Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 28, 2008

Obstacles to Peace

With embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all but out of office, attention has already turned to how the fallout will affect peace negotiations. In this vein, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Olmert’s struggles “will leave a negative impact on negotiations,” while Syrian Minister of Information Mahdi Dahlallah stated that “Israel’s weak government may become an obstacle to a peace that Syria wants to achieve.”

Of course, the Palestinians and Syria are right. Indeed, how can there be any progress towards peace while Olmert has one foot out the door, and while a new round of elections would stall politics in Israel for at least three months? Yet Olmert’s scandal is hardly the biggest obstacle facing peace negotiations–particularly on the Syrian front, where the regime has shown a stubborn unwillingness to concede on either of two major issues that peace will require.

The first requirement is that Syria abandons its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. As I’ve previously noted, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has already precluded this possibility, calling it “absurd” in an interview with the Italian weekly L’Espresso. But yesterday, Assad dug his heels in even further, reaching a defense deal with Iran that includes provisions for reciprocal visits by top military officials, joint military training, and cooperation on technical advancements. This deal is clearly intended to reassure Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was noticeably disappointed by news of possible Israeli-Syrian peace, and will further strengthen Hezbollah. These realities would preclude even the most desperate of Israeli leaders from pursuing peace.

The second requirement–which Israel has historically demanded of all its partners in peace negotiations–is that the Syrian regime ends its incitement against Israel. Yet, even as Assad has gone as far as supporting separate Lebanese-Israeli negotiations while addressing an English-language audience, he has barely spoken on Syrian-Israeli negotiations in his state-run media, dropping a few references deep in articles on peripheral diplomatic topics as if at random. Meanwhile, the top stories in the Syrian press included Jimmy Carter’s most recent assertion that Israel possesses 150 nuclear warheads, as well as a report that Israel intends to destroy 3000 Palestinian homes–stories that further condition the Syrian public against embracing peace with Israel.

The bottom line is that a number of obstacles will prevent Israel and Syria from reaching peace in the near future–with the Assad regime the biggest obstacle of them all.

With embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all but out of office, attention has already turned to how the fallout will affect peace negotiations. In this vein, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Olmert’s struggles “will leave a negative impact on negotiations,” while Syrian Minister of Information Mahdi Dahlallah stated that “Israel’s weak government may become an obstacle to a peace that Syria wants to achieve.”

Of course, the Palestinians and Syria are right. Indeed, how can there be any progress towards peace while Olmert has one foot out the door, and while a new round of elections would stall politics in Israel for at least three months? Yet Olmert’s scandal is hardly the biggest obstacle facing peace negotiations–particularly on the Syrian front, where the regime has shown a stubborn unwillingness to concede on either of two major issues that peace will require.

The first requirement is that Syria abandons its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. As I’ve previously noted, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has already precluded this possibility, calling it “absurd” in an interview with the Italian weekly L’Espresso. But yesterday, Assad dug his heels in even further, reaching a defense deal with Iran that includes provisions for reciprocal visits by top military officials, joint military training, and cooperation on technical advancements. This deal is clearly intended to reassure Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was noticeably disappointed by news of possible Israeli-Syrian peace, and will further strengthen Hezbollah. These realities would preclude even the most desperate of Israeli leaders from pursuing peace.

The second requirement–which Israel has historically demanded of all its partners in peace negotiations–is that the Syrian regime ends its incitement against Israel. Yet, even as Assad has gone as far as supporting separate Lebanese-Israeli negotiations while addressing an English-language audience, he has barely spoken on Syrian-Israeli negotiations in his state-run media, dropping a few references deep in articles on peripheral diplomatic topics as if at random. Meanwhile, the top stories in the Syrian press included Jimmy Carter’s most recent assertion that Israel possesses 150 nuclear warheads, as well as a report that Israel intends to destroy 3000 Palestinian homes–stories that further condition the Syrian public against embracing peace with Israel.

The bottom line is that a number of obstacles will prevent Israel and Syria from reaching peace in the near future–with the Assad regime the biggest obstacle of them all.

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Who Has Beaten Whom?

Back in October a cover story by Peter Bergen, author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, graced the cover of the New Republic. Titled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush,” Bergen wrote

America’s most formidable foe — once practically dead — is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence — and its continued ability to harm us — we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

This week Bergen is back with another cover story (this time written with Paul Cruickshank) gracing the cover of the New Republic. But this time his take is very different. Titled, “The Unraveling: Al Qaeda’s revolt against bin Laden,” the essay examines the turn against al Qaeda by clerics and militants who were once considered their allies. According to Bergen and Cruickshank, “The repudiation of Al Qaeda’s leaders by its former religious, military, and political guides will help hasten the implosion of the jihadist terrorist movement.” Al Qaeda’s new critics, in concert with mainstream Muslim leaders, “have created a powerful coalition countering Al Qaeda’s ideology.”

So it now looks as if al Qaeda is on the losing side of the battle of ideas. In fact, the tide was moving against al Qaeda even when Bergen wrote his original cover story in October 2007. As I wrote at the time

the most important ideological development in the last year is that the Sunni population in Iraq has turned against al Qaeda’s ideology and concomitant brutality. The “Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading to other regions in Iraq, is a sign of Muslims’ rejecting radical Islamist ideology. . . . This doesn’t mean we have decisively won the “war of ideas” in the Islamic world; that clash is still unfolding and will for some time to come. But Bergen’s claim that we are losing is belied by the most significant and encouraging ideological development we have seen in a great long while.

It turns out that on the cover of the current New Republic are excerpts of a letter chastising bin Laden, a letter written by Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom bin Laden once lionized. That letter was written a month before Bergen’s cover story declaring that al Qaeda was winning the war of ideas against America and the West. Bergen did not mention that letter in his original essay, though he devotes several paragraphs to it in this week’s cover story.

In addition, the same month Bergen’s “War of Error” cover story appeared (October 2007) the Washington Post reported, “The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .” It was clear, even seven months ago, that the tectonic plates were beginning to shift. And since then, things have gotten even worse for jihadists–as Bergen and Cruickshank admit:

Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States (all those we talked to saw the Iraqi insurgency as a defensive jihad), but their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer. If this is a war of ideas, it is their ideas, not the West’s, that matter. The U.S. government neither has the credibility nor the Islamic knowledge to effectively debate Al Qaeda’s leaders, but the clerics and militants who have turned against them do.

That is, I think, correct, as far as it goes. I would add a point I made back in October: Those who believe winning the (figurative) war of ideas is paramount might consider doing all they can to help win the (literal) war in Iraq. After all, the best way to discredit militant Islam as an ideology is to defeat those who are taking up the sword in its name.

In any event , Bergen and Cruickshank, echoing Lawrence Wright in his recent essay in the New Yorker, are onto something significant: the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. This surely ranks as among the most important ideological developments in years.

Bergen and Cruickshank’s piece concludes:

Al Qaeda’s leaders have been thrown on the defensive. In December, bin Laden released a tape that stressed that “the Muslim victims who fall during the operations against the infidel Crusaders . . . are not the intended targets.” Bin Laden warned the former mujahedin now turning on Al Qaeda that, whatever their track records as jihadists, they had now committed one of the “nullifiers of Islam,” which is helping the “infidels against the Muslims.”

Kamal El Helbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who helped bring in moderates at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, believes that Al Qaeda’s days may be numbered: “No government, no police force, is achieving what these [religious] scholars are achieving. To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals . . . you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise.”

It looks like Osama bin Laden might not have beaten George W. Bush after all.

Back in October a cover story by Peter Bergen, author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, graced the cover of the New Republic. Titled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush,” Bergen wrote

America’s most formidable foe — once practically dead — is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence — and its continued ability to harm us — we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

This week Bergen is back with another cover story (this time written with Paul Cruickshank) gracing the cover of the New Republic. But this time his take is very different. Titled, “The Unraveling: Al Qaeda’s revolt against bin Laden,” the essay examines the turn against al Qaeda by clerics and militants who were once considered their allies. According to Bergen and Cruickshank, “The repudiation of Al Qaeda’s leaders by its former religious, military, and political guides will help hasten the implosion of the jihadist terrorist movement.” Al Qaeda’s new critics, in concert with mainstream Muslim leaders, “have created a powerful coalition countering Al Qaeda’s ideology.”

So it now looks as if al Qaeda is on the losing side of the battle of ideas. In fact, the tide was moving against al Qaeda even when Bergen wrote his original cover story in October 2007. As I wrote at the time

the most important ideological development in the last year is that the Sunni population in Iraq has turned against al Qaeda’s ideology and concomitant brutality. The “Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading to other regions in Iraq, is a sign of Muslims’ rejecting radical Islamist ideology. . . . This doesn’t mean we have decisively won the “war of ideas” in the Islamic world; that clash is still unfolding and will for some time to come. But Bergen’s claim that we are losing is belied by the most significant and encouraging ideological development we have seen in a great long while.

It turns out that on the cover of the current New Republic are excerpts of a letter chastising bin Laden, a letter written by Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom bin Laden once lionized. That letter was written a month before Bergen’s cover story declaring that al Qaeda was winning the war of ideas against America and the West. Bergen did not mention that letter in his original essay, though he devotes several paragraphs to it in this week’s cover story.

In addition, the same month Bergen’s “War of Error” cover story appeared (October 2007) the Washington Post reported, “The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .” It was clear, even seven months ago, that the tectonic plates were beginning to shift. And since then, things have gotten even worse for jihadists–as Bergen and Cruickshank admit:

Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States (all those we talked to saw the Iraqi insurgency as a defensive jihad), but their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer. If this is a war of ideas, it is their ideas, not the West’s, that matter. The U.S. government neither has the credibility nor the Islamic knowledge to effectively debate Al Qaeda’s leaders, but the clerics and militants who have turned against them do.

That is, I think, correct, as far as it goes. I would add a point I made back in October: Those who believe winning the (figurative) war of ideas is paramount might consider doing all they can to help win the (literal) war in Iraq. After all, the best way to discredit militant Islam as an ideology is to defeat those who are taking up the sword in its name.

In any event , Bergen and Cruickshank, echoing Lawrence Wright in his recent essay in the New Yorker, are onto something significant: the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. This surely ranks as among the most important ideological developments in years.

Bergen and Cruickshank’s piece concludes:

Al Qaeda’s leaders have been thrown on the defensive. In December, bin Laden released a tape that stressed that “the Muslim victims who fall during the operations against the infidel Crusaders . . . are not the intended targets.” Bin Laden warned the former mujahedin now turning on Al Qaeda that, whatever their track records as jihadists, they had now committed one of the “nullifiers of Islam,” which is helping the “infidels against the Muslims.”

Kamal El Helbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who helped bring in moderates at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, believes that Al Qaeda’s days may be numbered: “No government, no police force, is achieving what these [religious] scholars are achieving. To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals . . . you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise.”

It looks like Osama bin Laden might not have beaten George W. Bush after all.

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Saturday Showdown

The DNC lawyers say that at this Saturday’s meeting the rules committee of the DNC can only seat half of the Michigan and Florida delegates. Hillary Clinton says she wants them all. There are several possible outcomes: 1) Clinton caves, accepts half the delegates and ends the race next week after the final primaries. 2) Obama and the DNC blink and give her all the delegates. She still trails in pledged delegates and still ends the race next week. 3) Obama and the DNC, not wanting to give up the principle of control of the primary calendar (or give Clinton a leg up on her “I really won the popular vote” argument) hold firm, but she insists on taking this all the way to the convention in August.

Given her unwillingness to attack Obama on any point of policy or on any gaffe over the last few weeks, I find it hard to imagine that she is now going to try to drag this out for two more months and bring him down (or hope some utterly unforeseen scandal or event intercedes). That leaves #1 or #2. It hardly matters which. There will be no stampede of superdelegates in her direction and the race will end. But she won’t have “quit,” which has been her point for some time now.

The endless primary will end, but we know the general election has already begun: John McCain is bashing Obama on his willingness to meet with Ahmajenidad but not General Petraues and the RNC is starting to count the days since Obama has been to Iraq.

The DNC lawyers say that at this Saturday’s meeting the rules committee of the DNC can only seat half of the Michigan and Florida delegates. Hillary Clinton says she wants them all. There are several possible outcomes: 1) Clinton caves, accepts half the delegates and ends the race next week after the final primaries. 2) Obama and the DNC blink and give her all the delegates. She still trails in pledged delegates and still ends the race next week. 3) Obama and the DNC, not wanting to give up the principle of control of the primary calendar (or give Clinton a leg up on her “I really won the popular vote” argument) hold firm, but she insists on taking this all the way to the convention in August.

Given her unwillingness to attack Obama on any point of policy or on any gaffe over the last few weeks, I find it hard to imagine that she is now going to try to drag this out for two more months and bring him down (or hope some utterly unforeseen scandal or event intercedes). That leaves #1 or #2. It hardly matters which. There will be no stampede of superdelegates in her direction and the race will end. But she won’t have “quit,” which has been her point for some time now.

The endless primary will end, but we know the general election has already begun: John McCain is bashing Obama on his willingness to meet with Ahmajenidad but not General Petraues and the RNC is starting to count the days since Obama has been to Iraq.

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Let Aussies Fight

Normally only Americans protest when their allies refuse to contribute troops to Iraq or Afghanistan or impose crippling restrictions on those troops. (A German commando unit in Afghanistan is, for instance, forbidden from using lethal force.)

But many allied soldiers seethe privately that they are not allowed to do their job even in a good cause. Some of that seething has broken into public view in Australia where two army officers have published articles bemoaning the restrictions imposed on infantry units. As summed up by the Sydney Morning Herald:

Low-risk missions assigned to the infantry in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan have left soldiers “ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform” and made them a laughing stock among allies, say two senior officers who have spoken out against the Government and their military chiefs.

The officers, writing separately in the Australian Army Journal, say giving all potentially offensive actions to Australia’s special forces, including the SAS, has weakened morale and prompted many soldiers to question the future of the infantry.

The Times of London notes that Australia’s policies have had their intended effect by minimizing politically damaging casualties: “No Australian troops have been killed in combat in Iraq since the invasion but five, mainly special forces commandos, have been killed in Afghanistan.”

These rules of engagement were instituted by former Prime Minister John Howard, because he feared that suffering too many casualties would destroy political support for an unpopular mission. That’s a reasonable concern. Dutch and Canadian troops, among others, have in fact seen worrisome declines in support on the home front as a result of the losses they’ve taken in Afghanistan. But at some point America’s allies have to ask themselves what is the point of sending troops if they’re not allowed to fight? That not only undermines the rationale for the troop deployment in the first place but also undermines the morale of soldiers who are not allowed to soldier.

Normally only Americans protest when their allies refuse to contribute troops to Iraq or Afghanistan or impose crippling restrictions on those troops. (A German commando unit in Afghanistan is, for instance, forbidden from using lethal force.)

But many allied soldiers seethe privately that they are not allowed to do their job even in a good cause. Some of that seething has broken into public view in Australia where two army officers have published articles bemoaning the restrictions imposed on infantry units. As summed up by the Sydney Morning Herald:

Low-risk missions assigned to the infantry in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan have left soldiers “ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform” and made them a laughing stock among allies, say two senior officers who have spoken out against the Government and their military chiefs.

The officers, writing separately in the Australian Army Journal, say giving all potentially offensive actions to Australia’s special forces, including the SAS, has weakened morale and prompted many soldiers to question the future of the infantry.

The Times of London notes that Australia’s policies have had their intended effect by minimizing politically damaging casualties: “No Australian troops have been killed in combat in Iraq since the invasion but five, mainly special forces commandos, have been killed in Afghanistan.”

These rules of engagement were instituted by former Prime Minister John Howard, because he feared that suffering too many casualties would destroy political support for an unpopular mission. That’s a reasonable concern. Dutch and Canadian troops, among others, have in fact seen worrisome declines in support on the home front as a result of the losses they’ve taken in Afghanistan. But at some point America’s allies have to ask themselves what is the point of sending troops if they’re not allowed to fight? That not only undermines the rationale for the troop deployment in the first place but also undermines the morale of soldiers who are not allowed to soldier.

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Islamist Feminism

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

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Re: The Hackiest Hack of All

I heartily concur with Daniel: McClellan was probably the worst White House press secretary in recent memory. His infamous deer-in-the-headlights look, an inability to engage or respond effectively to the White House press corps, and a generally inept demeanor were the subject of much ridicule at the time–mainly by the press itself. To write of the Bush administration that “they were all evil” or “they all lied” smacks of excuse-mongering. The height of this is when he declares that the press was too “deferential.” When–while they were pummeling him on national TV? Why didn’t he quit if all his colleagues were liars and fools? He didn’t voice any reservations at the time, while cashing his paycheck and defending the President to the media pack everyday. Was he lying then? Or is this some kind of recovered memory?

Then there is his accusation based on no factual evidence that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were obstructing justice during the Valerie Plume investigation:

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately. … I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people’s involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence.”

One wonders how an unsubstantiated rumor like that gets through the editing process or whether it is indicative of the rest of the “evidence” used in this catty tell-all.

Finally, McClellan seems appalled that there was a “propaganda” effort to sell the war. I assume that he is not a total naif and that he did not spend his entire adult career in press relations only now to learn that selling,–i.e., encouraging the public to support your position–is the central facet of his job. If he didn’t get the facts or the facts were wrong or unkown people, from unknowable meetings, lied that is another matter. But throwing around the word “propaganda” is the type of thing people do to sell books and get splashy coverage from the media. (That would be the same media that vilified him for incompetence.) There’s plenty of insightful criticism of the Iraq war’s mismanagement and plenty to learn. It won’t, however, come from this shabby effort.

I heartily concur with Daniel: McClellan was probably the worst White House press secretary in recent memory. His infamous deer-in-the-headlights look, an inability to engage or respond effectively to the White House press corps, and a generally inept demeanor were the subject of much ridicule at the time–mainly by the press itself. To write of the Bush administration that “they were all evil” or “they all lied” smacks of excuse-mongering. The height of this is when he declares that the press was too “deferential.” When–while they were pummeling him on national TV? Why didn’t he quit if all his colleagues were liars and fools? He didn’t voice any reservations at the time, while cashing his paycheck and defending the President to the media pack everyday. Was he lying then? Or is this some kind of recovered memory?

Then there is his accusation based on no factual evidence that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were obstructing justice during the Valerie Plume investigation:

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately. … I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people’s involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence.”

One wonders how an unsubstantiated rumor like that gets through the editing process or whether it is indicative of the rest of the “evidence” used in this catty tell-all.

Finally, McClellan seems appalled that there was a “propaganda” effort to sell the war. I assume that he is not a total naif and that he did not spend his entire adult career in press relations only now to learn that selling,–i.e., encouraging the public to support your position–is the central facet of his job. If he didn’t get the facts or the facts were wrong or unkown people, from unknowable meetings, lied that is another matter. But throwing around the word “propaganda” is the type of thing people do to sell books and get splashy coverage from the media. (That would be the same media that vilified him for incompetence.) There’s plenty of insightful criticism of the Iraq war’s mismanagement and plenty to learn. It won’t, however, come from this shabby effort.

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Re: Clinton, McCain, and Obama: “We Stand United”

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

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What Are Facts After All?

There is new-found focus on Barack Obama’s gaffes and whether he is indeed a knowledgeable person. But maybe the critics are missing something. Like any good liberal taught the basics of postmodernism or postructuralism in the halls of the Ivy League, Obama need not be too concerned with facts. Because facts, after all, are not really fixed, knowable things and there are “higher truths” to be learned. Lest you think I exaggerate, the proof comes from his own books.

In a telling New York Times article (no doubt intended to be laudatory) we learn a lot about Obama’s relationship with facts. We find out that his autobiographical works are not exactly fact-based works:

“The book is so literary,” said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. “It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.”

Perhaps what garners praise as “clever tricks” in literature doesn’t work as well with international relations and history where people check your facts and hold you accountable. The Times story continues:

In the introduction, Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order. He was writing at a time well before a recent series of publishing scandals involving fabrication in memoirs. “He was trying to be careful of people’s feelings,” said Deborah Baker, the editor on the first paperback edition of the book. “The fact is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn’t make up.”

The piece ends with words of praise from a publisher: “Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it’s a stunning fact.”

So it may be that taking liberties with facts is second nature to Obama. Indeed, he helped get him where he is today. And as any parent knows, when the habit of embellishing and avoiding unpleasant or prosaic facts gets embedded in your mode of thinking and acting, it is a hard habit to break. And it is a disturbing mindset for a potential president.

There is new-found focus on Barack Obama’s gaffes and whether he is indeed a knowledgeable person. But maybe the critics are missing something. Like any good liberal taught the basics of postmodernism or postructuralism in the halls of the Ivy League, Obama need not be too concerned with facts. Because facts, after all, are not really fixed, knowable things and there are “higher truths” to be learned. Lest you think I exaggerate, the proof comes from his own books.

In a telling New York Times article (no doubt intended to be laudatory) we learn a lot about Obama’s relationship with facts. We find out that his autobiographical works are not exactly fact-based works:

“The book is so literary,” said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. “It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.”

Perhaps what garners praise as “clever tricks” in literature doesn’t work as well with international relations and history where people check your facts and hold you accountable. The Times story continues:

In the introduction, Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order. He was writing at a time well before a recent series of publishing scandals involving fabrication in memoirs. “He was trying to be careful of people’s feelings,” said Deborah Baker, the editor on the first paperback edition of the book. “The fact is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn’t make up.”

The piece ends with words of praise from a publisher: “Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it’s a stunning fact.”

So it may be that taking liberties with facts is second nature to Obama. Indeed, he helped get him where he is today. And as any parent knows, when the habit of embellishing and avoiding unpleasant or prosaic facts gets embedded in your mode of thinking and acting, it is a hard habit to break. And it is a disturbing mindset for a potential president.

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The Hackiest Hack of All

Is there a single person–Republican, Democrat, Independent–who thinks that Scott McClellan was an able or skilled White House spokesman? Is there any member of the press who thought he was good at his job? What makes the notion of his tell-all book so ludicrous is that McClellan is surely the most incompetent and least trustworthy White House press flack since Ron Ziegler. His stonewall visage and his smarmy, resentful, and unmemorable responses seemed to exude evasion and incomplete information. Based on the snippets from Drudge and Politico, the book seems to be filled to the brim with the most hackneyed, pseudo-pious notions about how the administration was not “open and forthright,” or how he had been “at best misled” by his West Wing bosses or how the White House was “in a state of denial.” At one point, accusing Rove and Libby of secretly coordinating their statements during the Plame investigation, he mentions, in passing, that he reached this conclusion because he saw them talking, but never heard what they talked about. McClellan apparently spends a lot of time complaining that he didn’t know what was going on, or was lied to by others–and yet he has the temerity to call his (probably ghostwritten) book What Happened. Larry Speakes wrote a book, too, I guess. This deserves the same place in history.

Is there a single person–Republican, Democrat, Independent–who thinks that Scott McClellan was an able or skilled White House spokesman? Is there any member of the press who thought he was good at his job? What makes the notion of his tell-all book so ludicrous is that McClellan is surely the most incompetent and least trustworthy White House press flack since Ron Ziegler. His stonewall visage and his smarmy, resentful, and unmemorable responses seemed to exude evasion and incomplete information. Based on the snippets from Drudge and Politico, the book seems to be filled to the brim with the most hackneyed, pseudo-pious notions about how the administration was not “open and forthright,” or how he had been “at best misled” by his West Wing bosses or how the White House was “in a state of denial.” At one point, accusing Rove and Libby of secretly coordinating their statements during the Plame investigation, he mentions, in passing, that he reached this conclusion because he saw them talking, but never heard what they talked about. McClellan apparently spends a lot of time complaining that he didn’t know what was going on, or was lied to by others–and yet he has the temerity to call his (probably ghostwritten) book What Happened. Larry Speakes wrote a book, too, I guess. This deserves the same place in history.

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“In a Word: Disgusting”

A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:

In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.

The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.

It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.

It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.

Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.

One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:

Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.

A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:

In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.

The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.

It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.

It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.

Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.

One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:

Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.

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Iran Fails Another Test

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

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Clinton, McCain, and Obama: “We Stand United”

Today, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama issued a joint statement on Darfur: We wish to make clear to the Sudanese government that on this moral issue of tremendous importance, there is no divide between us,” they write. “We stand united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end.

The three candidates deplore the violence and condemn Khartoum. They do not say what they will do to stop the killing, yet by issuing the statement they create a marker by which one of them will be judged. All of them deserve our appreciation for the rare show of unity.

Darfur just may be the perfect place to build a national consensus on national security issues. It has three principal advantages for this purpose. First, if Iran is “tiny”–to borrow a word I have heard used to describe it recently–then the western region of Sudan is virtually nonexistent. It is, of course, easy to agree on something not important to us. Second, all Americans feel revulsion because of the rape, slaughter, and genocide. Third, Darfur, although insignificant on its own, brings the critical issues of our time into play.

“There can be no doubt that the Sudanese government is chiefly responsible for the violence and is able to end it,” Clinton, McCain, and Obama state. Yet, as a practical matter, we cannot persuade, intimidate, or punish the abhorrent rulers in Khartoum until we do something about their sponsors, Russia and China. These two states provide arms, material assistance, and diplomatic support to the Sudanese regime. Without their help, the killing stops within weeks.

The three candidates, of course, are not going to have an honest dialogue about the world’s two largest authoritarian powers. But now they have created pressure on the victor to do something about Sudan. And come January–after all, the genocide is “a Day 1 issue”–it is up to the American people to make sure that the next President deals with Darfur by first dealing with Russia and China.

Today, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama issued a joint statement on Darfur: We wish to make clear to the Sudanese government that on this moral issue of tremendous importance, there is no divide between us,” they write. “We stand united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end.

The three candidates deplore the violence and condemn Khartoum. They do not say what they will do to stop the killing, yet by issuing the statement they create a marker by which one of them will be judged. All of them deserve our appreciation for the rare show of unity.

Darfur just may be the perfect place to build a national consensus on national security issues. It has three principal advantages for this purpose. First, if Iran is “tiny”–to borrow a word I have heard used to describe it recently–then the western region of Sudan is virtually nonexistent. It is, of course, easy to agree on something not important to us. Second, all Americans feel revulsion because of the rape, slaughter, and genocide. Third, Darfur, although insignificant on its own, brings the critical issues of our time into play.

“There can be no doubt that the Sudanese government is chiefly responsible for the violence and is able to end it,” Clinton, McCain, and Obama state. Yet, as a practical matter, we cannot persuade, intimidate, or punish the abhorrent rulers in Khartoum until we do something about their sponsors, Russia and China. These two states provide arms, material assistance, and diplomatic support to the Sudanese regime. Without their help, the killing stops within weeks.

The three candidates, of course, are not going to have an honest dialogue about the world’s two largest authoritarian powers. But now they have created pressure on the victor to do something about Sudan. And come January–after all, the genocide is “a Day 1 issue”–it is up to the American people to make sure that the next President deals with Darfur by first dealing with Russia and China.

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Pragmatism?

Arguing for a more “pragmatic” foreign policy, Mohamad Bazzi chastises President Bush for conflating Al Qaeda with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah and Hamas, he writes, “are political and military movements deeply embedded in their societies.” Thus, in his view, since the the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples respectively have continued to grant Hezbollah and Hamas more power, they are legitimate entities, representative of their constituencies:

At the heart of Bush’s fantasy is that Muslims would reject Islamist groups if they could choose their own political leaders in free and fair elections. But that argument was undercut in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the region. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have gained political power and strength in recent years, partly through the ballot box.

This, according to Bazzi, separates Hezbollah and Hamas from Al Qaeda. Whereas the latter deserves the President’s admonishment since it “is the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks,” “Hamas and Hezbollah are traditional Islamist and nationalist movements based in specific countries.”

In defense of Hamas, Bazzi argues that it has “succeeded in positioning itself as an alternative to the corrupt, inefficient and largely discredited Fatah leadership.” True, Hamas has been able to accomplish what Fatah was unable to do. Let us begin to count the ways. Hamas has

• “illegally detained and tortured” Palestinians in the West Bank

Maintained a “state of lawlessness

Murdered its citizens (to quote one Palestinian, “Even the Israelis do not do this.”)

Incidentally, Bazzi’s article comes mere days before the release of a study conducted by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights which found that (surprise!) Hamas is responsible for violating the human rights of thousands of Palestinians.

Hezbollah, too, has enjoyed extraordinary success. Most recently:

Using civilians as human shields during its 2006 war with Israel

Stifles free speech, to the point that “few Lebanese dare to criticize it openly

• And continuously undermines the political control of the standing Lebanese government.

Bazzi’s suggestion that America’s policy should strictly favor the spread of pure democracy (as in, whatever the majority says, goes, be it Hezbollah or Hamas) is either alarmingly wrongheaded or frighteningly disingenuous. A key point of American democracy is its recognition of inherent rights belonging to all human beings. Bazzi’s position, however, is that Muslims are different, at once above and below the law. And since they are different, we can sit back and allow some Muslims to trample the human rights of other Muslims without consequence. Pragmatism surely has a place in America’s foreign policy–but not at that price.

Arguing for a more “pragmatic” foreign policy, Mohamad Bazzi chastises President Bush for conflating Al Qaeda with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah and Hamas, he writes, “are political and military movements deeply embedded in their societies.” Thus, in his view, since the the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples respectively have continued to grant Hezbollah and Hamas more power, they are legitimate entities, representative of their constituencies:

At the heart of Bush’s fantasy is that Muslims would reject Islamist groups if they could choose their own political leaders in free and fair elections. But that argument was undercut in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the region. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have gained political power and strength in recent years, partly through the ballot box.

This, according to Bazzi, separates Hezbollah and Hamas from Al Qaeda. Whereas the latter deserves the President’s admonishment since it “is the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks,” “Hamas and Hezbollah are traditional Islamist and nationalist movements based in specific countries.”

In defense of Hamas, Bazzi argues that it has “succeeded in positioning itself as an alternative to the corrupt, inefficient and largely discredited Fatah leadership.” True, Hamas has been able to accomplish what Fatah was unable to do. Let us begin to count the ways. Hamas has

• “illegally detained and tortured” Palestinians in the West Bank

Maintained a “state of lawlessness

Murdered its citizens (to quote one Palestinian, “Even the Israelis do not do this.”)

Incidentally, Bazzi’s article comes mere days before the release of a study conducted by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights which found that (surprise!) Hamas is responsible for violating the human rights of thousands of Palestinians.

Hezbollah, too, has enjoyed extraordinary success. Most recently:

Using civilians as human shields during its 2006 war with Israel

Stifles free speech, to the point that “few Lebanese dare to criticize it openly

• And continuously undermines the political control of the standing Lebanese government.

Bazzi’s suggestion that America’s policy should strictly favor the spread of pure democracy (as in, whatever the majority says, goes, be it Hezbollah or Hamas) is either alarmingly wrongheaded or frighteningly disingenuous. A key point of American democracy is its recognition of inherent rights belonging to all human beings. Bazzi’s position, however, is that Muslims are different, at once above and below the law. And since they are different, we can sit back and allow some Muslims to trample the human rights of other Muslims without consequence. Pragmatism surely has a place in America’s foreign policy–but not at that price.

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The MSM Is Not Kind

The Washington Post Fact Checker awards three “Pinocchios” to Barack Obama for his inaccurate family tale about World War II and liberation of a concentration camp by his uncle (actually, his great-uncle). In words strangely familiar, Michael Dobbs explains:

The candidates are tired, and prone to making silly mistakes. Many Americans might have problems distinguishing Buchenwald and Ohrdruf from Auschwitz. But should we not expect more from a Harvard-educated presidential candidate? Is it too much to ask that an aspiring commander-in-chief knows (1) that Auschwitz (like many of the other Nazi death camps) is in Poland, and (2) that the eastern advance of the U.S. Army in World War II stopped on the river Elbe?

This is really no worse than some of his other history gaffes. So why the strong reaction to this mistake? As some have pointed out, this came in the context of Obama’s attempt to bolster his familial ties to the military and his push to reach out to the Jewish community. So in addition to any errors born of ignorance this one smacked of puffery. (Sort of like claiming a direct relationship with Robert Kennedy.) Also, he’s about to become the Democratic nominee. He should know this and other stuff, especially if he is going into a campaign in which his experience and knowledge are going to be at issue. And he did, after all, beat Hillary Clinton over the head with her lies about Bosnian sniper fire. If Obama now proves to be less than accurate on his own credentials, or if his personal narrative has a way of changing, that creates yet another problem: hypocrisy, a favorite media target.

Although it was not a huge error, the the gaffes are beginning to pile up. And the reaction tells us that Obama’s free ride with the media may soon be getting bumpier.

The Washington Post Fact Checker awards three “Pinocchios” to Barack Obama for his inaccurate family tale about World War II and liberation of a concentration camp by his uncle (actually, his great-uncle). In words strangely familiar, Michael Dobbs explains:

The candidates are tired, and prone to making silly mistakes. Many Americans might have problems distinguishing Buchenwald and Ohrdruf from Auschwitz. But should we not expect more from a Harvard-educated presidential candidate? Is it too much to ask that an aspiring commander-in-chief knows (1) that Auschwitz (like many of the other Nazi death camps) is in Poland, and (2) that the eastern advance of the U.S. Army in World War II stopped on the river Elbe?

This is really no worse than some of his other history gaffes. So why the strong reaction to this mistake? As some have pointed out, this came in the context of Obama’s attempt to bolster his familial ties to the military and his push to reach out to the Jewish community. So in addition to any errors born of ignorance this one smacked of puffery. (Sort of like claiming a direct relationship with Robert Kennedy.) Also, he’s about to become the Democratic nominee. He should know this and other stuff, especially if he is going into a campaign in which his experience and knowledge are going to be at issue. And he did, after all, beat Hillary Clinton over the head with her lies about Bosnian sniper fire. If Obama now proves to be less than accurate on his own credentials, or if his personal narrative has a way of changing, that creates yet another problem: hypocrisy, a favorite media target.

Although it was not a huge error, the the gaffes are beginning to pile up. And the reaction tells us that Obama’s free ride with the media may soon be getting bumpier.

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A Prisoner Deal with Hezbollah?

The Israeli press is aflutter with reports that a deal has been struck with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which the terror group would return the two kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser whose abduction in 2006 precipitated that summer’s war, in exchange for Israel’s releasing an unspecified number of terrorists. This batch would include Samir Kuntar, whose exploits include the murder of an Israeli family in the coastal town of Nahariya in 1979.

Though it’s not at all clear that this deal will go through–there have been such rumors in the past–there are reasons to be exceptionally cautious in this case. Both Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah need something, anything, to show their own people: Olmert faces the most serious criminal investigation any Israeli prime minister has ever faced, while Nasrallah has just violated years of promises to the Lebanese that his organization would never turn its weapons on fellow citizens.

Israel has always been prepared to pay a high price to return its captive soldiers. This is as it should be: A country that values life so strongly, that sends its children to defend it, should imbue its soldiers with the belief that if they are taken prisoner, their country will do everything in its power to bring them back alive. At this stage, however, it is not even clear whether they are alive. What is clear, however, is that Olmert’s situation is so desperate that he is likely to do virtually anything for a headline that will save him–including giving away the store to Hezbollah, to Syria, or to anyone else. A lousy bargaining position, and one which Israel’s enemies are likely to milk for all it’s worth.


The Israeli press is aflutter with reports that a deal has been struck with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which the terror group would return the two kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser whose abduction in 2006 precipitated that summer’s war, in exchange for Israel’s releasing an unspecified number of terrorists. This batch would include Samir Kuntar, whose exploits include the murder of an Israeli family in the coastal town of Nahariya in 1979.

Though it’s not at all clear that this deal will go through–there have been such rumors in the past–there are reasons to be exceptionally cautious in this case. Both Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah need something, anything, to show their own people: Olmert faces the most serious criminal investigation any Israeli prime minister has ever faced, while Nasrallah has just violated years of promises to the Lebanese that his organization would never turn its weapons on fellow citizens.

Israel has always been prepared to pay a high price to return its captive soldiers. This is as it should be: A country that values life so strongly, that sends its children to defend it, should imbue its soldiers with the belief that if they are taken prisoner, their country will do everything in its power to bring them back alive. At this stage, however, it is not even clear whether they are alive. What is clear, however, is that Olmert’s situation is so desperate that he is likely to do virtually anything for a headline that will save him–including giving away the store to Hezbollah, to Syria, or to anyone else. A lousy bargaining position, and one which Israel’s enemies are likely to milk for all it’s worth.


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Intelligence For Dummies

Personnel with foreign language skills are critical to the success of U.S. foreign policy. And they are especially valuable when they don’t speak or understand the languages of our adversaries. That is what “diversity” is all about.

Confused? Here is Donald Kerr,  Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, explaining the paradox on May 16 at the Second Intelligence Community Heritage Summit.

In this work there are countless stories about the importance of diversity. There’s one I recently learned from an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s debriefing team in Iraq. While Saddam was being interviewed, a key component of the strategy was to keep him isolated from people outside of the FBI agencies who were questioning him, but he was fluent in several languages. Not deeply so, but sufficiently, and the interviewers needed to find guards who could speak a language that he wouldn’t understand. It turned out to be really difficult. He knew bits of Spanish, but not the rapid fire Spanish of Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rican speakers would really flummox him, they certainly do me. And that’s what the FBI settled on for his guards. U.S. military members who were native Puerto Ricans in terms of the Spanish that they spoke.

So the importance of diversity comes up in even the most unexpected circumstances.

In this global conflict, this struggle with violent extremism, the clarion call for diversity, diversity of experience, of culture, of interest, has to be our call to action.

Kerr revealed some other sensitive secrets in his talk. Among them is a new danger.

We have to watch our words. . . .We have to avoid words like jihadist, mujahedeen. We have to be clear. It’s not just political correctness, it’s to avoid legitimizing the action of terrorists.

Our spies have recently made some other new discoveries. Here’s an amazing one. CIA analysts have been working the problem for years, and here’s what they found: there’s a big country near Japan, and like the United States, it is also “diverse.”

We need to understand China, not as a vast assemblage of 1.3 billion people, but to recognize that there are differences in different parts of China. We know there are different languages, different dialects and different cultures. That’s part of what we need to understand as well.

Is Kerr’s speech the final straw? Is it time to abolish the intelligence community and start from scratch?

Personnel with foreign language skills are critical to the success of U.S. foreign policy. And they are especially valuable when they don’t speak or understand the languages of our adversaries. That is what “diversity” is all about.

Confused? Here is Donald Kerr,  Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, explaining the paradox on May 16 at the Second Intelligence Community Heritage Summit.

In this work there are countless stories about the importance of diversity. There’s one I recently learned from an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s debriefing team in Iraq. While Saddam was being interviewed, a key component of the strategy was to keep him isolated from people outside of the FBI agencies who were questioning him, but he was fluent in several languages. Not deeply so, but sufficiently, and the interviewers needed to find guards who could speak a language that he wouldn’t understand. It turned out to be really difficult. He knew bits of Spanish, but not the rapid fire Spanish of Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rican speakers would really flummox him, they certainly do me. And that’s what the FBI settled on for his guards. U.S. military members who were native Puerto Ricans in terms of the Spanish that they spoke.

So the importance of diversity comes up in even the most unexpected circumstances.

In this global conflict, this struggle with violent extremism, the clarion call for diversity, diversity of experience, of culture, of interest, has to be our call to action.

Kerr revealed some other sensitive secrets in his talk. Among them is a new danger.

We have to watch our words. . . .We have to avoid words like jihadist, mujahedeen. We have to be clear. It’s not just political correctness, it’s to avoid legitimizing the action of terrorists.

Our spies have recently made some other new discoveries. Here’s an amazing one. CIA analysts have been working the problem for years, and here’s what they found: there’s a big country near Japan, and like the United States, it is also “diverse.”

We need to understand China, not as a vast assemblage of 1.3 billion people, but to recognize that there are differences in different parts of China. We know there are different languages, different dialects and different cultures. That’s part of what we need to understand as well.

Is Kerr’s speech the final straw? Is it time to abolish the intelligence community and start from scratch?

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The Candidates on Judges

So now we have a succinct view of how the presidential candidates would pick judges. (The New York Times obliges us here and here.) From Barack Obama:

. . . We need somebody who’s got the heart . . . the empathy to realize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled or old. And that’s going to be the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.

Obama’s words aren’t new. He set out these guidelines–where else–in a July 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood. Surely the Harvard-educated lawyer could come up with better than this to pass the pro-choice litmus test on judges.

His Yalie nemesis, Hillary Clinton, at least proffered “understand[ing] the role of precedent” and respect for “privacy” to explain what she’ll be looking for in her judicial picks: Here’s the nub of her criteria:

I will appoint well-qualified judges who really respect the Constitution and see it as the living document–which it is–that has given us the core of our values and freedoms for 225 years.

One can have an honest argument over Clinton’s criteria. But Obama’s litany is merely a list of liberal interest groups that he hopes to please.

John McCain–the only one who didn’t attend law school–seems to be the only one who believes that the law, as written, matters most. He said he’ll pick

jurists of the highest caliber, who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference.

Sounds about right.

So now we have a succinct view of how the presidential candidates would pick judges. (The New York Times obliges us here and here.) From Barack Obama:

. . . We need somebody who’s got the heart . . . the empathy to realize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled or old. And that’s going to be the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.

Obama’s words aren’t new. He set out these guidelines–where else–in a July 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood. Surely the Harvard-educated lawyer could come up with better than this to pass the pro-choice litmus test on judges.

His Yalie nemesis, Hillary Clinton, at least proffered “understand[ing] the role of precedent” and respect for “privacy” to explain what she’ll be looking for in her judicial picks: Here’s the nub of her criteria:

I will appoint well-qualified judges who really respect the Constitution and see it as the living document–which it is–that has given us the core of our values and freedoms for 225 years.

One can have an honest argument over Clinton’s criteria. But Obama’s litany is merely a list of liberal interest groups that he hopes to please.

John McCain–the only one who didn’t attend law school–seems to be the only one who believes that the law, as written, matters most. He said he’ll pick

jurists of the highest caliber, who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference.

Sounds about right.

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Sunset for Olmert

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

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Why Not Get Out A Bit?

Barack Obama doesn’t like the idea of joining John McCain on an Iraq trip. He hasn’t been to Iraq in two years. He doesn’t need fact finding trips. They are a waste of time, you see, like hearings or briefings: he knows what he knows and doesn’t need any more information. When you have years of military service and foreign policy experience under your belt you really don’t need . . . oh, wait, that’s the other candidate.

It is odd that on the most important foreign policy issue of the campaign (and of the next presidency) Obama can’t bestir himself to run down all the facts, get all the viewpoints, look Iraqi and U.S. officials in the eye, and demonstrate to the public he can operate confidently with a wide array of military and diplomatic officials.

Barack Obama doesn’t like the idea of joining John McCain on an Iraq trip. He hasn’t been to Iraq in two years. He doesn’t need fact finding trips. They are a waste of time, you see, like hearings or briefings: he knows what he knows and doesn’t need any more information. When you have years of military service and foreign policy experience under your belt you really don’t need . . . oh, wait, that’s the other candidate.

It is odd that on the most important foreign policy issue of the campaign (and of the next presidency) Obama can’t bestir himself to run down all the facts, get all the viewpoints, look Iraqi and U.S. officials in the eye, and demonstrate to the public he can operate confidently with a wide array of military and diplomatic officials.

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Muqtada al-Sadr, Civic Activist?

In response to a proposed agreement between the United States and Iraq, radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has urged his followers to–wait for it–”work on collecting millions of signatures” to oppose it.

A petition? Welcome news, from my perspective. And a sign, maybe, that democratic political practice is becoming more entrenched in Iraq. But it’s quite a step down, nonetheless, for the man who waged insurgent warfare against coalition forces and the Iraqi government for years, and whom the Left blogosphere has long told us is the true voice of the Iraqi people (even though he’s probably holed up somewhere in Iran). Not long ago, al-Sadr would have been confident enough to call for armed revolt–and he would have it. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from these same people that al-Sadr’s call for a countrywide initiative petition means he’s transformed himself into the Iraqi Ralph Nader. More likely is that the Iraqi Army’s missions in Basra and Sadr City played the decisive role in changing al-Sadr’s tactics.

In response to a proposed agreement between the United States and Iraq, radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has urged his followers to–wait for it–”work on collecting millions of signatures” to oppose it.

A petition? Welcome news, from my perspective. And a sign, maybe, that democratic political practice is becoming more entrenched in Iraq. But it’s quite a step down, nonetheless, for the man who waged insurgent warfare against coalition forces and the Iraqi government for years, and whom the Left blogosphere has long told us is the true voice of the Iraqi people (even though he’s probably holed up somewhere in Iran). Not long ago, al-Sadr would have been confident enough to call for armed revolt–and he would have it. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from these same people that al-Sadr’s call for a countrywide initiative petition means he’s transformed himself into the Iraqi Ralph Nader. More likely is that the Iraqi Army’s missions in Basra and Sadr City played the decisive role in changing al-Sadr’s tactics.

Read Less




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