Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 7, 2007

Not A Partition

The great Charles Krauthammer—and I’m not being ironic: I really do think he’s a great columnist and thinker—has an article today claiming that “Iraq is being partitioned” as a result of General David Petraeus’s strategy of raising a grass-roots rebellion of Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq. He thinks this is a great step.

I agree that the Sunni revolt is good news, but is it actually leading to a partition of the country? Depends on your definition of “partition.”

Question: Is America “partitioned” into 50 states? By the loose definition of “soft partition” that some (like Krauthammer) use, you could say yes. After all, the federal government doesn’t provide most basic services, from welfare to policing to education; at most it supplements locally provided services (e.g., the FBI backs up or supplants local law enforcement in a few instances) and provides funding (e.g., “block grants”) to pay for locally provided services. While you could describe this arrangement as a “soft partition,” the more commonly accepted term is “federalism,” and it is a good description of what is happening in Iraq.

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The great Charles Krauthammer—and I’m not being ironic: I really do think he’s a great columnist and thinker—has an article today claiming that “Iraq is being partitioned” as a result of General David Petraeus’s strategy of raising a grass-roots rebellion of Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq. He thinks this is a great step.

I agree that the Sunni revolt is good news, but is it actually leading to a partition of the country? Depends on your definition of “partition.”

Question: Is America “partitioned” into 50 states? By the loose definition of “soft partition” that some (like Krauthammer) use, you could say yes. After all, the federal government doesn’t provide most basic services, from welfare to policing to education; at most it supplements locally provided services (e.g., the FBI backs up or supplants local law enforcement in a few instances) and provides funding (e.g., “block grants”) to pay for locally provided services. While you could describe this arrangement as a “soft partition,” the more commonly accepted term is “federalism,” and it is a good description of what is happening in Iraq.

Pretty much everyone agrees that there should be some degree of decentralization in Iraq, with the central government in Baghdad taking care of a few responsibilities (such as the army, foreign policy, and splitting oil revenues) and the rest of the governance functions delegated to provinces and municipalities (with funding provided from Baghdad). The chief success of American troops in the past year in Anbar and other provinces has been in beefing up local law enforcement functions, within a framework of a larger Iraqi state. For instance, the Iraqi army, composed of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, is actively working with Sunni militias and local Sunni-dominated police forces to fight al Qaeda.

That hardly constitutes vindication, to my mind, of those who advocated partitioning Iraq into three new states composed exclusively of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. That is a “solution” still rejected by most Iraqis: it would be almost impossible to implement without tremendous bloodshed because most of Iraq’s eighteen provinces have mixed populations. Federalism, on the other hand, is a way that Iraq can remain a single state while still recognizing great differences between different provinces. Why this should be called “partition” is a bit of a mystery.

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Who is James Abourezk?

James Abourezk is a co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a former United States Senator: he represented South Dakota for one term, from 1973 until 1979. Last month, Abourezk was interviewed on al-Manar, the Hizballah television station. Sitting in a lushly-appointed Damascus plaza, he gushed to his interviewer that he watches al-Manar regularly in the United States, claims that “the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists,” and says that Hizballah’s war against Israel last year was “a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery.”

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James Abourezk is a co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a former United States Senator: he represented South Dakota for one term, from 1973 until 1979. Last month, Abourezk was interviewed on al-Manar, the Hizballah television station. Sitting in a lushly-appointed Damascus plaza, he gushed to his interviewer that he watches al-Manar regularly in the United States, claims that “the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists,” and says that Hizballah’s war against Israel last year was “a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery.”

But a moment even more telling occurred towards the end of the interview, in a discussion of the “Israeli lobby:”

Interviewer: So who is controlling who?

James Abourezk: The lobby is controlling the Congress.

Interviewer: But you said that the U.S. is not in need of Israel, but rather, Israel needs the U.S.

James Abourezk: Yes, that’s right. But how they . . .

Interviewer: It’s very paradoxical.

Indeed. If the United States “is not in need of Israel,” why is the world’s superpower wasting so much money and political capital on this tiny country? The fashionable answer, these days, is to point to precisely the mysterious lobby Abourezk and his interviewer are discussing. But the idea that a small group of Evangelical Zionists and moneyed, influential Jews could warp a nation’s policy completely against its own interests—as proponents of this theory argue—is absurd on its face.

Abourezk and his ilk frequently decry the power of this lobby. Here is one of the United States’ most prominent Arab lobbyists at work: shilling on a television station operated by an outfit deemed a terrorist organization by the United States government, accusing his own country of being run by a sinister cabal. What do Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have to say about this?

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Edwards’s Poverty Mistake

John Edwards’s vision of American economic suffering is neatly summed up in this quote, from 2004 campaign:

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

That second America refers to the middle- and working-classes, and particularly the poor. The government’s annual statistical report on household income and poverty—which this year indicated a drop in poverty from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006 but a net rise of 11.3 percent since 2000—seem on its surface to support Edward’s point of view.

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John Edwards’s vision of American economic suffering is neatly summed up in this quote, from 2004 campaign:

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

That second America refers to the middle- and working-classes, and particularly the poor. The government’s annual statistical report on household income and poverty—which this year indicated a drop in poverty from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006 but a net rise of 11.3 percent since 2000—seem on its surface to support Edward’s point of view.

As do the responses of left and centrist liberals. For example, Bernard Wasow of the Century Foundation contends that if poverty is measured properly, not in terms of what it costs to buy things but as the relative income of poor as compared to median households, poverty is worse than ever. Official poverty, notes Wasow, “has fallen from more than 40 percent of median income when it was introduced in 1964 to less than 30 percent of median income today.” In the center, the DLC blog Ideas Primary points out that for the third year in a row, full-time workers experienced a decline in median earnings. “Income went up,” says Katie Campbell, “because Americans must work more hours to make up for their falling wages.”

But economics writer Robert Samuelson says that the conventional wisdom that “poverty is stuck” is only “superficially” true. Samuelson argues that we are, in fact, importing poverty, and that comparisons with past census statistics miss the point. “Only an act of willful denial,” he argues, “can separate immigration and poverty.” Samuelson explains that while white and (even more sharply) black poverty have declined substantially, Hispanic poverty has been growing right along with large-scale immigration. This gives the lie to Edward’s vision of the Two Americas: rising poverty is a problem confined largely to a new immigrant population. Samuelson notes that

[f]rom 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006.

Samuelson is certainly right to argue, as he does later in the piece, that absence of an honest look at demographics makes the current poverty debate largely irrelevant. The Edwards stratagem, after all, makes sense to few Americans because it’s not consistent with what they’ve seen and experienced, and this inconsistency stems from its failure to take demographics into account.

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Mr. Rauch’s Narrative

In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

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In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

If retreating from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia led terrorists to conclude America was the “weak horse”—the term is bin Laden’s—what does Rauch think a defeat in Iraq would do for the cause of radical Islam? Depress morale? Make jihadists more fearful that America will respond to terrorist attacks?

Pusillanimity, whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats, emboldens jihadists. That assertion is true, not ugly, and the sooner we accept it, the better off we will be. It is simply silly and sloppy for Rauch (an otherwise serious man) to make the charge he does.

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Is David Remnick a Denier?

Does David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, tell us anything more about the “peculiar fantasies” entertained by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their new book, The Israel Lobby?

In a column in his own magazine, Remnick strenuously insists that the two men “are not anti-Semites or racists.” Rather, they are “serious scholars.” What is more, the strategic questions they raise are very much “worth debating.” And the pity is that, for their pains in raising them, they have been hit with “ugly attacks,” such as an op-ed by Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen under the headline “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”

All the same, concludes Remnick, after defending the duo from these charges coming from the likes of Cohen, Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument has been “badly undermined” by their depiction of Israel as a “singularly pernicious force in world affairs.” Although they “have not entirely forgotten their professional duties,” they come close to such dereliction, especially when they assert that “Israel and its lobbyists bear a great deal of blame for the loss of American direction, treasure, and even blood.”

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Does David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, tell us anything more about the “peculiar fantasies” entertained by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their new book, The Israel Lobby?

In a column in his own magazine, Remnick strenuously insists that the two men “are not anti-Semites or racists.” Rather, they are “serious scholars.” What is more, the strategic questions they raise are very much “worth debating.” And the pity is that, for their pains in raising them, they have been hit with “ugly attacks,” such as an op-ed by Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen under the headline “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”

All the same, concludes Remnick, after defending the duo from these charges coming from the likes of Cohen, Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument has been “badly undermined” by their depiction of Israel as a “singularly pernicious force in world affairs.” Although they “have not entirely forgotten their professional duties,” they come close to such dereliction, especially when they assert that “Israel and its lobbyists bear a great deal of blame for the loss of American direction, treasure, and even blood.”

But what has driven Mearsheimer and Walt to abandon scholarly rectitude? Remnick has an explanation: it is George W. Bush. Their book, “The Israel Lobby,” he confides, is a product of the moment:

The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran—all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby.

But Remnick’s explanation just raises another question. Why should these two “serious scholars” seize on the “Israel Lobby,” of all things, as the all-purpose source of this lamentable mess?

David Remnick is known as an astute observer and analyst. His striking refusal, in this instance, to call a thing by its proper name is nothing short of anti-Semitism denial.

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A Kagan Primer

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

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Bush’s Games

Yesterday, President Bush announced that he had accepted an invitation from Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Olympics, which will be held next August in Beijing. The two of them met in a private session in Sydney before the start of a regional summit of Pacific Rim leaders. “I was anxious to accept,” Bush told reporters.

“For the Chinese, that’s a public vote of confidence,” said Michael Green, who worked in the National Security Council until late 2005. But it’s more than just a vote, Mr. Green: it’s legitimization. Activists have announced multiple boycotts of the Games for various reasons, from China’s tacit support of the murderous Janjaweed militia in Darfur to its repression of Tibetans and the liquidation of their culture. Beijing has become increasingly worried in recent months about the controversy swirling around the upcoming sporting extravaganza, its coming-out party.

It seems that everyone knows the significance of President Bush’s acceptance except for the White House. Jim Jeffrey, Deputy National Security Adviser, said the President “was going to the Olympics for the sports and not for any political statement.”

This trip will be more than just a vacation, and Jeffrey’s stated reason for the acceptance is disingenuous. We can only hope that the Fan-in-Chief (who didn’t, by the way, go to the Athens Games in 2004), will somehow find the inner strength either to snub the world’s leading autocrat next August or to admit that he intends to support the Chinese regime.

Yesterday, President Bush announced that he had accepted an invitation from Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Olympics, which will be held next August in Beijing. The two of them met in a private session in Sydney before the start of a regional summit of Pacific Rim leaders. “I was anxious to accept,” Bush told reporters.

“For the Chinese, that’s a public vote of confidence,” said Michael Green, who worked in the National Security Council until late 2005. But it’s more than just a vote, Mr. Green: it’s legitimization. Activists have announced multiple boycotts of the Games for various reasons, from China’s tacit support of the murderous Janjaweed militia in Darfur to its repression of Tibetans and the liquidation of their culture. Beijing has become increasingly worried in recent months about the controversy swirling around the upcoming sporting extravaganza, its coming-out party.

It seems that everyone knows the significance of President Bush’s acceptance except for the White House. Jim Jeffrey, Deputy National Security Adviser, said the President “was going to the Olympics for the sports and not for any political statement.”

This trip will be more than just a vacation, and Jeffrey’s stated reason for the acceptance is disingenuous. We can only hope that the Fan-in-Chief (who didn’t, by the way, go to the Athens Games in 2004), will somehow find the inner strength either to snub the world’s leading autocrat next August or to admit that he intends to support the Chinese regime.

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Albright’s Amnesia

Madeleine Albright writes in the Washington Post that she can’t figure out what our troops are fighting for in Iraq.

“A cynic might suggest that the military’s real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster,” she writes. She then goes on to suggest that the way out of this morass would be for President Bush to admit “what the world knows—that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target” and essentially throw himself on the mercy of the international community in the hopes that someone (France? India? The United Nations?) will come to our rescue.

Leave aside the issue of whether “a coordinated international effort” offers any real prospect of improving the on-the-ground situation in Iraq. (I address that question more fully in my COMMENTARY article, “How Not to Get Out of Iraq.”) What impresses me the most about Albright’s contribution is her selective memory loss—similar to that suffered by other liberals who were onetime hawks when it came to Iraq but have since changed their plumage.

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Madeleine Albright writes in the Washington Post that she can’t figure out what our troops are fighting for in Iraq.

“A cynic might suggest that the military’s real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster,” she writes. She then goes on to suggest that the way out of this morass would be for President Bush to admit “what the world knows—that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target” and essentially throw himself on the mercy of the international community in the hopes that someone (France? India? The United Nations?) will come to our rescue.

Leave aside the issue of whether “a coordinated international effort” offers any real prospect of improving the on-the-ground situation in Iraq. (I address that question more fully in my COMMENTARY article, “How Not to Get Out of Iraq.”) What impresses me the most about Albright’s contribution is her selective memory loss—similar to that suffered by other liberals who were onetime hawks when it came to Iraq but have since changed their plumage.

Readers interested in recalling what Ms. Albright and other former Clinton officials once said about Saddam Hussein might want to read this, posted on the website of the now-defunct Project for a New American Century. In particular, anyone curious about why American troops are now in Iraq should turn to page iv:

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on February 19, 1998 told an audience at Tennessee State that the world had not seen “except maybe since Hitler, somebody who is quite as evil as Saddam Hussein.” In answering a question, she expressed concern about what Saddam Hussein might do if he were able to “break out of the box that we kept him in,” including the possibility that “he could in fact somehow use his weapons of mass destruction” or “could kind of become the salesman for weapons of mass destruction—that he could be the place that people come and get more weapons.” Arguing that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later, Albright noted that one of the “lessons of this century [is that] if you don’t stop a horrific dictator before he gets started too far . . . he can do untold damage . . . .” She continued: “If the world had been firmer with Hitler earlier, then chances are that we might not have needed to send Americans to Europe during the Second World War.”

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More on the CEI Conference

Last week, the European Parliament hosted a conference sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (or CEI), a group with a long name and a short agenda: demonizing Israel. But it was the first time that the European Parliament played host to such shrill vulgarity—a further sign of Europe’s lack of credibility as Israel’s viable partner for peace.

The outcome of the conference was predictable. The most common accusation against Israel was that it is an apartheid state, a claim shared by most attendees. Still, there was innovation in the repertoire, as Daniel Schwammenthal notes in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe. Clare Short, a British MP and former minister who resigned over the Iraq war, blamed Israel for global warming. Her reasoning was that, since Israel distracts the world with its unruly behavior, the world does not spend enough time, attention, and resources on the real issue: man-made climate change. Meanwhile, Belgian Pierre Galand was concerned that Israel’s attempts to shield itself from missile threats would be harmful to peace. (A missile shield might be harmful to Iran’s desire to destroy Israel, on the other hand, which makes Galand’s conception of peace seem a bit strange.)

In the midst of this spectacle, one could see an old man—Aharon Cohen, a member of the radically anti-Zionist Hasidic sect Neturei Karta, who recently attended a Tehran Holocaust denial gathering—walking about with a small laminated Palestinian flag pinned on his chest. Cohen was not among the speakers, but his presence was telling enough. Rubbing shoulders with him in the crowded hall meant that participants were two degrees of separation away from Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and white supremacist David Duke. Could it be that this closeness inspired University of Wisconsin professor Jennifer Loewenstein to accuse Israel of genocide—further proof of the distance, in the world of pro-Palestinian advocacy, between facts and rhetoric?

Last week, the European Parliament hosted a conference sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (or CEI), a group with a long name and a short agenda: demonizing Israel. But it was the first time that the European Parliament played host to such shrill vulgarity—a further sign of Europe’s lack of credibility as Israel’s viable partner for peace.

The outcome of the conference was predictable. The most common accusation against Israel was that it is an apartheid state, a claim shared by most attendees. Still, there was innovation in the repertoire, as Daniel Schwammenthal notes in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe. Clare Short, a British MP and former minister who resigned over the Iraq war, blamed Israel for global warming. Her reasoning was that, since Israel distracts the world with its unruly behavior, the world does not spend enough time, attention, and resources on the real issue: man-made climate change. Meanwhile, Belgian Pierre Galand was concerned that Israel’s attempts to shield itself from missile threats would be harmful to peace. (A missile shield might be harmful to Iran’s desire to destroy Israel, on the other hand, which makes Galand’s conception of peace seem a bit strange.)

In the midst of this spectacle, one could see an old man—Aharon Cohen, a member of the radically anti-Zionist Hasidic sect Neturei Karta, who recently attended a Tehran Holocaust denial gathering—walking about with a small laminated Palestinian flag pinned on his chest. Cohen was not among the speakers, but his presence was telling enough. Rubbing shoulders with him in the crowded hall meant that participants were two degrees of separation away from Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and white supremacist David Duke. Could it be that this closeness inspired University of Wisconsin professor Jennifer Loewenstein to accuse Israel of genocide—further proof of the distance, in the world of pro-Palestinian advocacy, between facts and rhetoric?

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The Autocrats Strike Back

The jailing yesterday for three weeks of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which international media have reported and their American counterparts have largely ignored, is in fact very bad news for the future of freedom and democracy.

We regularly hear (in particular with respect to China) that only affluent and well-educated populations are capable of handling free expression responsibly, or are to be trusted with the power of the ballot. Poorer and less well-lettered people must be led toward stability and a modicum of prosperity by a benign and well-informed, if autocratic, leadership. Singapore’s roughly 4.5 million people already rank as among the best educated (literacy is nearly 93 percent and universal among those over age 15) and wealthiest (per capita GDP at $31,400) in the world. Yet Singapore, while possessing the forms of democracy, is in fact a tightly-held family autocracy.

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The jailing yesterday for three weeks of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which international media have reported and their American counterparts have largely ignored, is in fact very bad news for the future of freedom and democracy.

We regularly hear (in particular with respect to China) that only affluent and well-educated populations are capable of handling free expression responsibly, or are to be trusted with the power of the ballot. Poorer and less well-lettered people must be led toward stability and a modicum of prosperity by a benign and well-informed, if autocratic, leadership. Singapore’s roughly 4.5 million people already rank as among the best educated (literacy is nearly 93 percent and universal among those over age 15) and wealthiest (per capita GDP at $31,400) in the world. Yet Singapore, while possessing the forms of democracy, is in fact a tightly-held family autocracy.

Dr. Chee, one of the country’s bravest and best-known democracy advocates, is also an example of all that is best about his country. Born in 1962, his educational attainments are formidable. He holds a Ph.D. in neuropsychology, a subject that he taught at the National University of Singapore until his firing, in 1993, after he joined the Singapore Democratic Party. Since then he has been plagued by the standard tactics of the ruling People’s Action Party: arrests for such offenses as parading or speaking without a permit (gatherings of more than four must, in Singapore, be approved by the police); jailing and intimidation; and—the ultimate weapon—forced bankruptcy after a massive judgment in one of the trademark Singaporean “defamation suits,” with which the government seeks to strip troublesome citizens of their political rights, and to intimidate foreign media.

When I first heard Dr. Chee speak at an international democracy meeting, I had the palpable sense that he could be the first democratically elected prime minister of his country. If one of the most gifted and idealistic of Singapore’s younger generation of politicians is not to be allowed even to participate in his country’s politics, what, one must ask, will become of the place?

More broadly, if autocracy is able to maintain its grip on Singapore, what becomes of the theories holding that democratization is not so much a matter of political choice, but of rising levels of literacy and income, which, at some point, make democracy almost automatic? (One thinks of the arguments of development economist Henry S. Rowen of the RAND Corporation.)

Singapore may be small, but it views itself—and is viewed, for example, by China—as a political model for a modernity without democracy or freedom. The imprisonment of Dr. Chee provides an excellent opportunity for the world to take a searching look at how Singapore is in fact run, and to make sure the authoritarian nature of the system is fully understood.

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