Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 26, 2007

The Other Russian Missile Story

Considering the profound reassurance George Bush found in the crucifix Vladimir Putin wore when the two met six years ago, yesterday’s Christmas missile tests in Russia seem like an especially blunt thumb in the President’s eye. But while that story grabs headlines, there’s another Russian missile story that should concern us just as much, if not more.

Today, Reuters UK reports that Russia will be selling an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. The report says: “S-300 missiles are longer-ranging than the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles which Russia, in a deal criticized by the West, earlier this year said it had delivered to the Islamic Republic under a $1 billion contract.”

When the TOR-M1 deal drew U.S. and Israeli criticism, Russia downplayed the weapon’s seriousness, saying the missiles were short-range and represented a purely defensive capability. But the S-300 is actually the most lethal missile of its kind. International Assessment and Strategy Center had this to say about S-300’s, (purchased from Russia) in Chinese skies: “Over the Taiwan Strait the later versions of the S-300 become “offensive” weapons in that they can attack targets in Taiwanese airspace, severely challenging that nation’s air defense.”

Reuters reports: “Russia’s drive to boost arms exports have raised tensions with the United States, which last year imposed sanctions on Russia’s state arms trader Rosoboronexport for cooperating with Iran, a move Moscow has called illegal.” There are currently no U.N. sanctions banning conventional weapons sales to Iran.

There are two very dangerous impulses of late: to treat Tehran as a reasonable player, and to treat Putin as, of all things, a stabilizer. The U.S. has all but lost yet another PR war on these two fronts. Erroneous public opinion is clearing the way for some frightening developments. But halting the next phase can’t wait on the world’s sympathy.

Considering the profound reassurance George Bush found in the crucifix Vladimir Putin wore when the two met six years ago, yesterday’s Christmas missile tests in Russia seem like an especially blunt thumb in the President’s eye. But while that story grabs headlines, there’s another Russian missile story that should concern us just as much, if not more.

Today, Reuters UK reports that Russia will be selling an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. The report says: “S-300 missiles are longer-ranging than the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles which Russia, in a deal criticized by the West, earlier this year said it had delivered to the Islamic Republic under a $1 billion contract.”

When the TOR-M1 deal drew U.S. and Israeli criticism, Russia downplayed the weapon’s seriousness, saying the missiles were short-range and represented a purely defensive capability. But the S-300 is actually the most lethal missile of its kind. International Assessment and Strategy Center had this to say about S-300’s, (purchased from Russia) in Chinese skies: “Over the Taiwan Strait the later versions of the S-300 become “offensive” weapons in that they can attack targets in Taiwanese airspace, severely challenging that nation’s air defense.”

Reuters reports: “Russia’s drive to boost arms exports have raised tensions with the United States, which last year imposed sanctions on Russia’s state arms trader Rosoboronexport for cooperating with Iran, a move Moscow has called illegal.” There are currently no U.N. sanctions banning conventional weapons sales to Iran.

There are two very dangerous impulses of late: to treat Tehran as a reasonable player, and to treat Putin as, of all things, a stabilizer. The U.S. has all but lost yet another PR war on these two fronts. Erroneous public opinion is clearing the way for some frightening developments. But halting the next phase can’t wait on the world’s sympathy.

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Japan’s Hidden Gems

Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

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Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

4. The Asuka Region: An hour train ride south of Kyoto lies the cradle of Japanese civilization. In this small valley lived the nascent imperial family and the great clans who, within the space of two and a half centuries, from C.E. 550 to 800, created the classical Japanese state. Here was introduced Buddhism, and Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, Asuka-dera, still exists; the first palaces also were built here, and the earliest tomb mounds still dot the landscape. Rent a bicycle and pedal leisurely through the countryside. Excellent museums abound, including the Kashihara Archeological Institute Museum, filled with ancient pottery, ornaments, and weapons.

5. Mt. Mitake: For those who want to stay closer to Tokyo, a 90-minute train ride west from Shinjuku will take you to one of the famous pilgrimage mountains from the Edo period (17th-19th centuries). A cable car takes you near the top of the mountain and an easy walk past small teahouses precariously perched on the pilgrimage path leads to the shrine at the top. But don’t end there: stay overnight at Shukubo Komadori-sanso, an inn dating back to 1776, which also offers special rates for foreigners. Try to go in autumn, when they serve a special seasonal meal that was the best dinner I’ve ever had in Japan. When nighttime comes, the absolute stillness of the mountain is awe-inspiring.

For inns at or near any of these locations, check out the Japanese Inn Group; general travel information is available at the Japan National Tourist Organization website. A Japan Rail Pass is the best way to travel, and the most economical (available only through JNTO offices abroad).

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

Every year around Christmas, the international media swoop down to the little town of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, to see how Jesus’s birthplace is doing. And every year, the news is bad—the Christian population has in the last decade gone from a majority to a fairly small minority, and it is now a Muslim city. But as Aaron Klein writes in a moving op-ed on Ynet, the media seem convinced this is Israel’s fault, to be blamed on the security barrier Israel erected to prevent the infiltration of terrorists. (For an especially egregious example of this tendentious reading, see Newsweek editor Kenneth L. Woodward’s December 24th op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.) Klein rebuts this quite nicely:

Simple demographic facts will answer this question. Israel built the barrier five years ago. But Bethlehem’s Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year Arafat’s Palestinian Authority took over the holy Christian city in line with the U.S.-backed Oslo Accords…. As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city’s Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammad Rashad A-Jabar and deposed of Bethlehem’s city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christians councilors to a 50-50 split. Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence. Suddenly after the Palestinians gained the territory, reports of Christian intimidation by Muslims began to surface. Christian leaders and residents told me they face an atmosphere of regular hostility. They said Palestinian armed groups stir tension by holding militant demonstrations and marches in the streets. They spoke of instances in which Christian shopkeepers’ stores were ransacked and Christian homes attacked.

The result of this is the effective de-Christianization of Bethlehem:

Bethlehem consisted of upwards of 80 percent Christians when Israel was founded in 1948, but since Arafat got his grimy hands on it, the city’s Christian population dove to its current 23 percent. And that statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem’s actual Christian population at as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians emigrating per year.

What’s unclear about the media’s take on this front is what interest Israel could possibly have in turning Bethlehem into another Jenin, Nablus, or Ramallah. Read the whole thing.

Every year around Christmas, the international media swoop down to the little town of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, to see how Jesus’s birthplace is doing. And every year, the news is bad—the Christian population has in the last decade gone from a majority to a fairly small minority, and it is now a Muslim city. But as Aaron Klein writes in a moving op-ed on Ynet, the media seem convinced this is Israel’s fault, to be blamed on the security barrier Israel erected to prevent the infiltration of terrorists. (For an especially egregious example of this tendentious reading, see Newsweek editor Kenneth L. Woodward’s December 24th op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.) Klein rebuts this quite nicely:

Simple demographic facts will answer this question. Israel built the barrier five years ago. But Bethlehem’s Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year Arafat’s Palestinian Authority took over the holy Christian city in line with the U.S.-backed Oslo Accords…. As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city’s Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammad Rashad A-Jabar and deposed of Bethlehem’s city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christians councilors to a 50-50 split. Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence. Suddenly after the Palestinians gained the territory, reports of Christian intimidation by Muslims began to surface. Christian leaders and residents told me they face an atmosphere of regular hostility. They said Palestinian armed groups stir tension by holding militant demonstrations and marches in the streets. They spoke of instances in which Christian shopkeepers’ stores were ransacked and Christian homes attacked.

The result of this is the effective de-Christianization of Bethlehem:

Bethlehem consisted of upwards of 80 percent Christians when Israel was founded in 1948, but since Arafat got his grimy hands on it, the city’s Christian population dove to its current 23 percent. And that statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem’s actual Christian population at as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians emigrating per year.

What’s unclear about the media’s take on this front is what interest Israel could possibly have in turning Bethlehem into another Jenin, Nablus, or Ramallah. Read the whole thing.

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Should We “Engage”?

Since the release of the NIE summary on December 3, the case for engagement with Iran has grown in strength again. While engagement has been the principled tool for Western diplomacy with Tehran, has it worked?

Russia is engaging Tehran by providing them with nuclear technology and arms deals. Europe is engaging Iran through dialogue and trade. Saudi Arabia is engaging Iran through invitations to the hajj and diplomatic meetings. Turkey is engaging Tehran much in the same way—trade and talks. The Gulf States are also engaging Tehran. And so is Egypt—despite the lack of diplomatic ties since 1979: according to Iranian sources, Ali Larijani was just there on a visit and cultural ties are deepening. Even the U.S. has engaged Iran—though on a limited basis—over Iraq.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, has rebuffed the U.S. after Condoleezza Rice’s latest overture to Tehran, urging the U.S. to change its tone. Tehran’s latest rejection should come as no surprise, given Iran’s consistent rebuff of such offers, beginning with their negative response to the P5+1 in June 2006.

There has been plenty of engagement with Tehran since its nuclear program was exposed in August 2002. The only thing that engagement yielded so far is more time for Tehran to achieve its nuclear ambitions. Still, after the NIE’s publication, some seem more convinced than ever that engagement is the only way forward. They should think twice.

The NIE says very clearly that Iran was busy building a nuclear weapon in 2003. That was not the time of Mahdi-believing isolationist hardliners like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the height of Western engagement with Tehran, when Mohammad Khatami, then president of Iran, was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations”—while building a nuke under cover. If that is what engagement was yielding in 2003, what exactly is the evidence that engagement today would yield more positive results?

Since the release of the NIE summary on December 3, the case for engagement with Iran has grown in strength again. While engagement has been the principled tool for Western diplomacy with Tehran, has it worked?

Russia is engaging Tehran by providing them with nuclear technology and arms deals. Europe is engaging Iran through dialogue and trade. Saudi Arabia is engaging Iran through invitations to the hajj and diplomatic meetings. Turkey is engaging Tehran much in the same way—trade and talks. The Gulf States are also engaging Tehran. And so is Egypt—despite the lack of diplomatic ties since 1979: according to Iranian sources, Ali Larijani was just there on a visit and cultural ties are deepening. Even the U.S. has engaged Iran—though on a limited basis—over Iraq.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, has rebuffed the U.S. after Condoleezza Rice’s latest overture to Tehran, urging the U.S. to change its tone. Tehran’s latest rejection should come as no surprise, given Iran’s consistent rebuff of such offers, beginning with their negative response to the P5+1 in June 2006.

There has been plenty of engagement with Tehran since its nuclear program was exposed in August 2002. The only thing that engagement yielded so far is more time for Tehran to achieve its nuclear ambitions. Still, after the NIE’s publication, some seem more convinced than ever that engagement is the only way forward. They should think twice.

The NIE says very clearly that Iran was busy building a nuclear weapon in 2003. That was not the time of Mahdi-believing isolationist hardliners like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the height of Western engagement with Tehran, when Mohammad Khatami, then president of Iran, was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations”—while building a nuke under cover. If that is what engagement was yielding in 2003, what exactly is the evidence that engagement today would yield more positive results?

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Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

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Rice Signals Iran

In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

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In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

Rice similarly promised to meet with her counterparts in a December 10 address at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s annual luncheon, and made similar remarks in a December 18 interview with al-Arabiya. For its part, Iran has acknowledged Rice’s signal, with state-run Iranian television reporting that she might visit Tehran in the coming year if certain preconditions are satisfied.

Rice’s shift is both pragmatic and disappointing. Insofar as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power represents its greatest threat to the international community, Rice is correct in offering considerable carrots for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear program. But Iranian support for terrorism is also a major concern, and Rice’s offer to “talk about anything” with her Iranian counterparts opens the possibility that Iranian support for Hizballah and Hamas will become legitimate bargaining chips in forthcoming U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

For this reason, Rice should be reminded of her December 11 interview with the USA Today editorial board, in which she argued that the NIE indicated that Iran “is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny.” As the Bush administration pursues Israeli-Palestinian peace and urges anti-Syrian lawmakers to choose a President in Lebanon, the cessation of Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hizballah must remain a precondition for top-level U.S.-Iranian talks.

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Ron Paul: When Right Meets Left

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

Read Less




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