Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 9, 2008

The Lesson of Lebanon

What does the crisis in Lebanon teach us about Hezbollah? It teaches us the same lesson we learned from Hamas when it took Gaza: Islamic supremacist groups, despite their claims to the contrary, cannot be integrated into states or democratic political systems.

We have heard for many years from an array of journalists, scholars, and pundits that Hamas and Hezbollah are complicated social movements that employ violence in the service of their political goals, and that they are therefore susceptible to diplomatic engagement. Such tropes about Hamas have become standard — that there should be a Fatah-Hamas unity government, that Israel should diplomatically engage Hamas, that Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections make the group a legitimate political player, etc. — and likewise, similar claims are made about Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon: that it is a legitimate representative of the Shia, that it can be negotiated with, that, like Hamas, the magic elixir of political integration will dissuade Hezbollah from its traditional behavior, which is to terrorize and dominate any system in which it participates.

The Hezbollah rampage in Lebanon that we are witnessing should make it obvious to any sentient observer that Hezbollah’s claims to democratic political legitimacy have always been intended only to manipulate the credulous. Participation in politics requires the willingness to persuade your foes, to compromise, to stand down when you don’t get your way. But there is no record of Hamas or Hezbollah ever observing such restrictions: the moment Hezbollah was confronted with political pressure, it responded not within the political sphere, but with warlordism — with an exhibition of violence intended to make clear not just that Hezbollah is the most powerful force in the country, but that challenging it will result in its enemies’ humiliation and dispossession. In the streets of Beirut, with Kalashnikovs and RPGs, Hezbollah is making it abundantly clear that its participation in Lebanese politics ends when Hezbollah is asked to submit to the state’s authority. How many more Middle East “experts” are going to proclaim that the answer to Islamic supremacism is dialogue and political integration?

The one thing Hezbollah has lost this week is the credibility of its claims to being a Lebanese “resistance” movement. Hezbollah has always countered concerns about its military buildup with the promise that it would never turn its weapons inward. The mask has fallen, and now it will never be restored. But it really doesn’t matter, and in some ways this fact might actually free Hezbollah’s hand — the group no longer need maintain any kind of charade at all that it has Lebanon’s interests at heart.

How is this situation going to play out in the coming days and weeks? That depends on a number of things, first among them being the question of how far Hezbollah wants to push its assault. The Druze, Christians, and Sunnis can field their own militias, and if open warfare comes to Lebanon there is a serious risk of outside intervention — that is, Syrian intervention, under the guise of a peacekeeping or stabilizing force. The Cedar Revolution will have been rolled back, only this time with an emboldened Hezbollah working in the service of a Syrian-Iranian alliance whose interests are more indistinguishable than ever.

What does the crisis in Lebanon teach us about Hezbollah? It teaches us the same lesson we learned from Hamas when it took Gaza: Islamic supremacist groups, despite their claims to the contrary, cannot be integrated into states or democratic political systems.

We have heard for many years from an array of journalists, scholars, and pundits that Hamas and Hezbollah are complicated social movements that employ violence in the service of their political goals, and that they are therefore susceptible to diplomatic engagement. Such tropes about Hamas have become standard — that there should be a Fatah-Hamas unity government, that Israel should diplomatically engage Hamas, that Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections make the group a legitimate political player, etc. — and likewise, similar claims are made about Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon: that it is a legitimate representative of the Shia, that it can be negotiated with, that, like Hamas, the magic elixir of political integration will dissuade Hezbollah from its traditional behavior, which is to terrorize and dominate any system in which it participates.

The Hezbollah rampage in Lebanon that we are witnessing should make it obvious to any sentient observer that Hezbollah’s claims to democratic political legitimacy have always been intended only to manipulate the credulous. Participation in politics requires the willingness to persuade your foes, to compromise, to stand down when you don’t get your way. But there is no record of Hamas or Hezbollah ever observing such restrictions: the moment Hezbollah was confronted with political pressure, it responded not within the political sphere, but with warlordism — with an exhibition of violence intended to make clear not just that Hezbollah is the most powerful force in the country, but that challenging it will result in its enemies’ humiliation and dispossession. In the streets of Beirut, with Kalashnikovs and RPGs, Hezbollah is making it abundantly clear that its participation in Lebanese politics ends when Hezbollah is asked to submit to the state’s authority. How many more Middle East “experts” are going to proclaim that the answer to Islamic supremacism is dialogue and political integration?

The one thing Hezbollah has lost this week is the credibility of its claims to being a Lebanese “resistance” movement. Hezbollah has always countered concerns about its military buildup with the promise that it would never turn its weapons inward. The mask has fallen, and now it will never be restored. But it really doesn’t matter, and in some ways this fact might actually free Hezbollah’s hand — the group no longer need maintain any kind of charade at all that it has Lebanon’s interests at heart.

How is this situation going to play out in the coming days and weeks? That depends on a number of things, first among them being the question of how far Hezbollah wants to push its assault. The Druze, Christians, and Sunnis can field their own militias, and if open warfare comes to Lebanon there is a serious risk of outside intervention — that is, Syrian intervention, under the guise of a peacekeeping or stabilizing force. The Cedar Revolution will have been rolled back, only this time with an emboldened Hezbollah working in the service of a Syrian-Iranian alliance whose interests are more indistinguishable than ever.

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Nothing Like A Kennedy to Add Some Class

Leave it to Ted Kennedy. It is one thing to say that Hillary Clinton might not be the best choice for VP or that Barack Obama should make his own choice. But that would have shown grace and restraint. This comes from an interview with Al Hunt:

Obama should choose a running mate who “is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people,” Kennedy said. “If we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it’d be enormously helpful.”

Can you think of anything that would inflame Clinton’s supporters more or cause her and Bill to dig their heels in any deeper? If Obama were smart he’d publically distance himself from Kennedy’s remarks. But wait. He doesn’t rebuke mentors unless they speak at the National Press club.

Leave it to Ted Kennedy. It is one thing to say that Hillary Clinton might not be the best choice for VP or that Barack Obama should make his own choice. But that would have shown grace and restraint. This comes from an interview with Al Hunt:

Obama should choose a running mate who “is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people,” Kennedy said. “If we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it’d be enormously helpful.”

Can you think of anything that would inflame Clinton’s supporters more or cause her and Bill to dig their heels in any deeper? If Obama were smart he’d publically distance himself from Kennedy’s remarks. But wait. He doesn’t rebuke mentors unless they speak at the National Press club.

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Re: Assad’s “Full Reciprocity”

My contentions colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi astutely notes that, despite his alleged openness to peace negotiations with Israel, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is hardly prepared to accept the most necessary conditions of peace: distancing himself from Iran and cutting off its aid to Hamas and Hezbollah.

But Assad’s interview with L’Espresso contains a second stunning admission, this one by way of analogy. When defending Iranian-Syrian ties, Assad invokes U.S.-Israeli relations as a comparison:

It would be an absurd demand and there would be no more peace. How would Israel react if we demanded it breaks its relations with the United States?

For Assad–the last Arab leader whose legitimacy is framed in the ethos of Arab nationalism–this is a truly bizarre statement. After all, leaders of Assad’s ilk typically view U.S.-Israeli relations as comprising two unequal parties. Indeed, Assad was entreated to this very argument when, during his visit to Tehran last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that U.S. policy in the Middle East “is just another effort to strengthen its own status and that of the Zionists.” In other words, Israel is dependent on the U.S., which uses the Jewish state as a tool for advancing its own regional hegemony. The logical conclusion of Assad’s analogy is that Syria is similarly dependent on Iranian support!

I’ll give Assad the benefit of the doubt on this one: odds are that he didn’t mean to imply Syrian subservience. Indeed, when it comes to drawing analogies, it’s possible that he suffers from a sad case of Juan Cole Syndrome. But with Hezbollah seizing control of West Beirut earlier today–a move that some Lebanese leaders are calling a coup–it may be only a matter of time before Syria is truly more dependent on Iranian good graces for its security than ever before. This would suggest that, by Iran’s own machinations, Assad is unlikely to make it to a bargaining table anytime soon.

My contentions colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi astutely notes that, despite his alleged openness to peace negotiations with Israel, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is hardly prepared to accept the most necessary conditions of peace: distancing himself from Iran and cutting off its aid to Hamas and Hezbollah.

But Assad’s interview with L’Espresso contains a second stunning admission, this one by way of analogy. When defending Iranian-Syrian ties, Assad invokes U.S.-Israeli relations as a comparison:

It would be an absurd demand and there would be no more peace. How would Israel react if we demanded it breaks its relations with the United States?

For Assad–the last Arab leader whose legitimacy is framed in the ethos of Arab nationalism–this is a truly bizarre statement. After all, leaders of Assad’s ilk typically view U.S.-Israeli relations as comprising two unequal parties. Indeed, Assad was entreated to this very argument when, during his visit to Tehran last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that U.S. policy in the Middle East “is just another effort to strengthen its own status and that of the Zionists.” In other words, Israel is dependent on the U.S., which uses the Jewish state as a tool for advancing its own regional hegemony. The logical conclusion of Assad’s analogy is that Syria is similarly dependent on Iranian support!

I’ll give Assad the benefit of the doubt on this one: odds are that he didn’t mean to imply Syrian subservience. Indeed, when it comes to drawing analogies, it’s possible that he suffers from a sad case of Juan Cole Syndrome. But with Hezbollah seizing control of West Beirut earlier today–a move that some Lebanese leaders are calling a coup–it may be only a matter of time before Syria is truly more dependent on Iranian good graces for its security than ever before. This would suggest that, by Iran’s own machinations, Assad is unlikely to make it to a bargaining table anytime soon.

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The J Word

Andy McCarthy’s new book Willful Blindness and his latest essay “The Jihad in Plain Sight” are both must-reading for anyone who concerned that, even now, we have not come to terms with the need for war against Islamic terrorists. His essay makes the horrifying point that our State Department has seen fit to banish the word “jihad” from our official vocabulary.

So if you bemoan the Democratic near-nominee’s unwillingness to face up to harsh international realities and draw clear lines, you won’t be happy to hear that the problem is much more widespread. Yes, Rudy Giuliani mocked the Democrats for failing to use the words “Islamic terrorism” in their debates. But left to its own devices the State Department is going down the same road. (John McCain apparently has no similar issue with vocabulary.)

If you can’t recognize your enemies and define the nature of the threat, you’re not going to defeat them. You will instead spend time annoying the general population, giving them a sense that our efforts are foolhardy.

So if the Presidential candidates want to have a nice high-minded debate, they might start with a simple question: what do you call the enemy? That may tell us quite a bit about each candidate’s willingness and ability to grapple with unpleasant realities.

Andy McCarthy’s new book Willful Blindness and his latest essay “The Jihad in Plain Sight” are both must-reading for anyone who concerned that, even now, we have not come to terms with the need for war against Islamic terrorists. His essay makes the horrifying point that our State Department has seen fit to banish the word “jihad” from our official vocabulary.

So if you bemoan the Democratic near-nominee’s unwillingness to face up to harsh international realities and draw clear lines, you won’t be happy to hear that the problem is much more widespread. Yes, Rudy Giuliani mocked the Democrats for failing to use the words “Islamic terrorism” in their debates. But left to its own devices the State Department is going down the same road. (John McCain apparently has no similar issue with vocabulary.)

If you can’t recognize your enemies and define the nature of the threat, you’re not going to defeat them. You will instead spend time annoying the general population, giving them a sense that our efforts are foolhardy.

So if the Presidential candidates want to have a nice high-minded debate, they might start with a simple question: what do you call the enemy? That may tell us quite a bit about each candidate’s willingness and ability to grapple with unpleasant realities.

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Colorblind or Just Blind?

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

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Back To The Point

After his advisor muddied the waters a bit with the age issue, John McCain steers the conversation back today to Barack Obama’s endorsement by Hamas.

McCain also told reporters that the recent complimentary remarks for Obama by a Hamas spokesman are also fair game for debate. Prefacing his comment by saying that he believes that it’s clear that Obama “shares nothing of the values or goals of Hamas,” the presumptive GOP nominee added that the Palestinian organization’s favorable assessment of Obama’s candidacy is “a legitimate point of discussion.”

(And was he offended by the “bearings” remark? Not really.)

McCain is correct in this respect: it is important to understand that Obama’s positions (e.g. his willingness to meet with Hamas’ sponsor Iran) and his rhetoric (“nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people”) have consequences and are interpreted by our adversaries as providing them with a political and diplomatic advantage. As McCain explained on Bill O’Reilly’s show last night, naive overtures of this type only enhance their stature on the world stage. That is a significant issue which goes to the candidates’ competence and outlook in managing foreign policy.

After his advisor muddied the waters a bit with the age issue, John McCain steers the conversation back today to Barack Obama’s endorsement by Hamas.

McCain also told reporters that the recent complimentary remarks for Obama by a Hamas spokesman are also fair game for debate. Prefacing his comment by saying that he believes that it’s clear that Obama “shares nothing of the values or goals of Hamas,” the presumptive GOP nominee added that the Palestinian organization’s favorable assessment of Obama’s candidacy is “a legitimate point of discussion.”

(And was he offended by the “bearings” remark? Not really.)

McCain is correct in this respect: it is important to understand that Obama’s positions (e.g. his willingness to meet with Hamas’ sponsor Iran) and his rhetoric (“nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people”) have consequences and are interpreted by our adversaries as providing them with a political and diplomatic advantage. As McCain explained on Bill O’Reilly’s show last night, naive overtures of this type only enhance their stature on the world stage. That is a significant issue which goes to the candidates’ competence and outlook in managing foreign policy.

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Re: Time to Invade Burma?

Well, what if the UN doesn’t come along? And don’t we need to draw up an exit strategy first? And what evil multinational corporation will get the job of bringing the physically decimated country back to life? And who’s going to protect the religious minorities in the absence of a strong central government? And how are we going to keep the peace between the dissidents and the former junta members?  And how long do we stay? And what kind of regime do we leave in place? And why should American soldiers risk their lives and American tax payers spend their money to fight people thousands of miles away who pose no threat to us and our way of life? And won’t this just be perceived as a way of positioning troops in East Asia? And isn’t this a provocation to China?

I raise all these questions somewhat facetiously. They’re deadly serious, of course, and need to be considered. But the point is that even cases for the most transparently humanitarian international military intervention are fraught with deeply complicated and interwoven considerations. Which is absolutely no reason in itself to rule out aggressive action.

It’s easy to find endless reasons to let thousands or even millions die. And you don’t even have to bring up oil, Bush, lies, or WMD.

Well, what if the UN doesn’t come along? And don’t we need to draw up an exit strategy first? And what evil multinational corporation will get the job of bringing the physically decimated country back to life? And who’s going to protect the religious minorities in the absence of a strong central government? And how are we going to keep the peace between the dissidents and the former junta members?  And how long do we stay? And what kind of regime do we leave in place? And why should American soldiers risk their lives and American tax payers spend their money to fight people thousands of miles away who pose no threat to us and our way of life? And won’t this just be perceived as a way of positioning troops in East Asia? And isn’t this a provocation to China?

I raise all these questions somewhat facetiously. They’re deadly serious, of course, and need to be considered. But the point is that even cases for the most transparently humanitarian international military intervention are fraught with deeply complicated and interwoven considerations. Which is absolutely no reason in itself to rule out aggressive action.

It’s easy to find endless reasons to let thousands or even millions die. And you don’t even have to bring up oil, Bush, lies, or WMD.

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But It’s True!

Peggy Noonan joins the long list of horrified Democrats deploring Hillary Clinton’s comments that she has a base of support among white voters and Barack Obama does not. Yes, I agree it was surprising that she said it. But her saying it isn’t the problem. Indeed, Paul Krugman wrote the same thing:

There’s just one thing that should give Democrats pause — but it’s a big one: the fight for the nomination has divided the party along class and race lines in a way that I believe is unprecedented, at least in modern times.Ironically, much of Mr. Obama’s initial appeal was the hope that he could transcend these divisions. At first, voting patterns seemed consistent with this hope. In February, for example, he received the support of half of Virginia’s white voters as well as that of a huge majority of African-Americans. But this week, Mr. Obama, while continuing to win huge African-American majorities, lost North Carolina whites by 23 points, Indiana whites by 22 points. Mr. Obama’s white support continues to be concentrated among the highly educated; there was little in Tuesday’s results to suggest that his problems with working-class whites have significantly diminished.

Clinton’s comment is not quite like the 3 a.m. ad: John McCain can’t turn around and run ads saying “Even Hillary says white voters don’t support Obama.” She didn’t give the Republicans some rhetorical advantage. She was caught remarking on a very unpleasant and troubling question for Democrats. It’s the key question for the fall: what kind of coalition can Obama put together?

If it’s the McGovern-like grab bag of African Americans, ultra-liberals, and young voters, he’ll lose, and maybe even in some states Democrats have traditionally counted in the their column (e.g. Pennsylvania). If he inherits the blue-collar voters from Clinton, sprints to the center and successfully re-runs the 2006 election (“throw the bums out!”) he’ll win. But as disagreeable and annoying as Clinton may be to the Democratic establishment and mainstream media, this potential for electoral polarization and defeat is not Clinton’s doing. She just reminded them of their worst fears. How dare she.

Peggy Noonan joins the long list of horrified Democrats deploring Hillary Clinton’s comments that she has a base of support among white voters and Barack Obama does not. Yes, I agree it was surprising that she said it. But her saying it isn’t the problem. Indeed, Paul Krugman wrote the same thing:

There’s just one thing that should give Democrats pause — but it’s a big one: the fight for the nomination has divided the party along class and race lines in a way that I believe is unprecedented, at least in modern times.Ironically, much of Mr. Obama’s initial appeal was the hope that he could transcend these divisions. At first, voting patterns seemed consistent with this hope. In February, for example, he received the support of half of Virginia’s white voters as well as that of a huge majority of African-Americans. But this week, Mr. Obama, while continuing to win huge African-American majorities, lost North Carolina whites by 23 points, Indiana whites by 22 points. Mr. Obama’s white support continues to be concentrated among the highly educated; there was little in Tuesday’s results to suggest that his problems with working-class whites have significantly diminished.

Clinton’s comment is not quite like the 3 a.m. ad: John McCain can’t turn around and run ads saying “Even Hillary says white voters don’t support Obama.” She didn’t give the Republicans some rhetorical advantage. She was caught remarking on a very unpleasant and troubling question for Democrats. It’s the key question for the fall: what kind of coalition can Obama put together?

If it’s the McGovern-like grab bag of African Americans, ultra-liberals, and young voters, he’ll lose, and maybe even in some states Democrats have traditionally counted in the their column (e.g. Pennsylvania). If he inherits the blue-collar voters from Clinton, sprints to the center and successfully re-runs the 2006 election (“throw the bums out!”) he’ll win. But as disagreeable and annoying as Clinton may be to the Democratic establishment and mainstream media, this potential for electoral polarization and defeat is not Clinton’s doing. She just reminded them of their worst fears. How dare she.

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Time to Invade Burma?

Today, the United Nations World Food Program suspended the shipment of relief supplies to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The country had been ravaged by Cyclone Nargis on Saturday.

The suspension was prompted by the Burmese junta’s seizure of supplies that the agency had already sent. “All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” said the UN’s Paul Risley. “For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time.”

Previously, the government blocked almost all disaster assistance offered by the international community, including the United States. According to official statistics, almost 23,000 have died. Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon, says the toll may have already exceeded 100,000.

The UN says the flights will resume tomorrow, but we do not know whether they will in fact be allowed to land. Yet at this moment we are sure of this: Burmese are dying only because their government, which insists on handling disaster assistance itself, has proven utterly incapable of doing so. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has therefore raised the possibility that the United Nations invoke its “responsibility to protect” and deliver aid to Burmese citizens without their government’s permission. Such an action would save lives, but it probably would trigger conflict with the militant regime. So the issue arises: Is the world willing to invade Burma?

Invade? The international community cannot “protect” the Burmese people from a military government without employing military means. The United Nations, of course, is not prepared to use force. So Burmese by the tens of thousands will perish.

Of course, there are good reasons not to start a war against the junta this week. There are, for instance, tens of millions of other people who urgently need to be shielded from the tyrants who threaten their lives, and we cannot forcibly help all of them now. Yet even if the international community had the capability to do so, I doubt it is ready for dozens of simultaneous “interventions.” It’s not ready for even one. How do I know that? The United States undertook an obligation to protect the people of Iraq from the murderous Saddam Hussein. And we can see what the rest of the world now thinks of that.

Today, the United Nations World Food Program suspended the shipment of relief supplies to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The country had been ravaged by Cyclone Nargis on Saturday.

The suspension was prompted by the Burmese junta’s seizure of supplies that the agency had already sent. “All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” said the UN’s Paul Risley. “For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time.”

Previously, the government blocked almost all disaster assistance offered by the international community, including the United States. According to official statistics, almost 23,000 have died. Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon, says the toll may have already exceeded 100,000.

The UN says the flights will resume tomorrow, but we do not know whether they will in fact be allowed to land. Yet at this moment we are sure of this: Burmese are dying only because their government, which insists on handling disaster assistance itself, has proven utterly incapable of doing so. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has therefore raised the possibility that the United Nations invoke its “responsibility to protect” and deliver aid to Burmese citizens without their government’s permission. Such an action would save lives, but it probably would trigger conflict with the militant regime. So the issue arises: Is the world willing to invade Burma?

Invade? The international community cannot “protect” the Burmese people from a military government without employing military means. The United Nations, of course, is not prepared to use force. So Burmese by the tens of thousands will perish.

Of course, there are good reasons not to start a war against the junta this week. There are, for instance, tens of millions of other people who urgently need to be shielded from the tyrants who threaten their lives, and we cannot forcibly help all of them now. Yet even if the international community had the capability to do so, I doubt it is ready for dozens of simultaneous “interventions.” It’s not ready for even one. How do I know that? The United States undertook an obligation to protect the people of Iraq from the murderous Saddam Hussein. And we can see what the rest of the world now thinks of that.

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Happy Mother’s Day From McCain

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

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Assad’s “Full Reciprocity”

This week’s L’Espresso, one the most influential weekly publications in Italy, features an exclusive interview with Syrian dictator Bashar el Assad. Even as the interviewer makes his best effort to let Assad off the hook on just about every issue, Assad still manages to dismiss the assumption, made by many Westerners, that a wedge can be driven between Iran and Syria. Asked if Syria would renounce its alliance with Iran and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas in exchange for peace with Israel, Assad said that

It would be an absurd demand and there would be no more peace. How would Israel react if we demanded it breaks its relations with the United States? Negotiations must develop with regard to full reciprocity. Syria remains firmly persuaded that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. For the simple reason that they do not kill civilians. They are movements that defend their own land. As for Iran, the answer is even more obvious. It is our old ally, there is no reason to turn our back to them.

Assad could not be clearer. In exchange for the Golan Heights, Israel would obtain a peace treaty that would add little to the present state of relations with Syria, without reducing the weight and clout of Iran and its proxies all around it. Not a deal worth pursuing.

This week’s L’Espresso, one the most influential weekly publications in Italy, features an exclusive interview with Syrian dictator Bashar el Assad. Even as the interviewer makes his best effort to let Assad off the hook on just about every issue, Assad still manages to dismiss the assumption, made by many Westerners, that a wedge can be driven between Iran and Syria. Asked if Syria would renounce its alliance with Iran and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas in exchange for peace with Israel, Assad said that

It would be an absurd demand and there would be no more peace. How would Israel react if we demanded it breaks its relations with the United States? Negotiations must develop with regard to full reciprocity. Syria remains firmly persuaded that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. For the simple reason that they do not kill civilians. They are movements that defend their own land. As for Iran, the answer is even more obvious. It is our old ally, there is no reason to turn our back to them.

Assad could not be clearer. In exchange for the Golan Heights, Israel would obtain a peace treaty that would add little to the present state of relations with Syria, without reducing the weight and clout of Iran and its proxies all around it. Not a deal worth pursuing.

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What’s He Been Watching?

In today’s Washington Post, Eugene Robinson has an op-ed on Hillary’s recent boast about getting white voters and what it says about her:

As a statement of fact, that’s debatable at best. As a rationale for why Democratic Party superdelegates should pick her over Obama, it’s a slap in the face to the party’s most loyal constituency — African Americans — and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here’s what she’s really saying to party leaders: There’s no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you’ll be sorry.

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

He did? Perhaps someone can pull Eugene Robinson aside and lend him some footage from the past year. From the Clintons’ race strategy to Obama’s racial justification of Jeremiah Wright to John Kerry’s political faith in Obama’s melanin count, the one thing we know Democrats believe in is color visibility. To be part of the Democratic electorate is to receive your Crayola label, stand in the box, and hope to be used.

Robinson goes on:

From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That’s why she is falling short — and that’s why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.

By this logic, Obama is sure to destroy the Dems. Since February, he’s done everything but don robes and walk on water. Without a shred of irony, Robinson writes: “Clinton’s sin isn’t racism, it’s arrogance.” And the sin of Democratic supporters is unstinting gullibility.

In today’s Washington Post, Eugene Robinson has an op-ed on Hillary’s recent boast about getting white voters and what it says about her:

As a statement of fact, that’s debatable at best. As a rationale for why Democratic Party superdelegates should pick her over Obama, it’s a slap in the face to the party’s most loyal constituency — African Americans — and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here’s what she’s really saying to party leaders: There’s no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you’ll be sorry.

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

He did? Perhaps someone can pull Eugene Robinson aside and lend him some footage from the past year. From the Clintons’ race strategy to Obama’s racial justification of Jeremiah Wright to John Kerry’s political faith in Obama’s melanin count, the one thing we know Democrats believe in is color visibility. To be part of the Democratic electorate is to receive your Crayola label, stand in the box, and hope to be used.

Robinson goes on:

From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That’s why she is falling short — and that’s why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.

By this logic, Obama is sure to destroy the Dems. Since February, he’s done everything but don robes and walk on water. Without a shred of irony, Robinson writes: “Clinton’s sin isn’t racism, it’s arrogance.” And the sin of Democratic supporters is unstinting gullibility.

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Yes, We Have An Opponent

The RNC has come out with a new ad mocking the “Yes, we can” chant. It raises a number of questions about Obama’s “present” votes in the Illinois state senate, his spending plans, his votes to cut troop funding, his Snobgate comments, and his lack of national experience. What is not clear yet is the overall picture the Republicans are trying to paint. Are they going down the “experience” route? (Didn’t that bomb for Hillary Clinton?) Are they going to fight the culture war again?

For now, they have just thrown some issues against the wall. But it helps to have some consistent message. In 2004 Republicans painted John Kerry as an effete flip-flopper. In 2008, John McCain is being decried by Democrats as an out-of-touch George W. Bush clone. But what is the Obama image the Republicans want voters to conjure up? We’ll find out in the weeks ahead what that core message about Obama will be–or if there will be one at all.

The RNC has come out with a new ad mocking the “Yes, we can” chant. It raises a number of questions about Obama’s “present” votes in the Illinois state senate, his spending plans, his votes to cut troop funding, his Snobgate comments, and his lack of national experience. What is not clear yet is the overall picture the Republicans are trying to paint. Are they going down the “experience” route? (Didn’t that bomb for Hillary Clinton?) Are they going to fight the culture war again?

For now, they have just thrown some issues against the wall. But it helps to have some consistent message. In 2004 Republicans painted John Kerry as an effete flip-flopper. In 2008, John McCain is being decried by Democrats as an out-of-touch George W. Bush clone. But what is the Obama image the Republicans want voters to conjure up? We’ll find out in the weeks ahead what that core message about Obama will be–or if there will be one at all.

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What’s ElBaradei Up To?

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

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What Do We Do Now?

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

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Angry

There is no doubt that Michelle Obama has some anger issues. It might seem puzzling as to why a rich, successful, and well-educated woman with a good shot at becoming First Lady should be so darn mad. Maybe she should listen to P.J. O’Rourke who explains a bit about fairness:

I’ve got a 10-year-old at home. She’s always saying, “That’s not fair.” When she says this, I say, “Honey, you’re cute. That’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That’s not fair. You were born in America. That’s not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don’t start getting fair for you.”

I think something else is going on here as well: good old-fashioned pandering. Remember: the Obamas are convinced that the little guys are bitter. So what better way to bond with them then to join in the whine festival. “You’ve got electric bills you can’t pay? I know what you mean! $10,000 summer camp bill bum me out too!” And so it goes.

There is no doubt that Michelle Obama has some anger issues. It might seem puzzling as to why a rich, successful, and well-educated woman with a good shot at becoming First Lady should be so darn mad. Maybe she should listen to P.J. O’Rourke who explains a bit about fairness:

I’ve got a 10-year-old at home. She’s always saying, “That’s not fair.” When she says this, I say, “Honey, you’re cute. That’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That’s not fair. You were born in America. That’s not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don’t start getting fair for you.”

I think something else is going on here as well: good old-fashioned pandering. Remember: the Obamas are convinced that the little guys are bitter. So what better way to bond with them then to join in the whine festival. “You’ve got electric bills you can’t pay? I know what you mean! $10,000 summer camp bill bum me out too!” And so it goes.

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Iran Shouts “Nuclear Apartheid”

On Monday, Iran’s Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would not submit to extensive U.N. inspections of its nuclear program while Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the NPT, as the global pact is called, and, as such, is not permitted to build or hold nuclear weapons. Israel, which maintains a small arsenal of nukes, has not joined the NPT. Citing “nuclear apartheid,” the Iranian diplomat said

The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states.

Tehran’s announcement should surprise no one. North Korea raised the nuclear apartheid argument earlier this decade to justify its serial violations of the NPT. After International Atomic Energy Agency inspections revealed that Pyongyang had been secretly experimenting with plutonium, it announced its withdrawal from the treaty in January 2003. There have been reports that North Koreans have been teaching Iranians how to avoid nuclear inspections and deal with the international community. Whether these stories are true or not, Tehran is now obviously following North Korea’s playbook.

So look for Tehran to talk about Israel again and again. There will always be questions about Israel, India, and Pakistan, the three nuclear powers that never signed the NPT. And there are broader fairness issues about the discriminatory nature of the treaty, which permits five nations to possess nukes and prohibits 185 others from doing so. Yet the United States should remind the international community that Iran, while it remains a nuclear criminal, has no standing to raise them.

The mullahs appear to be laying the groundwork for ditching the NPT. “What is the problem with withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?” asked Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the leader of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, in 2003. “North Korea withdrew from the treaty.”

So we should start laying groundwork of our own. We need to tell Iran it has no right to withdraw from the NPT until it first complies with its treaty obligations and all the demands of the Security Council that it suspend the enrichment of uranium. The sooner Washington announces this–along with its intentions to use force to back up its demands–the better.

On Monday, Iran’s Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would not submit to extensive U.N. inspections of its nuclear program while Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the NPT, as the global pact is called, and, as such, is not permitted to build or hold nuclear weapons. Israel, which maintains a small arsenal of nukes, has not joined the NPT. Citing “nuclear apartheid,” the Iranian diplomat said

The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states.

Tehran’s announcement should surprise no one. North Korea raised the nuclear apartheid argument earlier this decade to justify its serial violations of the NPT. After International Atomic Energy Agency inspections revealed that Pyongyang had been secretly experimenting with plutonium, it announced its withdrawal from the treaty in January 2003. There have been reports that North Koreans have been teaching Iranians how to avoid nuclear inspections and deal with the international community. Whether these stories are true or not, Tehran is now obviously following North Korea’s playbook.

So look for Tehran to talk about Israel again and again. There will always be questions about Israel, India, and Pakistan, the three nuclear powers that never signed the NPT. And there are broader fairness issues about the discriminatory nature of the treaty, which permits five nations to possess nukes and prohibits 185 others from doing so. Yet the United States should remind the international community that Iran, while it remains a nuclear criminal, has no standing to raise them.

The mullahs appear to be laying the groundwork for ditching the NPT. “What is the problem with withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?” asked Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the leader of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, in 2003. “North Korea withdrew from the treaty.”

So we should start laying groundwork of our own. We need to tell Iran it has no right to withdraw from the NPT until it first complies with its treaty obligations and all the demands of the Security Council that it suspend the enrichment of uranium. The sooner Washington announces this–along with its intentions to use force to back up its demands–the better.

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A Tale of Two Elections

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

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Things Get Worse in Lebanon

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

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Who Is Smearing Whom?

The McCain team released this in response to Barack Obama’s charge that he was “smeared” when John McCain noted that Hamas had endorsed Obama. The McCain team is not just calling foul, but picking up a bat and swinging back:

First, let us be clear about the nature of Senator Obama’s attack today: He used the words ‘losing his bearings’ intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain’s age as an issue. This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning.

We have all become familiar with Senator Obama’s new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is . . . .

The response, which is quite long and continues in this vein, is likely to please those conservatives who had begun to wonder whether the McCain team was prepared and willing really to go after Obama. However, there are two problems with the response, which became more evident in coverage today. First, it was much too long and not quotable in full by media reporters in most accounts. That deprived the McCain of a opportunity to get wide coverage of a punchy, easily understood retort.

The McCain team also chose first to focus on the “bearings” comment. This made the interchange about age, not about Hamas and Obama. And that shaped the coverage. Some would say that the McCain campaign is too concerned about slights to their own candidate and too prone to miss easy shots at their opponent.

The McCain team released this in response to Barack Obama’s charge that he was “smeared” when John McCain noted that Hamas had endorsed Obama. The McCain team is not just calling foul, but picking up a bat and swinging back:

First, let us be clear about the nature of Senator Obama’s attack today: He used the words ‘losing his bearings’ intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain’s age as an issue. This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning.

We have all become familiar with Senator Obama’s new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is . . . .

The response, which is quite long and continues in this vein, is likely to please those conservatives who had begun to wonder whether the McCain team was prepared and willing really to go after Obama. However, there are two problems with the response, which became more evident in coverage today. First, it was much too long and not quotable in full by media reporters in most accounts. That deprived the McCain of a opportunity to get wide coverage of a punchy, easily understood retort.

The McCain team also chose first to focus on the “bearings” comment. This made the interchange about age, not about Hamas and Obama. And that shaped the coverage. Some would say that the McCain campaign is too concerned about slights to their own candidate and too prone to miss easy shots at their opponent.

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