To the Editor:
With Gabriel Schoenfeld’s point that the CIA’s problems “originate in realms deeper than can be addressed by a reconfiguration of the organizational chart,” we agree [“What Became of the CIA,” March]. With his argument that a dramatic reform of our intelligence agencies and of the way in which they communicate with one another and with the President is unnecessary, we emphatically do not agree.
The 9/11 Commission, on which the two of us served as commissioners, thoroughly and exhaustively interviewed Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris is criticized at length by Mr. Schoenfeld. On a number of factual issues, he was of real value. But much of what he had to say was not borne out by our investigation.
Melissa Boyle Mahle’s inside view of the CIA, put forward in her book Denial and Deception and likewise discussed by Mr. Schoenfeld, has great merit. Personnel policies that ignore the kind of recruiting that would make the CIA more closely resemble the people and countries on which it spies, combined with the agency’s fear of humiliation or worse for failure, make it risk-averse and sclerotic.
The 9/11 Commission recommended that the agency concentrate on rebuilding its analytic capabilities, building robust human-intelligence assets, vastly strengthening its language programs, and emphasizing the kind of diversity that will allow agents to blend better into the culture of the nations to which they are assigned.
These are not easy tasks. Nor could the commission do more than point out the priorities the CIA should set for itself and recommend a structure in which the director of the agency can focus on this critical task.
But nothing that the CIA may discover is of the slightest use to a President unless he gets the information, together with intelligence developed by the fourteen other agencies in the intelligence community—all combined to paint an intelligible picture.
This is exactly what was so dramatically missing before 9/11. As poor as much of our intelligence was, much of what was developed never got to either President Clinton or President Bush because it was generated in disparate and ineffectually coordinated agencies.
A National Counterterrorism Center and a National Intelligence Director will greatly increase the likelihood that vital intelligence will get to where it is needed and not be lost or hidden.
We on the 9/11 Commission found that the greatest failure before 9/11 was of imagination. We cannot mandate imagination; we could, and did, recommend a structure that will facilitate the effective use of imagination when it appears. And the Congress heeded our recommendation.
To the Editor:
Gabriel Schoenfeld believes that the CIA’s “downhill” slide will require steps beyond the recent intelligence reorganization. I agree, but would add footnotes to each of his five points.
Mr. Schoenfeld cannot comprehend how Michael Scheuer (the no longer anonymous “Anonymous”) could have come to head the agency’s al-Qaeda team in the late 1990’s. Scheuer has indeed said and written things (as Mr. Schoenfeld points out) that are decidedly anti-Semitic, that show a lust for carpet-bombing, and that draw bizarre parallels between Osama bin Laden and America’s founding fathers. Yet in being willing to swim against the tide of the time and to see bin Laden not as just another terrorist but as the charismatic leader of a very major and dangerous movement, Scheuer showed himself to be, as Melissa Boyle Mahle puts it in her book cited by Mr. Schoenfeld, “one of the those great analysts who think outside the box.”
A stubborn rebel against groupthink may have strange views, just as a creative artist may decide to cut off his own ear. It does not mean either is useless. But why did Scheuer head the CIA’s al-Qaeda office, and why did he not have a boss who would scrap his nutty musings while listening to his insights—and who would tell him to publish his books after he retired? I have no explanation.
Mr. Schoenfeld’s second example of CIA failure, Aldrich Ames, was identified in 1993 and caught in 1994 largely through the efforts of the CIA’s Paul Redmond and his CIA/FBI team, after Redmond took over the moribund mole hunt in 1991. Ames had been able to spy for the KGB beginning in 1985 largely because CIA security and counter-intelligence was so uncoordinated (due to a mid-70’s decentralization that had over-corrected for earlier excessive centralization).
The anger inside and outside the agency at Ames’s betrayal was so intense that there were numerous demands on me, as CIA director from 1993 to 1995, to go beyond organizational changes; as one Senator put it to me, “Jim, just fire the first three people who come through the door.” But the four officers who had made serious mistakes about Ames were already retired. In her generally fine book, Mahle joins the ya-shoulda-fired-somebody chorus. But I still maintain that the ancient Hebrews had it right: don’t pick a human substitute to sacrifice for an unavailable guilty party; harass, at most, a goat.
Third, as Mr. Schoenfeld correctly observes, the CIA’s reliance on the polygraph in the last few years has been highly, and randomly, destructive of many careers. The recent authoritative National Research Council report on the polygraph, cited by Mahle in her book, should now be enough to convince any objective observer that the use of this highly flawed instrument should be radically curtailed.
Fourth, ethnic and sexual quotas should have no place at the CIA, but ethnic and sexual diversity can be a major advantage in intelligence. Discriminating against women is both wrong and stupid—it halves (well, probably more than halves) the pool of able candidates. In addition, the fact that we are a nation of immigrants gives us an ability both to obtain analytical insights about other cultures and to use field officers of many ethnic backgrounds—advantages not available to most other intelligence services. Coming to the CIA in 1993, I found a superbly talented, and fairly diverse, pool of career people already in place: five of the eleven people directly reporting to me were women and one was an African-American man.
Mr. Schoenfeld’s last point, about risk-taking, is central. But the propensity during political flaps for some in Congress and the executive branch to erect barriers to CIA risk-taking and to deny clearly needed resources has been around since the mid-70’s Church-Pike hearings in the Senate. During my two years as director of Central Intelligence (DCI), however, this reached heights I hope are never again achieved.
In 1993, Congress was in session 195 days and I had 205 appointments on Capitol Hill. Then the pace picked up. Most of this had to do with my efforts to reverse budget cuts or to stop proposed pieces of legislation, generally coming from Dennis DeConcini of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence but sometimes inspired by the executive branch, that would seriously damage intelligence: limits on the CIA’s ability to spy on foreign intelligence services, cuts in funds for Arabic- and Farsi-language instruction, cuts in satellites and in supercomputers for National Security Agency code-breaking. I could virtually never get White House assistance (except from Vice President Al Gore) in these fights.
After two years of this, as Mahle writes, my resignation surprised the White House. It should not have. Intelligence heads cannot defeat these perennial assaults on their own; Presidents need to decide, or be urged by resignations to decide, to be the playing coach of the intelligence team. Nothing else will work.
R. James Woolsey
To the Editor:
I would like to commend Commentary and Gabriel Schoenfeld for devoting so much attention to the topic of the CIA’s weaknesses and the need for reform. The primary goal of my book, Denial and Deception, was to shine a bit of light on the issues affecting CIA performance during the 1990’s, to give context to the intelligence failure of September 11, and to further the national debate on intelligence reform. In the spirit of this debate, I have several comments on Mr. Schoenfeld’s article.
Mr. Schoenfeld asserts that the CIA’s poor performance was due in part to affirmative-action programs and the hiring of less-than-qualified officers to do the work. While I am flattered that Mr. Schoenfeld extensively quotes my work, I am disconcerted by the impression he leaves that these are the conclusions I drew in Denial and Deception. They are not. Transformation of the workforce was indeed an organizational goal during the 1990’s, and a necessary one in my opinion. By no longer limiting the opportunity to serve to white males, and by leveling the playing field for assignments and promotions through performance-based criteria, the CIA created a more diverse workforce capable of meeting the challenges of the post-cold-war world.
Today, we bemoan the insufficient numbers of fluent Arabic- and Pashtu-speaking CIA officials. But the CIA would have no native foreign-language speakers at all in its case-officer ranks if the old-boy network had kept its absolute control over “qualifications” necessary for entry. Furthermore, excluding 50 percent of brain power through sex-biased personnel practices meant denying the CIA a broader range of options and opportunities to deploy against current and emerging national-security threats, some traditional but many more transnational and asymmetrical.
Second, Mr. Schoenfeld implies that I consider Michael Scheuer’s assessment of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to be faulty. This is inaccurate. Scheuer is one of the few analysts who got bin Laden right. His 2002 book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, is an excellent and detailed exploration of bin Laden’s personal and ideological development, drawn together by a careful study of his statements and writings and of those close to him.
But Scheuer’s assessment should not be confused with the CIA’s assessment. The CIA was (and is) stuck in the analytical assessment that bin Laden is a terrorist, and al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. This is wrong. Bin Laden is an ideologue, who uses terror tactics to wage a war against the West as part of a larger agenda of establishing a worldwide community that adheres to his virulent interpretation of Islam.
We are facing an insurgency. Operational methods like renditions and targeted killings are effective against terrorists, but these alone will not stop an insurgency. The U.S. government is only now beginning to devise a counterinsurgency strategy that will discredit the ideology, promote ideological alternatives, and undercut the recruiting effort by addressing the social, political, and economic issues driving discontent in the Islamic world.
So what really ails the CIA? Mr. Schoenfeld finally addresses some of the substantive issues after several thousand words of distracting preamble. Over the course of the 1990’s, the CIA has been institutionally weakened by poor management and bad intelligence policy. DCI George Tenet failed to marshal the resources of the community to wage a real “war on terrorism” by neglecting to commission a National Intelligence Assessment (NIE) on al Qaeda. Without the NIE, the intelligence community was denied the vehicle for a bottom-up review of the nature of the threat and the means to warn policymakers comprehensively on its breadth.
Tenet also failed to marshal the resources of the CIA by understaffing the Counterterrorism Center (CTC). Between 1998 and 2000, only three CIA analysts were focused exclusively on al Qaeda. (Mr. Schoenfeld uses the term “officers,” which encompasses all disciplines, but the numbers are bad enough and do not need to be exaggerated.) Tenet and the senior management did not listen to the repeated pleas coming from CTC for additional personnel in all job categories.
As Mr. Schoenfeld correctly points out, policies adopted in the 1990’s made CIA officers afraid to perform their jobs aggressively. Growing risk aversion, political correctness, and systematic dismantling of covert-action capabilities destroyed the CIA’s capabilities to wage a real war on Islamic extremism.
Melissa Boyle Mahle
To the Editor:
First, allow me to thank Commentary and Gabriel Schoenfeld for devoting so much space to my work and ideas. Clearly, Mr. Schoenfeld examined my book, Imperial Hubris, closely. His fine read allowed him to pick just the right snippets to support his assertions, distortions, and spin. If Commentary’s readers want to believe that those snippets accurately represent either the argument or the well-documented content of the book, so be it. I see no need to defend my work against a writer who clearly was uninterested in, or unable to understand, the ideas in the context in which they were presented.
As I recall, Mr. Schoenfeld’s style is much the same style of research/spin engaged in by the Pentagon officials Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the state-sponsor/surrogate relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. I admit I am a bear of little brain, and my less than sterling mind cannot hope to compete with that kind of research.
Second, I thought Mr. Schoenfeld’s attempt to defame and scapegoat the CIA for the mistakes of the two individuals listed above, and the cohort they represent, to be clever and subtle. Well done. By suggesting there is something wrong with any organization that would allow me to hold a responsible position, he is of course suggesting that the CIA’s new director, Porter Goss, really needs to clean up the agency, especially if any of its officers dare to think the perfectly obvious but doctrinally unacceptable thought that a one-way alliance with Israel has long burdened U.S. relations with the Islamic world and is now getting Americans killed.
But the fact is that Porter Goss would have an overwhelming clean-up job only if this knowledge were not common among agency officers. Fortunately, that task does not fall on Mr. Goss’s very full plate; all agency officers always remember that their passports are issued in Washington and not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
Third, readers might like some checkables about why I was given a series of responsible positions over the course of my CIA career. Between 1992 and 1999, for example, the officers working in the units I led, in cooperation with agency officers overseas, helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden; and provided all—repeat, all—of the chances that the United States has ever had to capture or kill bin Laden.
There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal, and, for the last item, read the 9/11 Commission Report.
Responsibility for these successes, of course, rests overwhelmingly with the officers I was privileged to lead—most of whom were women—and to their colleagues overseas. Still, I can at least claim some small credit for not getting in the way as those officers strove to protect America, notwithstanding the willful failure of President Clinton’s National Security Council team to show the same interest in protecting American lives.
Finally, I would be delighted to stack the quality of my research, as well as the accuracy of my judgments, against any the editors of Commentary might care to conduct now or in the future. Condemnation, denigration, personal abuse, and selective quotation, as Mr. Schoenfeld so brilliantly demonstrates, are easy—the tools of the zealot, propagandist, and ideologue. I am comfortable to leave that sort of work to Mr. Schoenfeld and his kind, while those of us in private life and the U.S. intelligence community seek to understand bin Laden and the dire threat he represents to the United States and its allies, including Israel.
Who knows? While the ideologues and propagandists shovel dirt, perhaps the rest of us will defeat bin Laden and prevent, say, a nuclear attack on America. Even Mr. Schoenfeld and his like should approve of this, because bin Laden’s obvious intentions after a nuclear attack in the United States would give a whole new meaning to that old saying, “next year in Jerusalem.”
Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:
Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, two distinguished members of the 9/11 Commission, agree that the problems of the CIA reside in realms that cannot be readily addressed by mere reorganization. But they “emphatically do not agree” with the proposition that intelligence reform is unnecessary.
I never said it was unnecessary. I did raise questions about the wisdom of grafting a new layer of bureaucracy on top of the CIA, as their commission proposed, and as Congress has done. The damage caused by this “reform” is likely to be compounded by the fact that the new position of National Intelligence Director has been invested with immense responsibility for our national security but only limited power to exercise that responsibility, setting the stage for chaos or drift or both.
The establishment of a coordinated inter-agency counterterrorism center, which Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton also endorse, is a far more reasonable step. But, in the final analysis, unless a much more far-reaching transformation of the basic culture of the U.S. intelligence community is effectuated, we will remain vulnerable to egregious failures of our own design (not to mention the designs of our enemies).
When the OSS was established during World War II, its founders were able to draw on the cream of the American elite—including some of the best minds from the faculties of the best universities—to create a flexible, highly effective, and imaginative intelligence organization. But in the decades since World War II, the caliber of the CIA staff has declined, and the elite universities, having changed almost beyond recognition, would hardly seem to offer an attractive pool from which to draw new talent. It is not at all obvious which segment of American society the CIA should today turn to, although those in the armed forces who have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan and Iraq would surely bring more daring, and more patriotism, to the fight against Islamic terrorism than are likely to be found on the faculties of Harvard or Yale.
I greatly appreciate R. James Woolsey’s thoughtful and illuminating comments. But I do have reservations about two points. First, Mr. Woolsey writes that “ethnic and sexual diversity can be a major advantage in intelligence.” In this he echoes Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, who stress that the CIA should build a staff that “more closely resembles the people and countries on which it spies.” But while this particular kind of “diversity” would indeed be welcome, it is hardly what the CIA’s affirmative-action program in the Clinton era was all about.
As I tried to show, at the very moment that the agency was purportedly gearing up for a war on Islamic terrorism, and at the very same time that it was facing a critical shortage of Arabic speakers, the CIA’s leadership put in place a “strategic diversity plan” with the goal of making the composition of its workforce match that not of target societies but of the larger U.S. workforce. This led it to recruit not more Arabic speakers, scarce and much needed though these were, but more Hispanics and persons of “Asian-Pacific” origin. This was politically correct, and pointless.
My second demurral concerns Michael Scheuer, whose own letter to Commentary appears above. Mr. Woolsey makes no bones about Scheuer’s “decidedly anti-Semitic” pronouncements, but suggests that he is nevertheless one of “those great analysts who think outside the box,” if one who needed to be kept under adequate supervision. To my mind, however, if an analyst is spouting nonsense, including anti-Semitic nonsense, it is hazardous to take seriously anything coming out of his mouth, even if some of what he has to say happens sometimes to be on the money.
That is precisely what happened in this case. Mr. Scheuer has severely embarrassed the CIA, both by publishing a book that agency officials themselves regarded as “ludicrous” and through his various public statements in the months since his resignation from the agency. As for whether he is even a great analyst, I will have more to say about this below.
Melissa Boyle Mahle similarly offers high praise for Mr. Scheuer. She calls his earlier book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, “excellent,” and applauds him for bravely dissenting from the CIA consensus on Osama bin Laden. This strikes me as an evasion.
For one thing, I did not criticize Through Our Enemies’ Eyes at all. I focused instead on some of the many preposterous statements contained in Mr. Scheuer’s second book, Imperial Hubris, about which she is completely silent. For another thing, her praise of Mr. Scheuer’s assessment of Osama bin Laden is difficult to credit.
It is unfortunate, according to Melissa Boyle Mahle, that the agency today remains “stuck” in the idea “that bin Laden is a terrorist, and [that] al Qaeda is a terrorist organization”—propositions that in her opinion are “wrong.” Here she seems at best to be opening up a pointless semantic dispute and at worst to be lambasting the CIA for one of the few (if obvious) things it has understood correctly. Nevertheless, she is right that Mr. Scheuer does indeed hold a dissenting view of bin Laden. In Imperial Hubris, as I pointed out in my article, he calls bin Laden “generous, talented, and personally courageous,” and also “gentle.” I am still wondering where this comes from; I doubt even bin Laden’s own mother views him in such rosy terms.
This brings me to Mr. Scheuer himself, whose missive to Commentary offers further evidence, if any were required, that I was correct to point to his “demonstrable mediocrity of mind” and to his “unhinged views.” Unfortunately, he now compounds these deficiencies by calling into question his own integrity.
Although Mr. Scheuer begins by disclaiming any need to defend himself against my charges, he then oddly reverses field. In my article, he asserts, I cherry-picked “snippets” from his book in order to support my own “distortions” of his views. Yet he makes not the slightest effort to place any of those alleged snippets in what he regards as their full and proper context, or to demonstrate any of my alleged distortions or “spin.” Readers are thus left to determine for themselves who is the more credible.
In aid of that process, I would recommend focusing on Mr. Scheuer’s list of the counterterrorism feats that he and CIA officers working under his command were able to accomplish. Telling us that there is “[n]o need to take my word for any of this,” he urges us to verify the “checkables” with the CIA itself, to review the citation accompanying his Intelligence Commendation Medal, and to study the relevant portions of the 9/11 Commission report.
I have done, or attempted to do, all three. For starters, the CIA declined to comment on Mr. Scheuer’s claims about his career—as he surely knew it would do. As for the citation accompanying his medal, not only Mr. Scheuer himself but the CIA’s public-affairs office has rejected requests to see a copy of this supposedly corroborative document. A helpful CIA officer did inform me, however, that the citation itself is unclassified, which means that Mr. Scheuer is free to release it if he likes. One can only wonder why, after calling our attention to it, he does not.
The same officer told me that the medal in question was awarded in 1995. That is one year before Mr. Scheuer was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit. It is also well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying “all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.” Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.
Things get even worse when we turn, as Mr. Scheuer proposes, to the 9/11 Commission Report. According to my correspondents Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, the commissioners “thoroughly and exhaustively interviewed Michael Scheuer.” Their carefully phrased conclusion: “On a number of factual issues, he was of real value. But much of what he had to say was not borne out by our investigation” (emphasis added). This independent, bipartisan verdict on Mr. Scheuer’s credibility—Gorelick is a liberal Democrat, Gorton a conservative Republican and former U.S. Senator, and both are highly experienced attorneys—could not be more unequivocal: many of Mr. Scheuer’s “checkables” do not check out.
I do not know why Mr. Scheuer behaves the way he does. But I have a hunch. Consider the reference in his letter to two high-ranking Pentagon officials, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, and to “the cohort they represent.” I did not mention either Wolfowitz or Feith in my article. Nevertheless, Mr. Scheuer conspicuously drags their names into the discussion, links their “style” to mine, asserts that I am trying to “scapegoat” the CIA for their misdeeds, and claims that one of those misdeeds involved pressuring CIA analysts concerning the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
As it happens, this last allegation is a “checkable.” On it, the findings of the WMD Commission, headed by Laurence Silberman and Charles Robb, are clear:
[W]e closely examined the possibility that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to change their judgments about Iraq’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments” [emphasis added].
In insisting to the contrary without adducing a shred of evidence, Mr. Scheuer is making stuff up as he goes along, which is not exactly the trademark of a “great analyst.” But he is not making up just any old stuff. As is well known, a campaign has been under way in Europe, the Arab world, and in right- and left-wing circles here at home to demonize Wolfowitz and Feith (along with others in the government in the same “cohort”), suggesting that these two Jewish officials owe their loyalty to the state of Israel and have done its bidding by ramming through policies against the American interest and only nominally authorized by such higher-ranking, non-Jewish officials as Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Cheney, and George W. Bush.
In short, Michael Scheuer is in the grip of a conspiratorial world view in which Jews, operating through the Jewish state, are clandestinely attempting to run American policy from behind the scenes. He believes, as he writes in Imperial Hubris, that in pursuit of this nefarious aim the government of Israel makes use not only of “wealthy Jewish-American organizations” but of “diplomats, politicians, intelligence services, [and] U.S. citizen spies” in order to “lac[e] tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the Jewish state.” Only a cadre of brave CIA officers, he tells us now in his letter, can be trusted to know that their passports “are issued in Washington and not in Tel Aviv.”
Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on February 3, 2005, Mr. Scheuer elaborated on this grotesque theory. There he explained that Israel is engaged in what is “probably the most successful covert-action program in the history of man,” the object of which is to control not just policy but political debate in the United States. When pressed to identify some of these “covert” activities, he pointed in the first instance to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. For anyone who doubts that Mr. Scheuer could actually give voice to such lunatic ideas, a checkable transcript of his remarks is available at www.cfr.org.
I thank all of my correspondents for their contributions to the discussion.
Sticks and Stones?
To the Editor:
Andrew C. McCarthy’s “Free Speech for Terrorists?” [March] discusses at some length my book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, and argues that the courts have taken the principle of free speech too far.
As Mr. McCarthy observes, the Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio held that the government cannot constitutionally proscribe even the express advocacy of violence “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” But as he himself sees it, “moral clarity” demands that we acknowledge that “some evils are so palpable” that their advocacy simply must be banned. We should not insist that the danger be “imminent” or “likely.” As he asks, what possible constitutional value can there be in “the advocacy of murder” or in “militant Islam’s clarion call to violent jihad”? Why shouldn’t such speech simply be declared unlawful?
These are good and fair questions. And for much of our history, American constitutional law has sided with Mr. McCarthy. How, then, can the First Amendment be reasonably—indeed, properly—understood to protect “free speech for terrorists”?
At the outset, it is important to emphasize that a robust protection of free speech does not have to render government impotent to protect the public safety. Short of proscribing expression, government can and does take many steps to defuse or prevent danger. Most obviously it can prohibit the possession or sale of dangerous weapons, increase the resources available to law enforcement, enhance the penalties for particular crimes, and aggressively arrest and prosecute those who threaten or conspire to commit them. A basic premise of the First Amendment is that the suppression of speech must be a last resort.
In any case, truly dangerous individuals generally do not broadcast their criminal intent. Those who do publicly advocate violence, by contrast, for the most part pose no serious danger to the nation. Their advocacy is usually mere rhetoric, designed to convey depth of passion. It hardly seems sensible to make hyperbole illegal. Of course, a truly dangerous individual might publicly proclaim his criminal intent, but is that so bad? It would mark him as dangerous and make it easy for government to keep watch over him.
But the question remains: is there any reason to accord constitutional protection to speech that expressly advocates the use of force or violence to effect political change? Isn’t such expression a betrayal of the very constitutional system that the First Amendment was intended to promote? What would we lose by outlawing it? The answer, which Mr. McCarthy wrongly dismisses, was provided by Justice Felix Frankfurter, who pointed out that the advocacy of violence is often “coupled” with sharp “criticism of defects in our society.” Thus, there is a serious “public interest . . . in granting freedom to speak their minds even to those who advocate the overthrow of the government by force.” Put differently, unless there is a compelling reason to punish such advocacy, we are better off leaving it alone so that we do not incidentally suppress criticism that it might be good for us to hear—either because it contains some kernel of truth or because it helps us understand our enemies.
Mr. McCarthy might charge that I am evading the issue—that his concern is not with some harmless revolutionary but with “militant Islam’s clarion call to violent jihad.” So, suppose we embraced his “solution” and directly prohibited the express advocacy of “the indiscriminate mass slaughter of civilians.” Does he think that Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman could not have issued his fatwa without resorting to such words? Mr. McCarthy’s proposed rule would have no effect on terrorism; any terrorist worth fearing could easily circumvent it.
In truth, the only way to suppress potentially dangerous advocacy is to prohibit any speech that is intended to incite unlawful conduct. But we have been down that road before. Inquiring into the subjective intent of unpopular or hateful speakers is a slippery business that inevitably leads to the suppression of valuable dissent. Those who say that the United States “got what it deserved on 9/11,” or that “Israel caused the war on terrorism,” or that “Bush is destroying the Middle East for oil” would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution on the charge that they “intend” to inspire terrorist acts. Surely Mr. McCarthy does not want us to return to the days, documented in my book, when the United States prosecuted thousands of dissenters on the premise that their criticisms were “intended” to foster violence. But that is where his way of thinking would take us.
Geoffrey R. Stone
University of Chicago Law School
To the Editor:
In 1925, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, and in some circles became famous for saying, “if, in the long run, the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces in the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they shall be given their chance and have their way.” In other words, anything goes, and Holmes did not care how it went—or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, the Constitution did not permit him, as a Supreme Court Justice, to care how it went. This is absurd, but it does state the problem facing Andrew C. McCarthy in his essay, “Free Speech for Terrorists?”
Mr. McCarthy would solve it by insisting that there is a constitutionally significant difference between Communism and militant Islam. Respecting the latter, he says, the “nexus” between “advocacy and actual savagery” is an empirical fact. Thus, if advocacy is savagery, or if speech is the deed, it follows that “advocacy of terrorism can be effectively regulated.” In this way, he avoids the problem that certain liberals—those who treat rights as “trumps”—are unable to solve, namely, how to limit a right. For them, if freedom of speech is a right protected by the Constitution, there is no way to limit it. Mr. McCarthy avoids this problem by, in effect, denying that jihadist speech is speech.
Had he chosen to confront the issue directly, Mr. McCarthy might have said that the problem exists for absolutist liberals only because they treat civil rights, like freedom of speech and press, as if they were natural rights, the unlimited rights we supposedly “enjoyed” in the “state of nature.” In fact, of course, we did not enjoy them. Without government, natural rights were insecure precisely because there was no entity to regulate and protect them from the war of “every man against every man.” One of the blessings of government is that it can, by due process of law, regulate what we say and print.
But Mr. McCarthy, wisely perhaps, makes his case for regulation in terms that at least some liberals might find congenial, invoking the celebrated jurist Learned Hand. Before Justice Holmes became a free-speech ideologue, he had formulated in 1925 the “clear-and-present-danger” test according to which speech might be regulated. Thirty-one years later, Hand reformulated Holmes’s test; the key question, he said, was “whether the gravity of the ‘evil,’ discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the evil.” Mr. McCarthy rightly sees the virtue of this rule: it requires the judge to focus on the evil, to accord it the weight it deserves.
The evil in Hand’s day was Stalinism and its friends in the American Communist party. Liberals of that time can perhaps be excused for discounting, if not the evil, then the possibility of its taking hold in the United States. No one, other than a fool or a knave, could discount the threat facing us today from militant Islam.
American Enterprise Institute
To the Editor:
Andrew C. McCarthy may give the First Amendment more of an encomium than it deserves. The reason “free speech” is “enshrined in the very first amendment to the Constitution” is not that it shines “so luminous . . . among our values” but only that the first two amendments proposed by the first Congress were not ratified. The framers of the Constitution may have “fully understood” the need for an “exchange of ideas” in a democracy, but that did not stop many of them, serving in the first Congress, from enacting the 1798 Sedition Act, which penalized false criticism of the President. That law may be unanimously abominated today, but it was upheld by every Supreme Court Justice, Federalists all, who considered it.
Constitutional restrictions are generally a bad idea. As Alexander Hamilton pointed out, it is unclear why, in a democracy, the people would want to limit their ability to make policy choices or, indeed, how they are able to do so if they remain the sovereign. Constitutional restrictions work best, our history shows, when seen as advice to legislators rather than as judge-enforceable law. The First Amendment in particular—which, as Mr. McCarthy notes, cannot mean what it says in stating that Congress “shall make no law” abridging the freedoms of speech and press—belongs more “in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government,” as Hamilton also pointed out. Any failure on our part to protect ourselves from terrorism cannot be attributed to the First Amendment.
Today’s constitutional law of “free speech,” like nearly all of our constitutional law, derives not from the Constitution but from the constitutional revolution—based on the political principles of the 1960’s—worked by the Warren (or, more accurately, Brennan) Court and followed and expanded ever since. Justice Hugo Black purported to adopt the “absolutist” position that the First Amendment prohibits all governmental (state as well as federal) regulation of “speech,” including pictorial pornography and wearing an armband in a grade-school classroom. Most of his colleagues, reluctant to be seen as less liberal, accepted or came close to accepting this position. Thus it came to be in 1969 that the First Amendment (which refers only to “Congress”) was seen to prohibit the state of Ohio from making it a crime to “advocate or teach the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism” for political ends. It made no difference that less than twenty years earlier a similar federal statute (used to convict the leaders of the American Communist Party) was upheld.
There is no good reason why the views of Justice Black and his colleagues of the 1960’s should determine American public policy on terrorism (or anything else) today. The issue should be decided, like all issues in a democracy, by the views of the people.
Lino A. Graglia
University of Texas School of Law
To the Editor:
It is a measure of the disorder in First Amendment jurisprudence that the title of Andrew C. McCarthy’s article should end with a question mark. Free speech for terrorists? Freedom to call for the murder of Americans? Common sense replies, “Of course not.” The Supreme Court’s reply, however, has been considerably less forthright; it is not at all clear that the Court would uphold a law enforcing the blanket suppression of terrorist calls for violence. And that disjunction between sensible precaution and the current state of the law suggests that something in First-Amendment doctrine has gone badly askew.
The problem started with the much-admired dissenting opinions, primarily in the 1920’s, of Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Louis Brandeis. They insisted that courts were the final arbiters of the dangers of advocating violence and lawbreaking. More important, they held that a judgment had to be made concerning each separate episode of such speech. Supreme Court majorities in that era disagreed; the Justices ruled that if a legislature had reasonably defined dangerous categories of speech, advocacy that fell within those categories could be punished. It was apparent then, and is even clearer now, that the majorities were right and that Holmes and Brandeis were wrong.
Holmes and Brandeis asked whether particular instances of speech created a “clear and present danger” of lawless action. After much doctrinal wavering, the basic element of that test was adopted in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), which overturned the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader for inciting racial violence. In an unsigned opinion, a unanimous Court held that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a state to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
The Brandenburg formula requires judges to estimate such matters as the danger posed by an al Qaeda leader’s call for jihad in America, or the mood of a crowd hearing incitement to racial violence. These are tasks for which the judiciary is the least qualified branch of government.
Matters would be improved if the Supreme Court followed the example of its own decisions in Gitlow v. New York (1925), which upheld a conviction for advocating the violent overthrow of the government, and Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), which upheld a conviction for offensive words likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Gitlow majority said that “when the legislative body has determined generally, in the constitutional exercise of its discretion, that utterances of a certain kind involve such danger of substantive evil that they may be punished, the question whether any specific utterance coming within the prohibited class is likely, in and of itself, to bring about the substantive evil, is not open to consideration.” The unanimous Chaplinsky opinion gave the rationale for regulating speech by way of such categories: “[Some] utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth, that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.” Advocacy of terrorism surely fits that description; what social value is served by the fatwas of a Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman?
Holmes denied the very proposition of Chaplinsky when he wrote that “if in the long run the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.” He apparently valued free speech so highly that he was willing to see it ended by dictatorship. Only First Amendment voluptuaries, a type of which we have more than a sufficiency, can adopt that position today.
Robert H. Bork
American Enterprise Institute
Andrew C. McCarthy writes:
Geoffrey R. Stone stands second to no one in his mastery of modern First Amendment jurisprudence. Nonetheless, his grasp of modern militant Islam is even more lacking than his appreciation of the Communist threat-–which, as his generally superb book confirms, is badly wanting.
It is difficult to understand how anyone who has been paying attention for the last dozen years could say that “truly dangerous individuals generally do not usually broadcast their criminal intent” or that those who “publicly advocate violence . . . for the most part pose no serious danger to the nation.” In point of fact, truly dangerous individuals—whose victims now number in the thousands—broadcast their criminal intent all the time: issuing fatwas, brazenly calling for suicide bombings, and even videotaping their savage beheadings as a recruitment tool and an intimidation device. Mr. Stone asks, “is that so bad?” I think it is. And I doubt that most people would equate it with “hyperbole” or “mere rhetoric designed to convey depth of passion.”
Free speech is not an end in its own right. It is a vital means to the end of a healthy body politic. Nostrums like “[a] basic premise of the First Amendment is that the suppression of speech must be a last resort” simply beg the question: a last resort against what? As is bound to happen when nostrums crash into reality, it turns out that society has decided there are quite a number of values to which this “last resort” must give way, including comparative trifles like reducing expenditures on political campaigns.
That is because—as Walter Berns, Lino A. Graglia, and Robert H. Bork observe—speech is not an absolute but a question of competing values. What value does the terrorist call to violent jihad bring to our marketplace of ideas? Mr. Stone suggests it may contain “criticism that it might be good for us to hear—either because it contains some kernel of truth or because it helps us understand our enemies.” This entirely discounts the grievous evil posed by speech that we empirically know causes mass murder, while grossly inflating the purported “value” we get in return. Is Mr. Stone really contending that we need to allow Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman to call for slaughter in order to understand him better? Or in order to ensure that we don’t miss some grievance that CAIR or the ACLU may have neglected to bring to our attention?
First Amendment absolutism skews Mr. Stone’s assessment of competing values in other critical ways as well. He argues, for example, that modern free-speech jurisprudence need not “render government impotent to protect the public safety.” But the idea is not merely to avoid “impotence”; it is to be effective in protecting the public safety, which means being able to stop terrorist acts before they happen. The remedies Mr. Stone mentions are plainly inadequate to that task.
True, more money on law enforcement, aggressive prosecutions, and enhanced sentences may enable us to punish severely the terrorist who has successfully carried out his barbaric business. But, as was shown by the progressively more audacious attacks that ensued despite eight years of highly successful prosecutions between the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 suicide hijackings, such measures do little to discourage would-be terrorists, whose ranks swell and whose patent dangerousness increases due largely to the immunity our law has given to militant advocacy.
Disappointingly, Mr. Stone appeals to the last bastion of the absolutist defense—that we should not impose a ban because determined wrong-doers will find ways around it. By that logic, we might as well repeal the criminal law in its entirety. After all, though it discourages crime, punishes it, and makes it more challenging to commit, criminal law has proved spectacularly incapable of eradicating wrongdoing.
Either militant advocacy should be permitted in principle or it should not. The discussion is not advanced a wit by the observation that criminalizing an evil will not eliminate it. Making it more difficult, and thus less likely, would be a dramatic improvement.
Finally, my essay argued that free-speech absolutists fail to appreciate the inexorable refinement over time of our society’s balancing of the tension between civil liberties and national security. By closing with the slippery-slope argument that my own modest proposal would bring us right back to the shameful prosecutions under the Alien and Sedition and Espionage Acts, Mr. Stone proves my point. But his charge is specious.
The flaw in those laws, as Mr. Stone compellingly explains in his book, is that they criminalized dissent. To the contrary, I have proposed narrowly tailored laws that target militant Islam’s advocacy of violent jihad. To argue, as Mr. Stone now does, that such laws would imperil people who asserted that the U.S. “‘got what it deserved on 9/11,’ or that ‘Israel caused the war on terrorism,’ or that ‘Bush is destroying the Middle East for oil’” is fatuous. The criminal law does not punish culpable intent in a vacuum; it punishes culpable intent coupled with the conduct the law proscribes. One may not be prosecuted for advocating violence without advocating violence.
Turning now to Walter Berns, I find myself in agreement with much of his theorizing. But the disagreements he registers with me do not appear to be directed at the essay I actually wrote. Thus, Mr. Berns attributes to me the notion that if we define a type of speech (advocacy) as something other than speech (savagery), it somehow ceases to be speech, thereby allowing us to regulate it.
That is simply not my argument. While I acknowledged that speech could in some instances be thought of as a verbal “act,” the entire premise of my essay is that advocacy is speech, but that this does not mean it may not be constrained. As Lino A. Graglia notes in his letter, I expressly contended that the First Amendment does not mean what it literally says (that is, an airtight proscription of regulation). I did, as Mr. Berns notes, invoke Learned Hand. But my point was to illustrate not only that the absolutists are wrong about the proper understanding of the free-speech guarantee but that advocacy may comfortably be banned even under the First Amendment as they have misinterpreted it.
Nor did I maintain that there is a “constitutionally significant difference between Communism and militant Islam.” It was perfectly appropriate to criminalize Communist advocacy of the violent overthrow of government, and I was most critical of the tendency among doctrinaire civil libertarians to minimize the Communist threat. But if there is no constitutional difference, there is a factual difference. Militant Islam poses an even greater clear and present danger than Communism did. If, as I believe, there was a case for barring advocacy in the earlier context, there is an even better case for barring advocacy in the present one.
Lino A. Graglia’s apparent absolutism is the polar opposite of Geoffrey R. Stone’s, and to me it is not much more attractive. Even if I did not think it doctrinally unwise, the hour is way too late to be gainsaying the irreducible core of minority rights to which our society is and has always been committed.
But I do think it unwise. Free expression is a luminous value—and even if I am guilty of rhetorical excess, we would value it no less had it been enshrined in the Third rather than the First Amendment. Furthermore, to observe that the First Amendment obviously does not mean exactly what it says is hardly grounds for saying it means nothing of an inviolable nature or would be better understood as merely hortatory.
Where I part company with Mr. Stone is in the perilous lengths he would go to protect dissent. I thoroughly agree with him, however, in positing that there is a right to dissent. The Sedition Act prosecutions were an abomination because they eviscerated that right. Whether or not the Act itself violated the First Amendment—as I, like Mr. Stone, think it did—is a matter of objective fact. I do not see why Mr. Graglia should be any more impressed by the Federalist Supreme Court’s approval of the law than he would be of, say, the Warren Court’s condemnation of it. Indeed, this bleak episode stands as a caution against what Mr. Graglia seems to be arguing for: the treatment of constitutional guarantees as if they were advisory. Without the mandate of law, without courts to enforce them, those protections would be certain to be swept aside when majorities found it expedient to do so.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Graglia that the Warren Court went overboard, and that we need not embrace a First Amendment jurisprudence that leaves us vulnerable to terrorist attack. But while, as he says, all issues in a democracy should be decided by the views of the people, the American people have decided, in their fundamental law, that a core of free speech cannot be overridden by the majority—which means it must be protected by the courts. The challenge, of course, is to identify what that finite core is and to protect it—but only it.
On this score, I believe Robert H. Bork has the best of the argument. There are well-established categories of speech (such as advocacy of violence) that do not advance the exposition of ideas and the search for truth. Within those parameters, the people’s democratic representatives ought to be able to regulate expression. To be sure, there is a role for the courts, but it is limited to ensuring that any regulation is confined to those narrow categories. It should not extend to assessing the likelihood that a particular episode of speech, within one of those categories, will result in the harm against which the regulation was designed to protect us.
To the Editor:
In purporting to analyze “the most severe political crisis” in Israel’s brief history, Hillel Halkin focuses on the influence of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook and his son [“The Settlers’ Crisis, and Israel’s,” March]. This leads him to the conclusion that “all that is left” of the settler movement “is a Kookian faith.” But opponents of Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal and eviction plan cannot be viewed solely through the narrow prism of religious messianism. Surely Mr. Halkin would not consider political leaders like Natan Sharansky, Moshe Arens, and Uzi Landau, and the 60 percent of Likud voters who opposed Sharon’s plan, to be motivated by “a Kookian faith.”
The most glaring omission from Mr. Halkin’s analysis is his failure to address how, in the absence of a peace agreement, the Sharon government could forcibly expel its own citizens from 25 communities for the sole reason that they are Jewish. Under what moral principle must disputed land be made judenrein in order for it to be ruled by Palestinian Arabs? This burning question remains unanswered, and without addressing it one cannot comprehend the “violent opposition” to Sharon’s plan.
Nor does Mr. Halkin address the chilling effect on free speech and democracy in Israel resulting from recent actions by the Sharon government, like the dismissal of cabinet ministers opposed to the euphemistically named “disengagement” plan (arrived at, Sharon boasted, “in consultation with myself”). Sharon has stated that “those opposed to the disengagement are involved in incitement,” to which Natan Sharansky replied, “It is frightening to see how an entire public of law-abiding citizens who oppose the disengagement are being delegitimized.” The heavy-handed attempt to stifle all opposition has engendered a great deal of the heat surrounding Sharon’s plan.
Though I am not qualified to discuss Mr. Halkin’s assertion that “Gaza itself has little strategic value,” I would note that after the Six-Day war, Yigal Allon wrote to Israel’s cabinet that Gaza was “essential” and should be annexed (after resettlement of the refugees). Sharon’s plan includes the surrender of the strategic “Philadelphia” corridor, despite the recent conclusion of the former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ southern command “that there is no alternative to Israel’s continuing presence” there. Apparently, the security value of Gaza, with its 25-mile coastline, is at least debatable.
In a 1991 essay in the Jerusalem Report titled “Peace Through Settlements,” Mr. Halkin wrote that “any peace agreement with a Palestinian state that calls for the eviction of the Jews living in that state cannot possibly lead to the kind of peace that both [the Israelis] and the Palestinians need.” That conclusion remains valid today.
Roger A. Gerber
Scarsdale, New York
To the Editor:
Even though Hillel Halkin describes himself as sympathetic to the settlers, I find this hard to believe. His latest article is nothing more than a broadside against them. There is no other way to describe his claim that the settlers are irrational and messianic, comparable to the followers of Sabbatai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century. Following this line of argument, other pioneers of the Zionist enterprise, who also acted against all odds and followed what was considered an irrational and unattainable cause, were messianic too.
One could argue that Mr. Halkin is the “virtuous fool” (hasid shoteh) for blindly putting his faith in Ariel Sharon. Only a short while ago Sharon said that “[the settlement] Kadim is like Tel Aviv” in being integral to the state of Israel. But after being elected, in a stunningly undemocratic move, he essentially adopted the platform of his election rival. To explain the logic of this about-face, Mr. Halkin offers a list of hints, nods, winks, and unwritten commitments from the Sharon government and the Bush administration, promising that all will be well after disengagement. Yet in return for these promises Israel has to surrender actual territory, expel citizens from their homes, undermine the country’s democratic foundations, and risk civil war.
Scarsdale, New York
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin acknowledges that both “Ariel Sharon and the settlers know that, if this disengagement succeeds, it will be a dress rehearsal for what inevitably must come next: a similar withdrawal, involving far greater numbers of settlers, from most of the West Bank.” While devoting most of his article to exploring the theological fine points of the settlement movement, Mr. Halkin never explains how a country as tiny and cramped as pre-1967 Israel (or some near approximation of it) is supposed to exist surrounded by a jihadist state that will be free to build and import whatever weapons it desires, from rockets to anti-aircraft missiles to weapons of mass destruction.
An indication of such an entity’s likely disposition toward Israel can be drawn from the recent municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza, in which Hamas scored landslide victories. Hamas is also thought to stand an excellent chance of winning the Palestinian parliamentary elections this summer.
P. David Hornik
To the Editor:
In his focus on the settlers’ “messianism,” Hillel Halkin distorts the history of the settlement movement. He ignores the fact that the movement that arose after the 1967 Six-Day war calling for Israel to retain all the territories it had captured in that war—the Land of Israel Movement—was primarily made up of prominent figures from the Left: Yitzhak and Moshe Tabenkin, Moshe Shamir, Zvi Shiloah, Nathan Alterman, Eliezer Livneh, and many others. Though a few people associated with the Right joined, a conscious effort was made to keep out people from religious and right-wing parties.
The first crucial settlement effort, which gave birth to Kiryat Arba, was brought to fruition by the combined efforts of secular and religious nationalists. The Jordan Valley was settled mostly by people from the Labor camp, and the Golan Heights settlers were chiefly secular.
Halkin dismisses the strategic importance of Gaza in one short phrase: “Gaza itself has little strategic value.” But none other than Sharon himself, writing in 1992, could say that
Israel did not return all the territories taken from Egypt in the Six-Day war; the most important of these, the Gaza Strip, was not handed back. Moreover, the essentiality of retaining the strip in Israeli hands was so self-evident that even the Egyptians did not try—certainly not seriously—to demand its return.
The Gaza Strip thrusts out of the Sinai area toward Israel’s very heart. It is situated only 13 kilometers from the city of Ashkelon, 30 kilometers from the port of Ashdod, and 55 kilometers from the population centers of Gush Dan. From Gaza, an enemy can deploy forces or station artillery and rocket launchers of the sort long owned by terrorist organizations and certainly by all armies.
The potential surrender of Judea and Samaria is an even greater threat: these territories are on high ground dominating Israel’s narrow coastal plain; their sacrifice puts Israel’s survival at risk. No one knows all this—or knew all this—better than Sharon, who hammered away at the folly of Oslo in statement after statement. The real question, ignored by Mr. Halkin, is what pressures, internal and external, can possibly have led Sharon to engage in policies that he himself had repeatedly labeled as suicidal.
New York City
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin correctly identifies the conflict in Israeli politics between a messianic worldview and the imperatives of statecraft. But he does not identify the right messianists.
To the likes of Shimon Peres and many others engaged in public discourse in Israel, the world has changed so radically that Israel’s security can be enhanced by the unconditional surrender to terrorists of lands adjacent to major population centers. The terrorists are then to be financed, armed, and trained by Israel, Europe, and the United States. Egypt, and eventually the Palestinians themselves, will help usher in this new world. Israelis can live forever in perfect safety, like lotus-eaters, behind Ariel Shar-on’s magical fence. This barrier, unlike the Great Wall of China or the Maginot line, cannot be bypassed, tunneled under, rocketed over, or broken through.
In this scheme, the Israel Defense Forces still remain necessary to fight the true enemies of the Jewish state, i.e., those patriotic Jews who do not accept the new gospel of redemption through self-mutilation. These unbelievers have the additional temerity to suggest that government should rule by the consent of the governed, and that the popular will as expressed at the polls should determine national policies.
Nahum J. Duker
Melrose Park, Pennsylvania
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin states that Ariel Sharon enjoys “overwhelming support” in Israel for his disengagement plan. Why, then, does he not allow a public referendum? A victory would certainly take the wind out of the sails of the opposition.
Jerome S. Kaufman
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
To the Editor:
Rabbi Tsvi Yehuda Kook’s apotheosis of the Israeli state could not have been shared by his father, who conceived of a “medinat Yisrael” in deeply religious terms. The elder Rabbi Kook was highly critical of the Zionist movement, and eventually advocated the establishment of a separate organization of religious Jews.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkins’s basic contention—that Israelis of the national-religious camp oppose abandoning settlements in Gaza and the West Bank for theological reasons—is correct. But Mr. Halkin focuses on the wrong theology. The opposition to these policies is rooted not in Sabbatian messianism but in the biblical promise made by God to the Jewish people concerning the land of Israel.
Sabbatianism advocated the deliberate immersion in evil as a means to achieve holiness. Contrary to what Mr. Halkin claims, without offering any evidence, there is no trace of this pathology in the voluminous writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, to whom national-religious Jews look as a master. Virtually all religious Jews believe that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity. “I have given this land to your descendants,” God said to Abraham. No one needs to share that belief, or even to respect it. But critics of religious Jews in general, and of national-religious Israelis in particular, need to understand it.
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin traces the evolution of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook’s thought in the Israeli national-religious camp and forecasts “theological disaster” for that community if Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan is implemented. But Mr. Halkin underestimates the strength and resilience of Kookian theology, and in doing so overstates the danger posed to it by disengagement.
In Kook’s thought, the state of Israel is a vehicle for attaining the ultimate redemption because it facilitates the ingathering of the exiles and the reawakening of Jewish national consciousness. It derives holiness from its mission as such, even though the state may be far from the messianic ideal.
Contrary to Mr. Halkin’s assertion, there is no similarity between Rabbi Kook’s attitude toward Israel’s young socialist pioneers (halutzim) and the Sabbatian attitude toward sin. The Sabbatians saw the sin itself as a means for attaining holiness. Rabbi Kook viewed the halutzim as restoring an integral part of Judaism despite their lack of religious observance and their unawareness of what the ultimate fruits of their labor would be.
As described in the Bible, the Israelites encountered many setbacks in conquering and retaining the land of Israel. If the disengagement is in fact carried out, it will be viewed as no more of a setback than the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines. Jews are accustomed to adversity, and viewing the disengagement as anything more would be missing the forest for the trees.
New York City
Hillel Halkin writes:
Every reason given by Roger A. Gerber, Avner Reggev, P. David Hornik, Herbert Zweibon, and Nahum J. Duker for not “disengaging” from Gaza and other parts of the occupied territories is a good one. Since the Arab population of these territories is currently in the neighborhood of 3 million and growing at a rate roughly double that of Israeli Jews, I would therefore like to ask them which of the following proposals they support: (a) forcibly expelling these people; (b) letting them remain where they are without civil rights as the inhabitants of an apartheid state; (c) granting them full Israeli citizenship in a democratic bi-national state in which they will eventually comprise a majority; (d) trusting in God.
Since the opponents of disengagement, secular as well as religious, have refused to commit themselves to any of solutions (a) through (c) and have no others of their own to offer, one must assume that they choose (d). This is why their opposition is at bottom messianic. It is predicated on the blind hope not only that the United States and the rest of the world will forever tolerate Israeli rule over all of Gaza and the West Bank, but also that the Palestinians of these areas will disappear. In the absence of such a miracle, Israel’s only rational choice is to separate from these Palestinians by withdrawing from Gaza and most of the West Bank to unilaterally determined, militarily and demographically defensible borders. Although such borders will not be ideal, they will be vastly preferable both to those that preceded the 1967 war and to those that exist now.
To reply to some specific points: Mr. Gerber asks how I can support Israel’s “expulsion” of its own citizens from the Gaza Strip “for the sole reason that they are Jewish.” Actually, as I wrote a while back in a column in the Jerusalem Post, I do not support the settlers’ expulsion. I support the withdrawal of Israel’s army and state presence from the Gaza Strip. Any settlers who wish to remain behind and negotiate their status with the Palestinian Authority should be allowed to do so, and I believe the Sharon government is misadvised in denying them this option.
Messrs. Gerber and Reggev protest that Ariel Sharon is acting undemocratically by reneging on his campaign promises and “stifling opposition” to disengagement. On the latter point I must say that if the opposition to disengagement has been “stifled,” I for one have failed to notice. It is in fact very loud and getting louder, and I know of no one in Israel who has been threatened or intimidated for adding his voice to it.
As for Sharon’s campaign promises, it is true that, although he constantly spoke before the last election of the need to make “painful” territorial compromises, he also publicly rejected a proposal by then Labor party leader Amram Mitzna to withdraw from Gaza, so that his post-election decision to do so came as an about-face. This was the reason that he asked the Likud, his own party, to hold a referendum on the matter, which he expected to win but lost instead. While this ballot was not legally binding, Sharon, in my opinion, should have done one of two things at that point: either sought to hold the nationwide referendum on disengagement that Jerome S. Kaufman asks about, or called for new elections and a new mandate. Every public-opinion poll showed that he would have won either vote handily—as he would if either were held today.
And yet there were also good practical reasons against such a course. A referendum could have been delayed for many months by legal and parliamentary challenges, and there was no Knesset majority for new elections. All in all, given the fact that the public clearly wanted disengagement, Sharon’s behavior does not strike me as all that reprehensible. The big difference between it and Yitzhak Rabin’s analogous breaking of his campaign promises in signing the Oslo Agreement is that Rabin was presiding over an evenly split country while Sharon has been consistently backed by two out of every three Israelis. In this respect he is more comparable to Menachem Begin, who also reneged on his 1977 electoral platform in order to sign a highly popular peace treaty with Egypt.
Messrs. Gerber, Hornik, and Zweibon accuse me of slighting the Gaza Strip’s strategic importance. Gaza indeed “thrusts . . . toward Israel’s very heart,” as Mr. Zweibon puts it, and was especially threatening when Egyptian army units were stationed there before 1967. But it has been neutralized as a jumping-off point for an invasion of Israel under the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. (The Egyptians, one might add, gladly forsook Gaza in negotiating this treaty not because they realized it was strategically essential to Israel but because they were delighted to see Israel saddled with administering it.) Although the Gaza Strip can always be used as a base for Palestinian terror, such terror, unless it gets its hands on nuclear weapons (which are unlikely to be manufactured in Gaza), can never threaten Israel’s existence. The same cannot be said of too many Palestinians within Israel’s borders.
To Mr. Duker I would observe that Ariel Sharon, unlike Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin at Oslo, has no illusions about Palestinian intentions or about the magical properties of anything. His thinking about Gaza and the West Bank is based on the belief that the Palestinians are not to be trusted and cannot be made peace with in the foreseeable future. Hence—again unlike Peres and Rabin—he has no inclination to negotiate with them and is determined to act unilaterally in establishing Israel’s permanent borders.
I agree with Matis Greenblatt about the difference between Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook the father and Tsvi Yehuda Kook the son, and I said as much in my article. Still, the son’s sanctification of the state, while not found in the writings of the father (who died before Israel’s establishment), exists there as a latent possibility. One cannot after all view secular Zionism (as Kook the father did) as a divine vehicle without opening the door to viewing a secular Zionist state in the same light.
If religious opposition to disengagement from Gaza is most strongly rooted not in messianism but in a belief in God’s “biblical promise” of the land of Israel, as Aaron Streiter proposes, how does he explain the fact that the ultra-Orthodox in Israel largely support disengagement and have traditionally been dovish on territorial issues? Indeed, even the National Religious Party, the main political organ of the settler movement since 1967, was not territorially expansionist before then. What, if not post-1967 messianism, can account for this?
I did not make a systematic analogy between Kookian messianism and Sabbatianism, as Mr. Streiter and David Gulko appear to think I did. I did point out that when Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook came to conceive of secular Zionists as instruments of redemption, even though they flouted the ritual commandments of Judaism, he was like the Sabbatians conceiving of the sinful as an expression of the sacred. This strays far from normative Jewish thought.
Finally, I would like to make clear my position on the Jewish settlement movement. I have always believed and written that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the historic land of Israel, just as I have believed and written that Jews do not have the right to turn Palestinians into disenfranchised helots. This has led me in the past to propose, in the pages of Commentary as well as elsewhere, that the establishment of a Palestinian state be conditioned on its willingness to accept the continued presence of Jewish settlers under its sovereignty, so that the historic land of Israel would consist of two independent but federated states, each with Jews and Arabs living in it. Yet since neither the Palestinian Authority, nor the government of Israel, nor the settlers themselves have ever evinced the slightest interest in such a solution, and since the 2000-2004 Palestinian war of terror against Israel has made its implementation more problematic than ever, I have been reluctantly forced to concede that it is not practical.
The Man from Stratford
To the Editor:
I was disappointed with John Gross’s article, “Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up?” [March]. Seeing the title, I thought that Mr. Gross might have been venturing into the heterodox territory of challenging traditional Shakespeare authorship. But no such luck. Instead, we have his erudite but bland dissection of 1,394 additional pages of Elizabethan literary speculation.
Standard Shakespearian historicism is an easy game. It begins with a basic premise—William Shaks-pere of Stratford authored the works—and inventively backfills from there. Mr. Gross encapsulates the system nicely: “There are no diaries, letters, memoirs, or interviews”; the documentary evidence is “dry and impersonal; major aspects of his life remain a blank.” But then there are “the plays and the poems” themselves and “knowledge . . . of the society in which he lived and moved.”
The orthodox account of Shakespeare’s life thus becomes a self-sustaining literary organism. No evidence that Shakspere of Stratford ever attended school? Well, he must have; he authored the plays. The provincial grammar schools of his day were wildly inconsistent in quality? His must have been a proletarian Eton (after all, he authored the plays). Shakespeare’s own daughters were illiterate? Well, he may have invented Portia, Lady Macbeth, and many other women of substance, but he was a man of his time. How did he learn Romance languages, court etiquette, law, military science, botany, dynastic and classical history, contemporary continental minutiae, etc.? Perhaps he had access to a library or tutored a noble child. And so on.
Were the author of Shakespeare’s works to be identified as an actual historical personage, like Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), this orthodoxy would collapse. Literary speculation would have to be replaced by the drudgery of biographical research and dissection. The intentions of the author might be reasonably discerned, rather than, as now, conveniently occulted.
The latest attack by Stratfordian scholars on Edward de Vere’s probable authorship of the canon takes theA0tack that he was too bad, or too busy, to have written Shakespeare’s works. Put another way, a real man in history simply could not have done it. Now, that’s biography!
Jonathan F. Keiler
John Gross writes:
I must admit that Jonathan F. Keiler is in good company. Some illustrious figures—Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud, for instance—are among those who have persuaded themselves that the works of Shakespeare must have been written by somebody else.
But I am afraid that Mr. Keiler is also, rather more obviously, in not such good company. The so-called “authorship controversy” is a beacon for cranks. It has generated an enormous amount of haywire theorizing and ingenious pseudo-scholarship.
Over the years, there have been many contenders for the role of “real” author. Francis Bacon, who once stood in proud isolation, has been all but elbowed aside by subsequent claimants, including Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford (Freud’s candidate as well as Mr. Keiler’s), sundry other Elizabethan noblemen, and Queen Elizabeth I herself. I can only suggest that Mr. Keiler read up and ponder the history of the entire controversy. The relevant chapters in Samuel Schoenbaum’s The Lives of Shakespeare would make a good (and entertaining) place to start.
One curious feature of the campaign to dethrone “the man from Stratford” is the extent to which it has been an American enterprise. Not entirely, of course. The first seeds of the Baconian theory were planted in 18th-century England. There have also been German anti-Stratfordians, who have tended to champion the claims of the Earl of Rutland, and French ones, who have shown a corresponding weakness for the Earl of Derby.
But from Delia Bacon in the mid-19th century onward (no prizes for guessing whose claims she favored), Americans have undoubtedly predominated. Even Henry James was an anti-Stratfordian, without quite being pro anyone else, while the first bold soul to argue that “Shakespeare” was actually the pen name of King James I was none other than Malcolm X.
This is all rather odd. One would have thought that the idea that the plays were written by the Man from Stratford—the Man from Main Street, so to speak—would have been much more congenial to the American democratic spirit than the notion that they were the work of some crowned head or blueblood. But there it is; and if Mr. Keiler’s views don’t win universal acceptance, he can at least console himself with the thought that he is part of a venerable American tradition.