Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 25, 2008

Europe’s Energy Submission

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

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Obama’s Church and Israel’s “Ethnic Bomb”

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

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Does The Mayor Understand Democrats?

James: If you think Andrew Sullivan may not have his finger on the pulse of average voters, perhaps Ed Koch provides better insight into how the Reverend Wright controversy is being received. Koch explains what he thinks voters expected of Barck Obama:

What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric. Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.

Koch is also troubled by Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in America pre-Obama-mania, noting: “This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given.”

So we are left to ponder: Are the liberal pundits or Koch more in tune with the sentiments of working class Democrats, who largely will decide the remaining primary contests? The voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (all places pundits rarely visit) will tell us.

James: If you think Andrew Sullivan may not have his finger on the pulse of average voters, perhaps Ed Koch provides better insight into how the Reverend Wright controversy is being received. Koch explains what he thinks voters expected of Barck Obama:

What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric. Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.

Koch is also troubled by Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in America pre-Obama-mania, noting: “This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given.”

So we are left to ponder: Are the liberal pundits or Koch more in tune with the sentiments of working class Democrats, who largely will decide the remaining primary contests? The voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (all places pundits rarely visit) will tell us.

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Life Goes On… If You Have A Life

The media certainly is rooting for Hillary Clinton to pack up and go home. The only debate is whether she has a 10% or 5% chance to win. But aside from the potential that she could, after all, still win, it seems entirely out of character for her to up and leave–except under duress. For the Clintons, not to mention their camp of advisors poised to retake the White House, it may be inconceivable to think about losing and returning to life off the presidential trail.

For others, life goes on after campaigns. Rudy Giuliani, for example, seamlessly returned to law and business. (Likewise, his communications director Katie Levinson landed at a top PR firm and his campaign manager Mike DuHaime is back at the RNC.) Yet for the Clintons and their hangers-on, giving up and going back to life before their presidential aspirations would be an exercise in time travel. For decades this is what they strived to achieve. I don’t imagine her (or him) simply walking away voluntarily.

The media certainly is rooting for Hillary Clinton to pack up and go home. The only debate is whether she has a 10% or 5% chance to win. But aside from the potential that she could, after all, still win, it seems entirely out of character for her to up and leave–except under duress. For the Clintons, not to mention their camp of advisors poised to retake the White House, it may be inconceivable to think about losing and returning to life off the presidential trail.

For others, life goes on after campaigns. Rudy Giuliani, for example, seamlessly returned to law and business. (Likewise, his communications director Katie Levinson landed at a top PR firm and his campaign manager Mike DuHaime is back at the RNC.) Yet for the Clintons and their hangers-on, giving up and going back to life before their presidential aspirations would be an exercise in time travel. For decades this is what they strived to achieve. I don’t imagine her (or him) simply walking away voluntarily.

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Are the 70’s Back? If Only!

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Ross Douthat has a very fine essay on what he frames as Hollywood’s return to the 1970’s. It puts last fall’s spate of Iraq war films in context, bringing them into place alongside everything from the neo-exploitation slasher flicks of Eli Roth to the Bourne series and mediocre remakes like The Manchurian Candidate. Lots of ink (some of it mine) was spilled last fall dissecting the movie biz’s dreary, self-righteous takes on the war, but his essay paints the clearest picture by far.

I would say, however, he gives short shrift to one point: lame-brained politics or no, the crusading, politically-infused films of the 1970’s were simply better films–and that goes for the prestige pics as well as the B-movies. Douthat notes this in passing, agreeing that the 80’s were “a more middlebrow, conservative decade in pop culture” in comparison with the political engagement of 70’s cinema.

But it’s essential to note that today’s crop–at least in its most explicitly political incarnations–is by any standard rife with unambiguously rotten material. Lions for Lambs, Redacted, and In the Valley of Elah were painful to sit through. Even the better stuff, like the 2005 Clooney duo of Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck were merely average–decent productions that fail to rise to the level of most cable television series. The only recent productions in this vein that stand out at all are the three Bourne films, which tend to use their political framework as a background and succeed mostly on the strength of their dazzling action setpieces.

Contrast this with the films of the 1970’s. There’s little comparison. Apocalypse Now may have little to do with the real-life experience of Vietnam, but it’s a hypnotic, singular vision from an accomplished cinematic artist working at the peak of his powers. All the President’s Men remains one of film’s best detective stories, and probably the best movie about Washington or journalism ever made. Middlebrow fare like The Parallax View and Flight of the Condor sparkled in a way that today’s mainstream thrillers rarely accomplish. And even low-budget films like Death Race 2000 and The Warriors crackled with a sense of outrage, awareness, and energy. Movies like these, as well as the early works of directors like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, indulged in exploitation flick shenanigans. But they also had a tremendous amount of fun, and maybe even managed to say something about the state of the world, too.

Heaven knows the politics of Hollywood in 1970’s were off the wall, perhaps even wackier and more radical than today’s. But somehow, they still managed to turn out movies that were far less irritating than the artless, self-satisfied liberal consciousness-raisers we seem to be stuck with now.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Ross Douthat has a very fine essay on what he frames as Hollywood’s return to the 1970’s. It puts last fall’s spate of Iraq war films in context, bringing them into place alongside everything from the neo-exploitation slasher flicks of Eli Roth to the Bourne series and mediocre remakes like The Manchurian Candidate. Lots of ink (some of it mine) was spilled last fall dissecting the movie biz’s dreary, self-righteous takes on the war, but his essay paints the clearest picture by far.

I would say, however, he gives short shrift to one point: lame-brained politics or no, the crusading, politically-infused films of the 1970’s were simply better films–and that goes for the prestige pics as well as the B-movies. Douthat notes this in passing, agreeing that the 80’s were “a more middlebrow, conservative decade in pop culture” in comparison with the political engagement of 70’s cinema.

But it’s essential to note that today’s crop–at least in its most explicitly political incarnations–is by any standard rife with unambiguously rotten material. Lions for Lambs, Redacted, and In the Valley of Elah were painful to sit through. Even the better stuff, like the 2005 Clooney duo of Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck were merely average–decent productions that fail to rise to the level of most cable television series. The only recent productions in this vein that stand out at all are the three Bourne films, which tend to use their political framework as a background and succeed mostly on the strength of their dazzling action setpieces.

Contrast this with the films of the 1970’s. There’s little comparison. Apocalypse Now may have little to do with the real-life experience of Vietnam, but it’s a hypnotic, singular vision from an accomplished cinematic artist working at the peak of his powers. All the President’s Men remains one of film’s best detective stories, and probably the best movie about Washington or journalism ever made. Middlebrow fare like The Parallax View and Flight of the Condor sparkled in a way that today’s mainstream thrillers rarely accomplish. And even low-budget films like Death Race 2000 and The Warriors crackled with a sense of outrage, awareness, and energy. Movies like these, as well as the early works of directors like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, indulged in exploitation flick shenanigans. But they also had a tremendous amount of fun, and maybe even managed to say something about the state of the world, too.

Heaven knows the politics of Hollywood in 1970’s were off the wall, perhaps even wackier and more radical than today’s. But somehow, they still managed to turn out movies that were far less irritating than the artless, self-satisfied liberal consciousness-raisers we seem to be stuck with now.

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Russia Threatens Europe–Again

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

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And Egypt’s Not For Refugees

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

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War Movies, Missing the Point

The Washington Post manages to run an entire article on the box office failure of movies about the Iraq War and the war on terrorism without once mentioning the most salient fact about them: that they are almost all anti-war screeds which show American soldiers as villains or victims—not as heroes. That description certainly applies to box-office stinkers like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Redacted,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “Rendition.” Interestingly enough, the only movie cited in the article that had decent if not stellar ticket sales ($47.5 million) was “The Kingdom,” which–though the article doesn’t mention it–depicts a team of FBI agents as the good guys fighting evil Saudi terrorists.

Post reporter Paul Farhi may well be right that moviegoers simply aren’t interested in seeing movies of any sort about an ongoing war, but it would be nice of some daring movie studio were to test this proposition by releasing a movie that depicts soldiers in a positive light. The last major Hollywood release that I can think of in that category (commenters, am I missing anything?) was “Black Hawk Down.” It was released three months after 9/11 and grossed a very respectable $108 million.

The Washington Post manages to run an entire article on the box office failure of movies about the Iraq War and the war on terrorism without once mentioning the most salient fact about them: that they are almost all anti-war screeds which show American soldiers as villains or victims—not as heroes. That description certainly applies to box-office stinkers like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Redacted,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “Rendition.” Interestingly enough, the only movie cited in the article that had decent if not stellar ticket sales ($47.5 million) was “The Kingdom,” which–though the article doesn’t mention it–depicts a team of FBI agents as the good guys fighting evil Saudi terrorists.

Post reporter Paul Farhi may well be right that moviegoers simply aren’t interested in seeing movies of any sort about an ongoing war, but it would be nice of some daring movie studio were to test this proposition by releasing a movie that depicts soldiers in a positive light. The last major Hollywood release that I can think of in that category (commenters, am I missing anything?) was “Black Hawk Down.” It was released three months after 9/11 and grossed a very respectable $108 million.

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Steeling for Obama’s Loss

Paul Waldman, an employee of David Brock’s Media Matters for America, has written a somewhat overwrought piece for The American Prospect, darkly warning that conservatives are only now beginning to unravel their long-planned “hate-based campaign against Obama.” They will, according to Waldman, “wage a campaign appealing to the ugliest prejudices, the most craven fears, the most vile hatreds.” Waldman would have us believe that Jeremiah Wright is the creation of Rupert Murdoch, and that any questions about his ties to Barack Obama are de facto evidence of racism.

But Wright is, apparently just the beginning of the conservative assault on Obama:

He’s not the unthreatening black man, he’s the scary black man. He’s Al Sharpton, he’s Malcom X, he’s Huey Newton. He’ll throw grievance in your face, make you feel guilty, and who knows, maybe kill you and rape your wife.

Yes, you read that correctly. Come November, should Barack Obama be the Democratic nominee, expect to see advertisements scaring white housewives into thinking that Barack Obama will kill their husbands and rape them.

Now, it’s unlikely that even the most craven of right-wing dirty tricksters would employ such low tactics. But some people have tried to smear Obama this way, as Waldman conspicuously neglects to mention. And those people were the Clintons. (I guess they must be really, really deep-cover agents of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Or something.)

In Waldman’s essay you can already see how the left wing of the Democratic party will react should Barack Obama not win the presidency. There won’t be any discussion of his policies or his abilities as a campaigner. There won’t be a crisis of self-questioning on the part of his supporters. There will, however, be thoughtlessly-hurled accusations of racism. And plenty of them.

Paul Waldman, an employee of David Brock’s Media Matters for America, has written a somewhat overwrought piece for The American Prospect, darkly warning that conservatives are only now beginning to unravel their long-planned “hate-based campaign against Obama.” They will, according to Waldman, “wage a campaign appealing to the ugliest prejudices, the most craven fears, the most vile hatreds.” Waldman would have us believe that Jeremiah Wright is the creation of Rupert Murdoch, and that any questions about his ties to Barack Obama are de facto evidence of racism.

But Wright is, apparently just the beginning of the conservative assault on Obama:

He’s not the unthreatening black man, he’s the scary black man. He’s Al Sharpton, he’s Malcom X, he’s Huey Newton. He’ll throw grievance in your face, make you feel guilty, and who knows, maybe kill you and rape your wife.

Yes, you read that correctly. Come November, should Barack Obama be the Democratic nominee, expect to see advertisements scaring white housewives into thinking that Barack Obama will kill their husbands and rape them.

Now, it’s unlikely that even the most craven of right-wing dirty tricksters would employ such low tactics. But some people have tried to smear Obama this way, as Waldman conspicuously neglects to mention. And those people were the Clintons. (I guess they must be really, really deep-cover agents of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Or something.)

In Waldman’s essay you can already see how the left wing of the Democratic party will react should Barack Obama not win the presidency. There won’t be any discussion of his policies or his abilities as a campaigner. There won’t be a crisis of self-questioning on the part of his supporters. There will, however, be thoughtlessly-hurled accusations of racism. And plenty of them.

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Palestine Isn’t for Lovers

The IDF recently granted a 33-year old Palestinian gay man a temporary Israeli residence permit so that he could join his ailing partner in Tel Aviv. (More Zionist oppression!) Of course, the Palestinian man had other reasons than a sick partner to wish to reside in Israel. Where he comes from, homosexuals are tortured and murdered, which has made Tel Aviv into a “mecca” for gay Palestinians. In a letter to the IDF, the man explained that “ever since his family learned of his gay relationship with an Israeli man, he has been facing an ongoing threat to his life.” Can you explain to me, again, how the Israeli government is in the wrong here?

The IDF recently granted a 33-year old Palestinian gay man a temporary Israeli residence permit so that he could join his ailing partner in Tel Aviv. (More Zionist oppression!) Of course, the Palestinian man had other reasons than a sick partner to wish to reside in Israel. Where he comes from, homosexuals are tortured and murdered, which has made Tel Aviv into a “mecca” for gay Palestinians. In a letter to the IDF, the man explained that “ever since his family learned of his gay relationship with an Israeli man, he has been facing an ongoing threat to his life.” Can you explain to me, again, how the Israeli government is in the wrong here?

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Hillary Would Have Left

Shedding any reticence in talking about Reverend Wright, Hillary Clinton lands a punch with an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“He would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend. You know, I spoke out against Don Imus (who was fired from his radio and television shows after making racially insensitive remarks), saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that. I just think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

Well, a broken clock is right twice a day, and this is Clinton’s time. This also tells us two things: that Clinton believes the media could not continue to run with this story without some added fuel from her and that she thinks this issue is a winner.

Shedding any reticence in talking about Reverend Wright, Hillary Clinton lands a punch with an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“He would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend. You know, I spoke out against Don Imus (who was fired from his radio and television shows after making racially insensitive remarks), saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that. I just think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

Well, a broken clock is right twice a day, and this is Clinton’s time. This also tells us two things: that Clinton believes the media could not continue to run with this story without some added fuel from her and that she thinks this issue is a winner.

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McCain Agrees with Clinton on This One

Hillary Clinton is turning up the heat on Barack Obama’s efforts to thwart re-votes in Michigan and Florida. This report explains just how tough the rhetoric is getting:

“When it comes to protecting the vote, he likes to say, ‘This is something I know something about,'” Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer said in a conference call. “Well, now he knows something about disenfranchising voters.” “Slapping these people is not the way to engender support and it gives the Republicans a real opening,” senior adviser Harold Ickes continued . “Florida, in particular, is really sensitive about disenfranchisement.” “It is absolutely critical that we start looking at the electoral vote map to start assembling 270 votes,” Ickes said, grouping Florida with other electoral battlegrounds.

There is, of course, a heavy dose of self-serving prognostication here. But it is not hard to imagine that in the general election John McCain would go to Florida and tell independents and Democrats that Obama shoved them out of the way to grab the nomination and now wants them to let bygones be bygones. Voters, self-centered creatures that they are, generally like to think that politicians value them. Obama’s tactics won’t sit well. (And, as we’ve learned, in Florida a very small number of “some voters” may be all it takes to swing the state one way or another.)

McCain used his primary race in January to put a state team in place and introduce himself to Florida voters. The Democrats didn’t and likely won’t do so (if Obama is successful in blocking a re-vote effort) until the nomination is decided. That’s an advantage for McCain, which is reflected in polling showing him leading both candidates.

As for Obama, an old-style strong-armed victory secured by excluding Florida and Michigan seems at odds with the era of new politics he is supposed to usher in. With each passing week and each tactical move Obama’s campaign seems less and less about “change” and more and more like hand-to-hand combat. For any ordinary candidate that might not be a problem. But for the savior of our entire political system it may be.

Hillary Clinton is turning up the heat on Barack Obama’s efforts to thwart re-votes in Michigan and Florida. This report explains just how tough the rhetoric is getting:

“When it comes to protecting the vote, he likes to say, ‘This is something I know something about,'” Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer said in a conference call. “Well, now he knows something about disenfranchising voters.” “Slapping these people is not the way to engender support and it gives the Republicans a real opening,” senior adviser Harold Ickes continued . “Florida, in particular, is really sensitive about disenfranchisement.” “It is absolutely critical that we start looking at the electoral vote map to start assembling 270 votes,” Ickes said, grouping Florida with other electoral battlegrounds.

There is, of course, a heavy dose of self-serving prognostication here. But it is not hard to imagine that in the general election John McCain would go to Florida and tell independents and Democrats that Obama shoved them out of the way to grab the nomination and now wants them to let bygones be bygones. Voters, self-centered creatures that they are, generally like to think that politicians value them. Obama’s tactics won’t sit well. (And, as we’ve learned, in Florida a very small number of “some voters” may be all it takes to swing the state one way or another.)

McCain used his primary race in January to put a state team in place and introduce himself to Florida voters. The Democrats didn’t and likely won’t do so (if Obama is successful in blocking a re-vote effort) until the nomination is decided. That’s an advantage for McCain, which is reflected in polling showing him leading both candidates.

As for Obama, an old-style strong-armed victory secured by excluding Florida and Michigan seems at odds with the era of new politics he is supposed to usher in. With each passing week and each tactical move Obama’s campaign seems less and less about “change” and more and more like hand-to-hand combat. For any ordinary candidate that might not be a problem. But for the savior of our entire political system it may be.

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Posers

Abe: Hillary Clinton is taking a beating in the media over her fabricated recollection–a detailed one at that–of her visit to Bosnia. No gunfire and no running down the tarmac, according to the video. Commentators are surprised by the level of specificity in the Clinton tale. But the Clintons are, after all, accomplished “embellishers,” and it should come as no surprise that reality does not match her tales of grandeur.

But she is not the only one exaggerating or misleading voters as to her past. This report reminds us that Barack Obama talks a good game of reconciliation, bridge-building, and innovative policy, but has no record of accomplishment:

His three-year record in the Senate, however, offers little evidence that he can do what he’s promising. His party was in the minority for his first two years, and in the third he began campaigning for president and missed lots of time on Capitol Hill. He was absent from or only partly involved in some key bipartisan efforts to head off stalemates on judicial nominations, immigration and Iraq war policy.

This, in part, may explain why voters (as opposed to media cheerleaders) have yet to crown a definitive winner in the Democratic primary race. In a contest in which “authenticity” was supposed to be at a premium, we have two Democratic contenders who are thin on accomplishments and long on storytelling. Given that, it is understandably not an easy choice for Democratic voters.

Abe: Hillary Clinton is taking a beating in the media over her fabricated recollection–a detailed one at that–of her visit to Bosnia. No gunfire and no running down the tarmac, according to the video. Commentators are surprised by the level of specificity in the Clinton tale. But the Clintons are, after all, accomplished “embellishers,” and it should come as no surprise that reality does not match her tales of grandeur.

But she is not the only one exaggerating or misleading voters as to her past. This report reminds us that Barack Obama talks a good game of reconciliation, bridge-building, and innovative policy, but has no record of accomplishment:

His three-year record in the Senate, however, offers little evidence that he can do what he’s promising. His party was in the minority for his first two years, and in the third he began campaigning for president and missed lots of time on Capitol Hill. He was absent from or only partly involved in some key bipartisan efforts to head off stalemates on judicial nominations, immigration and Iraq war policy.

This, in part, may explain why voters (as opposed to media cheerleaders) have yet to crown a definitive winner in the Democratic primary race. In a contest in which “authenticity” was supposed to be at a premium, we have two Democratic contenders who are thin on accomplishments and long on storytelling. Given that, it is understandably not an easy choice for Democratic voters.

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Hillary Did Not Lie

Hillary Clinton needs no adversary. She is self-destructing while Barack Obama lounges poolside in St. Thomas. For some reason she thought that her crisis management credentials would be bolstered by an account of her running for cover. So she used an actual trip she made to Bosnia in 1996 as material and painted a scene out of a Bruce Willis movie:

“I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia. I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

She left out the whooping chopper blades.

As it turns out this scene made it onto the small screen, in the form of a CBS News report. The footage of Hillary and daughter Chelsea engaged in a leisurely meet-and-greet on the tarmac is now up on youtube. There’s no sniper fire, but there is an 8-year-old girl with braids and Hillary does have to duck down a little to receive her hug and kiss.

Yes, we understand that people have bad memories. Yes, we are reconciled to the fact that politicians often have conveniently bad memories. But Hillary has an excellent memory, and furthermore she wasn’t lying. This kind of tall tale cut from whole cloth is the special realm of the Clintons, and it is an indication of a dangerously deluded mind. When Hillary recounted her great escape, she believed every word of it.

Just consider the mental hocus-pocus that goes into concocting a story such as this one. Hillary would never have made this story up if she realized that it could be so easily disproved. Given that her landing in Bosnia was attended by her teenage daughter, a few celebrities, and many members of the media, the only way for her to have gone through with this fabrication was to somehow believe it. Anything short of that full commitment would have allowed her to see that the narrative would be instantly discredited. Consider, too, how slight an impression the trip to this war-torn land must have made on Hillary in order for her to manipulate it so. Furthermore, this statement does not seem to have been an off-the-cuff comment. She calculatingly put it out there in order to achieve a desired effect. This was considered.

People talk a lot about “Hillary Derangement Syndrome”— a pathological hatred for all things Hillary. But I think HDS works better as a diagnosis for the condition from which the senator herself suffers.

Hillary Clinton needs no adversary. She is self-destructing while Barack Obama lounges poolside in St. Thomas. For some reason she thought that her crisis management credentials would be bolstered by an account of her running for cover. So she used an actual trip she made to Bosnia in 1996 as material and painted a scene out of a Bruce Willis movie:

“I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia. I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

She left out the whooping chopper blades.

As it turns out this scene made it onto the small screen, in the form of a CBS News report. The footage of Hillary and daughter Chelsea engaged in a leisurely meet-and-greet on the tarmac is now up on youtube. There’s no sniper fire, but there is an 8-year-old girl with braids and Hillary does have to duck down a little to receive her hug and kiss.

Yes, we understand that people have bad memories. Yes, we are reconciled to the fact that politicians often have conveniently bad memories. But Hillary has an excellent memory, and furthermore she wasn’t lying. This kind of tall tale cut from whole cloth is the special realm of the Clintons, and it is an indication of a dangerously deluded mind. When Hillary recounted her great escape, she believed every word of it.

Just consider the mental hocus-pocus that goes into concocting a story such as this one. Hillary would never have made this story up if she realized that it could be so easily disproved. Given that her landing in Bosnia was attended by her teenage daughter, a few celebrities, and many members of the media, the only way for her to have gone through with this fabrication was to somehow believe it. Anything short of that full commitment would have allowed her to see that the narrative would be instantly discredited. Consider, too, how slight an impression the trip to this war-torn land must have made on Hillary in order for her to manipulate it so. Furthermore, this statement does not seem to have been an off-the-cuff comment. She calculatingly put it out there in order to achieve a desired effect. This was considered.

People talk a lot about “Hillary Derangement Syndrome”— a pathological hatred for all things Hillary. But I think HDS works better as a diagnosis for the condition from which the senator herself suffers.

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Words Matter

In declining to jump on the bandwagon of pundits praising Barack Obama’s oratorical skills last week, Christopher Hitchens points out the intentionally fuzzy vocabulary which Obama uses to mask his own culpability in countenancing Reverend Wright’s hate speech. Hitchens explains:

But is it “inflammatory” to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it “controversial.” It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.

I assume that Obama believes Wright’s words are “wicked and stupid and false.” And I assume that he has the linguistic skills to express this belief. The only thing he lacks is the moral courage to say so as clearly at Hitchens does. To do so would be to recognize the fundamental contradiction between Obama’s admonishing all of us to follow his vision of racial unity and his bringing his own children to hear Wright’s sermons. It would make him look less like an agent of change than a hapless participant in the polarized racial politics of the past.

Indeed, the stated purpose of the speech–to embark on a racial dialogue, albeit one which voters never asked for and which he for over a year felt no need to start–was a clever exercise in misdirection. But voters and nervous Democratic leaders didn’t want to hear about our failures to achieve racial harmony. They wanted to hear about his behavior and shortcomings. He obviously preferred to talk much more about the former than the latter.

Obama is glib and attractive and has been given every accommodation by the media. But this may be one time he can’t fudge or disguise his own intentions and behavior. In the end, the voters will decide whether all his words were designed to uplift, or merely to obfuscate.

In declining to jump on the bandwagon of pundits praising Barack Obama’s oratorical skills last week, Christopher Hitchens points out the intentionally fuzzy vocabulary which Obama uses to mask his own culpability in countenancing Reverend Wright’s hate speech. Hitchens explains:

But is it “inflammatory” to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it “controversial.” It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.

I assume that Obama believes Wright’s words are “wicked and stupid and false.” And I assume that he has the linguistic skills to express this belief. The only thing he lacks is the moral courage to say so as clearly at Hitchens does. To do so would be to recognize the fundamental contradiction between Obama’s admonishing all of us to follow his vision of racial unity and his bringing his own children to hear Wright’s sermons. It would make him look less like an agent of change than a hapless participant in the polarized racial politics of the past.

Indeed, the stated purpose of the speech–to embark on a racial dialogue, albeit one which voters never asked for and which he for over a year felt no need to start–was a clever exercise in misdirection. But voters and nervous Democratic leaders didn’t want to hear about our failures to achieve racial harmony. They wanted to hear about his behavior and shortcomings. He obviously preferred to talk much more about the former than the latter.

Obama is glib and attractive and has been given every accommodation by the media. But this may be one time he can’t fudge or disguise his own intentions and behavior. In the end, the voters will decide whether all his words were designed to uplift, or merely to obfuscate.

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Cheney and the Road Map

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

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Am I Being Irresponsible?

If there is a political law of gravity, sooner or later the totalitarian regime in North Korea is going to come to an end. A socio-economic system so mired in failure, a political system so contrary to the basic human aspiration for freedom, cannot stay aloft forever.

That, at least, is the optimistic assumption of Andrew Scobell, a professor of international affairs at Texas A & M, who has engaged in the fascinating exercise of forecasting exactly how it will collapse.

Scobell posits five possible scenarios, each of which correspond to the demise or transformation of other Communist regimes:

Suspended animation — Albania

Soft landing — China

Crash landing — Romania

Soft landing/crash landing hybrid — the USSR

Suspended animation/soft landing hybrid — Cuba

Scobell explains each possibility at length and tries to see which one best fits the North Korean future. He finds, tentatively, that “the closest to the reality of the North Korea’s current situation is a Cuban mix of ad hoc reforms and regime holding pattern.”

Scobell may or may not be wrong about that. But after watching North Korea for years, traveling there in the early 1990’s, and, most recently, reading The Reluctant Communist, the horrifying tale of an American soldier kept there in captivity for forty years, I would much prefer to see a Romanian-style crash landing.

Scobell thinks it likely that if the regime abruptly disintegrates

this could mean not just extreme disorganization of power but a civil war or a collapse situation with significant pockets of organized armed resistance. In the latter situation, while elements of the coercive apparatus would surrender or disband and flee, others might vigorously resist. Some hardcore elements might engage in insurgency operations for months or even years.

Obviously, this could a very dangerous scenario, costly in human life, and one that might spill across international borders with unpredictable consequences. But am I being irresponsible in stating that for a regime so profoundly evil, the day of violent reckoning cannot come too soon? If there was ever a case where the tree of liberty was in need of some refreshment from the blood of tyrants, this would appear to be it.

Unfortunately, all of this may be idle speculation. Scobell also notes that

the deathwatch for the Pyongyang regime has lasted more than 15 years. Those who predicted or anticipated its imminent demise have had to eat their words or do a lot of explaining. Pyongyang is far from dead, and there is evidence that the regime may be regrouping.

I hope he’s wrong.

If there is a political law of gravity, sooner or later the totalitarian regime in North Korea is going to come to an end. A socio-economic system so mired in failure, a political system so contrary to the basic human aspiration for freedom, cannot stay aloft forever.

That, at least, is the optimistic assumption of Andrew Scobell, a professor of international affairs at Texas A & M, who has engaged in the fascinating exercise of forecasting exactly how it will collapse.

Scobell posits five possible scenarios, each of which correspond to the demise or transformation of other Communist regimes:

Suspended animation — Albania

Soft landing — China

Crash landing — Romania

Soft landing/crash landing hybrid — the USSR

Suspended animation/soft landing hybrid — Cuba

Scobell explains each possibility at length and tries to see which one best fits the North Korean future. He finds, tentatively, that “the closest to the reality of the North Korea’s current situation is a Cuban mix of ad hoc reforms and regime holding pattern.”

Scobell may or may not be wrong about that. But after watching North Korea for years, traveling there in the early 1990’s, and, most recently, reading The Reluctant Communist, the horrifying tale of an American soldier kept there in captivity for forty years, I would much prefer to see a Romanian-style crash landing.

Scobell thinks it likely that if the regime abruptly disintegrates

this could mean not just extreme disorganization of power but a civil war or a collapse situation with significant pockets of organized armed resistance. In the latter situation, while elements of the coercive apparatus would surrender or disband and flee, others might vigorously resist. Some hardcore elements might engage in insurgency operations for months or even years.

Obviously, this could a very dangerous scenario, costly in human life, and one that might spill across international borders with unpredictable consequences. But am I being irresponsible in stating that for a regime so profoundly evil, the day of violent reckoning cannot come too soon? If there was ever a case where the tree of liberty was in need of some refreshment from the blood of tyrants, this would appear to be it.

Unfortunately, all of this may be idle speculation. Scobell also notes that

the deathwatch for the Pyongyang regime has lasted more than 15 years. Those who predicted or anticipated its imminent demise have had to eat their words or do a lot of explaining. Pyongyang is far from dead, and there is evidence that the regime may be regrouping.

I hope he’s wrong.

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Another Times Fishing Expedition

The New York Times yesterday served notice once again that it will grasp at even the slimmest of straws in its transparent effort to derail John McCain’s bid for the White House.

In an article titled “Two McCain Moments, Rarely Mentioned,” reporter Elisabeth Bumiller floated the notion that McCain’s Republican loyalties leave something to be desired, implying that McCain is well, you know, maybe just a little bit untrustworthy, unpredictable–perhaps even unstable.

Bumiller’s piece revolved around what she called “two extraordinary moments in [McCain’s] political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present,” the two being “[h]is discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.”

But as Bumiller herself acknowledged, “There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr. McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, say that not only did Mr. McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. Mr. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and Mr. McCain the unwilling bride.”

Now, when you’ve got “widely divergent” accounts of a story, it would seem tendentious at best -particularly in the news pages of an ostensibly serious media organ — to try to explicate from that story any meaningful insight into the character or politics of the story’s protagonist. But Elisabeth Bumiller had her agenda, and she was off to the races:

Either way, the episodes shed light on a bitter period on Mr. McCain’s life. . . . They also offer a glimpse into his psychological makeup and the difficulties in putting a label on his political ideology over many years in the Senate.

Got that? “Either way.” In other words, she has a case to make, and no matter where the truth lies – “either way” – she’ll make it.

Read More

The New York Times yesterday served notice once again that it will grasp at even the slimmest of straws in its transparent effort to derail John McCain’s bid for the White House.

In an article titled “Two McCain Moments, Rarely Mentioned,” reporter Elisabeth Bumiller floated the notion that McCain’s Republican loyalties leave something to be desired, implying that McCain is well, you know, maybe just a little bit untrustworthy, unpredictable–perhaps even unstable.

Bumiller’s piece revolved around what she called “two extraordinary moments in [McCain’s] political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present,” the two being “[h]is discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.”

But as Bumiller herself acknowledged, “There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr. McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, say that not only did Mr. McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. Mr. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and Mr. McCain the unwilling bride.”

Now, when you’ve got “widely divergent” accounts of a story, it would seem tendentious at best -particularly in the news pages of an ostensibly serious media organ — to try to explicate from that story any meaningful insight into the character or politics of the story’s protagonist. But Elisabeth Bumiller had her agenda, and she was off to the races:

Either way, the episodes shed light on a bitter period on Mr. McCain’s life. . . . They also offer a glimpse into his psychological makeup and the difficulties in putting a label on his political ideology over many years in the Senate.

Got that? “Either way.” In other words, she has a case to make, and no matter where the truth lies – “either way” – she’ll make it.

Later in the piece, after recounting former Democratic congressman Thomas J. Downey’s claim that longtime McCain aide John Weaver approached him shortly after George W. Bush took office with the possibility–expressed in rather vague terms even in Downey’s telling – that McCain might be willing to defect to the Democrats, Bumiller acknowledged that Weaver’s recollection was at odds with Downey’s.

According to Weaver, Downey was the one who broached the subject and his–Weaver’s–response was primarily one of bemusement.

So just who did initiate the conversation, and how seriously did Weaver take it? On such details do stories hang, especially a story that promises to plumb the inner recesses of a potential president’s psyche–his “psychological makeup,” as Bumiller herself put it. But our trusty reporter can’t be bothered with such trivia: “Whatever transpired, Mr. Downey raced home and immediately called” former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

“Whatever transpired”?! If Bumiller doesn’t know “whatever transpired” between Downey and Weaver, then what was the point of her piece? After all, “whatever transpired” is so much more important to the story than what Downey did or whom he contacted immediately afterward.

Still later in the article, after offering contradictory accounts of who approached whom in the matter of a possible 2004 Kerry-McCain ticket, Bumiller wrote, “But however Mr. McCain reacted, he ultimately decided [according to McCain adviser Mark Salter] . . . that the idea would never work.”

“However Mr. McCain reacted.” Yes, the reader wanted to scream–how, exactly, did he react? Alas, we learned nothing about McCain’s actual reaction to the idea of running on a cross-party ticket–just more of the same He Said, He Said back and forth.

McCain may very well have given thought to–even seriously flirted with–the idea of switching parties in 2001 or running with Kerry in 2004. But readers were no closer to knowing the truth after finishing Bumiller’s fishing expedition of an article than they were before starting it.

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Nasrallah “Wipes” Juan Cole

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–“tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–“tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

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Bill Strikes Again

We can add this latest jab from Bill Clinton to the list of damaging rhetorical grenades tossed by one Democrat at another:

I must say that this new strategy of denying and disempowering and disenfranchising the voters in Florida and Michigan is, I believe, a terrible mistake. Hillary believes their votes should be counted. And I don’t know how we’re gonna go to those people in the general election and say you gotta vote for us even though we dumped all over you in the primary.

I am sure someone at the RNC or Team McCain is keeping a list  of these nastygrams. They will work on McCain’s behalf in the general election. Even more so than the “not-ready-for-3-a.m.-calls” jibe, this Clinton missive strikes close to home for Democrats, who have made a full-time occupation of insisting that “every vote counts.” In this case the Clintons have a germ of a point. The DNC set a schedule. But now that Michigan and Florida want to comply with DNC rules and re-do their primaries, what’s the rationale for Obama opposing new elections? Well, he wants to win, of course. But isn’t Hillary Clinton supposed to be the one who wants to win at all costs?

We can add this latest jab from Bill Clinton to the list of damaging rhetorical grenades tossed by one Democrat at another:

I must say that this new strategy of denying and disempowering and disenfranchising the voters in Florida and Michigan is, I believe, a terrible mistake. Hillary believes their votes should be counted. And I don’t know how we’re gonna go to those people in the general election and say you gotta vote for us even though we dumped all over you in the primary.

I am sure someone at the RNC or Team McCain is keeping a list  of these nastygrams. They will work on McCain’s behalf in the general election. Even more so than the “not-ready-for-3-a.m.-calls” jibe, this Clinton missive strikes close to home for Democrats, who have made a full-time occupation of insisting that “every vote counts.” In this case the Clintons have a germ of a point. The DNC set a schedule. But now that Michigan and Florida want to comply with DNC rules and re-do their primaries, what’s the rationale for Obama opposing new elections? Well, he wants to win, of course. But isn’t Hillary Clinton supposed to be the one who wants to win at all costs?

Read Less




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