The editorial page editor of The New York Times warned the audience at a Livingston synagogue May 26 that American withdrawal from Afghanistan would have drastic consequences unless Islamic fundamentalism is clearly defeated.
In a far-reaching, hour-long address from the pulpit of Temple B’nai Abraham, Andrew Rosenthal predicted that “the Taliban would take over Afghanistan again and return it to the state it was in before, where women are stoned to death for going outside without their husbands….” If American troops are withdrawn, he said, “Within a year or two or three it is going to be a place where people like Osama bin Laden can be happy and safe and do the terrible things they want to.”
The Montclair resident said withdrawal of American troops would also lead to “an extremist Islamist takeover of Pakistan,” where “half of the government is in cahoots with the Taliban and the other half doesn’t know what to do about the first half…. You will have 30 or 40 nuclear weapons in the hands of an extremist jihadist organization, and I don’t think the Indian government will sit still for it.”
In a talk billed as “From the Tea Party to Tehran,” the editor also addressed the threat from a nuclear Iran and the notion that Israel might stage a preemptive attack. That, he said, “would be an extremely bad idea.” One reason the Obama administration “is trying to repair its relationship with the Israeli government,” Rosenthal said, “is because they are worried about what is going on with Iran and they want to be in the conversation with Israel if Israel decides to attack, primarily to get them to stop.”
Turning to domestic politics, Rosenthal said President Barack Obama made mistakes in seeking legislative compromises with congressional Republicans.
“The Republicans just want to destroy Obama,” he said. “The current state of our politics is as nasty as I can remember. The Republican caucus in Congress is about the most radical ever. Everything is about party politics — in particular, the politics of division and polarization.”
Rosenthal called the Tea Party the latest manifestation of this “us-vs.-them” streak in politics. “It is a movement essentially built on anger, but the thing that puzzles me is: anger built on what?
“One of my favorite signs at a Tea Party rally was ‘Get the Government out of My Medicare.’ It makes no sense, like Sarah Palin on her worst day. But it has an effect with disaffected voters.”
The GOP primary victory of Tea Party-backed Rand Paul in a Kentucky Senate race, Rosenthal said, was the result of voters’ response to his record of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “What Paul said was chilling,” Rosenthal said. “If you follow his logic, Rosa Parks would still be in the back of that bus and those lunch counters would not be serving black people and there would be lots of anti-Jewish covenants all over the country.”
If the Tea Party’s agenda prevails, he said, it would result in the regression of all sorts of political and social advances. “If you want to turn back the clock to where it was when the Constitution was written in 1789, most of the people and every woman in this room wouldn’t be able to vote.”
He said such Tea Party tactics as opposing many incumbents and a blanket condemnation of “big government” scare people into “voting with their emotions and not with their minds, and they end up voting for people like Rand Paul.”
Reviewing the recent primary elections and those who vote in them, Rosenthal said, “they are about as representative of Americans as a whole as an Upper West Side cocktail party,” with most voters representing the most liberal of Democrats and conservative of Republicans.
He said the Democrats in Pennsylvania rejected former Republican Arlen Specter because “they never liked him in the first place…. They think about him as a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
Looking at the possibility of a strong Republican showing in November’s congressional races, Rosenthal cited unnamed Democratic strategists preparing for the battles ahead. “They feel the president should be stirring things up and alerting the country about what it would mean if they had a Republican majority. The president and his advisers believe he has to stress things that he has done, and not argue with Republicans about how big government should be or whether or not he’s a communist.”
Questioned about New Jersey’s new governor, Chris Christie, Rosenthal blurted out: “I can’t stand him.” Then, going into detail, he said, “Here is a guy who ran as a conservative Republican. What’s the first thing he did? He raised taxes on the poor and the elderly. He raised the fares on NJ Transit. This is the most regressive form of taxation — and let’s not kid ourselves: This is taxation. When the government imposes a fare hike on the buses it owns and operates, it’s a tax.”
Rosenthal said Christie “doesn’t mind how big the government is when it comes to giving tax breaks to incredibly rich people and not increasing the taxes. I think people who can afford to pay taxes should pay. But this is a guy who is making people who can’t afford to pay, pay. It is just flat out wrong.”