Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 19, 2008

Fighting Obama Symmetrically

Barack Obama’s stock has indeed fallen of late. Notable criticism of the senator is suddenly available in comprehensive, comic, and scathing varieties. But what’s most interesting is that the charges themselves have changed from those his detractors had been making all along. The newest indictments of Obama don’t have to do with what the senator is missing, but rather with what he has in spades: horrific judgement. This should help Hillary (even if too late) and McCain (even if too early.)

Trying to demonstrate what’s missing is an intangible and slippery task. Without a clear party to bear the burden of proof, the charge just floats in and out of public consciousness. Critics exhausted themselves trying to point to what Obama is not, and in response Obama merely stuck to all he ever claimed to be: a reason to hope. The substance-free was the medium in which he thrived, and his unrestrained rhetoric bought him legions of supporters who didn’t have time for details.

Now, Hillary and John McCain are no longer trying to prove a negative. Plagiarism, broken promises, questionable advisors, extreme liberal voting record, and heavy-handed economic policies are genuine targets. Having a real bull’s-eye at which to aim, they shouldn’t waste another breath attacking Obama as a fairytale. With Obama’s poor decisions and policies revealed, it’s no wonder he kept his “substance” in the shadows for so long. He’s entered the real world and his opponents must not miss the opportunity to challenge him in concrete terms. At least for the time being, it’s become a symmetrical fight.

Barack Obama’s stock has indeed fallen of late. Notable criticism of the senator is suddenly available in comprehensive, comic, and scathing varieties. But what’s most interesting is that the charges themselves have changed from those his detractors had been making all along. The newest indictments of Obama don’t have to do with what the senator is missing, but rather with what he has in spades: horrific judgement. This should help Hillary (even if too late) and McCain (even if too early.)

Trying to demonstrate what’s missing is an intangible and slippery task. Without a clear party to bear the burden of proof, the charge just floats in and out of public consciousness. Critics exhausted themselves trying to point to what Obama is not, and in response Obama merely stuck to all he ever claimed to be: a reason to hope. The substance-free was the medium in which he thrived, and his unrestrained rhetoric bought him legions of supporters who didn’t have time for details.

Now, Hillary and John McCain are no longer trying to prove a negative. Plagiarism, broken promises, questionable advisors, extreme liberal voting record, and heavy-handed economic policies are genuine targets. Having a real bull’s-eye at which to aim, they shouldn’t waste another breath attacking Obama as a fairytale. With Obama’s poor decisions and policies revealed, it’s no wonder he kept his “substance” in the shadows for so long. He’s entered the real world and his opponents must not miss the opportunity to challenge him in concrete terms. At least for the time being, it’s become a symmetrical fight.

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With Friends Like These…

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

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Farewell, Horizon

As of this afternoon, we are integrating our arts coverage into CONTENTIONS. Which means, sadly, bidding goodbye to THE HORIZON as a stand-alone blog. All of the arts bloggers you enjoy will still be writing for us. So don’t worry. Just make sure to look for them here.

As of this afternoon, we are integrating our arts coverage into CONTENTIONS. Which means, sadly, bidding goodbye to THE HORIZON as a stand-alone blog. All of the arts bloggers you enjoy will still be writing for us. So don’t worry. Just make sure to look for them here.

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Not With a Bang But a Whimper

Somehow this is not the way anyone really expected Fidel Castro’s rule to reach its conclusion – with a resignation that indicates he has achieved an undeniable state of infirmity. I think we all assumed he would die, and that with his death, his regime would basically topple. Its legitimacy, or rather its fearsome control over is based in Castro himself. And therein lies a potential tragedy. News reports indicate that on Sunday, Fidel’s brother Raul will be anointed the new dictator. Given the orderly nature of the transition, there seems little reason to hope for a regime collapse. And one should expect, by simple logic, that Raul’s first and last order of business will be to make it clear that he is in charge, is going nowhere, and that the regime will stand strong. Which suggests that things are about to get worse in Cuba, not better, and that the long-standing dream of the Cuban people’s almost instantaneous liberation is not going to be a reality any time soon.

Somehow this is not the way anyone really expected Fidel Castro’s rule to reach its conclusion – with a resignation that indicates he has achieved an undeniable state of infirmity. I think we all assumed he would die, and that with his death, his regime would basically topple. Its legitimacy, or rather its fearsome control over is based in Castro himself. And therein lies a potential tragedy. News reports indicate that on Sunday, Fidel’s brother Raul will be anointed the new dictator. Given the orderly nature of the transition, there seems little reason to hope for a regime collapse. And one should expect, by simple logic, that Raul’s first and last order of business will be to make it clear that he is in charge, is going nowhere, and that the regime will stand strong. Which suggests that things are about to get worse in Cuba, not better, and that the long-standing dream of the Cuban people’s almost instantaneous liberation is not going to be a reality any time soon.

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Dream Small

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about why Denmark “consistently beats the rest of the world in the happiness stakes.” Here’s University of Southern Denmark researcher Kaare Christiansen in an exchange with Morley Safer:

CHRISTIANSEN: What we basically figured out that, although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations, they were pretty modest.

SAFER: So, by having low expectations, you’re rarely disappointed.

CHRISTIANSEN: Exactly.

And in starving you’ll find little reason to complain about the food. The piece was an undisguised refutation of American ideals and pursuits. Try this Safer tidbit:

SAFER: History may also play a role in [Denmark’s] culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own web site, it proudly proclaims: ‘The present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders, and lost battles.’ Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants or a large dose of humiliation? Do you think there’s some kind of inverse relationship between the more powerful you are, the more unhappy you are, and the weaker you are, the happier you are?

If the answer is “yes,” the Danes should be beaming right now. The happiest country in the world is in the throes of its seventh night of Muslim riots over the reprinting of the infamous Muhammed cartoons. Which you wouldn’t be able to glean from this:

SAFER: [Danish newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset] says that contentment may stem from the fact that Denmark is almost totally homogenous, there’s no large disparities of wealth, and has had very little national turmoil for more than a half century.

After confirming that Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar condemns the American way of life, Safer goes on to praise the Denmark cradle-to-grave benefits system that anticipates and satisfies its citizens’ every conceivable need, and then disparages Americans as carriers of the “bacterium” of “wanting it all.” For any viewer who missed the point, the piece closes with this:

SAFER: What would you advise Americans to do?

DANISH STUDENT: I have an advice. Don’t… don’t depend too much on the American dream. Yeah, I think you might get disappointed.

And I too have “an advice,” for Denmark. There are things more valuable than averaged happiness: freedom, industry, imagination, and self-determination for starters. Don’t venture too far without them. I think you might get disappointed.

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about why Denmark “consistently beats the rest of the world in the happiness stakes.” Here’s University of Southern Denmark researcher Kaare Christiansen in an exchange with Morley Safer:

CHRISTIANSEN: What we basically figured out that, although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations, they were pretty modest.

SAFER: So, by having low expectations, you’re rarely disappointed.

CHRISTIANSEN: Exactly.

And in starving you’ll find little reason to complain about the food. The piece was an undisguised refutation of American ideals and pursuits. Try this Safer tidbit:

SAFER: History may also play a role in [Denmark’s] culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own web site, it proudly proclaims: ‘The present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders, and lost battles.’ Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants or a large dose of humiliation? Do you think there’s some kind of inverse relationship between the more powerful you are, the more unhappy you are, and the weaker you are, the happier you are?

If the answer is “yes,” the Danes should be beaming right now. The happiest country in the world is in the throes of its seventh night of Muslim riots over the reprinting of the infamous Muhammed cartoons. Which you wouldn’t be able to glean from this:

SAFER: [Danish newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset] says that contentment may stem from the fact that Denmark is almost totally homogenous, there’s no large disparities of wealth, and has had very little national turmoil for more than a half century.

After confirming that Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar condemns the American way of life, Safer goes on to praise the Denmark cradle-to-grave benefits system that anticipates and satisfies its citizens’ every conceivable need, and then disparages Americans as carriers of the “bacterium” of “wanting it all.” For any viewer who missed the point, the piece closes with this:

SAFER: What would you advise Americans to do?

DANISH STUDENT: I have an advice. Don’t… don’t depend too much on the American dream. Yeah, I think you might get disappointed.

And I too have “an advice,” for Denmark. There are things more valuable than averaged happiness: freedom, industry, imagination, and self-determination for starters. Don’t venture too far without them. I think you might get disappointed.

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Right Argument, Wrong Party

Hillary Clinton puts out a press release commenting on the retirement of Fidel Castro which concludes:

“The events of the past three days, including elections in Pakistan and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, are a vivid illustration of people around the world yearning for democracy and opportunity. We need a President with the experience to recognize and seize these opportunities to advance America’s values and interests around the world. I will be that President.”

This strikes me as an entirely plausible, but Republican argument. Republicans argue that the world is a dangerous place, that a key component of our foreign policy is support for the world’s fledgling democracies and that American missteps can have dire results for ourselves and our allies. (Competence matters because the world is a complicated and treacherous place.) Democrats tend to see the world in far less Hobbsian terms. Our goal is international cooperation and what counts is our good intentions. ( In this view, global warning is a far more important threat than political turmoil in Pakistan. Cuban democracy is well and good, but a global agreement on greenhouse gases is where the focus should be.) So, Clinton’s argument may be utterly lost on her Democratic primary audience. A common problem for her these days.

Hillary Clinton puts out a press release commenting on the retirement of Fidel Castro which concludes:

“The events of the past three days, including elections in Pakistan and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, are a vivid illustration of people around the world yearning for democracy and opportunity. We need a President with the experience to recognize and seize these opportunities to advance America’s values and interests around the world. I will be that President.”

This strikes me as an entirely plausible, but Republican argument. Republicans argue that the world is a dangerous place, that a key component of our foreign policy is support for the world’s fledgling democracies and that American missteps can have dire results for ourselves and our allies. (Competence matters because the world is a complicated and treacherous place.) Democrats tend to see the world in far less Hobbsian terms. Our goal is international cooperation and what counts is our good intentions. ( In this view, global warning is a far more important threat than political turmoil in Pakistan. Cuban democracy is well and good, but a global agreement on greenhouse gases is where the focus should be.) So, Clinton’s argument may be utterly lost on her Democratic primary audience. A common problem for her these days.

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Samantha Power: the Salon Interview

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

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More on Malley

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

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Lebanon III?

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

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But What About Real Voters?

It is all well and good to mine the thoughts of elite pundits on the “historic” and “inspiring” prospect of either a Clinton or Obama presidency. However, nothing beats talking to regular voters in a swing state like Ohio, the people who really decide elections. This piece from the Wall Street Journal is a helpful reminder that those Reagan Democrats may not be entranced with either of the Democratic prospects. Focusing on the frank opinions of working-class male voters the Journal includes this observation:

“I think if we nominate one of these two, we are talking about McCain as president,” says Bob Rodkey, a firefighter who doesn’t like either candidate but plans to vote for Sen. Clinton in the primary. “I talk to a lot of my Democratic friends and they are going to cross over in November or not vote at all. We don’t have a viable candidate. Neither of them is one of us.”

It may not be politically correct, but many of these voters are not about to cast a vote for Clinton (“For a lot of blue-collar guys over 40, Hillary Clinton is a poster child for everything about the women’s movement that they don’t like — their wife going back to work, their daughters rebelling, the rise of women in the workplace.”) Obama may be no more appealing to this segment of the electorate (“Those here who dislike Sen. Obama tend to criticize what they call his empty rhetoric, his lack of experience and the fear that he would favor blacks and other minorities.”) These guys are simply not going to swoon over Obama’s high soaring rhetoric, no matter how original. It therefore is not hard to conclude that John McCain, a war hero with a tough-guy persona, will be an easier sell for these, potentially decisive voters.

It is all well and good to mine the thoughts of elite pundits on the “historic” and “inspiring” prospect of either a Clinton or Obama presidency. However, nothing beats talking to regular voters in a swing state like Ohio, the people who really decide elections. This piece from the Wall Street Journal is a helpful reminder that those Reagan Democrats may not be entranced with either of the Democratic prospects. Focusing on the frank opinions of working-class male voters the Journal includes this observation:

“I think if we nominate one of these two, we are talking about McCain as president,” says Bob Rodkey, a firefighter who doesn’t like either candidate but plans to vote for Sen. Clinton in the primary. “I talk to a lot of my Democratic friends and they are going to cross over in November or not vote at all. We don’t have a viable candidate. Neither of them is one of us.”

It may not be politically correct, but many of these voters are not about to cast a vote for Clinton (“For a lot of blue-collar guys over 40, Hillary Clinton is a poster child for everything about the women’s movement that they don’t like — their wife going back to work, their daughters rebelling, the rise of women in the workplace.”) Obama may be no more appealing to this segment of the electorate (“Those here who dislike Sen. Obama tend to criticize what they call his empty rhetoric, his lack of experience and the fear that he would favor blacks and other minorities.”) These guys are simply not going to swoon over Obama’s high soaring rhetoric, no matter how original. It therefore is not hard to conclude that John McCain, a war hero with a tough-guy persona, will be an easier sell for these, potentially decisive voters.

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Devil Went Down to Georgia

Gordon Chang, in his post below, takes the Kosovo case to a logical extreme: It is good, he writes, to encourage separatist movements to declare independence, even against the objection of their host countries. Let the dominoes fall.

At the risk of both offense and hyperbole, I have to wonder: Gordon, what you would have said about the secession of the South that triggered the Civil War? And though it may be reasonable to look to undermine the coherence of China and Russia–and certainly it is admirable to wish for Taiwanese independence–are you really willing to say the same thing about the parts of Georgia that Russia has its eyes on? About Spain? About Great Britain?

There is nothing good about undermining the basic idea of sovereignty and encouraging separatism universally. I too don’t like carping on about the dangers of “destabilizing” when peoples are living under oppression. But when there’s a big, scary neighbor next door, it will always be in their interest to encourage separatists in your country. This is what Hitler’s Germany did with the Sudetens. It’s what Putin’s doing now in Georgia. (Some might even say it’s what Egypt and Syria did in setting up Arab separatist groups in Israel in the early 1960′s.) The bottom line is that good peoples looking for self-rule in the face of serious oppression should be supported. At the same time, peaceful states that grant rights to their citizens should be kept coherent and stable, even if all their sub-groups don’t get political independence. Take it case-by-case. And be careful what you wish for.

Gordon Chang, in his post below, takes the Kosovo case to a logical extreme: It is good, he writes, to encourage separatist movements to declare independence, even against the objection of their host countries. Let the dominoes fall.

At the risk of both offense and hyperbole, I have to wonder: Gordon, what you would have said about the secession of the South that triggered the Civil War? And though it may be reasonable to look to undermine the coherence of China and Russia–and certainly it is admirable to wish for Taiwanese independence–are you really willing to say the same thing about the parts of Georgia that Russia has its eyes on? About Spain? About Great Britain?

There is nothing good about undermining the basic idea of sovereignty and encouraging separatism universally. I too don’t like carping on about the dangers of “destabilizing” when peoples are living under oppression. But when there’s a big, scary neighbor next door, it will always be in their interest to encourage separatists in your country. This is what Hitler’s Germany did with the Sudetens. It’s what Putin’s doing now in Georgia. (Some might even say it’s what Egypt and Syria did in setting up Arab separatist groups in Israel in the early 1960′s.) The bottom line is that good peoples looking for self-rule in the face of serious oppression should be supported. At the same time, peaceful states that grant rights to their citizens should be kept coherent and stable, even if all their sub-groups don’t get political independence. Take it case-by-case. And be careful what you wish for.

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The Real Castro Question

Given Fidel Castro’s resignation this morning, how much longer until we can legally buy these?

Given Fidel Castro’s resignation this morning, how much longer until we can legally buy these?

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Google Gets Sued

Even though it has been repeatedly exposed, American cooperation with and assistance to the Chinese police state continues.

Former Nanjing University professor Guo Quan is suing Google for excising his name from its local search results. On December 26 of last year Guo announced the creation of the New Democracy Party, dedicated to ending China’s “one party dictatorship” [his words] and introducing multi-party elections. “We must join the global trend,” Mr. Guo said. “China must move toward a democratic system.”

This brave act was ignored by the foreign press—with the honorable exception of the London Financial Times which put the story on the front page. No western politicians spoke out. But western internet corporations took note and expunged any reference. Baidu, a Chinese search company (NASDAQ listed), has deleted Mr. Guo and the New Democracy Party, as has the Chinese subsidiary of Yahoo!.

In the past, Google has stated that it would inform users when searches were censored, using the message that material has been removed “in accordance with local laws, rules, and policies.” But when a reporter searched Chinese Google for Professor Guo yesterday, the message was “The information you searched for cannot be accessed.”

Perhaps American editorial writers and politicians can take a cue from the open letter in which Professor Guo announced his law suit.

To make money, Google has become a servile Pekingese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists . . . Baidu is a Chinese company, so I can understand how it is coerced by the Chinese Communist party. . . But Google follows the party’s orders even though it is a US company.

As for Google, “Speaking through a public relations representative, Google China said yesterday that it would not comment on political or censorship issues.”

This will not be the end of the story. The quest for freedom and the internet are both powerful forces. They are transforming the world. If the West would cease cooperating so closely with Beijing, those forces would have a better chance of transforming China too.

Even though it has been repeatedly exposed, American cooperation with and assistance to the Chinese police state continues.

Former Nanjing University professor Guo Quan is suing Google for excising his name from its local search results. On December 26 of last year Guo announced the creation of the New Democracy Party, dedicated to ending China’s “one party dictatorship” [his words] and introducing multi-party elections. “We must join the global trend,” Mr. Guo said. “China must move toward a democratic system.”

This brave act was ignored by the foreign press—with the honorable exception of the London Financial Times which put the story on the front page. No western politicians spoke out. But western internet corporations took note and expunged any reference. Baidu, a Chinese search company (NASDAQ listed), has deleted Mr. Guo and the New Democracy Party, as has the Chinese subsidiary of Yahoo!.

In the past, Google has stated that it would inform users when searches were censored, using the message that material has been removed “in accordance with local laws, rules, and policies.” But when a reporter searched Chinese Google for Professor Guo yesterday, the message was “The information you searched for cannot be accessed.”

Perhaps American editorial writers and politicians can take a cue from the open letter in which Professor Guo announced his law suit.

To make money, Google has become a servile Pekingese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists . . . Baidu is a Chinese company, so I can understand how it is coerced by the Chinese Communist party. . . But Google follows the party’s orders even though it is a US company.

As for Google, “Speaking through a public relations representative, Google China said yesterday that it would not comment on political or censorship issues.”

This will not be the end of the story. The quest for freedom and the internet are both powerful forces. They are transforming the world. If the West would cease cooperating so closely with Beijing, those forces would have a better chance of transforming China too.

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Hellfire Without Brimstone

We’ve been taking down the intelligence community a lot here at Connecting the Dots, and for good reason. The CIA’s failures in the run-up to 9/11, and then in Iraq, and more recently the confusion created by the National Intelligence Council regarding Iran’s nuclear program, are of major national significance. They leave the impression of an intelligence agency that, when it is not completely blind, is unable to make sense of what it seeing.

But let’s not get carried away. Let’s begin by remembering that there are some 80 stars on the wall at agency headquarters, commemorating CIA officers who died in the line of duty. One of them was Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed in November 2001 in a prison uprising in Afghanistan as he was attempting to interrogate captured Taliban prisoners. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

And not only are there courageous men and women in the CIA, sometimes their courage results in action that is highly effective. Our impression of the agency is undoubtedly skewed because many of its successes go unheralded. And it is further skewed by those CIA officials who leave the agency’s employ to become public buffoons. Michael Scheuer, who has lied about his own CIA medal, is hardly alone in that category. There is an organization of ex-CIA officers who join him in his hybrid Chomskyite-Buchananite brand of politics. But still, we need to keep things in perspective; this is a handful of individuals who are no longer with the agency, and perhaps some of them were pushed out for incompetence or madness or both. The CIA is composed of thousands of officials, and it is an open question if these types are representative.

Today’s Washington Post reports on a CIA operation that went very well indeed. 

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone’s operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

To read what happened next, and to whom, click here.

We’ve been taking down the intelligence community a lot here at Connecting the Dots, and for good reason. The CIA’s failures in the run-up to 9/11, and then in Iraq, and more recently the confusion created by the National Intelligence Council regarding Iran’s nuclear program, are of major national significance. They leave the impression of an intelligence agency that, when it is not completely blind, is unable to make sense of what it seeing.

But let’s not get carried away. Let’s begin by remembering that there are some 80 stars on the wall at agency headquarters, commemorating CIA officers who died in the line of duty. One of them was Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed in November 2001 in a prison uprising in Afghanistan as he was attempting to interrogate captured Taliban prisoners. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

And not only are there courageous men and women in the CIA, sometimes their courage results in action that is highly effective. Our impression of the agency is undoubtedly skewed because many of its successes go unheralded. And it is further skewed by those CIA officials who leave the agency’s employ to become public buffoons. Michael Scheuer, who has lied about his own CIA medal, is hardly alone in that category. There is an organization of ex-CIA officers who join him in his hybrid Chomskyite-Buchananite brand of politics. But still, we need to keep things in perspective; this is a handful of individuals who are no longer with the agency, and perhaps some of them were pushed out for incompetence or madness or both. The CIA is composed of thousands of officials, and it is an open question if these types are representative.

Today’s Washington Post reports on a CIA operation that went very well indeed. 

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone’s operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

To read what happened next, and to whom, click here.

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Eliza Clinton

Hillary Clinton is having an Eliza Doolittle problem. She shares a common dilemma with the plucky protégé of Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady who complained:

“Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?”

(The subject of Eliza’s ire, you may recall, was the handsome, stylish, and utterly useless Freddie Enysford-Hill. You can draw your own analogies.) Well, as Eliza discovered, it certainly does matter how well one speaks, but that cannot be the sole criterion by which we evaluate someone’s abilities or worth.

Indeed, a few pundits are beginning to wonder if there is much more to Obama beyond the words. Jonathan Last, watching Obama deliver his “Just Words” passage before the Wisconsin Democratic club, noted: “The famous phrases Obama is cleverly aligning himself with were, of course, more than ‘just words.’ They were words connected with actions, ideals, and concrete goals; with soldiers and war and sacrifice and death.”

It is not surprising that the media (which is, of course, comprised of people in the business of words) is transfixed by Obama’s verbiage. (And Clinton’s objections to the putative frothiness of her opponent may simply fall on deaf ears with a Democratic primary electorate enthralled with the newness of Obama.) However, eight months is a long time to filibuster, and eventually voters may hunger for something more. It is worth noting that if Obama is the nominee he will face an opponent best known not for his rhetoric but for his courageous actions – both military and political. Not a bad contrast.

Hillary Clinton is having an Eliza Doolittle problem. She shares a common dilemma with the plucky protégé of Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady who complained:

“Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?”

(The subject of Eliza’s ire, you may recall, was the handsome, stylish, and utterly useless Freddie Enysford-Hill. You can draw your own analogies.) Well, as Eliza discovered, it certainly does matter how well one speaks, but that cannot be the sole criterion by which we evaluate someone’s abilities or worth.

Indeed, a few pundits are beginning to wonder if there is much more to Obama beyond the words. Jonathan Last, watching Obama deliver his “Just Words” passage before the Wisconsin Democratic club, noted: “The famous phrases Obama is cleverly aligning himself with were, of course, more than ‘just words.’ They were words connected with actions, ideals, and concrete goals; with soldiers and war and sacrifice and death.”

It is not surprising that the media (which is, of course, comprised of people in the business of words) is transfixed by Obama’s verbiage. (And Clinton’s objections to the putative frothiness of her opponent may simply fall on deaf ears with a Democratic primary electorate enthralled with the newness of Obama.) However, eight months is a long time to filibuster, and eventually voters may hunger for something more. It is worth noting that if Obama is the nominee he will face an opponent best known not for his rhetoric but for his courageous actions – both military and political. Not a bad contrast.

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Wisconsin Spin

The latest polling shows Hillary Clinton trailing Barack Obama by a few points in Wisconsin. It remains a mystery why she did not spend more time in the state and make more of an effort to narrow the gap or pull out an upset. Not having done so, however, allows her to claim great surprise and delight if the margin of victory for Obama is small. It is a measure of how poorly things are going that she will need to spin a close loss as the beginning of her “comeback.”

It was a test case of sorts, the first opportunity to take small steps along the path to negative campaigning, which I suspect will ramp up as she heads into Texas (where the latest poll puts her barely in the lead). I think we will hear plenty of “all hat no cattle” and every other metaphor in the political consultants’ bag of phrases. Certainly, the exaggerated and self-indulgent rhetoric from the Obama camp is a starting point for her argument to working-class voters that Obama is not grounded in the real world and is ill equipped to go up against those mean Republicans. (Perhaps she can conduct a mass leafleting campaign, dropping copies of David Brooks’ latest column from the air as she flies around the country.) Her first major opportunity to try to reverse the media storyline (i.e. faltering Clinton) will come at Thursday’s debate.

The latest polling shows Hillary Clinton trailing Barack Obama by a few points in Wisconsin. It remains a mystery why she did not spend more time in the state and make more of an effort to narrow the gap or pull out an upset. Not having done so, however, allows her to claim great surprise and delight if the margin of victory for Obama is small. It is a measure of how poorly things are going that she will need to spin a close loss as the beginning of her “comeback.”

It was a test case of sorts, the first opportunity to take small steps along the path to negative campaigning, which I suspect will ramp up as she heads into Texas (where the latest poll puts her barely in the lead). I think we will hear plenty of “all hat no cattle” and every other metaphor in the political consultants’ bag of phrases. Certainly, the exaggerated and self-indulgent rhetoric from the Obama camp is a starting point for her argument to working-class voters that Obama is not grounded in the real world and is ill equipped to go up against those mean Republicans. (Perhaps she can conduct a mass leafleting campaign, dropping copies of David Brooks’ latest column from the air as she flies around the country.) Her first major opportunity to try to reverse the media storyline (i.e. faltering Clinton) will come at Thursday’s debate.

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Honest Words on Zimbabwe

This week President Bush is touring Africa, a part of the world where both he and the United States remain remarkably popular. This is due, in part, to the massive aid his administration has designated for HIV-prevention, truly a monumental effort (especially in comparison to the dilatory record of his predecessor.) While political analysts will bicker for a long time over practically every aspect of the Bush legacy, his record on African issues is one that even Bush’s harshest critics can admire.

Bush has spoken out consistently against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Now, finally, he is denouncing Mugabe’s South African enablers, as well. Last week, in a White House speech that presaged his trip, Bush had some harsh words for Robert Mugabe, stating that the “discredited dictator” had “ruined” his country. This sort of rhetoric is par for the course, but what followed was unusual. “I was hoping that the South African government would have been more pro-active in its intercession to help the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

In 2003, visiting South Africa, Bush called President Thabo Mbeki his “point man” on Zimbabwe. Five years later, Zimbabwe has gone from a politically tumultuous state into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. As much as a third of the country’s population now lives as refugees in neighboring countries, life expectancy is the lowest on earth, and inflation hovers somewhere around 100,000%. Mbeki’s record on Zimbabwe has been nothing short of disastrous, and his certifying what is bound to be yet another stolen election next March is his latest poke in the eye to Zimbabwean democrats. In a rare outburst, the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition — which has been nothing but deferential to the South African government throughout its struggle against tyranny — criticized Mbeki and demanded that he stop his “quiet support for the dictatorship” of Mugabe. Though neither Zimbabwe nor South Africa is on Bush’s itinerary, perhaps the president can deliver a speech in his remaining days urging Africa’s leaders to end their support for one of the world’s longest-serving tyrants.

This week President Bush is touring Africa, a part of the world where both he and the United States remain remarkably popular. This is due, in part, to the massive aid his administration has designated for HIV-prevention, truly a monumental effort (especially in comparison to the dilatory record of his predecessor.) While political analysts will bicker for a long time over practically every aspect of the Bush legacy, his record on African issues is one that even Bush’s harshest critics can admire.

Bush has spoken out consistently against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Now, finally, he is denouncing Mugabe’s South African enablers, as well. Last week, in a White House speech that presaged his trip, Bush had some harsh words for Robert Mugabe, stating that the “discredited dictator” had “ruined” his country. This sort of rhetoric is par for the course, but what followed was unusual. “I was hoping that the South African government would have been more pro-active in its intercession to help the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

In 2003, visiting South Africa, Bush called President Thabo Mbeki his “point man” on Zimbabwe. Five years later, Zimbabwe has gone from a politically tumultuous state into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. As much as a third of the country’s population now lives as refugees in neighboring countries, life expectancy is the lowest on earth, and inflation hovers somewhere around 100,000%. Mbeki’s record on Zimbabwe has been nothing short of disastrous, and his certifying what is bound to be yet another stolen election next March is his latest poke in the eye to Zimbabwean democrats. In a rare outburst, the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition — which has been nothing but deferential to the South African government throughout its struggle against tyranny — criticized Mbeki and demanded that he stop his “quiet support for the dictatorship” of Mugabe. Though neither Zimbabwe nor South Africa is on Bush’s itinerary, perhaps the president can deliver a speech in his remaining days urging Africa’s leaders to end their support for one of the world’s longest-serving tyrants.

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