Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 21, 2008

Wriggling Out?

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

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Taking the Gold for Hypocrisy

It’s a shame to further bust the “global community” myth of the Olympic Games–but bust I must. Ali Al-Ahmed has a piece in the Herald Tribune on how the International Olympic Committee is violating its charter by allowing Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to send to teams to the Games.

How so? The charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

But countries like the two named above, which limit or ban the participation of women on their teams, are slated to compete in Beijing. It’s worth noting that it’s not merely sports participation from which these women are banned. When the Saudi team comes to China, you can be sure that the Kingdom’s frustrated female athletes will be among the least traumatized women in Saudi society. On the basis of gender, other Saudi women will be prohibited from obtaining basic medical treatment.

You can practically hear the cognitive dissonance of the multi-culti crowd. If accepting others is good and rejecting others is bad, what’s accepting those who reject others?

Why, it’s the way of most international bodies, of course. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise that can’t be degraded by sticking the word international before it. Once you are international, you are subject to all the whims of the international community. According to Al Ahmed, various NGO’s have been pressuring the International Olympic Committee about women’s rights for years, and there has been slow progress. But, as he writes,

[i]f the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards, the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.

It’s a shame to further bust the “global community” myth of the Olympic Games–but bust I must. Ali Al-Ahmed has a piece in the Herald Tribune on how the International Olympic Committee is violating its charter by allowing Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to send to teams to the Games.

How so? The charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

But countries like the two named above, which limit or ban the participation of women on their teams, are slated to compete in Beijing. It’s worth noting that it’s not merely sports participation from which these women are banned. When the Saudi team comes to China, you can be sure that the Kingdom’s frustrated female athletes will be among the least traumatized women in Saudi society. On the basis of gender, other Saudi women will be prohibited from obtaining basic medical treatment.

You can practically hear the cognitive dissonance of the multi-culti crowd. If accepting others is good and rejecting others is bad, what’s accepting those who reject others?

Why, it’s the way of most international bodies, of course. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise that can’t be degraded by sticking the word international before it. Once you are international, you are subject to all the whims of the international community. According to Al Ahmed, various NGO’s have been pressuring the International Olympic Committee about women’s rights for years, and there has been slow progress. But, as he writes,

[i]f the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards, the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.

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The Theme Is There

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

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News from Sadr City

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

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Is Anyone On Message Today?

Bill Richardson says don’t talk to Ahmadinejad but to”moderate clerics” and confesses he chatted with Castro (when? with what authority?). Apparently he is just as adept as a surrogate as he was a candidate.

Sidney Blumenthal says John McCain isn’t George W. Bush and don’t try to make him out to be. Whoops! Isn’t this the central argument for Barack Obama? But wait: if the game plan is not 2008 but The New Hillary for 2012, maybe he is on message.

Bill Richardson says don’t talk to Ahmadinejad but to”moderate clerics” and confesses he chatted with Castro (when? with what authority?). Apparently he is just as adept as a surrogate as he was a candidate.

Sidney Blumenthal says John McCain isn’t George W. Bush and don’t try to make him out to be. Whoops! Isn’t this the central argument for Barack Obama? But wait: if the game plan is not 2008 but The New Hillary for 2012, maybe he is on message.

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A Lesson For Hillary

Ted Kennedy’s health crisis, regardless of your views about his politics, is a personal tragedy. Others have commented on the “politics” of it. But on a deeper level I wonder if there is not a lesson for Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, despite his family’s White House history, could never make it there himself. His baggage was too great, the timing never right. And even if he had gained the nomination in 1980, it’s not clear he would have been any more successful in stopping Ronald Reagan. He might well have been been relegated to the “loser” list, a group not treated with great reverence by the Democratic Party. Instead, he put away presidential ambitions and became the “lion of the Senate,” leaving a legislative mark greater than many presidents.

Could Clinton do the same? It would take a personal reorientation and a desire to put away singular focus on reclaiming the White House, something many suspect is simply beyond her ability to fathom. But the lesson is plain: not all power resides in the White House and not all glory is presidential. Frankly, it’s the best she might be able to do.

Ted Kennedy’s health crisis, regardless of your views about his politics, is a personal tragedy. Others have commented on the “politics” of it. But on a deeper level I wonder if there is not a lesson for Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, despite his family’s White House history, could never make it there himself. His baggage was too great, the timing never right. And even if he had gained the nomination in 1980, it’s not clear he would have been any more successful in stopping Ronald Reagan. He might well have been been relegated to the “loser” list, a group not treated with great reverence by the Democratic Party. Instead, he put away presidential ambitions and became the “lion of the Senate,” leaving a legislative mark greater than many presidents.

Could Clinton do the same? It would take a personal reorientation and a desire to put away singular focus on reclaiming the White House, something many suspect is simply beyond her ability to fathom. But the lesson is plain: not all power resides in the White House and not all glory is presidential. Frankly, it’s the best she might be able to do.

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The Lieberman Lecture

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the state of the Democratic party. It is a short version of the lecture Lieberman gave on Sunday night, May 18, at the annual COMMENTARY Fund dinner, and the entire lecture is worth reading at length. Lieberman goes directly at Barack Obama’s “talk without preconditions” line toward America’s worst enemies. And he says some very nice things about COMMENTARY. We’ve posted it here.

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the state of the Democratic party. It is a short version of the lecture Lieberman gave on Sunday night, May 18, at the annual COMMENTARY Fund dinner, and the entire lecture is worth reading at length. Lieberman goes directly at Barack Obama’s “talk without preconditions” line toward America’s worst enemies. And he says some very nice things about COMMENTARY. We’ve posted it here.

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Olmert & Assad, Strange Bedfellows

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

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Blockading Iran

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

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Right In Reverse

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

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Olmert the Etrog?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

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Karsenty, Vindicated

Some welcome news this morning: a French court has overturned the libel judgment against Philippe Karsenty, the French media watchdog who publicly accused France2 television of airing staged footage of the (alleged) Mohammad Al Dura killing in 2000, an incident instrumental in helping ignite the second intifada and one that has come to symbolize, in the Arab and European world, Israel’s crimes. Richard Landes, who has been intensely covering this most famous instance of what he calls Pallywood, notes that

[i]n order for an appeals court to reverse a decision, they must have strong evidence to the contrary. The fact that they did indicates that their written decision will be very critical of France2. The implications of this decision are immense.

That written decision will be handed down tomorrow, and what remains to be seen is the extent to which it will implicate a renowned French journalist, Charles Enderlin, in promulgating what has been one of the most egregious and destructive libels against Israel in its history. Why did the lower court declare Karsenty guilty while the appeals court has exculpated him? The appeals court demanded to see France2’s raw footage of the incident. Stay tuned to Landes’ blog and to Carl in Jerusalem for more.

Some welcome news this morning: a French court has overturned the libel judgment against Philippe Karsenty, the French media watchdog who publicly accused France2 television of airing staged footage of the (alleged) Mohammad Al Dura killing in 2000, an incident instrumental in helping ignite the second intifada and one that has come to symbolize, in the Arab and European world, Israel’s crimes. Richard Landes, who has been intensely covering this most famous instance of what he calls Pallywood, notes that

[i]n order for an appeals court to reverse a decision, they must have strong evidence to the contrary. The fact that they did indicates that their written decision will be very critical of France2. The implications of this decision are immense.

That written decision will be handed down tomorrow, and what remains to be seen is the extent to which it will implicate a renowned French journalist, Charles Enderlin, in promulgating what has been one of the most egregious and destructive libels against Israel in its history. Why did the lower court declare Karsenty guilty while the appeals court has exculpated him? The appeals court demanded to see France2’s raw footage of the incident. Stay tuned to Landes’ blog and to Carl in Jerusalem for more.

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Was This Appeasement?

 My oldest daughter, deceptively argumentative under her charming exterior, is a student at Stuyvesant High School in New York. Yesterday she recounted to me an argument she was having at school about why the American hostages were freed by the Iranians minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated on January 20, 1981.She was contending that the Iranians calculated that they would suffer an unhappy fate if they waited any longer and perhaps be obliterated by the incoming President. Her interlocutor was giving all credit to Jimmy Carter for solving the crisis, pointing to the Algiers Accord as evidence.

I will admit to having forgotten that particular chapter of the disaster. In this document, negotiated by Carter’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher and signed by Iran and the United States on Carter’s last day in office, the United States gave the Iranians quite a bit of candy, if not the whole store.

Reading over the Algiers Accord, I am still not at all convinced it would fair to give Carter credit for resolving the crisis. It would be more accurate to say that his fecklessness throughout the 444-day ordeal came to a culmination in that moment, bringing the United States to a new low. Ronald Reagan had made it pretty clear that the ayatollahs would a high price for further dithering. Jimmy Carter rewarded them for holding out to the last possible moment of his term in office.

 My oldest daughter, deceptively argumentative under her charming exterior, is a student at Stuyvesant High School in New York. Yesterday she recounted to me an argument she was having at school about why the American hostages were freed by the Iranians minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated on January 20, 1981.She was contending that the Iranians calculated that they would suffer an unhappy fate if they waited any longer and perhaps be obliterated by the incoming President. Her interlocutor was giving all credit to Jimmy Carter for solving the crisis, pointing to the Algiers Accord as evidence.

I will admit to having forgotten that particular chapter of the disaster. In this document, negotiated by Carter’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher and signed by Iran and the United States on Carter’s last day in office, the United States gave the Iranians quite a bit of candy, if not the whole store.

Reading over the Algiers Accord, I am still not at all convinced it would fair to give Carter credit for resolving the crisis. It would be more accurate to say that his fecklessness throughout the 444-day ordeal came to a culmination in that moment, bringing the United States to a new low. Ronald Reagan had made it pretty clear that the ayatollahs would a high price for further dithering. Jimmy Carter rewarded them for holding out to the last possible moment of his term in office.

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No, It’s Not April Fools’ Day

The big story out of Israel today is that the government of Ehud Olmert is conducting informal talks with Syria in Turkey aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement. Syria’s foreign minister claims a deal has already been struck to de-annex the Golan Heights and retrogress the area to Syria. The other big story is that Olmert is desperately trying to push off what appears to be his inevitable ouster from office on corruption charges by seeking a continuance of a deposition in an Israeli courtroom. The notion that the weakest government in Israel’s history, which really is nothing more than a house of cards at this point, will be able to present such a deal to the nation’s people at this moment of all moments is farcical at best and…farcical at worst.

The big story out of Israel today is that the government of Ehud Olmert is conducting informal talks with Syria in Turkey aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement. Syria’s foreign minister claims a deal has already been struck to de-annex the Golan Heights and retrogress the area to Syria. The other big story is that Olmert is desperately trying to push off what appears to be his inevitable ouster from office on corruption charges by seeking a continuance of a deposition in an Israeli courtroom. The notion that the weakest government in Israel’s history, which really is nothing more than a house of cards at this point, will be able to present such a deal to the nation’s people at this moment of all moments is farcical at best and…farcical at worst.

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Great Britain to The Rescue

Back in March, I blogged about the case of Mehdi Kazemi’s efforts to obtain asylum in the UK. Kazemi, who came to Great Britain to study, is gay. Upon discovery that his boyfriend had been executed in Iran and that the authorities were after him, Kazemi applied for asylum, but with no luck. Thus begun a journey to Holland and back to England, in the hope of not being deported back to a certain death.

The good news is just in: The Home Office just granted asylum to Mr Kazemi. It is a small victor,y no doubt–thousands more remain oppressed in Iran for being gay or Baha’i, for daring to criticize the regime, for organizing independent workers’ unions, or for simply showing too much skin. Perhaps this is a reminder to Europeans–who have focused their diplomatic activities with Iran on the nuclear issue alone — that it would not be so bad if Europe started pressuring Iran on its human rights record as well. After all, Europe already has a legal basis for restricting trade with Iran on the ground of human rights violations. Why not use it?

Back in March, I blogged about the case of Mehdi Kazemi’s efforts to obtain asylum in the UK. Kazemi, who came to Great Britain to study, is gay. Upon discovery that his boyfriend had been executed in Iran and that the authorities were after him, Kazemi applied for asylum, but with no luck. Thus begun a journey to Holland and back to England, in the hope of not being deported back to a certain death.

The good news is just in: The Home Office just granted asylum to Mr Kazemi. It is a small victor,y no doubt–thousands more remain oppressed in Iran for being gay or Baha’i, for daring to criticize the regime, for organizing independent workers’ unions, or for simply showing too much skin. Perhaps this is a reminder to Europeans–who have focused their diplomatic activities with Iran on the nuclear issue alone — that it would not be so bad if Europe started pressuring Iran on its human rights record as well. After all, Europe already has a legal basis for restricting trade with Iran on the ground of human rights violations. Why not use it?

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A Lame Attempt to Play Gotcha With McCain

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

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Which Image?

Before reeling off a list of ways he is going to “change” America, Barack Obama last night said this about John McCain:

The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans that once bothered Senator McCain’s conscience are now his only economic policy. The Bush health care plan that only helps those who are already healthy and wealthy is now John McCain’s answer to the 47 million Americans without insurance and the millions more who can’t pay their medical bills. The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too, and so is the fear of tough and aggressive diplomacy that has left this country more isolated and less secure than at any time in recent history. The lobbyists who ruled George Bush’s Washington are now running John McCain’s campaign, and they actually had the nerve to say that the American people won’t care about this. Talk about out of touch!

That is the real and very difficult task McCain faces: explaining why this is not the case and why his career, record and–most importantly–his plans for the future will not make his presidency a third Bush term. It is ironic, of course, that the Republican who has been at loggerheads the most with the Bush administration should now be saddled with its legacy. But such is the nature of party politics. That is why the urgency is great for McCain to present, as Yuval Levin suggested, a real agenda that doesn’t look and sound like the last seven years.

I agree with Bob Herbert that this election should be about big and serious things. Unless McCain has big and serious ideas and successfully explains why Obama’s are unwise and even dangerous, he will lose. However admirable his biography, it simply won’t be enough to counter the anti-Bush and anti-Republican sentiment Obama has so successfully tapped into. Last night we got a glimpse of just how effective Obama can be in doing just that.

Before reeling off a list of ways he is going to “change” America, Barack Obama last night said this about John McCain:

The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans that once bothered Senator McCain’s conscience are now his only economic policy. The Bush health care plan that only helps those who are already healthy and wealthy is now John McCain’s answer to the 47 million Americans without insurance and the millions more who can’t pay their medical bills. The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too, and so is the fear of tough and aggressive diplomacy that has left this country more isolated and less secure than at any time in recent history. The lobbyists who ruled George Bush’s Washington are now running John McCain’s campaign, and they actually had the nerve to say that the American people won’t care about this. Talk about out of touch!

That is the real and very difficult task McCain faces: explaining why this is not the case and why his career, record and–most importantly–his plans for the future will not make his presidency a third Bush term. It is ironic, of course, that the Republican who has been at loggerheads the most with the Bush administration should now be saddled with its legacy. But such is the nature of party politics. That is why the urgency is great for McCain to present, as Yuval Levin suggested, a real agenda that doesn’t look and sound like the last seven years.

I agree with Bob Herbert that this election should be about big and serious things. Unless McCain has big and serious ideas and successfully explains why Obama’s are unwise and even dangerous, he will lose. However admirable his biography, it simply won’t be enough to counter the anti-Bush and anti-Republican sentiment Obama has so successfully tapped into. Last night we got a glimpse of just how effective Obama can be in doing just that.

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Was This A False Positive?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two people were arrested Wednesday after a worker was stopped at the entrance of a Swedish nuclear plant with a bag containing traces of an explosive which has been used in terror attacks.

Police said a welder was stopped during a random security check at the facility. Plant spokesman Roger Bergman said a second suspect was arrested because “there is some uncertainty about who owns the bag.”

The full story is available here. This could be nothing, but if it’s not nothing, it would be a very big deal.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two people were arrested Wednesday after a worker was stopped at the entrance of a Swedish nuclear plant with a bag containing traces of an explosive which has been used in terror attacks.

Police said a welder was stopped during a random security check at the facility. Plant spokesman Roger Bergman said a second suspect was arrested because “there is some uncertainty about who owns the bag.”

The full story is available here. This could be nothing, but if it’s not nothing, it would be a very big deal.

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The League of Democracies

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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The Strangest Number Of All

Last night, there were lots of numbers Hillary Clinton was pleased to see: 250,000 (the number of poular votes she gained in Kentucky) and 35 (the percentage/margin of difference in Kentucky) were two of them. But maybe the most surprising? 22 million. That’s 22 million dollars she collected last month, long after the pundits declared her mathematically eliminated. That’s extraordinary, because it reflects not just a distaste for Barack Obama (as do the Kentucky numbers) but a remarkably devoted following.

What does it mean? Possibly nothing. (The nomination is settled, despite some very real concerns bubbling among Democrats and their media boosters.) But for those making the case that binding the party’s wounds and making sure her devoted followers (who are willing to part with hard-earned money after all hope is lost) are paramount, that figure is fodder for the argument to put her on the ticket. It’s still, I think, a messaging disaster (is he for change or not?) and a governing nightmare (how would you like to be President with both Clintons looking over your shoulder ?), but stranger things (like this entire election season) have happened. And if John is right, Obama may be willing to take the plunge.

Last night, there were lots of numbers Hillary Clinton was pleased to see: 250,000 (the number of poular votes she gained in Kentucky) and 35 (the percentage/margin of difference in Kentucky) were two of them. But maybe the most surprising? 22 million. That’s 22 million dollars she collected last month, long after the pundits declared her mathematically eliminated. That’s extraordinary, because it reflects not just a distaste for Barack Obama (as do the Kentucky numbers) but a remarkably devoted following.

What does it mean? Possibly nothing. (The nomination is settled, despite some very real concerns bubbling among Democrats and their media boosters.) But for those making the case that binding the party’s wounds and making sure her devoted followers (who are willing to part with hard-earned money after all hope is lost) are paramount, that figure is fodder for the argument to put her on the ticket. It’s still, I think, a messaging disaster (is he for change or not?) and a governing nightmare (how would you like to be President with both Clintons looking over your shoulder ?), but stranger things (like this entire election season) have happened. And if John is right, Obama may be willing to take the plunge.

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