Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 23, 2007

The “No”s Have It

I recently wrote about the Oxford Union‘s upcoming debate on the Middle East, which was scheduled to take place tonight. The motion to be debated stated: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” The motion was to be seconded by the Israeli revisionist historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe and by Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian physician with an academic appointment at Exeter University. On the “no” side: the British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, along with former Irish MP Lord David Trimble, who is staunchly pro-Israel. And, bizarrely, the passionately anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein.

How, you may ask, does this qualify as a debate? Five out of the six invited participants are all harsh critics, to one degree or another, of the state of Israel. But Finkelstein really belongs in a class by himself, for the hysterical fervor and vitriol of his anti-Zionism and his obsession with minimizing the moral meaning of the Holocaust. Trimble demanded that Finkelstein be dropped from the panel as a precondition for his participation; when the Union accepted Trimble’s argument, Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi decided to withdraw in protest. Clearly, they felt that without Finkelstein on the other side of the floor, there was now a chance the debate might be fair. The debate is taking place tonight nonetheless, with three Oxford students replacing Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi, and Paul Usiskin of Peace Now UK replacing Finkelstein.

Why Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi thought that running away from worthy opponents like Trimble would help their cause is a mystery, but largely besides the point. It is in the nature of such ideologues to engage only in battles they are absolutely sure of winning. Apparently, Finkelstein’s absence undercut their advantage too greatly: instead of being five-sixths anti-Zionist, the panel would be only two-thirds. I predict that the trio will try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by claiming that Finkelstein was “silenced,” and that their withdrawal was a gesture of solidarity with their “dissident” friend. To which one should reply with the words of Hillel Halkin, appearing yesterday in the New York Sun:

Deservedly, Mr. Finkelstein was recently denied tenure at De Paul because of a Jewish campaign to demonstrate that he lacked all academic integrity. It was a fight worth winning, not because qualified scholars with anti-Israel politics should not be allowed to teach at universities, but because men whose only qualification is their politics do not belong in institutions of higher learning.

Halkin could have written these words about Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi as well.

I recently wrote about the Oxford Union‘s upcoming debate on the Middle East, which was scheduled to take place tonight. The motion to be debated stated: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” The motion was to be seconded by the Israeli revisionist historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe and by Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian physician with an academic appointment at Exeter University. On the “no” side: the British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, along with former Irish MP Lord David Trimble, who is staunchly pro-Israel. And, bizarrely, the passionately anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein.

How, you may ask, does this qualify as a debate? Five out of the six invited participants are all harsh critics, to one degree or another, of the state of Israel. But Finkelstein really belongs in a class by himself, for the hysterical fervor and vitriol of his anti-Zionism and his obsession with minimizing the moral meaning of the Holocaust. Trimble demanded that Finkelstein be dropped from the panel as a precondition for his participation; when the Union accepted Trimble’s argument, Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi decided to withdraw in protest. Clearly, they felt that without Finkelstein on the other side of the floor, there was now a chance the debate might be fair. The debate is taking place tonight nonetheless, with three Oxford students replacing Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi, and Paul Usiskin of Peace Now UK replacing Finkelstein.

Why Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi thought that running away from worthy opponents like Trimble would help their cause is a mystery, but largely besides the point. It is in the nature of such ideologues to engage only in battles they are absolutely sure of winning. Apparently, Finkelstein’s absence undercut their advantage too greatly: instead of being five-sixths anti-Zionist, the panel would be only two-thirds. I predict that the trio will try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by claiming that Finkelstein was “silenced,” and that their withdrawal was a gesture of solidarity with their “dissident” friend. To which one should reply with the words of Hillel Halkin, appearing yesterday in the New York Sun:

Deservedly, Mr. Finkelstein was recently denied tenure at De Paul because of a Jewish campaign to demonstrate that he lacked all academic integrity. It was a fight worth winning, not because qualified scholars with anti-Israel politics should not be allowed to teach at universities, but because men whose only qualification is their politics do not belong in institutions of higher learning.

Halkin could have written these words about Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi as well.

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Unrest in Tibet

On Sunday, Ming Pao, a Hong Kong Chinese-language newspaper, reported that around 900 Buddhist monks had clashed with police for four days in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, while celebrating the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama last week. About 3,000 Chinese armed police, employing tactics seen in the recent Burmese protests, later surrounded the Zhaibung monastery—the largest in Tibet—and prevented the monks from leaving. (You can read an English-language report here.)

This incident shows us that the Tibetans remain adamantly opposed to Chinese rule, that Beijing’s grip over them is tenuous, and that any incident can trigger large disturbances. The Tibetans also remind Americans that we are an inspiration for repressed peoples everywhere.

Yet if we can inspire, it must also be true that we can dishearten. Our well-intentioned engagement of authoritarian regimes legitimizes despots and thereby slows down pressure for democratic change. Analysts, for instance, wonder why three decades of economic development have not resulted in democratization of the Chinese one-party state. The answer largely lies in the fact that Washington, as it has tried to ease China into the international system, has supported the autocrats in Beijing. Joyous Tibetans have just reminded us that we have a responsibility not to slow the struggle against despotic rulers.

On Sunday, Ming Pao, a Hong Kong Chinese-language newspaper, reported that around 900 Buddhist monks had clashed with police for four days in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, while celebrating the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama last week. About 3,000 Chinese armed police, employing tactics seen in the recent Burmese protests, later surrounded the Zhaibung monastery—the largest in Tibet—and prevented the monks from leaving. (You can read an English-language report here.)

This incident shows us that the Tibetans remain adamantly opposed to Chinese rule, that Beijing’s grip over them is tenuous, and that any incident can trigger large disturbances. The Tibetans also remind Americans that we are an inspiration for repressed peoples everywhere.

Yet if we can inspire, it must also be true that we can dishearten. Our well-intentioned engagement of authoritarian regimes legitimizes despots and thereby slows down pressure for democratic change. Analysts, for instance, wonder why three decades of economic development have not resulted in democratization of the Chinese one-party state. The answer largely lies in the fact that Washington, as it has tried to ease China into the international system, has supported the autocrats in Beijing. Joyous Tibetans have just reminded us that we have a responsibility not to slow the struggle against despotic rulers.

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The Disloyalty of James Fallows Revisited

James Fallows is “amazed” by my post of yesterday, in which I pointed out that he himself is a member of a faction even as he attempts to delegitimize the workings of another faction, composed “mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

Fallows now charges me, along with a number of vociferous critics, with neglecting to note that, in addition to writing about the lobbying efforts of Jews, he referred to the lobbying efforts of two other ethnic groups, Armenian-Americans and Cuban-Americans. My sin of omission, he says, makes him “nostalgic for the comparative ‘honesty’ of the
Chinese state media I’ve been dealing with recently.”

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James Fallows is “amazed” by my post of yesterday, in which I pointed out that he himself is a member of a faction even as he attempts to delegitimize the workings of another faction, composed “mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

Fallows now charges me, along with a number of vociferous critics, with neglecting to note that, in addition to writing about the lobbying efforts of Jews, he referred to the lobbying efforts of two other ethnic groups, Armenian-Americans and Cuban-Americans. My sin of omission, he says, makes him “nostalgic for the comparative ‘honesty’ of the
Chinese state media I’ve been dealing with recently.”

Fallows’s original post began with the words: “A way to think about the Walt-Mearsheimer book and related controversies.” This led me to conclude that the lobbying efforts of American Jews were its “primary target.” In the interests of honesty in media, I will cheerfully acknowledge that my conclusion was hasty and that American Jews were not the primary target, just the one that happened to interest me the most and also the group that, thanks to Mearsheimer and Walt, is most in the crosshairs these days. In any case, I did give a link to Fallows’s original piece for all to read, so my omission was not exactly a Nixonian or Clintonian or Chinese Communist cover-up.

I will also cheerfully accept Fallows’s partially gracious conclusion about my post:

Obviously there is a point in here, about the inevitability that a big, plural democracy will–and should–involve a contest among many partial, “factional” views. But it’s not a point I care to address when set up this way!

But I am still wondering: why does he arrogate to himself and to his faction the right to determine what American interests are? And why does he cast aspersions of disloyalty on those with whom he disagrees about what constitutes those interests, saying of an American Jewish organization, for instance, that in pressing for a “military showdown” with Iran, “it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests”?

Such words make me nostalgic for a famous speech by Charles Lindbergh in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941 in which he said that the “the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration.”

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Squeezing Iran

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #3: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

We already have incontrovertible evidence that former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who is now busy with a career equally divided between casting aspersions on American Jews and making a fool of himself, was incompetent at his job running the agency’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990’s, and was seen as such by those in charge.

Do we now have evidence of something else?

The Danish daily Politiken ran a story on Sunday reporting that “CIA renditions in Europe date back as far as the mid-1990’s.” The term “renditions” refers to the agency’s highly secret practice, some details of which have previously leaked out, of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for purposes of interrogation and prosecution.

Politiken went on, according to an AP summary, to provide specifics, including the fact that in 1995 U.S. agents seized an Egyptian by the name of Abu Talal, a senior member of the Egyptian terrorist organization al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, who had been granted political asylum in Denmark. He was reportedly nabbed while visiting Croatia and was turned over to Egypt, where he may have been executed. 

Along with other unidentified CIA officials, Politiken cites Michael Scheuer as a source for this information, which is now stirring up anti-Americanism in Denmark.

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We already have incontrovertible evidence that former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who is now busy with a career equally divided between casting aspersions on American Jews and making a fool of himself, was incompetent at his job running the agency’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990’s, and was seen as such by those in charge.

Do we now have evidence of something else?

The Danish daily Politiken ran a story on Sunday reporting that “CIA renditions in Europe date back as far as the mid-1990’s.” The term “renditions” refers to the agency’s highly secret practice, some details of which have previously leaked out, of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for purposes of interrogation and prosecution.

Politiken went on, according to an AP summary, to provide specifics, including the fact that in 1995 U.S. agents seized an Egyptian by the name of Abu Talal, a senior member of the Egyptian terrorist organization al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, who had been granted political asylum in Denmark. He was reportedly nabbed while visiting Croatia and was turned over to Egypt, where he may have been executed. 

Along with other unidentified CIA officials, Politiken cites Michael Scheuer as a source for this information, which is now stirring up anti-Americanism in Denmark.

CIA officers sign an oath not to disclose classified information when they take employment in the agency. The oath holds for life. If they want to talk about things they learned in the course of their work, they need to obtain CIA clearance first.

The Politiken story thus raises a number of questions: 

1. Is the story accurate?

2. Assuming it is accurate, was the information about the rendition of Abu Talal classified?

3. Assuming it was classified, and that Scheuer, as opposed to the other unidentifiied CIA officials, was the primary source, did he have the CIA’s permission to talk about it?

4. Assuming he was the primary source and he did not have permission, and that the two preceding questions are answered in the affirmative, was a crime committed here?

Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department official, was recently sentenced to more than twelve years in prison for leaking government secrets to two officials of AIPAC. Scheuer’s retired status would not seem to alter the basic elements of the crime. Title 18, Section 793 (d) of the United States Code makes liable for punishment “whoever . . . willfully communicates, delivers, [or] transmits” national-defense information “to any person not entitled to receive it.”

So here is a brace of final questions:

5. If the elements of a crime are in place, will be there an investigation? And is anyone at the CIA or the Department of Justice or in Congress paying attention?

If any readers can help me connect these dots, I would welcome hearing from them. Either post a comment below or, for private correspondence, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Connecting the Dots in the subject line.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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The Politics of the Playground

Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

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Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always like this for the Democrats. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic Senator and, like Richardson, a United Nations ambassador, had no trouble calling authoritarians “names.” He famously called Idi Amin a “racist murderer” (which was actually letting the Ugandan strongman off lightly). Richardson’s mode of thinking represents a deep-seated and long-held belief on the Left: that America’s enemies have legitimate grievances and that every problem in the world ultimately can be laid at our feet. According to Richardson, it is not the Iranian regime’s killing of American soldiers, construction of a nuclear program, or decades-long international terrorism that is the root problem in our relationship with Tehran, but the United States’s “name calling.” We’re antagonizing “racist murderers” and “terrorists” by “calling them names,” and if we just cut it out Osama bin Laden would call off the jihad.

This is what many believed during the cold war: that the United States was “antagonizing” the Soviet Union with our calls for democracy and the funding of anti-Communist elements abroad. In this light, worldwide Soviet expansionism (violent and non-consensual) was an understandable reaction against the West’s “bellicosity.” It was on this basis that the muscular foreign policies of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Democrats both, were denounced by fringes on both the Right and Left.

While once a minority viewpoint, this aversion to the mere act of calling our enemies what they in fact are—terrorists or Islamic fascists—is a form of self-hatred that now reigns in the Democratic Party. Those Democrats who are serious about the threats America faces would do well to ensure that such self-hatred stays out of the White House.

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