Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 27, 2008

Re: Then and Now

I agree, Rick: the formal end of the Bush administration’s year-long Israel-Palestinian mediation suggests that — eight bloody, still-stateless years after Camp David — the Palestinian leadership remains as stubborn as ever.

But, quite frankly, we Americans are no less stubborn.  The failure of the Oslo peace process at Camp David eight years ago should have taught us at least one thing about the Palestinians: that no Palestinian leader — whether garbed in a tacky military uniform or a suit and tie — would be willing to settle for less than 100% of the West Bank and a capital in East Jerusalem.  Moreover, Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections should have taught us that a more popular segment of the Palestinian body politic would demand much more: namely, the long-run destruction of the state of Israel, with peace agreements marking the interim stages of this strategy.

Yet during the last year of the Bush administration — much as during the entirety of the Clinton administration — our foreign policymakers banked on the foolishly optimistic hope that, somehow, the more moderate Palestinian bottom lines would suddenly become negotiable.  Somehow, they reasoned, the terminally weak (but supposedly good-natured) Mahmoud Abbas would agree to terms that the politically strong Yasser Arafat walked away from.  In turn, American foreign policy once again played host to a “process” — one that, very predictably, gave Israelis, Palestinians, and American taxpayers excellent diplomatic theater, but zero substantive accomplishments.

To be sure, Annapolis hasn’t left either Israel or the Palestinians worse off than they were a year ago.  Still, one is forced to wonder: to what extent did Condoleezza Rice’s Jerusalem jet-setting undermine U.S. efforts to press Pakistan on counterterrorism?  How many intelligence agents were examining satellite images of Israeli settlements when they could have been monitoring Russian troop movements along the Georgian border?  How much of our diplomatic staff was focusing on potential Jerusalem policing arrangements rather than sounding the alarm regarding Iran’s increasing involvement in Lebanese affairs?  (Memo to the administration: Lebanon recently asked Iran to supply it with midsize weapons — something that we were supposed to be doing.)

As for Israeli-Palestinian peace, one of two things will happen: either Israel will accept the Palestinian bottom line of 100% of the West Bank, or it will insist on maintaining most of the settlements and therefore seek alternatives to the same old process.  Naturally, the outcome of the February 2009 Knesset elections will be critical to Israeli decision-making.  Either way, future U.S. administrations should avoid getting bogged down in negotiations when — changes in leaders’ attire aside — too little has changed.

I agree, Rick: the formal end of the Bush administration’s year-long Israel-Palestinian mediation suggests that — eight bloody, still-stateless years after Camp David — the Palestinian leadership remains as stubborn as ever.

But, quite frankly, we Americans are no less stubborn.  The failure of the Oslo peace process at Camp David eight years ago should have taught us at least one thing about the Palestinians: that no Palestinian leader — whether garbed in a tacky military uniform or a suit and tie — would be willing to settle for less than 100% of the West Bank and a capital in East Jerusalem.  Moreover, Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections should have taught us that a more popular segment of the Palestinian body politic would demand much more: namely, the long-run destruction of the state of Israel, with peace agreements marking the interim stages of this strategy.

Yet during the last year of the Bush administration — much as during the entirety of the Clinton administration — our foreign policymakers banked on the foolishly optimistic hope that, somehow, the more moderate Palestinian bottom lines would suddenly become negotiable.  Somehow, they reasoned, the terminally weak (but supposedly good-natured) Mahmoud Abbas would agree to terms that the politically strong Yasser Arafat walked away from.  In turn, American foreign policy once again played host to a “process” — one that, very predictably, gave Israelis, Palestinians, and American taxpayers excellent diplomatic theater, but zero substantive accomplishments.

To be sure, Annapolis hasn’t left either Israel or the Palestinians worse off than they were a year ago.  Still, one is forced to wonder: to what extent did Condoleezza Rice’s Jerusalem jet-setting undermine U.S. efforts to press Pakistan on counterterrorism?  How many intelligence agents were examining satellite images of Israeli settlements when they could have been monitoring Russian troop movements along the Georgian border?  How much of our diplomatic staff was focusing on potential Jerusalem policing arrangements rather than sounding the alarm regarding Iran’s increasing involvement in Lebanese affairs?  (Memo to the administration: Lebanon recently asked Iran to supply it with midsize weapons — something that we were supposed to be doing.)

As for Israeli-Palestinian peace, one of two things will happen: either Israel will accept the Palestinian bottom line of 100% of the West Bank, or it will insist on maintaining most of the settlements and therefore seek alternatives to the same old process.  Naturally, the outcome of the February 2009 Knesset elections will be critical to Israeli decision-making.  Either way, future U.S. administrations should avoid getting bogged down in negotiations when — changes in leaders’ attire aside — too little has changed.

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Then and Now

Writing in Haaretz about the “sad farewell party” that George W. Bush organized for Ehud Olmert inside the White House, Aluf Benn says it reminds him of eight years ago:

Then as now, an Israeli prime minister at the end of his road tried to achieve a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians, with the help of an American president about to be replaced. Then, as now, the Israelis and Americans wanted to sew things up and the Palestinian leader refused to sign, saying the deal was a bad one. Then, as now, Israel was facing a political reversal and the rise of the right to power. Then, as now, the prime minister displayed determination and doggedness, while the public was just waiting for him to go away.

Please. Then, as now, an Israeli prime minister had reached the end of the road with a Palestinian “peace partner” unwilling to yield on a specious “right of return,” or on a claim to all of East Jerusalem, or an insistence that 95 percent of the West Bank was just not enough.

Then, as now, the Israelis and Americans were fairly desperate for peace, or at least a peace agreement, while the Palestinians thought the existing pro-Israeli U.S. president was about to be replaced by a new president, more sympathetic to their cause, who would give them a better deal.

Then, as now, the Israeli public had had it with the overblown promises of the peace process and the failure of the government to respond to the war it had produced, and were ready to turn to more experienced, less starry-eyed leadership.

Then, as now, the media described the Israeli prime minister’s policy as determination and doggedness, when in fact it was the completely predictable (and predicted) end of still another chapter in a misnamed process.

Writing in Haaretz about the “sad farewell party” that George W. Bush organized for Ehud Olmert inside the White House, Aluf Benn says it reminds him of eight years ago:

Then as now, an Israeli prime minister at the end of his road tried to achieve a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians, with the help of an American president about to be replaced. Then, as now, the Israelis and Americans wanted to sew things up and the Palestinian leader refused to sign, saying the deal was a bad one. Then, as now, Israel was facing a political reversal and the rise of the right to power. Then, as now, the prime minister displayed determination and doggedness, while the public was just waiting for him to go away.

Please. Then, as now, an Israeli prime minister had reached the end of the road with a Palestinian “peace partner” unwilling to yield on a specious “right of return,” or on a claim to all of East Jerusalem, or an insistence that 95 percent of the West Bank was just not enough.

Then, as now, the Israelis and Americans were fairly desperate for peace, or at least a peace agreement, while the Palestinians thought the existing pro-Israeli U.S. president was about to be replaced by a new president, more sympathetic to their cause, who would give them a better deal.

Then, as now, the Israeli public had had it with the overblown promises of the peace process and the failure of the government to respond to the war it had produced, and were ready to turn to more experienced, less starry-eyed leadership.

Then, as now, the media described the Israeli prime minister’s policy as determination and doggedness, when in fact it was the completely predictable (and predicted) end of still another chapter in a misnamed process.

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It Really Is All About Him

President-elect Obama responded yesterday to some criticism that his developing administration looks more like the same-old rather than “change.” MSNBC reported:

“Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” he told reporters at his third press conference in as many days. “It comes from me. That’s my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing.”

That brought some guffaws from some on the Right. But the President-elect is correct. All of those experienced advisors are unlikely to reach a consensus. (And when they do, they may be wrong and need to go back to the drawing board.) Inevitable conflicts between State and Defense will rage. What looked like a great appointment on paper may turn out to be a bust. Ultimately it will be up to the President to make all the tough calls (the easy ones get decided before they hit his desk), and he alone will bear the responsibility if things go poorly, if the economic vision is flawed, if his decision making process gets bogged down and if underlings err or misbehave. It will be up to him whether we chart a new course, replay the tired nostrums of the past, or do a bit of both.

A few weeks after the election we have some, but not much, clarity about the President-elect. He seems inclined to favor experience and disinclined to stick to his Leftist national security rhetoric. He seems enamored of big spending and not so enamored, after all, of tax increases. But it really is all in the execution and all in the implementation. It is simply too early to tell how he plans to govern and what balances he will strike. Thousands of decisions, speeches, pieces of legislation and appointments are ahead. And along the way we’ll find out more. But President-elect Obama is right about one thing: in the end it is all about him.

President-elect Obama responded yesterday to some criticism that his developing administration looks more like the same-old rather than “change.” MSNBC reported:

“Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” he told reporters at his third press conference in as many days. “It comes from me. That’s my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing.”

That brought some guffaws from some on the Right. But the President-elect is correct. All of those experienced advisors are unlikely to reach a consensus. (And when they do, they may be wrong and need to go back to the drawing board.) Inevitable conflicts between State and Defense will rage. What looked like a great appointment on paper may turn out to be a bust. Ultimately it will be up to the President to make all the tough calls (the easy ones get decided before they hit his desk), and he alone will bear the responsibility if things go poorly, if the economic vision is flawed, if his decision making process gets bogged down and if underlings err or misbehave. It will be up to him whether we chart a new course, replay the tired nostrums of the past, or do a bit of both.

A few weeks after the election we have some, but not much, clarity about the President-elect. He seems inclined to favor experience and disinclined to stick to his Leftist national security rhetoric. He seems enamored of big spending and not so enamored, after all, of tax increases. But it really is all in the execution and all in the implementation. It is simply too early to tell how he plans to govern and what balances he will strike. Thousands of decisions, speeches, pieces of legislation and appointments are ahead. And along the way we’ll find out more. But President-elect Obama is right about one thing: in the end it is all about him.

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Re:Obama’s Middle East Choices

One possible answer to the question I was asking yesterday — Is the U.S. ready to abandon the idea of a free Lebanon in order to get an Israeli-Syrian peace process back on track? – is given today in Ari Shavit’s column in Haaretz.

The truth is that Israel never really cared about free Lebanon, and was always ready to sacrifice this country for the cause of stability and better relations with Syria. Israeli policy makers hardly believe that Lebanon can be a “real” country, and have always looked at the Bush administration’s attempts at strengthening Lebanon with suspicion and puzzlement. But what Aaron David Miller implied yesterday by way of omission — he didn’t mention Lebanon in the article about Israel and Syria — Shavit does today in the most blatant way possible. He believes that “if the new administration in Washington and the new government in Jerusalem act, it stands to reason that they are capable of fostering a change of direction in Damascus.”

And for price? “[T]o reward it [Syria] generously with the Golan Heights and Lebanon.”

Will the new US administration adopt this (Israeli) position? This will be an interesting case for all those peace activists who keep complaining about too much Israeli influence in Washington.

They usually argue that Washington is too eager to adopt the Israeli position, and that’s why it is difficult to advance peace in the Middle East. However, this time it seems as if adopting the Israeli position will be exactly what these activists are looking for. Then again, they will not be able to complain about the “Israel lobby.”  Of course, they can always say that the “lobby” is acting against the will of the Israeli government and is influenced by the Israeli right wing. But this will be hard for them to do in the likely case that the right wing (namely, Binyamin Netanyahu) is in power in Israel. Then again — they’ll find something to complain about.

And as for Shavit’s article. There’s still a huge difference between the proposal he makes and the one made yesterday by Miller. While Miller is ready to “be patient”, and to recognize that “Syria won’t walk away from a 30-year relationship with Iran” – Shavit wants to “make sure that Syria is severing itself from Iran and jihad”.

In short: he is willing to pay the big money (in Lebanese currency) for the big prize. But if Miller is right, there will be no takers. Assad wants the big money for a small prize.

One possible answer to the question I was asking yesterday — Is the U.S. ready to abandon the idea of a free Lebanon in order to get an Israeli-Syrian peace process back on track? – is given today in Ari Shavit’s column in Haaretz.

The truth is that Israel never really cared about free Lebanon, and was always ready to sacrifice this country for the cause of stability and better relations with Syria. Israeli policy makers hardly believe that Lebanon can be a “real” country, and have always looked at the Bush administration’s attempts at strengthening Lebanon with suspicion and puzzlement. But what Aaron David Miller implied yesterday by way of omission — he didn’t mention Lebanon in the article about Israel and Syria — Shavit does today in the most blatant way possible. He believes that “if the new administration in Washington and the new government in Jerusalem act, it stands to reason that they are capable of fostering a change of direction in Damascus.”

And for price? “[T]o reward it [Syria] generously with the Golan Heights and Lebanon.”

Will the new US administration adopt this (Israeli) position? This will be an interesting case for all those peace activists who keep complaining about too much Israeli influence in Washington.

They usually argue that Washington is too eager to adopt the Israeli position, and that’s why it is difficult to advance peace in the Middle East. However, this time it seems as if adopting the Israeli position will be exactly what these activists are looking for. Then again, they will not be able to complain about the “Israel lobby.”  Of course, they can always say that the “lobby” is acting against the will of the Israeli government and is influenced by the Israeli right wing. But this will be hard for them to do in the likely case that the right wing (namely, Binyamin Netanyahu) is in power in Israel. Then again — they’ll find something to complain about.

And as for Shavit’s article. There’s still a huge difference between the proposal he makes and the one made yesterday by Miller. While Miller is ready to “be patient”, and to recognize that “Syria won’t walk away from a 30-year relationship with Iran” – Shavit wants to “make sure that Syria is severing itself from Iran and jihad”.

In short: he is willing to pay the big money (in Lebanese currency) for the big prize. But if Miller is right, there will be no takers. Assad wants the big money for a small prize.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Gosh, with poll numbers like this Chris Matthews may need his current job for awhile. Could it be that all that leering, fawning and screaming didn’t endear him to the public?

Donna Brazile is quite correct about the President-elect staying out of the Georgia Senate race. Aside from his more important transition tasks, there is the very real risk the Democrat Jim Martin loses after an Obama visit, which will be seen as the latter’s first political loss. Also, if Obama is making headway neutralizing Republican opposition why poison the well by hitting the campaign trail again?

Roger Simon of Politico confesses: “I do not understand why some people are opposed to a $25 billion government bailout of the U.S. auto industry.” Hmm. Could it be that it’s throwing away money, preventing needed reform, and subsidizing irresponsible management and horrid labor agreements? And as for his bizarre suggestion that we “eliminate” the Iraq War because it “is a program that doesn’t work,” I think General Petraeus has demonstrated that the best way to “eliminate the Iraq war” is to “eliminate” the enemy (i.e. “win”) and go home — which is what we are in the process of doing.

A very smart take on Republicans’ mistakes with Hispanic voters and the immigration issue. I’ll add one: not getting behind Mike Pence’s immigration plan, which was a common sense and tough-minded approach.

Hard questions for Tim Geithner’s confirmation hearing. Perhaps he will communicate better and make better choices about which entities to “save” once he is in charge. But isn’t the lesson that government can rarely tell which ones should be rescued?

It’s bizarrely wrong to assert that Barack Obama doesn’t have a debt to repay to Big Labor. Labor unions spent hundreds of millions of dollars electing Democrats at all levels of government. Rest assured, they expect something in return.

The Minnesota Canvassing Board unanimously told Al Franken to take a hike. As far as the Democratic attorney general (who voted with the rest of the Canvassing Board members to deny the absentee ballot claim) and the recount process in general, everyone in Minnesota seems to have done their job properly. Now we’ll see if Harry Reid or the courts manage to wrestle the narrow win away from Norm Coleman. (The lesson of Florida 2000 remains: once the “winner” is declared it is very hard to displace him.)

We may have a shortage of jobs, economic growth, and fiscal discipline, but we have plenty of economic advisors. They keep coming and coming and coming. This is either a brilliant scheme to get diverse viewpoints or a recipe for bureaucratic gridlock. Others are wondering the same thing.

There are many ways to distinguish between Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, but here’s a fundamental one: she governed like a fiscal conservative (cut taxes and the budget) and he like a tax and spend populist.

How far he’s fallen — might a primary challenge to Sen. John McCain in Arizona be possible? He did not exactly endear himself to the Right, so I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, even if the chance to unseat him is slim at best.

A fine, forceful statement from the President-elect condemning the attacks in India — and an unfortunate reminder that our enemies really don’t care who is in the White House.

The Charlie Rangel shoes keep dropping, putting Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an embarrassing spot: “The uncomfortable state of limbo with one of the most senior chairmen has provided an opening Republicans and outside ethics experts to criticize Pelosi’s standards and question her pledge to ‘drain the swamp.’ Democratic leaders and rank and file members have also been remarkably silent about what to do with Rangel.” The inept Republicans, however, didn’t make much use of this in the election, did they?

Gosh, with poll numbers like this Chris Matthews may need his current job for awhile. Could it be that all that leering, fawning and screaming didn’t endear him to the public?

Donna Brazile is quite correct about the President-elect staying out of the Georgia Senate race. Aside from his more important transition tasks, there is the very real risk the Democrat Jim Martin loses after an Obama visit, which will be seen as the latter’s first political loss. Also, if Obama is making headway neutralizing Republican opposition why poison the well by hitting the campaign trail again?

Roger Simon of Politico confesses: “I do not understand why some people are opposed to a $25 billion government bailout of the U.S. auto industry.” Hmm. Could it be that it’s throwing away money, preventing needed reform, and subsidizing irresponsible management and horrid labor agreements? And as for his bizarre suggestion that we “eliminate” the Iraq War because it “is a program that doesn’t work,” I think General Petraeus has demonstrated that the best way to “eliminate the Iraq war” is to “eliminate” the enemy (i.e. “win”) and go home — which is what we are in the process of doing.

A very smart take on Republicans’ mistakes with Hispanic voters and the immigration issue. I’ll add one: not getting behind Mike Pence’s immigration plan, which was a common sense and tough-minded approach.

Hard questions for Tim Geithner’s confirmation hearing. Perhaps he will communicate better and make better choices about which entities to “save” once he is in charge. But isn’t the lesson that government can rarely tell which ones should be rescued?

It’s bizarrely wrong to assert that Barack Obama doesn’t have a debt to repay to Big Labor. Labor unions spent hundreds of millions of dollars electing Democrats at all levels of government. Rest assured, they expect something in return.

The Minnesota Canvassing Board unanimously told Al Franken to take a hike. As far as the Democratic attorney general (who voted with the rest of the Canvassing Board members to deny the absentee ballot claim) and the recount process in general, everyone in Minnesota seems to have done their job properly. Now we’ll see if Harry Reid or the courts manage to wrestle the narrow win away from Norm Coleman. (The lesson of Florida 2000 remains: once the “winner” is declared it is very hard to displace him.)

We may have a shortage of jobs, economic growth, and fiscal discipline, but we have plenty of economic advisors. They keep coming and coming and coming. This is either a brilliant scheme to get diverse viewpoints or a recipe for bureaucratic gridlock. Others are wondering the same thing.

There are many ways to distinguish between Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, but here’s a fundamental one: she governed like a fiscal conservative (cut taxes and the budget) and he like a tax and spend populist.

How far he’s fallen — might a primary challenge to Sen. John McCain in Arizona be possible? He did not exactly endear himself to the Right, so I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, even if the chance to unseat him is slim at best.

A fine, forceful statement from the President-elect condemning the attacks in India — and an unfortunate reminder that our enemies really don’t care who is in the White House.

The Charlie Rangel shoes keep dropping, putting Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an embarrassing spot: “The uncomfortable state of limbo with one of the most senior chairmen has provided an opening Republicans and outside ethics experts to criticize Pelosi’s standards and question her pledge to ‘drain the swamp.’ Democratic leaders and rank and file members have also been remarkably silent about what to do with Rangel.” The inept Republicans, however, didn’t make much use of this in the election, did they?

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Commentary of the Day

Ron M, on Peter Wehner:

Although I do not consider myself a conservative, I voted for Obama because I felt that he valued competence over all else and that he would not cater to any political faction as his method of governing. I made the assessment that his integrity would be my safety net. So far I am very pleased. Hopefully he will give us a period where no ideology will dominate. I have this belief that Obama is aware that he will need conservative support to get his program passed. I think that he will attempt to maximize support on everything that he does that is for the long term. It is only on measures that only have short term significance that he will be particular about the form that it takes.

Although I spent hours working on the Obama campaign, I too was not completely sure that he was who he said he was. But if you listen to him carefully and accept him at his word, he does seem to do most things just the way he says he will.

Ron M, on Peter Wehner:

Although I do not consider myself a conservative, I voted for Obama because I felt that he valued competence over all else and that he would not cater to any political faction as his method of governing. I made the assessment that his integrity would be my safety net. So far I am very pleased. Hopefully he will give us a period where no ideology will dominate. I have this belief that Obama is aware that he will need conservative support to get his program passed. I think that he will attempt to maximize support on everything that he does that is for the long term. It is only on measures that only have short term significance that he will be particular about the form that it takes.

Although I spent hours working on the Obama campaign, I too was not completely sure that he was who he said he was. But if you listen to him carefully and accept him at his word, he does seem to do most things just the way he says he will.

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The Coming Collapse of the United States?

On Monday, Igor Panarin of Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the global financial panic confirms his long-held belief that the United States will splinter into six pieces-the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast, the Hispanic South, Texas, northern states, and central states.  Moreover, Russia might deal a fatal blow to Sarah Palin’s presidential hopes by taking back Alaska, which is only “on lease.”  As he noted in Izvestia, the economy is “already collapsing.”

Could America really fall apart?  Some might think that faraway Guam, now a U.S. territory, might one day want independence, but in fact the Guamanians appear more loyal than those inhabiting the People’s Republic of Berkeley, the Republic of Vermont, certain parts of the San Francisco peninsula, and isolated pockets on the island of Manhattan.  And despite what Panarin may think, not even any of those rambunctious areas will secede. The United States, unfortunately for our foes, is remarkably stable and, well, united.

But what about Panarin’s Russia?  Will it be able to maintain its borders in the coming years when both the global financial system and the American-led international order are falling apart?  First, Russia is undergoing a startling demographic collapse along with a depopulation of its Far East.  Moscow’s leaders fear-with some justification-that the presence of illegal Chinese settlers there may motivate an irridentist Beijing to try to take back land that czars seized from “China” long ago.

Second, the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia and its subsequent recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have reignited separatist sentiment in Russian territories, such as Tatarstan, Chechnya, Bashkortostan, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.  None of these lands is strong enough to break away from Moscow during normal times, but a Russian economic failure could tip the balance of power.  Folks in these regions never forget the Russians conquered them and will wait centuries for their freedom.

So the last thing a Russian should be doing is encouraging separatism in other nations, as Panarin apparently is doing with his ludicrous prediction about the breakup of the United States.  We should consider ourselves fortunate that the Kremlin is fully capable of causing trouble for itself.  And we should remember it bears us ill will.

On Monday, Igor Panarin of Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the global financial panic confirms his long-held belief that the United States will splinter into six pieces-the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast, the Hispanic South, Texas, northern states, and central states.  Moreover, Russia might deal a fatal blow to Sarah Palin’s presidential hopes by taking back Alaska, which is only “on lease.”  As he noted in Izvestia, the economy is “already collapsing.”

Could America really fall apart?  Some might think that faraway Guam, now a U.S. territory, might one day want independence, but in fact the Guamanians appear more loyal than those inhabiting the People’s Republic of Berkeley, the Republic of Vermont, certain parts of the San Francisco peninsula, and isolated pockets on the island of Manhattan.  And despite what Panarin may think, not even any of those rambunctious areas will secede. The United States, unfortunately for our foes, is remarkably stable and, well, united.

But what about Panarin’s Russia?  Will it be able to maintain its borders in the coming years when both the global financial system and the American-led international order are falling apart?  First, Russia is undergoing a startling demographic collapse along with a depopulation of its Far East.  Moscow’s leaders fear-with some justification-that the presence of illegal Chinese settlers there may motivate an irridentist Beijing to try to take back land that czars seized from “China” long ago.

Second, the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia and its subsequent recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have reignited separatist sentiment in Russian territories, such as Tatarstan, Chechnya, Bashkortostan, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.  None of these lands is strong enough to break away from Moscow during normal times, but a Russian economic failure could tip the balance of power.  Folks in these regions never forget the Russians conquered them and will wait centuries for their freedom.

So the last thing a Russian should be doing is encouraging separatism in other nations, as Panarin apparently is doing with his ludicrous prediction about the breakup of the United States.  We should consider ourselves fortunate that the Kremlin is fully capable of causing trouble for itself.  And we should remember it bears us ill will.

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In the SOFA Home-stretch

U.S. officials have not released the text of the Status of Forces agreement which the Iraqi parliament is due to vote on shortly. (A vote scheduled for today was postponed amid last minute wheeling and dealing.) But McClatchy Newspapers’ enterprising reporters have managed to dig up what they say is the official English translation. You can read the whole thing here.

The substantive contours of the agreement already have been reported, the highlight being the deadline for U.S. forces to leave Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. An earlier draft included language making clear that these timelines could be adjusted upon the agreement of the two parties. The final version drops that explicit guarantee in a sop to Iraqi nationalists, but, no matter what the agreement says, the possibility of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2011 remains as long as Baghdad asks for further assistance and Washington agrees to offer it. Such a continued role probably will remain important to foster the growth of the Iraqi Security Forces and to guarantee all sides that competing sectarian groups will not abuse them.

Many of the finer points of the agreement clearly have been finessed to assure Iraqis that their sovereignty is being respected while not overly restricting the vital role that U.S. forces continue to play. For instance, Article 9 says that “surveillance and control of Iraqi airspace shall transfer to Iraqi authority immediately upon entry into force of this Agreement.” But the very next line implicitly acknowledges Iraq’s incapacity to control its own airspace at present. It says: “Iraq may request from the United States Forces temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of surveillance and control of Iraqi air space.”

The level of detail is amusing at times. For instance, Article 17 says that Iraqi authorities will respect “valid driver’s licenses issued by United States authorities,” thus presumably relieving Humvee operators of the need to stop by the Iraqi Department of Motor Vehicles for a driving test.

The most potentially worrisome passages concern authority for U.S. forces to enter Iraqi homes and to detain Iraqi terrorist suspects. On both points the agreement offers a reasonable compromise. Article 22.4 outlines a procedure whereby the U.S. will provide the Iraqi authorities with a list of all detainees in American custody. The Iraqi authorities will then issue arrest warrants for all detainees wanted by them, and the U.S. will turn them over to Iraqi custody. What about potentially dangerous detainees-including thousands of hardcore Al Qaeda members-who remain a security threat but may not be prosecutable under Iraqi law? The agreement says the U.S. “shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner,” but-and here is the crucial line-it also adds “unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq” [italics mine]. That little clause may provide the authority necessary to keep holding a lot of dangerous terrorists at Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, the U.S. detention facilities.

As for entering into Iraqi homes, Article 22.5 says this may not be done by U.S. forces “except by order of an Iraqi judicial warrant,” but this restriction is also softened by another clause: “except in the case of actual combat operations” [again, italics mine]. This takes at least some of the sting out of what could have been a fatal impediment to the effective operations of U.S. forces: American commanders presumably could argue that almost any actions taken in the line of duty constitute “combat operations.”

All in all, the agreement, while far from ideal, represents a decent chance to continue the U.S.-Iraqi security partnership which has in recent years dealt such devastating blows to terrorists of both Shiite and Sunni persuasion. Let us hope that the Iraqi parliament finally approves it.

U.S. officials have not released the text of the Status of Forces agreement which the Iraqi parliament is due to vote on shortly. (A vote scheduled for today was postponed amid last minute wheeling and dealing.) But McClatchy Newspapers’ enterprising reporters have managed to dig up what they say is the official English translation. You can read the whole thing here.

The substantive contours of the agreement already have been reported, the highlight being the deadline for U.S. forces to leave Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. An earlier draft included language making clear that these timelines could be adjusted upon the agreement of the two parties. The final version drops that explicit guarantee in a sop to Iraqi nationalists, but, no matter what the agreement says, the possibility of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2011 remains as long as Baghdad asks for further assistance and Washington agrees to offer it. Such a continued role probably will remain important to foster the growth of the Iraqi Security Forces and to guarantee all sides that competing sectarian groups will not abuse them.

Many of the finer points of the agreement clearly have been finessed to assure Iraqis that their sovereignty is being respected while not overly restricting the vital role that U.S. forces continue to play. For instance, Article 9 says that “surveillance and control of Iraqi airspace shall transfer to Iraqi authority immediately upon entry into force of this Agreement.” But the very next line implicitly acknowledges Iraq’s incapacity to control its own airspace at present. It says: “Iraq may request from the United States Forces temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of surveillance and control of Iraqi air space.”

The level of detail is amusing at times. For instance, Article 17 says that Iraqi authorities will respect “valid driver’s licenses issued by United States authorities,” thus presumably relieving Humvee operators of the need to stop by the Iraqi Department of Motor Vehicles for a driving test.

The most potentially worrisome passages concern authority for U.S. forces to enter Iraqi homes and to detain Iraqi terrorist suspects. On both points the agreement offers a reasonable compromise. Article 22.4 outlines a procedure whereby the U.S. will provide the Iraqi authorities with a list of all detainees in American custody. The Iraqi authorities will then issue arrest warrants for all detainees wanted by them, and the U.S. will turn them over to Iraqi custody. What about potentially dangerous detainees-including thousands of hardcore Al Qaeda members-who remain a security threat but may not be prosecutable under Iraqi law? The agreement says the U.S. “shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner,” but-and here is the crucial line-it also adds “unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq” [italics mine]. That little clause may provide the authority necessary to keep holding a lot of dangerous terrorists at Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, the U.S. detention facilities.

As for entering into Iraqi homes, Article 22.5 says this may not be done by U.S. forces “except by order of an Iraqi judicial warrant,” but this restriction is also softened by another clause: “except in the case of actual combat operations” [again, italics mine]. This takes at least some of the sting out of what could have been a fatal impediment to the effective operations of U.S. forces: American commanders presumably could argue that almost any actions taken in the line of duty constitute “combat operations.”

All in all, the agreement, while far from ideal, represents a decent chance to continue the U.S.-Iraqi security partnership which has in recent years dealt such devastating blows to terrorists of both Shiite and Sunni persuasion. Let us hope that the Iraqi parliament finally approves it.

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