Diminished Prestige

City JournalPresident Biden has been solid, so far, in pledging support for Israel, but a long trail of bad policies has weakened the American hand in the Middle East.

“We’re the United States of America, for God’s sake!” an exasperated President Biden told 60 Minutes the day after Hamas’s horrific attacks on Israel. “We’re the most powerful nation in the history, not in the world, in the history of the world,” Biden stumbled along, “We are the essential nation . . . and if we don’t [support Israel and Ukraine], who does?”

In the Middle East last week, Biden’s self-regard fell on deaf ears when Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas unceremoniously withdrew from a planned summit with Arab leaders and the U.S. president, leading the Jordanians to cancel the meeting just hours later. Abbas’s pretext for withdrawing was the explosion at the Al Ahli Hospital, a Christian facility in Gaza heavily damaged from what evidence now suggests was Hamas’s friendly fire. The Arab street and international media, however, widely blamed Israel—and, by proxy, the United States—for the incident. The cancelled summit followed a listening tour of Middle Eastern capitals by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. After being snubbed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who made him wait for hours before postponing their meeting, Blinken ended his stop in Cairo with the uninspiring announcement, “I heard a lot of good ideas about some of the things we need to do.” Like a spurned schoolboy, Blinken reportedly called Abbas to “express profound condolences for the civilian lives lost in the explosion,” and Biden also called the Palestinian president, but no plans have been announced to reschedule the summit.

While considerable anger persists throughout the Muslim world, this is the first time in history that foreign leaders have cancelled a summit meeting with the president of the United States. Not even during the worst moments of the Cold War has international esteem for Washington’s position and potential role in resolving international conflict fallen so low. To Arab potentates, America under Joe Biden appears to be a non-essential, and even dispensable, nation, little respected and certainly not feared.

Biden entered office in 2021 committed not just to a rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan, but to reinstating Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which essentially paid that country’s anti-American Islamist regime billions to delay, but not cancel, its plan to acquire nuclear weapons. The deal’s proponents hoped it would lull Iran into regional restraint and convince the country to respect Washington’s so-called rules-based international order.

Tehran’s response to these overtures has been to exploit Washington’s lack of resolve. It has rushed more money and weapons to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, where Hamas’s attack is widely believed to have been planned and approved with decisive Iranian participation. Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati, whose government relies on Hezbollah and allied parties, said on television last week that he opposes entering the war, but lamented that he has received no assurances that Lebanon will be kept out of it, and added that he has no power to prevent it from happening. Since Biden’s return to an appeasement policy vis-à-vis Tehran, the Iranian regime has created a similar patron-client relationship with Hamas, which now receives an estimated 93 percent of its support from Iran despite the once-unbridgeable Shia/Sunni sectarian divide, putting Israel in a potential two-front conflict.

Until last month, the Iranian regime also held imprisoned American citizens, essentially as hostages. Biden’s response has inspired little confidence. To secure the release of just five individuals, the administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets for what it insisted would be “humanitarian” purposes. The money was held by the Central Bank of Qatar and subject to monitoring—it now cannot be accessed by the Iranians—but to an observer with even a rudimentary understanding of financial economics, releasing the funds substantially boosted Iran’s fungible resources, just weeks before its new Palestinian clients launched their bloody attack.

Meantime, Arab observers of the American street watch with satisfaction as leftist mass protests in favor of the Palestinian cause beset most major American cities—and the Capitol itself—while our uniformly pro-Biden elite institutions equivocate over how to respond to Hamas’s attack without offending terrorist sympathizers.

Biden skipped an unreceptive Amman for Tel Aviv, where he pledged full support to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while simultaneously urging him to act with restraint. Last Thursday, after returning to Washington, Biden gave a strong and well received televised address promising Israel “unprecedented” military support, to be advanced in an emergency $105 billion bill that will also provide additional support to Ukraine. U.S. military deployments in the Eastern Mediterranean since Hamas’s attack are impressive and may have some deterrent power against Arab aggressors while also mollifying Israel. At the same time, however, Biden renewed U.S. support for Palestinian self-determination, following on his promise of another $100 million in humanitarian aid despite Hamas’s murder of least 31 Americans in its attack last week and continuing detention of another 11 as hostages. The volume of American support will command Israeli attention for the foreseeable future, but how restrained Israel will be—and can afford to be—remains to be seen.

How Joe Biden Brought the World to the Brink: A Strategic Assessment

The European Conservative – At home, Biden is unpopular, assailed by legal difficulties, and widely regarded as too physically and mentally incompetent to do his job.

“I have been doing this for a long time. I never thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” said a nonplussed U.S. President Joe Biden of reports from the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel. Spokesmen later clarified that Biden had not seen the pictures in question, but numerous media outlets have confirmed these atrocities and, in some cases, reprinted the photos.

At best, Biden sounded naïve, particularly in the wider context of his administration’s catastrophic foreign policy. In many ways, it was his poor leadership in this area that allowed the current crisis to unfold.

By way of overview, it is instructive to go back to the chaotic first months after Biden entered office. After several steps that appeared to continue former President Donald J. Trump’s policies, and alongside a strong bipartisan emphasis on containing China, Biden abruptly accelerated the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Pro-Biden military and foreign policy leaders, who called themselves “the adults in the room,” assured the new president that Afghanistan’s government and U.S.-equipped military could hold their own against the Taliban. Without much effort to verify those assurances, Biden announced the U.S. military withdrawal before the Afghans were prepared to resist on their own, and indeed even before the U.S. civilian withdrawal.

In the chaos that followed, desperate Afghans crowded into and around the U.S.-held airport in Kabul, hoping for rescue. Some made it out, but many others died trying or were simply abandoned, often to brutal fates as the Taliban took retribution on Afghans who had worked for the Americans. Thirteen U.S. Marines were killed while holding positions. Deserted by their government, hundreds of U.S. citizens went underground or improvised their own exits. Worst of all, the Afghan army folded in a matter of days, leaving an estimated $85 billion worth of top-line U.S. conventional military equipment to the Taliban and whatever terrorist groups might have purchased the weapons since or may do so in the future.

As breathtakingly bad as the Afghan fiasco was, American voters, who rate foreign policy low among their priorities, quickly forgot about it while the regime media repeated the mantra that withdrawal, while inelegant, was nevertheless necessary.

The rest of the world drew a radically different conclusion: that Biden’s resolve was far weaker than Trump’s, who had stabilized Afghanistan without a single loss of American life in the final 18 months of his presidency. Instead, Biden’s approach to foreign policy recalled the leadership of former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president and whose administration employed much of Biden’s foreign policy team earlier in their careers. Just six months after Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his ill-fated war against Ukraine. Encouraged by the posturing of a weak Biden administration, including even a foolish direct statement by Biden that the United States would not react to counter Russian aggression, Putin had nothing to fear.

While the war has gone badly for Russia, the Kremlin’s strategic calculation that it would encounter no military resistance from the U.S.-led West was an entirely rational assessment of Biden’s failure elsewhere on the Eurasian periphery. It even had a precedent. Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which Obama did nothing to stop, came an identical six months after Obama failed to enforce a much-vaunted “red line” in Syria’s civil conflict, whereby the U.S. president had promised military intervention if Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against domestic insurgents. Obama’s failure to enforce that prohibition informed Putin that he could act without military consequences to seize Crimea and support pro-Russian independence movements in the Donbas.

Instructively, the Trump presidency successfully deterred Moscow by cajoling European NATO members into committing to higher defense spending, withdrawing from Cold War-era arms control deals that no longer served American interests, providing lethal military equipment to Ukraine for the first time, imposing sanctions on Russia to their highest level before the present war, and informing Moscow that further aggression against Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences.

Trump’s tough approach also worked with Iran. Trump wisely abandoned an Obama-era deal that essentially paid Tehran to delay its nuclear program for an estimated decade but not stop it. Trump increased military and diplomatic support for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other traditional American regional allies that had been or have emerged as Iran’s antagonists. He obliterated ISIS, neutralized Iranian military assets in Iraq, and presided over U.S. energy independence for the first time since the 1940s. In arguably the most underappreciated achievement of his presidency, Trump ignored a longstanding but misguided Washington consensus that tied the resolution of all Middle East questions to a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Via the Abraham Accords, he successfully ignored that issue and brokered the first peace deals between Israel and majority Muslim countries since 1994.

Biden reversed all of these positions. He clamped down on domestic energy production to satisfy radical leftist environmental demands, which inexcusably returned the U.S. economy to dependence on Middle Eastern oil and caused energy prices and inflation to spike in an anemic post-COVID economy. He antagonized regional American allies by predicating arms and investment deals on unrealistic human rights demands and other intangibles, thereby driving them into the arms of Russia and China, which proclaimed themselves “unlimited” allies, included Iran in a de facto tripartite anti-American alliance, and steadily lured dozens of developing world economies into their orbit.

At home, Biden is unpopular, assailed by legal difficulties, widely regarded as too physically and mentally incompetent to do his job, and likely to lose reelection—probably to a resurgent Trump—in 2024. He presides over a southern border that is largely out of government control as millions of foreign citizens unlawfully enter the United States, undermining confidence and straining resources. This both contributes to and is a symptom of a bitterly polarized society in which Biden’s side of the divide advocates Marxist-inspired dogma that most of the rest of the world finds baffling, bemusing, and emasculating and that his domestic opponents regard as either stupidity or treason.

Declining American resolve has emboldened Chinese aggression in the Far East, removed any deterring effects from regional conflicts flaring in places that were until recently stable, and caused European allies to entertain moving to a middle place in an emerging global conflict. International institutions that were founded to manage or lessen global conflict have become less and less effective without firm American leadership, and most seem doomed to irrelevance at best and active resistance at worst.

Worst of all, Biden restored the bad nuclear deal with Iran, thereby emboldening Tehran to delay but not cancel its nuclear weapons program, increase its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, cultivate a similar patron-client relationship with Hamas in Gaza, and support other anti-American governments and movements in the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and even Latin America.

Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as intelligence sources cited by the U.S. media, all corroborate that Iran played an essential role in the planning and execution of the recent attacks on Israel, which killed over 1,200 people and injured thousands more. Iran’s parliament leapt to its feet to chant “Death to America” (not just Israel) when news of the attack came their way.

Just last month, the U.S. released $6 billion in Iranian assets to secure the release of only five prisoners held by Iran. When the war in Gaza broke out several weeks later, the embarrassed Biden administration went into high-energy damage control, arguing that the funds are only for humanitarian use and that they have not been and cannot be used for other purposes. This did not match Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s claim that he would use the money however he pleases. Nor does it account for Iran’s knowing full well that if $6 billion is restored to its control, that money is fungible and could be used for agreed-upon needs while freeing up other funds for military and terrorist purposes.

As of Friday, reports confirmed that U.S. pressure caused the Central Bank of Qatar, which had agreed to monitor the released funds, to rescind Iran’s access to them. The damage, however, is done. Under Biden, and unfortunately for the people of Israel, real and perceived American weakness has led to outrage after outrage, invasion after invasion, and problem after problem. A firmer president can and will take over one day. A stronger defense of American interests—at home and abroad—could undo Biden’s failed legacy. But that next president will need iron resolve to clean up his mess.

Harvard’s Horror

The statement from student groups blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks will further erode the university’s stature, and deservedly so.

City Journal – “In nearly 50 years of @Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today,” tweeted Harvard professor and former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers on October 9, when he learned that 34 Harvard student organizations had signed a statement saying that they “hold the Israeli regime responsible for all unfolding violence” in the Middle East and added that Israel “is the only one to blame.” The students’ statement was a direct response to Hamas’s murderous attack on Israeli civilians the day before, which has claimed more than 1,000 civilian lives, injured many more, and saw some 150 Israeli hostages carried off into captivity.

Presumably, Summers felt even worse than he did on February 21, 2006, when he was literally “alienated” from his post as Harvard’s president, resigning amid criticism for having suggested that women inherently might have less scientific aptitude than men. Summers apologized for those remarks, which he made based on empirical data that he said he hoped would be disproved. That did not save him from Harvard’s social-justice warriors, including a majority of Harvard’s faculty, who voted no confidence in his leadership. Instead, Summers’ downfall emboldened his critics, and led him and his successors to make identity politics central to Harvard’s mission.

More than a decade and a half later, only Summers can say whether he is truly surprised that hundreds of Harvard students would blame Israeli children, babies, grandmothers, and hundreds of others—among them at least 14 Americans now confirmed dead—for their own murders, injuries, and kidnappings. Despite his stated outrage, Summers has shown no interest in ending his affiliation with Harvard, as a principled person with such sentiments and bearing some responsibility for the climate at the school might have done.

Current Harvard president Claudine Gay confirmed that such statements are acceptable at what supposedly is the nation’s most prestigious university. Writing after 48 hours of silence, she declared that “our students have the right to speak for themselves,” even if “no student group—not even 30 student groups—speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”

After massive public criticism, including from many Harvard affiliates, Gay amended her statement to declare, “I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.” She nevertheless qualified her condemnation of Hamas’s “abhorrent” actions, leaving space and consideration for “whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the [Middle East] region” might be. Harvard’s best purpose, Gay continued, would “be well served in such a difficult moment by rhetoric that aims to illuminate and not inflame. . . . I appeal to all of us in this community of learning to keep this in mind as our conversations continue.”

“Conversations” in Gay’s “community of learning” will not bring back the dead, defang Hamas’s genocidal ideology, or ensure the safety of Jewish members of the Harvard community. Her muddled words are a far cry from her reaction just three years ago to the death of George Floyd, when, serving as dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, she expressed her “pain and horror” in a highly emotional public statement demanding “resolve and a new sense of urgency” to “create a better world.” Nor does it match her immediate predecessor Lawrence Bacow’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just last year, in which he praised those in the Harvard community who “spoke clearly and forcefully against the crisis,” personally called for Ukraine’s “liberation,” and pledged that “Harvard stands with the people of Ukraine.”

To its shame, Harvard apparently does not stand with the people of Israel. Gay’s pro forma condemnation of Hamas notwithstanding, she has not condemned the student groups that signed the letter or the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, which authored it. And even in a university climate overrun with linguistic policing of “harmful” speech, don’t expect Gay to point out how Harvard’s own anti-discrimination policies prohibit action that is “so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it creates a work, educational, or living environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive and denies the individual an equal opportunity to participate in the benefits of the workplace or the institution’s programs and activities.” Blanket statements that victims of terrorism are responsible for their fate based on their religion or nationality might fit such a definition.

Of course, nothing in Harvard’s statements indicates that the university would invoke these policies against these students. Certainly not as it did when acting against, say, prize-winning Harvard economist and Manhattan Institute fellow Roland Fryer, who in 2019 was suspended without pay for two years and lost his university research lab because he allegedly told sexual jokes that female subordinates found “harassing.” Those sanctions were imposed over a preliminary recommendation that Fryer be required to attend sensitivity training. The committee that imposed the harsher punishment included Claudine Gay, and it’s possible, given the committee’s ideological bent, that Fryer’s most notable research finding—that race-based police brutality statistics favored by the radical Left are overstated—contributed to his punishment.

In any case, the student groups’ disgraceful statement casts further doubt on the value of a Harvard degree, and the damage will likely have real-world consequences. Hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman, a Harvard alumnus, publicly requested the names of Harvard students belonging to the organizations that signed the letter, so that he and finance-industry colleagues would make sure not to hire them, even “inadvertently.” Several websites have posted those lists with full names, addresses, majors, and social-media information, in the apparent hope that the students will be held accountable in public life, even if they can stroll Harvard Yard defending the victimization of Israeli Jews.

If Harvard students have nothing to fear from the selectively censorious Claudine Gay, the broader consequences are beginning to scare them. As of this writing, at least four of the organizations have withdrawn their signatures, with at least one apologizing for having signed the letter in the first place. Their dissociating themselves from terrorism, even if under pressure, is welcome and should be encouraged. But the free market will be the eventual arbiter of consequences. Some, like Ackman, who object to what Harvard teaches and the climate that it fosters may choose not to hire its graduates—and make the academic world tremble by saying so. Students objecting to what Harvard’s hopeless administrators preach don’t have to enroll there. Parents worried about their children’s education don’t have to send them to Cambridge. Harvard alums astonished at the evil that has befallen their alma mater can stop donating to it—and tell the alumni office why. Most of all, Harvard trustees can speak up to remove the odious administrators they have so unwisely placed in charge of an institution they presumably love and do the hard work it will take to clean up the mess.

Georgetown’s Guilt-Industrial Complex

At the Jesuit university, contrition for slavery is an expensive and ongoing task.

City Journal – Last month, Georgetown University and the Jesuit order agreed to hand over $27 million to the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Trust, a nonprofit that claims to benefit the progeny of slaves owned by U.S. Catholic institutions. The trust was founded in 2021 and initially chaired by Joseph M. Stewart, who claims descent from one of the 272 slaves that Maryland’s provincial branch of the Jesuit order sold in 1838 to save Georgetown University from insolvency. Broken into a $10 million payment from Georgetown and $17 million from the Jesuits, the gift nearly triples the trust’s holdings, from $15 million to $42 million. The trust says that it plans to offer educational scholarships, medical grants, and unspecified programs in “truth” and “healing.”

More than 13,000 people now claim descent from the 272 slaves sold 185 years ago—more than double the 5,000 identified in the media as recently as March 2022. The figure is likely to keep rising.

Georgetown has been busy atoning for slavery-related sins for years. In 2016, the university promised to apologize for its participation in the slave trade (which it did the following year), grant preferential university admission to slave descendants (some of whom have since enrolled), and name buildings after and erect a memorial in honor of the slaves. In 2017, the university announced that it was removing from two buildings the names of Jesuit clerics who had facilitated the slave transaction. The school renamed one building for the first slave listed on the 1838 bill of sale and the other for a nineteenth-century black woman educator.

In 2019, Georgetown students voted in favor of a non-binding campus resolution to add a symbolic $27.20 fee to their semesterly tuition payments to raise funds for slave descendants. In 2020, the university adopted Juneteenth as an official holiday a year ahead of its congressional recognition. In 2021, Georgetown’s prestigious School of Foreign Service adopted “anti-racism” as a “central pillar of its mission.” That same year, Georgetown’s law school fired adjunct professor Sandra A. Sellers for lamenting in a private Zoom conversation that her black students performed worse than did her white students. Her interlocutor and fellow adjunct professor David C. Batson, who remained silent during the conversation, resigned amid criticism that he had failed to object.

In 2022, Georgetown Law placed constitutional scholar (and current Manhattan Institute senior fellow) Ilya Shapiro under two lengthy investigations before he even began his job at the school after he tweeted his opinion that future Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had been nominated over more qualified candidates because she was a black woman. Shapiro was cleared of wrongdoing but resigned, saying that he would be unable to work effectively in conditions infused with such racialism.

In October 2022, Georgetown announced that it would raise funds to disburse $400,000 per year via a “reconciliation fund” intended to support public-service projects in communities where the slave descendants currently live.

Georgetown’s Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI), all of whose website-listed employees are black, maintains a 14-page list of resources addressing a wide variety of exclusively black interests, concerns, and services. It includes links to Black Lives Matter and similar radical organizations widely accused of corruption; to the error-ridden 1619 Project and other dubious historical sources; to documents OSEI describes as “police abolition education materials”; to donation sites providing bail funds to individuals arrested for violent crimes; and to websites that instruct viewers how to protest. Georgetown apparently publishes no list of resources for white students.

Virtually all the university’s divisions and departments publicize their unquestioning commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), racialist concepts that the OSEI claims are “essential aspects of Georgetown’s mission and identity.” No such claim was made at any time from the university’s founding in 1789 until only a few years ago, however. “I am personally counting on all administrators, faculty, staff and students to provide enlightened leadership and cooperation in support of diversity, equity, and affirmative action,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia is quoted as saying on the university website, though race-based affirmative action in both employment and admissions is now illegal. Following this summer’s Supreme Court decision barring the consideration of race in college admissions, I wrote DeGioia, hoping that he would announce the abolition of all race-based procedures and programs at Georgetown and declare that he regarded academic and professional discussions of race as constitutionally protected free speech. He did not reply.

If Georgetown’s commitment to racial justice seems overwrought, don’t tell that to the slave descendants and their supporters, who have steadily increased their demands as they seek an eventual $1 billion in donations and other forms of contrition. “There is so much more the university has to do,” says Julia Thomas, a Georgetown undergraduate who claims descent from the original slaves and is active in a student organization called Hoyas for Slavery Accountability. She wrote in a November 2022 issue of the student newspaper that the school’s reconciliation fund is “insufficient” and “not reparative justice” because the $27.20 slavery fee voted by students in 2019 had not been made mandatory. Her fellow activist Olivia Henry lamented that the fee was “genuinely meant to be a symbolic thing of students saying we want to increase our tuition so that it is known by all students and all university faculty that students are invested in financial reparations.” Apparently, this verbose young Hoya would also demand higher tuition for fellow students who object to the fee; those whose ancestors never owned slaves; whose families immigrated to the United States in the 158 years since slavery was abolished; and Georgetown’s many international students, who, according to the university’s website, hail from 166 foreign countries, each of which had little or nothing to do with American slavery. Presumably, she would also bill Hoyas whose ancestors were among the 600,000 almost entirely white combatants who died in the Civil War, which, as prize-winning Georgetown history professor Chandra Manning has convincingly argued, was largely fought over slavery.

These embittered Georgetown students are further miffed that the reconciliation fund will be administered by a student committee in tandem with slave descendants’ representatives, and not directly by Georgetown’s administration, which they accuse of trying to avoid responsibility. As Henry put it, “the university can use students as a scapegoat if any of these organizations [receiving fund largesse] turn out to not benefit descendant communities and cause harm.” (Isn’t it easy to imagine, though, that if the Georgetown administration were put in charge of the fund, the students would object?)

Student critics are also up in arms about the administration’s failure to rename another prominent campus building, Gaston Hall. Its namesake William Gaston was Georgetown’s first enrolled student; later in life, he urged the abolition of slavery. Inconveniently, however, he owned more slaves than originally thought and, as a North Carolina state supreme court justice, he issued procedural rulings believed to have disadvantaged slaves. “This is a continuation of Georgetown’s commitment to white supremacy,” claimed Kessley Janvier, another angry young Hoya.

It is probably only a matter of time before Janvier realizes that Georgetown’s name comes from its surrounding neighborhood, named for King George II of England, who reigned over the Atlantic slave trade for 33 years; that she studies in Washington, a city named for a slaveowner who owned more slaves than Gaston; and that Washington itself is located in the District of Columbia, named after no less villainous a European slaver than Christopher Columbus. She may also learn one day that the gray in Georgetown’s blue-and-gray color scheme is in fact Confederate Gray, adopted along with Union Blue by the school’s boating team in 1876 to foster the very reconciliation that slave descendants now say can only be achieved with receipt of a ten-figure sum.

Janvier’s college years sound like much less fun than the ones I enjoyed at Georgetown. But before you waste $81,515 per year instilling racial guilt in your children in a decaying city with a per capita crime rate twice that of New York’s, let me point out that the University of Florida now slots only two places below Georgetown in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, charges a fraction of its tuition, has a much higher acceptance rate, and will soon be DEI-free under state law. The weather is better, too.