Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 27, 2009

Re: Re: The Voice of Reason

Abe, the choice that we are supposed to be presenting to the Iranians is: join the respectable community of nations or be subject to a range of sanctions. I don’t think it is particularly objectionable or controversial to remind the Iranian people and our allies that we are presenting a choice to the mullahs. What is objectionable is the lack of seriousness about what behavior is expected and what will result if Iran continues on its present course.

The President rather badly muddled the “or else. . . ” part of the equation.  Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross (who presumably still has the Iran portfolio) have a more difficult task now that the President has conveyed an utter lack of resoluteness. But I can’t find fault with Clinton’s effort to steer the ship at least partially back on course. The problem for her is the Iranians now have less incentive to take her and Ross seriously.

Abe, the choice that we are supposed to be presenting to the Iranians is: join the respectable community of nations or be subject to a range of sanctions. I don’t think it is particularly objectionable or controversial to remind the Iranian people and our allies that we are presenting a choice to the mullahs. What is objectionable is the lack of seriousness about what behavior is expected and what will result if Iran continues on its present course.

The President rather badly muddled the “or else. . . ” part of the equation.  Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross (who presumably still has the Iran portfolio) have a more difficult task now that the President has conveyed an utter lack of resoluteness. But I can’t find fault with Clinton’s effort to steer the ship at least partially back on course. The problem for her is the Iranians now have less incentive to take her and Ross seriously.

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Commentary of the Day

Tagraffiti, on Michael Totten:

I appreciate what Michael Totten is trying to say here, but he should probably change the title to “The Mood in Tel Aviv.” As an Israeli who does live within rocket range, I don’t think “relief” is exactly what most of us are feeling. More accurate would be:
1. Outrage that Olmert stopped the operation not based on the military achievements or the fact that Hamas was defeated but because of Obama’s inauguration. And what’s worse, only gave Hamas time to regroup, rebuild and be even more dangerous to Israeli soldiers next time around.
2. Dread – we know the rockets are coming back, it’s just a matter of when and if we can trust a post-election government to be as brave as proactive as a pre-election government (answer: no).
3. Terrified for all of us by the worldwide displays of wanton antisemitism (which pass as “peace demonstrations”) in Europe and North America.

Yes there were a lot of problems with the Hizbala war, but let’s face it – when you’re still making speeches via satellite from a basement two years later, you didn’t win the war and everyone knows it. I don’t think that Israelis lost faith in the IDF in 2006.

Tagraffiti, on Michael Totten:

I appreciate what Michael Totten is trying to say here, but he should probably change the title to “The Mood in Tel Aviv.” As an Israeli who does live within rocket range, I don’t think “relief” is exactly what most of us are feeling. More accurate would be:
1. Outrage that Olmert stopped the operation not based on the military achievements or the fact that Hamas was defeated but because of Obama’s inauguration. And what’s worse, only gave Hamas time to regroup, rebuild and be even more dangerous to Israeli soldiers next time around.
2. Dread – we know the rockets are coming back, it’s just a matter of when and if we can trust a post-election government to be as brave as proactive as a pre-election government (answer: no).
3. Terrified for all of us by the worldwide displays of wanton antisemitism (which pass as “peace demonstrations”) in Europe and North America.

Yes there were a lot of problems with the Hizbala war, but let’s face it – when you’re still making speeches via satellite from a basement two years later, you didn’t win the war and everyone knows it. I don’t think that Israelis lost faith in the IDF in 2006.

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Up To Him

President Obama ventured into Capitol Hill to talk to Republicans. But the issue, as even the A.P. has figured out, is “whether the new Democratic president will actually listen to GOP concerns about the amount of spending and the tax approach — and modify his proposal accordingly.”

Minority Leader John Boehner is making clear that happy talk from the President isn’t going to be enough to win GOP support. ABC news reports:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Republicans that the $825 billion House version of the bill should not be supported by Republicans, unless major changes are made.  A Boehner press aide told ABC News: “While we certainly appreciate the willingness of the President to come to Capitol Hill, the problem remains with Congressional Democrats who are moving forward with little regard toward improving the bill.  Unless the Speaker agrees to make changes, then congressional Democrats should not count on our support.”

.    .    .

Writing to ABC News from inside the caucus that just wrapped up, this lawmaker says, “The question Republicans are asking is this: “Does the President support everything in the House bill? Contraceptives to ‘stimulate’? Re-sodding the National Mall? NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] funding to lift economy?”

This legislator says the wide spread belief is that Republican support for this bill dwindled after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s exclusive appearance on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”. On Sunday, she defended some of the bill’s spending measures such as hundreds of millions of dollars on contraception, or coupons to help people convert to digital television.

At the meeting, Republicans discussed President Obama’s options to win back GOP House support, with a stimulus bill focused on infrastructure investment and tax relief at the top of their list. If Mr.. Obama can’t convince House Democrats to cut spending, this lawmakers says, “then the President will have less credibility on fiscal responsibility in the future. If he cuts this back, he will have a huge win.”

The Democrats can spin this anyway they wish: The GOP is the “no” party, or the Republicans are trying to sink the new President. The Republicans don’t care about the economy. We’ve heard it all before. (And the Obama spinners in the media will repeat it ad nauseam.) But it really misses the essential issue (as the spin is designed to do, of course). The Republicans can’t be any more clear: unless the bill changes to accommodate some of their key concerns they aren’t supporting it.

And there are good substantive reasons for opposing the bill. Even if you buy the Keynesian premise, the bill simply doesn’t do what the President says he wants from a “stimulus” bill. What it does do is fund a grab bag of traditional Democratic programs and raises the debt — by a lot.

I’m not sure what the Obama team was expecting. Did they really think the GOP would sign on to just anything Pelosi came up with? Or perhaps they overestimated Pelosi’s willingness to stay within the broad confines the President had outlined. Whatever the reasoning for how we got to where we are, it is plain that the President has a choice: cajole House Democrats into modifying the bill to get Republican support or ram home a Democratic-only spend-a-thon. It really is up to him.

President Obama ventured into Capitol Hill to talk to Republicans. But the issue, as even the A.P. has figured out, is “whether the new Democratic president will actually listen to GOP concerns about the amount of spending and the tax approach — and modify his proposal accordingly.”

Minority Leader John Boehner is making clear that happy talk from the President isn’t going to be enough to win GOP support. ABC news reports:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Republicans that the $825 billion House version of the bill should not be supported by Republicans, unless major changes are made.  A Boehner press aide told ABC News: “While we certainly appreciate the willingness of the President to come to Capitol Hill, the problem remains with Congressional Democrats who are moving forward with little regard toward improving the bill.  Unless the Speaker agrees to make changes, then congressional Democrats should not count on our support.”

.    .    .

Writing to ABC News from inside the caucus that just wrapped up, this lawmaker says, “The question Republicans are asking is this: “Does the President support everything in the House bill? Contraceptives to ‘stimulate’? Re-sodding the National Mall? NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] funding to lift economy?”

This legislator says the wide spread belief is that Republican support for this bill dwindled after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s exclusive appearance on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”. On Sunday, she defended some of the bill’s spending measures such as hundreds of millions of dollars on contraception, or coupons to help people convert to digital television.

At the meeting, Republicans discussed President Obama’s options to win back GOP House support, with a stimulus bill focused on infrastructure investment and tax relief at the top of their list. If Mr.. Obama can’t convince House Democrats to cut spending, this lawmakers says, “then the President will have less credibility on fiscal responsibility in the future. If he cuts this back, he will have a huge win.”

The Democrats can spin this anyway they wish: The GOP is the “no” party, or the Republicans are trying to sink the new President. The Republicans don’t care about the economy. We’ve heard it all before. (And the Obama spinners in the media will repeat it ad nauseam.) But it really misses the essential issue (as the spin is designed to do, of course). The Republicans can’t be any more clear: unless the bill changes to accommodate some of their key concerns they aren’t supporting it.

And there are good substantive reasons for opposing the bill. Even if you buy the Keynesian premise, the bill simply doesn’t do what the President says he wants from a “stimulus” bill. What it does do is fund a grab bag of traditional Democratic programs and raises the debt — by a lot.

I’m not sure what the Obama team was expecting. Did they really think the GOP would sign on to just anything Pelosi came up with? Or perhaps they overestimated Pelosi’s willingness to stay within the broad confines the President had outlined. Whatever the reasoning for how we got to where we are, it is plain that the President has a choice: cajole House Democrats into modifying the bill to get Republican support or ram home a Democratic-only spend-a-thon. It really is up to him.

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Afghanistan’s Hired Guards

Yochi Dreazen, one of the best military correspondents in the business, has a fascinating dispatch from Afghanistan in the Wall Street Journal, in which he reports on the difficulties that U.S. forces have encountered with locally hired security guards. There have been instances of these guards firing on U.S. units and even when they’re not actively hostile it’s often hard to tell them apart from the insurgents.

This is the flip side of the problems experienced in Iraq, where U.S. forces and their contractors relied in large part on foreign security contractors, of which Blackwater was the most famous. Those companies created problems of their own, but their allegiances were seldom in question.

Yochi Dreazen, one of the best military correspondents in the business, has a fascinating dispatch from Afghanistan in the Wall Street Journal, in which he reports on the difficulties that U.S. forces have encountered with locally hired security guards. There have been instances of these guards firing on U.S. units and even when they’re not actively hostile it’s often hard to tell them apart from the insurgents.

This is the flip side of the problems experienced in Iraq, where U.S. forces and their contractors relied in large part on foreign security contractors, of which Blackwater was the most famous. Those companies created problems of their own, but their allegiances were seldom in question.

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Re: The Voice of Reason?

Jen, I’m sorry to say Hillary Clinton sounds no saner on Iran than Barack Obama. In fact, in dealing with reporters today, she sounded exactly like the President:

There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community. Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them.

Engage meaningfully, international community, metaphorical hands — oh well.

I’ll say this much: whatever concerns people had about the Obama-Hillary diplomatic front broadcasting some kind of internal dissonance can be laid to rest. The two have put together quite a foreign policy ventriloquist act.

Jen, I’m sorry to say Hillary Clinton sounds no saner on Iran than Barack Obama. In fact, in dealing with reporters today, she sounded exactly like the President:

There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community. Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them.

Engage meaningfully, international community, metaphorical hands — oh well.

I’ll say this much: whatever concerns people had about the Obama-Hillary diplomatic front broadcasting some kind of internal dissonance can be laid to rest. The two have put together quite a foreign policy ventriloquist act.

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The Voice of Reason?

If you are getting queasy about the the President’s New Age overture to Iran and George Mitchell’s fantasy that all conflicts have a solution, you may be cheered to know that a bastion of reason remains — at the State Department. No really. This report explains:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that Israel had a right to defend itself and that Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza on the Jewish state could not go unanswered.

Clinton spoke as a fragile ceasefire ruptured between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza on the same day as President Barack Obama’s special envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region to try and shore up the truce.

“We support Israel’s right to self-defense. The (Palestinian) rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas (in Israel) cannot go unanswered,” Clinton said in her first news conference at the State Department.

The top U.S. diplomat, whose comments may be seen by some as giving Israel a green light to once again pound Gaza, accused Hamas of “offensive” action against the Israeli Defense Forces on the border.

“It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza,” said Clinton.

. . .

Asked about the humanitarian plight of Palestinians in Gaza, Clinton said the United States was looking to increase assistance there but did not indicate how much more funding was available or when the aid would be delivered. “The United States is currently the single largest contributor to Palestinian aid and we will be adding even more because we believe that it’s important to help those who have been damaged and are suffering,” she said.

Hmm. No moral equivalence. Straight declarative sentences. A firm line on terrorism. An unapologetic tone about the United States’ ongoing humanitarian efforts for the Palestinian people. And an unequivocal stance in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. That sounds, well, downright reasonable.

Whether she is the lone voice in the wilderness or one of many conflicting voices emanating from the new administration (which seems to have a plethora of power centers) remains to be seen. But if she is going to maintain her influence as the President’s primary voice on foreign policy she better make sure everyone else is in sync with her. And right now that might not be a bad place to be.

If you are getting queasy about the the President’s New Age overture to Iran and George Mitchell’s fantasy that all conflicts have a solution, you may be cheered to know that a bastion of reason remains — at the State Department. No really. This report explains:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that Israel had a right to defend itself and that Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza on the Jewish state could not go unanswered.

Clinton spoke as a fragile ceasefire ruptured between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza on the same day as President Barack Obama’s special envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region to try and shore up the truce.

“We support Israel’s right to self-defense. The (Palestinian) rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas (in Israel) cannot go unanswered,” Clinton said in her first news conference at the State Department.

The top U.S. diplomat, whose comments may be seen by some as giving Israel a green light to once again pound Gaza, accused Hamas of “offensive” action against the Israeli Defense Forces on the border.

“It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza,” said Clinton.

. . .

Asked about the humanitarian plight of Palestinians in Gaza, Clinton said the United States was looking to increase assistance there but did not indicate how much more funding was available or when the aid would be delivered. “The United States is currently the single largest contributor to Palestinian aid and we will be adding even more because we believe that it’s important to help those who have been damaged and are suffering,” she said.

Hmm. No moral equivalence. Straight declarative sentences. A firm line on terrorism. An unapologetic tone about the United States’ ongoing humanitarian efforts for the Palestinian people. And an unequivocal stance in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. That sounds, well, downright reasonable.

Whether she is the lone voice in the wilderness or one of many conflicting voices emanating from the new administration (which seems to have a plethora of power centers) remains to be seen. But if she is going to maintain her influence as the President’s primary voice on foreign policy she better make sure everyone else is in sync with her. And right now that might not be a bad place to be.

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Gaza Heat

Today things got deadly again on the Israel-Gaza border. A roadside bomb was set off against an IDF patrol, killing one soldier and wounding three others. In response, Israel returned fire, and later wounded or killed a Hamas terrorist on a motorcycle. The IDF warns that a more serious response is in the works.

Just two weeks before the elections, Israel’s Kadima-led government faces a really difficult set of choices. By failing to remove the Hamas government, the entire success of the war rides on having achieved some kind of deterrence. But this means that when the terrorists attack (and this attack was either carried out by Hamas or with their approval), Israel has to respond with strong, disproportionate force. Otherwise, the entire war looks like a big mistake.

And yet, the government is desperately trying to reach a deal that will release Gilad Shalit before the elections. To this end, the Israelis (according to radio reports) have capitulated on many of Hamas’s demands. But then again, if the government releases the full list of around 1000 prisoners that Hamas had asked for, that wouldn’t really make the government look too good either.

Today is the official start of Israel’s political campaigns — every night, we’ll be watching the respective parties’ campaign ads. Right now, the polls give the Likud a comfortable lead, and Israeli polls tend to have a kind of Bradley effect of their own, tilting left compared with election results. It will take something very dramatic to give Kadima the reins again. But crazier things have happened.

Today things got deadly again on the Israel-Gaza border. A roadside bomb was set off against an IDF patrol, killing one soldier and wounding three others. In response, Israel returned fire, and later wounded or killed a Hamas terrorist on a motorcycle. The IDF warns that a more serious response is in the works.

Just two weeks before the elections, Israel’s Kadima-led government faces a really difficult set of choices. By failing to remove the Hamas government, the entire success of the war rides on having achieved some kind of deterrence. But this means that when the terrorists attack (and this attack was either carried out by Hamas or with their approval), Israel has to respond with strong, disproportionate force. Otherwise, the entire war looks like a big mistake.

And yet, the government is desperately trying to reach a deal that will release Gilad Shalit before the elections. To this end, the Israelis (according to radio reports) have capitulated on many of Hamas’s demands. But then again, if the government releases the full list of around 1000 prisoners that Hamas had asked for, that wouldn’t really make the government look too good either.

Today is the official start of Israel’s political campaigns — every night, we’ll be watching the respective parties’ campaign ads. Right now, the polls give the Likud a comfortable lead, and Israeli polls tend to have a kind of Bradley effect of their own, tilting left compared with election results. It will take something very dramatic to give Kadima the reins again. But crazier things have happened.

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You Can’t Beat These Two

There is something delicious about the dual spectacles of Governors Paterson and Blogojevich. Each is currently taking a bashing in the media, each has become the subject of ridicule and each is a sort of ludicrous cartoon character. Paterson won the Hamlet award, wavering on and baiting a flock of senate wannabes and ultimately dissing Princess Caroline. Blago is now the poet laureate, spouting Kipling and Tennyson at every turn. Each has made a hash of his political career. And yet. . .  Yes, there is something almost endearing about them.

For starters, they certainly aren’t the run-of-the-mill, consultant-trained politicians you see everyday. They haven’t perfected the art of opening their mouths and saying nothing memorable. So they get points for originality and individuality. They, in their own way, are more real than their less controversial peers. Well, at least more entertaining — as Blago proved once again on ABC’s Nightline:

No, I’m a very honest politician and I see myself — and you can laugh and call this delusional — but when all the facts come out you, will see that I’m right. This is a modern-day Frank Capra story. You remember those old movies? Those black and white movies with Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper? The guy who was siding with the little guy, trying to fight for them, create more opportunities for them and protect them from big, powerful forces? Well, that’s my story. It’s a modern day version of it.

And what those people do, some of those establishment people do in those movies is try to make the good guy, whose got idealistic intentions, look like he’s just what you suggested. And I view myself as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper and I know that’s gonna be met with mockery, but that’s how I see it.

It sure beats “no comment,” or “I have faith in a jury of my peers.”

But more substantively, they each have a point. Deep beneath the media sideshow that has enveloped them, they may have the better argument over their refined, horrified critics. It has yet to be shown that Blago actually offered something of value for the senate seat. Indeed, multiple Obama officials swear he didn’t. Yes, he’s given to loony talk about his designs on a cabinet seat or a cushy job at a non-profit firm, but that’s not a criminal offense. (If it were, there would be 535 suspects on Capitol Hill.) So as far as the senate seat “sale” goes, I’m not so sure that Patrick Fitzgerald has the better legal argument.

As for Paterson, his technique left a bit to be desired, but didn’t he wriggle out of appointing an utterly unqualified senator despite the wishes of the Kennedys and the President? He gave Princess Caroline all the running room she needed and let her prove her own lack of fitness for office. Who could blame him in the end for picking someone else? (Well, other than the furious Kennedys and the elite media.) New Yorkers overwhelmingly blame Caroline, not him, for her failure to get the seat.

There’s plenty of fault to be found with both Blago and Paterson. The former may be a crook and the latter an incompetent governor. The jury is out (or yet to be impaneled in Blago’s case).  But there is something more than schadenfreude at work here in the delight one feels following their tales. They are, if nothing else, entirely unpredictable and unscripted. That is more than you can say for most politicians.

There is something delicious about the dual spectacles of Governors Paterson and Blogojevich. Each is currently taking a bashing in the media, each has become the subject of ridicule and each is a sort of ludicrous cartoon character. Paterson won the Hamlet award, wavering on and baiting a flock of senate wannabes and ultimately dissing Princess Caroline. Blago is now the poet laureate, spouting Kipling and Tennyson at every turn. Each has made a hash of his political career. And yet. . .  Yes, there is something almost endearing about them.

For starters, they certainly aren’t the run-of-the-mill, consultant-trained politicians you see everyday. They haven’t perfected the art of opening their mouths and saying nothing memorable. So they get points for originality and individuality. They, in their own way, are more real than their less controversial peers. Well, at least more entertaining — as Blago proved once again on ABC’s Nightline:

No, I’m a very honest politician and I see myself — and you can laugh and call this delusional — but when all the facts come out you, will see that I’m right. This is a modern-day Frank Capra story. You remember those old movies? Those black and white movies with Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper? The guy who was siding with the little guy, trying to fight for them, create more opportunities for them and protect them from big, powerful forces? Well, that’s my story. It’s a modern day version of it.

And what those people do, some of those establishment people do in those movies is try to make the good guy, whose got idealistic intentions, look like he’s just what you suggested. And I view myself as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper and I know that’s gonna be met with mockery, but that’s how I see it.

It sure beats “no comment,” or “I have faith in a jury of my peers.”

But more substantively, they each have a point. Deep beneath the media sideshow that has enveloped them, they may have the better argument over their refined, horrified critics. It has yet to be shown that Blago actually offered something of value for the senate seat. Indeed, multiple Obama officials swear he didn’t. Yes, he’s given to loony talk about his designs on a cabinet seat or a cushy job at a non-profit firm, but that’s not a criminal offense. (If it were, there would be 535 suspects on Capitol Hill.) So as far as the senate seat “sale” goes, I’m not so sure that Patrick Fitzgerald has the better legal argument.

As for Paterson, his technique left a bit to be desired, but didn’t he wriggle out of appointing an utterly unqualified senator despite the wishes of the Kennedys and the President? He gave Princess Caroline all the running room she needed and let her prove her own lack of fitness for office. Who could blame him in the end for picking someone else? (Well, other than the furious Kennedys and the elite media.) New Yorkers overwhelmingly blame Caroline, not him, for her failure to get the seat.

There’s plenty of fault to be found with both Blago and Paterson. The former may be a crook and the latter an incompetent governor. The jury is out (or yet to be impaneled in Blago’s case).  But there is something more than schadenfreude at work here in the delight one feels following their tales. They are, if nothing else, entirely unpredictable and unscripted. That is more than you can say for most politicians.

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The BBC Got It Right

It’s hard to avoid a smirk of satisfaction when listening to overwrought accusations that the BBC is biased against Palestinians, when for years supporters of Israeli groups have been accusing the BBC of anti-Israel bias–for reasons that are amply documented. In fact the BBC’s own board of governors has censured the BBC’s online service for anti-Israel prejudice in the past.

The latest accusations are spurred by the BBC’s refusal to run an appeal for donations to war “victims” in the Gaza Strip. The protesters claim that this is simply a matter of humanitarian sentiment and there is nothing political, certainly nothing anti-Israel, about the appeal.

That claim is belied by pictures such as this one, which show the protesters carrying signs that read not “Help Gazans” but “Gaza: End the Blockade” and “Gaza: Free Palestine.” The call to “End the Blockade” is effectively a call for Israel to open up the border crossings, which would allow Hamas to vastly increase the amount of military materiel it smuggles in. The call for “Free Palestine,” if it isn’t a coded appeal for Israel’s outright destruction, is presumably a call for lifting all Israeli restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which would cede both territories to terrorists bent on the Jewish state’s destruction.

To understand why the “appeal” for Gaza is a political issue, imagine what would have been the reaction during World War II if some nation not involved in the conflict–say Argentina–were to stage an “appeal” for “German war victims.” Would this have been seen as a neutral example of humanitarianism in action or as a pro-Axis gesture? Surely the latter, and for good cause. I never thought I’d say it, but the BBC is right on this one. Would that it happened more often.

It’s hard to avoid a smirk of satisfaction when listening to overwrought accusations that the BBC is biased against Palestinians, when for years supporters of Israeli groups have been accusing the BBC of anti-Israel bias–for reasons that are amply documented. In fact the BBC’s own board of governors has censured the BBC’s online service for anti-Israel prejudice in the past.

The latest accusations are spurred by the BBC’s refusal to run an appeal for donations to war “victims” in the Gaza Strip. The protesters claim that this is simply a matter of humanitarian sentiment and there is nothing political, certainly nothing anti-Israel, about the appeal.

That claim is belied by pictures such as this one, which show the protesters carrying signs that read not “Help Gazans” but “Gaza: End the Blockade” and “Gaza: Free Palestine.” The call to “End the Blockade” is effectively a call for Israel to open up the border crossings, which would allow Hamas to vastly increase the amount of military materiel it smuggles in. The call for “Free Palestine,” if it isn’t a coded appeal for Israel’s outright destruction, is presumably a call for lifting all Israeli restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which would cede both territories to terrorists bent on the Jewish state’s destruction.

To understand why the “appeal” for Gaza is a political issue, imagine what would have been the reaction during World War II if some nation not involved in the conflict–say Argentina–were to stage an “appeal” for “German war victims.” Would this have been seen as a neutral example of humanitarianism in action or as a pro-Axis gesture? Surely the latter, and for good cause. I never thought I’d say it, but the BBC is right on this one. Would that it happened more often.

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John Updike, 1932 – 2009

IN MEMORIAM. Read John Updike’s “On Not Being a Dove,” from the March 1989 issue of COMMENTARY.

IN MEMORIAM. Read John Updike’s “On Not Being a Dove,” from the March 1989 issue of COMMENTARY.

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NATO Enlisting Iran

Yesterday, NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested the organization engage Tehran to defeat the Taliban.  “We need to stop looking at Afghanistan as if it were an island,” the alliance’s senior statesmen said.  “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia-and yes, Iran.”

Iran?  Landlocked Afghanistan is indeed a troublesome spot, and NATO needs to employ more resources.  Yet the solution is not to invite every troublemaker-big and small-in the region to lend a hand.  Sometimes you just have to go out and defeat your enemies by yourself.  Yes, the mullahs have no love for the Taliban, but the idea of allying with Iran is just absurd.

Yesterday, NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested the organization engage Tehran to defeat the Taliban.  “We need to stop looking at Afghanistan as if it were an island,” the alliance’s senior statesmen said.  “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia-and yes, Iran.”

Iran?  Landlocked Afghanistan is indeed a troublesome spot, and NATO needs to employ more resources.  Yet the solution is not to invite every troublemaker-big and small-in the region to lend a hand.  Sometimes you just have to go out and defeat your enemies by yourself.  Yes, the mullahs have no love for the Taliban, but the idea of allying with Iran is just absurd.

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Another Thing Everyone Got Wrong About Iraq

The Washington Post editors write:

President Obama has suggested that elections may not be constructive in countries where there is no “freedom from fear” or where the rule of law and civil society are undeveloped. Iraq may be about to prove him wrong. Though security is fragile, the constitution is still disputed and institutions such as courts and a free media remain works in progress, the country’s third national election since 2005 is scheduled for Saturday — and it is looking like another important step toward stabilization.

The campaign for positions in 14 provinces so far has been a major improvement over the previous Iraqi elections — not to mention the rigged or tightly limited ballots staged by most other Arab countries. Some 14,400 candidates are competing for 440 seats; in contrast to the last provincial vote, in January 2005, candidates are identified by name rather than being presented anonymously on a party slate. Thousands are openly competing in Iraqi cities and towns once paralyzed by violence or controlled by al-Qaeda. Blast walls have been papered with posters, and much of the debate is focused on improving government services. Violence, which spiked four years ago, so far has been a minor factor: Two candidates have been reported killed, and U.S. and Iraqi casualties this month are among the lowest since the war began.

Just how wrong was conventional wisdom on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats snubbed him when he visited the U.S. in 2006. A leaked memo by then National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in November 2006 expressed severe doubts about his abilities and long term viability.

And now? What a difference two years make:

Mr. Maliki has gravitated toward a secular nationalism: His coalition is called State of Law. Once dismissed as hopelessly weak, the prime minister has grown so strong that some accuse him of plotting to construct a new Iraqi autocracy. For the moment, that seems unlikely, given the balances built into Iraq’s new political system. But Mr. Maliki’s platform does augur an Iraq that will be relatively secular, that will assert its independence from Iran and that will remain allied with the United States in the fight against al-Qaeda. If that prospect is advanced this weekend, Iraqis — and their American partners — will have elections to thank.

Maliki would have certainly never survived politically (nor would the government he heads), had we left Iraq when many wanted us to. But the success of the surge and the endurance of Maliki are potent reminders of just how wrong “experts” can be. That may provide small comfort to the current crop of experts straining to read the next set of tea leaves. But it nevertheless emphasizes just how remarkable the turnaround in Iraq has been — and just how much the legacy of the last president becomes intertwined with the fate of Iraq’s fragile democracy and its improbable political leader.

The Washington Post editors write:

President Obama has suggested that elections may not be constructive in countries where there is no “freedom from fear” or where the rule of law and civil society are undeveloped. Iraq may be about to prove him wrong. Though security is fragile, the constitution is still disputed and institutions such as courts and a free media remain works in progress, the country’s third national election since 2005 is scheduled for Saturday — and it is looking like another important step toward stabilization.

The campaign for positions in 14 provinces so far has been a major improvement over the previous Iraqi elections — not to mention the rigged or tightly limited ballots staged by most other Arab countries. Some 14,400 candidates are competing for 440 seats; in contrast to the last provincial vote, in January 2005, candidates are identified by name rather than being presented anonymously on a party slate. Thousands are openly competing in Iraqi cities and towns once paralyzed by violence or controlled by al-Qaeda. Blast walls have been papered with posters, and much of the debate is focused on improving government services. Violence, which spiked four years ago, so far has been a minor factor: Two candidates have been reported killed, and U.S. and Iraqi casualties this month are among the lowest since the war began.

Just how wrong was conventional wisdom on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats snubbed him when he visited the U.S. in 2006. A leaked memo by then National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in November 2006 expressed severe doubts about his abilities and long term viability.

And now? What a difference two years make:

Mr. Maliki has gravitated toward a secular nationalism: His coalition is called State of Law. Once dismissed as hopelessly weak, the prime minister has grown so strong that some accuse him of plotting to construct a new Iraqi autocracy. For the moment, that seems unlikely, given the balances built into Iraq’s new political system. But Mr. Maliki’s platform does augur an Iraq that will be relatively secular, that will assert its independence from Iran and that will remain allied with the United States in the fight against al-Qaeda. If that prospect is advanced this weekend, Iraqis — and their American partners — will have elections to thank.

Maliki would have certainly never survived politically (nor would the government he heads), had we left Iraq when many wanted us to. But the success of the surge and the endurance of Maliki are potent reminders of just how wrong “experts” can be. That may provide small comfort to the current crop of experts straining to read the next set of tea leaves. But it nevertheless emphasizes just how remarkable the turnaround in Iraq has been — and just how much the legacy of the last president becomes intertwined with the fate of Iraq’s fragile democracy and its improbable political leader.

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Re: Re: Obama’s Sweet Middle Eastern Nothings

Barack Obama is playing nice with Tehran, and the best is yet to come. Tehran will respond to Obama’s “extended hand from us” with praise for the changed attitude in Washington. This, in turn, will be cited by Democrats as evidence of the success of President Obama’s “new tone.” Sure, we’ll be locked into touchy-feely sham diplomacy for the rest of the time it takes the mullahs to attain nukes. But the important thing is that we get the world to like us again, right?

Americans are not looking for Obama to solve problems, but to end problems. And one way to end a problem is by ceasing to classify it as a problem. So: “Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran?” Sure — no problem.

What I want to know is: if Barack Obama sees it as his “job to the Muslim world . . . to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” how is he accomplishing this goal by extending his hand to a regime that regularly chops off the hands of its own citizens? After all, the Baghdad shoe-thrower had feet from which he removed shoes and hands to do the removing. Which has to make him the envy of these poor Iranian souls. Might it not be a good – a decent – idea to mention the human rights atrocities inflicted upon what Obama called the “great” Persian people?

Oh, I forgot – silly me – “smart power.” Back in the dark days of ideologically-driven dumb power, the president would label as “evil” a regime that performed punitive amputations on its citizens. Now we geniuses offer our own limbs up for the chopping.

Barack Obama is playing nice with Tehran, and the best is yet to come. Tehran will respond to Obama’s “extended hand from us” with praise for the changed attitude in Washington. This, in turn, will be cited by Democrats as evidence of the success of President Obama’s “new tone.” Sure, we’ll be locked into touchy-feely sham diplomacy for the rest of the time it takes the mullahs to attain nukes. But the important thing is that we get the world to like us again, right?

Americans are not looking for Obama to solve problems, but to end problems. And one way to end a problem is by ceasing to classify it as a problem. So: “Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran?” Sure — no problem.

What I want to know is: if Barack Obama sees it as his “job to the Muslim world . . . to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” how is he accomplishing this goal by extending his hand to a regime that regularly chops off the hands of its own citizens? After all, the Baghdad shoe-thrower had feet from which he removed shoes and hands to do the removing. Which has to make him the envy of these poor Iranian souls. Might it not be a good – a decent – idea to mention the human rights atrocities inflicted upon what Obama called the “great” Persian people?

Oh, I forgot – silly me – “smart power.” Back in the dark days of ideologically-driven dumb power, the president would label as “evil” a regime that performed punitive amputations on its citizens. Now we geniuses offer our own limbs up for the chopping.

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Stimulus Schmimulus

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel said, and he meant it.

The epic bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies, the credit crunch and dwindling consumer confidence, all compounded by the media’s hysterics have served to make despairing Americans uniquely pliant. Political leaders and financial giants are now rushing to parlay the nation’s panic into the easy passage of a massive government “stimulus” package.

The arguments most often employed in defense of the stimulus bill maintain that now is not the time for idle thinking but for bold action — any action. Tyler Cowen, a respectable economist, declares (without a hint of sarcasm) the following Warren Buffett rant to be “the best argument [he has] heard for the stimulus”:

The answer is nobody knows. The economists don’t know. All you know is you throw everything at it and whether it’s more effective if you’re fighting a fire to be concentrating the water flow on this part or that part. You’re going to use every weapon you have in fighting it. And people, they do not know exactly what the effects are. Economists like to talk about it, but in the end they’ve been very, very wrong and most of them in recent years on this. We don’t know the perfect answers on it. What we do know is to stand by and do nothing is a terrible mistake or to follow Hoover-like policies would be a mistake and we don’t know how effective in the short run we don’t know how effective this will be and how quickly things will right themselves. We do know over time the American machine works wonderfully and it will work wonderfully again.

Laissez faire is not even an option. The question, as Buffett and others would have it, is not whether anything at all ought to be done, but what must be done; not whether intervention is desirable, but how much intervention; not whether we need  massive pork-barrel projects, but who gets the pork and how much do they get. The entire debate is now consumed by administrative details of little interest to a rattled public. Consider some of the preposterous and special-interest driven proposals in the “stimulus” bill:

• $726 million for an after-school snack program

• $650 million for coupons to help people switch old televisions to digital

• $209 million for maintenance work at the federal Agricultural Research Service’s research facilities across the country

• $200 million for fresh sod on the National Mall

• $150 for maintenance at the Smithsonian Institution

• $50 million for the NEA (Teachers’ Union)

• $50 million to make up for a lack of philanthropic support for the arts

• $6 million for broadband Internet access

At least the Bailout Bill was called by its correct name.

So far Americans have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation as to how redistributing nearly a trillion dollars of wealth from the pockets of individuals and businesses in the private sector into extravagant government waste is supposed to stimulate the economy. Buffett’s “throwing a trillion dollars into projects whose effects no economist can anticipate is better than doing nothing” just doesn’t cut it.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel said, and he meant it.

The epic bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies, the credit crunch and dwindling consumer confidence, all compounded by the media’s hysterics have served to make despairing Americans uniquely pliant. Political leaders and financial giants are now rushing to parlay the nation’s panic into the easy passage of a massive government “stimulus” package.

The arguments most often employed in defense of the stimulus bill maintain that now is not the time for idle thinking but for bold action — any action. Tyler Cowen, a respectable economist, declares (without a hint of sarcasm) the following Warren Buffett rant to be “the best argument [he has] heard for the stimulus”:

The answer is nobody knows. The economists don’t know. All you know is you throw everything at it and whether it’s more effective if you’re fighting a fire to be concentrating the water flow on this part or that part. You’re going to use every weapon you have in fighting it. And people, they do not know exactly what the effects are. Economists like to talk about it, but in the end they’ve been very, very wrong and most of them in recent years on this. We don’t know the perfect answers on it. What we do know is to stand by and do nothing is a terrible mistake or to follow Hoover-like policies would be a mistake and we don’t know how effective in the short run we don’t know how effective this will be and how quickly things will right themselves. We do know over time the American machine works wonderfully and it will work wonderfully again.

Laissez faire is not even an option. The question, as Buffett and others would have it, is not whether anything at all ought to be done, but what must be done; not whether intervention is desirable, but how much intervention; not whether we need  massive pork-barrel projects, but who gets the pork and how much do they get. The entire debate is now consumed by administrative details of little interest to a rattled public. Consider some of the preposterous and special-interest driven proposals in the “stimulus” bill:

• $726 million for an after-school snack program

• $650 million for coupons to help people switch old televisions to digital

• $209 million for maintenance work at the federal Agricultural Research Service’s research facilities across the country

• $200 million for fresh sod on the National Mall

• $150 for maintenance at the Smithsonian Institution

• $50 million for the NEA (Teachers’ Union)

• $50 million to make up for a lack of philanthropic support for the arts

• $6 million for broadband Internet access

At least the Bailout Bill was called by its correct name.

So far Americans have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation as to how redistributing nearly a trillion dollars of wealth from the pockets of individuals and businesses in the private sector into extravagant government waste is supposed to stimulate the economy. Buffett’s “throwing a trillion dollars into projects whose effects no economist can anticipate is better than doing nothing” just doesn’t cut it.

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Re: Obama’s Sweet Middle Eastern Nothings

Eric, the most appalling part of the interview came at the end:

Q: Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly?

THE PRESIDENT: It’s up to the team –

MR. GIBBS: You have 30 seconds. (Laughter.)

Q: Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past — none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

Q: Shall we leave Iraq next interview, or just –

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let’s — we’re past, and I got to get him back to dinner with his wife.

Q: Sir, I really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

What was his answer on Iran? As best I can make it out: Maybe, or I’m not saying. Or I haven’t figured it out. What it wasn’t was a concise and definitive statement that it would be unacceptable for Iran to develop its nuclear capability. I’m sure the mullahs in Iran are delighted that they can now string along the negotiators — as they have done for years — and go merrily along their way in developing their nuclear program. The message to Israel: don’t expect much from the U.S. on this front.

And the Iraq answer was, well, the equivalent of “Let him eat his waffle.”

All of this suggests there is no one in the administration empowered to tell the President just how counterproductive this sort of meandering, touchy-feely routine is to establishing his bona fides on the world stage. After hearing this, is Iran more or less likely to be deterred from pursuing its nuclear program? Certainly he’s not suggesting there is a line in the sand — or any penalty to be paid when Iran ignores the entreaties of his envoys to halt its nuclear program. As Michael Goldfarb explains:

Wouldn’t a simple ‘no, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable to the United States and our allies’ have sufficed? Instead Obama says that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon is “unhelpful,” that it’s “not conducive to peace.” When Obama was in Israel, he said that “a nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He added that he would “take no options off the table in dealing with this potential Iranian threat.” In the first debate of the general election, Obama reiterated that the United States “cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.” But when Obama has the chance to speak directly to the Muslim world, he can only muster retread rhetoric from his inaugural address about clenched fists and open hands.

If the President is going to be taken seriously, he’ll have to do better than this. Or at the very least, keep his encounter-group chit-chat to himself.

Eric, the most appalling part of the interview came at the end:

Q: Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly?

THE PRESIDENT: It’s up to the team –

MR. GIBBS: You have 30 seconds. (Laughter.)

Q: Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past — none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

Q: Shall we leave Iraq next interview, or just –

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let’s — we’re past, and I got to get him back to dinner with his wife.

Q: Sir, I really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

What was his answer on Iran? As best I can make it out: Maybe, or I’m not saying. Or I haven’t figured it out. What it wasn’t was a concise and definitive statement that it would be unacceptable for Iran to develop its nuclear capability. I’m sure the mullahs in Iran are delighted that they can now string along the negotiators — as they have done for years — and go merrily along their way in developing their nuclear program. The message to Israel: don’t expect much from the U.S. on this front.

And the Iraq answer was, well, the equivalent of “Let him eat his waffle.”

All of this suggests there is no one in the administration empowered to tell the President just how counterproductive this sort of meandering, touchy-feely routine is to establishing his bona fides on the world stage. After hearing this, is Iran more or less likely to be deterred from pursuing its nuclear program? Certainly he’s not suggesting there is a line in the sand — or any penalty to be paid when Iran ignores the entreaties of his envoys to halt its nuclear program. As Michael Goldfarb explains:

Wouldn’t a simple ‘no, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable to the United States and our allies’ have sufficed? Instead Obama says that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon is “unhelpful,” that it’s “not conducive to peace.” When Obama was in Israel, he said that “a nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He added that he would “take no options off the table in dealing with this potential Iranian threat.” In the first debate of the general election, Obama reiterated that the United States “cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.” But when Obama has the chance to speak directly to the Muslim world, he can only muster retread rhetoric from his inaugural address about clenched fists and open hands.

If the President is going to be taken seriously, he’ll have to do better than this. Or at the very least, keep his encounter-group chit-chat to himself.

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The Mother of All Quagmires

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel’s border with Gaza, and I’m reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.

The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left,the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings: “What is the solution to this problem?” He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one: “You Americans are always asking us that,” he said and laughed darkly.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel’s border with Gaza, and I’m reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.

The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left,the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings: “What is the solution to this problem?” He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one: “You Americans are always asking us that,” he said and laughed darkly.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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Not So Fast

It happens in every White House: Advisers and cabinet officials don’t see the subtle shift from the campaign to the White House. Or the White House team members, when they hear the campaign rhetoric read back to them, think better of it. This administration is no different.

Susan Rice, the new UN Ambassador, seemed to take seriously all the talk about high-level meetings with Iran in the first year of the presidency — which was the oft-repeated campaign verbiage, until it wasn’t. She declared the administration’s interest and willingness to undertake  “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Well, maybe not so fast. This report explains:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the significance of Rice’s remarks, saying that “there are no specific initiatives” at the moment to talk to Iran. “What Ambassador Rice outlined today was simply to restate the position that I think many of you heard the president outline throughout the campaign for the past two years: that this administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address the concerns that we have with Iran,” Gibbs said.

Translation: don’t take the campaign blather too seriously, we are actually in power now.

Then there was Tim Geithner who took the opportunity in his written answers to confirmation questions to come right out and accuse China of “currency manipulation.” That, not surprisingly, set off a ferocious reaction in China. That’s fine, but the administration obviously isn’t ready to back that blunt language up with any action. So once again the White House backpedaled:

The White House tried to play down criticism of China’s currency policies by Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be Treasury secretary.The White House, noting it wants to establish a “comprehensive” economic relationship with China, said it won’t make a determination about that country’s currency until Treasury provides a report to Congress in the spring. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs avoided repeating the view of Timothy Geithner, who said in written testimony for his confirmation hearings that President Obama, “backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists — believes that China is manipulating its currency.” Though the U.S. has long pushed China to move to a market-based system for managing the yuan, it has resisted officially branding Beijing a manipulator.

It is not easy getting everyone on the same page. That is especially the case when a President has chosen to multiply the number of power centers, add some czars, and create overlapping jurisdictions. Is George Mitchell the “real” messenger on the Middle East or is Hillary Clinton? More voices will make it more difficult to tell.

The problem is also magnified by a tendency to speak in sweeping rhetoric that does not match the day-to-day policy of the administration. When you declare we “are closing Guantanamo” or “ending the War in Iraq” — but not really and not yet — the President’s own advisers get confused as to what is the actual policy and what is aspirational language.

So one of Gibbs’s key jobs will likely be correcting and reining in the legions of envoys, aides, czars, and secretaries who don’t quite divine the President’s policies correctly. That will be, I suspect, a full time job.

It happens in every White House: Advisers and cabinet officials don’t see the subtle shift from the campaign to the White House. Or the White House team members, when they hear the campaign rhetoric read back to them, think better of it. This administration is no different.

Susan Rice, the new UN Ambassador, seemed to take seriously all the talk about high-level meetings with Iran in the first year of the presidency — which was the oft-repeated campaign verbiage, until it wasn’t. She declared the administration’s interest and willingness to undertake  “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Well, maybe not so fast. This report explains:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the significance of Rice’s remarks, saying that “there are no specific initiatives” at the moment to talk to Iran. “What Ambassador Rice outlined today was simply to restate the position that I think many of you heard the president outline throughout the campaign for the past two years: that this administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address the concerns that we have with Iran,” Gibbs said.

Translation: don’t take the campaign blather too seriously, we are actually in power now.

Then there was Tim Geithner who took the opportunity in his written answers to confirmation questions to come right out and accuse China of “currency manipulation.” That, not surprisingly, set off a ferocious reaction in China. That’s fine, but the administration obviously isn’t ready to back that blunt language up with any action. So once again the White House backpedaled:

The White House tried to play down criticism of China’s currency policies by Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be Treasury secretary.The White House, noting it wants to establish a “comprehensive” economic relationship with China, said it won’t make a determination about that country’s currency until Treasury provides a report to Congress in the spring. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs avoided repeating the view of Timothy Geithner, who said in written testimony for his confirmation hearings that President Obama, “backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists — believes that China is manipulating its currency.” Though the U.S. has long pushed China to move to a market-based system for managing the yuan, it has resisted officially branding Beijing a manipulator.

It is not easy getting everyone on the same page. That is especially the case when a President has chosen to multiply the number of power centers, add some czars, and create overlapping jurisdictions. Is George Mitchell the “real” messenger on the Middle East or is Hillary Clinton? More voices will make it more difficult to tell.

The problem is also magnified by a tendency to speak in sweeping rhetoric that does not match the day-to-day policy of the administration. When you declare we “are closing Guantanamo” or “ending the War in Iraq” — but not really and not yet — the President’s own advisers get confused as to what is the actual policy and what is aspirational language.

So one of Gibbs’s key jobs will likely be correcting and reining in the legions of envoys, aides, czars, and secretaries who don’t quite divine the President’s policies correctly. That will be, I suspect, a full time job.

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Obama’s Sweet Middle Eastern Nothings

Upon hearing that President Barack Obama sat for an interview with pan-Arab satellite news channel al-Arabiya, my first inclination was to salute him for doing his best to sell U.S. foreign policy to a broad Arab audience.  But then I read the transcript.  Brace yourself – what follows is a series of statements that range from naively optimistic to disturbingly misinformed:

Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

Apparently, my fears have been confirmed: Obama believes that Mitchell’s reputation and experience are sufficient for catalyzing progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.  He is sorely mistaken.  Indeed, the key factor determining the success or failure of an envoy is the extent to which the envoy speaks for the President of the United States himself.  Israelis and Palestinians are most likely to respond to an envoy whose word can be backed by tangible power; political celebrities, on the other hand, will be treated with suspicion, if not ignored entirely.

I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated.

I get the first part of this statement: Syria and Iran are allies, and they support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, which are both in constant conflict with Israel.  But what do Pakistan and Afghanistan have to do with this?  Does Obama think that Taliban fighters are based in Ramallah?  Is Obama confusing the Pakistanis and the Palestinians?  Either way, this is the kind of non sequitur for which the press would have hammered a certain former president ruthlessly.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.

Excuse me for asking, but has Obama just established himself as an intermediary between the Muslim world and the American people?  Moreover, is he suggesting that Americans doubt Muslims’ humanity?  Is he suggesting that Americans have sought to prevent Muslims from just “living their lives”?  Again, this whole interview is supposed to be an exercise in public diplomacy – and you don’t sell your foreign policy by saying that your people need to adjust their racist views of others.

…[I]f you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

Obama talks a lot about working with our allies, but statements like this one make me wonder whether he’s serious.  After all, by mentioning that the U.S. was never a colonial power, he’s reminding al-Arabiya‘s audience that Britain and France – two of our most important allies in formulating Middle East policy at the moment – were.  Of course, Obama probably doesn’t realize that most Arab viewers will readily draw this connection – which is just another reason why this interview was seriously ill advised.

… I think that what you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity.

Barack Obama ran for U.S. President as the anti-Bush – the candidate who wasn’t going to fight wars for idealistic purposes, such as spreading democracy.  Well, Obama might abhor “stupid wars,” but that hardly makes him a realist: true to his community-organizing roots, he apparently sees impoverished foreigners as one of the many constituencies he represents – right up there with the Americans.

The take-away from this miserable performance is rather straightforward: Obama’s personal charisma cannot mask his utter lack of substance on the Middle East.  Here’s to hoping that Obama can fix this shortcoming before people start listening to what he’s actually saying.

Upon hearing that President Barack Obama sat for an interview with pan-Arab satellite news channel al-Arabiya, my first inclination was to salute him for doing his best to sell U.S. foreign policy to a broad Arab audience.  But then I read the transcript.  Brace yourself – what follows is a series of statements that range from naively optimistic to disturbingly misinformed:

Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

Apparently, my fears have been confirmed: Obama believes that Mitchell’s reputation and experience are sufficient for catalyzing progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.  He is sorely mistaken.  Indeed, the key factor determining the success or failure of an envoy is the extent to which the envoy speaks for the President of the United States himself.  Israelis and Palestinians are most likely to respond to an envoy whose word can be backed by tangible power; political celebrities, on the other hand, will be treated with suspicion, if not ignored entirely.

I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated.

I get the first part of this statement: Syria and Iran are allies, and they support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, which are both in constant conflict with Israel.  But what do Pakistan and Afghanistan have to do with this?  Does Obama think that Taliban fighters are based in Ramallah?  Is Obama confusing the Pakistanis and the Palestinians?  Either way, this is the kind of non sequitur for which the press would have hammered a certain former president ruthlessly.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.

Excuse me for asking, but has Obama just established himself as an intermediary between the Muslim world and the American people?  Moreover, is he suggesting that Americans doubt Muslims’ humanity?  Is he suggesting that Americans have sought to prevent Muslims from just “living their lives”?  Again, this whole interview is supposed to be an exercise in public diplomacy – and you don’t sell your foreign policy by saying that your people need to adjust their racist views of others.

…[I]f you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

Obama talks a lot about working with our allies, but statements like this one make me wonder whether he’s serious.  After all, by mentioning that the U.S. was never a colonial power, he’s reminding al-Arabiya‘s audience that Britain and France – two of our most important allies in formulating Middle East policy at the moment – were.  Of course, Obama probably doesn’t realize that most Arab viewers will readily draw this connection – which is just another reason why this interview was seriously ill advised.

… I think that what you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity.

Barack Obama ran for U.S. President as the anti-Bush – the candidate who wasn’t going to fight wars for idealistic purposes, such as spreading democracy.  Well, Obama might abhor “stupid wars,” but that hardly makes him a realist: true to his community-organizing roots, he apparently sees impoverished foreigners as one of the many constituencies he represents – right up there with the Americans.

The take-away from this miserable performance is rather straightforward: Obama’s personal charisma cannot mask his utter lack of substance on the Middle East.  Here’s to hoping that Obama can fix this shortcoming before people start listening to what he’s actually saying.

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Obfuscation — The New Transparency

The Wall Street Journal editors remark:

In a week of symbolic breaks with the ancien regime, President Obama called in U.S. war commanders last Wednesday to signal his desire to get out of Iraq. Then, meeting over, he issued a vague statement about planning “a responsible military drawdown” that omitted mention of his campaign promise to pull out within 16 months.

For Iraq’s sake, long may such obfuscation reign. The country faces big tests in the coming year, starting with provincial elections on Saturday. Robust American engagement guided Iraq out of its bloodiest days in 2006. The military commanders who implemented the successful surge now counsel against hasty withdrawal, lest those gains be lost. This is a potential win-win for Mr. Obama. If Iraq emerges from 2009 as a stronger democracy, the White House could then reduce troop levels with little risk of relapse. The President, who prospered in the Democratic primaries thanks to his antiwar stance, will reap the strategic benefit. Let historians appreciate the irony.

Well, I suppose concealing our intentions, being less than candid with the American people and declining to inspire the troops for the remainder of their mission is one way to go about completing the Iraq War mission. But it may not be the best. Certainly, if the alternative is a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops and increased instability then opacity is the better course. Nevertheless, is that really the only option?

The President should be clear about our military missions and commitment to them. Silence or vagueness communicate a lack of seriousness and do not inspire those serving the President to stay on task. What does he say when Democrats want to drastically cut funds? Well, we um. . .  are in the process of leaving Iraq to the Iraqis? Not very compelling. And one might perceive that as a signal to use funds and resources elsewhere. And should our regional allies become concerned about an uptick in violence, will the President put them at ease and inspire confidence by mumbling something about ending “Bush’s war”?

It is impossible for the President to successfully complete our job there — which is to leave a stable, independent country that is not a haven for terrorists — without being definitive about what our job is.  After all, the work of our troops is not yet complete:

After Saturday’s local elections, the majority Shiites will willingly share power with Sunnis, who boycotted the last poll in 2005. Sunnis have chosen to come back into the fold through the ballot box, along the way helping to give birth to vibrant retail politics. Some 14,000 candidates from 400 parties battle for 440 seats on 14 (of 18) provincial councils. There will also be a referendum on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement this summer, and parliamentary elections by the end of the year.

American GIs can make sure these elections come off smoothly and are accepted broadly as legitimate. The current campaign has seen an uptick in suicide attacks and bombings, showing that diehard Sunni insurgents and Iran-backed militias still want to sabotage democracy in Mesopotamia. Iran lost its fight to stop the U.S. forces deal last year and is sure to try again. A Shiite democracy on its border is an existential rebuke to the mullahs. Military commanders are bracing for Iran to stir up trouble in the months ahead, particularly in the south. By helping Iraq resist this powerplay, Mr. Obama will only strengthen his hand for his promised diplomacy with Tehran.

It behooves the President to say what he means and explain to all concerned — our military, regional allies, foes and the Iraqis — just what we are up to. Oh, and isn’t that what transparency in government is all about?

The Wall Street Journal editors remark:

In a week of symbolic breaks with the ancien regime, President Obama called in U.S. war commanders last Wednesday to signal his desire to get out of Iraq. Then, meeting over, he issued a vague statement about planning “a responsible military drawdown” that omitted mention of his campaign promise to pull out within 16 months.

For Iraq’s sake, long may such obfuscation reign. The country faces big tests in the coming year, starting with provincial elections on Saturday. Robust American engagement guided Iraq out of its bloodiest days in 2006. The military commanders who implemented the successful surge now counsel against hasty withdrawal, lest those gains be lost. This is a potential win-win for Mr. Obama. If Iraq emerges from 2009 as a stronger democracy, the White House could then reduce troop levels with little risk of relapse. The President, who prospered in the Democratic primaries thanks to his antiwar stance, will reap the strategic benefit. Let historians appreciate the irony.

Well, I suppose concealing our intentions, being less than candid with the American people and declining to inspire the troops for the remainder of their mission is one way to go about completing the Iraq War mission. But it may not be the best. Certainly, if the alternative is a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops and increased instability then opacity is the better course. Nevertheless, is that really the only option?

The President should be clear about our military missions and commitment to them. Silence or vagueness communicate a lack of seriousness and do not inspire those serving the President to stay on task. What does he say when Democrats want to drastically cut funds? Well, we um. . .  are in the process of leaving Iraq to the Iraqis? Not very compelling. And one might perceive that as a signal to use funds and resources elsewhere. And should our regional allies become concerned about an uptick in violence, will the President put them at ease and inspire confidence by mumbling something about ending “Bush’s war”?

It is impossible for the President to successfully complete our job there — which is to leave a stable, independent country that is not a haven for terrorists — without being definitive about what our job is.  After all, the work of our troops is not yet complete:

After Saturday’s local elections, the majority Shiites will willingly share power with Sunnis, who boycotted the last poll in 2005. Sunnis have chosen to come back into the fold through the ballot box, along the way helping to give birth to vibrant retail politics. Some 14,000 candidates from 400 parties battle for 440 seats on 14 (of 18) provincial councils. There will also be a referendum on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement this summer, and parliamentary elections by the end of the year.

American GIs can make sure these elections come off smoothly and are accepted broadly as legitimate. The current campaign has seen an uptick in suicide attacks and bombings, showing that diehard Sunni insurgents and Iran-backed militias still want to sabotage democracy in Mesopotamia. Iran lost its fight to stop the U.S. forces deal last year and is sure to try again. A Shiite democracy on its border is an existential rebuke to the mullahs. Military commanders are bracing for Iran to stir up trouble in the months ahead, particularly in the south. By helping Iraq resist this powerplay, Mr. Obama will only strengthen his hand for his promised diplomacy with Tehran.

It behooves the President to say what he means and explain to all concerned — our military, regional allies, foes and the Iraqis — just what we are up to. Oh, and isn’t that what transparency in government is all about?

Read Less

Yes, We Can Trust Hamas

Jimmy Carter is getting more abuse on his publicity tour for his latest book, “We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land.” He argues that yes, Hamas can be trusted, and then cites their commitment to the last cease-fire — during which time they nearly completed a tunnel into Israel.

Surprisingly, Carter is right. Hamas can be trusted to keep their word. What he’s wrong about is which words Hamas can be trusted to uphold.

The words Hamas can be trusted to keep can be found in its charter.  That is where it spells out its purpose, its core beliefs, and its principles.

Article Eleven:

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Muslim generations till Judgement Day?

This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Muslims have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till the Day of Judgement.

That’s pretty simple. Israel has no place; it needs to be abolished and replaced with an Islamist Palestine governed by Sharia law.

 Article Thirteen:

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion.

 …

Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Muslim problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Muslims as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

 …

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

Again, pretty simple. No negotiations, no settlements. To do so is an affront against Allah. No, the only solution is armed struggle. Or, more briefly, war.

Hamas spells out exactly what it wants to achieve and how it intends to achieve it, yet so many allegedly intelligent people willingly blind themselves to that and accept Hamas’s propaganda ploys at face value. Worse, they demand that we, too, put on blinders.

Jimmy Carter has to be the Islamists’ favorite American friend. There is no other with his credentials.

Toward the end of his one term, there was a novelty song titled “President Carter, Go Back To Your Peanut Farm.” Twenty-eight years later, it’s clearer than ever that the world would be a better place if he had done just that.

Jimmy Carter is getting more abuse on his publicity tour for his latest book, “We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land.” He argues that yes, Hamas can be trusted, and then cites their commitment to the last cease-fire — during which time they nearly completed a tunnel into Israel.

Surprisingly, Carter is right. Hamas can be trusted to keep their word. What he’s wrong about is which words Hamas can be trusted to uphold.

The words Hamas can be trusted to keep can be found in its charter.  That is where it spells out its purpose, its core beliefs, and its principles.

Article Eleven:

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Muslim generations till Judgement Day?

This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Muslims have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till the Day of Judgement.

That’s pretty simple. Israel has no place; it needs to be abolished and replaced with an Islamist Palestine governed by Sharia law.

 Article Thirteen:

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion.

 …

Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Muslim problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Muslims as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

 …

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

Again, pretty simple. No negotiations, no settlements. To do so is an affront against Allah. No, the only solution is armed struggle. Or, more briefly, war.

Hamas spells out exactly what it wants to achieve and how it intends to achieve it, yet so many allegedly intelligent people willingly blind themselves to that and accept Hamas’s propaganda ploys at face value. Worse, they demand that we, too, put on blinders.

Jimmy Carter has to be the Islamists’ favorite American friend. There is no other with his credentials.

Toward the end of his one term, there was a novelty song titled “President Carter, Go Back To Your Peanut Farm.” Twenty-eight years later, it’s clearer than ever that the world would be a better place if he had done just that.

Read Less




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