Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 14, 2008

Tokyo’s False Choices

“A gloom is settling over Tokyo,” writes Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS. Japan, he notes, is insecure as it watches its protector, the United States, rush to embrace a rising Chinese state. Glosserman correctly notes that the Japanese feel threatened by improving relations between Washington and Beijing.

As a result of their fears, he believes the Japanese see “false dichotomies” and are making “false choices.” Policymakers should stop framing things “in overly simple terms.” “Tokyo should adopt an inclusive outlook and not feel threatened by improved relations between Washington and Beijing,” Glosserman writes. “Just as a positive Japan-China relationship will not threaten Tokyo’s ties to Washington, improved U.S.-China relations need not undermine the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Really? Diplomacy may not always be a zero-sum game, but it is in Asia at this moment because the most important continental power there—China—sees it as such. Beijing has foreign policy goals that contemplate the removal of the United States from Asia and the neutralization of its two historical rivals, India and Japan. The Chinese, Indians, and Japanese are engaged in intense competitions, and Americans, who fought a series of wars in Asia last century, should know better than to spout bland statements and expect everyone to just get along.

For one thing, the American alliances with Japan and South Korea have no purpose if there are no threats. Why should we keep 28,000 military personnel on the Korean peninsula and 50,000 on the Japanese islands if they are not needed? They are there because the South Koreans and the Japanese feel insecure. And contrary to the blame-America-first crowd, it is not Washington that is creating an enemy to keep its alliances in place. Its alliances remain in place because Asians residing on the perimeter of the modern Chinese state are concerned about Beijing. They see that China is sustaining a hostile North Korean state, threatening the democracy on Taiwan, claiming vast expanses of international waters as its own, making outsized territorial claims, regularly violating their neighbors’ sovereignty, and engaging in aggressive military maneuvers.

The United States has sought to come to an accommodation with China as we hope that the Chinese will moderate their behavior and integrate themselves into the existing international system. So far, we have viewed this as a cost-free exercise. It is not. By doing so, we are undermining our alliances with democratic Japan and South Korea, both of which view our actions with concern if not alarm. Asians do not see “false dichotomies,” they are not making false choices,” and they are not viewing their region “in overly simple terms.” They are reacting to the failure of Washington to understand both the dynamics of Asia and the cost of its policies.

“A gloom is settling over Tokyo,” writes Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS. Japan, he notes, is insecure as it watches its protector, the United States, rush to embrace a rising Chinese state. Glosserman correctly notes that the Japanese feel threatened by improving relations between Washington and Beijing.

As a result of their fears, he believes the Japanese see “false dichotomies” and are making “false choices.” Policymakers should stop framing things “in overly simple terms.” “Tokyo should adopt an inclusive outlook and not feel threatened by improved relations between Washington and Beijing,” Glosserman writes. “Just as a positive Japan-China relationship will not threaten Tokyo’s ties to Washington, improved U.S.-China relations need not undermine the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Really? Diplomacy may not always be a zero-sum game, but it is in Asia at this moment because the most important continental power there—China—sees it as such. Beijing has foreign policy goals that contemplate the removal of the United States from Asia and the neutralization of its two historical rivals, India and Japan. The Chinese, Indians, and Japanese are engaged in intense competitions, and Americans, who fought a series of wars in Asia last century, should know better than to spout bland statements and expect everyone to just get along.

For one thing, the American alliances with Japan and South Korea have no purpose if there are no threats. Why should we keep 28,000 military personnel on the Korean peninsula and 50,000 on the Japanese islands if they are not needed? They are there because the South Koreans and the Japanese feel insecure. And contrary to the blame-America-first crowd, it is not Washington that is creating an enemy to keep its alliances in place. Its alliances remain in place because Asians residing on the perimeter of the modern Chinese state are concerned about Beijing. They see that China is sustaining a hostile North Korean state, threatening the democracy on Taiwan, claiming vast expanses of international waters as its own, making outsized territorial claims, regularly violating their neighbors’ sovereignty, and engaging in aggressive military maneuvers.

The United States has sought to come to an accommodation with China as we hope that the Chinese will moderate their behavior and integrate themselves into the existing international system. So far, we have viewed this as a cost-free exercise. It is not. By doing so, we are undermining our alliances with democratic Japan and South Korea, both of which view our actions with concern if not alarm. Asians do not see “false dichotomies,” they are not making false choices,” and they are not viewing their region “in overly simple terms.” They are reacting to the failure of Washington to understand both the dynamics of Asia and the cost of its policies.

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Why Was Ronnie Kasrils in Iran?

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

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The Democrat’s Unseemly Race Thing

From Hillary’s Kentucky-fried stump speech, to Oprah’s unsettlingly delirious endorsement of Obama, to Hillary’s invocation of Martin Luther King’s ghost, to Obama’s Afrocentric church, and on and on . . .

Forget talk about the race card; the whole deck has been compromised, and the Democratic showdown has become the most unseemly sociopolitical spectacle in recent memory. This blight on America’s reputation as a trailblazing plurality harkens straight back to the Tom Wolfe nineteen-eighties—but it’s worse.

The full-blown multiculturalism of the nineties and naughts was supposed to have delivered us from our silly prejudices into the great Benetton rainbow of modern citizenship. Instead it put a lid on many legitimate questions facing the diverse polity that is twenty-first century America. Simultaneously, the new rules offered a how-to manual for pundits waiting on the sidelines hoping to catch public figures being “intolerant.”

Hillary Clinton’s no-holds-barred ambition, and Barack Obama’s—it has to be said—audacity have ripped the lid off the great jar of gripes, and now, a nation in a genuine war for its survival is being urged to choose their next leader by pouring over the daily parsings and damage control measures of the candidates. In 2004, the Democrats could only run against George Bush, and it cost them the White House; this time around they’ve launched a tawdry War of The Roses for which they’ll pay heavily.

From Hillary’s Kentucky-fried stump speech, to Oprah’s unsettlingly delirious endorsement of Obama, to Hillary’s invocation of Martin Luther King’s ghost, to Obama’s Afrocentric church, and on and on . . .

Forget talk about the race card; the whole deck has been compromised, and the Democratic showdown has become the most unseemly sociopolitical spectacle in recent memory. This blight on America’s reputation as a trailblazing plurality harkens straight back to the Tom Wolfe nineteen-eighties—but it’s worse.

The full-blown multiculturalism of the nineties and naughts was supposed to have delivered us from our silly prejudices into the great Benetton rainbow of modern citizenship. Instead it put a lid on many legitimate questions facing the diverse polity that is twenty-first century America. Simultaneously, the new rules offered a how-to manual for pundits waiting on the sidelines hoping to catch public figures being “intolerant.”

Hillary Clinton’s no-holds-barred ambition, and Barack Obama’s—it has to be said—audacity have ripped the lid off the great jar of gripes, and now, a nation in a genuine war for its survival is being urged to choose their next leader by pouring over the daily parsings and damage control measures of the candidates. In 2004, the Democrats could only run against George Bush, and it cost them the White House; this time around they’ve launched a tawdry War of The Roses for which they’ll pay heavily.

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Peacemaker’s Encore

Oh, good. Daniel Barenboim, the renowned pianist, conductor, and peace activist, has just taken upon himself Palestinian citizenship, as reported in today’s Haaretz. The Argentinian-born Israeli, who once declared Edward Said to be his “most intimate friend,” has made a career of assaulting the Jewish state and supporting what is one of the world’s leading terror regimes.

A critic of Barenboim’s once wrote that “Barenboim, who can do anything in music, has been known to deliver less than musicians with half his ability and intelligence . . . . A courageous idealist who believes that symphonic music can heal human conflict, Barenboim appears to have no idea how to redeem symphonic music from the slough of 21st century human indifference.” But it is not clear that his sense of politics is much more effective. “I believe that the destinies of . . . the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked,” Barenboim said. “We are blessed – or cursed – to live with each other. And I prefer the first.” Such hopes seem remarkably detached not only from the realities on the ground, but from the terror operations emphatically glorified by his newly adoptive nation.

“Now even not very intelligent people,” he added, “are saying that the occupation has to be stopped.” Hm? Whatever.

Oh, good. Daniel Barenboim, the renowned pianist, conductor, and peace activist, has just taken upon himself Palestinian citizenship, as reported in today’s Haaretz. The Argentinian-born Israeli, who once declared Edward Said to be his “most intimate friend,” has made a career of assaulting the Jewish state and supporting what is one of the world’s leading terror regimes.

A critic of Barenboim’s once wrote that “Barenboim, who can do anything in music, has been known to deliver less than musicians with half his ability and intelligence . . . . A courageous idealist who believes that symphonic music can heal human conflict, Barenboim appears to have no idea how to redeem symphonic music from the slough of 21st century human indifference.” But it is not clear that his sense of politics is much more effective. “I believe that the destinies of . . . the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked,” Barenboim said. “We are blessed – or cursed – to live with each other. And I prefer the first.” Such hopes seem remarkably detached not only from the realities on the ground, but from the terror operations emphatically glorified by his newly adoptive nation.

“Now even not very intelligent people,” he added, “are saying that the occupation has to be stopped.” Hm? Whatever.

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Yes Minister — From the 1980s, A Practical Guide to Politics in 2008

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey – and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey – and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

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Politics of Unity?

For more than a year the two leading Democratic candidates for President, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have chided President Bush for being a “divider instead of a uniter.” The President is, it is said, a “polarizing” figure. Clinton and Obama promise to bring an end to all that. Obama in particular has made the cornerstone of his campaign a kind of tonal argument. He will, he has said, turn the page on the bitterness of the past and transcend the usual partisan sniping. He seems to be arguing that by the force and charisma of his personality he will, like Isaiah the prophet, bring us together so we can reason together.

Before bringing his healing balm to the country, however, we’ll see if Senator Obama can bring it to the Democratic Party.
The emerging battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is getting very personal very fast – with the toxic issue of race now being added to the mix in the last few days. Ugly charges and counter-charges are being made at an almost hourly rate. By the time this competition is done, there may be a lot of scorched earth left in its aftermath.

If Obama had won in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign would have been badly, and perhaps mortally, wounded, and the attacks we are now seeing would look desperate and graceless. But having prevailed in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton re-set the dynamics of the race. And so Senator Obama will now be on the receiving end of a ferocious attack machine, one that over the years has left its critics and opponents shattered and their reputations shredded. Ken Starr, it’s worth recalling, was a well-respected figure before he began his investigation into the Clinton scandals; when he was done, he was portrayed by the Clinton team as a sex-obsessed independent counsel, “Captain Ahab,” a “spineless, gutless weasel” who was the leader of an “inquisition.”

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For more than a year the two leading Democratic candidates for President, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have chided President Bush for being a “divider instead of a uniter.” The President is, it is said, a “polarizing” figure. Clinton and Obama promise to bring an end to all that. Obama in particular has made the cornerstone of his campaign a kind of tonal argument. He will, he has said, turn the page on the bitterness of the past and transcend the usual partisan sniping. He seems to be arguing that by the force and charisma of his personality he will, like Isaiah the prophet, bring us together so we can reason together.

Before bringing his healing balm to the country, however, we’ll see if Senator Obama can bring it to the Democratic Party.
The emerging battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is getting very personal very fast – with the toxic issue of race now being added to the mix in the last few days. Ugly charges and counter-charges are being made at an almost hourly rate. By the time this competition is done, there may be a lot of scorched earth left in its aftermath.

If Obama had won in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign would have been badly, and perhaps mortally, wounded, and the attacks we are now seeing would look desperate and graceless. But having prevailed in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton re-set the dynamics of the race. And so Senator Obama will now be on the receiving end of a ferocious attack machine, one that over the years has left its critics and opponents shattered and their reputations shredded. Ken Starr, it’s worth recalling, was a well-respected figure before he began his investigation into the Clinton scandals; when he was done, he was portrayed by the Clinton team as a sex-obsessed independent counsel, “Captain Ahab,” a “spineless, gutless weasel” who was the leader of an “inquisition.”

For a preview of things to come, see this, from Ryan Lizza’s article in The New Yorker:

On the morning after Clinton’s victory [in New Hampshire], I talked to Sergio Bendixen, one of her pollsters, who specializes in the Hispanic vote. “In all honesty, the Hispanic vote is extremely important to the Clinton campaign, and the polls have shown—and today is not a great day to cite polls—that even though she was slipping with women in Iowa and blacks in South Carolina, she was not slipping with Hispanics,” he said. “The fire wall doesn’t apply now, because she is in good shape, but before last night the Hispanic vote was going to be the most important part of her fire wall on February 5th.” The implications of that strategy are not necessarily uplifting. When I asked Bendixen about the source of Clinton’s strength in the Hispanic community, he mentioned her support for health care, and Hispanic voters’ affinity for the Clinton era. “It’s one group where going back to the past really works,” he said. “All you need to say in focus groups is ‘Let’s go back to the nineties.’ ” But he was also frank about the fact that the Clintons, long beloved in the black community, are now dependent on a less edifying political dynamic: “The Hispanic voter—and I want to say this very carefully—has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Obama’s “politics of hope” responds to those who have perfected the Politics of Personal Destruction. Will he be able to respond persuasively and aggressively without getting himself filthy in the process? Will he be able to turn the chapter on the divisive politics of the past–or will he merely add to what we have seen before?

Regardless of the results, after this nomination process it may be a lot harder for either Clinton or Obama to put forward the argument that they are figures who can bring America together, especially if they succeed in driving various constituencies within the Democratic Party apart. The politics of unity aren’t, apparently, as easy as people think.

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The End of Mashaal, Haniyeh, and Zahar?

Khaled Abu Toameh reports in the Jerusalem Post today that

Israel is planning to assassinate exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal, deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, but is waiting to give the green light on the operation until after US President George W. Bush leaves the region, the London-based newspaper, Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Color me skeptical. Israel has had good cause to take such action for years, but has not done so, save for a terribly botched attempt on Mashaal in 1997 in Jordan. If the story is true, however, I suspect that the assassinations would be a component of a larger operation in Gaza that would seek to substantially weaken Hamas’ power there, preparing the territory for the return of Fatah, which is an American objective–and which would give the Israelis, I would imagine, explicit American approval for the assassinations.

The above speculation should not be construed, though, as anything other than tea-leaf reading.

Khaled Abu Toameh reports in the Jerusalem Post today that

Israel is planning to assassinate exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal, deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, but is waiting to give the green light on the operation until after US President George W. Bush leaves the region, the London-based newspaper, Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Color me skeptical. Israel has had good cause to take such action for years, but has not done so, save for a terribly botched attempt on Mashaal in 1997 in Jordan. If the story is true, however, I suspect that the assassinations would be a component of a larger operation in Gaza that would seek to substantially weaken Hamas’ power there, preparing the territory for the return of Fatah, which is an American objective–and which would give the Israelis, I would imagine, explicit American approval for the assassinations.

The above speculation should not be construed, though, as anything other than tea-leaf reading.

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Bush’s Bahraini Fumble

In case you had any doubts, the primary target of President Bush’s eight-day sojourn in the Middle East remains Iran. Whether the President is pitching Israeli-Palestinian peace or promoting political liberalization, rolling back Iranian ascendancy is the name of the game. Bush’s strategic reasoning is as follows: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved and liberal democracy proliferates, Arabs will reject the radical extremism that stands at the heart of Tehran’s political program and stifle Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony.

Yet in pursuing this strategy, Bush has sought out the wrong audiences. Rather than reaching out to Arab publics and explaining the benefits of peace and democracy, the President has presented his thesis before Arab monarchs and their ministers—the very individuals who have long thwarted democratic movements and undermined Arab-Israeli peace. In this vein, Bush’s praise for Israel as having “raised a thriving modern society out of rocky soil” before an Abu Dhabi conference of government and business leaders likely fell on deaf ears, while his declaration that Iran is “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” predictably elicited no response—business-conscious U.A.E. is Iran’s biggest trading partner.

But perhaps Bush’s greatest misfire came in Bahrain. With an entrenched Sunni monarchy that rules over a 70 percent Shiite majority, Bahrain might have provided a remarkable opportunity for Bush to engage a key Shiite population and promote the benefits of human rights and democracy over the religious extremism that Iran embodies. Yet Bush did the opposite, grinning with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, whom he lauded as standing “on the forefront of providing hope for people through democracy.” Any Shiite paying attention would have been dumbfounded. Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy holds half of all cabinet positions; controls all of the major security services posts; and appoints the upper chamber of the legislature, which has veto power over the elected lower chamber. How can an American president term such arrangements democratic?

Granted, Bush probably had little hope of winning over Bahrain’s Shiites, some of whom protested his visit in the days prior to his arrival. Indeed, having personally traveled in Bahrain, I can attest to the prevalence of Khomeini posters and pro-Hezbollah slogans that line the streets in the heart of Manama—good indicators of anti-American hostilities that few presidential addresses could reasonably overcome.

Still, for all the lip service that the Bush administration has given to empowering Arab publics through democracy, it would have been refreshing to see the President just once address some of his harshest Arab critics face-to-face, rather than continually talking over them. After all, if the freedom agenda holds the key to liberating the region from Iranian hegemony, then Bush has wasted precious time praising democracy to an unpopular monarchy.

In case you had any doubts, the primary target of President Bush’s eight-day sojourn in the Middle East remains Iran. Whether the President is pitching Israeli-Palestinian peace or promoting political liberalization, rolling back Iranian ascendancy is the name of the game. Bush’s strategic reasoning is as follows: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved and liberal democracy proliferates, Arabs will reject the radical extremism that stands at the heart of Tehran’s political program and stifle Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony.

Yet in pursuing this strategy, Bush has sought out the wrong audiences. Rather than reaching out to Arab publics and explaining the benefits of peace and democracy, the President has presented his thesis before Arab monarchs and their ministers—the very individuals who have long thwarted democratic movements and undermined Arab-Israeli peace. In this vein, Bush’s praise for Israel as having “raised a thriving modern society out of rocky soil” before an Abu Dhabi conference of government and business leaders likely fell on deaf ears, while his declaration that Iran is “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” predictably elicited no response—business-conscious U.A.E. is Iran’s biggest trading partner.

But perhaps Bush’s greatest misfire came in Bahrain. With an entrenched Sunni monarchy that rules over a 70 percent Shiite majority, Bahrain might have provided a remarkable opportunity for Bush to engage a key Shiite population and promote the benefits of human rights and democracy over the religious extremism that Iran embodies. Yet Bush did the opposite, grinning with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, whom he lauded as standing “on the forefront of providing hope for people through democracy.” Any Shiite paying attention would have been dumbfounded. Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy holds half of all cabinet positions; controls all of the major security services posts; and appoints the upper chamber of the legislature, which has veto power over the elected lower chamber. How can an American president term such arrangements democratic?

Granted, Bush probably had little hope of winning over Bahrain’s Shiites, some of whom protested his visit in the days prior to his arrival. Indeed, having personally traveled in Bahrain, I can attest to the prevalence of Khomeini posters and pro-Hezbollah slogans that line the streets in the heart of Manama—good indicators of anti-American hostilities that few presidential addresses could reasonably overcome.

Still, for all the lip service that the Bush administration has given to empowering Arab publics through democracy, it would have been refreshing to see the President just once address some of his harshest Arab critics face-to-face, rather than continually talking over them. After all, if the freedom agenda holds the key to liberating the region from Iranian hegemony, then Bush has wasted precious time praising democracy to an unpopular monarchy.

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The Iran NIE is Perfectly Sound

The Wall Street Journal has run a lengthy account this morning of how the latest controversial National Intelligence Estimate reporting a 2003 shutdown of the Iran’s nuclear-weapons program came to be written. It suggests that charges of political manipulation by conservative critics are overblown, possibly even absurd:

Hundreds of officials were involved and thousands of documents were drawn upon in this report, according to the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], making it impossible for any official to overly sway it. Intelligence sources were vetted and questioned in ways they weren’t ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Thomas Fingar, a former State Department official now with the National Intelligence Counsel, one of the leading figures in drafting the NIE, mocks reports of politicization. “A lot of it is just nonsense,” he says. “The idea that this thing was written by a bunch of nonprofessional renegades or refugees is just silly.”

Connecting the Dots has not seen the classified version of the NIE, but it is inclined to agree with Fingar that it would be very difficult to tailor-make a NIE for political ends. This is perhaps one reason why President Bush, as he traveled across the Middle East and met allied governments that were confused by the document, declined to disavow it.

So why the controversy?

The NIE may be perfectly sound, but the declassified summary of it, produced at the last minute after the White House decided to release the document, is something else. By relegating to a footnote the fact that Iran has a continuing uranium-enrichment program, and by declaring flatly that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, without so much of an indication that a crucial aspect of that program — the development of fuel for a nuclear-bomb core — continues apace, the public — including America’s allies and adversaries — were baldly misled. The NIE summary is about as deceptive as the headline of this post.

Compounding the scandal here is the fact, as the Journal reports, that Fingar and other architects of the NIE, were in their previous assignments in the State Department bitter opponents of the administration’s tough line on Iraq. The Bush administration has been lambasted for politicizing intelligence; but in this instance at least it can be faulted for something equally bad: tolerating the naked politicization of intelligence by bureaucratic opponents of its policies.

Connecting the Dots still wants to know when a housecleaning of U.S. intelligence, badly overdue, will take place.  

 

The Wall Street Journal has run a lengthy account this morning of how the latest controversial National Intelligence Estimate reporting a 2003 shutdown of the Iran’s nuclear-weapons program came to be written. It suggests that charges of political manipulation by conservative critics are overblown, possibly even absurd:

Hundreds of officials were involved and thousands of documents were drawn upon in this report, according to the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], making it impossible for any official to overly sway it. Intelligence sources were vetted and questioned in ways they weren’t ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Thomas Fingar, a former State Department official now with the National Intelligence Counsel, one of the leading figures in drafting the NIE, mocks reports of politicization. “A lot of it is just nonsense,” he says. “The idea that this thing was written by a bunch of nonprofessional renegades or refugees is just silly.”

Connecting the Dots has not seen the classified version of the NIE, but it is inclined to agree with Fingar that it would be very difficult to tailor-make a NIE for political ends. This is perhaps one reason why President Bush, as he traveled across the Middle East and met allied governments that were confused by the document, declined to disavow it.

So why the controversy?

The NIE may be perfectly sound, but the declassified summary of it, produced at the last minute after the White House decided to release the document, is something else. By relegating to a footnote the fact that Iran has a continuing uranium-enrichment program, and by declaring flatly that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, without so much of an indication that a crucial aspect of that program — the development of fuel for a nuclear-bomb core — continues apace, the public — including America’s allies and adversaries — were baldly misled. The NIE summary is about as deceptive as the headline of this post.

Compounding the scandal here is the fact, as the Journal reports, that Fingar and other architects of the NIE, were in their previous assignments in the State Department bitter opponents of the administration’s tough line on Iraq. The Bush administration has been lambasted for politicizing intelligence; but in this instance at least it can be faulted for something equally bad: tolerating the naked politicization of intelligence by bureaucratic opponents of its policies.

Connecting the Dots still wants to know when a housecleaning of U.S. intelligence, badly overdue, will take place.  

 

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Competitive Victimization

The Hillary/Obama race vs. gender dustup has just given the country a taste of why the Democratic Party spent so many years in the wilderness. The game of competitive victimization reminds swing voters in general and white men in particular why the Democrats can be problematic.

The night of her unexpected New Hampshire victory on the basis of a strong turnout from blue collar female voters, the press began to explain away the polls that had pointed to an Obama landslide by referring to “the Bradley effect.” That refers to the experience in Los Angeles where Tom Bradley, L.A.’s first African-American mayor, who did far better in public opinion polls than at the ballot box where he failed to win the governorship in 1982. The thesis was that white voters, not wanting to appear racist are reluctant to tell pollster about how they truly feel about black candidates. The implication–laid out without clear evidence by Andrew Kohut, a pollster for the Pew Research Center and picked up by the likes of Maureen Dowd–was that Clinton won on the basis of the racism of lower-middle-class whites.

This is something the many Obama admirers in the press picked up and ran with. The problem, as John Judis shows in a detailed New Republic piece, is that “Obama’s support among New Hampshire Democrats without college degrees slightly increased from the pre-election poll to the exit poll.” Clinton’s late gains, Judis notes came from well educated women who might well have been responding to the now famous incident in a dinner where the former First Lady seemed to tear up under the weight on being doubled teamed by Obama and Edwards.

And that’s when matters began to heat up. People around the Obama campaign, though not the candidate himself, suggested that Clinton had played on her supposed victimization as a woman, to win an election driven by economic anxieties. Obama in this view had been victimized by both his race and his gender. As for race; the supposed “Bradley effect” as well as statements by Bill and Hillary which may or may not have had double meanings regarding Lyndon Johnson’s role in achievements of the Civil Rights Era and the constancy of Obama position on Iraq have led to implausible accusations of racial insensitivity on the part of the Clintons.

In the short run, this is good news for the Obama campaign which has done its best to keep its fingerprints off the matches being lit by the press but stands to benefit greatly in the upcoming South Carolina primary if the accusation shift African-American voters away from Hillary Clinton.

On one level none of this hair-trigger “sensitivity” should be taken too seriously. All the parties involved are marvels at playing double games. A practical effect of the race versus gender game may be increased pressure on Hillary Clinton to choose Obama as her running mate should she win the nomination. But it raises the issue of whether Americans who are neither black nor female will be allowed to ask serious question about the two leading Democratic candidates without potential accusation of bias of one sort or another.

The Hillary/Obama race vs. gender dustup has just given the country a taste of why the Democratic Party spent so many years in the wilderness. The game of competitive victimization reminds swing voters in general and white men in particular why the Democrats can be problematic.

The night of her unexpected New Hampshire victory on the basis of a strong turnout from blue collar female voters, the press began to explain away the polls that had pointed to an Obama landslide by referring to “the Bradley effect.” That refers to the experience in Los Angeles where Tom Bradley, L.A.’s first African-American mayor, who did far better in public opinion polls than at the ballot box where he failed to win the governorship in 1982. The thesis was that white voters, not wanting to appear racist are reluctant to tell pollster about how they truly feel about black candidates. The implication–laid out without clear evidence by Andrew Kohut, a pollster for the Pew Research Center and picked up by the likes of Maureen Dowd–was that Clinton won on the basis of the racism of lower-middle-class whites.

This is something the many Obama admirers in the press picked up and ran with. The problem, as John Judis shows in a detailed New Republic piece, is that “Obama’s support among New Hampshire Democrats without college degrees slightly increased from the pre-election poll to the exit poll.” Clinton’s late gains, Judis notes came from well educated women who might well have been responding to the now famous incident in a dinner where the former First Lady seemed to tear up under the weight on being doubled teamed by Obama and Edwards.

And that’s when matters began to heat up. People around the Obama campaign, though not the candidate himself, suggested that Clinton had played on her supposed victimization as a woman, to win an election driven by economic anxieties. Obama in this view had been victimized by both his race and his gender. As for race; the supposed “Bradley effect” as well as statements by Bill and Hillary which may or may not have had double meanings regarding Lyndon Johnson’s role in achievements of the Civil Rights Era and the constancy of Obama position on Iraq have led to implausible accusations of racial insensitivity on the part of the Clintons.

In the short run, this is good news for the Obama campaign which has done its best to keep its fingerprints off the matches being lit by the press but stands to benefit greatly in the upcoming South Carolina primary if the accusation shift African-American voters away from Hillary Clinton.

On one level none of this hair-trigger “sensitivity” should be taken too seriously. All the parties involved are marvels at playing double games. A practical effect of the race versus gender game may be increased pressure on Hillary Clinton to choose Obama as her running mate should she win the nomination. But it raises the issue of whether Americans who are neither black nor female will be allowed to ask serious question about the two leading Democratic candidates without potential accusation of bias of one sort or another.

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Tim Russert’s Annoying Hillary Interview: A Case Study in Media Irrelevance

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

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