Dangerous escalation: Despite Obama warning, Putin asks Parliament for authorization to use force.

UPDATES:

9:15am Saturday update:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked parliament for permission to use the country’s military in Ukraine, the Kremlin said Saturday,” reports AP. “Putin said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea. ‘I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,’ Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin. He sent the request to the Russian legislature’s upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution. In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two Slavic neighbor countries. It was the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.”

8am Saturday update:

The situation in Ukraine is moving rapidly, and there is much confusion at this hour about precisely what is happening.

Some reports say 2,000 Russian troops have crossed the border into the southern region of Crimea. Other reports say 6,000 troops.

One thing is clear: Vladmir Putin isn’t listening to President Obama warning to stay out of Ukraine.

Here are some of the latest headlines:

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  • ORIGINAL POST: (Washington, D.C.) — “Delivering a blunt warning to Moscow, President Barack Obama expressed deep concern Friday over reported military activity inside Ukraine by Russia and warned ‘there will be costs’ for any intervention,” reports the Associated Press. “He did not say what those costs might be.”

“Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval,” AP noted.

“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing,” Obama said in a statement delivered from the White House. Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a “profound interference” in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

“Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, that would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” Obama said. “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”

LATEST COVERAGE & ANALYSIS:

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I’ll be blogging & Tweeting from AIPAC this weekend. Netanyahu, Kerry to speak. Here are details of the event.

AIPAC(Washington, D.C.) — I’ll be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington this weekend (March 2-4), and will blog and Tweet from the world’s largest  annual gathering of pro-Israel activists.

It’s been several years since I’ve attended the full conference, and not just the Gala on Monday night. But given the enormous strains between the U.S. and Israel, and the high stakes of what’s ahead in 2014 and 2015, I felt this year I should attend to try to better understand the mood of the American Jewish community, and hear first-hand the keynote speeches as well as the numerous break-out sessions with top policy experts.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming from Israel to address the expected audience of some 14,000 people. Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the Obama administration.

The Iran nuclear threat will likely be the Prime Minister’s top agenda item. Pressing Israel to make deep concessions as part of the “framework agreement” will likely be Kerry’s.

“The Obama administration and an influential pro-Israel lobby will square off starting this weekend on issues ranging from Iran to the Middle East peace process,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “The start of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on Sunday provides a high-profile forum for debate over two of President Barack Obama’s key foreign policy initiatives: the Mideast peace process and negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The start of the conference kicks off a busy month of diplomacy for Mr. Obama: He meets Mr. Netanyahu on Monday. Two weeks later, he will sit down with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, and then travel to a summit in Saudi Arabia.”

“AIPAC is a powerful voice in Washington that traditionally has sought to maintain cordial relations with sitting U.S. administrations,” the Journal noted. “But the group has aggressively pressed Congress in recent months—against the White House’s wishes—to pass new and tighter sanctions against Iran, so far unsuccessfully.”

More excerpts from the Journal article:

  • AIPAC is also seeking to set terms for international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program that are more stringent than ones Obama administration diplomats have outlined.
  • These divisions are expected to boil to the surface during the meetings from March 2-4.
  • The White House is sending Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to address an estimated 14,000 AIPAC members. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak on Tuesday.
  • U.S. officials said Mr. Obama hopes to work with Messrs. Netanyahu and Abbas in the coming weeks to sign a framework agreement that will guide talks aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state. Such an agreement would allow for U.S.-brokered diplomacy to extend beyond an initial April 30 deadline set by Israel and the Palestinians.
  • Ahead of its conference, AIPAC distributed a position paper to congressional offices that demands a dismantling of virtually all of Iran’s nuclear sites in order for an agreement to be reached and sanctions lifted. Mr. Netanyahu has promoted a similar line.
  • The administration “must hold out for an agreement under which Iran dismantles its nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and the heavy water reactor and production plant,” the paper said.

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The oldest known survivor of the Holocaust died this week at 110. Her story has become an Oscar-nominated film.

Alice Herz-Sommer.

Alice Herz-Sommer.

The oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust died in London this week. She was 110. 

“Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust, died Sunday morning in London at age 110, a family member said,” the Associated Press reported. “Herz-Sommer’s devotion to the piano and to her son sustained her through two years in a Nazi prison camp, and a film about her has been nominated for best short documentary at next week’s Academy Awards. She died in a hospital Sunday morning after being admitted Friday, daughter-in-law Genevieve Sommer said.”

“We all came to believe that she would just never die,” said Frederic Bohbot, producer of the documentary “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.” ”There was no question in my mind, ‘would she ever see the Oscars.'”

“An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent to Terezin and 33,430 died there,” the article noted. “About 88,000 were moved on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most of them were killed. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were among fewer than 20,000 who were freed when the notorious camp was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. Yet she remembered herself as ‘always laughing’ during her time in Terezin, where the joy of making music kept them going.”

“These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolated and ill, and they came to the concerts and this music was for them our food. Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive,” she once recalled.

Please pray for her friends and family.

To read the rest of this fascinating article, please click here.

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Producers of “Son of God” film reached out to Jewish leaders to “make sure we told this movie sensitively.” Film launches nationwide today.

sonofGodUPDATE:  There are obviously strong feelings about this film, negative and positive. Having not seen it yet, I can’t say if you’re right or wrong. The film-makers say they shot many additional scenes for this version. The final cut could confirm all your worst fears, or might surprise you.

One thing I think is important: This is an enormous cultural discussion starter. If there are  theological mistakes in the film, let’s discuss that with people. If there are parts of the film that do a good job portraying Christ, let’s discuss those, too. I see this film as an opportunity to get into conversations with people about who Jesus is, what He really said, what He really did. Let’s get people discussing what the Bible says. The film can be a tool. But the Bible is the standard.

That said, I’m surprised and somewhat disappointed to see the enormous cynicism some of you have before you’ve seen the final cut of the film. Let’s walk by faith. Let’s ask the Lord to do a great and mighty thing. The truth of the Gospel doesn’t rise or fall based on this film, or any other. But let’s not be so defensive and defeated, my friends. Let’s use this film to do what we should be doing anyway — talking with people about Jesus.

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ORIGINAL POST: Today, the motion picture “Son of God” opens in 3,000 theaters nationwide. It is a powerful drama and highly controversial, and it may prove to be the most important film of the year.

My family and I are looking forward to seeing it this weekend. I hope that you’ll take your family as well, whether you’re Jewish or Gentile and regardless of your spiritual or religious background.

It is said the story of Jesus — with all of its human, religious and political drama — is the “greatest story ever told.” 

Unfortunately, it has not always been told well. 

The Gospel-writers and the Apostle Paul told it best, of course, because they lived it, first hand.

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you,unless you believed in vain,” the Apostle Paul once wrote. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Tragically, though, some films, novels, and plays about the life of Jesus over the years have been — or have been perceived to be — anti-Semitic, or at the very least deeply insensitive.

This grieves me since the story of Jesus is, at its core, a very Jewish story. Mary and Joseph were Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. His earliest disciples were Jewish. They all lived and ministered the Biblical land of Israel. They repeatedly visited the Temple in Jerusalem. They celebrated Passover and all the Jewish holidays. They studied the Jewish Scriptures. They were captivated by the Jewish prophecies. The worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The longed for the restoration of Israel, and so forth.

Yes, the Bible records that some Jewish leaders at the time were fiercely opposed to Him. Yet many other Jews, including some Pharisees, embraced and followed Him.

My hope is that “Son of God” captures these nuances, as well as the political drama of the Roman empire wanting to crush the man the masses saw as the “King of the Jews.” As soon as I see it, I’ll let you know my perceptions.

In the meantime, I find it noteworthy — and commendable — that the film’s producers actively reached out to Jewish leaders to understand their concerns about past films about Jesus.

“We knew when we were shooting The Bible series that as the Jesus narrative began to unfold, that we had something spectacular,” Roma Downey, one of the film’s co-producers (she also played Mary) told NBC’s Today Show. 

Her husband, Mark Burnett added: “We had huge hopes that America, one nation under God, would embrace the Bible series.”

“Downey also talked about how she and Burnett even reached out to the Anti-Defamation League to make sure they presented the story in a way that was sensitive to the Jewish community,” noted The Hollywood Reporter.

We have worked across denominations and reached out to the Jewish community through [national director] Abe Foxman at the ADL to make sure that we told this movie sensitively, setting up political and historic context, presenting the story in a way that really just emphasized the love of Jesus, and Mr. Foxman gave us a great endorsement from the ADL,” Downey explained.

As soon as you’ve seen it, please post your comments and reactions on my “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook. I’d love to know what you think.

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>> Read the review of the film from MovieGuide

Must read: “More Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.”

Jesus-onthecrossRead a sobering yet fascinating article this morning about the magnitude of Christian persecution in our age. It was written by George Weigel, the distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Weigel is Catholic and writes from this vantage point in an on-line magazine called, First Things.

Regardless of whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, however, it is worth noting what Weigel is saying, especially in light of Christ’s warning in Matthew 24 that persecution will increase in the last days before His return.

Let us be praying faithfully for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and around the world.

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Excerpts from article by George Weigel:

We have been living, and we’re living now, in the greatest era of persecution in Christian history.

More Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.

And while the character of the persecutors has changed, from the lethal heyday of the twentieth-century totalitarianisms to the first decades of the twenty-first century, the assault on the Christian faithful today is ongoing, extensive, and heart-rending.

Solidarity with the persecuted Church is an obligation of Christian faith. Reflecting on how well each of us has lived that obligation is a worthy point on which to examine one’s conscience during Lent. And that brings me to a suggestion….spend ten minutes a day reading John Allen’s new book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.

 The longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and CNN’s senior Vatican analyst, Allen has recently moved to the Boston Globe as associate editor, where he (and we) will see if talent and resources can combine to deepen a mainstream media outlet’s coverage of all things Catholic, both in print and on the Web.

Meanwhile, Allen will continue the Roman work that has made him the best Anglophone Vatican reporter ever—work that has given him a unique perspective on the world Church, and indeed on world Christianity.

His extensive experience across the globe, and his contacts with everyone who’s anyone in the field of international religious freedom issues, makes him an ideal witness to what he calls, without exaggeration, a global war on Christian believers.

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Is Russia preparing to move on Ukraine? Sends fighter jets, troops near border. U.S. warns Russia military force would be “grave mistake.” Here are the latest developments.

(ukraine-mapWashington, D.C.) — Is Vladimir Putin preparing Russian forces to move against Ukraine?

I pray not, but at the moment, there are mixed signals, and U.S. and Ukrainian officials are clearly worried and warning Russia not to intervene.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Russia Warns Of “Dangerous” Dilemma In Ukraine — “Forcing Ukraine to choose between close ties with Russia or the West is ‘dangerous,’ the Russian foreign minister has warned. Urging the European Union and the United States not to intervene in shaping the country’s future, Sergei Lavrov said: ‘It’s dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: “You are either with us or against us,”‘” reports Sky News in London.
  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 Russian combat troops on high alert for war games Wednesday, rattling nerves in a neighboring Ukraine already consumed by upheaval,” reports NBC News.
  • The U.S. issued a “blunt warning” to Russia, saying any military intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake,” the Associated Press reported.
  • Russia sent fighter jets to patrol the border with Ukraine, reportedly gave shelter to the country’s fugitive president and pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of a strategic region, deepening the crisis for Ukraine’s new government even as it was being formed,” reports the Associated Press.
  • Pro-Russian gunmen have seized the parliament and local government offices in the Ukrainian region of Crimea early Thursday, “barricading themselves inside and raising a Russian flag above the building,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “The commandeering of the building marks a sharp escalation of events in the ethnically Russian-dominated region that has become a flashpoint for a backlash against the pro-Western protesters that drove Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader from power on Saturday.”
  • “Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, declared on Thursday that he remained the lawful president of the country and appealed to Russia to ‘secure my personal safety from the actions of extremists,'” reports the New York Times. “Russian news agencies reported that he had already arrived in Russia, but officials did not immediately confirm that.”

Excerpts from today’s report in the New York Times:

  • Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks were his first since he appeared in a video on Saturday night after fleeing Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, for eastern Ukraine.
  • His defiance of the country’s new interim leaders only deepened the political turmoil in the country and threatened to draw Russia more deeply into the conflict.
  • Mr. Yanukovych, in a letter published by news agencies here, went on to suggest that largely Russian regions of Ukraine – including the east and Crimea – did not accept “the anarchy and outright lawlessness” that had gripped the country and said that orders by the new authorities to use the armed forces to impose order were unlawful.
  • He clearly meant the response to pro-Russia demonstrations in Crimea, which took an ugly turn on Thursday morning when armed gunmen seized control of the regional Parliament in Simferopol.
  • “I, as the actual president, have not allowed the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in the ongoing internal political events,” he said, contradicting early reports that he had ordered the military to intervene in Kiev, only to have his order rebuffed. “I continue to order this. In the case that anyone begins to give a similar order to the armed forces and power structures, those orders will be unlawful and criminal.”
  • Rumors that Mr. Yanukovych had arrived in Russia first surfaced on Wednesday night, with unnamed sources variously putting him at a hotel in Moscow — which denied it on Thursday — or in a government sanitarium outside the city.
  • The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in a brief telephone interview that he was not able to speak on the matter now.
  • On Wednesday night, he said he did not know if Mr. Yanukovych had arrived, but a senior member of the upper house of Parliament said he knew for a fact that it was not true….
  • Russia has denounced the political upheaval in Kiev and refused to recognize the interim government.
  • At the same time, officials have expressed deep frustration with, and at times ridicule of, Mr. Yanukovych’s handling of the crisis.
  • Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, has repeatedly said that Ukraine’s leaders were bound by an agreement mediated by three European foreign ministers.
  • That agreement, signed last Friday, called for an interim national unity government and new elections, but not until December.
  • Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev the next day, as security forces that had clashed with protesters withdrew from Kiev’s center and even members of his own party began resigning or changing sides. The new Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has since impeached him, begun to form a new government and called elections to be held in May.

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Authorize Force Now: Congress should deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions by authorizing, now, the president to use military action, two U.S. scholars say. Are they right?

iran-mapsmall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two American professors wrote a column for National Review Online this week that bears close examination and careful consideration. Concerned that the Iran is getting dangerously close to building operational nuclear warheads, they argue that the President’s current round of diplomacy with Iran would be immeasurably strengthened if Congress now passed legislation authorizing the use of force to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat if diplomacy fails.

The two international legal scholars argue this is both sound policy, and a sound constitutional exercise of power. They make clear they don’t want war with Iran, if it can be avoided. But the believe it is time to send a strong message to Tehran, and they want Washington to be ready to act should Iran suddenly make a “dash” for The Bomb.

Are they right?

I commend the following article to your attention…..

Authorize Force Now

Congress should deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions by authorizing, now, the president to use military action.

By Robert P. George & Michael Stokes Paulsen

National Review Online, February 26, 2014

The six-month “interim” agreement between Iran and the U.S. and other nations on Iran’s further development of its nuclear capacity has now gone into effect. Many Americans of both political parties believe it is a bad deal — one that will not lead to a suspension of Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Israelis and the Saudis agree with them. We too have grave doubts.

What if the skeptics are right? We had better think that possibility through very carefully — and do it now. President Obama and key leaders in Congress have stated that the acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran is unacceptable. The president has assured the public, and our allies, that he will not let it happen. If the president is speaking truthfully on this matter, then the possibility of the failure of the “interim” deal means that the United States must be prepared to deploy military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear-development sites.

No American wants that to become necessary. Yet is there any reason to suppose that, if it does, the constitutional debates over presidential authority to take military action will be any more helpful than the embarrassment attending President Obama’s “red-line-already-crossed,” on-again, off-again handwringing over the use of military force against the Assad regime in Syria this past September? Can anyone fail to imagine Iran’s leaders chortling at the sight of America’s Congress debating a resolution authorizing the use of military force, all the while that Iran takes advantage of the time to prepare to defend its weapons against a U.S.-led attack?

We have a proposal. Despite his dissembling on health care and some other important issues, we take President Obama at his word when he says that he will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. In addition to enacting economic sanctions to be triggered by the failure, six months from now, to achieve a genuine agreement barring Iranian nuclear-weapons capability, Congress should, now, consider exercising its power under the Declare War Clause of the Constitution to authorize, prospectively, the president to use all necessary and appropriate military force against the Tehran regime if and when the president determines that Iran is making progress toward development of a nuclear weapon, to deter and prevent development of such a weapon.

If the president means what he is saying, such an authorization to use military force is the constitutionally appropriate course. If he is serious in his public pronouncements that he will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and if members of Congress mean it when they make the same vow, there is a strong constitutional case for taking the necessary legal steps now, in advance of the point of crisis.

The Constitution vests in Congress, and not the president, the power “to declare War” — that is, to authorize offensive military hostilities against an enemy nation, power, or force. The Framers’ deliberate choice of the word “declare” rather than “make” — on a famous motion made by James Madison at the Constitutional Convention — was designed to leave the president the power to “repel sudden attacks” and wage defensive war even without Congress’s having acted. (The word switch also made clear that the conduct of war was to be vested exclusively in the president as commander-in-chief, and not micro-mangled by Congress.)

It is clear, then, that the president may act to repel attacks on the nation. But it is constitutionally less clear how far this “defensive” war power can be leveraged. Could it justify preemptive military strikes on a foreign nation’s facilities or forces, in order to prevent an attack? We think the president’s constitutional power to act alone in such circumstances sufficiently doubtful to warrant a congressional enactment explicitly authorizing the use of force if the president determines the circumstances justify it. Such a strictly proper constitutional course would have placed on firmer ground the many dubious instances of unilateral presidential war-making in our nation’s distant and very recent past.

Consider two recent examples. President Obama’s unilateral decision to use military force in Libya in 2011, whatever its policy merits, was plainly unconstitutional: Congress did not authorize such force; a treaty commitment, decision by military allies, or even a U.N. resolution cannot constitutionally substitute for such authorization, and in no plausible sense could the action be regarded as defending the United States from a sudden or imminent attack. It was a humanitarian military intervention in a foreign civil war. The Obama administration’s legal justification would be laughable were it not so outrageous: The president may initiate offensive military action whenever he judges it to be in America’s interest, the administration lawyers wrote. The Declare War Clause power of Congress applies only to a “war,” and this was not a war because the president did not consider it to be one. Besides, merely bombing a foreign nation does not constitute “war,” the administration claimed.

Such arguments can scarcely be made with a straight face. And so, when contemplating an offensive military strike against Syria this past September, the administration gave up trying to do so. It hemmed and hawed, blustered and dithered, and finally asked Congress for authorization to use force — all the while denying that such authorization was needed. The result was politically, militarily, strategically, and constitutionally disastrous. Congress balked at an administration without a plan, Syria was granted weeks to prepare, and Russia came to the rescue of the murderous Syrian regime. The Obama administration was left embarrassed, the Syrian people were left abandoned, American credibility abroad was left seriously weakened, and Vladimir Putin suddenly became a plausible candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize.

And the Iranian regime was left emboldened to take advantage of the situation: The empty interim deal with Iran is exactly what one might expect when America negotiates from a position of weakness and vacillation.

It is essential not to repeat the Syria mistake with respect to Iran. A disastrous but foreseeable outcome would be that Iran strings the Obama administration along for (another) half year, using that time to prepare, presenting the U.S. with a Hobson’s choice between war and nuclear appeasement, and hoping that a divided Congress would then debate for weeks whether to authorize military force — while Iran dashes for nuclear breakout, arms for defense, and threatens to attack American allies in the Middle East.

That is why Congress should act now to authorize force and then leave it to the president to determine whether the diplomatic, strategic, and national-security circumstances at some point require him to use it. The Iranians will not like it. The Obama administration might not like it, either — on the grounds that Iran would not like it, and that this would hamper negotiations — but this should not stop Congress. The administration should be pressed to accept an American position of strength as a way of strengthening its hand for negotiations.

Making clear America’s commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, its willingness to back up that commitment by force if necessary, and its repentance of the constitutional handwringing and inconstancy that so recently characterized the debacle regarding Syria could do a world of good. A prospective authorization to use force does not necessarily mean war. It means that America is prepared for war — constitutionally prepared — if the circumstances require war. And that might be the best road to a true peace.

— Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. Michael Stokes Paulsen is university chair and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas.

After Auschwitz trip, House majority leader warns against isolationism.

US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (photo credit: CC BY/Gage Skidmore/Flickr/File/Times of Israel)

US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (photo credit: CC BY/Gage Skidmore/Flickr/File/Times of Israel)

(Washington, D.C.) — Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia is the House Majority Leader. He is also the highest ranking Jewish leader in the GOP. As I previously reported, Cantor visited the Auschwitz death camp last month with a group of Israeli lawmakers.

Now Cantor is wisely warning the American people against a growing isolationist trend in both the Democrat and Republican parties. What’s more, he is warning against downsizing our military too far and too hastily, and the danger of the U.S. not taking decisive action against a rising evil before it’s too late, specifically mentioning Iran.

The Obama administration is in the process of retreating from the Middle East and has just proposed military cuts so enormous that U.S. force levels would be at the lowest point since World War II.

“Standing there as the frigid wind swept through the eerily quiet ruins of the camp, I could not help but regret that American action in World War II came too late to save countless millions of innocent lives,” Cantor said in an important speech last week to the Virginia Military Institute. “Hitler’s rise and conquest of Europe did not come as a surprise. We must not repeat the same mistake by reducing our preparedness, accepting the notion that we are one of many or ceding global leadership to others.”

“When US House Representative Eric Cantor took the stage last week at the Virginia Military Institute to deliver a wide-ranging foreign policy address, Auschwitz was on the House majority leader’s mind — and so, observers suggest, was the state of his party,” reports Haaretz. “In his speech, the Virginia Republican cited his recent visit — his first — to the Nazi death camp, connecting past horrors to the present-day danger of retreating into isolationism.”

“While the bulk of his February 17 speech was a critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Cantor also seemed to take aim at anti-interventionists within the GOP,” Haaretz noted.

“Many Americans, and politicians from both parties, want to believe the tide of war has receded,” Cantor said. “As was the case in the wake of World War I, many want to believe the costly foreign interventions of recent years can simply be put behind us….This isolationist sentiment lasted years, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor woke the American people from their slumber. We must not repeat the same mistake by reducing our preparedness, accepting the notion that we are one of many or ceding global leadership to others.”

More excerpts:

  • Frank Luntz, a top Republican political consultant, said Cantor was “making a statement that the isolationists in the GOP are acting in a destructive way, that there’s one thing that unites both those on the right and those in the center — a strong America and a peaceful America.”
  • The GOP is heading into this midterm election year in a state of turmoil, deeply divided between Tea Party-aligned right-wingers and establishment Republicans. Those on the right who advocate shifting toward an anti-interventionist foreign policy — a small minority among congressional Republicans — have grown louder, with Senator Rand Paul featuring prominently among the party’s presumed 2016 presidential contenders….
  • Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, had visited Auschwitz with other members of Congress to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the camp’s liberation. He was there at the same time as a historic delegation that included nearly half the members of the Israeli Knesset.
  • “I saw him after he returned from his visit to Auschwitz, and he came over to me and he was still stunned 36 hours after he had been there,” Luntz said. “I could feel his emotional reaction five feet from him.”
  • William Daroff, a former Republican operative who now directs the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America, said he had a similar conversation with Cantor a day after his return.

>> To pre-order “The Auschwitz Escape” (releasing on 3/18), please click here

Here’s my list of 12 books that absolutely changed my life. What’s on your list?

This is not my personal library -- I just wish it was.

This is not my personal library — I just wish it was.

Someone recently emailed me to ask for a list of my five favorite books, aside from the Bible.

I wrote back:

I’m so sorry, I can’t possible narrow my list to just five books. 

Here are twelve books that absolutely changed my life:

  1. Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky – the spell-binding true story a Jewish dissident who spent 9 years in a KGB gulag, a man who became one of my heroes
  2. From Beirut To Jerusalem by Tom Friedman – the riveting account of a New York Times correspondent covering the Middle East that made me want to spend my whole life understanding the epicenter
  3. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas – the brilliant biography of one of the most courageous pastors in the history of Germany, a man who stood for Christ during the reign of Adolf Hitler
  4. Night by Elie Wiesel – the terrifying true account of a Jewish man sent to the Auschwitz death camp and lost his faith in God
  5. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom – the amazing true story of a simple Christian woman who not only survived a Nazi concentration camp but learned to forgive her captors because of Jesus’ love for her
  6. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – the most penetrating explanation of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ ever written, by a former atheist professor at Oxford and Cambridge at that
  7. Just As I Am by Billy Graham – the inspiring true story of a North Carolina farm boy who grew up to preach the Gospel to more people face to face than anyone in all of human history
  8. Born Again by Chuck Colson – the game-changing true story of President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” arrested during Watergate, sent to prison, but found utter forgiveness and redemption through Christ and took that message to prisoners all over the world
  9. God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – the true story of a man willing to risk his life to bring the Word of God to the enslaved people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union
  10. The Coming Peace In The Middle East by Tim LaHaye – long out of print but the most fascinating book about Bible prophecy (specifically Ezekiel 38 & 39) I have ever read, bar none
  11. The Testament by John Grisham – the first novel I ever read that was both absolutely thrilling and spiritually inspiring, something I had never previously imagined was possible
  12. Training The Twelve by A.B. Bruce – the greatest book on how to make disciples by a pastor and theologian no one has ever heard of

Hope you read them all, too (but only after you’ve finished my forthcoming novel, The Auschwitz Escape, of course!)

What’s on your list? (please post yours on my Epicenter Team page on Facebook)

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Putin puts 150,000 Russian troops on alert as Georgia moves to join NATO.

putin-yanukovych(Washington, D.C.) — With tensions high in Eastern Europe amidst the crisis in Ukraine, the government of Georgia is urgently seeking membership into the European Union and NATO, in part to defend itself against Russian imperialism.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has put 150,000 Russian troops on alert, conducting snap exercises and causing tensions in the region to spike even further.

As you will recall, Russia invaded Georgia and occupied parts of it in August of 2008.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is currently in Washington. In a meeting with Vice President Biden yesterday, he received the White House blessing for Georgia to become part of the European economic and security alliance.

“The United States is urging the former Soviet republic of Georgia to further integrate with Europe and NATO and renewing demands that Russia withdraw troops from disputed enclaves it occupies there,” reports the Associated Press. “The call comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over the ouster of a pro-Moscow president in Ukraine, another former Soviet republic.

“In comments likely to fuel already heightened Russian suspicions over Western intentions in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday announced additional but unspecified U.S. assistance ‘to help support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision,” noted the AP. “[Kerry] also denounced Russia’s continued military presence in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and called on Moscow to fulfill the terms of the cease-fire that ended the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.”

“President Vladimir Putin has put armed forces in western Russia on alert, amid rising tensions in the pro-Russian Crimea over the overthrow of Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovych by pro-European protesters,” reports the UK Telegraph. “In a sign of Moscow’s displeasure at events in Ukraine, Mr Putin ordered an urgent drill to test troops’ combat readiness, a move that could further raise the temperature in the region where supporters and opponents of the revolution were today locked in an ugly stand-off.”

“Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said Moscow was ‘carefully watching what is happening in Crimea’ and that measures were being taken to ensure the security of the facilities and arsenals of its Black Sea naval fleet, which is based in the fiercely pro-Russian Crimean city of Sebastopol,”  noted the Telegraph. “He denied that the drill — which is to involve some 150,000 military personnel — was linked to events in Ukraine. But he said it would include military exercises ‘on Russia’s borders with other countries, including Ukraine.’ Forces must ‘be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds’ as part of the drill, Mr Shoigu told a Defence Ministry meeting. The autonomous eastern peninsula, home to a largely ethnic Russian population, is at the centre of fears that former Soviet state could fragment in the struggle between its pro-Russian and pro-European regions.”

The Telegraph also noted:

  • On Tuesday the US and Britain sought to defuse the crisis, insisting the country must not be a battleground between East and West.
  • “This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East,” said John Kerry, the US secretary of state, after meeting William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, on Tuesday. 
  • But today, the question of Georgia threatened to further stir tensions, as Washington urged the former Soviet republic to integrate further with NATO and sign a partnership agreement with the European Union this year.
  • During an unfortunately timed visit from the country’s prime minister, Washington also renewed demands that Russia withdraw troops from disputed enclaves it now occupies there. 
  • Mr Kerry insisted that US policy toward the states that once made up the Soviet Union is not aimed at reducing Russia’s influence in its neighbourhood.
  • But it is nevertheless likely to irritate Moscow, particularly given the origins of the Ukraine crisis in a dispute over an EU partnership agreement.
  • Mr Lavrov this morning called on Europe’s democracy watchdog to condemn the rise of “nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment” in western Ukraine.