morality and respectability. But in
her books and essays, Himmelfarb strongly defended the middle-class
Victorian virtues that liberal reformers mocked.
“For the Victorians, these virtues were fixed and certain,” she wrote in an
influential 1994 book, The De-Moralization of Society . “They were the
standards against which behavior could and should be measured. . . . When
conduct fell short of those standards, it was judged in moral terms as bad,
wrong, or evil — not, as is more often the case today, as misguided,
undesirable, or (the most recent corruption of the moral vocabulary)
Himmelfarb argued with conviction that traditional morality was essential
above all to the poor and the working class. “Central to Himmelfarb’s
thought was the relation between the moral imagination and poverty — the
moral imagination of the larger society and of the poor themselves,” wrote
Myron Magnet, a longtime friend and protégé of Bea and Irving Kristol, in a
City Journal essay on Friday:
How was it, she asks, that over the course of the nineteenth century, all of
Britain’s key indicators of social pathology markedly improved? The
illegitimacy rate, 7% in 1845, plunged below 4% by century’s end. Between
1857 and 1901, the crime rate fell by half, so that even while the
population soared from 19 million to 33 million, the absolute number of
serious crimes decreased. The prostitutes and drunks common at midcentury
had become so scarce by 1900 that they no longer seemed a pressing social
All this happened amid urbanization and industrialization that some
theorists held should have produced social disintegration, not social
improvement. But a much stronger force swept all before it: Victorian
culture in general, and Victorian morality in particular, with its emphasis
on virtue, respectability, work, self-help, sobriety, cleanliness, and
family. The great Victorian achievement, as Himmelfarb saw it, was a “moral
reformation” that allowed Britain “to attain a degree of civility and
humaneness that was the envy of the rest of the world.”
Just as the upholding of traditional morality made English society stronger
and healthier in Victoria’s day, argued Himmelfarb, it could do the same for
America. In One Nation, Two Cultures , she wrote about the gulf separating
two sides of American society — one side committed to the values of intact
families, patriotism, merit, and self-discipline, while the other side,
shaped by the counterculture of the 1960s, elevated moral autonomy above
moral authority, derided sexual restraint, emphasized self-esteem, and
embraced a nonjudgmental “multiculturalism.”
In October 1997, Himmelfarb brought that message to the Massachusetts State
House. She addressed the Legislature as the guest of House Speaker Tom
Finneran, who sought periodically to elevate the tone on Beacon Hill by
inviting some of the nation’s eminent thinkers to speak to the lawmakers.
“We are seeing a collapse of respect and morals, and of our institutions,”
the physically slight but intellectually formidable Himmelfarb said on that
occasion, as reported by the State House News Service . Many symptoms of
that social unhealthiness were only too familiar — divorce, illiteracy,
welfare dependency. But there were, she said, “two areas of truly good news”:
the decline in crime, and the recent passage of a national welfare reform
law. On both counts, she was proved correct: The crime rate continued to
plummet in the years that followed, while welfare reform got millions of
Americans off the dole and into the productive workforce.
But Himmelfarb hadn’t come to the State House to tell legislators they could
rest on their laurels:
There are areas in which the government would do well to retreat. The
government ought to drop its regulation of public charities and allow them
to flourish. And public housing would be improved if those communities had
more authority to evict tenants who erode the quality of life there in large
or small ways. . . . Other moral legislation weakens society, such as
“no-fault” divorce laws. Such statutes promote the belief that breaking our
commitments is a small matter, and we see the breakdown of society that
results. The government can revise its laws to strengthen our families and
bolster positive values — for example, by making it harder for parents with
children to divorce.
The Legislature gave Himmelfarb a standing ovation, but it gave her advice
short shrift. Divorce in Massachusetts remains too easy and public charities
are more intrusively regulated than ever.
I was in the audience that day. It was the only time I ever saw Himmelfarb
in person. I wish I could have had the pleasure of knowing her (and her
husband). Magnet, who knew them well, ends his essay on this lovely note:
I remember Irving speaking at his 60th birthday party of his thankfulness
for all that America had bestowed on him. “I never imagined I’d have a color
TV set,” he said, “or a washing machine.”
“Oh, Irving!” said Bea. “We don’t have a washing machine. It’s a
They were both truly thankful for all that America had given them. When they
resided in New York, Bea’s mother lived with them for a time. She would
stand for hours at their big window looking north over Central Park,
puzzling out what to make of all the joggers. Perhaps with memories of the
Russian pogroms her family had fled in her childhood, she would say to
herself: “I don’t understand. What are they running from?”
That was the beauty of America, Bea and Irving knew. They didn’t have to run
away from anything.
You can spare a pint
January is National Blood Donor Month, and I have made an appointment to
donate at a blood drive this week. I want to encourage you to do likewise.
If you already are a blood donor, of course, you don’t need my
encouragement. But the great majority of Americans don’t give blood. Some
people have simply never thought about it. Some are dissuaded by the
inconvenience involved — the whole process takes about an hour, and involves
answering many questions about your medical history. And then there are
those who are squeamish about blood, or scared of needles, or worried that
it will hurt.
Nevertheless: Please give . God forbid that you or any of your loved ones
should ever need a lifesaving blood transfusion, but every year, 4.5 million
Americans do. According to the Red Cross, somebody in this country needs
blood every 2 seconds. One of every seven people admitted to a hospital has
to be given blood. Those transfusions can spell the difference between life
and death for people who are afflicted with cancer, or who were involved in
traumatic accidents, or who have sickle-cell disease or other chronic
disorders. Blood transfusions can save mothers undergoing a difficult
childbirth. They sustain patients bleeding during surgery.
Whatever your reasons for not giving blood, would they stand in your way if
the person you most care about in the world needed an emergency transfusion?
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, at least five people will
need to be given blood — and even if they’re strangers to you and me, all of
them are loved by someone. A little of your blood can keep that love alive.
And if all that isn’t reason enough, donating blood improves your health,
too. It lowers the risk of hemochromatosis, which causes a buildup of iron
in the body. Reducing excess iron levels in turn can lower the risk of
liver, lung, colon, and throat cancers. Regular blood donors are also less
likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes. And for those looking to drop a
little weight, there’s this added fillip: When you donate a pint of blood,
you shed approximately 650 calories.
It’s a simple exchange: You give up an hour of your time and a pint of your
blood, and you help save someone’s life. Where are you going to find a
better deal than that?
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In my column on Sunday , I pointed out that the public’s trust in the
federal government has been declining since the 1960s. Whereas three-fourths
of Americans used to be confident that Washington would do the right thing
most of the time, now fewer than 20% think so. Is it just a coincidence that
the collapse in voters’ faith in government has occurred even as the size
and scope and cost of that government has metastasized? Never has America’s
political class been so sure that it knows exactly how to engineer society —
and never have Americans trusted their government less.
Last Tuesday , following the attack by a machete-wielding intruder at the
home of a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., I commented on the rising wave of violent
antisemitism in the United States. In some quarters, the conventional wisdom
has been that dangerous Jew-hatred is a right-wing phenomenon, linked to the
“alt-right” and white bigotry. But anti-Semitism is equally a phenomenon of
the left and of black bigotry. Most of the violent attacks on Orthodox Jews
in recent months, including the Monsey knifings and the shootings at a
kosher supermarket in Jersey City, have been committed by non-whites. “If
the long, bitter history of anti-Semitism teaches anything,” I wrote, “it is
that ‘the oldest hatred’ can take any shape and adapt to any ideology.”
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The last line
“As you from crimes would pardon'd be
Let your indulgence set me free.” — William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611)
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