On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that American officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed that Israel had bombed one or more targets in Syria last Thursday. Jerusalem has not officially commented on the strikes, its first on Syria since 2003.
What exactly was Israel doing? The BBC suggested that Israeli pilots might have been testing Syrian air defenses. The Times reported that American officials said the most likely target was one or more conventional weapons caches. If so, Israel may have been targeting rockets on their way to Hizballah.
Yet the Times seems to suggest that the raid targeted a Syrian nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang. “The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” an unidentified Bush administration official, referring to fissile material, is quoted as saying. Thursday’s Washington Post states that an unidentified former Israeli official had been told that the attack on Syria was intended to take out a facility that could make unconventional weapons. The paper also reported that satellite imagery has revealed a Syrian facility that could be part of a nuclear weapons program. North Korea, known to merchandise any dangerous item it possesses, has been doing its best to appear guilty. Departing from its usual practice of not commenting on world affairs, Pyongyang on Tuesday denounced Israel’s raid.
Damascus undoubtedly has a nuclear weapons program, but at worst it is decades away from building a bomb on its own. Yet Iran is just years from mastering the techniques needed to construct an atomic device. If the raid last week had any significance, it was a warning to the theocrats in Tehran that Jerusalem is capable of another Osirak-type raid. And perhaps the air strikes were intended to send messages to European capitals and Washington as well: disarm Iran now or prepare for war. Syria’s U.N. ambassador said his country sustained no “material damage” in the Israeli raid. That may be true, but it is completely beside the point. Despite where the bombs landed on Thursday, Syrians were not the real target.
On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”
This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.
An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”
Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.
This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.
Regarding Washington’s pressure on Taiwan over its application to the U.N.., it is becoming increasingly clear that new thinking is needed. Washington insists that an “official name,” as yet unspecified, and not the standard “Taiwan,” must be used when the island’s people vote. Yet our attempts to explain what clearly is a misjudged response to Chinese pressure make us look stupid at best.
Who would not be baffled by the following, from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas J. Christensen, in a speech in Annapolis on Tuesday:
In the vernacular, we all speak of “Taiwan.” The State Department does, people in Taiwan do, even Beijing does. So why worry about using the same word in this more formal political and legal context? The simple reality is that, in the world of cross-Strait relations, political symbolism matters, and disagreements over it could be the source of major tensions or even conflict.
“Conflict” over use by the Taiwanese of the name by which we and Beijing refer to them? What should the Taiwanese call themselves? Christensen doesn’t say. The answer is “The Republic of China.” One gets some idea of how taboo those words officially are from the way Christensen himself avoids using them in a speech, the chief purpose of which is to recommend the name to the Taiwanese.
In yesterday’s Washington Post we read this:
At least 10 Senate Republicans have openly questioned the president’s Iraq strategy, even as they remain reluctant to embrace Democratic legislation to change it. Republican war critics said they are detecting a shift—albeit a slight one—toward outright dissent, as their colleagues digest the Petraeus and Crocker testimony and the prospect of a maintaining a large U.S. military presence in Iraq for the near future.
Republicans will not fundamentally break with the President over Iraq at this point. While the situation in Iraq remains very difficult and success is certainly not foreordained, we are seeing demonstrable progress on both the security side and in bottom-up reconciliation. Republicans stood with the President during the most difficult hours of this war; it only makes sense to stand with him when things are improving.