Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 12, 2007

Prague, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, focusing on the speech of President Bush. Another speech worthy of attention was given by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a man who, before our eyes, grows stronger as the going gets tougher. His keynote speech to the opening dinner was an easy occasion for platitudes. He might have heaped praise on Natan Sharansky and Václav Havel, topped it off with some bromides about freedom, and taken his bow to much applause. Instead, he plunged unflinchingly into the most difficult issue of the day, and threw down a rhetorical gauntlet to those demanding a quick U.S. exit from Iraq. Here is a key excerpt:

What is happening in the Middle East today is not simply a battle between the United States and its enemies in one particular country, but a much larger struggle between freedom and fear, in which Iraq happens to be the central front. On the one side of this conflict are the latest in a long line of totalitarians, a loose alliance of terrorists and tyrants every bit as fanatical as the fascists and communists with whom they share a hatred of America and the values for which it stands.

Terrorism is their preferred weapon, but it is not their ultimate aim. Their vision is far more ambitious and terrifying: a vision of hatred and conquest, in which billions of people fall under a jihadist jackboot of vicious and repressive rule. . . .

The outcome of the struggle in Iraq will go a long way toward determining whether our future in Europe, and America, and throughout much of the world belongs to these totalitarians, or to democrats. . . .

Iraq is about the survival and success of the very ideal of freedom not only in Iraq, but in Iran, and Syria, and the rest of that region, and in a very real way, in the rest of the world. . . .

Today, the choice we face is not simply whether we support the advance of democracy in the abstract, but at what cost we are willing to fight for it.

Read More

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, focusing on the speech of President Bush. Another speech worthy of attention was given by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a man who, before our eyes, grows stronger as the going gets tougher. His keynote speech to the opening dinner was an easy occasion for platitudes. He might have heaped praise on Natan Sharansky and Václav Havel, topped it off with some bromides about freedom, and taken his bow to much applause. Instead, he plunged unflinchingly into the most difficult issue of the day, and threw down a rhetorical gauntlet to those demanding a quick U.S. exit from Iraq. Here is a key excerpt:

What is happening in the Middle East today is not simply a battle between the United States and its enemies in one particular country, but a much larger struggle between freedom and fear, in which Iraq happens to be the central front. On the one side of this conflict are the latest in a long line of totalitarians, a loose alliance of terrorists and tyrants every bit as fanatical as the fascists and communists with whom they share a hatred of America and the values for which it stands.

Terrorism is their preferred weapon, but it is not their ultimate aim. Their vision is far more ambitious and terrifying: a vision of hatred and conquest, in which billions of people fall under a jihadist jackboot of vicious and repressive rule. . . .

The outcome of the struggle in Iraq will go a long way toward determining whether our future in Europe, and America, and throughout much of the world belongs to these totalitarians, or to democrats. . . .

Iraq is about the survival and success of the very ideal of freedom not only in Iraq, but in Iran, and Syria, and the rest of that region, and in a very real way, in the rest of the world. . . .

Today, the choice we face is not simply whether we support the advance of democracy in the abstract, but at what cost we are willing to fight for it.

What is the response of the Pelosis and Reids and Murthas and Levins to this argument? Note that Lieberman claims nothing about whether we were right or wrong to invade Iraq in the first place. Grant for argument’s sake that it was a mistake to have gone in, that we should have chosen to fight these enemies on some other soil. That changes not a whit of what Lieberman says is at stake now. With what point in his chain of reasoning do they disagree? Perhaps they would say that he exaggerates the impact that defeat or surrender in Iraq would have on America’s domestic institutions. But that is a quibble. The point remains that it would do disastrous damage to the cause of the West. What is their answer?

In fact, we know their answer. It has been, in effect, to kick Lieberman out of their party, so that there is no one left within its ranks to raise such questions. So much the worse for them. For his part, unbeholden to the Democrats, Lieberman has emerged as one of the most eloquent leaders of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to call the “freedom party.” The Prague gathering, you might say, was its convention.

Tomorrow, one last report on some of the more interesting sessions in Prague.

Read Less

The Ayatollahs, the CIA, and the LA Times Leak: Part II

Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

Read More

Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

The Iranian Islamic regime, it is important to bear in mind, has a peculiar relationship to the CIA. One of its founding myths is that the American spy agency was a major force propping up the old regime. After the Shah’s fall, the Islamic revolutionaries were quick to find the hidden hand of the CIA everywhere, and held it responsible for every conceivable ill that befell Iran, from failed crops to the war with Iraq.

The irony, of course, is that the CIA presence in Iran at the time of the revolution was virtually non-existent, and the U.S. government had only the dimmest understanding of the society, including especially the Islamic opposition. It is widely believed that in the intervening years the agency has not succeeded in penetrating the Iranian government. Apart from what can be gleaned from reading Iranian newspapers, the CIA’s picture of the internal political situation is said to be close to blank.

But reality, at least with regard to the condition of American intelligence services, has never exactly been a strong suit of Iran’s theocrats. The arrest of four Iranian-Americans on trumped up charges of espionage is testimony to the ease with which their fantasies merge with their extortionate, hostage-seizing brand of realpolitik.

The two most significant questions that arise from this leak episode concern not them but us. The first concerns the sources in and around the CIA who disclosed the classified Iranian-émigré recruitment program to the LA Times. What could have possibly motivated them? The second concerns the editors of the LA Times. By putting out a story that would inevitably endanger an entire class of Americans already under intense suspicion in the eyes of the ayatollahs, were they subordinating their civic obligations to their journalistic ambitions?

Read Less

Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

Read More

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

Read Less

Warships for China?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about our military relations with Beijing at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, the preeminent security conference in Asia. American efforts could be complimentary to, not competitive with, those of China, he said at the Singapore conclave. Gates listed the areas where China and America share security interests, such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. But he left one major issue off the list—the construction of large warships.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the remarks made by Admiral Timothy Keating in Beijing last month. Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he found his host country’s ambition to build an aircraft carrier “understandable.” After talks with China’s navy chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, Keating offered to help the Chinese build a carrier “to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable.”

Will the Chinese seek to build a carrier? Without a doubt. They have been contemplating the prospect for decades, going so far as to purchase the hulks of one Australian and three Soviet carriers for purposes of reverse-engineering. Recently, Chinese military representatives have been touring international air shows to find strike planes that can be launched at sea. And the U.S. is, of course, capable of helping them build carriers. The only thing that prevents Keating from handing over the plans to the Nimitz is American legislation: a Tiananmen-era ban on military exports to China, as well as a strict limit, enacted later, on military exchanges.

Read More

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about our military relations with Beijing at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, the preeminent security conference in Asia. American efforts could be complimentary to, not competitive with, those of China, he said at the Singapore conclave. Gates listed the areas where China and America share security interests, such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. But he left one major issue off the list—the construction of large warships.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the remarks made by Admiral Timothy Keating in Beijing last month. Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he found his host country’s ambition to build an aircraft carrier “understandable.” After talks with China’s navy chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, Keating offered to help the Chinese build a carrier “to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable.”

Will the Chinese seek to build a carrier? Without a doubt. They have been contemplating the prospect for decades, going so far as to purchase the hulks of one Australian and three Soviet carriers for purposes of reverse-engineering. Recently, Chinese military representatives have been touring international air shows to find strike planes that can be launched at sea. And the U.S. is, of course, capable of helping them build carriers. The only thing that prevents Keating from handing over the plans to the Nimitz is American legislation: a Tiananmen-era ban on military exports to China, as well as a strict limit, enacted later, on military exchanges.

But why would the U.S. Navy offer to help the Chinese build a carrier? Keating put it very simply: the construction of warships is “not an area where we would want any tension to arise unnecessarily.” The prevailing theory at the highest levels of the Navy, apparently, is that America can avoid problems in the future by placating the Chinese today.

In the course of these discussions, Keating made no mention of the fact that the U.S. Navy has spent much of this decade ignoring a pattern of hostile Chinese conduct. In 2001, the United States reacted to China’s reckless downing of an EP-3 reconnaissance plane and its unjustifiable detention of the crew by apologizing to China—but even that did not satisfy Beijing. In 2002, a Chinese vessel attempted to ram the unarmed USNS Bowditch in international waters. Last October, a Chinese sub surfaced in the middle of the Kitty Hawk carrier group—an unambiguously threatening gesture. Keating, with his latest offers of assistance to Beijing, was merely continuing a failed policy of engagement—and, in doing so, was doubtless taking his cue from those higher up the chain of command.

“As we gain experience in dealing with each other,” Gates said of China in his Singapore speech, “relationships can be forged that will build trust over time.” Unfortunately, our defense secretary has got it all wrong. Our experience in dealing with China over the past decade indicates we should be forging a relationship built on less trust—and on a greater awareness of unavoidable military competition.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.