Monday, July 31, 2006

Leaving Church

This story by Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times is perplexing, not least because it's hard to tell how accurately it's being reported. Taking it tentatively at face value, though, it seems that both sides at this church have made some mistakes. Here's the gist of the story:

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (July 30) -- Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing -- and the church's -- to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute "voters' guides" that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn't the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary? After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called "The Cross and the Sword" in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a "Christian nation" and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

I think Pastor Boyd was wrong about political involvement, wrong about "moralizing" on sexual issues, partly correct about the U.S. not being a Christian nation (although it was founded on the basis of Christian principles), and completely correct about not glorifying military campaigns (although they should certainly be assessed in terms of how well they conform to Just War thinking). War should be regarded by the church as a necessary evil. Individual service and valor can certainly be praised but war itself should be regarded with sadness, not triumphalism.

"When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Mr. Boyd preached. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."

No and yes. How the Church inevitably loses if it prevails in the culture war is certainly far from clear. After all, what does it mean to be salt in the world if it doesn't mean trying to influence the culture to move in a moral direction?

If, however, a nation's ultimate confidence is in its military might rather than its assurance that it is not transgressing the law of God, then we will not only lose the cross, but we'll lose our nation as well. Though we surely need to be militarily strong, ultimately our confidence must not rest in the might of our army but in the rightness of our principles.

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God's ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul -- packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals -- was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

This is not very clear. It's hard to tell whether the congregants left because Pastor Boyd opposes abortion and homosexuality or because he doesn't preach strongly enough against these things. Presumably it's the latter, but perhaps it's that he was challenging his people to think more deeply about these matters than they cared to. If so, it's unfortunate that they took this as a justification for leaving. Sermons should challenge people to think more deeply both politically and theologically than they otherwise might. If Christians don't want to be challenged that would be a shame. It would give point to the title of historian Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share. "Most of my friends are believers," said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, "and they think if you're a believer, you'll vote for Bush. And it's scary to go against that."

Sermons like Mr. Boyd's are hardly typical in today's evangelical churches.

That may be but I wonder how Goodstein knows that.

But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

There is a reason for this, of course, which is that the Democrat party has become the party of abortion, moral laxness, and theological liberalism. Evangelicals, rightly or wrongly, feel that their faith is under attack and see the Democrat party as at best indifferent to the attacks and at worst complicit in them. They feel that Republicans are more sympathetic to their concernas and values so it's no wonder that many evangelicals have gravitated to that party.

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, "The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church," which is based on his sermons.

Whether the quest for political power is destroying the church or whether there realaly is a significant quest for political power is not clear, but surely Pastor Boyd is correct that it is unwise for the Church to snuggle up to government. Of course, the New York Times might have pointed out that the black church has been doing this for decades but since they've been cozying to Democrats that gets a pass from the Times.

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church's board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

"When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker," said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. "But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can't be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70's, it wouldn't have happened. But the church was asleep."

Mr. Berggren is right. Abortion is a legitimate, if very delicate, issue in the church. Any matter that bears upon human life and morality is a proper subject for a sermon. It's not clear, though, from this excerpt whether Mr. Berggren is concerned that Pastor Boyd is reluctant to preach on it or that he doesn't take the position on the issue that Mr. Breggren would like.

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd's draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

This is also disappointing. Whether God fully knows the future is a legitimate question. There are many passages in Scripture would could be taken to mean that he doesn't and many which indicate that He does. This seems to me to be an issue upon which Christians could disagree without feeling that they have to "break fellowship".

He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, "Letters From a Skeptic," based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic -- an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into "idolatry."

This is certainly true and he's right to try to guard against it.

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch's worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing "God Bless America" and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses. "I thought to myself, 'What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?' " he said in an interview.

Well. There's nothing at all wrong with singing a hymn petitioning God for His blessing on one's country, and I don't see why Pastor Boyd should find that offensive. Moreover, although I would probably wince myself at a church service that seems to be a little too heavily militarized, I don't know that I would have been as scandalized by the fighter jets as Pastor Boyd was.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd's church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a "freedom celebration." Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending "your hard-earned money" on good causes.

I don't know why a church, especially a Lutheran church, shouldn't celebrate the blessing of political freedom, nor is there anything wrong with churches recognizing the contribution of those in its congregation who served in the military. As for the major telling the congregants that their money is being spent on good causes, one certainly hopes that that's the case.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others -- by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others - "winning people's hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

Pastor Boyd here traipses out onto rhetorical thin ice. If he means that the Church as an institution shouldn't seek to control governments then I join him, but if he means that individual Christians should refrain from exercising their rights as citizens, I have to dissent. There is nothing wrong with Christians seeking to influence legislation or fighting wars. The latter depends, of course, on whether the war conforms to the criteria of Just War theory.

"America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. "I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

This is true enough, and if this is what upsets his congregants then they need to spend some time reading the four gospels.

Mr. Boyd lambasted the "hypocrisy and pettiness" of Christians who focus on "sexual issues" like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson's breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public. "Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act," he said. "And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

Maybe Jesus never pushed those buttons because He didn't have as much occasion in the society in which he lived. There wasn't much pornography around in the centuries before Gutenberg, one guesses. Nevertheless, John the Baptist did push that button at the cost of his head, and so did Paul. The fact is that a flawed view of human love and sexuality devastates more lives today than probably any other single factor. Proper understanding of the appropriate role of sexuality in our lives and of the enormous damage that can be wrought from a misuse of this gift is extremely important and I can't understand why a pastor who sees that damage in his counselling sessions every day would think otherwise.

Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said. Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church's Sunday school.

"They said, 'You're not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,' " she said. "It was some of my best volunteers."

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: "Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn't give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that's it."

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community - African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

"In their place"? Did these new members have to wait until the disgruntled folk moved on before they could join Pastor Boyd's church?

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: "I don't regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn't know the price we were going to pay for doing it."

His congregation of about 4,000 is still digesting his message. Mr. Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night to allow members to sound off on his new book. The reception was warm, but many of the 56 questions submitted in writing were pointed: Isn't abortion an evil that Christians should prevent? Are you saying Christians should not join the military? How can Christians possibly have "power under" Osama bin Laden? Didn't the church play an enormously positive role in the civil rights movement? One woman asked: "So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn't we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?"

Mr. Boyd responded: "I don't think there's a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don't slap the label 'Christian' on it."

I'm not sure what the pastor means by this, but surely the province of the Good and of Justice are appropriate arenas in which Christians should be engaged. If he means that Christians aren't the only ones who seek the Good and Justice, why, of course, he's right, but it doesn't follow that Christians shouldn't be especially distinguished by their concern for these virtues.

Ambassador Gillerman

In case you missed it yesterday it would really be worth your while to go here and read the transcript of Meet the Press featuring Tim Russert's interviews with Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman and Lebanese special envoy Nouhad Mahmoud. Better yet go here and watch it.

Gillerman is extremely impressive, intelligent, and convincing. Mahmoud seemed like he was just giving pro forma responses to Russert's questions about the Israeli incursion into Lebanon. At some points he sounded as if he didn't really believe himself what he was saying.

Read the transcript and decide for yourself.

<i>Suicide Killers</i>

The Counterterrorism Blog has a disturbing interview with Pierre Rehov a French documentary filmmaker, who is completing a film titled Suicide Killers on the psychology of suicide bombers.

It's hard to read this interview with Rehov without coming to some deeply troubling conclusions about Islam. Here's part of it:

What inspired you to produce "Suicide Killers," your seventh film?

I started working with victims of suicide attacks to make a film on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) when I became fascinated with the personalities of those who had committed those crimes, as they were described again and again by their victims. Especially the fact that suicide bombers are all smiling one second before they blow themselves up.

Why is this film especially important?

People don't understand the devastating culture behind this unbelievable phenomenon. My film is not politically correct because it addresses the real problem-showing the real face of Islam. It points the finger against a culture of hatred in which the uneducated are brainwashed to a level where their only solution in life becomes to kill themselves and kill others in the name of a God whose word, as transmitted by other men, has became their only certitude.

What insights did you gain from making this film? What do you know that other experts do not know?

I came to the conclusion that we are facing a neurosis at the level of an entire civilization. Most neuroses have in common a dramatic event, generally linked to an unacceptable sexual behavior. In this case, we are talking of kids living all their lives in pure frustration, with no opportunity to experience sex, love, tenderness or even understanding from the opposite sex. The separation between men and women in Islam is absolute. So is contempt toward women, who are totally dominated by men. This leads to a situation of pure anxiety, in which normal behavior is not possible. It is no coincidence that suicide killers are mostly young men dominated subconsciously by an overwhelming libido that they not only cannot satisfy but are afraid of, as if it is the work of the devil. Since Islam describes heaven as a place where everything on earth will finally be allowed, and promises 72 virgins to those frustrated kids, killing others and killing themselves to reach this redemption becomes their only solution.

What was it like to interview would-be suicide bombers, their families and survivors of suicide bombings?

It was a fascinating and a terrifying experience. You are dealing with seemingly normal people with very nice manners who have their own logic, which to a certain extent can make sense since they are so convinced that what they say is true. It is like dealing with pure craziness, like interviewing people in an asylum, since what they say, is for them, the absolute truth. I hear a mother saying "Thank God, my son is dead." Her son had became a shaheed, a martyr, which for her was a greater source of pride than if he had became an engineer, a doctor or a winner of the Nobel Prize. This system of values works completely backwards since their interpretation of Islam worships death much more than life. You are facing people whose only dream, only achievement is to fulfill what they believe to be their destiny, namely to be a shaheed or the family of a shaheed. They don't see the innocent being killed, they only see the impure that they have to destroy.

Do all Muslims interpret jihad and martyrdom in the same way?

All Muslim believers believe that, ultimately, Islam will prevail on earth. They believe this is the only true religion and their is no room, in their mind, for interpretation. The main difference between moderate Muslims and extremists is that moderate Muslims don't think they will see the absolute victory of Islam during their life time, therefore they respect other beliefs. The extremists believe that the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Islam and ruling the entire world as described in the Koran, is for today. Each victory of Bin Laden convinces 20 million moderate Muslims to become extremists.

Describe the culture that manufactures suicide bombers.

Oppression, lack of freedom, brain washing, organized poverty, placing God in charge of daily life, total separation between men and women, forbidding sex, giving women no power whatsoever, and placing men in charge of family honor, which is mainly connected to their women's behavior.

How can we put an end to the madness of suicide bombings and terrorism in general?

Stop being politically correct and stop believing that this culture is a victim of ours. Radical Islamism today is nothing but a new form of Nazism. Nobody was trying to justify or excuse Hitler in the 1930s. We had to defeat him in order to make peace one day with the German people.

There's more at the link.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Five Questions About Qana

The bombing of the building in Qana has had a tragic result and, if it turns world opinion against Israel, it will be many times more tragic, so we have a couple of questions about the attack:

1) Why would anyone think that Israel intentionally bombed civilians? There could have been absolutely no benefit to Israel whatsoever from intentionally killing a large number of women and children.

2) Who does benefit? The only beneficiary of this tragedy is Hezbollah which has won not only a two day reprieve from the bombing but has also scored a public relations coup.

3) Why was this building hit in the first place? Israel tracks rocket launches and uploads the satellite data to a bomber on site which assesses the target. If the target is judged to be free of civilians the pilot launches a bomb which is guided by the satellite. Evidently, Hezbollah was using this building as a launch site for the rockets it was sending into Israel and there was no indication, the hour being late, that it was occupied by civilians.

4) Why were so many women and children gathered together in a building which, in some reports, was said to be under construction? There were approximately 70 people huddled in this structure when it collapsed. What were they doing there? Were they placed there by Hezbollah? Why?

5) The attack occurred between 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. but the building didn't collapse until about 8:00 a.m. Do we know for sure that the Israeli bomb caused the collapse? The IDF thinks there were explosives housed in the building that may have caused a secondary explosion that resulted in the collapse.

Who knows. Maybe there are answers to these questions that would make sense from the point of view of a Lebanese. But in the rush to report the story it would be nice if some reporters would at least show an interest in finding those answers.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson has made some good movies and his The Passion of the Christ was, in my opinion, excellent. Nevertheless, he has essentially undone himself with his drunken rage at the police who apprehended him for DUI.

His behavior is not just appalling, it's reprehensible. The charges of anti-semitism that have followed him throughout his career and especially in the lead up to the release of The Passion have been amply confirmed by Gibson himself.

His drunkenness is tragic but, as serious as it is, it might win our sympathy, or even our empathy. His obvious hatred of Jews, however, is a much more profound sin, especially in the anti-semitic world we find ourselves in today. It's a sin which commands not our sympathy but our dissociation.

It is with deep sadness that we read of his fall, and as much as we'd like to believe his apology no one says the things he said unless those things are deeply rooted in his soul.

Mel needs to think about some very serious penance, purgation, and contrition. He needs to spend some quality time on his knees laying open his soul so that God can cleanse his heart of the hatred he harbors there. Until he spends that time I don't know how there can be anything more that he could ever offer the Church.

Sounds Like a Trend to Us

Michelle lists eight or nine examples of Muslims who've initiated deadly or near deadly attacks on innocent bystanders in this country in the last ten years, the one in Seattle the other day being the most recent. Had she not omitted the attack by a university student in North Carolina who drove his SUV into a crowd of students a year or so ago there's have been even more. When is the media going to start pointing out that there seems to be a trend here?

Fortunately, the Seattle police have their priorities straight. In the wake of the recent shooting that left one dead and five wounded the police have set up protective surveillance of ... the local mosque.

Let's ask a couple of questions: How many American citizens have been murdered in America by Muslims in the last ten years? On the other hand, how many Muslims have been murdered in America by non-Muslim Americans? Who should the police be protecting from whom?

The Current Crisis

More incisive analysis of the current war in Lebanon from Victor Davis Hanson:

We can answer these absurdities by summing up the war very briefly. Iran and Syria feel the noose tightening around their necks - especially the ring of democracies in nearby Afghanistan , Iraq , Turkey , and perhaps Lebanon. Even the toothless U.N. finally is forced to focus on Iranian nukes and Syrian murder plots. And neither Syria can overturn the Lebanese government nor can Iran the Iraqi democracy. Instead, both are afraid that their rhetoric may soon earn some hard bombing, since their "air defenses" are hardly defenses at all.

So they tell Hamas and Hezbollah to tap their missile caches, kidnap a few soldiers, and generally try to turn the world's attention to the collateral damage inflicted on "refugees" by a stirred-up Zionist enemy.

For their part, the terrorist killers hope to kidnap, ransom, and send off missiles, and then, when caught and hit, play the usual victim card of racism, colonialism, Zionism, and about every other -ism that they think will win a bailout from some guilt-ridden, terrorist-frightened, Jew-hating, or otherwise oil-hungry Western nation.

The only difference from the usual scripted Middle East war is that this time, privately at least, most of the West, and perhaps some in the Arab world as well, want Israel to wipe out Hezbollah, and perhaps hit Syria or Iran . The terrorists and their sponsors know this, and rage accordingly when their military impotence is revealed to a global audience - especially after no reprieve is forthcoming to save their "pride" and "honor."

What should the United States do? If it really cares about human life and future peace, then we should talk ad nauseam about "restraint" and "proportionality" while privately assuring Israel the leeway to smash both Hamas and Hezbollah - and humiliate Syria and Iran, who may well come off very poorly from their longed-for but bizarre war.

Only then will Israel restore some semblance of deterrence and strengthen nascent democratic movements in both Lebanon and even the West Bank . This is the truth that everyone from London to Cairo knows, but dares not speak. So for now, let us pray that the brave pilots and ground commanders of the IDF can teach these primordial tribesmen a lesson that they will not soon forget - and thus do civilization's dirty work on the other side of the proverbial Rhine.

In this regard, it is time to stop the silly slurs that American policy in the Middle East is either in shambles or culpable for the present war. In fact, if we keep our cool, the Bush doctrine is working. Both Afghans and Iraqis each day fight and kill Islamist terrorists; neither was doing so before 9/11. Syria and Iran have never been more isolated; neither was isolated when Bill Clinton praised the "democracy" in Tehran or when an American secretary of State sat on the tarmac in Damascus for hours to pay homage to Syria 's gangsters. Israel is at last being given an opportunity to unload on jihadists; that was impossible during the Arafat fraud that grew out of the Oslo debacle. Europe is waking up to the dangers of radical Islamism; in the past, it bragged of its aid and arms sales to terrorist governments from the West Bank to Baghdad.

There is much more along this vein at the link.

Re: A Little Humility Please

In a recent post I chided political scientist Larry Arnhart for what I took to be a bit of over-reaching in describing his new book Darwinian Conservatism. Arnhart made the claim that he shows in the book "why the arguments of ID proponents are weak". I wrote that I thought this an inappropriate statement for a non-specialist in the relevant disciplines to make and that it displayed a lack of humility. Via e-mail Mr. Arnhart challenged that judgment.

I am unpersuaded that a non-specialist should be given much credence when he or she claims to have essentially settled a controversy that many specialists are still vigorously debating, but, although he did not mention or suggest it, I looked up Mr. Arnhart's curriculum vitae and noted that he is not exactly a non-specialist. He has indeed published widely on the issue of ID/evolution, and I feel as a result that I was hasty and unfair to him in the criticism I placed in the original post.

I apologize to him and will delete the offending post after those who may wish to go back to it to see what this is all about have had a day or two to do so.

Good Teaching

Cornell Professor Allen MacNeill has set an example of what a college education should look like. Professor MacNeill offered a seminar this summer on the issues surrounding the Intelligent design/ Darwinian evolution controversy. MacNeill is a Darwinian himself, but by all accounts he did an outstanding job of moderating the discussions and being fair to all students and all viewpoints.

Sal Cordova publishes MacNeill's summary of where matters stand with two weeks left to go in the course at Uncommon Descent.

Student commentary on the class discussions is posted here.

MacNeill has given his students a fine model for how such debates should be conducted, and, as Cordova notes, he's to be commended for what he's accomplished.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Colbert and Norton

Andrew Sullivan has a funny video clip of a Stephen Colbert interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton. Go here and click on the screen.

Just War in Lebanon

The New Republic inexplicably touts Michael Walzer as the "great political philosopher who developed the theory of 'just war'. One wonders if the folks at TNR have never heard of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his Summa Theologica or any of a host of pre-twentieth century thinkers (e.g. Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546), Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767)), but never mind. Even if TNR embarrasses both Walzer and itself in its enthusiasm, he is still a very important contemporary just war theorist and he has a piece in TNR on the Lebanon/Israeli war that's worth reading. Here's the second half of it:

So, what can Israel do? It is an important principle of just war theory that justice, though it rules out many ways of fighting, cannot rule out fighting itself--since fighting is sometimes morally and politically necessary. A military response to the capture of the three Israeli soldiers wasn't, literally, necessary; in the past, Israel has negotiated instead of fighting and then exchanged prisoners. But, since Hamas and Hezbollah describe the captures as legitimate military operations--acts of war--they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate. The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.

The most important Israeli goal in both the north and the south is to prevent rocket attacks on its civilian population, and, here, its response clearly meets the requirements of necessity. The first purpose of any state is to defend the lives of its citizens; no state can tolerate random rocket attacks on its cities and towns. Some 700 rockets have been fired from northern Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal a year ago--imagine the U.S. response if a similar number were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man's-land. It doesn't matter that, so far, the Gazan rockets have done minimal damage; the intention every time one is fired is to hit a home or a school, and, sooner or later, that intention will be realized.

Israel has waited a long time for the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese government to deal with the rocket fire from Gaza and the rocket build-up on the Lebanese border. In the latter case, it has also waited for the United Nations, which has a force in southern Lebanon that is mandated to "restore international peace and security" but has nonetheless watched the positioning of thousands of rockets and has done nothing. A couple of years ago, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for the disarming of Hezbollah; its troops, presumably, have noticed that this didn't happen. Now Israel has rightly decided that it has no choice except to take out the rockets itself. But, again, how can it do that?

The crucial argument is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields. Academic philosophers have written at great length about "innocent shields," since these radically exploited (but sometimes, perhaps, compliant) men and women pose a dilemma that tests the philosophers' dialectical skills. Israeli soldiers are not required to have dialectical skills, but, on the one hand, they are expected to do everything they can to prevent civilian deaths, and, on the other hand, they are expected to fight against an enemy that hides behind civilians. So (to quote a famous line from Trotsky), they may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in them.

There is no neat solution to their dilemma. When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible--and no one else is--for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire. But (the dialectical argument continues) Israeli soldiers are required to aim as precisely as they can at the militants, to take risks in order to do that, and to call off counterattacks that would kill large numbers of civilians.

That last requirement means that, sometimes, the Palestinian use of civilian shields, though it is a cruel and immoral way of fighting, is also an effective way of fighting. It works, because it is both morally right and politically intelligent for the Israelis to minimize--and to be seen trying to minimize--civilian casualties. Still, minimizing does not mean avoiding entirely: Civilians will suffer so long as no one on the Palestinian side (or the Lebanese side) takes action to stop rocket attacks. From that side, though not from the Israeli side, what needs to be done could probably be done without harm to civilians.

I was recently asked to sign a condemnation of the Israeli operation in Gaza--a statement claiming that the rocket attacks and the military raid that led to the capture of Gilad Shalit are simply the inevitable consequences of the Israeli occupation: There "never will be peace or security until the occupation ends." In the past, I am sure, some Palestinian attacks were motivated by the experience of occupation. But that isn't true today. Hamas is attacking after the Israelis departed Gaza and after the formation of a government that is (or was until the attacks) committed to a large withdrawal from the West Bank.

Similarly, Hezbollah's attacks came after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The aim of these militants is not to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel; it is to destroy Israel. Admittedly, that is a long-term aim that derives from a religious view of history. Secularists and pragmatists have a lot of trouble acknowledging such a view, let alone understanding it.

By contrast, the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders. Until that is achieved, no Israeli government is going to move forward with another withdrawal. In fact, it is probably true that the Hamas and Hezbollah attacks have made any future unilateral withdrawals impossible. Israel needs a partner on the other side who is, first of all, capable of maintaining security on the new border and who is, second, actually willing to do that. I can't pretend that the Israeli military operations now in progress are going to produce a partner like that.

At best, the army and air force will weaken the capacity of Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel; they won't alter their resolve. It will probably take the international community--the United States, Europe, the United Nations, some Arab states--to bring the Lebanese army into the south of the country and make it an effective force once it is there. And it will take a similar coalition to sponsor and support a Palestinian government that is committed to two states with one permanent and peaceful border and that is prepared to repress the religious militants who oppose that commitment. Until there is an effective Lebanese army and a Palestinian government that believes in co-existence, Israel is entitled to act, within the dialectical limits, on its own behalf.

Walzer says a thing or two in the first half of the essay that I believe are somewhat problematic but what he says above is on the mark.

Funny Stunt

Jodi Applegate wanted to film a couple of guys demonstrating how easy it is to steal a bike for her Good Day, New York tv show. Unfortunately, the two men, Casey and Van Neistat, feigned an accident in which one of them leaned too close to the chain cutter and, pressing ketchup packs against his throat, simulated having had his throat seriously lacerated. It's actually kind of funny, in a goofy kind of way, but Jodi is not at all amused, which makes it even funnier.

See the video here.

With Friends Like This...

Robert Casey, the Democratic candidate for the senate from Pennsylvania, just received a rousing endorsement from, of all people, al Jazeera. To be sure the endorsement was largely implicit since the article was a tirade against Casey's opponent Rick Santorum, and concluded with a plea to readers to vote Democratic. With supporters like this surely Mr. Casey feels cursed.

Indeed, it's not hard to imagine Santorum reading this editorial aloud in every speech he gives from now until election day. He couldn't have asked for a better break than to have al Jazeera place itself squarely in the opposition's camp. From Santorum's point of view, the only thing better than having al Jazeera endorse Casey, as one political observer once put it, would be for Casey to be caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.

Thanks for the tip to Captain's Quarters.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Moral Equivalency

Gary Varvel illustrates the witlessness of trying to equate the deaths of civilians at the hands of the Israelis with the deaths of civilians at the hands of their Muslim enemies:

And here's Chip Bok's meditation on the same subject:

And this at Michelle's:

The Silence of the Blogs

Andrew Sullivan notes the stunning silence on left wing blogs over the war in Lebanon and speculates about the reasons for it.

For my part, I suspect that the southpaw bloggers are reluctant to talk about the war for a couple of reasons. First, posting about the war would unleash a flood of commentary from their readers, many of whom are virulently anti-semitic. The lefties who run the blogs realize that triggering the hateful rhetoric likely to spew from this reptilian element of their readership would be a PR disaster. Second, there's no really good argument against what Israel is doing and the bloggers would make fools of themselves if they tried to criticize it. But, third, they can't take a position supporting Israel because that would put them in bed with George Bush and that's a circumstance too repugnant to contemplate. Not only would they be alienating a sizable chunk of their base - the antisemites and Bush haters - by having to share the mattress with Bush but they'd also be ineluctably led by the logic of their position to generally agree with his views on the larger war on terror.

The Israeli/Hezbollah war is thus a philosophical minefield for the left, and for the most part they're seeing the wisdom of just ignoring it. It's unprincipled, to be sure, but then we are talking here about the secular left.

Bint Jubayl

Bill Roggio discusses the battle of Bint Jubayl at CounterTerrorism Blog:

As the smoke clears from the fighting in the Lebanese border town of Bint Jubayl, Hezbollah's military capabilities become clearer. Today, 8 Israeli soldiers from the Golani Brigade's 51st Battalion were killed and 22 wounded during a "well-planned Hezbollah ambush on the outskirts" outside of Bint Jubayl. This follows the 4 killed and 18 wounded during Sunday's engagement in the town.

Hezbollah was reported to have suffered 150 killed as of this morning, and another 40 killed in today's action after fighting "gun battles at point-blank range." An unnamed American military officer reports several Hezbollah operatives, whose primary purpose is logistical support, have been captured and are currently being interrogated by Israeli intelligence.

The Hezbollah bunker in Bint Jubayl was taken nearly intact. Hezbollah attempted to destroy the equipment in the bunker, but was not successful in destroying it all, according to an intelligence source. Abu Jaafar, the Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon, may have killed himself rather than being captured. The Israeli troops seized Hezbollah computers, documents and monitoring devices used to observe the Israeli border, in addition to the "electronic surveillance equipment, weapons and communication devices made in Iran" which was reported yesterday. The bunker served as the equivalent of a Hezbollah headquarters and command and control center for the southern border.

The Israelis targeted the town of Bint Jubayl with the hope of obtaining further intelligence on Hezbollah's organization and capabilites, as well as the location of their two captured soldiers. The documents and computer seized by the IDF may outline Hezbollah's command and organizational structure in southern Lebanon, although this is unknown at this time. Israeli intelligence is currently analyzing the data.

The Israelis have confirmed that Hezbollah is fighting like a professional military. Their units are fighting at the company level at the least (Unit size of approximately 100 men), and perhaps in larger formations. Intelligence also confirms there is specialization within the Hezbollah units, including trained infantry, mortar teams, missile squads, and logistical personal. Iran has trained and organized Hezbollah's army into something far more deadly than a militia force. Hezbollah's core 'active' army is estimated at 3,000 - 5,000, with as many as 50,000 part time militia and support personnel that can be called upon to fight (20,000 is the average estimate).

Intelligence sources also have confirmed that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have indeed been killed during the fighting in Bint Jubayl.

The Lebanese coastal city of Tyre (also referred to as Sour) has "has steadily fallen more and more under Hezbollah's influence since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and rocket launchers in the city are hitting the city of Haifa and the northern Israeli towns. Israeli air strikes have been focusing on the city, but a steady barrage of about 100 missiles continue to fall in Israeli territory each day.

The Israeli government is signaling their plan to combat Hezbollah is to establish a 1-2 kilometer security buffer along the border and accept international peace keepers without explicitly requiring Hezbollah to disarm in accordance to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. This would give Hezbollah a monumental political and propaganda victory, while allowing Hezbollah's army the time and space it needs to rearm, train and improve their tactics for the next battle with the Israeli Defense Force.

This is why Israelis are saying that the war will continue for several more weeks. Either Hezbollah does not survive or ultimately Israel will not survive.

There's more analysis at DebkaFile.


Front Page Mag has an interview by Jamie Glazov with Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It. Murray has a number of interesting things to say about neoconservatism, among them is the distinction between liberals, traditional conservatives, and neo-cons.

The latter, according to Murray, see the world as it is and feel a duty to make it what it should be. Traditional conservatives (sometimes called Paleo-cons) see the world as it is and want to isolate themselves from it. Liberals, unfortunately, lack the capacity to see the world as it is.

Murray also ventures to identify some of those who fall into the neo-conservative mold:

Of the sustained neocons, none is a better example than Tony Blair. His axiom before the Iraq war on toppling dictators 'When you can, you should' seems to me a perfect neoconservative expression. But, that said, he is not remotely a neocon on domestic matters (which I go into at some length in my book) - not even on the domestic war on terror. It's purely a foreign policy thing with him.

There are of course a number of writers who I would say are great examples of neoconservative thinking. From very different directions, Christopher Hitchens and Charles Krauthammer spring to mind. But again it's worth pointing out that whenever you get more than one neoconservative in a room they're as likely to disagree as agree with each other. It's not a doctrine or fraternity - simply a way of looking at the world which, in my opinion, is particularly relevant to the world in which we live.

In answer to a question about why he thinks we need neoconservatism (from the title of his book) he replies:

Because the West is getting lost. Not just the Western way of life - which is increasingly becoming little more than a 'lifestyle choice'. But lost in the sense that it is forgetting what it believes in and therefore why it should even believe in itself. A combination of historical ignorance and moral posturing has led to what Ratzinger called the 'dictatorship of relativism'. In this situation moral clarity - which is one of the things neoconservatism provides - is desperately lacking. And I think this situation is dangerous. Dangerous because into this vacuum any of the worst creeds can stalk. Relativism's descent into nihilism is not the end of the problem. It is the beginning of it.

Regarding the war in Lebanon he speaks with refreshing good sense:

We must emphasise that parity does not exist when there is a war between a democratic state and a terror organisation. This is something that large swathes of the media - and the UN - simply cannot understand. Such a conflict is not a 50/50 event. And the scales do not tip against Israel because Israel has suffered fewer casualties to date. You do not decide who is right by affecting a body-count. Germany lost more troops than Great Britain in the last World War, but it didn't make Germany right. Would those who talk so idiotically of disproportionate response against Hezbollah be happier if more Katyushas were making direct hits on Israeli citizens?

Any decent person must emphasise that this is a conflict between free people and terrorists - an army that does everything it can to limit civilian casualties and an organisation whose aim is to maximise civilian casualties. Between two such sides no equivalence can be made.

The battle will - and must - be over only when Hezbollah's weaponry of terror is entirely destroyed. Neither the US nor any other ally of Israel should demand a ceasefire at any date before the time of Israel's choosing. If they do demand it, Israel should ignore it. A ceasefire which returns us to the status-quo ante would be a temporary ceasefire which would make the sufferings of recent weeks and months not just pointless, but perpetual.

The conflict currently going on is a local version of the war in which we are all engaged. Trace back just one step, in Iraq, Lebanon, London or New York, and you get the same story, and the same ring-leaders. Israel's war is our war, and we should be proud that at least one of our allies is successfully fighting this war for us as well as for themselves. Victory for Israel against Hezbollah will be a victory for all free peoples, not least the people of Lebanon.

Please read the whole interview at the link. It's worth the time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Neutral Peace-Keepers

Maybe this photo helps explain the tragic accidental bombing of a U.N. observation post today by the Israeli air force:

That's a Hezbollah flag keeping the U.N. flag company. Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the photo.

Murderers' Race is a PC No-No

It turns out that in our nation's capital it is forbidden to mention the race of criminals who are being sought by the police, no matter how relevant the race of the suspects might be. Tongue-Tied offers us the details of an example:

A police commander was issuing a description of some wanted murderers:

"I would think that at 2 a.m. on the streets of Georgetown, a group of three people, one of whom is 15-years-old, one of whom is a bald chunky fat guy, are going to stand out. They were black. This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown. This is a fact of life."

In Georgetown, the number of white people outnumber the number of black people 23 to 1."

The police commander has been "reassigned" because he divulged the race of the wanted men.

And he should be reassigned. He's obviously too insensitive to realize that certain facts should be left unstated since otherwise people might come to believe the racist stereotype that most violent criminals in Washington are black.

Higher Ed

This is the sort of erudition and scholarly thinking that $30,000 - $40,000 a year buys you at many of our elite universities:

More than 60 state lawmakers are urging the University of Wisconsin-Madison to fire an instructor who has argued that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course, an instructor should be free to offer his students nonsense if the university wishes him to do so, and many instructors evidently do just that. The question is: why would parents think that this is the sort of education they should want for their child?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

War and Diplomacy in Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post provides a summary of the recent fighting in Lebanon. The Israelis seem to be moving methodically and carefully to crush Hezbollah with the minimum harm possible being inflicted upon civilians.

Meanwhile Bob Gorrell has the diplomatic Kubuki dance figured out:

Surprises For and From Nasrallah

MEMRI has a transcript of an interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in which he makes two admissions which are particularly interesting. He says first that Lebanon knew in advance that Hezbbollah was going to kidnap Israeli soldiers and did nothing to discourage or prevent it. This means that Lebanon must share part of the blame for the destruction which has befallen it.

Hassan Nasrallah: I told them on more than one occasion that we are taking the issue of the prisoners seriously, and that abducting Israeli soldiers is the only way to resolve it. Of course, I said this in a low-key tone. I did not declare in the dialogue: 'In July I will abduct Israeli soldiers.'

Interviewer: Did you inform them that you were about to abduct Israeli soldiers?

Hassan Nasrallah: I told them that we must resolve the issue of the prisoners, and that the only way to resolve it is by abducting Israeli soldiers.

Interviewer: Did you say this clearly?

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, and nobody said to me: 'No, you are not allowed to abduct Israeli soldiers.' Even if they had told me not to... I'm not defending myself here. I said that we would abduct Israeli soldiers, in meetings with some of the main political leaders in the country. I don't want to mention names now, but when the time comes to settle accounts, I will. They asked: 'If this happens, will the issue of the prisoners be over and done with?' I said that it was logical that it would. And I'm telling you, our estimation was not mistaken. I'm not exaggerating. Anywhere in the world - show me a country, show me an army, show me a war, in which two soldiers, or even civilian hostages, were abducted, and a war was waged against a country - and all for two soldiers. This has never happened throughout history, and even Israel has never done such a thing.

Nasrallah indicates genuine surprise at the ferocity of the Israeli reprisal. He did not expect them to go to war over a kidnapped soldier, nor did he expect that the Arab world would remain tacitly indifferent to their response. He seems to feel sold out by the Arabs:

Hassan Nasrallah: Once we used to ask the international community to denounce the hangman and to have mercy on the victim. Then we got to the point where we said we would accept it if they denounce the hangman and the victim alike. This has become what we could expect from them. If a resolution denounces both the hangman and the victim - fine. As for the Arab regimes - all we expect from them is to be neutral. And if they do not want to be neutral - brother, let them treat Israel and us equally. We would even accept it if they treat the hangman and the victim equally. But for them to participate in spilling the blood of the victim, and to provide cover for the crimes of the hangman - I tell you that we did not expect this. This was indeed a surprise.

He added this:

Once the war is over, in what way will it affect the Iranian nuclear dossier? What effect will it have on it? On the contrary, if this is in any way connected to the Iranian nuclear dossier, the war being waged against Lebanon does not serve its interest. The Americans and the Israelis have always taken into account that if a confrontation breaks out with Iran, Hizbullah might intervene in Iran's favor. So striking Hizbullah now would weaken, rather than strengthen, Iran on the nuclear issue.

Those who insist the Israelis stand down before their task is finished in Lebanon should take Nasrallah's words to heart. A weakened Hezbollah diminishes Iran's standing in the world and weakens their bargaining position over their nuclear program. Such an admission should give the world incentive to encourage the Israelis to complete the job. It's just one more way in which the cause of peace will be served by the elimination of Hezbollah.


CBS gets a scoop: A conservative icon does not consider President Bush to be much of a conservative. This, of course, is not much of a scoop:

President Bush ran for office as a "compassionate conservative." And he continues to nurture his conservative base - even issuing his first veto this week against embryonic stem cell research. But lately his foreign policy has come under fire from some conservatives - including the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley.

"I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology - with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress," Buckley says. "And in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge."

Of course, Mr. Buckley is simply reiterating what conservatives have been saying about George Bush for at least four years now. He's not a pure ideological conservative, and the only people who think he is, apparently, are liberals. George Bush is a political centrist, a man who forty years ago would have probably been in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. This makes the left's visceral hatred for him all the more astonishing.

Some will say that the left vilifies him because of Iraq, but the Iraq project is something for which the left should be grateful. Not just because Bush liberated 25 million people from oppression, a fact they often elide, but also because, as we've been tirelessly reminded, getting preoccupied in Iraq has made adventures in Syria, Iran and North Korea far more difficult and far less likely.

Parenthetically, it is one of the hypocrisies of the left's rhetoric that they castigate Bush for tying us up in Iraq to the point where we can't, in their telling of it, react with strength to the nuclear threat in Iran, when, in fact, the prospect of military action against Iran would send them into paroxysms of outrage.

Pushing the West Into a Corner

Victor Davis Hanson writes that the Islamists are pushing the West into a corner, a strategy which may prove very dangerous for the Muslims. Here are some key excerpts:

For years, the Arab world clamored for the Israel "problem" to be solved. Then peace and security would at last supposedly reshape the Middle East. The Western nations understood the "problem" as being Israeli retention of lands it had captured in Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon after defeating a series of Arab forces bent on destroying the Jewish state.

But after the Israeli departure from Sinai, Gaza and Lebanon, and billions of dollars in American aid to Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, there is still not much progress toward peace. Past Israeli magnanimity was seen as weakness. Now Israel's reasoned diplomacy has earned it another round of kidnapping, ransom and rocket attacks.

Finally, the world is accepting that the Middle East problem was never about so-called occupied land -- but only about the existence of Israel itself. Hezbollah and Hamas, and those in their midst who tolerate them (or vote for them), didn't so much want Israel out of Lebanon and Gaza as pushed into the Mediterranean altogether. And since there will be no second Holocaust, the Israelis may well soon transform a perennial terrorist war that they can't easily win into a conventional aerial one against a terrorist-sponsoring Syria that they can.

Yet for all their threats, what the Islamists -- from Hezbollah in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to the Iranian government in Tehran to the jihadists in Iraq's Sunni Triangle -- don't understand is that they are slowly pushing tired Westerners into a corner. If diplomacy, or aid, or support for democracy, or multiculturalism, or withdrawal from contested lands, does not satisfy radical Islamists, what would?

The answer, of course, is nothing will satisfy them except the total elimination of Israel. Now that Europe is facing its own "Muslim problem" more Euro-appeasers are beginning to realize that concessions will not sate the ravenous Islamic appetite. Despite calls in the media for a cease-fire realists recognize that a cease-fire will not be an end to hostilities nor will it presage such an end. It would only rescue the extremists so that they can resume the fight once they've recovered their strength.

Monday, July 24, 2006

She'd "Love To Kill" the President

Betty Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize thirty years ago for her work to end the violence in Northern Ireland. If they gave prizes for despicable speeches she might qualify for one of those, too.

Campaigning on the rights of young people at the Earth Dialogues forum, being held in Brisbane, Ms Williams spoke passionately about the deaths of innocent children during wartime, particularly in the Middle East, and lambasted Mr Bush.

"I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent," said Ms Williams, 64.

"Right now, I would love to kill George Bush." Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.

"I don't know how I ever got a Nobel Peace Prize, because when I see children die the anger in me is just beyond belief. It's our duty as human beings, whatever age we are, to become the protectors of human life."

She might also receive an award for high achievement in perpetrating logical atrocities. "It's our duty," she avers, "to become protectors of human life." She states this immediately after telling cheering school children that she would love to murder the president of the United States. What a marvelously inane human being this lady is.

Not If He Were President

"If I was president, this wouldn't have happened."
John Kerry on the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict.

We have no doubt that that's true. A President Kerry would doubtless have done everything he could to prevent Israel from defending itself so that there would be no war. Israel would just be "hunkered down", in Richard Cohen's infelicitous phrase, hoping that Hezbollah would be nice and return their kidnapped soldier and stop murdering Israeli civilians. How else could Senator Kerry be so sure that a conflict such as the one we're currently witnessing would not have broken out on his watch unless he knows he would have blocked Israel's attempt to defend itself?

Actually, were Mr. Kerry president, the problem would be perhaps even more serious. A President Kerry would have retreated from Iraq in January of 2005 right after his inauguration. If we were not in Iraq, however, Syria, Iran, and maybe a couple of other Middle Eastern Arab states, emboldened by our lack of will, would probably right now be amassing troops to confront the Israeli Defense Force because they would know that Kerry would do nothing to stop them except call for negotiations.

In other words, if the pompous Mr. Kerry were president, Israel would right now be forced to choose between risking annihilation and going nuclear to defend itself. That's where Kerry's strategy of appeasement and surrender in Iraq would take us. It's where appeasement and surrender always take those who adopt it as a policy.

A Little Humility Please

In an interview about his book Darwinian Conservatism, Larry Arnhart makes this statement:

In my book, I explain why the arguments of the intelligent design folks are weak. They assume unreasonable standards of proof in dismissing the evidence for Darwin's theory, and they don't offer any positive theory of their own as an alternative.

Note that he doesn't say that he explains "...why, in his opinion, the arguments of the ID folks are weak." Nosiree. No sissified qualifications or equivocations from this man. Arnhart is a political science professor, after all, and if such an exalted expert proclaims the ID arguments to be weak, then that settles that.

Professor Arnhart is evidently convinced that a professorship in political science is close enough to real science to give him sufficient standing to pontificate on controversies in the philosophy of science as though he had some authority in the field. This is almost as presumptuous as Ann Coulter's pronouncements on the short-comings of the theory of evolution in her book Godless.

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with a non-specialist venturing opinions on matters outside their field of expertise - at Viewpoint we do it all the time - but it would be wise of non-specialists to exercise a little intellectual humility and avoid presenting their opinions as if they commanded the assent of the rest of us.

The Coming Assault on Iran

James Lewis at The American Thinker makes a prediction: If the Iranians don't back off their nuclear program there will be military strikes against Tehran before George Bush leaves office. The Israelis may start it, but the Americans will finish it. And no Arab country will shed a tear.

He argues that all the indications are that the Israelis are currently preparing for just such an assault:

Even as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are battling to knock down Hezbollah, Iran's terror proxy in Lebanon, the Washington Times reports that the Israeli Air Force is now equpped to take on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even while he is busy channeling the Twelfth Imam in Tehran. The timing of this report may not be a coincidence.

According to Rowan Scarborough, Israel has purchased 25 $84 million F-15I (I for Israel) Ra'am, aspecial version of the U.S. F-15E long-range interdiction bomber. It also is buying 102 of another long-range tactical jet, the $45 million F-16I Sufa. About 60 have been delivered.

The Jewish state also is buying 500 U.S. BLU-109 "bunker buster" bombs that could penetrate the concrete protection around some of Iran's underground facilities, such as the uranium enrichment site at Natanz. The final piece of the enterprise is a fleet of B-707 air-to-air refuelers that could nurse strike aircraft as they made the 900-mile-plus trip inside Iran, dropped their bombs and returned to Israel.

More than 85 long-range bombers and tactical jets are enough to strike fixed nuclear targets in Iran. The Iranians can't very wel move their nuclear plant at Bushehr or their enrichment cascade at Natanz. They do have another estimated 30 nuclear-related sites that may survive a short-term air campaign.

So much for IAF capability. What about military objectives? The Israeli mindset is essentially defensive. Israel has a formidable military because for more than half a century it has had formidable enemies. It would be absurd in Israeli eyes to attack anyone who did not pose a threat.

But the Mullahs are repeating Saddam Hussein's model of building a nuclear industry while talking genocide. That adds the greatest possible incentive to actually use Israel's long-range bombers. Add capabiity to incentive, and you can get action.

It's clear that Iran cannot be permitted to develop nuclear capabilities. It's not that they could put one atop an ICBM and launch it at the U.S. but rather that they'd almost certainly supply them to terrorists who would smuggle them into Israel, Europe or the U.S. An attack on Iran would have terrible consequences for world stability, but nuclear weapons in the hands of those who preach genocide of the Jews and the destruction of Western civilization would be calamitous. There simply are no easy options if Iran persists in its quest to develop the ability to accomplish these aims.

Read the rest of Lewis' piece at the link.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More on Stem Cells

Reuters has an article which suggests that the stem cell debate has created a fissure in the pro-life camp:

President George W. Bush may have cited his moral stance in vetoing a bill that would have expanded embryonic stem-cell research on Wednesday but the issue transcends traditional divisions over abortion rights. Strongly conservative Republicans who oppose abortion such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have backed broader federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research for years, and more conservatives have come on board recently, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

The embryos at issue come from fertility clinics, where eggs and sperm are united in lab dishes. But many more are made than can ever be implanted in mothers' wombs, and the leftovers are discarded.

The bill vetoed by Bush would have allowed federal taxpayer money to be used to do research on those embryos donated by the parents. It is not illegal to use private funds to do so, although some conservatives, such as Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, would also seek to ban this research.

The stem cells are taken from a ball of cells known as a blastocyst, which develops five to seven days after conception. These embryonic stem cells are pluripotent -- meaning they can differentiate into all the types of cells that make up an animal, including a human being, but do not form placenta and cannot become a fetus.

Bush, an opponent of abortion, used his first veto as president to block the bill on Wednesday, saying destroying embryos for medical research "crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

Many people who disapprove of abortion say they do not disapprove of experimenting on these embryos, which would otherwise be discarded. "It's very difficult to justify abandoning 7,000 to 20,000 in vitro eggs as medical waste," Hatch told reporters recently.

"The president is simply wrong -- it is clear we can expand current policy in an ethical and moral manner that unleashes the potential of embryonic stem-cell research," Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of The Republican Main Street partnership, which styles itself as a centrist Republican movement.

And supporters of embryonic stem-cell research say they are the ones who can claim the moral high ground. "It is immoral for our families, neighbors and friends to be held hostage to chronic diseases when their treatments are within our scientific grasp," June Walker, president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement.

Harry Moore of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield in Britain called Bush's stance inconsistent. "Most embryos produced by a normally fertile women will fail before implantation and not go on to a pregnancy. To call it 'murder' to use embryos donated for research is just emotional blackmail," Moore said in a statement.

I agree that there is no necessary connection between one's stance on abortion and one's position on embryonic stem cell research and have explained why here. There may be good reasons not to use embryos as a source of stem cells - other sources may be superior and less socially problematic, for example - and certainly, embryos should not be produced for the purpose of securing their stem cells. But the argument that it is immoral to do research on embryos that are destined to be discarded in any event, and should not be publically funded, does not work.

As I argued at the linked post it may be that the embryos should never have been produced, but that is an entirely separate question from the issue of what, given that the embryos are available and will ultimately be destroyed in any case, may morally be done with them.

Iraq's Unheralded Benefits

The benefits of the Iraq invasion keep piling up in the Middle East. Josh Manchester explains the latest instance of this at Tech Central Station where he argues that the invasion of Iraq has had a tectonic impact on the policies and politics in the Arab world and is paying dividends in the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. He concludes his case by saying that:

The 'big bang,' as invading Iraq has sometimes been called, was meant to reorder the nature of politics in the region. This has been accomplished in a fundamental way. The idea of dividing an enemy force into its constituent parts and then dealing with it piecemeal is at least as old as Caesar's actions in Gaul. It applies no less to US strategy in the Middle East. Every faction there has been made to reconsider its relationship with every other. Rather than there being a monolithic clash of civilizations, thus far the US is dealing with the area in pieces -- in whatever way it sees fit to do so -- whether making it tacitly clear to Syria that what happened in Iraq could more easily happen to it, or threatening Iran on behalf of the region and world, or seeking cooperation with the Saudis in hunting down al Qaeda.

Were Saddam still in power, the Arab world would not feel nearly as threatened by Hezbollah, the Frankenstein's monster of Iran's creation. Instead, they would have sided with the Syrian foreign minister's strong support for Hezbollah. Saddam himself might even have offered cash rewards to anyone attempting martyrdom against the Jews. Instead, ... the leading Arab League states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, call Hezbollah's actions "inappropriate and irresponsible." This lessens the urgency of calls from the international community, whether the G8, UN, or EU, for a ceasefire. That lessened urgency creates something very precious indeed: a moment in time and space wherein Israel has the most fleeting of opportunities for decisive action against Hezbollah, an avowed foe, a terrorist organization, and a constant threat to the security of its populace.

Israel now has the chance to destroy Hezbollah. Only time can tell what Israel will do with the opportunity it possesses. Opportunities forsaken are opportunities lost forever, as MacArthur was sometimes rumored to say. But let there be no mistake: this moment would not have been possible without the invasion of Iraq, and the destruction of Hezbollah is very much in the interest of the United States and that of any other nation that abhors terrorism.

Very little is said about this in the MSM because media types can only see what's directly in front of them, and in their immediate field of vision they see only strife and conflict. To them it all seems like chaos. The idea that Israel would be in a far more precarious position today and that Hamas and Hezbollah would be far stronger had the Iraq war never happened does not impinge upon their mental radar. Even if it did occur to them they wouldn't dare mention it lest they make our nincompoop commander in chief look strategically prescient.

Lieberman Falling

It's not looking good for the Democrats in the Connecticut senate race. The August 8th primary contest between incumbent senator Joe Lieberman versus wealthy challenger Ned Lamont seems to be tilting in favor of Lamont. This is what the self-destructive left-wing base wants, of course, because they loathe Lieberman for his support of the war and love Lamont who is a genuine cut-and-runner.

Lieberman held a 55-40 lead over Lamont in June but is now trailing 51-47.

So why is this bad news for the Dems? Because Lieberman has indicated that if he loses the primary he'll run in November as an independent and will probably win by picking up a lot of Republican votes. This will embarrass the party and those in it who support Lamont in November. If elected as an independent Lieberman promises to caucus with the Democrats, but he'll certainly feel that he owes them little allegiance after their tepid support for him this summer.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ground War

Ed Morrissey considers the prospects for Israel's anticipated ground assault against Hezbollah. He looks at the likely reactions of Syria and other players in the Middle East and concludes that the long term benefits might be worth it but the short term risks are high.

Read his analysis here. See also Strategy Page's report here.

Pat's Short Memory

Pat Buchanan is on the side of the angels, and I have a lot of respect for him, but he has a surprisingly short memory. In the course of arguing against going to war with Iran he says that:

None of this is written in defense of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. But none of them has attacked our country....

Let's refresh his memory for him with a list of Hezbollah's attacks against the U.S. over the last twenty years or so:

  • Car bombing of U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut killing 241 U.S. servicemen (1983)
  • Car bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut killing 63 people, including 17 Americans (1983)
  • Bombing outside U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut killing 24 (1984)
  • Hijacking of TWA Flight 847 killing one U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem (1985)
  • Abduction, torture and death of CIA Station Chief William Buckley in Lebanon (1985)
  • Bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia killing 19 U.S. servicemen (1996)

See Michelle Malkin for more on Hezbollah as a threat to the U.S.

How many Americans does Hezbollah have to kill before Pat is convinced that if we are not at war with Hezbollah they are certainly at war with us?

Israeli Tactics

Strategy Page offers interesting analysis of Israeli tactics in the current war.

Meanwhile, this article at YNet describes the extensive bunker system Hezbollah has constructed along the Israeli border and why it must be destroyed.

Evidently, thousands of Israeli troops have been tasked with the job of finding and securing these underground structures and most of the Israeli military casualties have been suffered in this mission.

Thanks for the tip to Belmont Club.

<i>Sojourners</i> Weighs In

It was obvious from the first paragraph of Jim Rice's Sojourners piece on the Israeli attack on Lebanon that we would be left scratching our heads more than once. For instance, he began his essay with this:

What is the proper, appropriate response of a nation to violent attacks by terrorists or other radical extremists? We have seen one model illustrated in the response of the British government to last year's attacks on London's public transportation system, in which 52 people were killed and 700 injured. The British rightly understood the attacks as terrorist acts, but responded in a measured manner, dealing both with the investigation of the terrible crime and the need for enhanced security in its wake. Pointedly, the British did not opt for a military response to these acts of terror.

Maybe no one has told Mr. Rice but a) the attack to which he refers was carried out by British citizens. There was no appropriate military target for a reprisal and b) the British are, in any event, no strangers to the use of military against terrorists. They have used military force in both Northern Ireland and in southern Iraq.

We have also, of course, seen an altogether different model of response, perhaps most clearly exemplified by the U.S. invasion of two countries - one of which was an actual source of the terror - following the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001. Unfortunately, it seems to be in the latter spirit that Israel responded to terror attacks in the past fortnight.

Is Mr. Rice suggesting that the use of military force against the Taliban and al Qaeda is "unfortunate"? If so, why is it? What does he suggest we should have done in the wake of 9/11? More to the point, how does he think Israel should have responded to the incessant terrorism to which it has been subjected?

In pursuit of peace Israel gave the Palestinians Gaza. It acceded to world opinion and promises by the U.N. by withdrawing from southern Lebanon and was planning further withdrawals from the West Bank. The Camp David accords awarded the Palestinians everything Israel could possibly give without ceasing to exist, but Arafat rejected the offer. Israel trusted Lebanon to keep Hezbollah off of its northern border but Lebanon was too weak. It trusted the U.N. to protect it from terror attacks, but the word for people who trust the U.N. is "corpse." Europe, we all know by now, won't stop the terrorists. Richard Cohen says the Israelis should just "hunker down," presumably until Hamas, the PLO, and Hezbollah have attrited them into extinction. Now James Rice says their decision to defend their children from the Hezbollah butchers is "unforunate."

The rest of the article is a complaint about Israel's alleged disproportionate use of force, etc. Mr. Rice writes as if the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers was the very first provocation committed by Hamas and Hezbollah. He ignores the low level war that has been waged against Israeli citizens for decades and sniffs that the Israelis should ignore it, too.

...does the real need for security justify the massively disproportionate response to an act of terror? Is the collective punishment of an entire population ever morally and ethically justified?

What exactly is a disproportionate response? In Mr. Rice's world, apparently, the Israelis are justified in killing only as many terrorists as the terrorists have killed themselves. That, of course, is an absurd policy. The purpose of war is to crush the enemy, not to make him say "uncle." Israel finds itself in a war for its very survival, not some schoolyard scuffle that is supposed to be a "fair fight."

The only way to stop Hezbollah and Hamas from killing Israelis is to eliminate Hezbollah and Hamas. The first question then is whether the Israelis are justified in seeking to destroy these terror groups, both of which effectively control the governments of Gaza and Lebanon respectively. If the answer is that they do, then the question becomes what are the most moral means to bring this end about. If Mr. Rice has a problem with the morality of a "disproportionate response" it would helpful if he explained exactly what it is that is so offensive about it.

Does the destruction of much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, so painstakingly rebuilt after years of civil war and occupation by both Israeli and Syrian forces, bode well for future peace between the neighboring states? In sum, will the Israeli attacks bring long-term security for Israel, or will they further ensure that the next generation of Lebanese and Palestinians - across the theological and political spectrum - grow up with an undying hatred in their hearts?

It is true that there has been much destruction in both Gaza and Lebanon, but there was much destruction in France in WWII. The effort to defeat the Germans meant that war needed to be waged in France and other European countries where innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire and entire towns and cities were laid waste. Was "the collective punishment of an entire population" of Europeans morally and ethically justified? Death and destruction are tragic, of course, but the blame for these should no more fall on the shoulders of the Israelis than it should have fallen on the shoulders of the allies sixty years ago.

...much U.S. media coverage of this new Middle East war paints a misleading picture of a tit-for-tat equivalency between the two sides: Hezbollah explodes a bomb in Israel, Israel responds in kind. While their intentions are indeed malevolent, the two terrorist groups have nowhere near the military capability of Israel, which wields one of the most powerful military forces in the world...The death toll in Lebanon in the first six days of the war has been tenfold that in Israel - according to The New York Times, 310 people, most of them civilians, have died in Lebanon while Israel has suffered 27 casualties, 15 of them civilians, since Israel began its attacks.

This is bizarre. Would Mr. Rice think that things would be more just if the casualty figures were closer to equal? He seems to suggest that if one side is stronger than the other it's somehow unfair for the stronger side to use its might, or it's unfair if they don't suffer the same casualties as the other side. This is positively looney.

So what if Israel is stronger? How does that bear on the crisis that Hezbollah and Hamas have precipitated? As I said above, the goal of war as Mr. Rice seems to think, is not to gain a stalemate, it is to win as quickly and as decisively as possible.

We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the political, strategic, and moral complexity of the situation to stand back and do nothing. A first step toward a more comprehensive resolution is an immediate operational cease-fire. But that must be followed by a new way of thinking because, as a U.N. official put it yesterday, "The Middle East is littered with the results of people believing there are military solutions to political problems in the region."

He says that we can't stand back and do nothing and then calls for a cease-fire which essentially does nothing. A cease-fire does not resolve the problem. It does not make Israel or Lebanon any safer from the predations of the terrorists. It simply returns things to the status quo. It guarantees that terrorism will continue and convinces the orcs that the world will never let them be defeated.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had it right when she said that there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Arabs love their own children more than they hate the Jews. As long as Muslims are so filled with hate for Jewish people that they will strap bombs to their children and send them out to blow themselves up, there will be no peace. If Mr. Rice wants "a new way of thinking" in the Middle East he can start by confronting that fact.

Israel has every right and reason to do what it's doing. The world, including those who are so quick to condemn it, has done nothing to end the terror and has instead left Israel with no other choice. All those who demand a cease-fire and who complain about "disproportionate response" are essentially calling for another Masada.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Worth a 1000 Words

What much of the world doesn't seem to understand Gary Varvel eloquently explains with a single drawing:

Darwinian Hyperbole

This piece of overstatement is from the Science and Theology News site:

Finches on the Galapagos Islands that inspired Charles Darwin to develop the concept of evolution are now helping confirm it - by evolving.

A medium sized species of Darwin's finch has evolved a smaller beak to take advantage of different seeds just two decades after the arrival of a larger rival for its original food source.

The altered beak size shows that species competing for food can undergo evolutionary change, said Peter Grant of Princeton University, lead author of the report appearing in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Grant has been studying Darwin's finches for decades and previously recorded changes responding to a drought that altered what foods were available.

It's rare for scientists to be able to document changes in the appearance of an animal in response to competition. More often it is seen when something moves into a new habitat or the climate changes and it has to find new food or resources, explained Robert C. Fleischer, a geneticist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Zoo.

One of the difficulties of evolutionary theory is that the timescales involved are often so large that much of the data has to be inferred. While the scientific community finds such data - primarily the fossil record - compelling, the data can be incomplete, leaving room for critics to cry foul. However, documented changes occurring within the timescale of a human life are, one might say, a different sort of animal.

Why a journalist might think this constitutes evolution is not hard to understand. What is difficult to grasp is why a scientist would call it evolution. There's no speciation involved here, no reproductive isolation, no indication of an alteration in the finch's genome, no "different sort of animal," just a simple modification of the size of an anatomical structure triggered, apparently, by the unavailability of a particular food source.

This is only evolution if evolution is defined in such a way as to include any variation that occurs in a population of organisms, but such a definition renders the concept meaningless.

The amusing and disingenuous ploy at work in reports such as this is that they are used to support the claim that evolution is a fact. Darwinists will argue that evolution (meaning molecules to man evolution) is as firmly established as gravity, that anyone who questions it is either ignorant or malicious, but when the public meekly requests a crumb of evidence to support that claim it's shown pictures of finches with diminished beaks. We may as well be told that since humans, because of better nutrition, have grown taller in the last century and a half, and live longer, evolution is therefore a fact.

Window of Opportunity

Ed Lasky argues compellingly that there has never been a more propitious time than now for the Israelis to cut out the cancer that is Bashir Assad's Syria:

The stars are aligning as they rarely do in the Middle East. When was the last time France, America (under the most assertively Israel-supporting president ever), Israel and the Sunni nations agreed on a common enemy? Failure to grasp such an opportunity would be a failure to grasp an opportunity to bring peace to the region.

Read his entire argument at The American Thinker.

We're living in interesting times. There would probably be more enthusiasm in the rest of the Arab world for removing Assad than there would be in the capitals of the West. Despite the fact that Assad has been a thorn in our side in Iraq, it may be that behind the scenes he's been playing both sides, an irritating arrangement that, on balance, may have been working to our benefit. At any rate, Lasky is correct that a window of opportunity like this may not ever open again.

Awful Advice

Richard Cohen, in a column for which he has been roundly and justly criticized, writes:

There is no point in condemning Hezbollah. Zealots are not amenable to reason. And there's not much point, either, in condemning Hamas. It is a fetid, anti-Semitic outfit whose organizing principle is hatred of Israel. There is, though, a point in cautioning Israel to exercise restraint -- not for the sake of its enemies but for itself. Whatever happens, Israel must not use its military might to win back what it has already chosen to lose: the buffer zone in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip itself.

Why on earth, we ask, shouldn't Israel take this land back? The Arabs have shown that they can't govern it, they can't control the extremists, and in Gaza they even voted the extremists into power. Israel gave up this land with the understanding that giving the Palestinians and the Lebanese land that they claim would conduce to peace. It hasn't because the Arabs don't just want a sliver of soil here and a plot there. They want it all. Israel, having been betrayed by the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and the U.N. should rescind their decision to leave and should reoccupy whatever land they need to make their people secure.

Hard-line critics of Ariel Sharon, the now-comatose Israeli leader who initiated the pullout from Gaza, always said this would happen: Gaza would become a terrorist haven. They said that the moderate Palestinian Authority would not be able to control the militants and that Gaza would be used to fire rockets into Israel and to launch terrorist raids. This is precisely what has happened.

It is also true, as some critics warned, that Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon was seen by its enemies -- and claimed by Hezbollah -- as a defeat for the mighty Jewish state. Hezbollah took credit for this, as well it should. Its persistent attacks bled Israel. In the end, Israel got out and the United Nations promised it a secure border. The Lebanese army would see to that. (And the check is in the mail.)

All that the critics warned has come true. But worse than what is happening now would be a retaking of those territories. That would put Israel smack back to where it was, subjugating a restless, angry population and having the world look on as it committed the inevitable sins of an occupying power.

Cohen apparently believes that it's better to watch your children be blown to smithereens by suicide bombers and rockets than to have to control the people who would be their murderers.

The smart choice is to pull back to defensible -- but hardly impervious -- borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank -- and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else. This will take some time, and in the meantime terrorism and rocket attacks will continue.

This is a "smart choice"? The reason Israel is in the predicament it's in is because it conceded to its enemies what they demanded. That made Israel vulnerable to the kinds of missile barrages that we've seeing launched at them on a daily basis and Cohen thinks that the smart play is to do more of the same? He advises the Israelis to withdraw now from the West Bank as well? He urges the Israelis to wait for the Arabs to grow weary of killing them? He counsels them to maintain the staus quo for generations more? This is what passes for sound judgment and analysis in the editorial offices of the Washington Post?

...gifted British historian, Tony Judt, wraps up his recent book "Postwar" with an epilogue on how the sine qua non of the modern civilized state is recognition of the Holocaust. Much of the Islamic world, notably Iran under its Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stands outside that circle, refusing to make even a little space for the Jews of Europe and, later, those from the Islamic world. They see Israel not as a mistake but as a crime. Until they change their view, the longest war of the 20th century will persist deep into the 21st. It is best for Israel to hunker down.

This has to be about the worst possible advice anyone could offer Israel. When one's family is under assault one doesn't hunker down, not if it is within one's power to stop the attackers. Cohen is so afraid that the Israelis might actually defend themselves and incur the condemnation of the Euro-appeasers that he urges upon them the path of cowardice and capitulation. Give the Arabs what they want, he argues, because, who knows, they might someday get fatigued from the slaughter. "Hunkering down" until the Arabs grow tired of killing them is a prescription for national suicide. Moreover, it's sheer impertinence for Mr. Cohen, who sits in a safe office in Washington, D.C,. to pontificate on how others should be willing to suffer the daily terrors of life among the orcs.