On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all member states to observe a truce during next year’s Beijing Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games. Ancient Greek states halted warfare for the Olympics, and the General Assembly has adopted Olympic truce resolutions since 1993. This year, China sponsored the UN resolution and crowed about it in state media afterward.
This is one Chinese Communist initiative that I endorse heartily. In fact, I like it so much I think the concept should be extended. For example, during these sporting events Beijing could withdraw its support for the Sudanese government and the murderous Janjaweed militia; refuse to sell small arms to Iran so that it can send them to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan; stop its diplomatic backing of Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs and pull back its nuclear technicians in Iran; suspend its assistance to North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma; discontinue its campaign of cyber-attacks on other governments; and, if all of this is not too much to ask, take a break from conspiring with Moscow to commit mischief around the world.
Even more important, I suggest that, during the Olympic events next year, the Chinese Communist Party suspend its struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese people. While the truce is in effect the Party would, among other things, lift all censorship of the media, allow people to assemble and protest, free all jailed dissidents, stop all forced sterilizations and abortions, end the practice of destroying places of worship and beating parishioners, and prohibit local officials from engaging in their normally rapacious behavior.
Under my temporary truce proposal, the Party could resume its malignant practices, both at home and abroad, once the Games are over. Of course, the risk is that the world enjoys the breather so much that the General Assembly decides to ban Beijing’s despotism forever. That is a lot to ask from the UN, but we don’t have to worry. I’m sure the Chinese people would not let the Communists go back to their old way of doing things.
Director Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Jimmy Carter—Jimmy Carter Man from Plains—has been drawing dozens of the former President’s devotees to the theaters. The film couldn’t be better timed. What with the shock of skyrocketing oil prices, a feeling of political malaise, the renewed threat of Iranian extremism, and an economy that no longer conforms to tried and true assumptions, it’s starting to seem like the Carter years all over again. (As it did then, it feels now like we’re in a kidney stone of a period that will pass only with great difficulty.)
If you let your memory roam a bit during last Tuesday’s Democratic Party debate, you could, listening to Barack Obama (who is nearly as unctuous as Carter) speak of how only he could deal “honestly with the American people,” hear further echoes of the Carter era. Evidently, such honest dealings require the good will of the Iranian leadership. Carter reached out to Khomeini as “one man of God to another.” Obama, holding out the promise of membership for the Persian state in the World Trade Organization, says he too wants to “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran.
But it was John Edwards, like Carter a Southern liberal, who took the most Carter-like approach. President Carter spoke of the need to put aside “our inordinate fear of Communism.” A would-be President Edwards similarly complained that we have been “governed by fear” of terrorism; he promised to put an end to the “politics of fear.” Carter and his spokesmen, such as UN Ambassador Andrew Young, spoke insistently and repeatedly of the need to “restore America’s reputation.” Edwards also speaks about “restoring our good name” in the world.
Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”
France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”
The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.
For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:
“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”
In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”
Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.
On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”
Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.
It’s no secret that, within Muslim countries, Denmark has an image problem. The September 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper generated shocking uproar, with angry masses torching the Danish consulate in Beirut, the Danish embassy in Damascus, and Danish flags just about everywhere. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the furor the worst Danish international relations incident since World War II, as his effigy burnt worldwide.
One can hardly blame Denmark for wanting to resuscitate its image. After all, the cartoons debacle erupted from an independent newspaper’s publication choices, and not Danish foreign policy. Yet the public diplomacy tactic it will employ tonight in Cairo reeks of hypocrisy. In a bid to shift the negative attention away from Denmark, the Danish Embassy will be hosting the band Outlandish, whose lyrics prominently emphasize anti-Israel themes.
In “Look Into My Eyes,” for example, Outlandish refers to Israel’s existence as “terror . . . 57 years so cruel,” and ultimately blames the United States: “Americans do ya realize/That the taxes that u pay/Feed the forces that traumatize/My every living day.” The music video is particularly noteworthy, depicting an elementary school class play in which a Palestinian Little Red Riding Hood overcomes an Israeli Big Bad Wolf. In “Try Not to Cry,” meanwhile, Outlandish compares Israel to “the Crusaders and Mongols,” declaring “I throw stones like David before me.” On YouTube, one of their fan-made music videos heavily demonizing Israel has been viewed over a million times.
In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?
The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.
Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”
In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.
In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.
And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.
In 2005, Michael Scheuer wrote a letter to COMMENTARY in which he stated that he had received the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for having led a unit that:
helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.
He also wrote:
There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal.
From what I have been able to learn from the CIA, and which is what I noted in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, the CIA medal was bestowed on Scheuer in 1995, one year before he was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit, and also, as I wrote, “well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying ‘all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.’ Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.”
Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?
Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”
This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.
Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.