Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 26, 2007

Effete Europeans in Beijing

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

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ANNAPOLIS: Haaretz‘s “uphill job”

If you follow the Israeli media, you know that the newspaper Haaretz is a rough equivalent of the New York Times: self-serious, high-brow, the aspirant paper of record—and also very left-wing, sometimes nauseatingly so. Rarely has there been a peace conference, Israeli concession, or dovish fantasy that the editors and columnists of Haaretz have been able to resist championing. Except, it seems, Annapolis. Yaacov Lozowick, the Director of Archives at Yad Vashem and one of my favorite Israeli bloggers, has taken note:

For weeks I’ve been watching with interest as the paper struggles to align its political line with its reading of reality regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians in general, and the upcoming Annapolis event in particular. It has been an uphill job, resulting in what seems to me a bit of farce this weekend, the last before the event itself.

His brief, an entertaining one, is here.

If you follow the Israeli media, you know that the newspaper Haaretz is a rough equivalent of the New York Times: self-serious, high-brow, the aspirant paper of record—and also very left-wing, sometimes nauseatingly so. Rarely has there been a peace conference, Israeli concession, or dovish fantasy that the editors and columnists of Haaretz have been able to resist championing. Except, it seems, Annapolis. Yaacov Lozowick, the Director of Archives at Yad Vashem and one of my favorite Israeli bloggers, has taken note:

For weeks I’ve been watching with interest as the paper struggles to align its political line with its reading of reality regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians in general, and the upcoming Annapolis event in particular. It has been an uphill job, resulting in what seems to me a bit of farce this weekend, the last before the event itself.

His brief, an entertaining one, is here.

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La Grande Illusion

Four members of the “cultural guerrilla” cell Untergunther were exonerated in Paris on Friday for breaking into the Panthéon after-hours to repair the building’s antique, non-functioning central clock. Folk heroes in France, these cultural guerrillas-cum-conservationists share a love of French heritage and ambivalence towards French bureaucracy. As the group captain on the Panthéon project put it: “we would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent . . . but our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There’s so much to do in Paris that we won’t manage in our lifetime.”

French authorities last stumbled upon the Untergunther’s trail in 2004, when an underground movie theater was discovered under the 16th arrondissement, containing a skull tableaux evocative of Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol.

The Untergunther spent two years in a secret workshop under the Panthéon’s famed neo-classical dome, tinkering on wooden benches and makeshift computers. The group’s expert clockmakers labored in the dead of night under the noses of sleepy watchmen, eventually reanimating the clock.

France’s Centre of National Monuments took spurious legal action when the group came forward, but little came of their attempt to deflect attention from inept security protocols at one of Paris’s cultural jewels. It’s comforting to know that at least some people in Old Europe are keeping time.

Four members of the “cultural guerrilla” cell Untergunther were exonerated in Paris on Friday for breaking into the Panthéon after-hours to repair the building’s antique, non-functioning central clock. Folk heroes in France, these cultural guerrillas-cum-conservationists share a love of French heritage and ambivalence towards French bureaucracy. As the group captain on the Panthéon project put it: “we would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent . . . but our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There’s so much to do in Paris that we won’t manage in our lifetime.”

French authorities last stumbled upon the Untergunther’s trail in 2004, when an underground movie theater was discovered under the 16th arrondissement, containing a skull tableaux evocative of Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol.

The Untergunther spent two years in a secret workshop under the Panthéon’s famed neo-classical dome, tinkering on wooden benches and makeshift computers. The group’s expert clockmakers labored in the dead of night under the noses of sleepy watchmen, eventually reanimating the clock.

France’s Centre of National Monuments took spurious legal action when the group came forward, but little came of their attempt to deflect attention from inept security protocols at one of Paris’s cultural jewels. It’s comforting to know that at least some people in Old Europe are keeping time.

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ANNAPOLIS: the End of the Bush Doctrine?

Over at National Review Online, Andy McCarthy has written an angry, punishing critique of the Bush administration, calling Annapolis—quite correctly, I think—the death knell of the Bush Doctrine:

Buried in Annapolis will be the last shards of the Bush Doctrine, the blunt marker the President once put down to signal a do-or-die choice for jihadist nations. Are you with us, he asked, or with the terrorists?

[snip]
Simply stated, the [Annapolis] farce is crushing for Bush supporters. This administration is hellbent on granting statehood to savages who worship “martyrdom,” who have bombed their way to the table, and whose non-negotiable demand—a “right of return” to Israel for millions of migrant Palestinians—would sound the death-knell for a civilized democracy that is our only true friend in the region. So desperate is the administration to show “progress” and “engagement” that it is placing its chips on an unreconstructed terrorist organization, Fatah, that fails the most basic tests of sovereignty—able neither to control its own territory nor to acknowledge the right of a neighboring sovereign to exist. And in executing the strategy, the administration is betraying the principle that state sponsors of terror like Syria must be eradicated or reformed, but never embraced—the only roadmap to real peace.

I wonder what we’d be saying if [the] President behind this farce were named Clinton.

Read the whole thing.

Over at National Review Online, Andy McCarthy has written an angry, punishing critique of the Bush administration, calling Annapolis—quite correctly, I think—the death knell of the Bush Doctrine:

Buried in Annapolis will be the last shards of the Bush Doctrine, the blunt marker the President once put down to signal a do-or-die choice for jihadist nations. Are you with us, he asked, or with the terrorists?

[snip]
Simply stated, the [Annapolis] farce is crushing for Bush supporters. This administration is hellbent on granting statehood to savages who worship “martyrdom,” who have bombed their way to the table, and whose non-negotiable demand—a “right of return” to Israel for millions of migrant Palestinians—would sound the death-knell for a civilized democracy that is our only true friend in the region. So desperate is the administration to show “progress” and “engagement” that it is placing its chips on an unreconstructed terrorist organization, Fatah, that fails the most basic tests of sovereignty—able neither to control its own territory nor to acknowledge the right of a neighboring sovereign to exist. And in executing the strategy, the administration is betraying the principle that state sponsors of terror like Syria must be eradicated or reformed, but never embraced—the only roadmap to real peace.

I wonder what we’d be saying if [the] President behind this farce were named Clinton.

Read the whole thing.

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Germany Takes a Bullet

According to a recent report, beefing up sanctions against Iran will cost the German taxpayer dearly: new sanctions will force the German government to pay significant sums (projected at 2 billion euros) to cover the losses incurred by German business. Germany is the biggest EU exporter of goods to Iran. Hundreds of German companies have subsidiaries and offices in Iran; many more attend annual industrial fairs, looking for lucrative deals. And while German companies are not at the forefront of the oil business in Iran, German technology provides Iran with the type of industrial machinery—including drilling and refining technology—that a modern economy needs to develop.

Indeed, all protestations to the contrary, if European companies—Germany, first and foremost—were to pull out of Iran and deny Iranian customers their products, it is highly doubtful that Chinese, Indian, or Russian companies could fill the void. Quantity is less important than quality when one looks at EU-Iran trade. Sure, if European oil companies pulled out of such giant projects as the South Pars oil fields, then Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies might line up to replace them. But, those who suggest that the main reason not to expand sanctions is that they are ineffective unless these other non-Western giants also support them forget that those countries’ industries cannot compete with Western technology. (At least not yet. Otherwise, why would the Iranians be so keen to buy “made in Europe?”)

Germany and its government must be praised for their newly found resolve to pay a steep price to pressure Iran. For the U.S., the choice between profit and principle was never there—its 27-year government-sanctioned embargo of Iran means that there are virtually no American economic and commercial interests to suffer from sanctions fallout. For Europeans, it is a different story. Their choice is real—and they have been roundly criticized for preferring profit over principle. Now it’s crunch time. Bravo to Angela Merkel then, for recognizing that a financial loss is easier to come to terms with (even at that exorbitant projected cost of 2 billion euros) than a nuclear Iran. And let’s hope that Merkel’s resolve—alongside that of the British and French governments, already committed to tougher sanctions—will sway those European leaders who still think that, nukes aside, with Iran it should be business as usual.

According to a recent report, beefing up sanctions against Iran will cost the German taxpayer dearly: new sanctions will force the German government to pay significant sums (projected at 2 billion euros) to cover the losses incurred by German business. Germany is the biggest EU exporter of goods to Iran. Hundreds of German companies have subsidiaries and offices in Iran; many more attend annual industrial fairs, looking for lucrative deals. And while German companies are not at the forefront of the oil business in Iran, German technology provides Iran with the type of industrial machinery—including drilling and refining technology—that a modern economy needs to develop.

Indeed, all protestations to the contrary, if European companies—Germany, first and foremost—were to pull out of Iran and deny Iranian customers their products, it is highly doubtful that Chinese, Indian, or Russian companies could fill the void. Quantity is less important than quality when one looks at EU-Iran trade. Sure, if European oil companies pulled out of such giant projects as the South Pars oil fields, then Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies might line up to replace them. But, those who suggest that the main reason not to expand sanctions is that they are ineffective unless these other non-Western giants also support them forget that those countries’ industries cannot compete with Western technology. (At least not yet. Otherwise, why would the Iranians be so keen to buy “made in Europe?”)

Germany and its government must be praised for their newly found resolve to pay a steep price to pressure Iran. For the U.S., the choice between profit and principle was never there—its 27-year government-sanctioned embargo of Iran means that there are virtually no American economic and commercial interests to suffer from sanctions fallout. For Europeans, it is a different story. Their choice is real—and they have been roundly criticized for preferring profit over principle. Now it’s crunch time. Bravo to Angela Merkel then, for recognizing that a financial loss is easier to come to terms with (even at that exorbitant projected cost of 2 billion euros) than a nuclear Iran. And let’s hope that Merkel’s resolve—alongside that of the British and French governments, already committed to tougher sanctions—will sway those European leaders who still think that, nukes aside, with Iran it should be business as usual.

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Sanchez’s Chutzpah

It seems like only yesterday that Democrats were frothing at the mouth about the “climate of abuse” that made possible the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal that occurred while Lieutenant General Ricardo “Rick” Sanchez was the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq. The damage to Sanchez’s reputation was so severe, not only from Abu Ghraib but also from a general perception that he mismanaged the war effort in the crucial first year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, that any hope of promotion was blocked.

The New York Times, the leading voice of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, poured withering scorn on the very idea of giving Sanchez a four-star job, writing in one editorial that Sanchez “set aside American notions of decency and the Geneva Conventions” and that he was only “exonerated” on charges of serious misconduct because the investigations were “meant to keep the heat off top generals and civilian policy makers.”

That was then, this is now. On Saturday the Democratic Party chose guess who to deliver their weekly radio address. You got it: the general who has, wrongly or rightly, become the poster child for American military abuse.

The address was, as you might expect, a case study in chutzpah. Sanchez began: “I saw firsthand the consequences of the Administration’s failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States.” The criticism is fair enough, but there is a disturbing lack of a mea culpa given that Sanchez, as the senior general on the ground, shared fully in the failures of Bush and Rumsfeld and other higher-ups.

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It seems like only yesterday that Democrats were frothing at the mouth about the “climate of abuse” that made possible the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal that occurred while Lieutenant General Ricardo “Rick” Sanchez was the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq. The damage to Sanchez’s reputation was so severe, not only from Abu Ghraib but also from a general perception that he mismanaged the war effort in the crucial first year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, that any hope of promotion was blocked.

The New York Times, the leading voice of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, poured withering scorn on the very idea of giving Sanchez a four-star job, writing in one editorial that Sanchez “set aside American notions of decency and the Geneva Conventions” and that he was only “exonerated” on charges of serious misconduct because the investigations were “meant to keep the heat off top generals and civilian policy makers.”

That was then, this is now. On Saturday the Democratic Party chose guess who to deliver their weekly radio address. You got it: the general who has, wrongly or rightly, become the poster child for American military abuse.

The address was, as you might expect, a case study in chutzpah. Sanchez began: “I saw firsthand the consequences of the Administration’s failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States.” The criticism is fair enough, but there is a disturbing lack of a mea culpa given that Sanchez, as the senior general on the ground, shared fully in the failures of Bush and Rumsfeld and other higher-ups.

But what makes this far more disturbing than the usual attempt to deflect blame is that Sanchez didn’t acknowledge that anything has changed. “That failure continues today,” he went on. He makes no attempt to recognize the stunning successes scored by U.S. troops in recent months under the leadership of General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. Instead, Sanchez repeats the same old bromides about how “the keys to securing the future of Iraq” aren’t military action but “aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic hope”—the very same thinking that underlies the failed strategy of the past four years, including the year that Sanchez presided over U.S. operations.

As if the surge had never taken place, Sanchez urges the U.S. to “move rapidly to minimize our force presence” and endorses legislation passed by House Democrats that would set a goal of withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by December 15, 2008.

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at these pronouncements, considering their source. At the Warlord Loop, an online discussion forum of national security affairs to which I belong, it has been suggested that Sanchez’s address would be akin to having Custer opine on Indian relations or having General Lloyd Fredendall, the commander of U.S. forces when they were mauled at Kasserine Pass in 1943, critique his successor—George S. Patton.

The fact that the Democrats have now turned General Sanchez into their spokesman on Iraq suggests the sheer bankruptcy of their thinking on this pressing issue.

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ANNAPOLIS: Bush’s Image Problem

It’s worth recalling a few details of Annapolis’s origins in order that they may shed some light on what is happening, and not happening, this week. On July 16th, a few weeks after Hamas took Gaza by force, President Bush delivered a speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that announced the administration’s intention to hold a peace conference. He said:

The world can do more to build the conditions for peace. So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.

When the list of Annapolis invitees was released last week, it became clear—to nobody’s surprise—that not one of those four requirements had been enforced. This nonchalant way of doing business in the Middle East has become a pattern for the Bush administration, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. The administration has continuously reconfigured its principles and goals in order to elide intransigent problems.

In 2003, the administration committed itself to the Roadmap, which created a sequential, three-phase set of requirements whose fulfillment would allow the creation of a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians could not even begin to fulfill the first phase—waging an internal battle against terrorists and eliminating incitement—the Roadmap was simply ignored in favor of various other, more convenient, strategies, such as attempting to accomplish Phase 3 (“final status”) before Phase 1, and, today, the pursuit of a “parallel,” rather than sequential, process. In July, Bush said that a fall peace conference would concern itself with Palestinian institution-building, good governance, and Arab support for the peace process. Yet between then and now there has been virtually no progress on internal Palestinian reform, and no progress on cajoling “moderate” Arab states into attending a conference under the original conditions. As a result, the administration has simply discarded the original raison d’etre of the conference in favor of something else, a farrago of previous commitments and strategies. And so tomorrow, the deputy foreign minister of Syria will be in Annapolis representing a country that is at war with three American allies (Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq), that makes itself a base of operations for Hamas and a smuggling conduit for Hizballah, and that is allied with Iran. In being unable to distinguish between friends and enemies, the administration is sacrificing America’s long-term credibility for short-term accomplishments—and dubious ones, at that.

It has been said many times that the three main participants at Annapolis are politically weak. In this case, the prime reason for American weakness is not Bush’s domestic approval ratings, or our problems in Iraq, but rather the entirely legitimate perception of the Bush administration as an unreliable, easily-manipulated interlocutor.

It’s worth recalling a few details of Annapolis’s origins in order that they may shed some light on what is happening, and not happening, this week. On July 16th, a few weeks after Hamas took Gaza by force, President Bush delivered a speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that announced the administration’s intention to hold a peace conference. He said:

The world can do more to build the conditions for peace. So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.

When the list of Annapolis invitees was released last week, it became clear—to nobody’s surprise—that not one of those four requirements had been enforced. This nonchalant way of doing business in the Middle East has become a pattern for the Bush administration, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. The administration has continuously reconfigured its principles and goals in order to elide intransigent problems.

In 2003, the administration committed itself to the Roadmap, which created a sequential, three-phase set of requirements whose fulfillment would allow the creation of a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians could not even begin to fulfill the first phase—waging an internal battle against terrorists and eliminating incitement—the Roadmap was simply ignored in favor of various other, more convenient, strategies, such as attempting to accomplish Phase 3 (“final status”) before Phase 1, and, today, the pursuit of a “parallel,” rather than sequential, process. In July, Bush said that a fall peace conference would concern itself with Palestinian institution-building, good governance, and Arab support for the peace process. Yet between then and now there has been virtually no progress on internal Palestinian reform, and no progress on cajoling “moderate” Arab states into attending a conference under the original conditions. As a result, the administration has simply discarded the original raison d’etre of the conference in favor of something else, a farrago of previous commitments and strategies. And so tomorrow, the deputy foreign minister of Syria will be in Annapolis representing a country that is at war with three American allies (Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq), that makes itself a base of operations for Hamas and a smuggling conduit for Hizballah, and that is allied with Iran. In being unable to distinguish between friends and enemies, the administration is sacrificing America’s long-term credibility for short-term accomplishments—and dubious ones, at that.

It has been said many times that the three main participants at Annapolis are politically weak. In this case, the prime reason for American weakness is not Bush’s domestic approval ratings, or our problems in Iraq, but rather the entirely legitimate perception of the Bush administration as an unreliable, easily-manipulated interlocutor.

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Unpardonable Behavior

The New York Times yesterday carried a front-page article entitled “As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts.” The story details the rank cynicism of the Democratic presidential candidates, who—with the possible exception of Joe Biden—have tailored their presidential campaigns to a narrative of defeat in Iraq. Now that the tide unmistakably is turning for the better, Democrats seem to have found themselves in a quandary: their campaign slogans not only are embarrassingly incongruous with the facts on the ground, but also seem politically obsolescent. Now that American defeat in Iraq no longer is an inevitability—and thus, no longer a “victory” for partisans who view Iraq in terms of how it will affect the fortunes of the Bush administration, rather than contemplating what a defeat there might mean for the United States and its allies—the Democrats “are also turning to pocketbook concerns with new intensity as the nominating contests approach in January.” One wonders what the Democrats will do if “pocketbook concerns” like the economy and oil prices fare better in the coming months and they’re left with less and less to lament.

The Times article reveals that, regarding Iraq, of foremost concern to the Democrats is how the situation there will affect their political prospects:

“The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

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The New York Times yesterday carried a front-page article entitled “As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts.” The story details the rank cynicism of the Democratic presidential candidates, who—with the possible exception of Joe Biden—have tailored their presidential campaigns to a narrative of defeat in Iraq. Now that the tide unmistakably is turning for the better, Democrats seem to have found themselves in a quandary: their campaign slogans not only are embarrassingly incongruous with the facts on the ground, but also seem politically obsolescent. Now that American defeat in Iraq no longer is an inevitability—and thus, no longer a “victory” for partisans who view Iraq in terms of how it will affect the fortunes of the Bush administration, rather than contemplating what a defeat there might mean for the United States and its allies—the Democrats “are also turning to pocketbook concerns with new intensity as the nominating contests approach in January.” One wonders what the Democrats will do if “pocketbook concerns” like the economy and oil prices fare better in the coming months and they’re left with less and less to lament.

The Times article reveals that, regarding Iraq, of foremost concern to the Democrats is how the situation there will affect their political prospects:

“The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

O’Hanlon is correct in predicting that the Democrats—none of whom supported the troop surge, which has led to the positive gains in and around Baghdad—will have a tough time waging a campaign on the supposed failure of Iraq if the situation there proves “at least partly salvageable” come November of next year. And certainly it would be nice to hear something more constructive than mere defeatism coming from the mouths of Democratic candidates. Yet will voters trust a Democratic nominee to explain how they “would salvage” Iraq, especially in light of the fact that said nominee inevitably will have opposed from the very start and decried every step of the way the very strategy that got us to the present moment?

This situation (in which good news must be, at best, ignored and, at worst, distorted) poses a difficult problem for the antiwar Left in general and the Democrats in particular, and brings to mind the latest offering from Christopher Hitchens, who, while readily acknowledging that the good news out of Iraq may prove ephemeral, last week argued that:

What worries me about the reaction of liberals and Democrats is not the skepticism, which is pardonable, but the dank and sinister impression they give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased. The latter mentality isn’t pardonable and ought not to be pardoned, either.

Given his own political odyssey, Hitchens is quite familiar with this sort of crass anti-Americanism. Wishing for America’s defeat at the hands of whatever enemy wearing an “anti-imperialist” mantle it happens to face is a longstanding article of faith amongst many of his erstwhile comrades on the Left. The times and conflicts may have changed dramatically since the days Hitchens was an unreconstructed Marxist, but the enemy—American power—remains, apparently, the same.

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ANNAPOLIS: Oh, How Wonderful to Have the Saudis There

One of the reasons the commentariat is growing giggly with excitement about the Annapolis peace conference taking place over the next three days is the presence of Arab nations who are sworn enemies of Israel, Saudi Arabia in particular. It will be represented by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, who has given a somewhat revelatory interview to Time Magazine. He says he will refuse to shake Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s hand, even though he is a seeker after peace. He never says there will be peace with Israel, only “normalization,” and that this will only occur after Israel does every single thing he wants it to — and will not say there will be an exchange of ambassadors if that happens. He says that, despite the oft-stated line that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary to help create the conditions for a bulwark against Iran, “Peace with Israel has its own conditions and elements that are not connected with Iran.” And he asserts, despite the fact that Palestinians now maintain control over Gaza and most of the West Bank, that “Israelis are acquiring more land.” Truly, a partner for peace.

One of the reasons the commentariat is growing giggly with excitement about the Annapolis peace conference taking place over the next three days is the presence of Arab nations who are sworn enemies of Israel, Saudi Arabia in particular. It will be represented by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, who has given a somewhat revelatory interview to Time Magazine. He says he will refuse to shake Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s hand, even though he is a seeker after peace. He never says there will be peace with Israel, only “normalization,” and that this will only occur after Israel does every single thing he wants it to — and will not say there will be an exchange of ambassadors if that happens. He says that, despite the oft-stated line that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary to help create the conditions for a bulwark against Iran, “Peace with Israel has its own conditions and elements that are not connected with Iran.” And he asserts, despite the fact that Palestinians now maintain control over Gaza and most of the West Bank, that “Israelis are acquiring more land.” Truly, a partner for peace.

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Accidents Happen

The chaos in Pakistan has prompted worry about the security of that country’s nuclear arsenal. Will its estimated 50 to 100 nuclear warheads remain in safe hands? But even without that concern, we should ask, and worry about, another pertinent question: how safe and reliable are Pakistan’s nukes? The same question should be asked about North Korean nuclear weapons, of which there are probably less than ten.

Why worry? One answer comes from what we know about our own nuclear arsenal. The Congressional Research Service recently produced a study of ongoing efforts to insure that U.S. nuclear weapons remain safe and reliable. It takes note of a 1983 government report that pointed out that nuclear warheads “contain thousands of parts that deteriorate at different rates. Some parts and materials have well-known limits on service life, while the service life of other parts may be unknown or revealed only by multiple inspections of a warhead type over time.”

Among other things, the report continued, “certain chemically reactive materials” — including uranium, plutonium, high explosives, and plastics — “are inherently required in nuclear weapons.” Both plutonium and uranium “are subject to corrosion” and “[p]lastic-bonded high explosives and other plastics tend to decompose over extended periods of time. . . . portions of materials can dissociate into simpler substances. Vapors given off by one material can migrate to another region of the weapon and react chemically there. . . . Materials in the warhead electrical systems . . . can produce effluents that can migrate to regions in the nuclear explosive portion of the weapon. . . . The characteristics of high explosives can change with time. . . . Vital electrical components can change in character.”

This alarming picture was countered in a 1987 government report, which noted that progress in nuclear engineering had dealt with many of these problems, which in any case may have been overstated.

Whether that is true or not is irrelevant. For our purposes, the point is that the United States is by any standard a wealthy country. In comparison with Pakistan and North Korea it is off the charts. We have had the resources to deal with whatever problems have cropped up inside our warheads and we devote enormous resources, including assigning a huge number of well-compensated scientists and engineers, to this task.

Do Pakistan and North Korea? The answer, of course, is no; these countries are basket cases. To maintain their warheads both nations do what the United States last did in 1992: test them by setting them off underground. North Korea’s first such test late last year was a partial dud: it did not explode but only fizzled. Pakistan last tested a device in 1998.

But testing only ensures reliability; that is, the assurance that when you press the button the device will explode. Safety, the assurance that when you don’t press the button the device will not leak or fizzle or explode, is something else.

The chaos in Pakistan has prompted worry about the security of that country’s nuclear arsenal. Will its estimated 50 to 100 nuclear warheads remain in safe hands? But even without that concern, we should ask, and worry about, another pertinent question: how safe and reliable are Pakistan’s nukes? The same question should be asked about North Korean nuclear weapons, of which there are probably less than ten.

Why worry? One answer comes from what we know about our own nuclear arsenal. The Congressional Research Service recently produced a study of ongoing efforts to insure that U.S. nuclear weapons remain safe and reliable. It takes note of a 1983 government report that pointed out that nuclear warheads “contain thousands of parts that deteriorate at different rates. Some parts and materials have well-known limits on service life, while the service life of other parts may be unknown or revealed only by multiple inspections of a warhead type over time.”

Among other things, the report continued, “certain chemically reactive materials” — including uranium, plutonium, high explosives, and plastics — “are inherently required in nuclear weapons.” Both plutonium and uranium “are subject to corrosion” and “[p]lastic-bonded high explosives and other plastics tend to decompose over extended periods of time. . . . portions of materials can dissociate into simpler substances. Vapors given off by one material can migrate to another region of the weapon and react chemically there. . . . Materials in the warhead electrical systems . . . can produce effluents that can migrate to regions in the nuclear explosive portion of the weapon. . . . The characteristics of high explosives can change with time. . . . Vital electrical components can change in character.”

This alarming picture was countered in a 1987 government report, which noted that progress in nuclear engineering had dealt with many of these problems, which in any case may have been overstated.

Whether that is true or not is irrelevant. For our purposes, the point is that the United States is by any standard a wealthy country. In comparison with Pakistan and North Korea it is off the charts. We have had the resources to deal with whatever problems have cropped up inside our warheads and we devote enormous resources, including assigning a huge number of well-compensated scientists and engineers, to this task.

Do Pakistan and North Korea? The answer, of course, is no; these countries are basket cases. To maintain their warheads both nations do what the United States last did in 1992: test them by setting them off underground. North Korea’s first such test late last year was a partial dud: it did not explode but only fizzled. Pakistan last tested a device in 1998.

But testing only ensures reliability; that is, the assurance that when you press the button the device will explode. Safety, the assurance that when you don’t press the button the device will not leak or fizzle or explode, is something else.

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Congratulations, Facebook!

You’ve proven sufficiently adept at aiding and abetting free political discourse (no doubt exuding decadent Western sexual mores all the while) to require being banned by the Syrian government! This happened last Sunday. Plenty of coverage on blogs, relatively little in the press. And the really remarkable thing about the story—that the political potential of a general social networking site can terrify an entire government—has not been mentioned enough, in my opinion.

You’ve proven sufficiently adept at aiding and abetting free political discourse (no doubt exuding decadent Western sexual mores all the while) to require being banned by the Syrian government! This happened last Sunday. Plenty of coverage on blogs, relatively little in the press. And the really remarkable thing about the story—that the political potential of a general social networking site can terrify an entire government—has not been mentioned enough, in my opinion.

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ANNAPOLIS: There Has to Be Something to It, Right?

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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She’s Growing In Office, Alas

Condoleezza Rice has been rewarded for her decision to  reinvigorate the “peace process” with a worshipful piece in today’s New York Times that charts her evolution from skeptic to architect in seven years. This is a standard-issue “growing in office” article, according to which a person considered a conservative ideologue has his or her eyes opened to the Truth — and suddenly seems wise and noble and brave where before she seemed unyielding, dogmatic and cowed by dark forces of the Right. The other term of art for these articles is “strange new respect,” according to which the officials in question are winning unexpected plaudits from politicians and thinkers who previously criticized or reviled them. And it is, of course, extremely seductive to receive praise for bravery and wisdom, especially when the official in question knows full well that one of the results of taking the new position is precisely that he or she will receive this kind of Establishment feedback.

Condoleezza Rice has been rewarded for her decision to  reinvigorate the “peace process” with a worshipful piece in today’s New York Times that charts her evolution from skeptic to architect in seven years. This is a standard-issue “growing in office” article, according to which a person considered a conservative ideologue has his or her eyes opened to the Truth — and suddenly seems wise and noble and brave where before she seemed unyielding, dogmatic and cowed by dark forces of the Right. The other term of art for these articles is “strange new respect,” according to which the officials in question are winning unexpected plaudits from politicians and thinkers who previously criticized or reviled them. And it is, of course, extremely seductive to receive praise for bravery and wisdom, especially when the official in question knows full well that one of the results of taking the new position is precisely that he or she will receive this kind of Establishment feedback.

Read Less




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