Bush’s State of the Union

President Bush’s speech tonight left me pretty underwhelmed, although few State of the Union Address’s are anything more than a laundry list of proposals that won’t see the light of day.

One thing that jumped out at me was that Bush didn’t take a particularly hard line on Iran, which is the most pressing national security threat. He said:

The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats.

Sure, Iranians “must” not have nukes, but what is he doing to ensure that they won’t? What will be the consequences for Iran when it defies the rest of the world?

As for Hamas, Bush said:

The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.

Again, Bush can say they “must” do all of those things, but it’s clear that they won’t. So what then?

Moving on to domestic matters, I found it laughable that Bush would try to portray himself as a budget hawk given that he has expanded the size of the federal government more than any president since LBJ.

He said:

Every year of my presidency, we’ve reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

Great. Cutting $14 billion, when the 2006 deficit is projected to be $390 billion. Not to mention that in the speech he also proposed to increase funding for alternative fuels, science research and training teachers, among other initiatives.

I found myself bristling when Democrats applauded Bush’s statement that, “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security…” Yeah, ignoring a looming fiscal crisis and denying Americans the opportunity to have more control over their retirement is really something to be proud of.

Unlike some conservatives, I’m not going to blame Bush for the defeat of Social Security. Even though he could have done a better job selling it, he did go to bat on the issue last year, and it was really wobbly moderate Republicans that pulled the rug out from under him without putting up a fight.

Tonight he mentioned that, “By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget.” To solve the problem, he said he wanted to create a commission to study the matter, which as we all know, means nothing. Late last year the commission he appointed to study tax reform came back with several proposals to simplify the tax code. Tax reform was supposed to be one of the main pillars of his second term agenda, but there wasn’t a reference to it tonight. So, I’m not holding my breath for entitlement reform.

Of course, we shouldn’t expect the same president who pushed the multi-trillion dollar prescription drug plan to be a successful champion of entitlement reform.

Poor Libertarians

In op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (link unavailable) called “?Libertarian Orphans” David Boaz points to a Gallup Poll as evidence that 20 percent of the country is libertarian and he laments that these people are underrepresented in politics and the media. But libertarians have nobody to blame but themselves. Libertarians may want to laugh at the religious right, but whatever you may think about their views, they undeniably earned their place at the table. For decades religious conservatives have been politically active, they have organized, donated their money and they have shown up for Republicans on Election Day. Meanwhile, libertarians by nature tend to be too cynical about politics to become active and get involved in campaigning, and would rather sit back and be critics, or work in think tanks or intellectual journals. Some libertarians think that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, some think that the Republicans are and others would rather vote for a Libertarian Party candidate in protest. Still others will brag about how they didn’t vote at all, as if this makes them morally superior because they will never feel responsible for what happens. Now, these are all defensible positions on some level, but the bottom line is that when you add them all up, it means that libertarianism will never translate into political power. For a group of people who oppose anti-poverty programs out of a belief that in a capitalist system anybody who works hard and has talent can succeed, libertarians are awful defeatist when it comes to politics. Rather than fight the fight, they’d rather sit back so that they can complain about the outcome.

So, to answer a question posed by Boaz, “?What’s a libertarian to do”? I’d argue that they should get more politically active. Libertarians who won’t participate in the political system are the ones to blame for the under representation of libertarians in politics, and nobody else.

Over the next week, I hope to post some additional thoughts on the nature of libertarianism.

Palestinian Grievances

All the talk about Hamas’s election triumph being the result of Palestinian suffering has reminded me of something Mark Helprin once wrote in a prescient article written about a year before the Second Intifada:

Germany did have grievances that were real and of great moment, but they were as nothing compared with its ambitions, to which they were merely the preliminary.

The brilliant essay, “Cape and Sword” is always worth a read.

U.S., EU Already Showing Signs of Softening on Hamas Aid

From the NY Times:

LONDON, Jan. 30 – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and senior European envoys signaled today that there would no immediate suspension of aid for the Palestinian Authority following the victory by Hamas in last week’s Palestinian elections, but they continued to warn that aid could be cut off once a Hamas-led government takes power in coming weeks.

The diplomats’ instinct, various officials said, was to avoid provoking an immediate confrontation with Hamas, especially as it puts together its regime. They were also trying to avoid actions seen as prejudging what Hamas will do and to keep the door open to aid if Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist…

Reading between the lines, it seems as though as long as Mahmoud Abbas stays on as president and perhaps a non-Hamas prime minister is appointed, aid will be continue, and the world will have caved in to terrorism.

Other parts of the story deserve some comment:

Their discussion came as the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and a leader of Hamas today urged Western countries not to cut aid, citing the hardships it would impose on the impoverished Palestinians.

If they were so worried about losing aid, the Palestinians should have considered that when they decided to vote for a terrorist group.

So far Hamas has disavowed any intention of changing its strategy or its covenants opposing the existence of Israel. But there is still hope, however tenuous, among some Europeans and Americans of some kind of modification of these tenets.

Hope? Based on what?

John McLaughlin Joins the Hamas Apologists

In yesterday’s McLaughlin Group, John McLaughlin joined the chorus of voices trying to portray Hamas as a moderate group. You come to expect that type of nonsense from the rest of the panel, which includes Eleanor Clift and serial Israel-basher Pat Buchanan, but it is disappointing that McLaughlin himself would prove so naive. Thank God Mort Zuckerman and Tony Blankley were on the panel to set him straight. I’ll link to a transcript of the show when it comes available. But one part that really bugged me was when McLaughlin displayed pictures of top Hamas leaders and insisted they were moderates without giving evidence to support his claim.

For instance, McLaughlin said Mahmoud Zahar was a “closet pragmatist.” This is the same Zahar, who, as I detail below, has not backed down from Hamas’s stated goal of destroying Israel. The same Zahar who once bragged to the New York Times about how many Israelis Hamas killed in two attacks including the notorious massacre at a Passover Seder. From the NY Times article of April 4, 2002, which is available here if you subscribe to TimesSelect:

”Forty were killed and 200 injured — in just two operations,” another of the leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said with a smile.

Some pragmatist.

McLaughlin also said of Khaled Mash’al that “he’s probably, ultimately, a pragmatist.” It’s hard to reconcile that with Mash’al’s appearance on Al-Jazeera over the weekend, in which he said, in response to U.S. and European calls to renounce terrorism: “We are committed to the resistance and adhere to its weapons.”

You can read a transcript of the Al-Jazeera interview here or view the video here.

Supporters of Israel have been fooling themselves into thinking that with Hamas’s victory, the mask is removed from the Palestinian leadership and now the rest of the world will realize that Palestinians aren’t serious about peace. Wake up people! Already, you have the likes of John McLaughlin trying to portray terrorists as “pragmatists.”

Palestinians Vote For Terror, Media Says Vote Was About Corruption

The popular narrative being circulated in the media (both by Hamas apologists and even many supporters of Israel) is that Hamas’s landslide victory in the Palestinian elections was merely a response to massive corruption by the ruling Fatah party. Clearly, the legacy of Yasser Arafat’s corrupt dictatorship had a lot to do with Hamas’s smashing victory, and could very well be the most important reason. But elections are rarely decided by one issue alone, and as I will demonstrate below, terrorism was clearly a key part of Hamas’s platform. In any event, Hamas’s commitment to destroy Israel certainly didn’t hurt them. Also, let’s not forget that Hitler gained support in Germany in the early 1930s, because the nation was going through economic crisis and burdened by reparations, but that doesn’t make the Germans any less morally culpable for giving power to the greatest monster of the 20th Century.

In this interview with Al-Jazeera conducted last Monday, just before the election, Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al lays out Hamas’s platform, which is based on a rejection of the Oslo peace process framework and and continued “restistance” to Israel (a code word for terrorist attacks). Here are some telling excerpts:

Today we enter the Legislative Council with the platform of the resistance, which most of the forces in the Palestinian people agree on, Allah be praised…

The Palestinian people, with its will, its sacrifice, its Intifada, is creating something new, on which this Legislative Council is based. That’s why Hamas and the other forces are joining the Legislative Council on the basis of continued resistance, adhering to the weapons of the resistance, adhering to the Palestinian rights, to rectifying internal Palestinian affairs, to reform, to fighting corruption this is our platform, and we do not base ourselves on Oslo…

Oslo did not manage to dismantle the settlements in Gaza or the West Bank through negotiations. All there was was redeployment with no sovereignty over Gaza, one-third of which consisted of settlements under Israeli sovereignty. On the other hand, when we united around resistance, we managed to force our enemy to withdraw from Gaza…

Some people believe that a brilliant politician is one who buys and sells, closes deals, sits down with the enemy to negotiate, swims with him, hang out in pyjamas, and smoke cigars together at Oslo, this doesn’t make sense. What did the Vietnamese do? They forced America to withdraw by means of resistance. When America was worn out, they went to Paris, and forced America to leave Vietnam. We, in Hamas, represent a realistic view, not a utopian one…

Another top Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, took the oppourtunity of a campaign rally to remove any doubts that Hamas’s goal was still the destruction of Israel. As this article from Arutz Sheva reads:

On January 13, A-Zahar said at a rally in Khan Yunis that the Hamas would not enter into negotiations with Israel in light of the Oslo accords, which he says, after 10 years, proves that negotiations are only an illusion. He declared that the Hamas still holds true to pursuing jihad or holy war with Israel and the liberation of all of Palestine.

A-Zahar went on to negate any form of cooperation with Israel, which he referred to as the “?Zionist occupier.” He characterized the Jewish state as “?an enemy, not a neighbor, friend, or partner.”

A-Zahar outlined his party’s electoral platform as follows:

Ã? ?Ã? · Islam is the source and ultimate authority for the Hamas

Ã? ?Ã? · The entire land of Palestine, every inch of it, is the property of the Islamic and Arabic nation that can never be relinquished.

Ã? ?Ã? · The right of return of Palestinian refugees is a legitimate right. Every Palestinian is entitled to decide when and how to return to his homeland.

Ã? ?Ã? · Continuation of the struggle (against Israel) in all of its manifestations.

The Hamas leader added that once the elections were over, his party would “?instill the significance of the struggle in the minds of our children and teach them that it is forbidden to compromise on any aspect of it.”

Let’s face facts. Palestinians may have voted against corruption, but it was also clearly a vote in favor of terrorism.

Hamas Leaders Urge Continued Funding

From the Washington Post:

“We are asking you to cooperate with our mission by keeping an open mind,” Ismail Haniyeh, the top candidate on Hamas’ national list, told journalists at his house in a beachside refugee camp here. “We are asking you to respect these results and respect the will of the Palestinians.”

Giving even an inch to Hamas now will only lead to greater concessions down the road. There can be no open mind with Hamas. Even Europe considers them a terrorist group. And if Hamas is “the will of the Palestinians,” well, then, that just reflects poorly on the Palestinians. Cut aid. Sever all ties with this terrorist regime. Let the Palestinian people learn a lesson in democracy: elections have consequences.

UPDATE:

Leading up to the election, Ismail Haniyeh, who is quoted above, said in an interview with the French news agency AFP that:

“Hamas supports the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in the territories occupied [by Israel] in 1967 – as an interim solution. However, Hamas will continue to maintain its views regarding the boundaries of historical Palestine, and [in terms of] refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation.”

In other words, the destruction of Israel is their long term strategy. Let us never lose sight of the type of people we are dealing with here.

Guardian Columnist: Hamas Refusal to Recognize Israel Not “Urgent Problem” for Europeans

Jonathan Steele, in a column in the Guardian, hails Hamas’s victory as “the best news from the Middle East for a long time.”

He writes:

In Israel and Washington reaction to Hamas’s victory has been predictably negative. European governments should take a more sensitive view…

If Europe, weak though its power may currently be, wants to have an independent role in the Middle East, clearly different from the manipulative US approach, it is vital to go on funding the PA regardless of the Hamas presence in government…

Above all, Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the “war on terror”. Murdering a Palestinian politician by a long-range attack that is bound also to kill innocent civilians is morally and legally no better than a suicide bomb on a bus. Hamas’s refusal to give formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist should also not be seen by Europe as an urgent problem…

There was a day when Europeans didn’t see Hitler’s hatred of the Jews as an “urgent problem” either.

Read Steele’s whole column here.

Hamas: Europe Will Cave in 6 Months

In a revealing interview with the Times of London, Mahmoud Zahar made comments that suggest that all of the talk from European leaders about denying aid to Palestinians is just that: talk. Zahar said:

“?The European people came to me in the last month and they said within six months they are going to do their best to change the attitudes of their administration, because they do not accept Hamas is a terrorist organisation.

“?Sooner or later the European countries in particular are going to change their mind concerning their attitude with Hamas.”

Read the whole thing here.

Hamas Legitimized

Make no mistake, Hamas’s landslide victory in this week’s Palestinian election is the first step of a process that will culminate with the terrorist group being celebrated by the international community. Such a turn of events may sound unlikely right now, because even Europeans recognize that Hamas is a terrorist group that is sworn to the destruction of Israel. But before Yasser Arafat was awarded the peace prize in 1994, he had a decades long record as a terrorist, as somebody who ordered the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at Munich and 25 Israeli schoolchildren in Ma’alot. That record, and the fact that he continued to order terrorist attacks while talking peace, never seemed to hurt him.

While most leaders were clear to point out what Hamas really is about after the election results, it is only a matter of time before Hamas is rehabilitated by the international community.

The first indication of this is whether the U.S. and EU cut funding to the Palestinian Authority. While Bush said yesterday, “a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal,” he said that he was waiting to see what the composition of the government was. This leaves open the possibility that funding would continue if Mahmoud Abbas remains president and/or if a leader from a party outside of Hamas is appointed prime minister.

With Hamas now in control, the Palestinian government has become a democratically- elected terrorist state, and anything short of a suspension of all funding is a capitulation to terrorism, pure and simple. If President Bush does not lead the pack by suspending aid, there’s no way the EU can be counted on to do so.

Meanwhile, there are other ominous signs that the ligitimization of Hamas has started. Look at this quote from today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“We in the West are going to have to stop looking at Hamas as if they’re al Qaeda or the Taliban: They’re not,” said Clayton Swisher, the programs director at the Middle East Institute who served as an election monitor with the joint National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center delegation this week and traveled around the territories.

“We’ll have to deal with a group that is authentic of the Palestinian street,” Swisher said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. “We have to come to terms with this.”

And check out this article from the Times of London, about the EU, with the aid of the U.S., facilitating the return of an exiled Hamas leader:

Khaled Mashal, the exiled supreme leader of Hamas and one of Israel’s most wanted men, has signalled his intention to return to the Gaza Strip following the organisation’s landslide victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections.

The European Union is said to be facilitating Mashal’s return from Damascus next week, when he will begin talks with President Mahmoud Abbas over a possible political partnership with the ousted Fatah party to form a new government.

Quoting sources close to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds said that the EU was lobbying the United States, which was in turn appealing to Israel not to block Mashal’s repatriation.

Mashal, a former physics teacher considered by Israel to be the director of Hamas’s terrorist arm, escaped an assassination attempt by Mossad agents in Jordan in 1997. He retains an uncompromising stance against Israel, and his potential return to help steer his victorious organisation is likely to further enrage Israeli authorities.

Within five years, supporters of Israel will be writing articles trying to remind people that Hamas is a terrorist group.