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The Danger of Reducing the Bible to a Political Fairytale

April 20 2017

In The Beginning of Politics, Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes seek to identify the political lessons of the biblical book of Samuel. David Wolpe argues that this approach, although it yields some worthy insights, is inherently flawed:

Some of [the authors’] observations are deep and resonant. But throughout they struggle with the slippery reality that a great story resists reduction of this sort. Classic narratives defeat analysis by those who view such stories through too narrow a lens. Fairy tales have morals; more complex stories must embrace human contradiction.

As we would expect with two such able observers . . . there are many penetrating observations here about dynasties, their dangers, and the rippling effects of attaining and losing power. . . . But at too many other moments Halbertal and Holmes descend into the pedestrian. They do not have much that is original to say on their subject. They observe that “when it helps consolidate rather than undermine the ruler’s hold on power, justice is much more likely to be done.” Well, yes. Or this: “Where the choice comes down to killing or being killed, the very distinction between the moral and the instrumental, so important to those of us uninvolved in power politics, may effectively disappear.” I would hazard a guess that when it comes to killing or being killed, the distinction between the moral and the instrumental disappears for those not involved in power politics [as well].

Read more at Commentary

More about: Biblical Politics, Book of Samuel, Hebrew Bible, King David, Religion & Holidays

Getting It Right in Afghanistan

Aug. 23 2017

While praising the president’s announcement Monday night that the U.S. will be sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio express their “doubt [that] this will be enough to win the war.” They also warn against the dangers of a complete or partial American withdrawal and offer some strategic recommendations:

Al-Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Obama frequently claimed that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain of command and interrupting its communications. But al-Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew. . . .

Al-Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. . . . There’s no question that Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban/al-Qaeda axis does. . . .

Iran remains a problem, too. The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The U.S. government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al-Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role. The Russians are [also] on the opposite side of the Afghan war.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy