The New York Times is reporting that the military junta in Burma has shut down the country’s Internet. After nearly a month of protests—avidly covered and documented by native Burmese on the web—the regime cracked down hard on the Buddhist monks and their supporters. Many deaths already have been recorded, and some reports suggest an extremely bloody end to Burma’s push for democratic reform.
During the run-up to this massacre, Burmese bloggers provided photographs, commentary, and even YouTube clips from inside the maelstrom. Stirring photographs of monks clad in orange, and riveting hand-held footage of soldiers firing on protesters, gave the events a harrowing immediacy for Internet-users. The Internet blackout terminated this discourse, blocking the atrocities to come from cyberspace and the outside world.
Censoring the Internet has become a major component of totalitarian control, not just in Burma, but in despotic regimes the world over. The Chinese government devotes significant resources to purging their data flow of dissident material. (At the School of Informatics at Indiana University’s homepage, you can play with a brilliant search tool that compares typical Google searches with Google.cn.)
In what must surely rank as the single stupidest act of the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator Obama says he doesn’t wear an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for “true patriotism” since 9/11.
In Obama’s words,
The truth is that right after 9-11 I had a pin. Shortly after 9-11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.
What to say about such a reckless and disturbing statement? Let’s start with the words, “The truth is…” This is the locution of someone who is revealing something for which they are embarrassed. Once upon a time one would be ashamed of, say, burning the American flag; today, a leading presidential figure is apologizing for having worn one on his lapel.
What is the point of putting sanctions on a dictator if you refuse to enforce them? This was the question that the world community faced in its dealings with Saddam Hussein, who, over a twelve-year period, violated sixteen Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with impunity. The question has come up again in the person of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, the European Union placed a travel ban on the Zimbabwean dictator and his top associates, which it has repeatedly allowed them to break. This December, a European Union-African Union summit is planned for Lisbon, Portugal, and at the insistence of African governments, the Portuguese will be inviting Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, has issued an ultimatum that he would not attend the conference were Mugabe seated across the table. Now, the Guardian reports:
“It’s the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected,” said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.
It appears that Brown will not be in attendance, then, and that the European and African Unions have chosen a dictator over a democrat.
Today, The New York Times, after praising the Bush administration for its “mixture of diplomatic creativity, flexibility, patience and follow-through” in its discussions with North Korea, suggested that the President use the same tactics to end Iran’s nuclear program. (This week, North Korea said it would disable its only working reactor and disclose the full extent of its nuclear programs by the end of this year.) For once, it’s hard to blame the Times for an ill-considered opinion. After all, the Times borrowed this exceedingly bad idea from the President himself.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush, responding to a question about whether the United States would negotiate with Iran, held up North Korea as a “case study” for the mullahs in Tehran. The clerics either are laughing at our leader or are utterly mystified about what he means. Kim Jong Il, after all, used his talks with the United States to buy time to master bomb-building techniques. Bush has now given the Iranians the same opportunity for building nuclear weapons of their own.
After six years out of public life, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister from 1999-2001, re-emerged as Minister of Defense a little over three months ago—and rarely has someone effected such a dramatic improvement, in such a short period of time, of Israel’s standing in the region. When Barak was elected Labor Party leader in June and obtained the defense portfolio, Israel was in the midst of several crises. Some of these had been exacerbated by Israeli mishandling, but all of them demanded far more in the way of self-assured and competent leadership than what the Olmert administration (and especially Barak’s feckless predecessor at Defense, Amir Peretz) were able to offer: the 2006 Lebanon War had gone badly and emboldened Syria and Iran; the Winograd Commission report had exposed a great deal of genuinely astonishing incompetence in the Israeli political and military echelon; Hamas had just taken Gaza; tensions along the border with Syria were escalating; and perhaps worst of all, there existed inside of Israel a debilitating lack of confidence in the government’s ability to handle the impending challenges.
The mood in Israel today is hardly one of wild optimism, especially regarding Iran, but Barak’s leadership has already demonstrated both to the Israeli public and to antagonistic regimes that the IDF intends to correct its blunders. According to many reports, Barak’s first priority upon returning to the government was planning Israel’s recent strike on Syria, a sophisticated and daring mission that appears to have been a perfect success on many levels—not least of which is a demonstration to Syria and Iran that the Israeli air force can easily defeat their new Russian air defense systems, and is not afraid of trying. Barak has warned Hamas that it faces a large-scale ground operation in Gaza in response to continued rocket fire, and has declared the implementation of comprehensive missile defense to be a central precondition of any IDF withdrawal from the West Bank. Read More
Amid the frenzy of Blackwater-bashing in recent days, this story hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It describes how, after Poland’s ambassador was ambushed in Baghdad, he was airlifted for medical treatment by a Blackwater helicopter. I’m told that this kind of thing happens pretty regularly, with Blackwater coming to the assistance of embattled coalition forces, sometimes by providing fire support, but more often by helping to evacuate the wounded. Blackwater operates Little Bird helicopters; these are smaller and more maneuverable than the Black Hawks favored by regular U.S. Army forces. (The U.S. Special Operations Command also uses Little Birds.) They can land in the narrow streets of Baghdad or other Iraqi cities much more readily than can a Black Hawk.
Blackwater gives its personnel, most of them military veterans, full freedom to carry out these types of missions (which they are not obligated to do under their State Department contract). Sometimes they are able to arrive more quickly than military aviators; there have even been occasions when a landing zone was judged too “hot” for a military flight—but Blackwater went ahead and landed anyway.
Is this how out-of-control war profiteers act?
Last week, I wrote about the Democratic presidential candidates’ difficulty in answering the simple question regarding Israel’s right to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if it felt its existence, never mind its “security,” were in danger. In his evasive reply, Senator Obama spoke of “carrots” and “sticks,” which seems to be an increasingly popular analogy for the Democrats.
Allegedly, Obama is now quite serious and specific about what he plans to do in order to stop the Iranian bomb dead in its tracks. In a speech Tuesday at DePaul University, Obama called for a “a world in which there are no nuclear weapons” (no word yet on whether Obama will provide unicorns and marshmallows to every American pre-schooler). Specifically, he announced a goal of reducing America’s stockpile, as this will somehow, according to the Times, “reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism.”
But it is not America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons that poses a threat to American national security. Indeed, those weapons keep us—and the rest of the world—safe. Rather, it is nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union and Pakistan, were they to wind up in the hands of terrorists, that endanger international security. It is also the weapons programs of rogue states—like Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, mercifully overthrown by an international coalition—which threaten the free world. How Obama’s call for American disarmament will convince Kim Jong Il or the Iranian Mullahs to give up their own weapons (in the former case) or their nuclear weapon ambitions (in the latter’s case), the presidential candidate does not sufficiently explain. Well, he does say something. The Times reports:
In his speech, according to a campaign briefing paper, Mr. Obama also will call for using a combination of diplomacy and pressure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Aides did not say what Mr. Obama intended to do if diplomacy and sanctions failed.
In this short paragraph are revealed the disastrous effects of the hijacking of the Democratic Party by its peace wing.