By Terence Smith

   I first set foot in Israel in May, 1967, ( a mere 57 years ago,) a newly-minted foreign correspondent for The New York Times, arriving just days before the start of the Six Day War.

    Israel-the-nation was 19 years old (I was barely 10 years older,) and was a vastly different place with vastly different attitudes and politics than Israel today.

   Israel then was largely liberal, progressive and proudly socialist. The Labor Party was in power and would rule for 40 years. The left-of-center Kibbutzim, or collective settlements, embodied the spirit of the nation. Neckties were rarely worn by political leaders; saying “thank you” to a waiter was dismissed as pathetically bourgeois; the national labor union, the Histadrut, represented most of the population and guided its politics. 

   Israel today is something else: largely right of center, with ultra-conservative, aggressive ministers in the government holding the keys to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s increasingly shaky kingdom. The ultra-orthodox population has grown to nearly 13 percent of the total and wields significant political power. Labor is now the smallest party in the Knesset, with just four seats out of 120. The Israeli left, dominant for decades, has withered away. 

   Of course, Israel, now 9.5 million strong, is not now and never will be a monolith. The old cliche: “two Israelis, three opinions” is still true.  You  can find liberal and progressive Israelis demonstrating on Saturday nights against the Netanyahu coalition and in support of the families of hostages still held in Gaza. They are demanding a ceasefire, release of the remaining hostages and new elections as soon as the firing stops.

   Meanwhile, the nearly three million Palestinians clinging to their lands on the occupied West Bank are under daily assault from out-of-control Israeli settlers.  Gaza and Hamas may dominate the headlines, and the risk of full-scale war with Hezbollah on the Lebanese-Israel border looms large, but the real tinderbox in my view, the site of a looming third Intifada, is the West Bank.

   In the Six Day War in June, 1967, which I covered for The New York Times, Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai from Egypt and much of the Golan Heights from Syria. All or portions of the latter two were returned in negotiations, but not the West Bank. The so-called Green Line, which separates Israel proper from the West Bank, remains the effective border today. 

   From 1967, when Israel immediately annexed Jordanian East Jerusalem, to today, a significant and increasingly influential portion of the Israeli leadership and public has publicly acknowledged its intention to absorb the occupied West Bank.

   The official Israeli (and U.S.) policy is that the status of the West Bank is a matter to be negotiated between the parties. For many Israelis, and today members of the Cabinet, it is not. The official policy of openness to a negotiated solution is just that:  official policy. It is increasingly not the reality. The reality is that more and more Israelis intend to keep control of the West Bank and its residents and to block the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

   Beginning with the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977 and continuing to the Netanyahu government today, the notion of giving up control of the West Bank  is mere lip service, a rhetorical convenience, a sop to the U.S. and Western European nations that embrace the two-state solution as the only solution.

   The possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank was briefly real during the Oslo Accords in 1993, and again in 2000 at a Camp David summit, but withered away in disagreement.

   In recent years, and especially since the savage Hamas attacks of October. 7, 2023, as Israel has moved to the right politically, more and more Israelis are willing to admit to the world and to themselves that they are flatly opposed to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank. They cite security, historical tradition and religion as justification for denying sovereignty to the Palestinians who live on the West Bank. 

   Bezalel Smotrich, the hard-right, ultra-nationalist Finance Minister in the Netanyahu coalition, said as much recently in a taped speech to a group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The government, he said, is engaged in a stealthy effort to irreversibly change the way the West Bank is governed, to cement Israel’s control over the area and its people, without admitting that it is formally annexing it. 

   Mr. Smotrich’s view of the future of the West Bank is no secret, but having a government minister and key member of the ruling coalition say it publicly was a moment. Nor, incidentally, is it any surprise to the more sophisticated Palestinians on the West Bank. They have known and believed for years that Israel is slowly and inexorably absorbing the area and has no intention of withdrawing from its control.

   So, there it was, in public and on the record and taped at an event that Mr. Smotrich’s aides said was no secret. Tens of thousands of Israelis disagree, of course, and regularly demonstrate their disagreement, but they are not in the Netanyahu government. Mr. Smotrich is.

TERENCE SMITH, a journalist and author, covered Israel for The New York Times, for five years. His memoir is “Four Wars, Five Presidents, a Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.”


By Terence Smith

The headline in The New York Times was stark:

                      “AMERICA'S MONSTER

How the United States Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan”

Starting across the top of the Thursday, May 23, 2024, NYT front page and jumping to four full pages inside, it documented how U.S. forces in Afghanistan empowered a local warlord, Abdul Raziq, and encouraged his reign of terror against suspected Taliban operatives in Kandahar Province.
It is a deeply reported investigation into one of the darker chapters of America’s longest war: the 20-year, fruitless attempt to remake the “graveyard of empires” into a modern democracy after driving out Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the wake of the attacks of 9/11. After a full two decades, an estimated 200,000 casualties, including 46,000 civilians, the war left 2.6 million refugees in a broken nation that was immediately taken over by the Taliban in the wake of the chaotic U.S, withdrawal in 2021. We left a failed nation in our wake.
From its inception, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was a classic example of the perils of “mission creep.” From a sharply-targeted goal to remove Al Qaeda, the American effort grew and evolved over and again into ill-defined nation-building. By the end, even the commanders on the ground were hard-pressed to explain what they were doing there. The American exit was ugly, but it was unquestionably the right, if long overdue, decision.
To me, Afghanistan was a vivid example of the repeated failure of the United States to project its extraordinary military power abroad. Not since World War II, or maybe Korea, have we succeeded in using our power to achieve clearly-defined, achievable goals at the point of a gun: not in Vietnam, nor Afghanistan, nor Iraq. Nor is there any likelihood we will do better going forward. The harsh reality is that it is the threat of American military intervention that has an impact. The actual commitment is another vastly more complicated task, in which the exit is more challenging than the launch.
Presidents after presidents, from LBJ to Nixon to George W. to Obama have learned the lesson the hard way. George H.W. was criticized for pulling out of Iraq in 1991, but he didn’t pursue a forever war. Too bad his son didn’t get the message.
President Biden may have bungled the exit from Afghanistan, but he got out. More recently, he has avoided putting American troops on the ground in Ukraine and Gaza. He has sent crucial weapons to Ukraine, employed economic sanctions against Russia, revitalized NATO and weighed in diplomatically in the Middle East.
Is it — at long last — a lesson learned?

TERENCE SMITH is the author of “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.”


By Terence Smith

   It could have been a cruise from hell: 17 days from Athens-to-Dubai through three active war zones just as the fighting erupted between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and continued in Somalia and Yemen. Instead, it was smooth sailing, as the newly refurbished Crystal Symphony skillfully glided through the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea and east to Dubai.

   Compliments to the Captain, who stuck to the scheduled itinerary despite ongoing civil wars off to port and starboard. The only deviation was off the coast of Yemen, not to avoid the Houthis, but to wisely escape a cyclone hurtling up from the Indian Ocean. By the time the storm lashed the Yemeni coastline, we were rolling just a bit as we skimmed eastward along the coast of Oman, on our way to the capital, Muscat. The only casualty: a scheduled stop at Salalah, the famous home of the Frankincense Trail.

   We even avoided a boarding from the famous Somali pirates, a la the Tom Hanks film, Captain Phillips, who have been known to assault and clamber aboard ships just off the Somali coast and seize their cargo and crew. Crystal had an armed security team aboard equipped with a high-powered laser and strong water cannons to protect us against pirates who never ventured out to meet us. Instead, we were treated to stunning sunsets over Somalia. There was neither sound nor sight of the internecine fighting that has been raging in Somalia for years.

   The cruise departed Athens enroute Dubai on October 9, just two days after the gruesome Hamas surprise attacks in southern Israel that killed some 1,400 men, women and children, most of them civilians. Israel had already launched its heavy and deadly air raids on Gaza in preparation for its major ground offensive. The whole region was heating up with skirmishes on the Lebanese border between Hezbollah and Israel and escalating violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

   After a stop in Rhodes, lovely Rhodos, where we could see the Turkish coastline a few miles to the east, Crystal Symphony sailed over night to the northern end of the Suez Canal. We anchored perhaps 120 miles west of the ever-intensifying fighting in Gaza, waiting for our appointed time to begin the journey south through the Canal. After dark, I scanned the eastern sky looking for any sight or sound of air action over Gaza. Nothing. In our cabin, we could turn on BBC World News and see that fighting was raging in Gaza. But looking east, we saw and heard nothing.  Nor did we see anything of the two U.S. Navy carrier groups that moved into the Eastern Mediterranean. All was peaceful. Truly bizarre.

   Crystal Symphony raised anchor and headed south through the Suez Canal on schedule early the next morning. We passed Ismailiyah and memorials commemorating the battles that took place between Israel and Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I had covered both wars for The New York Times and, as luck would have it, I was aboard Crystal Symphony as a speaker to share my experiences: old war stories that now seemed much more relevant. I had crossed the Canal repeatedly during those wars, but had never sailed its length before. Now I could appreciate it as the extraordinary, beautiful engineering achievement that it is.

   The only even slightly unusual sight we saw was a single SUV marked “Police,” that motored slowly down the road on the west bank of the Canal, staying just abreast of the ship. That protection may be routine in Egypt, where tourists have been targets, but to us, it reflected the troubled times raging all around us.

   For the next several days, we cruised south and east through the beautiful Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden into the Arabian Sea under cloudless skies. Off to the east, the Houthis in Yemen fired four missiles towards southern Israel; only to have them shot down by a U.S. warship. We heard and saw nothing and only learned of the incident from the BBC. Unreal. Off to thAe west, the Somali civil war raged., out of sight and sound.

   Finally, we docked in Dubai, that megalopolis in the desert, where oil and gas money has been converted into stunning skyscrapers, including the world’s tallest, the 163-story Burj al Khalifa, reaching into the sky..

   Rather than a cruise from hell, our journey turned out to be an undisturbed glide through three active war zones that we never saw or felt.  Totally unreal.


By Terence Smith

   I shouldn’t have been surprised by Hamas’s air, sea and land assault against Israel, coming 50 years and a day after the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. But I was. As the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, it was déjà vu all over again.

   On October 6, 1973, I was in Jerusalem as the Israel correspondent for The New York Times. I’d heard rumblings about Egyptian forces massing on the west side of the Suez Canal. But, like the then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and most of Israel’s leaders, I thought the prospects of an actual full-scale attack were remote at best. I was wrong then, and wrong now.

   Given the rising tide of violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza this year, the casualties on both sides, the weak Palestinian leadership, the deep-seated divisions within Israel and the prospect of an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement that threatens to push Palestinian interests further into the background, the Hamas assault should not come as a total surprise. It’s timing, scope, and violence, perhaps; but not the assault itself. The whole area has been a powder keg moving closer to a flame.

    Now the world watches to see how Israel will fight back, whether Hezbollah will join the battle from Lebanon, whether Syria will react, whether Egypt will once again negotiate a cease-fire. All open questions at this point. But I and other observers should have seen this fight coming. It was inevitable.


By Terence Smith

   So, now it is official: the New York Times sports section is kaput!

   The 30-plus editors and reporters will be shifted elsewhere in the paper and some of them will be lodged in the business section, where they will cover the frequently controversial business of sport. The coverage of games and tournaments will be available online and now and then in print in the Times via The Athletic, the prodigious website that The Times acquired for more than half a billion dollars a year or so ago. The Athletic has a huge staff of some 400 and puts up as many as 150 stories a day. They cover the day-to-day ballgames and events that have disappeared from most sports sections today.

   The change makes economic sense, I suppose. To be honest, The Times’s sports section is so diminished in the print paper these days that it will hardly be missed. With the exception of the stand-alone Sports Monday, sports coverage is relegated to the tail end of the business section and focuses on soccer, Formula 1, golf and tennis, all of which appeal to the international audience of online subscribers that are crucial to the economic survival of the paper. Sports, particularly the coverage of the sports teams and games in and around New York, have become an after-thought.

   But no sports section at all? That’s a loss. The section once had a voice, an urbane, sometimes witty, sometimes poignant voice that was distinctive and valued. My father, Red Smith, who wrote the Sports of the Times column decades ago and won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in his column in 1976, was part of that voice. So were Robert Lipsyte and Dave Anderson and so many others. Their columns made you smile at times, and made you angry at others. People bought the paper to read them.

   Will The Athletic provide a similar, distinctive voice?  Will its many pieces inform you, amuse you, anger you, provoke you?

   We shall see.


By Terence Smith

   Day after day, year after year, Donald J. Trump dominates the news cycles of American newspapers, networks and websites. Everything from his investigations and indictments to his latest preposterous statements makes page one.

   Will he go on trial before the 2024 election, or not? Will he be indicted for inciting the rebellion of January 6? Or for his blatant, recorded efforts to steal the votes he lacked to win Georgia in 2020? Why did he stubbornly cling to the boxes of documents tucked away in Mar-a-Lago? All questions, no answers, at least not yet. And no real news.

   And still, Trump often leads the evening news broadcasts and frequently is above-the-fold on page one.  When Trump showed up for his arraignment in Miami recently, the broadcast networks all had their anchors on duty on site, vamping away as the proceedings took place beyond the cameras. As the estimable Maureen Dowd wrote last Sunday, Trump “has burrowed, tick-like, into the national bloodstream, causing all kinds of septic responses.”

    It is hard to remember another former president who has had similar coverage. Even Richard M. Nixon largely disappeared after he resigned and was pardoned for his role in Watergate. We knew he was out in San Clemente strolling the beach in his black leather shoes, but we didn’t have to read about it.

   All of which raises a question: is it time for editors and producers to reduce the coverage of Donald J. Trump?  Should they deliberately downplay his antics and provocations? Or, at least apply the same standards and judgement to Trump “news” that they rightly apply to other news? Yes, Trump non-news sells papers and attracts viewers, but at what price? CNN certainly suffered when it staged a Trump town hall before an audience of unabashed Trump-lovers who laughed at his jokes and applauded his most outrageous comments. In the end, the joke was on CNN.

   It is past time for editors and producers to be tough-minded when reporting about Trump. It is past time that they look hard at his antics and decide what truly constitutes news and what is inadvertent promotion. If he is indicted again, that’s news. But another rally in which he fantasizes about the “deep state” and rants about Hunter Biden? That’s not news.


  By Terence Smith

   I channel-surfed last week to see how the cable channels dealt with former President Trump’s much-advertised remarks at Mar-a-Lago the evening after his arraignment in New York. Predictably, Fox provided full, live coverage. CNN broadcast most of it live and then cut away for commentary. MSNBC recorded it and covered it like a news story with subsequent commentary.

   Listening to Trump’s hour-long litany of grievances dating back to 2015, including his familiar attacks on Hillary Clinton, the FBI, the Justice Department and the prosecutors who are investigating him, I found myself wondering if he is really running for a second term in 2024.

   I know he has formally declared his candidacy and has held rallies in Waco and elsewhere and raised money for his campaign, but the man speaking at Mar-a-Lago last week was a man obsessed with his past and not even mentioning his future. 

   Then the thought occurred to me: maybe Trump is not really running for re-election. Maybe he declared his candidacy last November on the assumption that it would give him at least some political cover against the indictments he knew were coming. Maybe he speculated that prosecutors and grand juries would be hesitant to charge a former president who is an active candidate for re-election. Maybe he believed that the Justice Department would hold off rather than indict a presidential candidate in the midst of a race for re-election?

   Sloppy thinking, you say? Maybe, maybe not.


      The neglected world of serious media analysis and criticism lost two of its most articulate and thoughtful voices over the weekend.

       Brian Stelter was let go as host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, the three-decade-old Sunday morning show, which was cancelled as part of the ongoing revamping of the network’s lineup. Margaret Sullivan stepped down as media columnist for The Washington Post, ending a 42-year newspaper career to teach and write. 

      Both will be sorely missed by readers and viewers who value the truth.


   In the midst of a busy, newsy week full of shootings, assassinations and resignations, The New York Times’s redoubtable Michael S. Schmidt had a remarkable page one piece on Thursday, July 7, about one of the great “coincidences” of the Trump Era: how two of his perceived enemies suddenly found themselves being audited by the IRS.

James B. Comey, the FBI director Donald Trump fired in 2017, and Comey’s Deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, whom Trump fired later, were subsequently selected for the most invasive type of random audit carried out by the IRS, an audit referred to as “an autopsy without benefit of death.” Neither incurred much tax liability as a result; Comey even got a modest refund.

A coincidence? A one-in-30,000 happenstance? Hardly, even though the taxmen insisted that politics and presidential vengeance had nothing to do with the audits. Of course, their boss, the 45th President, Donald  J. Trump, had railed privately and publicly about both men accusing them of treason and calling for their prosecution.

Schmidt’s thoroughly-documented piece brought back the memory of another “coincidence” decades ago in the Vietnam War era when I was the New York Times’ Saigon Bureau Chief and later Diplomatic Correspondent covering Richard Nixon’s foreign policy from Washington. I wrote several pieces criticizing the conduct of the war and Nixon’s diplomatic strategy, articles that annoyed the President repeatedly. He rails against them, and me, in the famous Watergate Tapes.

Then — surprise —I was audited by the IRS three years running. Then, as now, no political motive or presidential recrimination was ever publicly suggested.  I didn’t even make the famous Nixon “enemies list” as far as I know. Instead, the government poured over my reporter’s salary and modest income looking for…who knows what? The undeniable fact was the three consecutive audits followed my articles that annoyed the President.

Sheer coincidence? All in the interest in protecting the U.S. treasury from fraud, no matter how minor? That’s a stretch. Every bit as coincidental as the audits of Comey and McCabe, I’d say.  

            Footnote: The three years of audits concluded with me having to pay a few hundred dollars in additional tax because the IRS determined that the considerable moving costs paid by The Times to ship me and my family to the Middle East and Far East and home had to be considered income to me. The Times legal department objected to that conclusion, but lost. 

Mark Shields

Last Wednesday was a sad day in Washington – the occasion of the funeral of Mark Shields.  Mark was one of the most loved and widely respected political commentators  on U.S. politics.  Mark was a friend of mine from Notre Dame days.  He graduated a year ahead of me, but I knew him well as a jolly, smart, wise cracking Hall mate of a Scranton friend with whom I spent many hours on campus.

Most American TV viewers will remember Mark for his 33 years on the PBS Newshour exchanging views with co-hosts who were more conservative than he.  Rather than sharing his obituary from either the Times or the Post, I will pay tribute to him today by quoting from them and other sources illustrating his perceptive and entertaining commentaries on politics.

A Self Effacing , Somewhat Successful Political Consultant

He had successes, like helping John J. Gilligan become governor of Ohio in 1970 and Kevin H. White win re-election as mayor of Boston in 1975. But he was certainly no stranger to defeat; he worked for men who vainly pursued national office in the 1970s, among them Edmund S. Muskie, R. Sargent Shriver and Morris K. Udall. “At one point,” Mr. Shields said, “I held the N.C.A.A. indoor record for concession speeches written and delivered.”  (Times obit)

Politics, he maintained, was “a contact sport, a question of accepting an elbow or two,” and losing was “the original American sin.” “People come up with very creative excuses why they can’t be with you when you’re losing,” he said. “Like ‘my nephew is graduating from driving school,’ and ‘I’d love to be with you but we had a family appointment at the taxidermist.’”  (Times obit)

 On Potomac and Presidential Fever

Mr. Shields noticed that many candidates for federal office ran on a platform of how much they despised Washington. But once elected, they tended to stick around. He quoted a line from Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) as if it were an immutable law: “There are only two ways people leave Washington. By the ballot box or the undertaker’s box.” (Post obit)

 “they get that bug, and as the late and very great Mo Udall, who sought that office, once put it, the only known cure for the presidential virus is embalming fluid.” (Times obit)

Lessons from the Marines   

“Would not our country be a more just and human place if the brass of Wall Street and Washington and executive suites believed that ‘officers eat last’?” (, 2010)

Why God Made Whiskey

There were bumps along the road, including a period of excessive drinking. “If I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was probably a pretty good imitation of one,” he told C-SPAN, adding: “I have not had a drink since May 15, 1974. It took me that long to find out that God made whiskey so the Irish and the Indians wouldn’t run the world.” (Times obit)

Hard on Republicans

Of President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Shields said dismissively that “the toughest thing he’s ever done was to ask Republicans to vote for a tax cut.” The House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was “an invertebrate”; Senator Lindsey Graham made Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal sidekick, “look like an independent spirit.” (Times obit)

Hard on Democrats and the Clintons

…Mr. Shields could nevertheless be a scourge to his fellow Democrats. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he quipped that “George Washington was the president who could never tell a lie; Richard Nixon was the president who could never tell the truth; and Bill Clinton is the president who cannot tell the difference.” (Post obit)

…”I have been in this town long enough to remember when the Lincoln bedroom was used for sex and the Oval office for fund raising.”  (My personal recollection)

In one of his final appearances on “NewsHour” in 2020, Mr. Shields noted that the Democratic Party had traditionally been the political home of lunch-pail, working-class White men. The problem facing the party in the 21st century, he said, “is one of attitude as much as it is of platform. I mean, the Democrats, that were once a shot-and-a-beer party have become a sauvignon blanc party arguing about which wine is more sensitive.” (Post obit)

Civility in Political Discourse

In 2012, he and (David) Brooks received an award for “civility in public life,” presented by Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College. Accepting the honor, Mr. Shield said he sought to remember that “in every discussion that the person on the other side probably loves their country as much as you love our country; that they care about their children’s and grandchildren’s future as much as you do; that they treasure the truth as much as you do; and that you don’t demonize somebody on the other side.” (Post obit)

Noble Calling of Politics

In his book, Shields wrote, “Politics — which is nothing less than the peaceable resolution of conflict among legitimate, competing interests — is an important public occupation and ought to be respected.” Such an attitude has gained him the respect of even such conservative politicians as Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican.   (Notre Dame Magazine, Autumn 1993)

Still, for all their foibles, he had an abiding admiration for politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, simply for entering the arena. “When you dare to run for public office, everyone you ever sat next to in high school homeroom or double-dated with or car-pooled with knows whether you won or, more likely, lost,” he said. “The political candidate dares to risk the public rejection that most of us will go to any length to avoid.” (Times obit)

Some of his happiest moments, he said, were when he worked on political campaigns: “You think you are going to make a difference that’s going to be better for the country, and especially for widows and orphans and people who don’t even know your name and never will know your name. Boy, that’s probably as good as it gets.” (Times obit)

Back to Notre Dame

Notre Dame acknowledged Mark’s contributions to America’s political discourse on several occasions.  Father John Jenkins, the University’s President, was present on the altar during the funeral. 

In 1997, Notre Dame awarded Mark an honorary degree.  In his remarks to the graduates, he asked a question that had been neglected by Biblical scholars for over two thousand years:  “did the Corinthians ever write back?”

The Notre Dame magazine feature story on Mark in 1993 contained a masterful caricature that graphically foretold his impact in Washington and on the Hill. I share it with you all today to enjoy one good, last laugh with Mark.