JERUSALEM—The long-running Israeli debate over who should be required to perform military or civilian service is coming to a head once again, heightening just about every fault-line in the country—religious versus secular, Jews versus Arabs, left versus right. How this debate is resolved will influence not only the composition and duration of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, but also the future development of Israeli society. The reason is this: Mandatory service is not just a policy decision; it goes to the heart of Israel’s identity.
Compare the high drama of the Poland-Russia game with the organized tedium of the meeting between France and England. (Never mind the army of Russian nationalists marauding in the streets of Warsaw or the local patriots standing in their way, the police keeping the two groups of drunken patriots apart. That's been done: English fans have patriotically tottered down the streets of the world and clashed with local population and police.) I'm talking about the game in which teams seem to abandon all tactical consideration and attack, as was the case today with the Poles, thereby risking defeat.
The Romance of Realism
May 04, 2012
Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pp., $40) The histories we write say as much about our own times as about those we study. The current polarization in Washington has prompted a nostalgia for parties that were less ideologically uniform and more prone to compromise. Fashionable “pragmatism” has similarly infected thinking about foreign policy, as the fallout from the Iraq war lingers in the air a decade on.
Since I wrote last week about the remarkable eighteenth-century precedents for a health insurance mandate, several supporters of the challenge to Obamacare have attempted to downplay the relevance of those early mandates for today’s case.
Why Burma’s Free Election Wasn’t All It Was Cracked Up To Be
April 03, 2012
For a country that has experienced almost nothing but misery, abuses, and economic mismanagement since the army first took power in 1962, the scenes from Sunday’s by-elections in the new, civilian Burmese parliament seemed nothing short of miraculous. The military’s favored party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), took a paltry handful of seats. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under arrest just two years ago, won a parliamentary seat.
March 29, 2012
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain By Paul Preston (W.W. Norton, 700 pp., $35) The young Jesuit was an idealist. A slim and bespectacled student of philosophy, Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco dreamed of the redemption of Spain from the evils of its secular, redistributive Republic. A supporter of the military coup by nationalist generals in July 1936, he discounted stories of mass murder of Spanish civilians by the rebels. But knowing that war tries the conscience, he nevertheless wanted to offer pastoral care to the rebel soldiers.
The Stalled Revolution
March 29, 2012
On a Monday in late February, I received a Facebook message from a Syrian activist notifying me that a demonstration was due to start in half an hour in a heavily guarded section of Damascus. The occasion was a funeral, and so the protest was likely to be large. “Two of the five martyrs are children, and funeral processions for children are always big,” the message explained. I took a cab to the Kafr Sousa district, an area that is home to many government buildings, and walked for 20 minutes, until I came upon about 75 casually dressed men toting machine guns.
Obama’s New Old Defense Strategy
March 14, 2012
When President Obama unveiled his military budget earlier this year, it was clear that he was essentially putting a new defense strategy on the table. The Pentagon’s plan called for the ranks of the active-duty Army to be reduced from 570,000 to 490,000 troops over five years. The Marine Corps, meanwhile, was supposed to shrink from 202,000 to 182,000. At the same time, drones were a high priority in the budget—not surprising, given that Obama has ordered about five times as many drone attacks as his predecessor.
The Horrifying Atrocities in the U.N. Report on Syria: A Primer
February 24, 2012
A U.N. panel tasked with investigating the human rights situation in Syria released its report yesterday. It’s a disturbing, but sobering, read. Based on 369 interviews, the report documents the many crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime during the past year; below, we’ve gathered some of the most appalling violations. Torturing Children “Children continued to be arbitrarily arrested and tortured while in detention. According to former detainees interviewed by the commission, children were treated in the same way as adults, in blatant disregard of their age.
A Tour of Egypt’s Half-Finished Revolution
February 17, 2012
I arrived in the Egyptian town of Edfu on a Friday in early February. The temple there, a wondrous reminder of the Egyptian pharaohs’ obsession with eternity and architectural monumentalism, was eerily quiet and empty of tourists. But the silence was more than filled by the blaring sound of the Friday sermon, broadcast over loudspeakers at unavoidably high volume.