| Outlook |

Whither My Old Friends

It should be possible to affirm that black lives matter, without supporting Black Lives Matter


The most boring class I took in law school was “Freedom of Expression,” taught by Thomas Emerson, a cherubic, white-haired man, a founder of the left-wing Lawyers Guild and a lion of the ACLU.

The class was boring because there was no debate of any sort. Whatever the particular issue — loyalty oaths, time and place limitations on demonstrations, flag-burning — we all agreed that the solution was maximization of freedom of speech.

The Nazis would not march in Skokie until a few years later, but I’m confident that well over 80% of my classmates would have supported their right to do so.

We were hardly fire-breathing radicals: Most would go on to large corporate firms and become, as a college roommate put it, “the grease that allows society to function.” Just good ’70s liberals.

I write not to lament youthful folly; but to wonder what became of the ideals my friends and I once held dear. We seem to have passed from the scene and left nary a mark.

A few years back, a group of Harvard Law professors, including leading feminist professors, decried the absence of due process in campus assault tribunals making life-determinative decisions about the accused: no right to be informed of the accusations; no right to confront or cross-examine the accuser; no right to counsel; no presumption of innocence; no right to an impartial fact-finder.

I’m waiting for similar protests from those who loathe Donald Trump and whose liberal bona fides are in good order on the impact of today’s “cancel culture” on the free exchange of ideas that we once cherished.

Society still needs contrarian thinkers, like the oddballs of Michael Lewis’s The Big Short who predicted (and profited handsomely from) the 2008 crash of financial markets because they saw what should have been glaringly obvious that no matter how many ways you bundle and securitize worthless mortgages, they will still be worthless.

Better social policy emerges when policymakers can draw on a wide array of perspectives, and the data and conclusions are subject to the same scrutiny as scientific findings are. An example of the latter scrutiny would be the recent withdrawal by the prestigious medical journal Lancet of an article by Harvard professors, on the efficacy of the anti-malarial medication hydroxychloroquine in combatting COVID-19, when other researchers around the world took a hard look at the underlying data.

IT HAS BEEN SOBERING to realize that were I a university professor or newsroom editor today, my recent writings would have likely led to my firing.

Still, it should be possible to affirm that black lives matter, without supporting Black Lives Matter, a political organization, with its particular leadership, goals, and tactics.

It should be possible to decry the unjustified killing of George Floyd, and still wonder how any data point, no matter how powerful, establishes a pattern of police callously shooting black men, much less society-wide systemic racism. Or wonder why the election of a black man as president is not a stronger datum on the latter question.

George Pearlstine, executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, should not have had to experience an epiphany that color-blindness is not enough and that social justice will not be achieved until the percentage of black reporters is equal to blacks’ percentage of the population, to keep his job.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is one person who has protested “the cowardly movement of upper-class media addicts, Twitter Robespierres, who run from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness. “The leaders of this movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance and free inquiry and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation.”

Taibbi takes up the case of Lee Fang, a talented, young investigative reporter, who tweeted an interview with a black man named Max, who still mourns his two cousins murdered in their East Oakland neighborhood and wonders why black lives only matter when taken by a white man. A black colleague denounced him as a racist, employing “free speech to couch anti-blackness,” and he was hauled before his publication’s human resources department and given a chance to recant. Meanwhile tens of thousands joined on Twitter in denouncing him, and a former Elizabeth Warren staffer tweeted, “Get him.”

Taibbi should be joined by thousands of other voices of those old enough to have learned something of the 750-year development of human freedom from the Magna Carta to John Locke to the Founding Fathers to the Berkeley Free Speech movement. Where are they?

What’s built over centuries can be lost very quickly.

Case Closed, Questions Opened

The prosecution of General Michael Flynn appears to have reached an end, with the issue of a writ of mandamus by the D.C. Circuit Court to district court judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss the case against him.

Left to consider is why President Barack Obama harbored such a visceral hatred for Flynn, and why his administration went to such lengths to ensnare Flynn and prevent him from serving as President Trump’s national security advisor (NSA). Obama appointed Flynn, a legendary army intelligence officer, to head the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2012 and fired him two years later. Subsequently, he explicitly warned the incoming president against taking Flynn as his NSA.

Lee Smith provides a compelling answer in the May 21 Tablet: Flynn was fired as director of DIA because he posed a threat to the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, including the Iran deal. Later, Obama feared that as Trump’s NSA, Flynn would upend what Obama considered his signature foreign policy achievement — the realignment of the Middle East, with Shiite Iran balancing the US’s traditional allies, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, and Israel.

Additionally, the administration knew that an experienced intelligence professional like Flynn would quickly uncover not only the degree of spying on the Trump campaign by Obama’s intelligence services, but also the earlier spying on American citizens opposed to the Iran deal.

In 2013, Flynn, as director of DIA, secured access to the treasure trove of documents seized during the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. His goal was to search for ties between bin Laden and Iran, including permission from Iran to Al-Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran, as long as their actual dirty work against the US was conducted from Iraq and Syria.

Then-NSA director Susan Rice pulled the plug on the investigation. The administration feared that revelation of the Iran–bin Laden connections would scotch its plans for realignment toward Iran.

In 2014, Flynn testified before a Senate Committee that ISIS was not, as President Obama had said, the “JV team,” but rather a serious threat to American citizens and interests, and getting stronger. Shortly thereafter he was summoned to the Pentagon and fired as director of DIA.

After his firing and a month before the signing of the Iran deal, Flynn was back on Capitol Hill testifying about Iran’s destabilization of the Middle East, its complicity in the killing of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, its ties to North Korea, China, and Russia, and its “very real” desire to destroy Israel.

As national security advisor, he would have doubtless urged President Trump to rescind the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions. And that’s what made him such a threat. (Trump eventually did all these things anyway.)

In the lead-up to the Iran nuclear agreement, Obama spoke frequently of all the “money” and “lobbyists” opposed to the deal, a deliberately unsubtle reference to Jewish money and the Israel lobby. Communications between Israeli leaders and American Jewish groups opposed to the deal were bugged.

Following Trump’s surprise victory, the Obama administration, writes Smith, followed the same playbook, in a series of coordinated press leaks about Flynn and Russian collusion in December 2016: “Opponents were no longer tagged as Israel-firsters, now they were Putin assets. The message, however, was the same. Opponents are not simply wrongheaded, or mistaken, or even dumb — rather, they are disloyal; agents of a foreign power.” Thus Smith’s title, “How Russiagate Began with Obama’s Iran Deal Domestic Spying Campaign.”

This history review is worth bearing in mind, given that Joe Biden has pledged to reinstate the Iran deal if elected.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 817. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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