Mar 8, 2006 5:00 pm


As faithful readers know, I have been rightly bashing the New York Times for its ridiculously soft-on-Hamas editorials. I’d like to think that they read the critiques and totally changed their line. Of course, that isn’t true but something happened. I presume there were some people horrified by the editorials at the Times, some heated internal debate followed, and some sense prevailed.

Whatever took place it brought about a 180 degree reversal with no acknowledgment that anything was altered. It was sort of like the political line changing in the Soviet Union into the exact opposite position and then pretending as if nothing has happened.

Consider the opening sentence in which the Times flatly urges no U.S. aid to a Hamas government in the strongest possible terms. “This should be blindingly obvious.” Well, maybe so but the Times didn’t seem to think that you had to be an idiot to think otherwise last week.

The second paragraph, while technically correct, does return to silly-think. Since Hamas won the election, the United States “should not even entertain the idea of doing anything to try to somehow undermine the results and install a different government.” If that means the United States should not invade and overthrow Hamas or stage a coup that makes sense. But shouldn’t the United States have a strategy of getting a more moderate government into power? Note how the Times makes the usual mistake of totally divorcing a specific tactic it likes and an expression of broad principles from any strategy designed to achieve that goal. This is one of the most common fallacies in thinking about foreign policy.

Of course, no Times editorial would be complete without unwarranted criticism of Israel (as if to say, yes many of us are Jews but see how we prove that doesn’t matter!). In this case, the Times asks the U.S. government to press Israel to turn over tax and customs’ funds to the PA by saying this is the Palestinians’ own money.

This is more like the old Times. But wait a minute. This statement reinforces my view that no one at the newspaper really thinks about what they are writing. In effect, they say, the United States should not fund a Hamas regime but it must demand that Israel do so. See how this is a bizarre way of thinking? The fact is that Israel pays the money under an agreement which includes such provisions as PA acceptance of the Oslo accords, readiness to negotiate a compromise peace, fight against terrorism, and stop incitement. In fact, Israel has no obligation to provide free services for a regime which not only violates every commitment it has made but openly states that it rejects the agreement on which the payments are based.

Finally, the Times gets in some trademark defeatism. The embargo will do no good because Western funds will be replaced by Iran and Arab oil-producing states. I’m not at all sure that this is true, at least in terms of effectively getting money into the PA.

Now, what is obviously missing here? To paraphrase the Times it “should be blindingly obvious” that the newspaper needs to say something about how U.S. policy should deal with other states providing money to Hamas. Shouldn’t it press European allies to cut off aid? Shouldn’t it try to convince Arab states that it is not in their interest to fund a terrorist, genocidal regime? I guess it is enough that the United States makes a “moral point” by not using taxpayer money for this purpose. Personally, I would prefer an effective policy of not just making a moral point but making it hard for Hamas to do what it wants to do and to mobilize support by proving that it is a) delivering the goods and b) the West is too afraid of Hamas to stand up to it.

Also absent is any refutation of the Times’s own argument that if the United States does not underwrite Hamas it will make Palestinians angry and give Hamas an excuse for failing. The answer is that Hamas and Palestinian institutions will blame the United States whatever it does. The Arab media overwhelmingly says that the United States has never done anything to help the Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims despite dozens of examples of just such efforts.

But I suppose the reason the Times does not deal with these things is that such thinking might suggest the need for a wider reconsideration of how it looks at the Middle East. Instead, it makes the narrowest possible point--no direct funding for Hamas by the United States alone. I guess this is progress but who knows what they will say next?

I take the trouble to respond to these editorials because it gives a sense of establishment (at least non-government establishment) thinking on these issues.

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