By The Hill•
Lebanon is facing a dangerous combination of accelerating crises — economic, political and societal. Although Lebanon is a small country, important issues for U.S. national interest and geo-strategy are at stake. Yet, currently, American Middle East foreign policy is devoted to the single obsession of the Iran negotiations, leaving little oxygen for other matters. This is a mistake. The Biden administration should develop a more nuanced engagement with the region and especially a robust response to Lebanon’s pending collapse.
The Lebanese currency has lost close to 90 percent of its value, pushing much of the country below the poverty line, with many families relying on remittances from relatives abroad. Yet even those lifelines cannot make up for the shortages in commodities: gasoline, medications and food are all in short supply. Add to this a crumbling infrastructure that can supply electricity for only a few hours every day.
Meanwhile, a political stalemate blocks the formation of an effective government that could institute reforms that might alleviate some of the problems. Instead, the political class, largely viewed as incorrigibly corrupt, is making no effort to meet the needs of the public. One bright light is the emergence of vibrant oppositional forces. But they remain fragmented, and elections will not take place until next year.
Leadership change may therefore be too far in the future to rescue the crumbling institutions that once enjoyed a strong international reputation, especially Lebanese universities and hospitals. Now the talented personnel on which those institutions depend are trying to leave for better paying jobs abroad. After the troubled decades of civil war and occupations, after the devastation of COVID-19 and the massive destruction of the explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, this already fragile country faces even greater disorder.
Given the extent of the suffering, there is every reason to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, as the United States is already doing. The U.S. also provides important training support to the Lebanese armed forces, although the scope of that mission has been shrinking. Otherwise, American engagement is quite limited. Washington should do more and put Lebanon higher on the list of foreign policy priorities for four reasons
1) Grand Strategy: Lebanon presents a clear case of the deleterious consequences of a pivot away from the region, given the reality of great power competition. If the U.S. does not provide leadership, it opens the door for other powers, notably Russia. Its naval repair facility in Tartus, Syria, is less than a 40-mile drive from the Lebanese port of Tripoli, which could be ripe for Moscow’s taking. Lebanon could become one more stepping-stone for Russia’s advance in the Middle East, unless the U.S. reasserts its role there.
2) Terrorism: The discrepancy between the degradation of living conditions in Lebanon and the immobility of the political class can lead to social unrest, a breeding ground for the sort of Islamist terrorism that has plagued the larger region. One should not discount the possibility of a resurgence of ISIS or intentional spillover effects from the Syrian civil war, which led to bombings in Beirut and Tripoli only eight years ago. The more such violence proliferates, the greater the chance that terror incubated in the region can spread beyond it, including to the U.S.
3) Refugees: Unless the Lebanese crises are addressed, the resulting social disorder is likely to produce a new wave of refugees, fleeing the ravages of a collapsed economy or, in a worst-case scenario, the resurgence of sectarian conflict. The Assad regime in Syria is not above provoking violence in Lebanon in order to achieve the sort of demographic reengineering it has undertaken at home, where it has forced targeted populations to flee, a cynical form of ethnic cleansing. The U.S. should be concerned about the destabilizing effects of renewed refugee flows into allies such as Jordan and Turkey, already hosting large refugee populations, or into the European Union, where the 2015 refugee wave continues to have disruptive political repercussions.
4) Iran: A collapse of the Lebanese state can only benefit Iran and its most anti-American political forces. Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, might see an opportunity to seize power directly or, more strategically, it might prefer to consolidate its control in its strongholds and let the rest of the country dissipate, precisely in order to demonstrate the weakness of western democracy. In either case, Tehran would win, unless the U.S. engages in strategic ways to address Lebanon’s dilemmas.
Arguments that it is in the U.S. national interest to engage more strongly in Lebanon run counter to current foreign policy predispositions in Washington. A prevailing orientation deprioritizes the Middle East in general in order to shift attention to the Indo-Pacific. But that viewpoint does not need to lead to a full-scale abandoning of the Middle East that hands the region over to America’s great power adversaries.
In addition, the Biden administration views the region primarily in terms of Iran and a renewed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Many Lebanese understand this and correctly fear that Hezbollah will benefit from a windfall when the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran. There is no indication that the U.S. negotiation team is seriously demanding a termination of Iran’s regional destabilization campaigns, including its support for Hezbollah. Yet getting to a new deal with Tehran without such a constraint basically means appeasing Iran by trading away Lebanese sovereignty.
American national interest, including American values, requires a different path: Instead of misusing Lebanon as an accommodation to Tehran, the U.S. should make a stand in Lebanon, with policies designed to renew its democracy (and purge its corruption) and to protect its sovereignty by diminishing Hezbollah, as first steps toward pushing back against Iran’s broader expansionist ambitions.
Lebanon is a small country, but the current crisis has outsized geo-strategic implications for the U.S.
State Department in 2020 declared the group a 'propaganda' arm of CCP
Several American universities maintained relationships with China after shuttering their Confucius Institute chapters, shifting resources to affiliate K-12 programs and fostering sister relationships with Chinese schools.
Rather than fully cut ties with the Confucius Institute, many universities shifted their resources to affiliate programs aimed at K-12 classrooms. The Confucius Classrooms program offers an array of Chinese language and culture programs to elementary, middle, and high school students across the United States. Often linked to Confucius Institutes at nearby colleges, Confucius Classrooms are funded and run by the Hanban, a division of China’s Ministry of Education.
The shift reveals the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party is ingrained in American educational institutions. American security officials have recently warned about Beijing’s efforts to cultivate links with educational institutions in order to change American perceptions of the Communist regime.
Over a dozen universities closed their Confucius Institute chapters after the State Department declared the organization a Chinese propaganda arm. According to Rachelle Peterson, a China expert at the National Association of Scholars, the Communist regime was ready for the fallout.
“The Chinese government has developed a nuanced and sophisticated network of tools,” Peterson told the Washington Free Beacon. “In the case of Confucius Institutes, the Chinese Communist Party is aware that they are falling out of favor in the U.S., and they’re preparing alternative ways of engaging with the United States—many of which are equally problematic.”
Confucius Classrooms are just some of those “problematic” alternatives. The National Association of Scholars estimates that, at its height, there were upward of 500 Confucius Classrooms in operation—significantly more than the 41 active Confucius Institute chapters. And because most federal oversight is directed at higher education, China has been able to covertly entrench itself in the K-12 education space.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah) told the Free Beacon that he is concerned Confucius Classrooms operating in his district teach an inaccurate view of the Chinese Communist Party to children.
“The Confucius Classrooms are a little bit different and a little bit harder [than Confucius Institutes] because they’re not as obvious,” Stewart said. “The thing we’re trying to do now is to show that they’re not using it for intelligence access, computer access, or to propagandize adults, but they are using it to soften children.”
The Confucius Classrooms operating in Stewart’s district are just a few such outposts that grew out of shuttered Confucius Institute chapters across the country.
A consortium of Confucius Classrooms serving nearly 1,200 K-12 students in Ohio continues to operate more than a year after Miami University in Ohio announced it shuttered its Confucius Institute. In western Kentucky, a coalition of more than 30 staffers led by Simpson County public schools has taken up the mantle of the Western Kentucky University Confucius Institute, which closed in 2019.
When Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute closes this year, the school plans to transfer the program’s resources “to other areas within the university” so as to “benefit K-12 students and teachers who would not otherwise have these learning options available in their schools,” a spokeswoman told the Free Beacon.
In addition to shifting resources from universities to elementary and high school classrooms, China has found ways to maintain a foothold at universities that have closed their Confucius Institutes. Several universities have sought out partnerships with Chinese “sister schools” to replace their Confucius Institutes.
Middle Tennessee State University closed its Confucius Institute in August 2020, after receiving criticism from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). But the school continues to foster ties with sister universities in China. The University of Nebraska said it remains “deeply committed” to its connections with Chinese universities after its Confucius Institute closed in December 2020.
In a statement to the Free Beacon, Tufts University—which plans to close its Confucius Institute chapter in September—said the school will “focus on expanding and deepening” its ties with Beijing Normal University. Similarly, the College of William and Mary closed its Confucius Institute at the end of June, but will continue to offer China-related programs “through university-to-university agreements,” a spokeswoman told the Free Beacon.
In at least one case, China has continued to donate to a university in order to bolster ties. Peterson uncovered Education Department documents that show the University of Michigan received a $300,000 gift from China after the school closed its Confucius Institute in 2019.
“All the signs are that there are replacements for Confucius Institutes,” Peterson said. “Alternative forms of engagement are popping up—many in ways that are going to have the same problems as the Confucius Institutes.”
On July 5, 2021, Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist and politician of Hong Kong, published a Letter to Orban from his London exile in Politico. In his Letter’s opening paragraph, Mr. Law states that “It’s difficult to imagine how somebody who battled against the brutal repression of a communist party at a young age could later become a staunch supporter of another.” Then, he continues thus: “Since assuming power in 2010, your growing intimacy with the Chinese government has made it difficult for the EU to put pressure on Beijing when it comes to human rights violations. Hungary was the first EU country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2012, paving the way for Beijing to export its authoritarian model to the world. And in the years since, your country has served as China’s biggest defender in the EU.”
Nathan Law is absolutely correct. The second son of an unskilled laborer who became the Communist party secretary at the local gravel mine, Viktor Orban used his personal hatred toward his cruel father to rebel against the Soviet occupation and the resulting one-party dictatorship. Having entered public life on June 16, 1989, the day of the symbolic reburial of Imre Nagy the failed leader of the 1956 Revolution, Viktor Orban called at Budapest’s Heroes’ Square for free elections and the removal of the Soviet military from Hungarian soil.
From there on, his journey in the discombobulated terrain of Hungarian politics has been marked by self-induced narcissistic turns in opposition, through leading between 1998 and 2002 an utterly inexperienced as well as woefully incompetent government that failed miserably within four years, to reestablishing the one-party dictatorship of the pre-1990 Hungary in its barely disguised oppression and all-encompassing corruption in his second reincarnation as Prime Minister. As proof of his sickening egomania, Viktor Orban has repeatedly claimed that his 1989 speech was the reason for the Soviet Union to remove its military from Hungary. Notwithstanding Viktor Orban’s laughable as well as baseless assertion, the decision about the retreat of the Soviet military was made years before his speech and the actual withdrawal of several military units was already ongoing or partially completed.
Viktor Orban’s destructive transformation of Hungary from a developing democratic state to a neo-Communist fiefdom has come with a heavy price. Viktor Orban has become politically a fatally wounded non-entity and personally a persona non grata within the European Union. His Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto has only exacerbated Viktor Orban’s international misery. Having proved himself more as a pompous amateur, Mr. Szijjarto has made Hungary with his grossly undiplomatic statements about President Biden and the Democrat Party in the United States of America unwelcome too. As a result, the Viktor Orban-led Hungary has become a pariah in Washington, D.C. as well as in Brussels.
Thus, Viktor Orban’s epiphany from a young firebrand against Communist oppression to an egomaniacal monster has had its roots in his primitive communist upbringing and the related worshipping of power and money by persons who only knew hardships and destitutions in their miserable youth. Naturally, so-called scholars like Dorit Gerva are talking and writing about “Orbanism” as a new ideology. They are all badly mistaken. For Viktor Orban ideology has always meant an interchangeable and disposable semi-intellectual garbage whose sole purpose has been to conceal his insatiable appetite for power and money. Moreover, for people with Viktor Orban’s mentality, countries or individuals do not count as supreme political and humanistic values. Consequently, for Viktor Orban democracy with its glorification of individual rights and its protection of personal freedoms is meaningless platitudes that must be continuously attacked and decisively rejected. For these reasons, the combination of his ostracism by the leaders of NATO and the European Union and his personal inclination toward authoritarianism, moving closer to China has been an obvious solution.
Domestically, Viktor Orban and his propaganda machine has tried to sell his “Eastern Opening” as hugely beneficial for Hungary. However, the facts have belied his promises of large investments, preferential loans and new markets concerning China, Russia and many other Asian countries. Specifically, Hungary’s exports to China in 2020 were $2.04 billion. On the other hand, Hungary’s imports from China in 2020 have reached $8.72 billion. This means a trade deficit of more than $6 billion. Thus, while being up in arms against any foreign interference in domestic affairs, Viktor Orban is quietly and surreptitiously turning Hungary into an economic “Canton” of the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese-built Budapest-Belgrade railway’s Hungarian section, a highly ballyhood accomplishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, is costing about $3 billion. Of this amount, 85 percent is financed with Chinese loans, with interest between $500 and $800 million. This means that the entire project’s cost around $3.7 billion. Thus, this railway project is wholly financed by the Hungarian taxpayers. Again, the project is much more beneficial to China than for Hungary. First, the new railway does not connect Hungarian towns. Second, tourism from the Balkan region has never been significant. Third, the railway is constructed mostly by Chinese companies. Fourth, the railway is designed to carry freight more than passengers. Fifth, the strategic penetration of the European Union’s infrastructure markets will become much easier for Chinese state-owned companies. Notwithstanding these negative aspects, the railway is being built and the entire project with all the documents connected to the bilateral deal were declared a national strategic matter, and thus top secret.
Similarly, fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Viktor Orban has never criticized China. On the contrary, he and his cabinet members have only had the kindest words for Beijing’s efforts to fight the pandemic and its willingness to supply Hungary and the rest of the world with vaccines, masks as well as badly needed medical equipment. Accordingly, the Hungarian government bought at the beginning of 2021 five million doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccines for $36 (30 Euros) each. In comparison, the European Union paid only 15,50 Euros per dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. For a dose of AstraZeneca, the European Union paid $2.15, according to Belgium’s budget secretary.
Even more suspicious is the way the Hungarian government acquired the five million medically absolutely useless doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines. The intermediary company from which the Hungarian government purchased the vaccines was an offshore company with a registered capital of $10,700 (9,000 Euros). The net value of the bilateral contract was $179 million (150 million Euros). Such arrangements clearly raise red flags for anti-corruption watchdogs, as The New York Times article on March 12, 2021, rightly stipulated.
The Chinese vaccine was aggressively promoted by Viktor Orban himself. Claiming that he got the Sinopharm vaccine, he encouraged Hungarians of all ages to do the same. Yet, while promoting and using the vaccine, it lacked full approval even by the competent Hungarian authorities until January 2021. Adding insult to injury, the European Union and the American FDA have never approved the Sinopharm vaccine for use on humans. To prove the uselessness of the Sinopharm vaccines, Hungarians who were vaccinated with Sinopharm have never developed antibodies in their bodies.
The background story of the Shanghai-based Fudan University is equally strange, or more precisely, typical Orbanesque. This story has started with the forced expulsion of the George Soros-established Central European University from Budapest, Hungary. This University was accredited in both the United States of America and Hungary. In addition, it ranked in quality way above any indigenous school of higher education. The ensuing saga of the very personal feud between George Soros and Viktor Orban has been portrayed and analyzed exhaustively by the media in Hungary as well as across Europe and the United States.
To summarize it, the Central European University rejected government control. The University’s argument was that in a democracy institutions of higher education must be independent of political influence. Moreover, the President of the Central European University Michael Ignatieff argued that the Orban government destroyed the independence and the high quality of Hungarian university education by politically as well as professionally crushing their independence, while simultaneously liquidating the free-thinking intelligentsia. Yet, utilizing his artificially created two-thirds majority in the unicameral Parliament, Viktor Orban’s party adapted a law that made the functioning of the Central European University in Hungary impossible. The Central European University departed to Vienna, Austria, leaving Viktor Orban and his battered educational system enjoying in their miserable isolation their pyrrhic victory.
This self-congratulatory gloating about the triumph of Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” over the “Leftist liberalism of George Soros” has culminated in the Hungarian government’s sudden announcement about rolling out the red carpet for the Shanghai-based Fudan University. Preemptively declaring that the Chinese university’s mission would be strictly educational, the ensuing nation-wide protest against the “Trojan Horse” of Communist influence and potential spying expressed the real opinions as well as the anti-Chinese feelings of the Hungarian people.
Clearly, the pivoting towards China, defined vaingloriously by Viktor Orban as “Eastern Opening,” is extremely unpopular among all Hungarians. Adding fuel to the already existing popular discontent is the cost and the size of the Fudan University project. Planned to spread over twenty six acres, with an additional forty acres accounting for the surrounding park, and estimated to cost a whopping $1.687 billion, it would exceed the total cost the Hungarian government spends on the annual operation of its over two dozen state-run public universities. No wonder that the suspicion of another gigantic government corruption has again raised its ugly head throughout the country and beyond.
To top this monstrous political and financial ploy, the construction of the campus is carried out exclusively by Chinese banks and Chinese companies, involving only Chinese workers. More specifically, the Hungarian government agreed that the Chinese only involvement also means that the job must be done by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the world’s largest construction company. Again, bribery and corruption suspicions are justified by the tarnished reputation of the Chinese company that has been involved across the globe in numerous scandals and foul plays. To prove this point, the Chinese company’s financing offer that would cover all expenses only amounts to $1.06 billion. The difference between the published figure of $1.687 billion by the Hungarian government and the Chinese estimate speaks for itself. Even more glaring is the Chinese financing proposal of $1,81 billion that is supposed to cover only 80% of the construction costs. This unprecedented and unjustified overfinancing of the Fudan University project potentially could be another proof of the long-suspected high-level corruption in state-funded construction business deals.
The secrecy surrounding the Fudan University project thickens by its legal construct. While in the case of the Budapest-Belgrade railway reconstruction an international agreement was executed, the relevant contracts of the Fudan University deal were designed to exclude public procurements and open biddings even in the management of the campus. The obvious sleaziness of these arrangements was crowned by the establishment of a consortium of two Chinese and a single Hungarian company, in which the latter is wholly owned by Viktor Orban’s childhood friend and straw man, Lorinc Meszaros.
Finally, leaked documents suggest that the Fudan University deal was in the offing for years but assiduously kept away from the Hungarian and the European public. During his 2019 visit to Hungary, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi spoke of the Budapest campus of the Fudan University as a done deal, negotiated carefully for some time before. Designating it a “priority project,” he emphasized the strategic importance of the Fudan University’s presence in the geographic middle of the European continent for Beijing. Like in the case of the Budapest-Belgrade railway project, the Hungarian government classified the Fudan University deal as a “national security” matter. The expropriation and even usurpation of great construction projects affecting the entire country by a single yes-men party, namely the FIDESZ, are another proof that Hungary is not a democracy. Even more unsettling is the state of democracy in Hungary when the one-party legislature and executive do not govern by consensus but political improvisation and greed.
Demonstrations against the establishment of the Fudan University have been held across Hungary. The Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony and the opposition called for a nationwide referendum and already proceeded to rename streets around the planned campus “Dalai Lama Street,” “Free Hong Kong Road,” etc. The Chinese regime that regularly launches vigorous protests against “interference in Chinese internal affairs” has gone ballistic over the free expression of “anti-Chinese” sentiments in Hungary. Global Times, one of the many subservient mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party, called in an editorial Gergely Karacsony “an enemy of China.” The Press Secretary of the Chinese Embassy in Budapest released a statement voicing his outrage thus: “As a diplomat of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Hungary, I have been working in Hungary for nearly a decade and witnessed the deepening friendship between the Chinese and the Hungarian peoples. Recently, Hungary has gradually overcome the COVID-19, and people’s daily life is beginning to return to normal. People on the streets are full of joy and laughter again. As someone who works and lives in Budapest, I am also delighted by this.” Clearly, such an idyllic description of the general mood in a country is more reminiscent of the Chinese propaganda lies concerning their own country than the reality in Hungary.
Referring again to the Mayor of Budapest, his long winded nonsense continued with the following hypocritical sentence: “In broad daylight, it is unseemly to criticize the internal affairs of another country.” However, in the same breath he goes on wadding into the internal affairs of Hungary: “The Mayor’s speech was a serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a deliberate attempt to undermine the friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two nation, which is incompatible with the trend of the era of mutually beneficial cooperation. We firmly protest, resolutely oppose and strongly condemn it.”
To better understand the real Chinese strategic intentions, one should not search farther than the recent spring visit of the Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe to Budapest. Praising Hungary as a “good brother” and “partner,” Wei stated that China is ready to strengthen cooperation with Hungary in various fields. He grew agitated about the sanction imposed by the United States of America and the European Union against his country for the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, calling them lies and false accusations made by the West. Then, turning to the President of Hungary, Janos Ader, he thanked him for Hungary’s firm support of China on Xinjiang and other issues concerning China’s core interests. Janos Ader, on his part, praised China’s vaccine support, claiming that this support has brought hope to Hungary’s fight against the pandemic. He also called for a “comprehensive strategic partnership” and the strengthening of cooperation in the economy, trade, tourism and military matters.
In line with these essentially anti-NATO and anti-European Union declarations and actions by Chinese grandees, leading Hungarian politicians have given a slew of irresponsible and derogatory statements about both organizations, in which they have claimed to be loyal members. Just very recently, exactly on July 11, 2021, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament Laszlo Kover said on Radio Kossuth that, if a referendum would be held today about Hungary’s joining the European Union, he would definitely vote against it. And on July 8, 2021, in another interview that he gave to Mandiner, he opined that Hungary will stay a member of the European Union until it collapses.
Viktor Orban’s dislike for the European Union has been well documented throughout the last nine years as Prime Minister. Equating any criticism of his government and the Hungarian Parliament that he rules through Laszlo Kover as a condemnation of the Hungarian nation, he has repeatedly insinuated that leaving the organization could be an option. On September 25, 2020, Reuters reported that he praised Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as a “brave one” and demonstration of “greatness” that Hungary should not follow. However, signaling his real feelings, he went on to criticize Brussels for its treatment of Great Britain and opined that the 2016 referendum was an act to safeguard the “good reputation” of the British people: “Brexit is a brave decision of the British people about their own lives…we consider it as evidence of the greatness of the British.”
After years of cutthroat hostility with the overwhelming majority of the European Union’s other member states Hungary’s new legislation that couples pedophilia and anti-LGBT behaviors is the newest bone of contention. Without descending into the dirty swamp of Hungarian politics, it suffices to state that the values that the Viktor Orban-led government has espoused for the last nine years and the values that the European Union views as compatible with Western civilization have been distinctly different in most of the cases. While Brussels defends values in general, the Orban government protects its parochial and thus narrow political and financial interests. For this reason, an ultimate rupture could occur at any time in the future.
Where does all this leave the Orban regime and Hungary? It leaves both in an ever widening vacuum full of lies, deceptions, existential corruption, moral depravity and hopelessness concerning the future of the individual as well as the Hungarian nation. It leaves Hungary hovering between Europe and Asia. It leaves Hungary in a state of permanent paralysis politically, economically, financially, culturally, morally and existentially. It leaves Hungary with a government that prioritizes the interests of the privileged one percent to the detriment of ninety nine percent of the nation. It leaves Hungary with a government that is despotic and inimical to the country’s real interests. Finally and tragically, it leaves Hungary in a state of utter despondency.
Historically, whenever Hungary has turned away from the West and has attempted to seek its future in the East, stagnation and even backsliding were the results. Today, when confronted with the uncomfortable facts of his “Eastern Opening,” Viktor Orban’s and his party’s responses rest on two parts. First, they try to conceal, deny and obfuscate. Second, when such brazenly authoritarian and shamefully immoral political campaigns fail, they attack with ruthless aggression the motives of their domestic as well as foreign critics.
Clearly, the worldwide criticism of Hungary has reached a dangerous stage. Led by Hungary’s incompetent foreign minister, its diplomats call such criticism a shameless plot to slander the country and thwart its progress. The government controlled media spew ad hominem falsehoods at scholars who analyze Hungarian government statements and documents, as well as open-source materials, describing them as CIA agents or anti-Hungarian fanatics. Regrettably, such fallacious assertions have had an impact domestically. It has not been very difficult to meet Hungarians from every walk of life who treat even the mildest criticism of their country as a hostile attack directed against them personally.
Yet, facts are stubborn things. Since his election victory in 2010, Viktor Orban has governed Hungary as an elected despot. The safeguards of democracy have been eliminated gradually. With his “Eastern Opening,” Viktor Orban is preparing to tear up all pretence of democracy and develop his “illiberal democracy” into a full fledged dictatorship. The obvious question is why? The answer is almost self-evident. Viktor Orban and his associates fear defeat in the upcoming elections in the spring of 2022. As Nathan Law stated, Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party has betrayed its democratic past for a semi-Feudal and arch-Communist regime, combined with nepotism and dynastic pretensions. While capturing total control over the legislative, judicial and executive branches as well as vertically the local councils, he has courted the rural population with monies that the European Union has given to Hungary. Simultaneously, the pliant media are selling in unison Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” as identical with the desires of the whole nation.
To add political insult to existential injury, the declared election alliance of the thus far fragmented opposition parties might not be enough to stop another triumph at the ballot boxes for Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party. While the 2018 elections were laden with irregularities, suspicions are rife throughout the country that the upcoming poll might be fraught with more shenanigans. As in the past, the most contentious issue will be the voting rights of Hungarians living abroad without registered Hungarian addresses, mainly in the neighboring states of Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia. The emotional manipulation, financial bribery, voting by mail without proper verification, practically ensures that the overwhelming majority of these ethnic Hungarians, estimated to be close to ninety percent, will cast their ballots for FIDESZ. To illustrate the shocking political nature of courting the ethnic Hungarian votes, the Fuggetlen Nemzet (Independent Nation) revealed that ethnic Hungarians with barely any elementary school education claimed to have been directors of large Ukrainian companies with outlandishly high salaries, collect huge retirement pays from the Hungarian Pension Disbursement Office.
Such an electoral system clearly distorts the will of all Hungarians who live within the international borders of Hungary. Leaders of the opposition parties and foreign observers have claimed in 2018 that the voting laws installed by FIDESZ enabled electoral fraud through uncontrollable manipulation of the mail-in ballots. Hungarian humor has it that being buried in one of the neighboring states as a Hungarian guarantees the dead person’s resurrection and a second life in Hungary proper through elections.
In stark contrast to this extremely liberal treatment of ethnic Hungarians, Hungarians who live in Hungary proper but work or live abroad with real Hungarian residency must be registered on the electoral roll a maximum of fifteen days before election day. Moreover, on election day they must go to a Hungarian consulate or embassy to cast their votes in person. Registration has been slow and laden with bureaucratic obstructions. Consulates and embassies have posed additional hurdles to Hungarians suspected of not voting for Viktor Orban’s party. The nefarious political intent is clear. Those Hungarians who live outside the country are alleged of not always agreeing with the domestic situation. Thus, they must be prevented from voting by dictatorial bureaucratic fiat. Those who have been bribed by the Hungarian government abroad must cast their votes without any bureaucratic difficulties, because they are presumed to be loyal to Viktor Orban and his regime. This is ethnic discrimination by voting, plain and simple.
In these and similar manners, Hungary’s march away from Western values and democracy toward Socialism/Communism with Chinese characteristics is in full swing. As for the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, creating enemies and demonizing opponents have been the order of political culture for Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party. Meanwhile, Hungary proper has been torn by deep hatred, unbridgeable divisions and the danger of civil war. Moreover, the country lacks a large middle class and is divided into the miniscule group of the very rich and the vast majority of destitute survivors as well as hopeless Have-nots.
Yet, the greatest threat to Hungary’s future is the fatalistic complacency of its people. To overcome this deadly cultural disease, the Hungarian people must take back their past, present and future. In doing so, they should be able to rely on the active and decisive assistance of all the member states of NATO and the European Union. Conversely, the latter should start to take democracy as well as political, economic and cultural morality seriously – meaning that they must enforce the values of both alliances more rigorously. Otherwise, NATO and the European Union will cease to be multilateral bodies of free nations. Even worse, they will continue to nurture internal enemies within their ranks that ultimately will destroy both alliances. Clearly, it is high time to put a stop to the destructive madness of the current Hungarian government by calling it to full account. In closing, Hungary must be made to understand that membership in both organizations comes with rights and obligations that are inextricably linked. Joining both organizations was voluntary. No one forced the competent Hungarian government to join. However, once Hungary joined, it must fulfill its obligations fully. Claiming that Hungary has only rights but only selective obligations is unrealistic. Comparing Washington, D.C. and Brussels to the Kremlin of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, is wrong and self-defeating. Such comparison is simply idiotic. Yet, Hungarian politicians, with Viktor Orban in the lead, have played the victimhood card often and shamelessly in the last eleven years. Enough is enough. Either the Hungarian government will start to play fairly or it must be asked to leave both organizations. The future effectiveness and unity of NATO and the European Union are at stake. Time is of the essence. Before the Orbanesque cancer could metastasize, it must be stopped peremptorily.
The mythological allegory of Pandora, the Greek equivalent of the Biblical Eve, the first woman on Earth, was created by Zeus as a new punishment for mankind, because of Prometheus’s theft of the fire from Heaven. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the Gods provided her with beautifully evil gifts to be mendacious, obstinate and weird. As Eve was forbidden by God to consume the fruit of the “tree of knowledge” of good and evil, Pandora was not allowed by Zeus to open her gifted box ever. Again, as in the case of Eve, Pandora could not resist the temptation and opened the box. Her disobedience resulted in the escape of all the illnesses and deprivations that the Gods hid in the box.
Correspondingly, the gods of the fledgling Hungarian democracy, namely the voters, have since 2010 given absolute powers to a Young Democrat/Christian Democrat coalition and its leader Prime Minister Viktor Orban to steer the historically ravaged ship of the country into the safe harbor of a future free from evil. Yet, the trust of the voters has been betrayed one more time in Hungarian history. Viktor Orban and his party the Young Democrats have used their absolute powers to cage democracy and simultaneously to unleash all the evils of a destructive totalitarianism.
Domestically, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pursued a form of government that he defined in his speech in 2014 at Tusvanyos illiberal democracy. Pursuant to his definition, illiberal democracy is the idea of “Christian liberty,” which he equates with placing the common good above the traditional liberal values of individual freedoms. According to him, this “Christian liberty” is under unrelenting attack both from within as well as from the outside. In his opinion, Hungary as an illiberal democracy must endure undeserved onslaughts by those who push a post-nationalistic and post-Christian globalist agenda. Thus, combining the adjective illiberal with the general political term democracy, Viktor Orban introduced a dangerous authoritarian ambiguity into the Hungarian, European and global discourse. On the one hand, he has rendered Hungary a victim of his own misplaced righteousness vis-a-vis all those who disagree with his convoluted understanding of democracy. On the other hand, he has designated himself as the sole defender of the common good, including the absolute arbiter of individual and societal morality.
Equally significant is the fact that Viktor Orban owns the entire Hungarian media market. His and his party’s disinformation propaganda campaign has disseminated lies about Hungarian as well as regional history, has created confusion about past and present relations among the various ethnic groups, and fostered the false sense of revisionism in the ethnic Hungarians across the neighboring countries. In this context, especially alarming and outrageous have been his repeated references to “being the prime minister of 15 million Hungarians.” To add fuel to the fire of the ever present ethnic grievances that have been rooted in the peace treaties of World War I, Viktor Orban’s purely political investment strategies and his militaristic bravado have only aggravated the long-existing ethnic tensions in Central and Eastern Europe.
Clearly, Viktor Orban’s version of illiberal democracy can be characterized by its lack of civil society and by a corresponding totalitarian overreach of the political, economic, financial, religious, cultural and educational powers of the authoritarian one-party state. Its common denominator is the irrational and self-defeating nationalism that fails to correctly gauge Hungary’s place and role in the region as well as in the European continent. To add insult to injury, this sick Hungarian nationalism is intertwined with a non-existent Christian identity, because Christianity does not capture the political realities of today’s Hungary.
Essentially, Viktor Orban’s totalitarian regime is an extremely radical oligopoly, in which a very small number of firms are totally subordinated to the political decision making of a single individual, namely, the Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In this absolutely centralized oligopoly, there is only very restricted competition and creativity, because the entire economy is owned by the Prime Minister himself. Since the economy is under the rule of a single political despot, entry to the Hungarian markets is limited to the Prime Minister’s closed circuit of trusted individuals. In this manner, Hungary is a semi-Feudal political and economic construct that is practically closed to effective as well as meaningful political, economic, intellectual and spiritual developments.
Today, amidst Viktor Orban’s totalitarian power grab and failures, his party is flailing and on the defensive. The Young Democrats’ unity is shattering and they are in mounting disarray. Less than a year from now, both the Prime Minister as well as his party will be forced to account for the shameless plunder of the national wealth that they have foisted on the Hungarian people for over a decade.
By now, the majority of Hungarians are thoroughly fed up with the all powerful corruption and the limitless squandering of the national wealth by incompetent thugs masquareding as genuine businessmen and responsible politicians. The time has come for a new political course that will steer the country toward genuine democracy and free markets. Therefore, it is also time for the opposing majority , all across Hungary, to take back their country and truly improve the lives of the citizenry by pursuing political freedom and existential prosperity for every single man, woman and child.
This awakening to the disaster that is Viktor Orban and his Young Democrats Party must also extend to the ruinous foreign policy of Hungary. Although Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union, Viktor Orban has done everything in his limited powers to undermine the unity of both organizations. In the case of the European Union, his main motivation has been to protect his corrupt regime from the oversight and scrutiny of Brussels. Secondly, he single-handedly has prevented the European Union from imposing punitive sanctions against China and Russia. Again, his reason has been to protect his corrupt dealings with both countries.
Concerning NATO, his close personal relationships with Presidents Putin and Xi have presented extremely serious security threats for NATO. Presently, Budapest has become the major spy hub in Europe for Moscow as well as Beijing. His latest decision to build a large campus for China’s Fudan University is an open invitation for President Xi Jinping to establish a permanent foothold in the middle of Europe.In Hungary, the united opposition must find a way to show the really corrupt and destructive character of the Orban regime and present a coherent vision of moving the country closer to NATO and the European Union. In the same token, the United States of America and all the member states of the European Union must unite in helping Hungary to find its way out of the Orbanian cul-de-sac. Jointly, they also must assure that the national wealth that has been stolen and embezzled so brazenly from the Hungarian people in the last decade be returned to them, and that individuals who committed those crimes be called to full account. Only with such solidly unified assistance will Hungary be able to really rejoin the Free World of democratic nations.
What makes this war different—and disturbing
Israel has battled Hamas four times since the terror organization seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Each battle unfolds the same way: Hamas launches rockets at Israel’s civilian population, Israel bombs Hamas targets, and the fighting continues until terrorist infrastructure is sufficiently degraded so that the rocket fire stops for a few years. Israelis call it “mowing the lawn.” The last major clash was in 2014. In its origins, order of battle, and strategy and tactics, Operation Guardian of the Walls, which began May 10, resembles these previous flareups.
So what’s different? Just about everything.
The region has changed. In 2014 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, legitimizing the nuclear program of Israel’s archenemy Iran, was a gleam in John Kerry’s eye. Its adoption the following year, and America’s withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, realigned the Middle East along the axis of Iranian power. The result was an Arab-Israel détente formalized in the 2020 Abraham Accords. From a regional perspective, the Palestinian cause is less important than Iran’s ambitions.
Israel has changed. In 2014 Benjamin Netanyahu was at the outset of his third term and led from a position of strength. His indictment on corruption charges in 2019 initiated a political crisis that has led to four elections (and most likely a fifth) in the space of two years. On the eve of the latest violence, Israel’s bewildering politics became even more surprising when two of Netanyahu’s rivals enticed an Arab Islamist party to join a coalition government. That effort collapsed when the rockets blazed. The subsequent outbreak of intercommunal violence in cities with large Arab-Israeli populations is a reminder of Israel’s pressing domestic challenges. The security issue unites Israel. Just about everything else divides it.
America has changed. In the summer of 2014, Barack Obama was a lame duck, the Republicans controlled the House and were on the verge of winning the Senate, and Donald Trump was the host of Celebrity Apprentice. Obama’s dislike of Netanyahu and willingness to expose “daylight” between the United States and Israel was no secret. But anti-Israel invective was limited to the fringe. And anti-Israel media bias was nowhere near as bad as it is today.
Then came the Great Awokening. The dialectic of Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump drove the nation into its current obsession with race, culminating in the protests, riots, vandalism, cancellations, and iconoclasm that followed the murder of George Floyd one year ago. The Trump years brought a revolutionary fervor to American politics, radicalizing the left and burdening the rest of us with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her anti-Israel, socialist “Squad” of congressional Democrats.
The Squad shares an all-encompassing woke mindset that collapses individuals and events into a reductive binary of oppressor and oppressed. When the Squad looks at Israel and Hamas, it cannot see anything other than Critical Race Theory. And so this emboldened left draws disgustingly false equivalences between American racial minorities and Palestinians. It slanders Israel as an apartheid state. It demands America stop a planned weapons sale to Israel in the middle of our ally’s offensive against terrorists supplied by Iran. It says President Biden is “taking orders” from the Jewish prime minister.
What the Squad lacks in numbers it makes up for in noise. Its members exploit social media, show up on MSNBC, and amplify the hostility to Israel already thick on college campuses and in progressive enclaves. Its allies fill the op-ed pages with similar dreck, catering to the audience for politically correct, left-wing clickbait. The polemical onslaught is false and obnoxious. But it gets results, driving an Israel-shaped wedge into the Democratic Party and forcing Biden to step up his calls for a ceasefire.
This unappeasable hostility is a problem for Israel, for America, and for the Democratic Party. It makes me wonder if the head of the DNC has checked in lately with his British counterpart. There hasn’t been a Labour prime minister since 2010 and Labour just experienced another drubbing in local elections. Labour’s current leader has been trying to salvage his party’s reputation from the wreckage of his far-left anti-Semitic predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. It’s a struggle.
Explanation? Under Corbyn, Labour went hard left, abandoning its traditional working-class constituency for progressive social and cultural issues that appeal to the university crowd and the Very Online but turn off everyone else. Corbyn opposed Brexit, supported high levels of immigration, embraced political correctness, and tolerated the worst sort of anti-Semitism in his campaigns against Israel. The Socialist International became the Socialist Intersectional (Jews excluded).
The same process is well underway here. Not content with tearing down America, and energized by the cultural revolution of 2020, the Jackal Bins turn their gaze on the Jewish State. Anti-Semitism dogged the anti-Trump Women’s March. Black Lives Matter, which recently tweeted its advocacy for “Palestinian liberation”—no mention of Hamas’ genocidal intent—supports the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib require no introduction. Comedian Trevor Noah irresponsibly likens Hamas to a powerless four-year-old. The haters can’t believe their success.
Someone needs to disappoint them. As long as Hamas remains in power, Israel will be forced to defend itself. The Jewish State’s position in American politics can’t be allowed to deteriorate further. Not just for Israel’s sake. For ours.
In a blistering dissent, Judge Laurence Silberman said The New York Times and Washington Post are 'Democratic Party broadsheets.'
The control of major media by one political party is a dangerous threat to the country, a federal judge warned in a blistering dissent that called for courts to revisit libel laws that generally protect the press from being held liable for their reporting.
“It should be borne in mind that the first step taken by any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain control of communications, particularly the delivery of news,” wrote Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit for the Court of Appeals. “It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the press and media is a threat to a viable democracy.”
Silberman argued that it’s time for courts to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, which has shaped press law in favor of media outlets for more than five decades. The New York Times and the Washington Post “are virtually Democratic Party broadsheets. And the news section of The Wall Street Journal leans in the same direction,” Judge Silberman wrote in his March 19 dissent.
He said that orientation also controls the Associated Press and most large papers in the country, including the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe. “Nearly all television—network and cable—is a Democratic Party trumpet,” Judge Silberman added.
Silicon Valley also has “enormous influence” over the distribution of news and it “similarly filters news delivery in ways favorable to the Democratic Party,” wrote Judge Silberman, highlighting the shocking suppression of stories about Joe Biden and his family when he was running for president.
In that case, Twitter and Facebook censored media outlets that reported accurately about the Biden family’s dealing with foreign entities. Twitter suspended users, including sitting White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, for merely sharing accurate information, and prevented people from sharing the information privately on its platform. Facebook said it would censor coverage of the Biden family corruption pending a “fact-check,” an unprecedented privilege given to Biden in the closing days of one of the closest presidential elections in history.
Only a few major media outlets are not controlled by the left, Silberman noted, citing Fox News, where this reporter is a contributor, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal. “It should be sobering for those concerned about news bias that these institutions are controlled by a single man and his son. Will a lone holdout remain in what is otherwise a frighteningly orthodox media culture? After all, there are serious efforts to muzzle Fox News,” he wrote. CNN hosts and other leftist activsts are currently on a campaign to deplatform their rival.
“Admittedly, a number of Fox’s commentators lean as far to the right as the commentators and reporters of the mainstream outlets lean to the left,” Silberman wrote in a footnote, in a dig at reporters inserting their extreme partisan views into news stories.
A New York Supreme Court judge last week ruled against The New York Times’ effort to get a defamation suit against it dismissed. The Times had said that its reporters were inserting opinion into news stories, and that opinions are not actionable for defamation. The argument didn’t hold sway with the judge, who critiqued the blending of news and opinion in purported news stories.
Another footnote critiqued the tepid response of some to “big tech’s behavior” censoring conservative speech. Silberman called repression of political speech in large institutions with market power “fundamentally un-American.”
“Some emphasize these companies are private and therefore not subject to the First Amendment. Yet—even if correct— it is not an adequate excuse for big tech’s bias. The First Amendment is more than just a legal provision: It embodies the most important value of American Democracy. Repression of political speech by large institutions with market power therefore is—I say this advisedly—fundamentally un-American,” Silberman wrote.
He then cited Tim Groseclose’s book, “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind,” which empirically argued that media bias even a decade ago gave Democrat candidates an 8-10 point advantage. “And now, a decade after this book’s publication, the press and media do not even pretend to be neutral news services.” Silberman noted.
“The First Amendment guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a biased press can distort the marketplace. And when the media has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power,” Silberman concluded.
The Magna Carta created the moral and political premise that, in many ways, the American founding was built upon. The Magna Carta came to represent the idea that the people can assert their rights against an oppressive ruler and that the power of government can be limited to protect those rights. These concepts were clearly foundational and central to both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
First, a bit of history about Magna Carta — its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum which is Latin for “Great Charter of Freedoms.” But, it became commonly known as simply Magna Carta or the “Great Charter.” It was written in 1215 to settle an intense political dispute between King John of England and a group of barons who were challenging King John’s absolute right to rule. The terms of the charter were negotiated over the course of three days. When they reached agreement on June 15, 1215, the document was signed by the King and the barons at Runnymede outside of London.
This was a time when kings asserted the absolute right to rule, and that they were above the law and that they were personally chosen to rule by God. At this time, even questioning the King’s power was both treasonous and an act of defiance to God himself.
The Magna Carta limited the king’s absolute claim to power. It provided a certain level of religious freedom or independence from the crown, protected barons from illegal imprisonment, and limited the taxes that the crown could impose upon the barons, among other things. It did not champion the rights of every Englishman. It only focused on the rights of the barons. But, it was an important start to the concept of limiting the absolute power of governments or kings that claimed God had given them the absolute right to rule.
Magna Carta is important because of the principles it stood for and the ideas that it came to represent — not because it lasted a long time. Shortly after signing the charter, King John asked Pope Innocent III to annul it, which he did. Then there was a war known as the First Barons War that began in 1215 and finally ended in 1217.
After King John died in 1216, the regency government of John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III reissued the Magna Carta, after having stripped out some of its more “radical” elements in hopes of reuniting the country under his rule. That didn’t work, but at the end of the war in 1217, the original Magna Carta’s terms became the foundation for a peace treaty.
Over the following decades and centuries, the importance of Magna Carta ebbed and flowed depending on the current king’s view of it and his willingness to accept it, or abide by it its concepts. But subsequent kings further legitimized or confirmed the principles of Magna Carta — often in exchange for some grant of new taxes or some other political concession. But the path towards limited government and individual rights had been planted and continued to grow.
Despite its relatively short political life as a working document, Magna Carta created and memorialized the idea that the people had the right to limit the powers of their government and they had the right to protect basic and important rights. By the end of the Sixteenth Century, the political lore of Magna Carta grew and the idea of an ancient source for individual rights became cemented in the minds of reform-minded political scholars, thinkers and writers.
Obviously, it wasn’t as written in 1215 a document that protected the rights of the average Englishman. It only protected English barons. But the concepts of individual rights and the limitations of governmental power had grown and were starting to mature. Magna Carta was the seed of those powerful concepts of freedom and constitutionally limited government. By the 17th and 18th Centuries, those arguing for reforms and greater individual rights and protections used Magna Carta as their foundation. These ideas are at the very center of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
As English settlers came to the shores of North America, they brought with them charters under the authority of the King. The Virginia Charter of 1606 promised the English settlers all the same “liberties, franchises and immunities” as people born in England. The Massachusetts Bay Company charter acknowledged the rights of the settlers to be treated as “free and natural subjects.”
In 1687, William Penn, an early American leader, who had at one point been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his political and religious views, published a pamphlet on freedom and religious liberty that included a copy of the Magna Carta and discussed it as a source of fundamental law. American scholars began to see Magna Carta as the source of their guaranteed rights of trial by jury and habeas corpus (which prevented a king from simply locking up his enemies without charges or due process). While that isn’t necessarily correct history, it is part of the growth of the seed of freedom and liberty that Magna Carta planted.
By July 4, 1776, the idea that government could, and should be, limited by the consent of its citizens and that government must protect individual rights was widely seen as springing forth from Magna Carta. The beautiful and important words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration spring from the fertile soil of Magna Carta:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Obviously, Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of liberty and freedom had developed a great deal since Magna Carta was penned in 1215. But, it is impossible to read Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and not see the common DNA.
When the Founders debated, drafted and ratified the U.S. Constitution, it is also clear they were creating a set of rules and procedures to limit and check the power of government and to guarantee basic, individual rights.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” is a concept that comes from Magna Carta. Our constitutional guarantees of “a speedy trial” as found in the Sixth Amendment are also founded in the political thought that grew from Magna Carta. The Constitution’s guarantee of the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” (Art.1, Sec. 9) is also a concept that grew from Magna Carta.
Even the phrase “the law of the land” comes from Magna Carta’s history. And now we use that phrase in the United States to describe our Constitution which we proudly label “the law of the land.”
To this day, Magna Carta is an important symbol of liberty in both England and the United States.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are in my estimation the two most important and influential political documents ever written. What they did to provide promote and protect the freedom, opportunity and security of the average person is almost impossible to overstate. As British Prime Minister William Gladstone said in 1878, “the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”
I believe Gladstone was correct. But, Magna Carta was an important development in political thought and understanding about government power and individual rights. It is difficult to imagine the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution without the foundational elements provided by Magna Carta.
Democrats say Muslim terrorists aren’t terrorists, but their political opponents are.
The Biden administration responded to protests against its stolen election by embedding a domestic extremism office into the National Security Council. The man in charge of making it happen, Joshua Geltzer, had previously denied that Black Lives Matter was a terrorist threat and had attacked the Trump administration’s response to Antifa and BLM violence in Portland.
That means that the only domestic extremists the NSC will be fighting are Republicans.
Even while the Biden administration is preparing to double down on Obama’s abuse of the national security state to target his political opponents, it’s also giving real terrorists a pass.
Joe Biden, whose biggest bundlers included the Iran Lobby, announced he was ending support for American allies fighting the Houthis, and then went even further by preparing to remove the terrorist organization whose motto is, “Death to America”, which took American hostages and tried to kill American sailors, from the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The motto of Iran’s Houthi Jihadis is, “Allahu Akbar, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.” The Houthis took over parts of Yemen as a result of the chaos unleashed by Obama’s pro-Islamist Arab Spring. Since then they’ve been engaged in a protracted war while causing a local famine by confiscating food from the local population.
Last year, the Trump administration had finally secured the release of three American hostages, Sandra Loli, an American aid worker who had been held for 3 years, another American who had been held for a year, and the body of a third American, in exchange for 240 Houthis, including three dozen Islamic terrorists who had been trained in the use of missiles and drones by Iran.
Like those launched at the USS Mason.
The Houthis lived up to their “Death to America” slogan by repeatedly launching cruise missiles at the USS Mason which had been protecting shipping in the area. And they lived up to the second half of their slogan by ethnically cleansing the remaining local Jewish population, locking them up, and confiscating their homes and land. Local reports stated that the Houthis were “cutting off water & electricity to Jewish homes and preventing Jews from purchasing food.”
“No Jew would be allowed to stay here,” one of the Jewish refugees said.
The Iran-backed Islamic terrorists fight using 18,000 child soldiers. The soldiers, many abducted, some as young as 10, are taught to hate America and to kill enemies of Iran.
None of this stopped Biden’s State Department from taking the Houthis off the terror list.
“Secretary Blinken has been clear about undertaking an expeditious review of the designations of Ansarallah,” the State Department claimed. “After a comprehensive review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist designations of Ansarallah.”
‘Ansarallah’ or ‘Defenders of Allah’ is what the Houthis call themselves. Blinken had only been confirmed on Tuesday. By next Friday, he had already somehow completed the “comprehensive review”, amid all the other minor business like China, Russia, and a global pandemic, and decided that the Islamic terrorists whose motto is “Death to America” aren’t really terrorists.
How can the Biden administration deny that Islamic Jihadis backed by Iran who attacked Americans are terrorists? The State Department claimed that this, “has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens.” Not to mention the attacks on the USS Mason.
But the Biden administration isn’t even going to pretend to care about attacks on our military.
The Bidenites are claiming that they’re taking the Houthis, whom they don’t deny are terrorists, off the list of designated terrorist groups because of the “humanitarian consequences”.
That’s a lie, no matter how often you hear it in the media, because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would be providing licenses to “humanitarian activities conducted by non-governmental organizations in Yemen and to certain transactions and activities related to exports to Yemen of critical commodities like food and medicine.”
That’s despite the fact that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen was caused by the Houthis.
Nevertheless the media, echoing propaganda from the Iran Lobby and Qatar, a close terrorist ally of Iran, has falsely claimed that the Houthis are the victims of the Yemen famine. A number of politicians, mostly Democrats, but some Republicans, as well as various aid groups, have pushed this same disinformation campaign about the causes of the Yemen famine.
America and its allies have spent billions providing food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid to Yemen. That aid has been seized by the Houthis who have used it for their own troops or to resell on the black market. This is a familiar problem from Syria to Somalia, and aid groups have refused to honestly address their complicity in aiding the terrorists who caused the crisis.
There’s no money in admitting that the aid an organization is providing is being seized by the terrorists, prolonging the conflict and worsening the humanitarian crisis. Some aid organizations share the same goal as the Houthis of worsening the crisis because it boosts their donations.
That’s why international aid organizations don’t want to talk about the Houthis taking their food donations, or about their use of child soldiers. “It’s a taboo,” an anonymous aid official had said.
When Secretary Pompeo announced that the United States was finally designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization, the United Nations took the lead in claiming that it would cause a humanitarian crisis. But the UN’s World Food Program had already admittedthat its food shipments weren’t getting to the starving people because the Houthis were intercepting them.
The Middle East director for UNICEF also admitted that the Houthis were seizing food.
An Associated Press investigation found entire stores seling “cooking oil and flour displaying the U.N. food program’s WFP logo.” The former Houthi education minister said that 15,000 food baskets that were supposed to go to hungry families instead went to the Houthi terrorists whom the Biden administration is defending. Massive amounts of aid have been pumped into Yemen, and the famine has only grown worse because the Houthis have used starvation as a weapon.
The only way to end the famine is to end Iran’s grip on Yemen through its Houthi terrorists.
That’s obviously not what Biden or the Democrats have in mind. The loudest Democrat voices against designating the Houthis as a terrorist group have a troubling history with Iran.
“Reversing the designation is an important decision that will save lives and, combined with the appointment of a Special Envoy, offers hope that President Biden is committed to bringing the war to an end,” Senator Chris Murphy tweeted.
Murphy had been among the loudest voices against the designation.
And Murphy had met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last year. That same year, he had advocated lowering sanctions on Iran for “humanitarian reasons”. Biden had also joined the push to use the pandemic as a pretext for reducing sanctions on the terror state.
That same year, the Left succeeded in forcing out Rep. Elliot Engel, one of the few remaining pro-Israel Democrats, and replaced him with the militantly anti-Israel Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whose election was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and her antisemitic ‘Squad’.
Engel, who had served as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was replaced by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a strong backer of the Iran Deal. Meeks’ position was cheered by Iran Lobby groups. As far back as 2009, Meeks had declared at a hearing, “I have developed a tremendous appreciation for the work of the National Iranian American Council. I am pleased that we will hear the perspective of NIAC’s President, Mr. Trita Parsi.”
Emails released allegedly showed Parsi telling Iran’s Foreign Minister, “I am having a meeting with Gilchrest and Meeks, and they asked for our assistance in getting some communication going between the parliamentarians.”
Speaking to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the official state news agency of the Islamic terrorist state, Chairman Meeks allegedly stated that he was willing to travel to Iran and had been engaged in dialogue with Iranian legislators.
Meeks took the lead in attacking the designation of the Houthi Islamic terrorists as terrorists, arguing that, “No solution in Yemen will be sustainable unless the Houthis are involved.”
And that gets at the real reason why Biden and Democrats oppose the designation.
It’s not about humanitarian aid, which would have kept on going anyway, only to be stolen by the Houthis. It’s about supporting Iran’s bid to take over parts of Yemen in order to control shipping and tighten the grip of the Islamic terrorist regime over the entire region.
The ‘diplomatic’ solution advocated by Biden and the Democrats would finalize Iran’s grip over parts of Yemen. Designating the Houthis as terrorists would get in the way of another in a series of Islamist dirty deals with Iran that began with Obama and that will continue on under Biden.
Even while the Democrats insist loudly that the Houthis must be part of the solution in Yemen, they just as vocally cry that the Republicans must be isolated and eliminated in America.
The Democrats militarized D.C. with an armed occupation and are criminalizing political dissent. They have claimed that one riot, after a year full of them by their own activist wing, requires a permanent state of emergency that will be run through the National Security Council.
The Biden administration is not only taking the Houthis, and likely other Islamic terrorist groups, off the terror list, it’s putting the domestic political opposition on its terror list. This is an extension of the same Obama policy that illegally shipped foreign cash to Iran even while it was using the NSA to spy on pro-Israel members of Congress and on the Trump campaign.
The Democrats are happy to fight terrorism by designating their domestic political opponents as terrorists while removing the “Death to America” Houthis who have kidnapped and killed Americans, who fired on the USS Mason, and ethnically cleansed Jews, from the terror list.
And what do the Houthis plan to do with their newfound support from the Biden administration?
In addition to sanctioning the Houthis, the Trump administration sanctioned three of their leaders, beginning with Abdul Malik al-Houthi. The Houthi leader has made it clear that he intends to build up the same missile program that was used to attack the USS Mason.
“To have rockets that could reach far beyond Riyadh, this is a great achievement,” he said, referring to the Saudi capital.
He also promised to send terrorists to fight against Israel.
“Many of Yemen’s tribesmen are ambitious to fight against Israel, and they are looking for the day to participate along with the freemen of the Islamic nation against the Israeli enemy,”
This is the terrorist group that the Biden administration and the Democrats are bailing out even while they’re criminalizing the Republican political opposition as terrorists.
“Death to America” is something that the Houthis and their Democrat supporters can agree on.
White House doesn't list Israel as American ally
President Joe Biden is the first American leader in 40 years not to contact Israel’s leaders as one of his first actions in the White House, setting up what could be four years of chilly relations between America and its top Middle East ally.
Biden has already phoned multiple world leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping, but during his 23 days in office has yet to speak with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—making Biden the first president in modern history to punt on bolstering U.S.-Israel relations during his initial days in office. Every president going back to at least Ronald Reagan in 1981 made contact with their Israeli counterpart within a week of assuming office, according to a review of news reports.
Congressional foreign policy leaders slammed Biden’s Netanyahu snub, prompting a flurry of questions for White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has declined to disclose when or if Biden will call the Israeli leader. Psaki also said on Friday the White House would not list Israel as a U.S. ally when asked about the relationship during her daily press briefing.
Modern presidents going back to Reagan made calls or overtures to Israel during their first days in office, sending a message the United States would continue to stand for the Jewish state’s security. Biden’s diplomatic slight comes as Israel faces encroaching terrorist threats and the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. He also has hired several individuals with a background in anti-Israel activism, including Maher Bitar, a top White House National Security Council official who spent his youth organizing boycotts of the Jewish state. The State Department’s Iran envoy, Robert Malley, also has been a vocal critic of Israel.
Upon assuming office in January 1981, Reagan made overtures to Israel, vowing to protect its interests, and sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to meet with Israel’s leaders to build “Israeli confidence in the administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan,” according to an Associated Press report from the time.
President George H.W. Bush followed this trend. He called then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on Jan. 25, 1989, five days after he entered the White House.
President Bill Clinton reached out to Israel even sooner. He called then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Jan. 23, 1993, three days after being sworn in.
President George W. Bush phoned former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak on Jan. 27, 2001, a week after taking the White House, to express his support for the U.S.-Israel alliance.
President Barack Obama, who faced criticism from Republicans for policies they branded anti-Israel, called the Jewish state’s leaders on his first day in office. Obama also called Palestinian leaders that day, laying the groundwork for that administration’s failed bid to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
President Donald Trump not only called Netanyahu but made the historic decision to invite him to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2017, two days after he took the oath of office.
GOP leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee raised multiple concerns with Biden’s refusal to express support for Israel with a phone call.
“I’m not sure why President Biden has already called world leaders from 10 other nations, including China but hasn’t yet bothered to speak with Israel,” Rep. Mark Green (R., Tenn.) told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday, adding that “Israel deserves to be treated with respect from every world leader—especially the president of the United States.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), another HFAC member, asked, “What is President Biden avoiding?”
“The American-Israeli relationship is vital to our national security for a litany of reasons,” Jackson told the Free Beacon. “I urge President Biden to ignore the radical left in his party and make a strong show of support for our partnership with Israel by calling Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
As inaugural speeches go, Joe Biden‘s will be remembered (if at all) for its forgettability. Its best line was borrowed. It lacked the soaring rhetoric of a Reagan, Roosevelt or Kennedy calling us to search within ourselves to find the strength to make America the nation most of us believe it can be. It was, instead, as workmanlike and pedestrian as the man who gave it.
In and of itself, this is not an especially bad thing. Biden’s reputation as an orator was irreparably damaged by the plagiarism scandal that destroyed the then-senator’s 1987 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. After four years of flash and sass, the American people may be ready for a president who operates at a consistently lower frequency.
Trump fatigue will only get Biden so far. He’s going to have to produce, and quickly, to show the American people their decision to change horses midstream was the right one. So far, he’s not doing it. His heavy reliance on executive orders to set policy is rankling the remaining constitutionalists within his own party who upbraided his immediate predecessor for doing what the new president himself once referred to as dictatorial. Through executive orders he’s killed jobs, reapplied the heavy hand of federal regulation and readopted radical theories that keep the nation divided into camps. So much for the unity he supposedly called for in his address.
But was he really calling for unity? If Trump was the polarizer, as the conventional wisdom has accepted, then Biden is the unifier whose main job is to bring America together at a time when our differences threaten to rip the very fabric of our democracy apart—at least, this is how the folks on MSNBC and CNN and at The New York Times portray it.
And that’s the tack Biden took in his maiden presidential address. The need to bring the country together, addressing the problems as he defined them would require “that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”
Biden used that word 11 times in the speech—mostly erroneously. His repeated calls for unity were actually appeals for uniformity which, as any student of democracy will tell you, is among the most undemocratic things that can be found anywhere on Earth. The absence of dissent, the absolute sameness of opinion and direction, is deadly to truth, to scientific inquiry, to progress, to entrepreneurship and to liberty itself.
Biden isn’t alone among the Left and progressives, either in his desire for uniformity or his willingness to disguise it in more noble terms. For years now there’s been a concerted effort to push conservative voices out of the public square. What started on college campuses has spread to the business community, to social media and to the national conversation itself. Progressives believe their analysis of what the problems are and where they came from is conclusive—while efforts to dispute those conclusions are not only disharmonious but dangerous to everyone.
It’s not enough for large groups of people to be woke. Those who are not must be, in the minds of progressives, still asleep. How else does one process the calls from prominent persons for the “deprogramming” of Trump supporters and the suppression by Big Tech of what it all too easily and without basis labels misleading information?
The survival of the American system depends on room continually being made for rigorous, civil, constructive debate, even over topics people find unpleasant. Yes, we must all come together to fight the evils that exist—as Mr. Biden called for us to do in his speech—but who gets to pick what those evils are? This is not an anodyne question. The one who takes it upon himself to define the terms and identify the problems has the advantage when it comes to proposing the solutions.
The sense of oneness Mr. Biden invoked in his calls for “unity” may be benign rather than threatening if he’s leaving room for a broad diversity of opinions and approaches to confronting “the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.” If he’s not—and it’s clear that important leaders in his party and the movement he leads are not—then the nation’s political polarization will continue at an accelerated pace.
America is a big place with room for the big ideas that will see us through our current conflicts. Rather than focus on unity or uniformity, Mr. Biden would do better to approach the challenges before him from the perspective that he needs to build a consensus and not simply expect people to fall in line behind him. There needs to be space for lots of voices—not just his.
Life lessons from the dissident, politician, and activist
Natan Sharansky has been a computer scientist, a chess player, a refusenik, a dissident, a political prisoner, a party leader, a government minister, a nonprofit executive, and a bestselling author. He never expected to be a school counselor.
But the coronavirus dashes expectations. In early March, when the virus began to appear in Jewish communities outside New York City, Sharansky found himself online, in an unaccustomed position. He began to share with students and parents whose schools were closed how he had coped during years in confinement.
“At first, it seemed absurd, even obscene,” Sharansky writes in his latest book, Never Alone, coauthored with the historian Gil Troy. “How could my experience of playing chess in my head in my punishment cell compare to being cooped up in gadget-filled homes wired to the internet—with computer chess—especially because this isolation is imposed to protect people, not break them?”
What Sharansky realized is that the costs of lockdowns do not depend on the reasons behind them. The sudden and seemingly arbitrary interruption of individual plans, movements, and relationships causes psychological harm. Sharansky recorded a brief YouTube video for the Jewish Agency—you can watch it here—offering his five tips for quarantine. Recognize the importance of your choices and behavior, Sharansky advised. Understand that some things are beyond your control. Keep laughing. Enjoy your hobbies. Consider yourself part of a larger cause.
“Surprisingly,” Sharansky writes, “this short clip went viral, reaching so many people all over the world within a few days that it made me wonder why even bother writing this book.” His reaction was another example of his droll and often self-deprecating wit. The video, however helpful it may be, does not match the power and wisdom of Never Alone. Part autobiography, part meditation on Jewish community, the book ties together the themes of Sharansky’s earlier work, from his prison memoir, Fear No Evil (1988), to his defense of cultural particularity, Defending Identity (2008). It is a moving story of emancipation and connection, of freedom and meaning.
Sharansky was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian city of Stalino. His given name was Anatoly. His parents were educated professionals who downplayed their Jewish identity. They did not want to risk political and social reprisal. “The only real Jewish experience I had was facing anti-Semitism,” he writes. The precocious youth spent his early years playing chess. He learned to navigate a Soviet system that maintained its rule through fear. He became captive to doublethink. He repeated official lies and myths not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the safe thing to do.
Sharansky enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “I dived into the republic of science,” he writes. “This world seemed insulated from the doublethink I had mastered at home.” Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War prompted him to discover his heritage. “Realizing how little I knew about this country that so many people were now asking about made me hungry to learn more.”
Sharansky studied representations of Biblical scenes hanging from the walls of Moscow’s galleries. He came across a samizdat copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, a potboiler historical fiction that describes Israel’s founding. “It drew me into Jewish history, and Israel’s history, through my Russian roots. It helped me see myself as part of the story.”
The following year the Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov wrote his “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom.” Sakharov argued for freedom of inquiry. He demanded the protection of human rights. “Sakharov was warning that life in a dictatorship offers two choices: either you overcome your fear and stand for truth, or you remain a slave to fear, no matter how fancy your titles, no matter how big your dacha,” Sharansky writes. “Ultimately, I couldn’t escape myself or my conscience.”
Inspired by Sakharov, Sharansky applied for a visa to immigrate to Israel in 1973. He was rejected. He was unable to leave the Soviet Union. That made him a refusenik. “My life as a doublethinker, which I had consciously begun at age five the day Stalin died, was over. The professional world I had built for myself, my castle of science, collapsed instantly. Now, I could say what I thought, do what I said, and say what I did.”
The twin concerns of Sharansky’s life—identity and freedom—became fused. “Democracy—a free life in a free society—is essential because it satisfies a human yearning to choose one’s path, to pursue one’s goals,” he wrote in Defending Identity. “It broadens possibilities and provides opportunity for self-advancement. Identity, a life of commitment, is essential because it satisfies a human longing to become part of something bigger than oneself. It adds layers of meaning to our lives and deepens the human experience.” Freedom offers choice. Identity provides direction.
It would be a while before Sharansky could enjoy his own freedom. By 1975, he was working with Sakharov. The next year he formed the Moscow Helsinki Group to pressure the Soviets to live up to the commitments they had made in basket three of the Helsinki Accords. The KGB arrested him in 1977. “I spent the next nine years in prison and labor camp,” he wrote in Fear No Evil, “mainly on a special disciplinary regime, including more than 400 days in punishment cells, and more than 200 days on hunger strikes.”
In prison he played chess games in his head. “I always won.” He would tease the guards with anti-Soviet jokes. He was not afraid. What could they do—put him in jail? He communicated with his fellow inmates through morse code. They would drain the toilets and speak to one another through pipes. He read Soviet propaganda esoterically, between the lines. He figured out what was actually going on by determining what the authorities had omitted.
Sharansky was in prison when he heard that President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” The year was 1983. Reagan had uttered the famous—and controversial—words in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. “It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it,” Sharansky said in a 2004 interview. “For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s ‘Great October Bolshevik Revolution’ and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution—Reagan’s Revolution.”
Sharansky and his wife Avital had been apart since her immigration to Israel the day after they married in 1974. Throughout his imprisonment she worked tirelessly on his behalf, and on behalf of other refuseniks and dissidents. She found an ally in Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. She met with Reagan, who began asking Soviet leaders to release Sharansky. Gorbachev freed him on February 11, 1986. He was reunited with Avital in Frankfurt Airport. They flew to Israel. “‘It was just one long day,’ Avital sighed later that night, in our new home in Jerusalem. ‘I arrived in Israel in the morning. You arrived in the evening. It was just one very, very long day in between.’”
He became Natan. He entered Israeli politics. He helped resettle one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He opposed the Oslo peace accords. He resigned from Ariel Sharon’s government over the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His work as an activist was devoted to building what Reagan had described as “the infrastructure of democracy.” Sharansky distinguished between free societies and fear societies. “The structural elements that enable democratic societies to respect human rights—independent courts, the rule of law, a free press, a freely elected government, meaningful opposition parties, not to mention human rights organizations—were all glaringly absent in fear societies,” he wrote in The Case for Democracy (2004).
Sharansky’s career resists summary. It offers lessons in courage, freedom, justice, belonging, and hope. What makes his example especially relevant is his insistence that freedom and identity, liberty and tribe, are not just compatible but codependent. “To have a full, interesting, meaningful life,” he writes in Never Alone, “you have to figure out how to be connected enough to defend your freedom and free enough to protect your identity.” The same puzzle confronts nations. “Benefiting from the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, together we can champion the joint mission to belong and to be free as both central to human happiness.”
Governments establish the conditions of liberty. But identity must come from below. The most positive and enduring sources of identity are not found in politics. They are located in civil society. The institutions of family, faith, and community tell us who we are, what we want, where we should turn.
People are antecedent to government. And they must remain so, if democracy is to survive. This is the unforgettable teaching of Natan Sharansky, hero and champion of freedom.