If you want easy answers, don’t look here

December 8th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

“Give us the farm, or you get nothing!”

Once more, down the rabbit hole we go.

This week, congressional Republicans made good on their threat to hold up military aid to key allies — Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — unless President Biden agrees to draconian changes to policies on the southern border. Never mind that holding up that aid runs the serious risk of costing myriad Ukrainian lives, or that cavalierly denying it demonstrates to the world they have no problem throwing American foreign policy priorities under the bus — priorities that are squarely in America’s self-interest — in order to continue feeding political red meat to their base. Perhaps worst of all, Republicans, who seem to really love this game of chicken, fail to acknowledge that the Biden administration has already gone a good way toward satisfying many of their demands.

Writing in the New York Times today about the Republican demands, Editorial Board member Farah Stockman points out:

They want the resumption of the construction of the border wall. The Biden administration already conceded to resuming construction this fall when it agreed to spend money that Congress allocated for that purpose in 2019.

They want to deny asylum to those who have passed through a third country en route to the United States. That’s an expansion of a rule that the administration has already instituted.

And they are insisting that asylum seekers meet a higher standard during screenings at which migrants have to demonstrate a “credible fear of persecution,” to make sure that fewer claims are granted. The Biden administration has already done that for people who have been apprehended between ports of entry — in the desert, for instance, or crossing the Rio Grande.

The icing on this concessionary cake is this: The administration requested almost $14 billion for border security — an amount much higher than the numbers discussed with congressional leaders over the summer. The funding request includes hiring an additional 1,300 Border Patrol agents — a key Republican demand — as well as 1,000 Customs and Border Protection officers, 1,600 asylum officers and support staff members, and 1,470 Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys. To anyone paying attention, it is obvious the Biden administration has already come a long way toward the Republican position that something big must be done.

But none of that seems to matter, because the House wants more. New Speaker Mike Johnson is insisting the Administration agree to a bill that passed the House this year, but not the Senate. That bill would make it easier for families to be held in detention indefinitely and make it a federal crime to overstay a visa, among other things.

“The House is saying, ‘Give us the farm or you get nothing,’” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. That’s not compromise; that’s political tyranny.

Immigration policy is something both sides agree needs fixing. The Biden administration calls it “broken.” It’s a serious issue with verifiable roots, not some made up craziness politicians often spout to get a few minutes of fame and airtime on Fox News. Consequently, the Republican Party, the Party in opposition, wants to run with it like greyhounds chasing the rabbit at the racecourse. They have spent years fostering and channeling public anger over immigration, and they’re not about to stop, regardless of what it means for Ukraine.

So, who will blink first?

This political extortion, of course, bears an ironic similarity to Donald Trump’s 2019 attempt to withhold congressionally-appropriated money from Ukraine unless then-newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy open an investigation into his presidential opponent Joe Biden.

Different subject; same tactic.

Speaking of rabbit holes

Ever dream of being a college president? Well, now is not the best time to have that dream come true. Here’s why.

When Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October in an act of profound barbarism, the entire world was shocked, horrified, and completely sympathetic to the devastation inflicted on Israeli men, women, and children, more than 1,200 of whom Hamas terrorists killed with unspeakable atrocity. Around 250 people were taken hostage and ignominiously dragged off to Gaza. The world’s sympathy lasted about four nanoseconds, because the Israeli Defense Forces, vowing to exterminate Hamas once and for all, unleashed the dogs of war on the Hamas citadel — densely populated Gaza. Innocent Gazans, whom Hamas used as human shields, started dying. According to the Hamas Medical Ministry, the death toll has now passed 16,000,  a number that may be exaggerated, but even if it is….

After Israel began shelling Gaza in preparation for a ground invasion, the tide of public opinion started to turn. We now have two warring camps in America. Camp One sides with Israel, maintaining that the small country of 9 million, 21% of whom are Arab, will never be safe so long as Hamas exists. Camp Two, without acknowledging the horror of 7 October, decries the civilian loss of life in Gaza and demands that Israel stop. Camp One points to Hamas’s stated goal of annihilating the state of Israel and all the Jews within it, which is the very definition of genocide. Camp Two claims loudly that Israel is right now committing genocide on the Palestinian population of Gaza.

Although, as I have written previously, this is a terribly complex and complicated issue, it has now been reduced to the binary. If you’re sympathetic to Israel, you obviously hate innocent Palestinian Gazans; if you’re sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, you’re against Israel. In other words, you’re Anti-Semitic.

On college campuses, Camp Two is winning, as large groups of protesters march through Harvard Yard chanting “Intifada now,” and students at Penn do the same and spray paint Anti Semitic slogans on campus buildings. Jewish students at both schools are now living in fear.

This puts college presidents in a no-win position. They don’t want to stifle free speech, but where do they draw the line between free speech and speech that puts people in danger? Is there any room for “context” in this horrid situation?

But “context” is what college presidents are wrestling with right now, which was on vivid display this week as the presidents of three elite schools, Harvard, MIT, and Penn, were grilled by Republican and Democratic  members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Committee members, particularly Elise Stefanik (R-NY), wanted a “simple yes or no” to a question. “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules on bullying and harassment? Yes or no?” she demanded of Claudine Gay, the new president of Harvard University.

“It can be, depending on the context,” Dr. Gay responded.

“What’s the context?” Stefanik shot back.

“Targeted at an individual,” Dr. Gay said.

“It’s targeted at Jewish students, Jewish individuals,” Stefanik said.

Representative Stefanik, the Number 4 Republican in the House, asked the same question to the other two presidents testifying. To Stefanik, as well as to the other members of the  Committee, the three presidents did nothing but equivocate. Even Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, after the Hearing, said the three were “lacking in moral clarity.”

Following their testimony, judged inadequate by just about everyone, the three presidents now face serious calls for their terminations. At Harvard, President Gay apologized for her testimony in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, saying she “got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures.”

“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” Gay said.

At Penn, lawyers for a major donor, Ross Stevens, wrote to Penn’s general counsel yesterday threatening to withdraw a gift valued at $100 million because of the university’s “stance on antisemitism on campus,” unless Penn President Liz Magill is replaced.

However, notwithstanding the thin ice beneath the feet of college presidents, on college campuses opprobrium continues to rain down on Israel. With that in mind, let me ask you a question.

Following the atrocities of 7 October, what was Israel supposed to do? Ignore it? Tell Hamas never to do it again, or else? What’s “else?” Plead with the United Nations to intervene? Ask the Palestinian Authority to use its non-existent muscle to stifle Hamas? Lob a few shells into Gaza and say, “That’ll teach ’em?” What?

We, here in America, were twice in that position. First, on 7 December 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,400. Today is the 82nd anniversary of the day after, when FDR asked Congress for a Declaration of War in his “Day of infamy” speech. That war ended with two atomic bombs that killed somewhere between 129,000 and 226,000 Japanese, no one actually knows the right number. Not many college students marched in protest after that.

The second time we faced an existential crises was on 11 September 2001, 9/11. We marshalled our forces and with a NATO coalition attacked Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. During that conflict, Afghan civilians were also used as human shields by the Taliban in a US-led attack on Marjah, and, unfortunately, many died.

Helping Ukraine survive, doing the same for Israel while striving to create a viable and safe two-state solution, fixing a “broken” immigration system, combating Anti-Semitism — these are questions that do not lend themselves to easy sound-bite solutions. But solutions they must eventually have.

If not, our ever-darkening rabbit hole will get only deeper.

I hope you have a good weekend. I’ll be back Monday.